For travelers in and around New York, flying to Paris recently became more affordable thanks to French Bee. A few months ago, the budget airline began offering nonstop flights from Newark Liberty International to Orly Airport with prices starting as low as around $150 for a one-way ticket (as of Dec. 15). After launching in 2016 with flights from Paris to the South Pacific, the Newark departure is French Bee’s first route from the East Coast.
In November, I hopped aboard one of the airline’s Saturday night flights. Here’s what it was like.
French Bee’s new route, introduced in July 2021, offers three flights per week in both directions from New York to Paris. The airline flies Airbus’s A350-900 XWB aircraft, which features enhanced sound proofing for quieter flights, optimized cabin pressurization, temperature control and LED lighting designed to imitate the sun’s rise and set. French Bee’s planes have a full capacity of 411 passengers, and 35 of those seats are reserved for their “Premium” cabin, which stands in for first or business class seats.
French Bee’s tickets are a la carte, so you pick and choose each piece of your flight experience, and the price tag adjusts accordingly.
Passengers begin by selecting Basic, Smart, or Premium tickets. Basic and Smart tickets are both in the plane’s main section, a.k.a. “Eco Blue.” Seats in this section are 16 inches wide and recline 12 degrees. The Basic ticket (from $154 one-way) allows you one 26-pound carry-on bag and does not come with an in-flight meal. The Smart ticket (from $224 one-way) permits you to check a 50-pound bag and provides an in-flight meal.
Everything after the ticket is extra, and French Bee is serious about its additions — the airline offers more than 20, including an extra meal (from $25); an overnight pack of socks, earplugs, headphones and an eye mask ($12); extra leg room (from $45); luggage delivery (from $20); and access to the Orly lounge (from $40).
Bee’s Premium seats, starting at $439, bump you to the front of the plane and pads the flight with benefits like a French meal designed (if not cooked) by Michelin star chef Jean-Michel Lorain, complimentary drinks (including champagne service upon boarding), as well as priority boarding and line-jump privileges throughout check-in. Premium also boasts slightly larger seats (18 inches) and more reclining capacity (16 degrees) to go with greater legroom and larger back-of seat screens.
The flying experience
I sprang for a Premium seat, which was comfortable and felt more covid-friendly than the main cabin given the increased distance between seats and the sparse number of other customers. I appreciated how the airline handled coronavirus precautions, from checking my vaccination card at check-in to mandating that only medical masks be worn on the flight. The airline presents this detail several times through the booking process, but if you miss it, don’t expect French Bee to hand you a medical mask. One passenger with a homemade face covering nearly didn’t board my flight, but a friendly stranger rescued him.
My Saturday flight was scheduled to depart a few minutes before midnight, but it was delayed about an hour, putting me in the center of Paris by early afternoon the next day. I accepted this as a kink that is being worked out in the first months of the route, but it did make me appreciate the 1 a.m. champagne in my seat all the more.
Once onboard, I took notice of the quiet aircraft and the gentle lighting. Unlike other overnight flights, the temperature and humidity felt well-regulated, so I mercifully made it through the 7½-hour flight without feeling frozen and completely parched.
When I flew home from Paris, French Bee staffers checked my vaccination card, negative coronavirus test, and a signed form attesting that I do not in fact have the coronavirus a minimum of three times from check-in to boarding. Since my trip, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has added a Level 4 travel advisory to France, and the United States began requiring a negative coronavirus test taken within 24 hours of departure on inbound flights.
As a pescatarian, I was pleasantly surprised by my in-flight meal. More often than not, airlines interpret my dietary preference to mean cold pasta or soggy tofu. Shrimp for breakfast was slightly unusual, but it was tasty and warm.
The in-flight entertainment
The selection of movies and TV shows was sparse compared to what might be available elsewhere, but it was a relatively short overnight flight, after all. I settled in with a tablet that was loaded with a modest selection of newspapers and magazines.
My ride on French Bee marked the first time I had crossed the Atlantic since before the pandemic, and it was a welcome way to ease back into long-haul flying. The crew were incredibly hospitable and accommodating. For a smart-cost airline, there were few signs of skimping on anything.
Although buying a Premium ticket bumps the price closer to competing rates, there are few options that can compete with French Bee’s Basic and Smart ticket prices. Premium, while higher in cost, adds in comfort that you would give up in an economy class while staying within the price range of other airlines’ economy tickets. Regardless of where you sit, there are few frills on French Bee, but it is a direct, clean and price-conscious way to make it to Paris. The three flight rotations per week can, in theory, be limiting for planning purposes, but if you don’t anticipate needing to change the dates of your flight while on your trip, the times aren’t too confining.
For me, flying on French Bee is a reminder that travel — even international, European travel — can be affordable. And, unlike other budget airlines that I was prepared to compare it against, I actually left planning my next flight on French Bee. Tahiti, anyone?
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