French Bee: airline review
Pauline Frommer

What Is It Like to Fly French Bee? Our Airline Review

In the landscape of a vacation, air travel is just one small hill you need to climb before the real experience begins. That’s why I’ve always been a proponent of paying as little as possible for airfare. That way, you can spend more on what really makes or breaks a trip: the experiences you have in the destination.

French Bee, a budget carrier based in Paris, often fits the bill when it comes to low fares. The airline's ticket prices are frequently the cheapest for flights to France from nearly a dozen U.S. cities—in fact, sometimes French Bee is less expensive than the competition by several hundred dollars. (The airline also flies to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic as well as French Polynesia and Réunion Island.)

So based on the consistently low fares, I will probably fly with French Bee again.

But if there are other similarly affordable options, boy oh boy, am I going to choose them.

Sadly, French Bee is almost as bad as its dumb name (a change from its original moniker, French Blue). If I was giving out letter grades, I'd probably want to call this one French Cee.

Here's what the experience was like for me. 

French Bee airline review: booking screen at the French Bee website
French Bee website
The Booking Process: Seat Categories and Fees (So Many Fees)

The annoyances start here, with what the airline jauntily calls “Our tailored fares: travel à la carte.” Translation: We’re going to play every mind game in the book to get you to spend more than you intended.

Travelers are first shown a very low price, but that’s only for a painfully no-frills “Basic” ticket. From there, French Bee piles on the fees and upgrade options. It's a now-common business model in the commercial airline industry, particularly among so-called low-cost carriers, but that doesn't make the situation any less irritating when you encounter it here. 

With French Bee's Basic category, you only get to bring on the plane one personal item that fits under the seat in front of you. If you can't squeeze everything for your international trip into that small bag, you’ll have to either a.) layer all your clothes on your person for the flight or b.) fly to a destination where you already have a closet.

The airline's Basic fares do not come with any luggage allowance—not checked bags, not even carry-ons. When I searched for flights from New York City to Paris, luggage was going to cost me an extra $70 per bag, which was almost exactly what upgrading from a Basic to a Smart ticket would cost anyway. (Premium fares, French Bee’s version of business class, are usually about $300–$500 more each way, though prices shift radically by date).

So a Smart booking it was. That meant I’d get one meal on the long flight across the Atlantic, as well as the privilege of checking a bag and carrying one with me. The fare did not, however, come with the ability to choose my seat—a crucial drawback since I was traveling with family members. Seat selection requires yet another fee, and, you guessed it, some seats cost more than others. So my fare ticked up again. And so did my blood pressure.

Was I still saving money compared to other airlines? Yes, definitely. But if Dante were around today, he’d assign the torture of booking tickets with a budget carrier like French Bee to at least the Fourth Circle of the Inferno. 

How was French Bee's preflight communication?

The company is certainly more communicative about upcoming trips than some similar carriers, such as Norse Atlantic Airways, which I found to be alarmingly incommunicado at times. (Here's my full review of that carrier.)

French Bee was proactive in giving me the details of my flight via email and letting me check in ahead of time. However, the company kept pinging me, over and over, with the request that I choose a seat—even though I’d already paid extra to do that. I’m assuming this was an effort to persuade me to upgrade my cabin category, but the ploy made me very nervous that the reservation I'd made hadn't gone through.

It so happened that my booking was honored correctly. But I’m still holding a grudge about all those annoying emails.

French Bee airline review: a huge line at Newark Liberty International Airport's Terminal B
Pauline Frommer
Airport Hassles

I’m not sure I can blame French Bee for this, but its flights from the New York City area leave from the neglected stepchild of terminals at Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR). That would be Terminal B, which stands for banished to the land the TSA forgot.

To get to their French Bee departure gate, travelers have to wait in a security checkpoint line that's often several hundred people long, presumably because that area only has two TSA booths and luggage X-ray scanners. My party waited in line for a full hour, which can't be unusual given the limited security equipment. 

Again, that's probably more the fault of the airport and ongoing TSA staffing issues than the airline. 

For what it's worth, the terminal is fine after security, with a decent number of restaurants, shops, and bars.

