It has been a long time since I flew with Air France. Direct flights from London to Johannesburg in business were super expensive! Air France has nice tight connections so going via Paris only added 2 hours each way – and it was 1/3 of the price! I was flying into Durban and then out of Port Elizabeth so I was already stopping once so why not twice – particularly when it gave me the opportunity to take a shower. And there was a chance to try out the Air France A380 Business Class!
Air France Lounge at Heathrow Terminal 4 – Sky Team
I always feel quite disappointed when I have to use a non-airline branded lounge like a Sky Team. This lounge was pretty good but it was not a patch on the stunning Qatar lounge at Terminal 4. The age of the lounge is starting to show – it is feeling a bit tatty. And there was no champagne – only Prosecco – which seemed a bit wrong when flying Air France!
There were also only two different white wines on offer – neither of which were great.
The food didn’t look that great but was actually very tasty – particularly the meatballs and the cheese. On the tech front, there were loads of screens and lots of plugs for power which I always need!
Top Tip: The Upstairs area is pretty much identical to downstairs but much quieter. It is also open till 1030pm whereas the downstairs floor closes at 8 pm.
The lounge is located near Gate 10.
Air France Business Class – London to Paris
This quite short flight was the old normal plane but the middle seat is empty of the three. Not that this really matters when you are only flying for one hour.
What I was very impressed with was how on top the cabin staff were about connecting flights. The staff seemed to know everyone’s connection and had maps and directions of Charles de Gaulle ready to go. They started to prepare passengers before the plane left Heathrow and followed up with an update before descent.
I really appreciated this as I had a very tight connection to make my Johannesburg flight. This did mean that I missed checking out the lounge but at least I made my flight and got to kick back with some champagne!!!
Air France 777-300 Business Class Paris to Johannesburg
I was a little disappointed this wasn’t the A380 but it turned out to be an excellent experience. The seat configuration is 1 x 2 x 1 which I very much like – privacy on the ends. I had an L seat which means window and I would recommend it. The cabin I was in was nice and small – only rows three to six. I was near the toilet but there weren’t many people passing by due to the small cabin.
In terms of entertainment there were 1200 hours of it available – however, quite a good deal was in French! Not to worry as there was a very good selection of quite recent hollywood movies as well which is my normal fare. The headphones were good quality and I loved the storage area where toiletries etc could sit during taking off. This meant that I didn’t have to get my bag out of the overhead locker a couple of times which is always a bit of a pain.
This is a true overnight flight – leaving Paris at 1130pm and then 10 1/2 hours to Johannesburg. As a result I spent most of the journey comfortably asleep on my flat bed! The pillow and cover/duvet thing were fine but no white company on British Airways! They do give you slippers as well which are so good for when you head to the bathroom.
The toiletries are quite cute and you can choose your colour. Clarins inside – lip balm and moisturiser.
Ethiopian Airlines also flies into Africa – check out this Ethiopian Airlines Business Class Review
There is a choice of proper dinner or an express menu. I didn’t have either as I had eaten in the lounge. Breakfast was a tasty but I am sure rather fattening french toast and some fruit and yoghurt. The coffee was bog standard which was a bit of a surprise in business.
Transfer to Domestic at Johannesburg Airport
My bag was only able to be checked through to Johannesburg so I had to go and collect it and head out through customs. This was quite straightforward. It is not possible to re-check bags before exit. Once you exit head to the top floor. It was then a bit of a walk to get over to the check in area for my next flight – a domestic from Johannesburg to Durban. I was flying with Malala. They only have economy on offer.
Domestic Business Class Lounge at Johannesburg Airport
As an Air France business class passenger there are two choices of a lounge in domestic – Bidvest and Slow. Definitely, head to Slow! I really fell for these lounges in South Africa (you will be reading a lot more about them in this post!). To be fair I did not check out Bidvest. However, I asked another passenger who was South African and he was the one that said I definitely wanted to head to the Slow lounge.
Slow felt the most like being in someone’s comfortable home of any lounge I have visited. I was very keen for a shower and they had several on offer.
There are loads of comfortable couches, screens with flight details everywhere (hate it when the lounge only has one near the exit), good wifi, fantastic multi-country power sockets and best of all was the food! The food was like going to a lovely premium deli. Wonderfully fresh ingredients and so tasty – plus there was a lot of it! I was very impressed.
To get to the lounge take the lift to your right just after you go through domestic airport security. It is well signed.
Slow Business Class Lounge at Durban Airport
I visited this lounge a few days later on an internal flight to Cape Town. I was delighted to find it was just as good as the one in Johannesburg. I would also suggest parking yourself upstairs at the lounge. It has everything that is on offer downstairs but quite a bit more space.
Bidvest Business Class Lounge at Port Elizabeth Airport
This was a rather small lounge. Having said that it is a rather small airport so it is to be expected. There are quite a few seats but they are crammed in. The food was actually quite good and there were lots of drinks on offer. However, as it was so cramped I was happy to be there for a brief time only.
