Last year I reviewed both Norwegian and Wow Airlines, both of which offer some of the best competitive rates out there. Wow went out of business, it was a combination of fuel prices, over expansion and the hub standard they had tried to honor. While they started in 2011, they lost their edge too early and became victim to a buyout by Icelandair who also offer similar pricing.
This year I will share my experience of French airline XL Airways founded in 1995 and based out of Paris’s Charles De Gaul airport. The original name was Société de Transport Aérien Régional but went by STAR until 2006 when they changed names to XL Airways. They went bankrupt in 2008 but have been financially stable since then.
Currently they are boasting $158 tickets from Paris to Los Angeles and similar to other destinations. This deal has been running for several months and doesn’t seem that it will end anytime soon. There is no reason not to go to Paris with the cost being so low. There are good and bad benefits to the airlines to keep in mind when booking as I will cover below.
A free meal is offered on longer flights, but there are exactly what you think when you say airplane food. Overcooked and bland to say the least. You can purchase specialty meals such as the Kosher/Muslim, Vegan/Vegetarian and Gluten free for 15-18 euros a piece. The snack menu is more affordable including beers and wines for 5 euros. They offer breakfast at a cost, but the water is free unlike some of the competitors in the low-cost arena.
I have heard that there are USB ports, but on my flight, there was nether a USB or a standard plug for my phone or laptop. Be sure to bring a backup battery if you will be onboard for several hours.
They offer free entertainment to be viewed on your own personal devices such as laptop, iPad or phones, and they offer an upgrade for 10 euros to have access to better entertainment. They also show programing on an old-fashioned screen in the front of the section where you’re seated. Best bet is to download your entertainment before you go.
They also offer Skylights glasses for viewing films in 2D and 3D. I paid for one to see what it would be like. They warned me to turn it off for meals and interruptions since the battery goes low fairly quickly. They offer smaller units for kids and the cost is 15 euro and a good way to keep them occupied on the long flight.
I was not impressed. I tried to pause my movie and when I came back, it would make me restart and I couldn’t forward to where I had left off. The idea is good, but the headsets are a bit awkward in size and also a little heavy. Since the movies are the same as the premium package, I’d stay with the 10-euro upgrade for phones instead.
The seating is assigned at check in unless you pay for a specific seat. They are fairly flexible if you are there early enough to request of your agent a specific seat such as window or aisle.
Do show up early, the flights are packed at that price and be nice to the staff, it goes along way. They offer one bag free to check in and one to carry on, so they do not nickel and dime you everywhere.
It is never comfortable traveling over 10 hours, but by checking seat guru you can see the seats that offer more legroom, again, at a price. I opted for one of the seats listed as good and due to leg room, but it was also in front of a restroom, and became a sort of holding area for people waiting to use it. Or parents trying to rock babies into sleeping instead of crying.
With all that being shared, I’d say that the price is unbelievable and if you take some of these warnings into account, you should make it overseas at a fraction of the price.
The other airline I explored his summer is French Bee which was establishes in 2016 and only stated flying to the United States in 2017. They stared with the name French Blue and rebranded with the launch of the American transit. Also based out of Paris, they differ from XL in that they use ORLY International instead of Charles de Gaul. They have just a few planes and as a result the only Hub in the states at this time in San Francisco.
They offer a price of 169 euros currently and they also fly to Tahiti, Punta Cana and La Réunion if you do not want to see Paris. The seats are smaller then typical airlines and the leg room as well is compromised. As a result of the smaller seats, the space under is also compromised meaning your typical bag you may store at your feet will not fit. This makes the overhead storage a bit more crowded.
They do have affordable upgrades, but once you purchase your ticket, you can’t acquire one of the premium seats unless you come to the airport early and they have not sold out. I did show up 4 hours ahead instead of the 3 hours recommended. I stood for an hour waiting for the check in desk to open and was surprised to see so many other passengers doing the same. But if you’re going to wait in a line might as well, wait when it is early instead of increasing the wait time coming when the rest of the pack arrives.
The 265 euro upgrade was not possible because the Premium class was sold out, but they did take my name in case one of the people that had not check in yet failed to come allowing me the opportunity to move up. I was called an hour before the flight and told I could upgrade, but they were unable to process a payment, their issue not mine. As a result, two seats sat empty in premium because they didn’t have the ability to take my dough.
Like other low-cost airlines, they do make you pay for everything such as seat and baggage. But they offer deals on the snacks and drinks. They even have Happy Hour! The inflight entertainment is superior to XL, offering USB ports and seat back screens offering a variety of entertainment options. Here is the best news, they have WIFI! From 4 euro to the 29 euro “addicted” package, you can be online for 30 minutes to the entire flight. Personally when Im in the air for 11 hours, WIFI is a dream even at the cost.
They do have alternative meals at a price and it’s not a good price considering it is airplane food no matter how fancy they try to make it. 35 to 40 euros for a vegan meal is pretty stiff. As always I recommend you bring your own snack, but the snack menu is a bit better than the served meals. The specialized meals are always better than the regular coach meals, but I haven’t had the chance to try them yet.
The flight was a bit late, but with the small number of aircrafts they have, this seems inevitable. I didn’t mind but it did cause a little stress for other people with connecting flights. They offer what they call Priority Boarding and Priority Baggage. I did go online and purchase many of these bells and whistles. The boarding was too fast to have made a difference. My bag came fairly late, all in all, I don’t recommend you spend money on either service.
Out of the two airlines, I preferred French Bee despite the small issues that I think will be resolved as they grow. I think XL prices are unbeatable, but the plane itself was not fun for a long haul. Against the past contenders, I still feel Norwegian reigns as the low fare airline king.
Be sure to let me know if you want help with planning your next trip. Happy to guide you thru the options and make the most of your tour. These unbelievable prices make a visit to Paris a dream come true for any lucky traveler. With a couple little preparations, you can enjoy these flights on your way to the City of Light.