I used to fly to Paris fairly frequently and had never heard of French Bee Airlines until recently. The name is new and while they only have a short list of destination offerings, they happen to be places in the Caribbean and French Polynesia you really want to visit.
It turns out that they have a direct route which is new between San Francisco and Paris, which is useful since I always resorted to the expensive Air France flights in the past. When I got the email “memo,” I made a mental note however I hadn’t read the whole thing — there was also a new direct flight to Tahiti.
As I kept reading, I saw that French Bee just announced a new direct route from SFO to French Polynesia. It’s not as if I don’t love Paris (I make every attempt to accept any opportunity to fly to this bold, elegant and romantic city of old), however French Polynesia is a region of the world I have been wanting to explore for years. Seriously, Tahiti had been on my top five list for a more than a decade.
So, when asked to join a dozen or so American and French press for their Paris to Tahiti inaugural flight on May 11, how could I refuse?
The airline’s new Airbus A350-900, registered as F-HREV, took off on Friday May 11 at 19:16 CET from Paris-Orly airport with 327 passengers and a crew of 3 pilots and 12 flight attendants on board. Upon arrival at SFO, the French bee team welcomed its first American customers.
I ended up in the bulkhead seats in the middle next to two travel agents, also on board for the inaugural flight. It turns out that we had the CEO of French Bee and his wife sitting to our right and the owner of French Bee and his wife sitting to our left.
You could say that the plane had a bit of a party ambiance — people were drinking champagne, journalists with video cameras were zipping around doing interviews, and attractive French flight attendants were handing out headsets. On the inaugural flight, we all had Wifi access throughout our flight, which was handy.
It’s rare that I bring my super comfy Bose headset with me, but for this trip I did, so I was very ready for movie time even before dinner. They had an ample selection to choose from, including American, British and French films. Like most airline entertainment centers, offerings were divided by category, such as action, animation, comedy and so on.
Wifi is an option as noted earlier, but they also offer premium magazines and newspapers on digital which you can read in Premium via one of their iPads. There were pages of interesting reading and entertainment to choose from, including some of the more renowned media outlets and favorites.
The first thing I noticed about the quality of the F-HREV aircraft was how quiet the engine was vis a vis most commercial airlines.
Because French Bee is a low cost airline, it only offers two travel classes with 411 seats on each plane. Their classes of services are called Premium and Eco and I had a chance to try them both…flying out in Premium and back in Eco.
So, how do they differ? Take a look at the measurements for space and seat width, and it will give you an idea of what you’re paying for with the upgrade.
- Economy or Eco: In French Bee’s eco class, there’s 376 leather economy seats with a 10 seat row. The seats have a 32’’ & 31’’ pitch with a 16.4” seat width and 12° reclining seats. There’s an HD Touch Screen and free in-flight entertainment with power and USB outlets. There’s also knee and lumbar reinforcements and adjustable headrests. Sweet!
- Premium: in their premium class, I sat in the font row for a redeye heading down to Tahiti. In this section, there were 35 seats, but with only 7 seats in a row. (that means three extra seats of room across the entire row, which felt pretty significant from testing them both). The seats have a 36’’ pitch with a 19″ seat width and 16° reclining seats. Given that I was an overnight flight, having the extra four degree decline made a difference. Like eco, there’s free movies and entertainment, and power and USB outlets, but they also offer a footrest and a leg rest, both of which are adjustable.
What About the Food?
Because French Bee is a low cost airline, don’t expect the finest champagne on board or meals made by celebrity chefs. That said, we received hot (and rather delicious) meals on the way down and back, which you never get with an American low cost airline anymore.
There’s also a Blue Cafe that you can access through an iPad they hand out to Premium flyers. Here you can order other items like cappuccino, drinks and other items.
For hot meals, they offered a Chicken and rice meal or shrimp with fettuccine. Oddly, sushi came with both meal options and everyone else seemed equally surprised but loved the fact that they did.
For wine, our entire row went for the Chateau Escot, a scrumptious Bordeaux blend from 2012. It was a perfect accompaniment with Brie and for sipping while watching a movie after dinner.
