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Review: What is it Like to Fly French Bee Airlines?

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If you haven't heard about the Paris-based low-cost carrier French Bee, I don't blame you. But with nonstop flights from the U.S. to Paris and Tahiti, some extremely cheap fares, and a solid, albeit no-frills flight experience, you shouldn't write French Bee off, either.

In October 2023, I jumped on board French Bee's nonstop route from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT) to review the airline's economy seat. What I found when booking and flying French Bee was that, despite having some characteristics of an ultra-low-cost carrier like high fees, no TSA PreCheck, and lackluster food and drink, French Bee had more going for it than most. Its fleet of brand new Airbus A350s with seatback entertainment screens at every seat and its free carry-on bag allowance are unique among similar budget airlines.

French Bee could be a suitable option for flyers with designs on a trip to Tahiti or Paris in 2024 or beyond. Here's why.

 

What is French Bee Airlines?

French Bee is a long-haul, low-cost airline based at Paris's Orly Airport (ORY). It began operations in 2016.

The airline targets mostly French vacationers with their sights set far away from home, but their connectivity in the U.S. opens up some very tantalizing options for American travelers, too.

Here are French Bee's U.S. Routes:

  • Newark (EWR) to Paris-Orly (ORY)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Paris-Orly (ORY)
  • San Francisco (SFO) to Papeete, French Polynesia (PPT)
  • Los Angeles (LAX) to Paris-Orly (ORY)

The airline also runs nonstop flights between Orly and the French territory of Reunion Island (RUN) in the southern Indian Ocean, making it a possibility for connecting U.S. travelers to reach the far-flung locale.

 

French Bee route map
Courtesy: GCmap.com

 

Many of the travelers on the San Francisco (SFO) to Papeete (PPT) flight I reviewed had originated in Paris and were connecting onwards to French Polynesia. Before the connecting flight from ORY landed, there were about 10 people in the gate area. After the plane got in and the travelers disembarked from Paris, there were hundreds.

Because French Bee only operates long-haul flights, its fleet is comprised solely of Airbus A350s and most of them are only a few years old at most. On my recent French Bee flights, my rides were a 4-year-old and a 5-year-old French Bee A350-900. Here are the aircraft details from the app Flighty.

 

A350 French Bee
Courtesy: Flighty

 

French Bee has two A350-1000s and four A350-900s. The A350 is quiet, high-tech, and features perks unusual for budget carriers like seatback entertainment and Wi-Fi for purchase, although that's not perfect (more on that later.)

In addition to the economy seat I reviewed for this piece, French Bee also offers a surprisingly comfy Premium Economy seat in the front of the plane.

 

Premium seat

 

Check-in and Boarding on French Bee

More than a day before my flight, I received a text message from an 806 number with a link. French Bee has no app, so this mobile link was what I got to track my flight's progress.

 

French Bee text message

 

The page looked like this. It was nothing special but gave me the information I needed about check-in and my itinerary.

 

French Bee text screen

 

I didn't need this, however, because I use the app Flighty. Flighty gave me all the information I needed about my French Bee flight BF710 from SFO-PPT.

 

SFO PPT Flighty app

 

The flight was scheduled for an eight-hour journey departing from San Francisco's International Terminal in the A Gates.

 

SFO-PPT flight

 

This was the ultimate performance of the flight, going gate to gate in eight hours and 18 minutes, arriving just 23 minutes late.

Checking in for the French Bee flight was a breeze at San Francisco (SFO) Airport. Because I only had a carry-on bag, I opted for the self-service check-in kiosk which was very easy to use.

 

SFO self check-in

 

Interestingly, because I didn't check in at the desk with an agent, my carry-on bag was never weighed to see if it fell under the airline's 26-pound limit.

 

SFO bag check-in

 

Notably, this was not an option in Tahiti (PPT), where there was no self-service check-in kiosk available.

These French bee planes hold around 400 people depending on the model, so the check-in lines can get very long. I'd recommend getting to the airport early before a French Bee flight.

 

PPT French Bee check-in

 

After I checked in at San Francisco Airport, I breezed through a light security line.

Another word of caution: There is no TSA PreCheck for French Bee flights. The airline is one of the only carriers that doesn't participate in PreCheck. So laptops out, shoes off for all of you French Bee travelers.

 

SFO gate area

 

The gate area at San Francisco was spacious and the boarding was relatively orderly. The premium economy passengers and the people who purchased “Priority” access get onboard first, along with families. From there, the airline boards by row.

