Fashionable relief from the sprawl of Charles de Gaulle
Air France has long enjoyed a prestigious reputation, seen by many as a standard bearer for sky-high luxury. When the airline rolled out a completely redesigned business class in 2014, featuring a new hard product and improved ground services, it was intending to solidify its place at the top of the competitive premium transatlantic market. The onboard experience has done just that, garnering plenty of positive publicity in the years since its introduction. The recently renovated lounges have not attracted similar amounts of attention, although they probably should. Don’t read too far in to this coverage (or lack thereof), the Salon for Air France’s international business passengers is excellent through and through.
Navigating CDG — a sprawling, crowded mess of an airport — isn’t a thrilling prospect, even with the higher flyer’s promised land awaiting inside Charles de Gaulle’s Terminal 2E. There were thousands of people moving in every direction when I arrived, all of whom were shuffling very, very slowly. Gotta keep your eyes on the prize while wading through the masses, and eventually, the SkyPriority check-in counters in Zone 6 will come in to view. While you might have to hike a bit to get there (especially if you arrive by train), your destination is hard to miss thanks to eye-catching red signage and massive white partitions.
Attendants stand in front of a single entrance, reviewing reservations to ensure that no one sneaks in. A stern-looking granny beckoned for my documents, and while that wasn’t a warm welcome, the interaction was strangely endearing. With that past, I was admitted in to a space that, compared to the rest of the terminal, was tranquil. Thick red carpet covered the floors and dozens of marble-potted ferns were everywhere. There were only a handful of other guests, all speaking in hushed whispers, and wasn’t a line to talk to a desk agent. I had made it…or so I thought.
The person helping me was cordial enough, and after scanning my passport, she issued a boarding pass. There were no problems with that, but she soon became the bearer of bad news when she (politely) asked me to leave. Because of some ongoing interior construction work, the premium security line is only accessible from the public part of the terminal, and not from the business class enclave. I’m generally pretty confident when finding my way around an airport, and it seemed like this wouldn’t be too big of a hassle. Charles de Gaulle was determined to prove otherwise.
I didn’t have to go far — just a walk “next door” to Zone 7 — but there was no signage whatsoever. The directions from the attendant, “it will be obvious which hallway you need to walk through,” couldn’t have been further from the truth. After wandering around to no avail, an armed guard stopped me to brusquely ask “What are you doing?!?” After a brief question and answer exchange (“Yes, sir, I am the only one who packed my suitcase this morning…”), he pointed in the right direction.
A maze of claustrophobia-inducing corridors led to the back of a long queue, which then led to passport control and security. Slowly but surely I advanced forward, and little by little the experience felt increasingly less premium. The super-privileged traveling in Air France’s exclusive La Premiere first class pass through private screenings before entering in to a “secret” lounge. Business class passengers have their own space too, although it’s adjacent to the regular economy line and is separated only by a glass wall. If you’ve ever had the desire to feel like you’re on the inside of an aquarium tank, here is a great place to do that. Also, because there was only one border control officer working the “priority” immigration desk, it took nearly an hour to make it through the checkpoints. Those in the far-more-crowded general section were moving at a faster rate. That’s unacceptable.
After clearing security, there are some signs directing higher flyers to the Air France Salon. They’re hard to miss, and after slogging through the landside sections of Charles de Gaulle Airport (often times without any sense of where to go), they’re welcome sights.
You’ll first have to go down a floor to access the lounge, and there are some elevators and a flight of stairs. This isn’t the most glamorous place in the airport, but then again, there’s only so much that even the most talented interior designer can do in a space like this. At least there are clear directional signs here, which automatically makes it better than most everything before security.
For the first time since waking up in Lille, I was completely alone walking in to the lounge. It was surreal, almost. Even as an army of receptionists greeted me, the peace and quiet continued; just like Zone 6 of the departures hall, this was a hushed environment. As one woman behind the counter scanned my boarding pass, another, speaking in a soft whisper, explained the layout and the features here. There are three main seating areas, two to the left of me and another to the right, all with their own buffets, drink stations, and restrooms. In addition, there are some shower suites and a spa, the latter of which provides complimentary 15 minute treatments to everyone. You can also pay extra for longer ones. Had there not been an hour long wait to get a passport stamp, perhaps there would have been time, but alas…
If you turn to the right when you walk in, you’ll pass a customer service desk immediately. While no one was stationed there presently (maybe staffers were on a lunch break), its existence is a vastly underrated feature of this lounge. If something goes awry in your travels, generally speaking, you’ll be better served here, as the employees will have more bandwidth to help you than the harried gate agents.
