Onboard Air France’s A380 inaugural flight from New York to Paris

The Airbus A380 has reached American shores once more. Late last month, Air France began service between New York’s JFK and Paris Charles de Gaulle, one of the few select routes on the planet served by this massive, double-decker jumbo jet.

As the third fourth customer to receive the now-famous Airbus A380, Air France is betting big on assigning it to this route. The gamble is especially perilous, considering the high volume of traffic already serving the route, the state of the economy and the recent drop in demand for air travel. Indeed, the only other A380 route from New York, an Emirates service to Dubai, was canceled earlier this year because of scarce traffic.

So Air France has a lot to prove; not only must they successfully operate this aircraft across the Atlantic, they need to look good doing it. After all, Airbus is based out of Toulouse and Air France is the country’s flagship carrier. With their national travel reputation at stake, these companies must seek perfection.

However, inaugural flights remain a time for festivity, and performance metrics were far from the minds of the travelers participating in last month’s flight. Kickoff activities played out over the course of a long weekend from Paris to New York and back, with 380 winners of a recent Air France charity auction joining passengers from the corporate ranks and media world. From the New York side, festivities started with a magnificent cocktail hour at the French Embassy on 7th Ave on Friday evening, then passengers had a full day to recover before departing eastward on Saturday evening.

And how is flying on Air France’s A380?

%Gallery-79543%Fantastic. To begin with, the aircraft is enormous. Staring at the aircraft from the gate (because you will) is like looking into the eyes of a monster, complete with a tiny little black strip near the eyes where the pilots sit. One gets the feeling that an entire regional jet could fit inside of one single engine and then be chewed up and spit out the back, an easy meal for a machine of this size.

It’s boarded by class and floor, and if you’re on the top deck (business and some economy) you leave JFK’s terminal 5 and walk up a fair distance until you reach the forward cabin. Like many other A380s there are curved staircases, situated in this configuration at the rear of the aircraft. There’s a lounge area in the front of the top floor, and speckled inside of the cabin are numerous galleys, where a small cutout is set aside to host drinks and snacks during the flight. Walking around it’s as if one is traversing a small cruise ship finding small features and treasures here and there and all around the cabin.

Mind you, the fuzzies usually wear off after getting to your seat and settling in. Apart from larger windows and an enormous interior, the seat pitches, widths and in-flight entertainment are fairly close to the regular Air France transatlantic product – there’s just more of it – 538 seats to be exact, with around 85 business class seats and only 9 in first class.

To that end, Air France continues to keep the standard high. The business class cabin on this Airbus A380 was roomy, classy and cozy, with mood lighting, plenty of stowage (even on the cabin wall) and the largest windows manufactured into a current commercial aircraft. The Rolls-Royce Engine Alliance engines are remarkably quiet, making the cabin hum smoothly as the business-seats recline into their almost-flat position. As passengers drift into sleep after their 8:30 departure there’s a sense of satisfaction that pervades through the crowd as they admire the clean, enormous cabin. Or perhaps that’s just the Champagne speaking.

Another nice touch to the A380 is the inflight media. It should be expected that Air France installed the finest of inflight entertainment systems into every seat back, complete with movies, seat to seat chat and television shows — but they exceed their standard excellence with updates to the mapping system and additional exterior cameras. This may not impress the everyday airline passenger, but there’s something thrilling about watching ground operations at JFK scramble around from the tail-mounted camera.

Inaugural festivities were kept to a respectable volume. At the New York gate there was a brief ribbon-cutting ceremony with CEO Jean-Cyril Spinetta Pierre Henri Gourgeon and some of the charitable partners; while onboard a three piece brass band bounced around playing French music prior to pushback. All media on the flight was shuttled to the jaw-dropping Sofitel Arc de Triomphe for our nights on the ground, and, apart from a welcoming brunch and an outstanding dinner at Spoon, we were largely left on our own to explore the city.

I could gush volumes on my time and company in Paris, but we all know how the city of lights can have an effect on a person. Paris is an inspiring city: it earns its reputation as a beautiful, romantic metropolis with a cafe on every corner, amazing architecture, outstanding gastronomic fare and a lifetime of history. Air France’s A380 service from New York to Paris embodies this character perfectly, from form, to class to function. Like me, you won’t be disappointed.