Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Paris Roissy to Bucharest Otopeni

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Introduction

I just arrived in Paris on a flight from Zürich. The walk from 2F to 2E takes about 10 minutes to complete and is quite painless. Of course it helps that the airport is not very busy. What I find impressive about Paris Roissy, is that although the airport as a whole covers a huge surface, the individual terminals are still quite pleasant and easy to navigate through.

With Bucharest being non-Schengen, I will have to go through passport control to enter 2E. Behind the checkpoint they have these brilliant machines where you can scan your boarding pass. The screen will then give you information about your flight and tell you from which gate you will boarding. But I still have some time to kill anyway, so I decide to check out the Air France lounge first.

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The Lounge

I’ve never been to this lounge and I must say, it really is very nice. It’s spacious, with lots of place to sit. In addition to the toilets, there are also showers, a sauna and a quiet area if you want to relax.

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The food options are also very good and include a variety of fresh salads with different dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as a selection of warm dishes.

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Unfortunately, when I check the status of my flight, I notice that the departure time has been moved back from 18h15 to 20h25. Apparently there were a few ATC related delays on the aircraft’s previous journey to Algiers.

Boarding

Eventually boarding start just after 20h. Finally! I mean, I think Air France has done a good job keeping passengers updated. But at some point all you want is to either go back home or just get on the damn plane.

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The Cabin

The cabin on this aircraft is slightly different to that on my previous flight. This aircraft has another type of seat that is covered in leather, whereas the seats on the previous aircraft had cloth covers. There is also a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of this aircraft.

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There are four rows of Business Class with a total of 16 seats on tonight’s flight. 14 out of 16 seats are occupied. There is a pillow and every seat, which comes in handy later on when I doze off…

The Crew

There are two flight attendants welcoming passengers aboard. They’re quite friendly. As on the previous flight, the crew distribute packaged cold towels and drinks. They also pass through offering blankets to passengers, which is a nice gesture of goodwill given the long delay and the late hour.

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The Meal

Once we’re airborne, one of the crew members passes through the cabin distributing menus.

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I kind of like that, not many airlines still give you a menu on a short intra-European flight. The meal consists of

  1. a starter of smoked salmon with salmon roe and a lobster terrine,
  2. a choice of guinea fowl or shrimps for the main course,
  3. a plate with butter and cheese – served with bread,
  4. a dessert made with some kind of puff pastry and cream.

I go with the shrimps for the main course. And I must say, the quality of the meal is good. Although I’m certainly not the world’s greatest Quinoa fan, this stuff is nice and creamy, with a rich cheesy flavour.

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As soon as I finish the meal, the tray is removed and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I order a refreshing mint tea and then relax into my seat. And nod off.

Arrival

The next thing I know, we’re already descending through the snow as we make our approach into Bucharest. It looks decidedly hostile outside! There’re a lot of snow wafting across the apron and the baggage handlers I can see are muffled up to their ears to protect themselves against the cold. It’s definitely not a night you want to be outside.

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Conclusion

As far as I’m concerned, of the big European carriers, Air France offers by far the best short-haul Business Class product. Admittedly, their seat is the same Euro-style Economy Class torture instrument with the middle seat empty as that of its competitors. But apart from that, the crews are very professional and the food is good.

I also think that Air France and its hub in Paris are better than their reputation. I even notice about myself that I’m always slightly apprehensive when I’m travelling on Air France. But in actual fact, so far I’ve hardly had anything to complain about.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris Roissy

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Bucharest to give a course with the Romanian air navigation service provider. As I’m teaching on Tuesdays until 13h30, the direct flight with SWISS was not an option for me, because it leaves too early. And so I ended up being booked with Air France via Paris.

Getting to the Airport

I’m not having much luck with transportation this week. Monday started with a rejected take-off in Frankfurt that Lufthansa turned into a dog’s breakfast and which eventually saw me arriving in Zürich with a delay of four hours and several missed meetings late.

My flight today will start boarding at 14h40, so I figure I had probably best take the 13h55 train to get me to the airport at 14h10. But of course I miss that train and the next one, three minutes later, has been cancelled. And the one after that is running late. Crap!

But eventually, things turn out for me. At 14h20 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Flughafen. I even have enough time to change some currency before continuing on my way to the security checkpoint.

