The airline with the best average rating is Air France with 7.5/10.
The average flight time is 10 hours and 45 minutes.More information
Hello, and welcome to a new series of Flight-Reports. Yes, finally…actual new flights!
After almost 10 months of not flying, as we'd been riding out the pandemic in France, I needed to get back to the US for the closing on a new house (Yay). As it wasn't possible to do the signing remotely from overseas per California law, I had no choice but to fly. To complicate matters, France was in the midst of a second strict lockdown and technically French residents were restricted to within a 1 km radius from their home, with some exceptions. Unlike in the US, the lockdown in France is enforceable by police and can lead to fines of 135 EUR minimum. Luckily, as a citizen of both France and the US, I was one of the few people actually authorised to travel between the two countries with the current restrictions in place.
Although, I had some anxiety about flying during the pandemic, I was also happy to finally take to the skies again. I don't think I'd ever gone 10 months without flying since early childhood.
For months, most airlines have been making great efforts to reassure those passengers who can fly, that the experience is safe, with strict sanitary measures in place and touting several academic studies supporting the low incidence of Covid-transmission aboard aircraft.
I was certainly curious to see if reality matched the talk.
Though I ultimately needed to get to San Diego, prices to LAX were much better–as they often are–especially when buying tickets at the last minute. With so few transatlantic flights operating, there weren't many AA/oneworld options, so I went with a simple routing through the Dallas hub. The other option was to fly via London Heathrow, but I preferred the option that would take me directly to the US in these times of ever-changing travel restrictions.
Flights in this series:
Being in a remote part of southwestern France, it normally takes anywhere from 5 to 7 hours to get to Paris by car or train, depending on the train station and routing. I therefore needed to get to Paris the day before the flight in order to ensure I could get to the airport in time for my morning departure.
Because France was in the midst of a second strict lockdown, which had begun late October, driving wasn't really an option since technically, no one was allowed more than 1 km from home or risk a 135 Euro fine. Taking the train seemed like the safest option–though, again, due to the new lockdown, only a fraction of trains were circulating. Only a week prior to travel, more than half of the regular direct trains between Brive-La-Gaillarde and Paris had been cancelled, but I was luckily able to find one with a decent schedule that worked for me…until the schedule was cut yet again due to lack of demand, until there were only two daily trains on the major Toulouse to Paris route. So instead of a 4PM train, I had no choice but to change for an 8AM train–the other option being a 3AM departure….not really an option.
So here we are bright and early at the Brive-la-Gaillarde train station.
The pretty sunrise made getting up at 5AM almost worth it!
Unfortunately, we don't have TGV service in the middle-of-nowhere-southwestern France.
I was able to get a pretty good deal in First class for not much more than standard fare. There is no service in any class of travel on these non-TGV "Intercités" routes, but First class offered the option to reserve a solo seat as the seat configuration is 1-2 vs 2-2 in standard "2nd Class"
The train stayed less than half-full throughout most of the journey–not surprising considering the lockdown.
Also not surprising, no one chose seats facing other seats, so I basically had my own little section for the 5.5 hour journey.
Another perk of First class was individual power outlets, which allowed me to get some work done on the ride and charge mobile devices. The Wi-Fi wasn't great, but it is free for all classes of service.
And that concludes this mini SNCF Train-Report.
Well, almost…one more train before we get to the planes–A mostly empty Parisian Métro car in the middle of a week-day…something I'd never seen before. Truly a sight to behold and clearly a product of the lockdown. As I would come to see first hand, life in the Covid-era in Europe is starkly different than the US.
After spending a night in Paris I had two options to get to CDG airport in the morning: Metro+RER (Regional Commuter Train) or Uber/Taxi. I decided I'd had my fill of trains the previous day and opted for the latter.
The combination of Saturday morning and lockdown made for some very empty roads. I got from the 14th arrondissement in the south of Paris to CDG, which is well north-west of Paris in a record 25 minutes–pure madness. Having done this exact routing by car a few times in the past, it's normally anywhere between 45 minutes to over an hour.
As expected, Terminal 2A was mostly a ghost town. The terminal ended up shutting down completely a week later, due to lack of traffic. Any remaining flight operations had been moved temporarily to Terminal 2E. In normal Times, Terminals 2E/F are reserved almost exclusively for the massive Air France hub, but in the Covid-era, all operations for all carriers had been consolidated to 2E/F.
Check-in was quick as there was absolutely no one in either the Priority or standard queues at the American Airlines ticket counters.
