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Report No: 2021-701
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Welcome to this report of the inaugural flight from French bee's newest addition to their route network, Newark, to Paris Orly onboard their A350-900 in Economy Class.
Originally I was planning to book this trip with La Compagnie as they were running a very good deal ( $1500 r/t ) from Newark to Orly but when I was waiting for my credit card billing cycle to switch to the next month, discount fares for possible dates that I could travel was not anymore. I glimpsed at other airline options such as legacy US and European carriers and they were mostly asking $1000+ for Economy Class.
Luckily, I was able to realize that French bee was actually starting this route and was €352 r/t. Originally I have booked this flight for 14 July but in the end they consolidated the 14 & 15 July flights so the first EWR-ORY flight took place on 15 July. Despite a good onboard experience with French bee, the airport experience in EWR was chaotic. For more please scroll down and enjoy this report of French bee's inaugural flight from Newark Airport to Paris Orly Airport.
Here is the routing for this trip;
Loads for this flight
Premium blue: 95-100%
Eco blue: 85-90%
24 hours before the flight, I have online checked-in on the French bee website.
The first stage was entering passport details. After the first part, I have proceeded to the second part where you could purchase seats and checked baggage if you haven't already done so.
French bee was running a 85% off sale on seat selections somewhere in mid-June so I was able to get seat 17A ( bulkhead row with XL legroom ) for 5 euros rather than paying the 35 euro regular amount. Also, as another reminder that if you would check baggage, I would strongly recommend purchasing this option during booking as the prices of a checked baggage would jump to €90 or $90 ( not sure ) during OLCI. When booking the ticket, it's much cheaper.
After check-in, despite COVID requirements, I was able to print boarding passes and create a mobile boarding pass if I had an iPhone.
Here is the check-in confirmation.
This is an adventurous bonus part of this report. That day, I was going to take an Amtrak train from Washington Union Station to Newark Airport and the train ride that was scheduled to take about 3 hours, took longer than 4h15mins.
The flight was originally scheduled at 23:55 but a few days ago was pulled back to 22:55 so I have changed my train to a 15:52 departure from Washington Union Station to be safe. Originally, I have booked a train which would have departed at 18:00 as my flight was scheduled to depart an hour later, although, to be safe, just in case of OLCI didn't work, I didn't want to take the risk and changed my itinerary to the previous train. With a promo code, I have paid $51 for this journey from Washington Union Station directly to Newark Airport.
The train was fully booked through the entire journey and announcements were made that 4 seaters were reserved for families, so I needed to head to a regular row. On my previous trips in late 2020 & early 2021 onboard Amtrak's Northeast Regional product, I have never seen a load factor over 25% and this was a surprise as the train was full with leisure travelers rather than business travelers that you would have seen pre-COVID.
We have departed Washington Union Station on time and before leaving the USA I decided to eat something specific to the US ( burgers & fries ), so I bought some food from Shake Shack at the train station. Luckily, the seat next to me was empty till Baltimore ( the 1st hour of the journey ) so I didn't disturb anyone when enjoying my meal.
The first two hours of the train ride was uneventful but about 10 minutes before we were supposed to arrive at Philadelphia, one of the brakes of the train were extremely heated thus we have made a stop. It took about 20-25 minutes for the issue to be solved right there.
Later on we have continued to Philadelphia at a reduced speed and the mechanics wanted to verify that everything was all set and checked everything from the beginning which took about another 20-25 minutes. After that, we were on our way but we were going at a reduced speed at 80mph's.
Finally with a 1h15 minute delay, we have arrived at Newark Airport's rail station.
After leaving the rail station, I have used the AirTrain to reach Terminal B which French bee uses at Newark Liberty Airport.
Here are some photos from the AirTrain ride.
An El Al 787
French bee's counters in Terminal B are located at level 2 between the counters of Spirit Airlines and Delta. As I didn't print my boarding pass beforehand, I needed to stop by the counter. At EWR, mobile boarding passes or pdf screenshots of an online boarding pass is not accepted for French bee flights.
While entering the check-in queue, a friendly French lady gave a souvenir bag: "Paris Is Always a Good Idea".
After a 5 minute wait, I was served by a friendly agent who verified my passport details, vaccination certificate and visa. He also asked me to fill out a declaration form mandated by the airline that I had no COVID symptoms and didn't tested positive within the last 14 days. During the check-in process my carry-on was also weighed and was tagged. A reminder that French bee doesn't accept any carry-ons over 12kgs onboard their flights, all bags over that limit should be checked on hold.
Then I got my boarding pass and headed towards security.
By the way, at the check-in desk, there were some passengers complaining about checked bag fees and extras which is quite familiar to see at LCC's.
FIDS for the day
And here is the great surprise for the day. There was a very long line for security and as I wasn't eligible for fast-track, I needed to wait a very long line.
The line was very long. As you could see social distancing is no longer the case in the USA, although masks are still required.
