We Tried French Bee’s New Super-Budget Nonstop Flight From LAX to Paris
Pack light and bring low expectations for the wifi service
Summer will always be the best time for traveling, and that hasn’t changed just because ticket costs are soaring. Americans are heading back to Europe in full force, and though it might be a much longer (and more expensive) journey from L.A. than New York, the gravitational pull is too great to resist.
That means it’s time to consider cost-effective options to the continent, including French Bee, a French airline now flying from LAX nonstop to Paris. A lot of direct international flights got added to L.A.’s docket this year, so it’s not too surprising that a French carrier is in the mix. But a budget carrier — for nearly 11 hours? Can it really be worth it?
We decided to try it out ourselves and see what this new direct is about.
Three levels means price point and amenities are very customizable
The nonstop route from LAX to Paris-Orly (ORY) officially launched on April 30 and has been running three services a week — Monday, Thursday and Saturday — though they recently increased that to six routes every week on July 1. They offer three classes of service: Basic, which includes a single 26-pound carry-on item and no checked luggage; Smart, which includes the same carry-on, a 50-pound checked bag and an in-flight meal; and Premium, their highest offering, which entails a carry-on, two checked bags, a nicer in-flight meal, complimentary beverage service, seat choice, priority boarding and priority luggage delivery.
The cheapest fare begins around $351 one way, so getting to Paris and back for under a thousand is technically possible. One unique element of French Bee’s service is that different amenities can be added or subtracted from the Smart and Basic tickets. Additional leg room, priority luggage or extra luggage, meals for purchase and lounge access (available only on the Paris side of the trip) can be added to even the cheapest fares, at around $30-$50 for each item. Again, this can defeat the purpose of snagging an extremely cheap ticket, but it also lets travelers pay for the amenities that are most important to them.
Check the baggage allowances very carefully
If you opt for the Basic fare, keep in mind that “a single carry-on item” is different from the standard U.S. allowance of one carry-on and one personal item. And even if you can fit everything into a sole carry-on suitcase, it has to be under 30 pounds. Luggage fees for checking or adding bags to this fare range from $45 — if you purchase ahead of time — to $130 if you check two bags on the day of the flight. This kind of add-on cost could defeat the purpose of saving money on the ticket price, so if you do opt for the cheaper fare, keep a close eye on the allowances and pack accordingly.
Premium is worth the splurge, but removes some of the affordability
Though Premium isn’t technically a first-class option — and is more akin to premium economy — it’s definitely the best way to do a flight this long. After flying Premium on the way to Paris and Smart on the way back, the difference between the amount of space and comfort in the two classes was drastic. Basic is much cheaper than either of these but, again, would only work for someone who can pack incredibly light for an intercontinental trip.
Don’t trust the wifi
No matter what class of service you book, don’t count on getting any work done if that work requires wifi. I purchased the highest level of access offered — yes, there are tiered options even for wifi — which was supposedly secure enough to support video streaming. Not only could it not handle any form of entertainment, the connection wasn’t even enough to open Slack, email or a Google Doc. After consulting multiple flight attendants about a reboot, and then a possible refund, it became clear that this amenity is not a priority for the airline. There was no refund, and my deadline went unmet, at least for the duration of the nearly 11-hour flight. A technological upside: Every seat has a screen pre-loaded with in-flight entertainment, plus a USB port and electrical outlet.
Traveling during COVID-19 is hectic no matter who you fly
On the outbound leg of my trip, French Bee let travelers check in at kiosks located in the international terminal of LAX, and then head straight through security. This is a great perk — except that when I traveled, vaccine records still needed to be checked by an actual human being. Because of this mix-up, our flight out of L.A. left over an hour late, as plenty of passengers needed their credentials re-examined at the gate. This isn’t necessarily a dig at French Bee, and for the moment, requirements like these for travel between the U.S. and France have been lifted. It is, though, a solid reminder that the pandemic has made travel unpredictable, and delays and mix-ups like this are likely to be part of our experience for the foreseeable future. Give yourself lots of cushion, and pack snacks.
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