I only flew one way with French Bee, so I don't have much to report about the carrier's terminal at Paris Orly Airport (ORY), other than to say that the customs-and-entry process was speedy upon arrival, and the transportation between terminals was convenient and dummy-proof.

French Bee airline review: Economy seat
Pauline Frommer
French Bee's Planes and Seats

French Bee’s entire fleet is made up of Airbus 350-1000 aircraft, the newest type of widebody from the French manufacturer. Each plane carries 35 recliner seats (in Premium class) and 376 economy seats. 

This model of aircraft is 25% more energy-efficient than older, similarly sized planes, according to French Bee. Part of the reason, the airline's website explains, is that the materials used are “lighter, stronger and more rigid.”

Does that sound like the makings of a comfortable plane seat? The slightly tattered padding of my own seat looked to be less than an inch thick, meaning I could feel the rigid bones of the chair in my backside—not great for an 8-hour flight.

What's more, at just 16 inches in width, French Bee's economy seats are narrower than the norm (typically 17–18 inches wide). I’m a fairly small person, but I could definitely feel the difference, since the tight fit made it difficult for me to sit with my arms at my sides rather than on the shared armrest.

French Bee airline review: cramped plane seats
Pauline Frommer

Seat pitch, the distance from the end of a seat to the back of another, is standard at 32 inches, the ungenerous norm adopted by most airlines nowadays. See the photo above, and know that I’m only 5'3".

Each seatback has a touch-screen entertainment system with a wide array of films and TV shows; Wi-Fi is available for an additional fee. On night flights, a groovy purple light replaces the bright overhead lights, similar to what you'll find on a Virgin Atlantic flight. It's a nice, sleep-friendly touch.

My biggest problem onboard? The heat! As a woman of a certain age (ahem), I never know for sure whether room temps match my internal thermometer. So at first I figured I was the only one sweating like an Olympic athlete. But about an hour into the flight, my daughter, sitting next to me in the window seat, started complaining about the heat, and soon my husband across the aisle joined the pity party. The sauna-adjacent temps persisted throughout the flight, though I can’t say whether this was a one-time thing or a regular problem with French Bee.

[Counterpoint: Why Is It So Cold on Airplanes?]

French Bee airline review: flight attendant safety briefing
Pauline Frommer
In-Flight Service

I have no complaints about the crew, who were a genial, efficient bunch. My heart does go out to them, though, for having to wear unflattering, cheap-looking denim uniforms. A French company making employees wear non-chic attire? Sacre bleu!

To add insult to bad outfits, French Bee's crew members face additional challenges in the form of a bizarre dining protocol that left my husband without dinner.

French Bee airline review: meal voucher
Pauline Frommer
In-Flight Meals

Early in the flight, the crew passes out small pouches containing eye masks, headphones, and socks—always a nice touch. Passengers in Smart seats also get a voucher in those bags for the in-flight meal (shown above; needless to say, passengers in Basic seats have to pay extra for food). 

But if you don’t take everything out of the bag, you likely won't see the voucher, and flight attendants won't ask you about it when they pass through the cabin with the food cart—at least, they didn't ask on my flight. Instead, crew members simply handed food to passengers who gave them a voucher, as my daughter and I did, and silently passed by the seats of passengers who didn't present vouchers. 

My husband was buried in a book during the food service, and only realized he hadn’t gotten fed when he saw my empty tray (he was across the aisle and slightly ahead of me). He was too chagrined to mention the matter until we got to Orly, where he was a hangry mess.

To be fair, he could have bought a meal through the touch-screen system for €8 ($9). Why he didn't go that route will have to remain one of those abiding mysteries of marriage.

The meal he missed was unmemorable but palatable—and, perhaps best of all, came with Lorna Doone cookies.

French Bee airline review: in-flight meal
Pauline Frommer
The Verdict

French Bee is going to be on the bottom of my wish list for flying to Europe—except when it beats the competition, pricewise. And since international airfares have become so exorbitant at many times of the year, it's highly probable that French Bee's genuinely low rates will persuade me to fly with the fee-frenzied, tush-mushing carrier again in the future. 

Maybe folks at French Bee will read this so they can improve the experience. I just hope they don't recognize moi the next time I'm seated in economy. If they withhold my meal out of spite, I have a feeling my spouse won't share his Lorna Doone cookies.