Before moving to France, I spent a lot of time (and money) flying to, from and around my husband’s homeland. Here’s my experience with four French airlines: Air France, XL Airways, La Compagnie and Air Corsica. All flights were between NYC and Paris unless otherwise noted.
Let’s start with the big one.
Air France is a major international airline in the SkyTeam alliance which includes Delta, Alaska Airlines, KLM, Korean Air and more. Delta code shares a lot with Air France on flights to and from Paris, so you can often book flights using Delta SkyMiles for flights operated by Air France. And given the chance, you’ll want to do that because the service on Air France is nicer than on U.S. carriers.
The food and service in economy are great by airline standards, with lots of customer support, good baggage allowance and all the free wine you like. The entertainment system includes French films, shows and music in addition to American ones, in case you’d like to get into the French mood before touching down. Seats are of a good size and comfort level for economy, and all communications on the plane are done in French and English. The Air France magazines are very well done and a good way to practice reading the language because the articles are in both French and English.
Another nice addition: When you have a ticket, you can indulge in the Air France lounge for I believe $35 at JFK, and get a complimentary Clarins mini facial, French food and wine, magazines and a calm environment in the middle of the airport craziness. If you have at least a couple of hours before boarding, or your flight is delayed I definitely think it’s worth it.
Of course, these perks come at a cost. The economy tickets are generally one of the more expensive options, although good deals can be had and if you’re a member of the Air France miles club Flying Blue, it has monthly miles specials.
One annoying thing is that you can’t choose your seat until 30 hours before the flight (or at the airport) unless you pay a 20€ fee. Also, don’t eat the plastic wrapped croissant they give you for breakfast just before touching down in Paris. I promise much, much better croissants are to be had even in the airport, and you don’t want to waste your taste buds on the airplane one.
There’s really only one reason to choose XL Airways: the price. Tickets are almost always the cheapest option, sometimes by hundreds of dollars, but keep in mind you’re not going to get as good of service because of that. If cost is a big concern, you’re not a princess and you don’t have a pressing reason to land at your exact scheduled time, I think it is worth it.
But let’s discuss the downsides. This is a budget carrier. That means the seats aren’t XL, nor very comfortable nor is there a lot of leg room. The food isn’t great, though not bad (and still lots of free wine). Service isn’t always with a smile. The baggage allowance is stingy and they weigh your carry-on too (though not your purse, so put your laptop in a tote to get around it). And the low price means you’ll often be traveling with groups such as noisy students who stay up all night and talk while you’re trying to sleep in your tiny seat.
You’re also rolling the dice more with regards to arriving on time. Because this is a smaller airline and they don’t have extra planes sitting around JFK, when the flight coming into New York from Paris is delayed, guess what? So is your flight to Paris because that same plane is the one going back to France. One time I was delayed seven hours at JFK because of an aborted takeoff in Paris and therefore missed meeting my husband’s grandmother. Other times my flight was right on time. So a bit of a crapshoot.
La Compagnie (translation “The Company”) is a newer, all-business-class, boutique airline that flies out of Newark and has a very Instagram-friendly light blue theme. Every seat turns into a bed (not completely flat, but close), the decor is sleek and the prices are much lower than most airlines for business class service. Tickets start at $1,800 round trip between NYC and Paris, compared to at least twice that on Air France.
When I flew this airline for work in 2015 I had never heard of it, and wasn’t sure what to expect, but had a great experience. Who doesn’t love laying down on a trans-Atlantic flight, complete with adorable toiletries bag (which I still have) and a banging cheese plate?
Being a smaller airline with fewer flights and passengers means no waiting in long lines to check in or board. There is a lounge at Newark (included in ticket price), and though it isn’t quite as fancy as the Air France lounge at JFK, they do have fancy sleep pods and a Bliss mini spa. On board the hot towels, attentive service and tasty food added up to one of my more enjoyable flight experiences. The whole thing feels very French-centric, and most of the passengers on my flight were French. Oh, and of course all the free wine you want.
Obviously not the most cost-conscious choice, but if you’re looking to splurge for a special trip or treat your parents to business class, this is a great way to do it without completely breaking the bank.
I’m including this airline here because I flew it twice and have the great picture at the top of this post to show for it, but the reality is this airline is taking you to a magical place called Corsica and that is the most important thing. So pat yourself on the back for booking a trip to this amazing island and just enjoy the short ride from Paris with a glass of free wine.