Skift Take

While first class airport check-in is nothing new, Air France is preparing to take the concept to the next level.

As the world’s most visited country, France is no stranger to welcoming tourists. But even by its own busy standards, 2023 was an absolute record-breaker. However, the dynamic will be slightly different this summer. 

Speaking to Skift earlier this month, Corinne Menegaux, Paris’ tourism chief acknowledged that “the Olympics is not a driver for tourism,” with only 30% of those attending the Games coming from abroad. 

Evidence from previous events suggests regular tourists may stay away as athletes from around the world gather in and around the French capital. As a result, it’s more likely to be sporting records that are toppled, rather than international visitor records, as Paris hosts the 2024 Olympics and Paralympics.

For those that are making the trip – and wanting to do so in style – Air France is putting the finishing touches to an ultra-exclusive airport experience quite unlike any other. 

Described as a “completely private and confidential customer journey, from airport arrival to boarding the aircraft,” it could set a new benchmark for first class commercial air travel. 

What’s Special About the La Première Lounge?

The concept of a dedicated airport check-in zone for top-tier passengers is nothing new. Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, and Singapore Airlines are among the big names that offer a more exclusive service for premium guests. However, Air France is pushing even these boundaries with its new ultra-luxe offering.  

The airline says the experience will begin from the moment the passenger arrives at its Paris Charles de Gaulle hub. Upon entering the La Première check-in lobby, a concierge will immediately attend to their luggage.

Once pre-departure check-in formalities are concluded, guests will be escorted to the La Première lounge via a private passage featuring a dedicated security checkpoint. The pathway is decorated with a series of images portraying the airline’s winged seahorse motif.

Upon arrival at the lounge, guests can look forward to a menu curated by chef Alain Ducasse and his team. There’s also a spa operated by French beauty brand Sisley. 

Air France describes the space as “embodying French elegance and sophistication.” It has been developed by the airline in collaboration with design agency SGK Paris. 

Rendering of an airport lounge filled with mostly white furniture
The new facility will be exclusively available to La Première guests. Credit: Air France

Going One Step Further

Despite the lounge spanning more than 10,000 square feet, it has just 15 seats. The idea is to offer a level of comfort and privacy unthinkable in the main terminal. 

However, for the most discerning passengers, an even more exclusive option is available – three completely private suites.

Each spans almost 500 square feet and is located adjacent to the ‘main’ La Première lounge. For larger groups or families, two of the three suites can be connected to create an even larger space. 

Each has a living area, double bedroom, bathroom, and outdoor patio. A dedicated butler is on standby at all times to ensure the champagne flutes never run dry.

Air France says it aims to “create a regal atmosphere within its Charles de Gaulle hub.” Furnishings from French design houses including Pierre Paulin and Christophe Pillet complete the look. 

The private spaces can be reserved as an optional add-on for passengers enrolled in La Première’s ‘Suites’ option, with prices starting from €800 ($869). 

Rendering of an bed in a mainly white room
How the bedrooms at Air France’s new La Première suites will look. Credit: Air France

Who Can Access La Première Facilities?

The space will be available to passengers flying in ‘La Première’ – Air France’s most prestigious product and the equivalent of first class at other carriers. It is also open to La Première passengers arriving or connecting in Paris. They’ll be able to use the high-end facilities for post-flight freshening up and to collect any checked luggage. It’s all a far cry from the usual crowded carousel.

Air France says the complex will be operational ahead of the Paris Olympics in July.  

The developments complement wider changes to the airline’s onboard offering. The carrier is preparing to launch its new La Première cabin later this year. Air France is promising the longest configuration on the market, with every passenger enjoying five windows each. There will be three modular private living spaces, comprising a seat, chaise lounge, and lie-flat bed.

A Wider First Class Renaissance? 

In recent years carriers including LATAM, Malaysia Airlines, and South African Airways have withdrawn their international first class products. The general trend has been towards a more refined business class offering that appeals to corporate and high-end leisure passengers alike.

This has left only a handful of long-haul carriers that continue to invest in a true first class cabin. As well as Air France, these include Singapore Airlines, British Airways, and Japan Airlines, yet even these companies only offer the product on select routes.

However, there are signs that the concept may be enjoying a renewed surge in popularity. In March, Qatar Airways’ new CEO revealed the carrier is preparing to launch a new first class cabin. 

Badr Mohammed Al-Meer’s comments represented a major U-turn in strategy for the Middle Eastern carrier. Just last year, his predecessor Akbar Al Baker told Bloomberg that he “didn’t see the necessity” for first class. “Why should you invest in a subclass of an aeroplane that already gives you all the amenities that first class gives you?” asked the former CEO. 

Badr Al-Meer said the Qatar Airways project was already in its advanced stages, with further details coming “very soon.”

The broader concept also remains popular with some U.S. domestic operators. American Airlines recently announced it would be ramping up its domestic first class offering.

In 2022, Skift named the rise of premium leisure air travel as one of its top Megatrends.

Watch Air France-KLM CEO, Ben Smith, Speak at Skift Global Forum East 2023:

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Tags: air france, airlines, airport lounges, first class, france, luxury, paris, Paris 2024 Olympics, Paris Olympics

Photo credit: The La Première suites will be Air France's flagship airport space. Air France

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