November 20, 2016

Middle East Airlines vs. Air France: A Detailed Comparative Review... 1 Winner!

It started back in 2013 when my first ever review comparing Air France to Middle East was published, two carriers connecting Beirut to Paris. Three years have passed since and hundreds of flights in between onboard both. Both carriers have improved a great deal on different levels. It was time to do a comparative review based on my personal experience throughout this time.

I left to Paris from Beirut onboard MEA at 8am so breakfast will be served onboard and back to Beirut at 9am onboard Air France and again breakfast will be served. I took all the time to focus on the littlest of details that will help crown one airline as "Best on Route" between the two countries Beirut and Paris.

I get to try MEA's new A330 received just a couple months ago only. A new cabin, bigger screens, larger coffee tables and an individual touch joystick, the same as the one on Air France.

 Technical details:

  • MEA Airbus A330-200 vs. AirFrance Boeing 777-300ER
  • Business class vs. Business class
  • Breakfast vs. Breakfast
  • Beirut- Paris flight duration 04h30 vs. Paris-Beirut flight 04h00.

I'll be going in the entire details one category at a time. From the plane, welcoming onboard, amenities offered, meals, entertainment and toilets... in hope that I would have answered all your questions at the end.

MEA onboard amenities: 07/10

  • Electricity plug
  • USB plug
  • A large screen yet smaller than the one in AirFrance
  • Pillow and cover.
  • Joystick, the same as the one on AirFrance.
  • No welcome kit distributed

 AirFrance onboard amenities: 09/10

  • Electricity plug
  • USB plug
  • A larger screen than the one on MEA
  • Pillow and a real bed cover I always enjoy
  • Slippers
  • A bottle of Evian water
  • Joystick, the same as the one on MEA
  • A welcome kit is distributed to every passenger in business class: Toothbrush, toothpaste, mouthwash, moisturizing cream, ear plugs and sleeping eye mask

 Welcoming onboard:

  • MEA hostesses welcome you with a wide smile. After checking your boarding pass, you are accompanied to your seat if you're traveling business class. You are greeted with a drink (champagne, orange juice, tomato juice) and proposed a newspaper. Magazines are also offered after take off. 08/10
  • AirFrance hostesses also greet you with a smile but today we were not accompanied to our seat. A hostess followed us to take the coats, an important ritual onboard AirFrance. Champagne and juices before plane took off. 08/10

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The plane and seat: The plane: An Airbus 330-200 vs. a Boeing 777

  • MEA received their latest A330 from Airbus few months ago. The plane is clean and equipped with the latest technology this industry has to offer. A bigger screen, a massage reclinable seat, a space to store your phone and passport, a lower one for your shoes or bed sheet and wide tablets for your drinks. The cabin is wider without a toilet dividing the space in two. All passengers can see each other openly but unfortunately MEA removed the bar to gain few more seats. 6/10
  • AirFrance now use a cabin they call best. The "Best" cabin is equipped with individual cocoon seats each with its own drawer, large screen, joystick and seat that turn into a 180 degrees bed. USB and electricity plugs in a space that's more intimate than the MEA normal setup of a business class. Leather finish, relaxing armrest, way more space for your legs, a wide table next to you... anyway, Airfrance cabin hosts four seats in each Cabin instead of 6. The Cabin itself is more intimate divided into two distinct spaces with a toilet and bar in the middle. During flights, business class passengers can visit the bar for snacks and drinks; that's a big added value. I personally prefer its cozy feel. 9/10

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Cleanliness of the cabin:

  • MEA 07/10
  • AirFrance 08/10

Now that the plane has taken-off, let’s see the entertainment system:

  • MEA obliges you to watch a long advertising video that actually ended while flying over Cyprus. More than twenty minutes passed before we could actually start a movie. It’s a smart initiative for the company to do more profit but passengers should have the right to skip it. A good entertainment system should have more choices of movies. 06/10
  • AirFrance: Still on ground, I started watching a movie. In four hours, I could finish two of them. No advertisement or info, we as passengers didn't even ask to watch. A hot towel is distributed to all passengers before receiving the menu followed by breakfast. 09/10

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Headphones:

  • MEA: Sterilized headphones are distributed, clean headphones but unfortunately without the noise reduction feature. 07/10
  • AirFrance: Noise Reduction headphones with (bonnet-type) protective guards. 09/10

Seat:

  • MEA the seat is wide, wider than that on AirFrance, probably more relaxing when seated but unfortunately it's not transformable into a 180 degrees bed. Unpleasant for long flight, you'll slide and wake up at the bottom of the seat.  When seated and relaxed your arms press the buttons moving the seat repeatedly. Changing its position is not easy. Armrests are hard. The new seat doesn't have a reclinable back! 05/10
  • AirFrance is another story. Made of fine materials and finished with leather, the seat transforms into a real bed, a 180 degrees bed, amazing for sleeping. I remember sleeping for seven hours on my last trip to New York. It's a cocoon indeed, your own space in the air. 09/10

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Welcome refreshing kit:

  • MEA 00/10
  • AirFrance 08/10

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Sleeping onboard:

  • MEA: Not a relaxing seat for sleeping, lights are left on throughout half the flight time and you get bothered by a hostess loudly speaking in French reminding you to buy Duty Free products. 05/10
  • AirFrance: A relaxing bed, less talk, relaxing giant pillow, enjoyable bed covers. You feel pampered. 09/10

 Menu and Breakfast:

  • MEA: A white menu with no photos proposes the same breakfast I talked about in 2013... We've all had enough of the same breakfast! Eggs and Knefeh! I'm sure we all feel the same and still the kitchen at the airport thinks travelers enjoy it. Croisant, Labneh, a plate of cheese, herbs omelette and cheese Knefeh! Aperitifs, liquids, wine, champagne, cognac and soft drinks with a Nespresso machine onboard only for business class travelers. Did you know that you can order Perrier if you are in business class? Economy gets canned gas water. 7/10
  • AirFrance: A wider menu starts with a welcome note, four choices of wine, a list of drinks and the brunch menu. Juices, a fruit salad, organic cheese, croissant, pavé bread roll, butter, cheese and jam. A cold plate with pastrami, chicken, Beaufort and a heart of lettuce. Plates are a choice or omelette with potato, grilled veal sausages, tomato cream sauce or crepe win sugar, apple compote and berries. Gourmet snacks are offered during the flight. 09/10

Meal service, generosity and presentation:

  • MEA: Lack of finesse is clear. You are handed the menu like a piece of paper to fill when the hostess should open it for you and look you in the eyes. Hostesses onboard MEA are always in a hurry and they make you feel it. They always seem they want to finish work and go rest for the rest of the flight. A smile would add value... Generous portions, bread proposed twice and a clean presentation. A branded cutlery, branded plates, salt and pepper containers and glassware. 7/10
  • AirFrance: Professionalism, enthusiasm, class, smile and joy while working. The menu is opened before being handed to you, service is done calmly and with style, the menu is explained, coffee is refilled... Good job! 09/10

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Food and Taste:

  • MEA: Appetizers are served first. A plate of Halloumi cheese cut in cubes, four slices of cheddar cheese, a dried apricot, dried prune, black olive, a cherry tomato, a lettuce and walnut. A bowl of Labneh, Lurpake butter, Raaidy honey, Kassatly apricot reserve, a bowl of fruits, a square of chocolate and bread. Fresh fruits, tasty labneh, fresh cheeses and dry bread heated in a microwave. I would say the bread quality is bad! As for coffee it was unfortunately served cold. It might have been by mistake but the honey served cold tastes good. I loved it this way and will make sure to add a honey pit to the fridge at home. Yummy, the fruits are so fresh; Orange, kiwi, bitter orange and pineapple. Afterwards I chose knefeh over omelette. A yummy knefeh, adequately sweet, sugar syrup and melted cheese with a thin layer of crumbs on top. It's good, really good. I've eaten knefeh in my life and this is one of my favorite ones. Omelette comes with two mushrooms, a cherry tomato and mashed potato; it's juicy and tasty. 15/20
  • AirFrance: It started with a tray of appetizers. Fresh fruits, two slices of pastrami, a rectangle of cheese, turkey, raspberry jam and a white cheese cup. With that bread and a brioche of a croissant. I loved the yogurt, which I added on top of the fruits and mixed with jam. I enjoyed the bread and brioche. The eggs are so good, sausage is excellent and the tomato sauce is what makes all the difference... if only MEA could learn! The crepe is a must try, gave me ideas to prepare this at home. Good quality food with a French savoir-faire. 18/20

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Additional food during the flight:

  • MEA: Nothing much. 01/10
  • AirFrance: Fauchon cookies, a bar loaded with soft drinks, white wine, Ladurée jellies, cans and a box of Fauchon tea. 09/10

 Cleanliness of toilets:

  • MEA: Toilets are not cleaned during flight... they offer no amenities, no cream and no hand gel. 03/10
  • AirFrance: Clarins products are proposed in the toilets which are cleaned several times during the flight 07/10

Crew professionalism:

  • MEA: The lack of finesse is clear. There’s a certain finesse hostesses should be taught. They should be educated about the art of "pampering clients" or probably they have to travel more, to see, learn and compare! 06/10
  • AirFrance: French perfection, finesse, pampering... client is king and feels like a king. The chief of business cabin welcomes you. Mrs. Vicky approached and asked about our food preferences, a huge smile on her face, she made sure all is great! 09/10

The little details that make a difference:

  • MEA feels like home, there’s a Lebanese feel, Lebanese flavors, Lebanese crew and I must admit that they are continuously improving. You are offered a hot napkin before leaving and greeted at the door before stepping out. 06/10
  • AirFrance has evolved; bigger screens, better food, more attention, dedicated service and most importantly "pampering" which MEA clearly lacks. AirFrance takes flying to be next level where you get value for your money. I'll make sure to travel AirFrance more often. 09/10

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Required improvements:

  • MEA: Update the food menu, create a permanent bar with a choice of snacks and drinks, distribute warm towels before and after the flight, distribute welcome kits, add more movies to the entertainment repertoire, train hostesses to smile and act with finesse.
  • AirFrance: Honestly, nothing much to say here!

Pilots:

  • MEA: They fly for your comfort and safety 9/10
  • AirFrance: They fly for your safety and the plane's 8/10

Value for Money:

  • MEA 13/20 Proudly Lebanese, our cedar and flag in the sky... I will always travel Middle East and hope they improve to win next time.
  • AirFrance 18/20

Results:

  • MEA 118/200
  • AirFrance 156/200

Verdict: AirFrance is crowned "Best on Route" from Beirut to Paris and back winning with a big difference. Unfortunately our national carrier loses...

When traveling to and from Paris, you know what to do!




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