One thing to note: If you're hoping to take advantage of any of San Francisco's International Terminal Priority Pass Lounges, it's a full no-go when flying after 7 p.m. All the lounges prohibit Priority Pass after that time.

One place where you won't need a lounge is flying out of Papeete (PPT), which has this awesome outdoor courtyard. I love outdoor spaces at airports, and doubly so when you can enjoy some French Polynesian sun!

 

PPT gate area

 

One interesting thing about French Bee is that it offers a bidding system for upgrades to its premium economy cabin.

 

French Bee upgrade

 

A few days before flying, you get an email like this one outlining how the bid system works. It's pretty simple. You offer how much you'd be willing to pay to upgrade, and then the gate agents choose the highest bidders and put them in premium economy.

 

French Bee upgrade process

 

The system helps you understand how strong your offer is.

 

French Bee Economy Cabin

French Bee's A350-900s have an absurd 376 economy seats packed into them along with 35 premium economy recliners. The A350-1000s have a whopping 440 economy seats (!!) and 40 premium economy recliners onboard, too.

The seats are configured in a 3-4-3 setup, as shown by this Aerolopa seat map.

 

French Bee seat map
Courtesy: Aerolopa

 

These planes are enormous and while I didn't make it all the way to the back, this bird was pretty full on the way down to Tahiti.

Here's what the cabin looks like in person.

 

French Bee economy cabin

 

The 3-4-3 seats make for a pretty compact cabin, no doubt. There's not a lot of wiggle room onboard the French Bee A350s.

 

French Bee economy row

 

At each seat, travelers get a thin, wispy, typical airplane blanket.

 

Overhead bin French Bee

 

The overhead bins were huge. My section was pretty full and my bag had a lot more elbow room than I did in my seat.

Overhead, the A350 gives travelers a ton of clearance and headroom, but for that reason, there are no air vents.

 

French Bee overhead

 

The lavatory onboard the A350 was about as standard as it gets, too. The crew did a good job of keeping this one clean throughout.

 

French Bee lavatory

 

 

French Bee Economy Seat and Amenities

Seat 18G was my ride down to Papeete and it was extremely regular. This is about the most standard economy seat you'll find, with almost zero frills.

The USB charger and headphone jack were nice as part of the seatback screens.

 

French Bee seat view

 

French Bee's economy seats actually boast a really nice 32 inches of legroom, which is really good and exactly what is offered by American, Delta, and United on their overseas products.

Here you can see how much room there is, even with a backpack underneath the seat. When I moved the backpack up into the roomy overhead bins, I had plenty of room to stretch out and sleep.

 

Legroom French Bee

 

The exit row seats and bulkheads have significantly more legroom in some cases, but those seats also typically cost much extra.

The tray table is standard. Nothing to write home about here. Folds out from the seat in front and has one indent for drinks.

 

French Bee tray table

 

After we took off, the flight attendants came around with two things for each passenger: An immigration form for French Polynesia and a tiny amenity kit.

 

French Bee package

 

The amenity kit consisted of an eye mask, some earbud headphones, a disinfectant wipe, and a meal voucher to be redeemed if you ordered one.

 

French Bee amenity kit

 

The eye mask was a surprise I wasn't expecting. Low-cost carriers don't typically provide any amenities at all.

 

French Bee Food and Drink

The food and drink situation on French Bee is where the airline lacks the most.

In almost every way, the economy experience on French Bee was the same as the major U.S. carriers or their foreign partners. But French Bee's hot food was not good.

A few weeks before you fly, French Bee will send you an email trying to sell you some onboard food items.

 

French Bee meal add-on

 

When I clicked on the page, I found these meal options. The basic meal, which I selected, was $25. That was a bad choice on my part. More on that soon.

The email I got also offered a “bistro chic” meal for $55. While I did not see this in the flesh, I cannot imagine it would be worth $55.

 

Meal selection email

 

For pre-ordered meals, you have to select your meal 48 hours before your French Bee flight.

 

Meal selection email

 

Here is what the “Basic Meal” looked like on the tray.

 

French Bee meal

 

The chicken meal was certainly not good, but it wasn't inedible. Airplane food always looks worse than it is.

What it was not is worth $25.

If I had to do it over, I'd opt out of the meals entirely and save the money. That's doubly so because the flight took off after midnight and landed at about 5 a.m. I really don't need a meal in that timeframe anyway. I did it for journalism – and so you don't have to.

