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KLM vs Air France – Which is Best?

KLM and Air France are among the most popular airlines flying to Europe. The question whether KLM or Air France is better, might be slightly confusing to some considering the merge of the two companies into the Air France – KLM Group. That being said, each airline still has its unique qualities and since the price can be pretty similar when flying economy and depending on ticket availability, your choice can often fully depend on personal preferences such as food, comfort or airport.

KLM versus Air France: Fares and in the Air

First things first, let’s look at the price. I did a quick search for flights from New York JFK to Amsterdam (KLM) and Charles de Gaulle (Air France) for departure on October the 23rd and return on November 6th.

When booking your ticket, you will notice that KLM gives you the option for Business and Economy while Air France has divided Economy into Light (non-flex with no baggage included), Standard (flexible but with a fee and baggage included) and Premium Economy (includes the use of priority paths, flexible according to airline terms one extra piece of luggage). When selecting your flight details with Air France, you can also select the Business and La Premiere options. What these options include, I will expand on in the table below.

  • An economy direct flight with KLM comes to 395,35 USD with return
  • A standard economy direct ticket with Air France comes to 434,86 USD with return
  • A business ticket with KLM comes at 3728.35 USD with return
  • A business ticket with Air France will cost you 5098.71 USD with return

The business rates are likely to be a lot lower if you fly often and make use of Flying Blue Miles.

Feature

KLM

Air France

Seats for standard economy

Pitch: 30-31 inches (76 – 79 centimeters)

Width: 17-17.5 inches (43 – 44 centimeters)

Pitch: 31-32 inches (79 – 81 centimeters)

Width: 17.3-18 inches (44 – 46 centimeters)

Meals and drinks economy

-Short European flight: savory or sweet snack with drink

-Longer European flight: snack and drink plus wrap / sandwich

-Long haul: choice of two hot meals, drinks every hour and plenty of snack in between

– A la carte: decent if a slightly odd selection of different cuisines since Dutch food is not exactly the most popular out there. (like Japanese as well as Italian food)

– Vegetarian meal available

– Real coffee instead of instant!

– Short European flight: croissant to greet you on board in the morning and a sandwich or snack

– Long European flight: a hot meal

– Long haul: choice of two hot meals and drink available throughout the flight

– A la carte: a more interesting selection with traditional French food, Italian and seafood.

– Vegetarian meal available

– Instant coffee

Entertainment and Wif-Fi economy

– KLM is not the place to be if you need Wi-Fi even though the movie selection is pretty good and they offer TV on demand. That being said, if you are flying on a narrow body economy, TVs will not be available. – Air France is looking to upgrade its entertainment offer as well as Wi-Fi, which it currently only features on the 787-9. The newest 787-9 also has a connection for your laptop while others don’t have this yet. You get a nice selection of international and French movies and TV on demand.

Business and La Premiere

DISCLAIMER: I have never flown business or first class myself so this overview is based on what I have read in opinion pieces and on the airport websites.

– KLM World Business used to offer full-flat seats that have been repeatedly lauded for being very soft and comfortable. But now they have moved on to reverse-herringbone seats (78-81 inches or 200-207 centimeters) for extra privacy.

– Business also comes with flexible booking, extra baggage allowance, priority boarding, use of the KLM lounges and a 3 course meal prepared by Dutch chefs.

– There is a distinction between World Business for long flights and Europe Business for flights within Europe. Europe business class only offers a three course meal depending on the length of the flight and you will have seats with extra leg-room that recline further. Priority boarding, extra baggage allowance and access to the KLM lounge are also included.

– Bluebiz is offered for corporate partners and Flying Blue is offered for individuals. These can be combined for extra benefits.

– Air France has very recently upgraded its business area from the badly received 7 seats across to reverse-herringbone seats, 4 across, where you can lie back completely.

– Business also comes with flexible booking, extra baggage allowance, priority boarding, use of the Air France lounges and a 3 course meal prepared by French chefs.

– There is a similar distinction between Business for long flights and Europe. A three course meal is offered depending on the length of the flight and here you will also have seats with extra leg-room that recline further. Priority boarding, extra baggage allowance and access to the Air France lounge are also included.

– Bluebiz is offered for corporate partners and Flying Blue is offered for individuals. These can be combined for extra benefits.

– Air France also offers La Premiere on some of their flights which is their version of first class. It comes with a private escort to your gate and use of a private cabin with personalized service onboard.

Before you decide to travel business class, consider that on long flights your business seat can give you a carbon footprint that is 3.5 times larger than an economy seat which moves up to 5.5 for La Premiere.

Amsterdam Schiphol versus Paris Charles de Gaulle

If you have a layover or if you just need the airport to make a quick transfer, you might want to base your choice on airport pleasantness or indeed efficiency.

According to popular opinion, Schiphol is superior to Charles de Gaulle in almost every way. Back in 2011, CNN dubbed Paris Charles de Gaulle as “the most hated airport in the world” mainly due to the unhelpful staff and infrastructure problems.

In the last few years, however, there have been many positive strides towards change and the customer experience has improved significantly.

Let’s look at some of the key differences between Amsterdam Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Feature

Schiphol

Charles de Gaulle

Ease of navigation

Schiphol is very easy to navigate with plenty of signs in a well staffed airport. For an international Schengen connection, you can expect to move through in about 60 minutes or less, but give yourself 2 hours just to be sure in case unexpected situation arise.

Schiphol has about 165 gates B, C, D, E, F, D, H and M. The airport has three levels and there is a clear distinction between the domestic and international flights. You will also see regular signs leading you to the trains to Amsterdam right underneath the airport. Trains run 6 times per hour and take about 15 minutes.

Charles de Gaulle uses a slightly more complicated system with the terminal 1, 2 and 3 further divided in satellite terminals with even further divisions in terminal 2. Here, also stick to the 2 hour rule.

