Tales Of Flying On A French Bee
For those of you who are members of my Facebook group “Wine Lovers Who Love to Travel”, you know I just returned from an exploratory trip to the Rhône Valley. The reason for the trip was to reacquaint myself with what’s changed since Covid and to find the hidden gems and must-do’s.
More on that in another blog. First, I want to tell you about the travel experience!
Traveling in Summer 2022
Getting to France was pretty painless, despite all the dire news about tens of thousands of canceled flights. I used points from my bank card program and flew Lufthansa. LAX to Munich with only a 2-hour connection. Even had time for lunch in Munich with a glass of wine!
Want to know why? Because I didn’t have to go through another security check like they make you do at other international airports (London Heathrow—are you listening???). Why should connecting passengers, who’ve already cleared security for their originating flight, have to go through this torture again when they’ve never left secure areas? Can anyone solve this mystery? I certainly can’t!
Munich to Marseille was a breeze, my checked bag arrived and I was good to start my trip.
Returning to the US was another story. Since I had traveled north up the Rhone, I was returning from Lyon, not Marseille. I’d used up my bank points, so decided to try a newcomer. French Bee is a low-cost carrier that recently started flying nonstop between LAX and Paris Orly after a year of success flying nonstop between San Francisco and Orly.
Imagine my happy surprise when I discovered they have an air-train o..... ption from certain French cities and Lyon was one of them! For a single price, I purchased a train ticket to the Massy TGV train station near Paris, a shuttle to Orly and the flight. The cheapest fare gets you a seat, period. For a little extra, I opted to check a bag, get a meal and headset plus select my seat. So far so good.
The online booking process was OK except it wouldn’t let me pay for seat selection. I had to call a live person, who was quite helpful and explained their system was temporarily down. She did offer to hold a specific seat for me and call me back the following day, which she did. The problem was that, even though I’d paid for my ticket with a credit card, they don’t retain the data. When she called me back to confirm the seat, I thought I was done. Turns out I was wrong.
A few days before my departure I printed out all of my trip docs. Saving travel docs on your mobile is great, but nothing beats paper for confirming your paid-for plans.
I immediately noticed 2 problems with my French Bee documents. No assigned seat and no train ticket. The only reference to the train was the departure time, but nowhere was there anything that looked like a ticket. No barcode or QR. Just an itinerary with an electronic ticket number and an airline code.
I called French Bee again, this time no easy feat as they became busier with summer travel. The new live agent told me that, regarding my seat, they had apparently sent me a text with a payment link after I selected the seat with the original agent. Since I hadn’t paid within the 48-hour time limit—because I hadn’t received the text-- French Bee sold my seat to someone else. I chose a new seat, an aisle seat but without the extra legroom, I had planned on. On the upside, I paid only $20 instead of the original $55 and gave the live agent my credit card info during the call.
So relieved to get an aisle seat, I forgot to ask about the train ticket. I figured that since I was staying in a large hotel in Lyon with a concierge, they could help me when I was ready to go home.
Traveling throughout the Rhône
I had a wonderful 9 days traveling throughout the Rhône. After checking into the hotel in Lyon, I immediately headed to the concierge to resolve the train ticket issue. Interestingly, the concierge had never heard of French Bee, and after unsuccessful attempts to call them, her best suggestion was to go to the train station and get some help.
I was annoyed at having to waste time and a taxi fare going to the train station, but I did. It was Sunday, the first weekend of the French vacation season and it was mobbed. After asking several people where the air-train office was, I finally found it. Good thing I speak passable French!
The pleasant window agent immediately found my paper ticket, filed in a box like they do at Will Call at theaters. He also voluntarily showed me a map and photo of the Paris Massy train station so I would know where to catch the shuttle to the airport.
I also asked him if I could make a later train reservation. Mine was at 6:30 am and it arrived in Paris at 8:30 am. Since my flight didn’t leave until 2:50 pm, I didn’t know why I needed a 6-hour layover. He advised me to keep the 6:30am train because you never know when trains are late. I figured he must know, so I kept the early train reservation.