Security and border checks were also mostly deserted, though the queue moved slowly as there were very few lanes open at the security checkpoint and no Accès No. 1 (fast track) lanes due to lack of demand.
Caught a glimpse of our aircraft right as I exited the security checkpoint.
There was more activity airside as several flights were departing around the same time. Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, and United all had flights boarding, if I recall correctly, though it was by no means crowded.
Due to the current lockdown measures and overall lack of demand, there were very few shops open, and all airline lounges in the terminal were closed. I would have had access to either the American or Cathay Pacific lounges with my AA/oneworld status had they been open. Both are decent lounges with good tarmac and runway views, in my experience.
But alas, it was not meant to be, so I did something I haven't had to do in years, err around the terminal.
The Singapore Airlines flight was boarding in a concourse that reminded me of the TWA hotel in JFK with its bright red carpet.
Not the most planespotter-friendly views, however…
And the Singapore A350 that was boarding. I was there for the entire boarding, which only lasted about 5 minutes, and there couldn't have been more than 20 passengers on that flight.
With so little activity there wasn't much interesting planespotting to be had, but there were still some nice liveries to see with this Air Austral 777-300ER
And this Air Canada 787-9 in the new colours.
I slowly made my way to the boarding gate and arrived a few minutes before boarding was due to begin. There were only a handful of people in the gate area, so it looked like it was going to be a mostly empty flight. Two of those few passengers were wearing cowboy hats….because of course they were! Gotta love Texas pride–it spans international borders, oceans, and pandemics! 🤠
Despite there only being about 5 or 6 passengers in the gate area, gate agents went through the usual boarding by zones for the first few zones.
A few people boarded with zone 1 (Business class), I boarded right behind in zone 2 thanks to my oneworld status, 1 person boarded in zone 3, then all others (i.e. 2 people) were invited to board.
The very light load and orderly boarding made it easy to maintain social distancing in the jet bridge.
A completely empty Premium Economy cabin awaited me
There were originally 4 of 21 seats showing occupied during online check-in
But it turned out the other 3 passengers would no-show according to one of the cabin crew, who also shared that there were a grand total of 10 passengers on the flight. 6 in Business, 3 in Economy, and 1 in Premium…Me, myself, and I!
A private cabin for me alone!
Of course, with only 3 passengers for 234 seats in Economy, it was technically even emptier than my private cabin!
Impressive to see such an empty flight. Unsurprisingly, AA temporarily dropped the route just a few days after I returned to France due to lack of demand.
One of the super friendly cabin crew came by to verify my meal order once I got back to my cabin. I'd pre-ordered on AA.com. She confirmed I'd be the only one in Premium Economy and invited me to feel free to take a row of seats in Economy if I wanted to sleep after the meal service, which was thoughtful of her.
Legroom is very generous in the first row of the Premium cabin. At 5'10" (1.78m), I could barely touch the bulkhead with legs stretched out.
Shortly after settling in, a friendly native-French speaker flight attendant came by and chatted for a bit as we waited for doors to close. She gave me a disinfectant wipe in case I wanted to wipe down my already spotlessly clean seat.
One of the first things I noticed was just how clean everything was on the aircraft, to the point that it looked and felt like the plane was brand new and had never had passengers on board.
I was very pleasantly surprised by the cleanliness as I was honestly expecting much of AA's "Clean Commitment" programme not to consist of much more than marketing and PR-fluff. Every single aircraft in this 4-flight itinerary was consistently impeccably clean.
As expected, bedding, noise-cancelling headphones, and amenity kit were all individually wrapped.
With only 10 passengers, boarding wrapped up well ahead of schedule.
I was indeed all alone in my cabin at the end of boarding.
We ended up pushing back from the gate a full 18-minutes prior to scheduled departure time. I don't think I'd ever seen a flight leave so far ahead of time.
The safety video played as we pushed back from the gate.
It felt odd to see so many empty gates in what is normally one of the world's busiest airports.
The full safety video was shown a second time, but now in French.
Some planespotting as we taxied out to the departure runway.
United 787-9 to Newark, which was on a mechanical delay that day
Air Canada 787-9 in the new livery
The beautiful Air France Concorde on display
Some parked AF 777s
With the quick boarding and very early push-back, we ended up taking off before we were even due to leave the gate.
And with that, we were off for our 10h Transatlantic crossing well ahead of schedule.
Aside from the additional legroom mentioned previously, the first row of the Premium Economy cabin also features seats equipped with full leg & calf-rests, unlike other rows which have fold-down foot-rests. The ability to raise up the legs in a true cradle position makes a big difference in comfort-level in my experience, especially on longer flights and night flights.
