Let's dive into the question of "is Air France a good airline?". This post gives a detailed and recent Air France review. I'll discuss their customer service, on-time performance, flight experience...and why I will avoid them in the future.
Americans typically find themselves flying the big three for trips abroad (most notably Europe): American Airlines, United, and Delta Airlines. Often when booking these airlines, you may notice the flight is operated by partner airlines like British Airways, Lufthansa, and Air France.
Air France is part of the SkyTeam alliance which includes Delta Airlines, Virgin Atlantic, KLM, and more.
This year I booked multiple flights on Air France...even though I, myself, was asking "is Air France a good airline?". It seemed like a great deal since I was able to transfer my American Express points to Air France and book some decent award flights.
My experience was less than ideal...to put it mildly. And this is coming from someone who is the daughter of a flight attendant. I always try to be accommodating as I understand the difficulties in flight scheduling, weather interruptions, and more.
Never before have I sworn to avoid an airline at all costs in the future...I guess there's a first for everything.
This post will detail the reasons why I answer a hard "no" when asked "is Air France is a good airline" and why I feel like you're taking a risk by booking them.
Last-minute flight changes
In the last few months, I booked three flights with Air France that had departure dates ranging from March through December of 2023.
One flight with a departure in September changed its schedule from a 2-hour layer in Paris into an 18-hour layover. There were no other Air France flights to book with a better schedule other than choosing a different departure day.
Thankfully I was able to cancel the flight and book another flight with American Airlines. I'm sure other passengers weren't as lucky and either had to deal with the 18 hour layover or pay substantially more to switch airlines.
When I told a friend about this, they disclosed that a similar situation happened to them, except where their flight was changed to a departure date 1 day later for one flight and 2 days later for another flight.
Another flight I had booked (again, for September), got canceled altogether.
Now for my most recent flight, from Valencia to Dallas in April of this year. Our flight departure was originally supposed to be at 6:10 am with a 2-hour layover in CDG before a non-stop flight to Dallas. The departure time changed from 6:10 to 6:30 two days before departure. No big deal, we can still make our CDG to DFW flight.
At 11:00 pm the day before departure (keep in mind we have to get up at 4:00 am to make our 6:30 am flight), we received a text that our flight departure changed to 6:50 am. Then 30 minutes later, we received another notice that the time changed to 7:30 am. About 20 minutes after that we were notified that we were taken off the CDG to DFW flight and moved to a CDG to JFK and JFK to DFW flight. We now had a 4-hour layover in CDG and over 2 hours in JFK.
Long story short, our 13-hour travel day turned into a 26-hour travel day.
The last-minute change meant that we had zero time to see if we could find another flight with another airline. It also meant, I got zero sleep the night before departure as I'm trying to figure out our options and what was going on until about 2:00 am.
During our layover in JFK, I was talking to some other passengers. Their flight was canceled last minute and Air France didn't even notify them. The passenger didn't find out until she arrived at the airport to check-in.
Basically, after telling my experience to others, I found that these last-minute changes and cancellations seemed to be common for Air France and the SkyTeam alliance.
I understand flight changes and cancellations. It happens. The reason why I will avoid Air France in the future and answer "no" to "is Air France a good airline?" is the customer service and their lack of knowledge/ability to do anything to help passengers or make the situation better.
On our recent flight, Jake and I had stopped at the Air France counter to explain the situation of our 13-hour travel day turning to 26 hours. We asked if we could be given access to the Air France lounge since we now had two long layovers.
Big surprise, the answer was "no".
I was shocked. Access to a lounge during that 4-hour layover would have at least given us a break from our insanely long travel day. Granting lounge access would have made no difference to the company's bottom line. It would have been an easy way to show that they care about their customers.
Moving on to the next example...the fact that you aren't allowed to speak with anyone other than a basic customer service representative.
Not allowed to speak with a manager
This is my main reason why I respond "no" to "is Air France a good airline". After many discussions and separate phone calls with Air France over the last few weeks, I learned something very interesting about the company. Customers are not allowed to speak with managers or supervisors.
For every phone call I had with Air France I ran into the same problem. They could do nothing to help me and they could not connect me to a manager.
For the Valencia to DFW flight mentioned above, when I called Air France, I asked about our original CDG to DFW non-stop flight. I knew there was a chance we could still make the flight and avoid our 13-hour travel day turning into 26 hours if the flight was delayed by the slightest amount.