After a 30 minute wait, I was here and still, there was a very long way remaining until security.
Due to the cost-cutting of Newark Airport closing concourse B1 at a certain time, a Spirit flight to Orlando and two Frontier flights to Orlando and San Juan were departing from the same international concourse as ours and with passengers on a fully booked Ethiopian Airlines flight to Addis Ababa and a pretty full Emirates flight to Athens & Dubai ( + of course our flight ), the long lines were inevitable.
Also the FIDS were showing false information as when I took this photo, it has already been 45 minutes since I entered the queue.
At that time, some French bee representatives were reminding that they needed a paper boarding pass and a mobile boarding pass or a screenshot wouldn't work. I guess that many people were sent back to the counters so they have felt the need to remind everyone.
With 2 agents assigned for the identification check and 4 security lanes open, I was in the airside of Newark Terminal B2, 75 minutes after I got in the line. The security agents were efficient but still, it's not a good impression to wait 75 minutes.
While arriving at the gate closer to our scheduled boarding time, there was no sign of boarding at that time.
Most flights at that concourse were already delayed due to long security lines and ours was going to be delayed as well.
There was a flyer of the new route at the gate but there weren't any celebrations for the inaugural at the gate.
There was nothing to do that much in the concourse as only one café, one grab&go convenience store and the duty free store was open late in the evening.
During our scheduled boarding time, there was an announcement made that the flight was already delayed 30 minutes because our parking position was occupied and the towing of our aircraft from a remote stand to the gate was delayed. Once the previous aircraft cleared the gate, our A350-900 was towed and the crew have boarded for takeoff preparations.
Newark Airport's Terminal B is not a spotter friendly terminal at all.
However, I was able to take a snapshot of F-HREV.
Before boarding, ground staff has distributed French and American flags to passengers as there was going to be a photo shoot at the plane celebrating the inaugural. Other than this, there wasn't any specific inaugural activity at the terminal.
The boarding process was very chaotic because of the lack of space and because of the PA system not working properly.
Boarding had started with families with small children and Premium blue passengers. Shortly later, boarding continued row-by-row from the rear to the front.
The boarding process took very long and I was finally able to board the aircraft.
This was one of the longest boarding processes that I have been part of during my life. To be honest, the boarding process took about 75-80 minutes.
At the aircraft door, I was welcomed by the cabin crew members, handed a hand sanitizer wipe and then went to my seat 17A which is a bulkhead seat.
Although the legroom at row 17 is perfect and was worth the €5 I paid, the seat width is narrower that most other carriers that use the A350-900. French bee's Airbus A350-900 have the 3-4-3 configuration which is not a common layout. Luckily seat 17B remained empty so the flight was more enjoyable.
Here is the hand sanitizing wipe that was provided upon boarding.
The seat had a panel for lighting and the crew call button as the IFE screen needs to be stowed for taxi, takeoff and landing
The seat back pocket consisted the safety card and the French boutique duty free catalogue.
The BoB catalogue was only available and visible through the IFE screens.
Each seat is equipped with an IFE screen despite French bee being a low cost carrier.
The screens have a USB port and well you could find a power outlet under the seats.
I specifically don't know the brand of the IFE system but the IFE system has the same interface that you could find on Lufthansa aircraft.
Wi-Fi was available for purchase on this flight. The Wi-Fi packages are data limited and the prices were expensive.
French bee uses On Air as a provider which have great internet speeds over the air so I expect that the quality of the Wi-Fi would be good.
A view from the window while boarding was going on.
While boarding was still going on, it was time to explore the BoB menu.
Deals & bundles
Alcoholic beverages and meals for purchase
Drink options, they even sell Nespresso onboard.
Travel kit option
Personally, I was really satisfied with the BoB menu of French bee and their selection are pretty perfect. US carriers should learn a lesson from this carrier regarding how to choose what they are going to sell as BoB.
If you would like to avoid foreign transaction fees with a credit card, they also accept cash which is a nice touch. Just a reminder that purchases with debit cards are not accepted.
Here is the menu for this flight for those who have pre-ordered or eligible to get a meal.
Here is the menu for the opposite direction
Although French bee doesn't have a rich IFE content, there were decent amount of movies, TV shows and music albums both in French and English
There is also an option to view the aircraft cameras located at the exterior of the aircraft.
About an hour later than our scheduled departure time we have pushed back and the safety demo was done manually by the cabin crew despite the aircraft being equipped with IFE screens.
We were pushing back at that time
After the safety demo was complete, the cabin crew made final checks before departure and the cabin lights were dimmed.
Here is an Emirates 777-300ER bound to Dubai via Athens
Turkish Airlines A330 and United 737
While we were taxiing to the runway, this FedEx 757 was passing by
Another shot of the Emirates 777-300ER
Frontier A320neo's at Terminal B3
United aircraft at Terminal C.
And at this time another interesting thing happens. We remain stable for 20-25 minutes at this point with no announcement and no explanation. After that, captain Santiago has announced that the ATC hasn't approved our transatlantic flight path, thus they needed to re-draw the routing from the beginning and get permission.
