Depending on where you are coming from, you should have a pretty good selection of flights to Paris particularly if you are near a major international airport as I am in NYC. As I sit waiting for mine, I’m heading to Paris, Bordeaux and Normandy for the rest of the month of October, I am reminded there are a lot of handy tips that I’ve learned over many tens of thousands of miles flown and seemingly hundreds of mistakes made.
Can we agree that what we all want is hassle free check in, some leg room on the flight, a safe flight with minimal turbulence, an on-time arrival and some edible food during the flight. Because I fly so much, I often just search using the miles that I’ve accumulated for the best deal I can get for almost free (they no longer give you a free ticket, there always seems to be some kind of processing fee that ads up to almost $200 in some cases). For that reason I’m flying American tonight out of JFK. I had a hassle free check-in on the curb, I had checked in ahead of time on line of course and printed out the boarding pass, but they give you a new one anyway at the curb check-in.
Here are some basic tips that have helped me survive what is often a fairly annoying task, submitting oneself to complete loss of control, cramped quarters and stifled air to get to someplace in the world that I love or have yearned to visit. First, I actually spent the time to get the global entry card which requires that you fill out a form online and then appear in person at your local international airport. Yes, its a hassle but saves a lot of time when you come back into the United States from anyplace abroad. If you travel overseas at least once a year I think its worth it. It does cost about $100 and gives you the fast-track when re-entering the United States. But it also seems that you end up getting the TSA pre-check stamp on your boarding pass almost 80% of the time which allows you to get in a much shorter line at security throughout the US although its not a guarantee. To make that shorter line a sure deal going out and in you can separately apply for TSA pre-check, which for some stupid reason I’ve not done yet but I intend to. This can save precious minutes in that security line and the wonderful gift of not having to take your laptop out of your carry-on. Its the small things in life, right?
My other little trick when I’m sitting back in coach which is most of the time, I never board early, in fact I try to board as late as possible. Because I usually end up sitting in the very rear of the plane and always choose an aisle seat I try to sit down as close as possible to when the doors close for two important reasons. I’m claustrophobic and don’t want to be sitting for any longer than I have to. Plus, I’m always eying the extra seats in the back in case I can switch after they close to door to an aisle with less people. This way I can stretch out or best case lay down. This trick worked well on this trip and I got to use all three seats to lay down on the overnight flight to Paris. I’m less concerned about where my bag ends up overhead than I care about having the most room I can possibly finagle. For those of you sitting up front or with platinum status on an airline, you don’t have to worry as much. And yes, I’m jealous.
As for airline choices. In general I’m not terribly patriotic, I believe that most of the European airlines are better than anything we get in the US, I’m sorry to say. On Travel Truth, American is rated C+ as compared to B for Air France while British Airways earns an A-. I would agree with those ratings based on my own experiences. Virgin Air is rated an A+. The boutique airline within an airline, British Airways’ Open Skies which just flies to Paris is my favorite. Their planes have a plush VIP plane feeling even though they do now have economy as well as business and first.
Their first and business is much more affordable than most other airlines and its very nice, especially the “biz beds” in first which can sometimes be had for under $1500. But the business class also has good legroom and reclining space. Food is reasonably good and service accommodating. No throwing the nasty tray meals at you with an attitude which I’ve experienced one too many times from our domestic (US based) carriers.
Now there’s a new guy in town, La Companie, a business class only airline out of France which flies NYC-Paris and more begun just last year. I’m drying to give them a shot. Reports are good and they are making some pretty fair deals. Right now they have a promo selling two business class seats for $2500, that’s $1250 per. I’d love to hear from those of you who have tried them.
Air France remains a favorite among many, and there is no question that the food is better, I can’t put my finger on it but I feel as if they’ve slipped slightly in the past few years. Their recent strike which lasted longer than most didn’t help matters.
British Airways has a lot of flights to Paris at least from NYC and they are quite reliable. Seat Guru is helpful in telling you which planes within each airline have the largest seats, a couple of inches makes a huge difference, Virgin consistently wins for most comfortable seats.
The other little trick I’ve used is trying improbable airlines which might include a 24 hour stopover in a place I’m interested in going to. Icelandic Air, Air Lingus and Turkish Air (which recently won the best European airline) I’ve tried in the recent past. A Turkish air flight last December took me to Istanbul for a day, a place I’ve been dying to see and then I went on to Rome for a girl’s week with my daughter and then finally to Paris for Christmas en famille. I loved that Turkish Air flight. I’ve also gone through Madrid via Iberian air which allowed me to get to France during that weird volcanic ash cloud that stopped most all more northern European flights a few years ago. The drive from Madrid to Bordeaux was absolutely stunning through the Pyrenees and I got to stop in San Sebastian for tapas.
I have a load of trouble with my legs and slight claustrophobia during flights so I prefer to book the latest flight I can leaving NYC and eat before hand. Then I might have one glass of red wine and then I take a sleeping pill so I can pass out on the flight and get in at least five hours of sleep before we land. It doesn’t always work but I always do remember to take that pill after they serve the meal or tell them I don’t want to eat dinner. Once on a crowded and cramped flight, sitting next to a large and somewhat odorous man I took the sleeping pill and then they served dinner. I basically fell asleep in my meal creating quite a huge embarassing mess. The large man pulled me out of my soup, literally. In the morning in my brain fog I really wasn’t sure whether to mention it or not, so I took the chicken-way out and said nothing. I really should have thanked that poor man, but never again do I take any kind of sleep aid before a meal.
Speaking of meals Air France has the 2nd best food in economy class after Turkish Airlines, who won the best (another believe it or not) in 2013’s passenger choice awards. So there is a lot of criteria to choose from. I consistently have to remind myself its not just the best frequent flier deal I can get but also the most comfortable seat, ease of experience from start to finish, an edible meal and friendly stewards and stewardess’. But in general since I do fly so much, I’m just happy when they don’t loose my bag and like this last flight I score some open seats next to mine.
Review of La Companie
2014 APEX Passenger Choice Award Finalists