An hour or so before landing, they woke us up for breakfast, which consisted of tea or coffee, yoghurt, juice, a French roll and a croissant.
French Bee Hits Tahiti
Arrival was fun despite it being 4:40 am in the morning. We were greeted by locals vibrantly dressed in the most beautiful attire and I received two leis which lasted for a couple of days. And of course, all were very generous about their time in front of camera lenses.
So many smiles and so early in the morning. Let’s just say that I was ignited with energy immediately and ready to paint the island red. First though, our hosts went through the game plan and we met a few locals.
To celebrate the arrival on the island, locally-called “Fenua”, the F-HREV received a water salute in the Polynesian tradition. Actually, it went beyond just a water salute but even before the salute happened (and it happened more than once), we were greeted by croissants, coffee and a press conference upon arrival.
Everything was quite ceremonial from the start, including a rather formal series of speeches about the significance of French Bee’s new flights from America’s West Coast. Because its the heart of Silicon Valley, suddenly major brands like Air France and United have more competition.
French Bee’s inexpensive direct flight options that bring Californians down to Tahiti in a mere 8.5 hours, will bring a brand new American tourist to French Polynesia who has never been or quite frankly, considered going. This could be a game changer for tourism coming from the SF Bay Area.
Costuming, drums and singing was a big part of the experience.
Close up, they are absolutely stunning. There are places in Tahiti (and Mo’orea) where you can buy head dresses I learned later in the week. The Tiki Village is one such spot, which you’ll read about in our Tahiti and Mo’orea Travel Guide Round-up.
And, another one.
The next part may be a bit confusing if you’ve never experienced a blessing for an airline before, but we had one and Father Christophe performed. In French, the ritual began, which included chanting, prayers and sprinkling of holy water on the crowd.
He wasn’t the only one doing a blessing. In the Polynesian tradition, Margeurite blew the conch shell to the east, to the west, to the north and to the south, not unlike some pagan traditions.
In a way, it’s a blessing and unification — bringing together all the Tahitian Gods and Goddesses to bless the land and of course, this new French Bee airplane that would now be on Tahitian soil every week.
After the ceremony, I had a chance to meet Father Christophe, who came across as this easy go lucky priest with a heart of gold and a joie de vivre that was refreshing. With him, I also met Marguerite, who also had a passion for life and so many stories to tell, I could have listened to her all day.
French Bee: The Planes
The new San Francisco to Paris-Orly Sud and San Francisco to Tahiti Faa’a connections will be operated by an A350-900 XWB (Extra Wide Body). Frenchbee took delivery of its latest A350, registered as F-HREV, from Airbus last April. It joined the company’s fleet, which includes the F-HREU, an A350 delivered in August 2017, and the F-HPUJ, an A330-900 received in June 2016.
The F-HREV is equipped with the latest in-flight entertainment and connectivity systems available in the airline industry.
French Bee planes also boast cabin pressurization, temperature control and enhanced air quality. They use the latest generation of 100% LED mood lighting, which is apparently capable of recreating sunset and sunrise light at the right time. This is meant to improve sleep quality and reduce the impact of jet lag.
Says French Bee, “All these technologies reduce the feeling of fatigue felt after a long flight.”
French Bee: The Details
Out of the gate, they announced low-cost airline offers introductory fares starting at $189 (introductory fare) for one-way flights to Paris, and $330 to Papeete during low season. The new flights will appeal to French, American and Polynesian travelers since the offers are so low and feasible.
French Bee‘s “à la carte” flights currently offer three fare options:
- Basic: lowest-priced one-way ticket including a 26 pound carry-on bag.
- Smart: one-way ticket including a 26 pound carry-on bag, one 50 pound hold bag and an in-flight meal.
- Premium: one-way ticket including Premium seat reservation, two 50 pound pieces of hold baggage per passenger, a meal and a snack.
Tickets can be booked on the company’s website and via the reservation center available at 833-376-7158 (8 am to 7 pm Monday to Saturday, PST).