At that time the seatbelt signs were switched off and passengers were able to move around the cabin.
At that time, I visited one of the lavatories near door 3L which looked clean.
However, there was a bit of hair, probably left by the previous passenger
Here is the route map
A few minutes later, captain Santiago has announced that we were all set and we have took off towards the south.
We were finally in the air about 2 hours later than our scheduled departure time
Statue of Liberty and New York
And a few seconds later, we were making a clockwise turn towards the north.
After take-off, the cabin crew distributed contact tracing forms and handed me an amenity kit.
I am not sure if I was lucky but the amenity kit also had a meal voucher which I was able to use during the flight despite pre-ordering a meal in advance.
The amenity kit had socks, an eye-mask and earphones in addition to the meal voucher.
Route map at that time
The Wi-Fi system was then activated.
A few minutes later, the cabin crew came for BoB. I have only asked for a cup of water which is complimentary. Although, passengers who wish to get a bottled water could get one by paying for it.
I have also watched a movie until I was able to sleep
When I woke up about 1h30mins before landing, the cabin crew had already passed my row and the trolley was about 10-15 rows behind us. However, when the trolley was going back to the galley, the attentive cabin crew have realized that I have woken up and offered my meal which was still hot. Also for celebrating the first flight, champagne was free of charge during the meal service.
The tray consisted the main course, a croissant, a roll bread, strawberry jam, butter, Oreo cookies and paper cutlery.
Here is the main meal which tasted good but the portion was small.
Scrambled eggs with peppers, roasted potatoes wedges and chicken sausage
It's also a nice touch to serve the main meal not straight after departure at midnight but serving it before landing at a more legitimate time.
At that time we were over the UK
Shortly later the trays were collected and the cabin crew also asked for the contact tracing forms that were given upon departure.
The cabin was then prepared for landing and we have started our descend into Orly.
Also there was an announcement that asked passengers to waive the French and American flags that were handed at EWR as soon as we land as there was going to be a photo shoot during landing.
The Tour Eiffel
And, we have landed at Orly about an hour and twenty minutes later than our scheduled arrival time
At Orly it was almost impossible to see an aircraft of a non-EU carrier.
Air France and Air Corsica aircraft at Orly 2
Transavia and Corsair aircraft at remote stands
Air France 777-300ER at Orly 3 which was going to head to Pointe-a-Pitre that afternoon
More Transavia 737's
Pegasus A321neo that was going to head toward Istanbul Sabiha Gökçen
F-HROK parked at Orly 4 waiting for its flight to Fort de France.
More Corsair and Air Caraibes aircraft at Orly 4
Air Caraibes A350-900 that was going to head towards Cayenne that afternoon
And we were going to park at stand B41 which corresponded to gates F28/F29.
Long-haul aircraft of French carriers.
Other than the Pegasus A321neo, I haven't spotted any other non-EU registered aircraft that day.
And we were going to park next to this Corsair A330-300
Before arriving to our parking position, the cabin crew has asked everyone to remain in their seats as we were going to deboard row-by-row; however, when the seatbelt signs were switched off, about 80% of the passengers stood up.
Shortly later both jetbridges were attached to the aircraft and deboarding has commenced from both doors, 1L and 2L.
After saying goodbye and thank you to the crew, I have left the aircraft. Here is the last photo of F-HREV
Then I have headed towards immigration which was not totally empty. There were 4 officers accepting non-EU citizens/residents and after a 10 minute wait, I was in the baggage claim hall. As I travel with a Turkish passport the officer was a bit confused as there was a Pegasus flight that have arrived from Turkey just before us and after asking where did I come from, she only requested my vaccination certificate as I was arriving from a green-list country. Also, she has checked almost every stamp in my passport to make sure that I haven't been to any red listed country within the last 14 days.
As only ticketed passengers are allowed inside the terminal and as the rule was enforced by the security ( unlike US airports ), the terminal was pretty empty and most of the stores/cafés at the arrival level of Orly 4 was pretty empty.
Shortly later, I have headed to the OrlyVAL station
And I took the OrlyVAL and the RER train to leave the airport and my holiday in France had officially started.
And it's the end of this report. Thanks for reading and hope to see you in another report.
The series would continue with the next report soon.
Despite a horrible Newark experience with long waits and a chaos environment, French bee itself was a great way to fly the Atlantic and I really enjoyed flying them. The service and the crew were much better than some of the full service carriers around. The IFE was decent for a LCC, however, the Wi-Fi is a bit expensive and it's not that attractive as it's data-capped. The seat was a bit narrow but not having a neighbor and when having an extra legroom seat, I didn't have any discomfort on this flight.
Also, I would have waited some other celebration from French bee on this inaugural flight other than free champagne and a free bag which would have made the experience better.
I would make a more detailed conclusion about French bee in the return leg of this trip when I publish the respective report.