 

Meal photo

 

Here's what I would have done instead: French Bee also offers an affordable a la carte menu where I could have pieced together a nice drink and snack combo in lieu of the full meal.

Here are some selections of what you can buy onboard and the prices:

  • Soda ~$3
  • Tea ~$2
  • Espresso/Cappucino/Hot Cocoa ~$2.50
  • A glass of red or white wine ~$6
  • Mini bottle of champagne ~$12
  • Pre-mixed negroni ~$6
  • Beer ~$4
  • Mini bottle of whiskey, vodka, or rum ~$4
  • Sleeve of 6 Oreo cookies ~43
  • Hot croissant ~$3
  • Bag of Skittles ~$2
  • Pre-packaged sandwich or wrap ~$7-10
  • Cup of Noodles ~$6
  • Can of Pringles or bag of Lays chips ~$2

A cup of noodles and a beer would have done me just fine for $10 instead of the $25 meal.

 

French Bee Wi-Fi and Entertainment

One of the best parts about French Bee is that it has seatback entertainment at every seat (save for the bulkhead rows, which have retractable armrest screens).

Seatback entertainment is a novelty for most budget carriers. I've only ever seen Norse Atlantic and now French Bee have it onboard.

 

Seatback entertainment

 

The movie selection was not spectacular for the U.S. audience. There were some Hollywood hits on there, for sure, but not a ton of new releases or sought-after titles, in my opinion. There were plenty of French films available, but I wasn't in the mood to read subtitles at 1 a.m.

 

French Bee movie options

 

One of the coolest things about being on new planes like this A350 is the exterior view cameras. This tail camera made for some fantastic perspectives during takeoff and landing.

 

A350 tail camera

 

There is, of course, an interactive moving map of the flight path, too.

 

Map on French Bee

 

French Bee also boasts about its midair Wi-Fi. While there is certainly Wi-Fi available, it was not reliable during my attempts and is actually pretty expensive – especially when you're paying by the megabyte.

Wi-Fi that requires you to pay by the MB is a huge bummer. It was my least favorite part about flying SWISS Economy last winter.

 

French Bee internet

 

I grabbed the “Geek” pack for $17, which gave me 120 MB to use on the flight. I connected initially on my laptop.

 

French Bee internet page

 

Once you are online, you can sign on and continue using the same connection on another device, which is a nice benefit. I was able to use my MBs split between two devices.

 

French Bee internet information

 

However, the Wi-Fi was…how do I put this? Very awful. I ran this test about two minutes after connecting and I was amazed the test was even completed. This is very, very slow.

 

French Bee Wi-Fi speed

 

And about two hours into the journey over the Pacific, the Wi-Fi dropped out completely.

 

French Bee internet outage

 

The coverage came back about two hours away from our final destination, but it was not a workable connection for most of the middle of the journey.

 

How to Book French Bee

If you're interested in flying French Bee, it's probably because of the price. One-way flights from SFO to PPT start at just $361 and those prices don't move all that often.

 

French Bee Google Flights

 

I booked my flight for that rate about eight months before travel and the price was the same all the way until the week of the trip.

When you go to book, you get three options for fare types that you can see outlined below.

 

French Bee fare classes

 

I chose a Basic fare as I did not plan to check a bag. If you do plan to have a bag, keep in mind that the bags are $50, so a Smart fare might be a good choice. It also includes a meal.

As you can see, the Premium fares allow for two free checked bags, a meal, free drinks, and free changes.

Here are the bag restrictions you see when booking. Carry-ons have a size and weight maximum. Keeping things under 26 pounds was difficult, but I made it work.

Thrifty Tip: Wear your heaviest clothes and shoes through check-in and then go change.

 

Baggage fees

 

During booking, you'll have the option to choose your seat. The seat prices are shown on the left side of this image.

 

Seat selection French Bee

 

It's important to note that whatever seat you select, you are locked into. You cannot change your seat to another seat that costs the same later. You'll have to pay $25 or more every time to change your seat selection.

Overall, in my initial booking, I paid $385 with the $25 cost of the seat selection added on.

At Thrifty Traveler, we don't accept freebies. We use our own points, miles, or cash to pay for every single flight or hotel you see reviewed here – including this one!

 

French Bee fare price

 

A few weeks before the flight, I tacked on a meal to try for the review and “Priority” services, which gave me priority security screening and priority boarding.

 

French Bee additional services

 

The end result was a $430 one-way fare from San Francisco (SFO) to Tahiti (PPT).

