French bee is a fairly new airline with a fleet of three aircraft serving Paris, Tahiti, San Francisco, Reunion Island, and Punta Cana. While the airline operates a brand new A350, its back end booking system and on time performance is absolutely the worst. A search of online reviews certainly outlines the risks and frustrations involved with flying this airline.
Billed as the “first long haul, low cost airline” French Bee certainly is following the model of hidden fees and surprise costs like other low cost airlines such as Ryan Air. Except with French Bee, you get the added benefit of a website full of error messages and tickets that mysteriously re-book themselves for different dates without alerting the passenger.
When I initially booked the tickets, all seemed well when I received an email confirming my booking with the message that stated, “your booking is guaranteed”. At the time of booking I wasn’t sure of my baggage requirements, but figured I could add luggage requirements later.
A couple days prior to my flight, I tried to add checked luggage and seat assignments. However, this was not possible due to all the error messages popping up. This was annoying since adding luggage at the terminal costs $95 USD per bag vs $45 online. Great, I get charged $100 extra dollars because their website is all jacked up.
To add to this frustration, the website kept switching back to French whenever I navigated throughout the site. Apparently, since I was in Tahiti when navigating the site, the website suddenly assumed I only could speak French. It would not stay in English. To work around this and get the English website to not change to French, I had to configure a VPN connection on my laptop to the US in order to trick this genius website into thinking I was in the USA. Just what we all want to do on vacation, IT support.
Then the best part happened. I showed up to the airport, give my confirmation code and hear, “Sir, your flight was three days ago”. I looked at my confirmation email on my phone and it reads that my flight is today. Ever hear something so ridiculously asinine you want to laugh, cry, and go ballistic at the same time? I’m then told, “you missed your flight, this isn’t the flight you are scheduled for”. Cool! I showed the person behind the desk my confirmation email and then what followed was 90 minutes of phone calls to French Bee HQ in France.
The staff working in the terminal at Tahiti is not empowered to solve any problems. They all have to call French Bee HQ in France. Eventually, the station manager in Tahiti got involved with the phone calling and started yelling in French to the phone agent in France. They asked me if I wanted to speak with the reps in France. I declined because I read several reviews about the phone reps getting snobby with people not able to speak French.
Eventually, I’m told, “The person I’m speaking to is trying to find their supervisor”. So not only are the reps in Tahiti are not empowered to solve problems, the phone reps can’t help either without consulting their supervisor.
Since I had a connecting flight in SFO on separate booking, I was absolutely panicked about missing my flight. Especially, since the next French Bee flight was not for another three days. What better way to end a trip in paradise than sweating like a stressed out wildebeest in tropical humidity right before a 8 hour flight in the smallest economy seats possible.
Fortunately, the flight was delayed two hours which gave staff on the ground enough time to sort of the ticketing issues and get my luggage loaded into the plane in time.
French Bee 711 Papeete (PPT) to San Francisco (SFO) Cabin: Economy Seat: 33J and 33K Aircraft: A350-900 Flight Time: 8h 40m
The boarding process was convoluted. There were three separate queues, one for premium seats, one for the rear, and one for the front. There was no sign indicating were passengers in the middle of the plane should stand. Also, folks with children under 18 years old get to board before anyone else. Try to avoid seats in the middle of the plane since they board last.
As for the airport, it is essentially outdoors since there are no walls, AC, or fans anywhere. This is common for tropical islands but at least Hawaii has large fans everywhere to keep passengers cool. If you are traveling between December and February, expect extreme humidity and sweating before you board. There is no breeze either.
Cabin Atmosphere (3/5)
The one saving grace of the airline is the brand new A350 plane they use between Tahiti and France. I was so happy to board the plane with cold air conditioning blasting. I’d advise to bring a wash cloth and change of clothes in your carry on. That way you can wipe off all the sweat and change into dry clothes.
Somehow this airline defied the laws of physics by installing ten seats across in a 3-4-3 configuration. The seats are extremely narrow, so if you have a large seatmate, good luck trying to get comfortable. However, the A350 has enhanced air pressure and humidity controls, which certainly made things more a bit more comfortable through out the flight. The large overhead bins also made storing luggage much easier.
Unfortunately, there are no adjustable ventilation nozzles above the seat. Naturally, someone nearby smelled like armpits and cheese. Normally, I would stick my face near the vent for some fresh air but of course, I was stuck smelling this for eight hours.
For a long haul flight, this plane certainly had the most narrow seats and reduced legroom I’ve ever experienced. However, the seat reclined very far back and the entertainment system was large with great screen resolution. There was not much content available to view on the entertainment system, but enough for the flight to SFO. If I were continuing on to Paris with French Bee, its likely I would have ran out of things to watch. Also, headphones are an extra 2.50 euro cost, so if you have those lovely iPhone headphones, be prepared for another fee.
For a low cost carrier airline, the food wasn’t that bad or terribly priced. I recommend buying water at the airport since water wasn’t provided until about 3 hours into the flight. Same goes for food. If you are in the middle of the plane, you are served last. So, I recommend booking a seat in the front or back of the plane.
For reasons mentioned above regarding my ticketing issues, needless to say, I was not impressed with the service. Taking three hours to provide some water to passengers just made things worse. Also, passengers nearby brought in their own alcohol and were getting wasted while being loud. This went on for about 4 hours until the flight attendants told them to stop drinking. While the airplane offered WiFi, the cost was so expensive it gave me a good laugh.
In conclusion, if you like to gamble with your travel plans and experience extreme stress, book French Bee so you can save a few bucks. By the time you get hit with additional unavoidable hidden fees, you may well have ended up paying more than with a traditional carrier. Also, be sure to learn French so you can navigate the website outside of the US and then call French Bee HQ when you inevitably encounter issues. But hey, at least they fly a brand new beautiful A350, albeit with 10 seats across.
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