The in-flight entertainment remote control is located next to the seat-adjustment buttons. It's not the best location as it's easy to accidentally bump into the overhead light button, or worse the flight attendant call button, with your knees or legs when changing positions.
The controller isn't really necessary for the IFE in the first row as the screens fold out of the central armrests, so there is no risk of bothering the passenger in front with constant screen tapping, as can be the case in other rows.
Premium Economy passengers are provided with a pair of noise-cancelling headphones.
A USB port is integrated to the screen. There is also a 110v Universal power outlet located under the central armrest of each seat.
Shortly after takeoff, an informational video about American's "Clean Commitment" Covid-era sanitary measures and protocols was played on individual and collective screens.
The in-flight entertainment system has a very good amount of content, including what appears to be hundreds of films, dozens of TV series, and music. This aircraft also featured (paid) Wi-Fi.
The Live TV feature, however, was not available on this, or any of the 4 flights in this series.
Nice and modern moving map on this newer aircraft.
Lunch service began with drinks and a snack about 20 minutes into the flight.
I had a white wine served in a plastic cup, which has been standard protocol in AA Premium Economy since before Covid-19.
While plastic cups were nothing new, the meal itself was served with packaging left intact per Covid-19 protocol.
Appetiser: Shrimp and endives in a spicy chipotle sauce
Main: Braised beef, mashed potatoes, Brussels sprouts, carrots
Dessert: White chocolate caramel cake
Coffee, tea, or after dinner drinks were offered at the end of the meal. I had a coffee to finish up dessert.
Overall, the meal quality and quantity were good and consistent with my pre-Covid Premium Economy experiences. Also unchanged, was the ability to pre-order the main dish on AA.com between 30 days and 24 hours prior to the flight.
After the meal service, cabin lights were turned down and windows were darkened.
Seat in full recline and legrest deployed.
After lunch I settled in with a movie for a nap
Flight attendants came by with the basket to offer snacks between meal services and also placed the snack baskets out at the self-serve bar in the galley between the Business class and Premium Economy cabins.
Though windows throughout the aircraft were automatically darkened by the crew after the meal service, individual windows were still controllable.
A glimpse of western Ireland as we began the Atlantic crossing.
Towards the middle of the flight, an ice cream snack was served.
At this point we were near the southern tip of Greenland.
Throughout the flight, cabin crew were in the aisles regularly offering snacks, water, and other drinks.
We arrived over the North American continent overflying the frozen tundra of northern Labrador, Canada.
We continued heading south over the vast Lake Michigan
And got a nice view of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, where I'd lived for a few years in the mid 2000's.
MKE - Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport
A pre-arrival meal was served with a little over an hour of flight time remaining. It was a fresh salad with a side of fruit and a chocolate mousse. Nothing too fancy, but a decent light pre-arrival meal for Premium Economy.
The usual US Customs & Border Protection informational video was shown as we began our descent into DFW.
From Paris, France to Paris, Texas!
It didn't take much to ready the cabin for arrival considering it was untouched except for my seat.
North Texas suburbia
Considering we'd left Paris so early, it was no surprise that we landed well ahead of schedule…
About a half-hour early
Taxi time to the gate was short, but there was noticeably much more activity than the ghost town that was Paris CDG.
Alaska 737-800 with split scimitar winglets in new livery
American Eagle (SkyWest) CRJ-700
LATAM 767-300ER still wearing the beautiful old LAN livery.
Qatar Airways A350 parked at International Terminal D.
An impressive line-up of AA widebodies at the International terminal considering the downturn in travel due to Covid-19.
One last look at my private cabin on deplaning.
Immigration and customs were a breeze with so few passengers on board. I didn't even use the Global Entry lanes as it would have actually taken longer to walk further to the Global Entry area rather than walking straight through a standard lane.
Thanks for reading and see you soon for the review of the connecting flight to LAX.
This was definitely one of the more memorable flights I've experienced. I had been anxious about flying during the pandemic, and was relieved to find that American's Covid-measures and protocols weren't just marketing hot-air--the aircraft was absolutely spotless. I'd never seen such an impeccably clean cabin before.
The cabin crew were fantastic. With so few passengers, they delivered top notch super attentive service. Several of the crew were native French speakers, which was great since basically everyone on board was bilingual in these times when essentially only dual-citizens or permanent residents are authorised to travel between France and the US.
The in-flight service was mostly unchanged from pre-Covid times with full hot meals and alcoholic beverage options still available. The main noticeable difference being that packaging was left intact on the meal trays for sanitary reasons.