XL: The French Secret to Cheap Flying

A year or two ago I first heard mention of XL Airways and along with it that it was a French secret for affordable travel to the US. Following my style of jumping on last minute opportunities, I decided to try it for myself. My main skepticism was their general lack of online presence in terms of the “trust” we’re able to gain from Twitter and Facebook contact these days (when done right).

A few searches and the hits I came up with were uncomfy seats, bad food and light luggage requirements. However, the 420 Euro round-trip price tag (I splurged for the 17 Euro insurance bringing my ticket closer to 440 Euros) three weeks before my trip. That’s sub $575 with the current exchange rate, and an airfare I haven’t seen in years and too good to turn down. The catch was I’d be flying direct to JFK, but it also worked out perfectly because there was a conference I was attending there.

The verdict

  • The luggage weight limits are lower than most airlines, but I don’t think in kg, so it wasn’t quite as light as I had feared. Even though I typically travel with carry-on only, their policy requires you to check your suitcase. It’s a direct flight, so there’s less to worry about in bags getting lost. Note that an extra bag will run you 100€.
  • XL flies out of CDG airport unlike many of the other low-cost carriers. However, their location in the terminal – 1A was just about as far as possible from where public transportation dropped me off. I’ve had many more RER B delays lately, and even had to take a bus for part of the journey recently, so I’d definitely recommend trying to leave ~4 hours early for the airport.
  • There is no online check in, so expect to wait in line once at the airport.
  • I didn’t find that the seats were uncomfy, but there was ZERO legroom. As one older Frenchman mumbled, XL n’est pas vraiment XL (XL isn’t particularly extra large). I’m decently tall, but for the price of my ticket to the US, I could suck it up for the 8 hour flight. In this case it’s not about the journey, it’s the destination. I also slept for the entirety of the return flight to Paris, so it couldn’t have been that bad.
  • There are no individual monitors for watching movies during the flight, only a few over-head screens. Everyone seems to have a personal device these days anyway, so it’s less of an issue. They did have a pretty good movie selection including The Amazing Spiderman, Mirror, Mirror, and an entertaining episode of The Simpsons where Homer is homophobic (I’d like to see a US carrier air that one).
  • The food exceeded my expectations and satisfied my hunger. As it’s a French airline you can also be confident that they’ll be coming around with extra bread. 

One of the biggest surprises was that my flight – both directions – was dominated by French speakers. French was the default language of the airline, and at JFK the first announcements were in French. In fact, I felt like on my flight I heard more French spoken than I do many days in Paris. It really felt like I had uncovered a wonderful French secret!

XL Airways‘s most popular flight is Paris–New York, but they’ve recently added direct flights from Paris to Vegas and San Francisco as well as offering flights to Africa and even Mexico.

Speaking of airports, here are few other posts you may enjoy:

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5 comments

  • Thanks for the tip — I’ve never heard of XL, but am excited to be in on the secret. Thanks also for the warning about budgeting extra time to get to their terminal. I’ve had some pretttty stressful moments on the RER B, just trying to get to terminal 2E. (Of course I never allow enough time.)

  • I recently traveled one-way from Paris to NYC on XL. Unfortunately, since I was moving a year’s worth of belongings, I ended up having to pay extra for baggage–and that meant standing in the long check-in line, dragging my bags halfway across the terminal to stand in another long line to pay the excess baggage fee, and then lugging my bags back again to the desk to complete the check-in. (Note: Most people in the payment line were there to get tax breaks on gifts purchased in France, so after 40 minutes of panicked waiting I asked to cut the line, and they let me.) Anyway, the flight itself was a great value for the cost. The food was good, the featured movies and TV shows were good (Gossip Girl, in French or English!), and there was an adequate amount of room for my short-person legs. So, as long as you are not moving all of your belongings, I’d highly recommend the airline.

  • Thanks, Anh Mah! It’s a good secret to be in on :) I’m definitely a no stress traveler, except for getting to the airport – 4 hours in advance is always my goal departure time, knowing there’s a good chance I’ll be running 30 min late!

    A

  • Laine,

    Thanks so much for your insight! Agreed it would be the best airline for moving your life back (not sure any airlines are good for that anymore, sadly), but happy to hear that you also enjoyed your experience.

    Cheers,
    A

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