 

Bottom Line

The low-cost carrier French Bee offers some cheap fares for U.S. travelers heading to Paris or Tahiti this year or next, but it also comes with a no-frills style you can expect from budget airlines.

Despite that, French Bee's new fleet of planes, seatback entertainment, and carry-on allowance make it a little better than your typical low-cost carrier if you want to take advantage of its low fares in 2024 or beyond.

 

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airlines or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

Disclaimer: The responses below are not provided or commissioned by the bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by the bank advertiser. It is not the bank advertiser’s responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

5 Responses

  • Don’t except to arrive on time with this airline company. If you are 1 hour late you are lucky ! Disconnected company that does not collaborate with the network. And short in staff. Not worth the hundred you saved if you miss connections, hotel nights….i recommend to get an insurance for everything in your path !

  • This airlines only has a handful of planes on their fleet. They have a high cancellation rate without ever refunding the customer.. May be suitable for solo travelers. Just be sure to show up 3 hour early and not to check any luggage. Never take you family or it wil probably be the worst ordeal you’ll have ever experienced. I mean there’s French Bee ground staff is in their own league of inhumane.

  • Have those who claim the seat pitch in economy is 32 inch measured it when in fact its even closer to 30 than 31

  • Took an outbound flight from LAX to Paris on December 17th, 2023. Everything went well on the outbound flight. However my return, scheduled for February 9, 2024 to go from Paris to LAX is a different story. On January 5th I received an email from French Bee stating they were cancelling all flights between Paris and LAX until March 31st, 2024!!! Consequently, I had to purchase a one way return flight on another carrier to get home which ended up being more expensive. This is completely unacceptable! They did not even offer to put me on another carrier, only that they could either reimburse the full cost of the return ticket, or get a voucher plus 20% for future flights (there is no way I will ever use this airline again). When I try to access my booking online to request a reimbursement the system says “an error has occurred”. When I try to call the company for 4 days straight in a row, no one answers and the call disconnects after about 1 hour. I have contacted my credit card company and am now disputing half of the charge for this flight as they are clearly making it as difficult as possible to get reimbursed! True, their fares are very enticing, but it is NOT WORTH IT to fly on this airline. You could end up stranded and have to pay a lot more at the last minute to get home! WARNING – STAY AWAY FROM FRENCH BEE!

  • I know this is a budget airline, but they really are terrible! My story isn’t NEARLY as bad as some I’ve read…but I’ll share none the less…
    Their flight attendants are all young and inexperienced and just lie to you when they don’t actually know the answer to your question. (I get we all need to start somewhere and learning is ok, but they need at least one or two of them to be more seasoned and actually now what they’re doing!).
    They also lied to my husband and I multiple times when we asked to upgrade my seat to sit next to my husband. Background: My husband injured his back (herniated disk) while we were in Paris, so although he was supposed to fly on to Stockholm for work and only I was scheduled to return home, we got him a last minute “lay flat” seat (they are careful not to call it business class) on the same flight back to Los Angeles as I was on so I could be there to assist him. He definitely needed a lot of assistance.
    I was not able to upgrade my seat online so we made sure to arrive extra early to ask at the gate. We were told the flight was fully sold out.
    During boarding, my husband texted me to let me know half of the lay flat seats were still open. I asked again if I could please upgrade. The flight attendant again told me they are fully sold out.
    Once boarding finished my husband texted again that 1/2 the lay flat cabin was empty. He also asked a flight attendant up there if we could upgrade my seat so I could assist him during flight, and he said he would ask the lead attendant. I again asked and I was told since I did not pay for the upgrade before boarding there was nothing they could do. So all those open seats would sit empty while my barely-able-to-move husband had to fend for himself.
    What’s worse? The flight attendant in my cabin offered multiple times I just needed to ask her and she would take me to assist my husband. I was happy enough with that.
    But multiple times I asked and each time I was denied to go check on him. Instead they offered to call up front and have another flight attendant “check on him” and report back. But after all the lies they repeatedly told me I didn’t feel comfortable taking their word for it. At one point I was told my husband was in the restroom: he should not have gotten up out of his seat without assistance. About 6 hours in to an 11.5 hour flight I finally just snuck up there and went to check on him myself. I got him pain medication from his backpack and chatted with him for a few minutes before they told me I needed to leave again.
    Also, be ware… even if you purchase an in-flight meal in advance, this will not include any beverage at all. I had to buy my water.
    Overall, a terrible customer service experience. The reviews are terrible for good reason. I won’t be flying French Bee again.

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