Further along was the spa, and finally one of the three main “great rooms” of the Salon. This was probably my least favorite of them. While it’s nicely appointed, there’s no source of natural light, and the ceilings are a little bit too low for my preferences. The lounge is located in the basement, and here is where you are most likely to be reminded of that.
It’s not all bad though, in fact, the least impressive area is objectively very good; it reminds me most of an American Express Centurion lounge. Even though this is just one big space, it hardly feels like that because of the variety of chairs, furnishings, and partitions that create separation and privacy.
There’s also a roped-off area dedicated exclusively to platinum Flying Blue members, although no one sat there during my stay. Nobody seemed to be enforcing the exclusivity of that zone either, so what’s to stop unelite nobodies like me from going there? Perhaps this is a bit unnecessary, but perhaps some of those who work especially hard to keep Air France in business like having some recognition… or easy access to a fridge.
A number of other amenities can be found in this general area too, some of which, like literature racks, are far from unique. The ones in the Air France Salon contain plenty of material, which again is pretty common, but there’s at least one publication written in the local language of each of the airline’s destinations. It’s rare to see such an inclusive collection of international newspapers and magazines on offer.
These credenzas are also positioned in front of a communal workspace and a lending library of sorts, which is a unique arrangement at an airport. No, this isn’t anything like you might see on a college campus, but it is cool being encouraged to take a breath and read a bit before catching a flight. If you like what you’ve chosen from the shelf, you can take it, provided that you exchange it for a book that you have with you. It’s only fair, after all…
If you’re not feeling inclined to read, there’s also a handheld Playstation Vita equipped in another corner of this part of the lounge. It’s just a demo unit, so you may not have a lot of hardcore gaming opportunities on this device, but it’s definitely different from the standard fare of features you might find elsewhere. Your children might like this too.
For what it’s worth, Sony partners with the Parisian airport authority. There’s another “Playstation Station” (how redundant is that?!) elsewhere in the terminal. If you’re in to that, you’ll love waiting for a plane at Charles De Gaulle, regardless of whether or not you visit a lounge.
Anyway, there’s a path that originates at the Salon entrance and extends all the way to the far wall. The seating areas and other amenities pictured above are all arranged around this walkway, and restrooms and showers are located at the end of it.
I had about an hour in the lounge before boarding, and after a long weekend of working, a shower would be most relaxing before the flight. A free massage would have been good too, but again, there wasn’t enough time. An employee explained that all of the standard stalls were occupied, but there was a handicapped one available. If I promised to hurry, it could be mine… so that was that!
There are some really fancy airport showers in the world, and the one in the Air France Salon is definitely not one of them. Everything was perfectly clean though, and that’s probably what I value the most when using public bathrooms.
Clarins branded toiletries are provided, as are other generic bathroom products like toothbrushes, shaving kits, and self-care kits (like tweezers and Q-Tips). Everything was high grade yet utilitarian. Even the shampoo and body wash was neutral, which for a high-end beauty company, was a bit of a let down. I wanted to smell as fresh as I felt!
The overall shower experience was “remarkably unremarkable.” Considering how many things can go wrong in a bathroom, I’ll gladly take something average at the expense of something that’s flashy but poorly-executed. Cloth towels or individual paper towels would be preferable to this machine though…
Staying true to my word, I was in and out of the shower in 20 minutes, and then subsequently moved on to the other side of the lounge. After crossing through the main entrance of the Salon — so if you make a left after entering instead of a right — you’ll find an area that’s aesthetically superior to the interior area.
If the “interior” section seems like a Centurion Lounge, the other side of the Salon is a significant step above that. It helps that there is a huge, two-storey-tall wall of windows to let in natural light. Add in a loft and higher ceilings, and reduce the number of available seating areas (and in turn, the amount of foot traffic), and you have an area that feels far more spacious than the opposite one. If you can snag a chair here, this is where you want to settle in before your flight.
Unlike the opposite side, there aren’t a ton of special features here. Should you want more than the standard fare (so a place to sit and stuff to eat and drink) and a display case filled with overpriced Air France-branded accessories, you’ll have to walk elsewhere.
That said, there are tarmac views here, and those themselves can be considered attractions. I could only see a couple of Airbus A320s and the tail of a Boeing 777 during my stay, but that’s okay. Avgeek beggars can’t be choosers!
A loft also sits above, which is accessible by a staircase near the windows.
The upstairs, in terms of furnishings, looked like every other common area in the Salon, with a variety of chairs and tables, a literature rack, a buffet, and a self-serve bar.
There’s a banister at the loft’s edge opening to the ground floor.
And if you’re a fan of bar stools, there are a few pairs overlooking the tarmac (and more immediately, everyone milling below your perch… if you’re in to people watching).