The real fun began on departure day. Got up at 4:45am and took a 5:30 taxi, arriving about 15 minutes later. The Lyon Part Dieu train station was packed. I had to trudge along with an unwieldy bag I would later be checking along with a roll-aboard and my small purse. (Note to self: get a 4-wheeler spinning suitcase before traveling again!)
On the way to France, neither suitcase was very full so I could manage them. But I love to shop in Europe, including buying some wine, so my bags were very heavy on the return trip.
Some nice male passengers took pity on me trying to lug the two bags onto the train. I do appreciate kindness and even though I pride myself on not being a damsel in distress, I was thrilled for their help.
The train arrived at Massy on schedule at 8:30 am. Got more help removing my bags from the train. Finding the shuttle bus was simple. Got more help placing my heavy bags in the hold under the bus.
Orly was teeming. Studied all the signs and found French Bee was located at the very end of the terminal. Once there, an agent told me I was much too early and to return in an hour when check-in would begin. He pointed out a Starbucks across the aisle and recommended I get some coffee while waiting. It is now 10:00 am and I’m exhausted, having been traveling since 5:30 am. Coffee sounded perfect.
However, I want authenticity in my travels and couldn’t let my last meal in France be at Starbucks. So I stubbornly trudged with my bags to the other end of the terminal to get my coffee at Paul, which is basically Frances‘s equivalent to Starbucks.
I returned at 11:00 am and now there were hundreds of people at the French Bee counter. Line # 1 was to check-in. I was told to use the kiosk. The kiosk didn't print a luggage tag. Line #2 was for help, but while waiting, I figured out how to get the kiosk to print a luggage tag. Next was line # 3, the baggage drop.
Not surprisingly, my checked bag was too heavy, so I had to move things to my carry-on (embarrassing because everyone sees what you’ve packed). The agent told me to come back directly to him, so at least I didn’t have to go to the back of the line. This time, my bag’s weight was good.
On to Line #4, which was security. TSA pre-check means nothing outside of the US. But the experienced traveler that I am, I was smart enough to put all my liquids and cosmetics in my checked bag. This line was tiring, but OK.
I thought I was done, but I was wrong. Line #5 was passport control and it was the worst. Everyone not from the EU had to stand in a line that must have been over 200 people long…and they had only 2 agents processing passports! This family ahead of me had two wild little toddlers who kept bumping into my leg and shrieking. The boys were acting the way I was feeling, but I had no patience. When they started holding up the line, I charged in front of them. I got dirty looks but I didn’t care!
I finally got through passport control. It was now 1:30 pm and I’d been at the airport since shortly after 9:00 am. My flight had already started pre-boarding. Apparently, I really did need to take the 6:30 train or I might have missed my flight.
Once onboard things were fine. My meal was OK, the red vin ordinaire (an extra 4 euros) tasted like the finest Chateauneuf du Pape, and the movie selection was fine, including some quirky and fun French films. We landed on time, my checked bag arrived and my shuttle to take me home was waiting for me.
What's the moral of this tale? If you value your emotional health and stamina, pay for the convenience of direct flights. Air + train connection sounds good in theory, but it’s a work in progress and I won’t book it again. It would have been so much more relaxed to have flown home from Lyon, even knowing I would have had to make a connection somewhere. And it would have been worth the extra cost not to have to endure the ordeal of the train to shuttle to airplane.
French Bee does exactly what they promise—get you from Paris Orly to LAX or SFO non-stop, inexpensively. This is not to criticize them. It’s just a cautionary story to decide what’s important to you—saving money or making life simple. Then choose wisely.
5 tips for choosing international flights
1. If you’ve got points or mileage, use them! Redeem for the most direct routing, even if it costs more.
2. No points? Subscribe to a fare finder like Scott’s Cheap Flights or Dollar Flight Club. They find lots of discounts and mistake fares. Even better, buy a premium subscription (I use Scott’s) and get more personalization and filtering.
3. Ask your travel advisor about consolidator fares.
4. Don’t use an air-train option unless you have infinite patience and stamina. Too many logistics, lines and frustrations. Better to pay more and save your sanity. There’s an emotional cost to consider—it’s not all about money.
5.Win the lottery and fly first class, whatever it costs! Or buy your own jet ✈️