Check-in

Air France is checked in by DNATA at Zürich airport and has obviously succeeded in securing one of the best locations in check-in 2. As you get off the escalators, coming from the railway station, the check-in counters are just on your left.

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I’ve already checked in using the Air France app, so I can head straight for security. There is one lane open for Business Class passengers and the queue is fairly long when I arrive. But obviously they’re preparing for the evening rush hour and after only a few minutes a further line is opened to speed things up.

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By the time I’m through, there’s just another five minutes to go before boarding begins, and so I head straight for gate B31 from where the flight will be departing.

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Boarding

Boarding starts more or less on time. The first call is for Business Class and Platinum card holders to board through the attended gate. Once that is done, the remaining passengers are invited to board via the automatic gates.

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The flight is not full today, so boarding is quickly completed.

The Cabin

The Airbus A 318 is a strange little aeroplane. It’s essentially an Airbus A 319 which never fully grew. The aircraft has not been a commercial success and to be honest, I’m not sure if the production line is even still open for this type. In any case, Air France currently has a fleet of 18 of these short, stubby little aircraft.

They are configured with a seating capacity of a maximum of 118 seats. On today’s flight there are four rows of Business Class with a total of 14 seat. On the port side of the vessel there is no row 1, the bulkhead row on this side is row 2. I am seated on 2A, a window seat. With only three passengers in the Business Class cabin in total, I have the whole row to myself, which is obviously very luxurious and makes for a very comfortable ride. The seat pitch throughout is 32 inches. In addition, there is a red pillow at every seat, which gives the impression of a very bright and fresh cabin.

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The Crew

The service up front is done by the maître de, a young French woman. Apparently, the English language continues to be a problem for Air France. But as long as I can communicate with her in French, I think we should be alright. While boarding is still in process, she welcomes me on board, brings me a refreshing towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I order a bottle of still water.

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Throughout the flight she takes good care of the three of us, in addition to helping out with the service in the back. What I particularly like though, is that Air France strictly enforces a closed curtain policy on its flights.

The Meal

As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service begins. The flight time is estimated at 1 hour and 5 minutes, which is not very much. The meal service consists of one tray that has on it:

  1. a wholegrain, bresaola and horseradish sandwich,
  2. pickled vegetables served with a tartar sauce,
  3. a warm cheese stick,
  4. a bowl of diced pear in honey,
  5. a Tropézienne cake and a small but sinfully dense chocolate cake thingy,
  6. a box with two chocolate pralines.

To drink with that I have a Coke Zero. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also available after the meal, but I decline the flight attendant’s offer.

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The meal is not particularly big or anything, but given the short flight time I think it is perfectly adequate.

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Arrival

Eventually we start our descent into Paris. It’s quite windy, but at least it’s a bright sunny day here – despite the cold. Terminal 2F is home to Air France’s European Schengen flights. My connecting flight will depart from 2E, which is in walking distance and very quick and easy to reach from 2F.

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Lufthansa, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Frankfurt to Malta

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Malta for this year’s edition of the Malta Marathon. I shall be running the half-marathon with a distance of 21.1 kilometres, which is in fact longer than the width of the island!

I confess I’m a bit of a wuss, I’ve never been able to bring up the cojones to attempt a full marathon. That’s still one for the bucket list. Others of course, like my friend the valiant M., probably do a nippy full marathon every morning, just to work up an appetite for breakfast…

But I digress. Again. So yes, last year I flew with Lufthansa via Munich and I must say, I was hardly impressed. But given my recent, rather positive experiences on SWISS, I figured I might as well give Lufthansa another chance. There’s also that fact that their schedule is the most convenient for my purpose.

Getting to the Airport

Just to give Lufthansa a bit of a head start, I shall not regale you with a full trip report of the Basel to Frankfurt sector. Suffice to say it was not so nice. My biggest complaint is the aircraft. Those Canadair RegionalJets really are stinkers! Everything is really tight and cramped and the bins are simply too small for all the hand luggage people take on board these days.

Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

The bus from the aircraft to the terminal ejects me somewhere in the bowels of the A concourse of Terminal 1. From here I take the stairs one floor up and make my way to the Lufthansa Business Class lounge.

The lounge is nicely designed and very bright, using a lot of white paint and light wooden panelling. The views of the apron are quite spectacular too, despite those pesky stripes that run along the width of the windows.