Arriving into Johannesburg Airport
Port Elizabeth was my kick-off point for the journey to London via Johannesburg and Paris. I was able to check my bag all the way through to London which was great. I had about 1 hour and 40 minutes stop over which seemed like more than enough time to get sorted and check out the lounge.
Annoyingly I had to pick up my boarding passes in Johannesburg. It is quite a big airport so it was a decent walk between domestic and international. It is an airport with a great range of shops and food but it does feel rather cramped – or perhaps I was there on a particularly busy Sunday night.
Anyway, I got the business class check in desk and was told by a rather surly woman that she could not check me in at that point. I asked why as the flight was in just 1 hour and 20 minutes. I was then told that it was overbooked so they were unsure as to whether I had a seat.
Gosh, this makes me mad! I don’t know any other industry where it would be deemed acceptable to take your money in advance for a service and then at the last minute say that you might not have it. Airline overbooking makes me so mad – especially as the first people to be bumped are those travelling on their own and as a travel blogger that is often me!
This is particularly annoying when you have paid the extra for business class. The man at the desk next to me was in the same situation and equally furious. I ended up waiting until exactly one hour before the flight and was then told that I had a seat.
Unfortunately, the delay meant that I had to head straight to the gate (customs and immigration were after I was told I had a seat) which meant no time in the lounge. Bad for this review! As well as annoying as I was counting on a shower before getting on the overnight flight. Very frustrating.
However, I did note that Air France has a Slow lounge there so I assume it is as good as the other Slow lounges I visited.
Air France A380 Business Class Johannesburg to Paris
So finally I was on the flight! The A380 is a 2 x 2 x 2 configuration. It is great if you have the window seat as you have one of those side lockers which will take a lot of carry on. However, the seats are side by side which I really didn’t like. Firstly, this is far less private than the partial bubble. Secondly, if you are the window seat you have the perennial problem of having to climb over someone – often asleep – to use the bathroom.
I was very surprised by this choice of configuration for the A380. I actually far preferred the set up of the 777-300.
Anyway, after all the hassle of getting on to the flight I was looking forward to some champagne and a movie before sleep. And then my entertainment system didn’t work. The stewardess was very lovely and tried 4 times to no avail – which took about 30 minutes and I had to keep asking. I explained that I had already had a stressful night with Air France and the staff were extremely lovely.
However, the system still didn’t work and I was not in the mood to put up with this after the hassles – and with a nearly 11-hour flight ahead of me so I asked what the options were for moving seats. The purser was absolutely lovely. He went and found people willing to move. This did involve the passenger next to me – the other person at the airport who was also nearly bumped – having to move as well which he was very good about.
Although it was all a bit annoying I can’t tell you how lovely and empathetic the Air France staff were. If it wasn’t for the hassles at Johannesburg Airport I would have given Air France a 5-star rating as the service was some of the friendliest and kindest I have ever had on an airline.
Once we moved seats the purser bought my seat buddy and I some outstanding wine from first class and chocolates! Dinner was great – a lovely salmon and vegetables which were perfect before heading to sleep. The desserts were delicious – a mini tart, mini salted caramel delight and very french a macaron!
Air France Business Class Lounge Charles de Gaulle – Terminal E K Gates
I really do find Charles de Gaulle the most confusing airport! I think it is because they use letters for terminals and gates – I really think it is easier for us humans to have a mix of letters and numbers. Anyway, the lovely lovely staff of Air France were on hand again with maps and help on moving between terminals.
I landed in Terminal E but at the M gates. This meant having to go through security again and take a train to get to Terminal E K gates. A bit of a faff – especially as it was about 4 am – but lovely lounge at the K Gates made it worthwhile! Such an oasis! I had a lovely shower – Clarins products which made me happy. And then there was lots of coffee and all kinds of breakfast foods on offer. It was a little early even for me for champagne but I was pleased to tell you it was on offer.
Finally, it was the usual 3 x 3 with an empty seat between you for the last hour home to Heathrow.
Air France South Africa Business Class – The Verdict
It’s a 4.5 out of 5 for me for Air France because of the whole debacle of nearly being bumped at Johannesburg Airport – my major pet peeve! I normally mark down more for this but the onboard staff were so delightful (a 5 +!) and I did love those Slow Lounges in South Africa. They saved the day on this rating for the airline!
I would definitely fly business class with Air France again for the outstanding onboard service alone. Also, the value for money on their business class was outstanding.
Getting Good deals on Business Class Flights:
I tend to use a travel agent for my business class flights – for me, it is London based Trailfinders.
But I do usually also check out Skyscanner which has a good range of business class flights to get a sense of who has good deals on for the time in which I am travelling.
I also use Expedia a lot – particularly for multi-stop flights like this which don’t really suit Skyscanner. I booked all of the flights listed above through Expedia.
And of course, you can check out the Air France website.
If you click through on the links that appear on my blog posts around flights, accommodation, tours, travel insurance etc I get a small commission if you end up buying on these sites. Just wanted to let you know!
Also published on Medium.