The representative said, "that flight does not exist". I can't do anything but keep you on the CDG to JFK and JFK to DFW flight.
Side note, after landing in CDG, we sprinted (literally) to our original CDG to DFW departure gate. The flight DID exist and was sitting there. The doors had just closed. I'm sure if they had kept us on that flight they would have waited for the passengers that were minutes away.
After asking to speak with a manager the response was "managers do not speak with customers". I then asked about a supervisor. Same response.
I then asked if there was anyone I could speak with that had a higher level of access in the system in order to find a way to avoid a 26-hour travel day. The answer was "I am the only person you can speak with and there is nothing I can do. You can call back, but you will get the same response".
After many calls to Air France over the last few weeks I learned that the above response was 100% true. When an agent does not have access to make changes or do anything to help a situation, they will always say it's not possible to speak with a manager or anyone else.
When asked what other options I had to get help, the response was always the same. "You can send us a message through the Air France website".
This is a terrible customer service model for customers that find themselves in situations that need immediate assistance. Overall, I felt completely helpless with no way to find a solution when flying with Air France.
Being refused access to managers, supervisors, or anyone with a higher level of authority for extenuating circumstances is unacceptable. It's my number one reason why I will avoid Air France in the future.
No chat function
One feature I've come to love with airlines like United and American is the chat function. I use this function all the time for minor requests as I'm usually able to get connected with an agent almost immediately and they are able to make minor changes.
There have also been situations where a flight was canceled or delayed because of weather, a strike, or whatever, which led to long hold times to call the airline. The chat function allowed me to chat with an agent to get the ball rolling on a solution while waiting on hold to speak with an agent.
Sometimes I was able to move to another flight on the chat before even being connected to an agent over the phone.
Air France has no such function.
Fees to cancel award flights
Most airlines have waived fees to cancel award flights. Not so with Air France. They charge a minimum of €50 to cancel an award flight.
In-flight experience isn't a huge ranking factor for me since experience seems to be all over the board for most airlines. I only mention my in-flight experience because it didn't help my opinion of the airline.
On our last flight, the 26-hour travel day, the plane was probably the oldest I've flown in years.
Food was similar to what you would find on airlines like United and American. Service could have been better for an international flight (i.e. walking the cabin more often to offer water, collect trash, etc.).
The seats were also pretty hard and uncomfortable.
On-time performance ranking
Google on-time performance for Air France and you'll be hard-pressed to find any hard facts. I searched and searched and Air France was never listed for overall airline on-time performance, Europe airline on-time performance, etc.
Air France always seems to be missing from any publication ranking airlines with on-time performance.
The best I found was an article listing that Air France ranked 12 for on-time performance in 2022. Delta, American Airlines, United, Southwest, and even Spirit Airlines beat Air France for punctuality. But I'm not even sure if this is accurate since there was no link to where this data came from.
Another website listing February 2021 stats ranked Air France 90 for on-time performance with an 11.8% cancellation rate. 11.8% is HUGE for a cancelation percentage. For comparison, Delta had 2.8% and British Airways had 4.3%.
When searching for a specific flight route, AF146 CDG to DFW, the on-time performance was a mere 54%.
The positive - European Regulation 261/2004
Because Air France is a European Airline, they have to abide by European Regulation 261/2004. This essentially requires that airlines compensate passengers for cancellations and substantial changes to schedules/overall travel time.
For the situation where our travel day turned from 13 hours to 26 hours, both Jake and I were awarded €600 each. I had the option for a €800 travel voucher for Air France as well. I chose the cash.
If you're extremely flexible with your travel plans and can deal with last minute cancellations, extreme delays, or substantial schedule changes, booking with a European airline might be worth it. At least with European airlines they are required by law to compensate passengers...unlike American companies.
Traveling as much as I do, I'm no stranger to flight changes, delays, strikes, weather, and so on. It comes with the territory of traveling.
The reason why my answer is a hard "no" to the question "is Air France a good airline" is their customer service.
The fact that customers cannot speak to a manager or anyone other than a basic agent, the lack of a chat function, their low rankings for on-time performance and cancellations, and the overall impression that the company does not care about the customer are why I will avoid Air France in the future.
I will pay more money and even deal with a longer layover in order to avoid the airline.
In summary, I just don't trust them and have never felt so helpless when dealing with an airline.