As a frequent traveller, I’ve developed preferences about airlines, especially for international flights. When you’re trapped for eight hours in a metal tube, small annoyances can turn into big headaches. When I lived in Paris years back, I naturally flew Air France. It served a vast number of destinations in Europe and overseas and it was relatively ease to attain elite status, which meant access to priority security and passport lanes, better seats, and the all-important lounge. Even after returning to the US, I maintained my allegiance (flying Delta on my AF frequent flyer number) as I always expected to return.
One of the reasons I chose Air France initially—rather than a US domestic airline—was that the food was better. Admittedly this is faint praise: the food on all US domestic carriers that still serve plated meals is just crap. Some of this is due to the fact that, in coach, everything comes on a crappy plastic tray with crappy plastic utensils. But even on plastic, AF meals have always been reasonably tasty, which is appropriate given the attention the French pay to food. Naturally, every meal AF serves includes bread and cheese. In economy class, the cheese is an individually wrapped wedge of Président brand Camembert. It ain’t great, but it’s better than nothing.
Things are different in classe Affaires though. There, in addition to the comfortable reclining leather seats, people eat on *real* plates, with *real* utensils. I was upgraded to business on AF once, in 2010, and experienced this myself. I don’t remember anything about the meal, just that things were better “up front”. So I was thrilled when I found out, as the agent scanned my boarding pass at the gate, that I had been upgraded for my flight to Toronto. I was initially ecstatic when the machine printed my new pass. I was in Row 1! Could this be La Première? I wondered? Alas it wasn’t. I boarded the 747 to find that there was no first class, just business. Nevertheless, I was still pleased to know that I’d be in a comfortable reclining chair eating off real plates.
I had the obligatory glass of champagne (it would have been wrong not to!) and looked at the dinner selections. I don’t generally eat on the plane when I’m crossing oceans as this helps me adjust to the time changes, but the foie gras starter and the cheese plate on offer caused me to make an exception.
The foie gras was unctuous and tasty. With fresh bread and an absolutely delicious red from the Haut Médoc region of France, the starter was easily the best thing I had ever eaten on any form of transport, even beating out a wonderful smoked fish salad I had eaten on the Thalys train from Paris to Amsterdam. Well done, Air France! I thought.
And then there was the cheese plate.
The cheese plate was as disappointing as the starter was delightful. I don’t think I had unreasonable expectations either. Camembert is so ubiquitous in France that the odds are you’ll get a decent one, but not a great one. I was therefore expecting just decent. But this Camembert was awful. It had virtually no taste and an odd clay-like texture that was so off-putting I had one and only one bite. I imagined these were nothing but the little wedges of Président Camembert I had had in coach, unwrapped and left to sit in a refrigerator for a few days. The little wheel of chèvre was average: a little on the dry side with a rather dull flavor.
I was really disappointed. How could Air France screw up a cheese plate? It didn’t make sense. How was it so poor when it could have easily been so much better? I can’t think of a single good reason.
I don’t know how many more times in my life I’ll ever get out of the cheap seats on Air France again, but if I do, I hope my experience was just a one-off. I’ve contacted the airline and will post any response I get.