Terminal 2 is the biggest terminal with 7 further sub-terminals and terminal 2E divided into 3 more halls for departures from terminals K, L and M. At terminal 2, you will also find the TGV and train to Paris. To go to terminal 1 and 3, you will have to use the CDGVAL shuttle leaving from terminal 2.

Shopping and food

Schiphol has Duty Free shopping and a varied collection of bars and restaurants such as seafood and wine bars, a chocolate bar, bakeries, a market with fresh, seasonal products, and Asian restaurants. Duty Free shopping is also possible at Charles de Gaulle and you will find a collection of French bakeries, bars, fast-food restaurants, healthy fast-food like EXKI and NAKED and sushi bars.

Transfers

Generally, the standard transfer time comes at 40 minutes or less for intercontinental flights. For non-Schengen countries, keep in mind that you will have to move through an additional security line and passport check. The transfer time in Charles de Gaulle doesn’t have to be much longer, except that many people find this airport more difficult to navigate. One of the downsides of transfers here is that you almost always rely on shuttles.

Airport Wi-Fi

Free wi-fi is available. Free wi-fi is available.

Sleeping

There are padded chairs and chaise lounges between terminal E and F (be aware it can get noise here) and resting zones with comfy reclining chairs by gates C, D and E.

If you prefer more privacy, you can also stay at an airport hotel if you have a flight leaving the same or the next day. It is also possible to select shower-only packages if you wish to freshen up.

It has been reported that terminal 2A and 2E are the most comfortable for sleeping. 2E has a carpeted resting area near Yotel that is said to be more quiet.

You can also enjoy a hotel and a shower if you wish. You can take a shower in a couple of the lounges or in Yotelair.

Staff

The staff at Schiphol has always been very accommodating and I have never had negative experiences. The staff in Paris was very accommodating as well (perhaps a bit frosty at times), but I noticed they were far nicer to me compared to others just because I speak some French. That being said, this is probably more of a subconscious action because the French are very proud of their language. They will never be deliberately rude just because you don’t speak French.

Generally speaking, both airports offer a pretty high level of service, but it is clear that Schiphol has some points in their favor. For one, Schiphol will be the better one for transfers considering the airport is easier to navigate, even though Charles de Gaulle is slowly getting better with this and has improved on its signs.

Another point I want to make is that the airport in France has been known to have quite a few strikes every year. While this means the airport is pretty experienced at providing comfort to the weary travelers who are stranded, it can be very annoying if it happens to you. Strikes are rare in Schiphol.

In my opinion, this is a good reason to choose Schiphol. I don’t even fly on Brussels anymore when I visit my relatives since Zaventem has the exact same problem with regular strikes. Now I only fly on Amsterdam and take the Thalys to Brussels.

The Main Differences Between KLM and Air France

In the air

  • KLM has a similar business service for a more reasonable price.
  • Air France has (slightly) more generously sized economy seat.
  • Both serve decent food in economy but Air France has a more culturally interesting a la carte menu.
  • Air France seems to offer a lot more diversity with their focus on different levels in economy but there is a very big price gap for only a few perks. For example, Premium Economy can cost you double just for priority boarding, an extra suitcase and more leg room. Only consider this option if these extra features are truly important to you and if you need more flexibility with your ticket.
  • Air France has private cabins available for luxury travelers in La Premiere.

At the airport

  • Schiphol Airport is easier to navigate than Charles de Gaulle.
  • The staff at the airport in France has been going on strike at least a couple of times a year while Schiphol is more stable in this regard.

Going from my own experiences, I prefer KLM over Air France. Of course, I am pretty easy to please and only really care about getting a vegetarian meal and being received by nice staff.

Air France is looking to review their entertainment offer and beats KLM when it comes to Wi-Fi service. If this is very important to you, you may want to consider Air France. That being said, the regular strikes could put a damper on your trip.

Frequently Asked Questions

Are KLM and Air France Budget Airlines?

While you can get pretty good deals on these airlines, they are technically not budget. They are closer to a mid-range option and while you can get better offers within Europe itself with airlines like Ryan Air and Vueling, the price you can get for long hauls between the US and Europe are some of the cheapest out there.

Who are KLM and Air France partners with?

KLM and Air France are part of the SkyTeam Alliance where similar membership benefits are offered on each airlines. The Alliance also includes (in alphabetical order). Aeroflot, Aerolíneas Argentinas, Aeromexico, Air Europa, Alitalia, China Airlines, China Eastern, Czech Airlines, Delta Air Lines, Garuda Indonesia, Kenya Airways, Korean Air, Middle East Airlines, Saudi Arabian Airlines, TAROM, Vietnam Airlines and Xiamen Air.

How can I find the cheapest flights to Europe?

You can get cheaper tickets if you choose to travel during off-season and book your tickets early in the game. Starting June, prices are ready to shoot up for the busy travel months of July and August. Prices also rise significantly around Christmas when winter sports and the charming Christmas markets lure many tourists to Europe.

If you really want to travel during high season, there is a so called “prime booking window” where you either book 4 months before departure or hope to get a great last minute deal around 3 weeks before traveling.

Another great tip is to select weekdays (mid-week being the cheapest) for departure and return. You can save around 100 USD or more by avoiding flying on the weekends.

Mieke Leenders

Mieke is a writer and traveler from Belgium. After obtaining her master’s degree in art history, she spent several years working as a freelance writer, project worker, animal volunteer and hotel shift-leader. After she saved enough money, she quit her job and decided to travel through Asia and Latin America. While she was working as an assistant teacher in Costa Rica, she met her favorite student and now husband during an English conversation class. Mieke is currently residing in Costa Rica where she reconnected with her love for writing and is eagerly planning her next adventure.