This is an excellent spot to spread out, take in the view, and top off batteries before boarding. There are some plugs built in to each table, which are convenient, although they aren’t compatible with North American chargers (go figure!). Don’t be stupid like me and forget an adapter; they aren’t available on loan, and it would suck to be stuck with dead devices.
As cool as lofts can be (they’re trendy, after all), they do have the tendency to trap in hot air and become stuffy. The Salon‘s, unfortunately, is no exception. Not long after settling in did I start to become sweaty, which is unpleasant in any condition, but even more so when it’s the dead of February. I wanted to leave, but there were only about 20 minutes before departure. It wouldn’t have been a smart use of time to pack up, find a new chair and get comfortable, and then leave only a few moments after that. Besides, the buffet looked too tempting!
The Salon is (obviously) divided in to three distinct spaces (i.e. the interior, the window side, the loft), and because each is responsible for serving, at the minimum, hundreds of people, they’ve all been outfitted with their own self-serve food and drink stations. You’ll see pictures from each of the three areas, and while they may occupy different spaces, their contents are nearly identical.
Make no mistake: there are so many places to get food in the Salon, and while there is no variety beyond any one of the stations, the recipes themselves are quite varied. Just like the Centurion Lounges in the United States (noticing a pattern here?), Air France offers an interesting array of dishes that can be as small as a quick snack to tide you over or a multi-coursed meal to make you feel stuffed. All of them are high quality; even the most picky eaters can easily find something to enjoy!
If you’re craving a warmer, more substantial meal before your flight, Air France has you covered too.
If you want something that’s far more unhealthy than what’s pictured above but is oh-so-tasty, there are some, uh, “college favorites,” like potato chips and ramen nearby too.
To wash all that good stuff down, the Salon has an equally varied beverage selection, although wine is a bit over-represented, and beer, on the other hand, is under. Then again, this is France, so would you expect any different?
Despite how enticing the buffet was, I restrained myself from the food, instead choosing to save my appetite for Air France’s renowned inflight catering. That said, a small glass of Joseph Perrier champagne was a bit too irresistible. How can you say no?
This champagne was one of the best drinks I’ve had in a lounge this year, and while a refill would’ve been grand, boarding for my flight was starting within the next five minutes. I wasn’t prepared to take any chances; there’s nothing worse than running through an airport with a belly full of bubbly. A terminal map with walk times suggested that a 5-8 minute hike lay ahead, so all the more reason to get a move on.
Before leaving any lounge, a stop in the restroom is in order — you never know when you’ll have another chance to relieve yourself — and there was one near the exit for me to use. As is the case with the shower stalls, there are a bunch of gender neutral “toilet rooms” in each of the three main areas. They’re all rather unremarkable looking complete with ordinary Clarins products, and the one I happened to use wasn’t particularly clean, either.
But as a place to use the bathroom, this sufficed, and I was soon on my way out of the rapidly-filling-up Salon…
…and back in to the sprawling, stuffy, and chaotic terminal, hoping to find my gate in time.
If you’re a traveler flying from or through Paris in Air France’s business class, you’ll have a lot to look forward to when you inevitably get to Charles de Gaulle. No, it’s not the nicest airport and it’s definitely not without its flaws, but the Salon in Terminal 2E does a lot to help you forget about that. There’s something for everyone, and you’ll eat well, you’ll drink better, and you’ll be comfortable as you prepare for your next flight. Air France’s lounge reflects a commitment to making sure that everyone who visits it leaves it in a good mood; what more could you want?
The good, the bad, the ugly of the Air France Business Class Salon at Paris Charles de Gaulle
- The Good
- No matter where you prefer to sit in a lounge, you’re bound to be able to find a seat that suits your desires. There are lots of different types of chairs.
- The place feels like a really big American Express Centurion Lounge, which, in my mind, is the standard-bearer for a good, comfortable lounge. The vibe here is excellent, and Air France should be commended for how it executed the Salon.
- The food and drink choices are varied and plentiful and high quality.
- The Bad
- Actually getting to the lounge was a hassle; the process of getting airside seems broken. It’d almost be more efficient to opt for a general security screening instead of the premium.
- The Ugly
- In my haste, I forgot to pack an adapter, and there were no international plugs or adapters available. Plan accordingly!
“A Weekend to Europe” Trip Report
- Introduction: A Weekend to Europe
- United Polaris Business Class, Boeing 767-400ER, EWR-LHR
- United Arrivals Lounge, London Heathrow (LHR)
- L’Hermitage Gantois Hotel, Lille, France
- Air France Business Class Salon (Terminal 2E, Hall K), Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG)
- Air France Business Class, Boeing 787-900, CDG-YYZ
Have you visited the Air France Business Class Salon at Paris Charles de Gaulle? What are your thoughts?