It’s just too bad there hardly any place left to sit. There are people everywhere and I’m left wondering if all these good men and women really have nothing better to do on a Saturday morning than hang around an airport lounge. But it doesn’t matter. I only have about 15 minutes in the lounge before it’s time for me to head for gate A 36, from where the flight will be boarding.

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Boarding

Only, getting to the gate may prove to be a bit trickier than I thought. The queue of passengers for Schengen emigration is so long that it’s blocking access to the A concourse, which is in the opposite direction from the non-Schengen area. But eventually, after a long stream of ‘uh…sorry…hello…’tschuldigung…was that your toe, sorry…excuse me’ I finally get through and reach my gate just as boarding is about to start.

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The Cabin

Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 321. I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. On this side of the aircraft, row 2 is the first row of Business Class, there is no row 1. Whereas on the opposite side there is.

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The leg space is excellent on the bulkhead row. Other than that though, the seat is very hard, with little or no cushioning and – and I know I keep saying this – the grey metallic finish of the panelling really makes the cabin look rather dark and gloomy.

In total, there are 14 Business Class seats on this service. Occupancy is at 50%, with six human beings and a rather regal looking feline who looks as though he owns the aircraft. And Lufthansa actually…

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The Crew

The maître de is a woman in her fifties, I should say. What strikes me about her is the eloquence and ease with which she makes her announcements. It seems unrehearsed, but it comes across as being very polished, charming and approachable.

The service only begins really once the aircraft is airborne. Until then, unlike SWISS or KLM, there is no welcome drink, refreshing towel or anything of the sort.

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The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins. Despite the fairly long flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes it is obviously not foreseen that there should be a drinks service before the meal.

The meal is cold and consists of:

  1. a very nice yoghurt, the content of which I was unable to make out, save for the slice of orange and the pistachios,
  2. a plate of cheese,
  3. a plate of cold meats,
  4. a bowl of fruit,
  5. a selection of buns and croissants that are served warm and nearly burn your fingers,
  6. the bread is served with unsalted butter and Hero strawberry jam,
  7. cream, sugar and a towl are also on the tray.

As the flight attendant passes through the cabin with the bread basket, she encourages the passengers to take as much as they like, insisting that there’s really more than enough. All in all, the meal is rather tasty and hits the spot nicely.

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Arrival

It looks like it’s my lucky day today. Landings and take-offs are towards the north, which means that passengers seated on the starboard side of the aircraft are treated to a spectacular view of the island.

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The airport is fairly busy when we arrive, but seeing as I only have hand luggage, I’m already on the X2 bus to St. Julian’s within just 15 minutes of landing.

Conclusion

5 Star Airline – I don’t think so…

So what about my Lufthansa experience? First of all, to be fair, I think I should say straight away that this experience was by far much more agreeable to the flight from Munich to Malta last year. Where last year’s crew were a right bunch of nasty old witches, this lot was a more accommodating and willing to interact in a professional and friendly way with the passengers. On this flight I actually felt welcome, and not like I was a burden.

On the down side, and I know this is something Lufthansa has only limited control over, the experience on the ground in Frankfurt really is a nightmare. The airport is a rat hole, with long journeys by bus to and from the aircraft, seemingly endless corridors to walk along and people everywhere that make it difficult to get through.

The inflight product on the other hand, is something Lufthansa very much can control, which makes it all the more unfortunate that precisely this is the carrier’s weakest point. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with what passengers are offered on board in Business Class, it’s just that it’s quite obvious that every attempt has been made to cut costs. I don’t in principle think there’s anything wrong with that. After all, the airline is accountable to its shareholders. But even so, I think the passengers should never be allowed to see the cost cutting.

Other than that, throughout today’s flight there was a constant stream of passengers coming through from Economy Class to use the forward toilet. And quite frankly, I don’t blame them, given that the crew left the curtain between Business Class and Economy open throughout the flight and actually encouraged passengers to use the forward loo. Again, this is in itself not a big issue. But it certainly makes me wonder wherein exactly Lufthansa sees the selling point of its European Business Class product: it’s not the lounges, because they’re too full to be enjoyed anyway; it’s not the catering; and the seat is the same one they have installed in the back of the bus. Which leaves what exactly?

So in the sum of all things, yeah this flight was not bad. But honestly, if anyone at Skytrax seriously thinks Lufthansa is deserving of its 5 Star ranking, then I suspect they probably also still believe in Father Christmas.