Air France HOP/Cityjet, Economy Class – CRJ-1000/RJ85: Basel to Paris Orly/Roissy

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INTRODUCTION
Ever since I saw the sketch about the Death Star Canteen on Youtube, I’ve been a big fan of Eddie Izzard’s. So much so that I thought it would be cool to see him live some day. And indeed, this year he was on a world tour to promote his new book and show. But unfortunately, there was never an opportunity for me to go see that.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
But then I saw on Facebook that Izzard would be doing stand-up comedy in Paris in December. And so it came about that I find myself on the way to Basel airport on a Saturday afternoon to catch the HOP by Air France service from Basel to the iconic Paris Orly airport. The flight should leave at 14h20, which should get me into Paris around 15h30. In other words, I should have enough time for some Christmas shopping and to grab a bite to eat before the show begins at 20h00. Or something like that…

CHECK-IN
Check-in for Air France and KLM is in the French sector of the terminal building. There are four self-service machines. Strangely enough though, three of the machines have ‘Vol Paris CDG ou Amsterdam’ showing on the screen, while the fourth machine reads ‘Paris Orly’ only. For some strange reason, it is indeed the case that the flight to Orly is checked-in on a different machine on which the other flights to CDG and to Amsterdam do not exist. And vice versa.

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I’m not sure what this is about exactly, but I suspect it was something to do with the flight operating as a domestic flight rather than an international one.

BOARDING
With my Platinum card I have access to the fast lane, which doesn’t really mean anything at all. Because just before the security checkpoint the fast track merges with the normal line. Which means you end up with everyone in the normal queue giving you the stink eye for – in their view – trying to jump the line. Which, of course, is a very grave case of serious misconduct in France, given their history of égalite, fraternité and all that nonsense.

One way or another, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit of a wuss – I’m not a big enough asshole to simply not give a shit. And so, I try an apologetic smile. I’m hoping the smile conveys something along the lines of a ‘Mea culpa, I promise never to do that again, cross my heart and hope to die, Ma’am’. But then I catch my reflection in one of the glass doors and conclude that I have rather a pained expression and look more like I urgently need to go to the bathroom for a number two…

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CABIN
There’s been an aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled ATR42, the flight is operated by a Bombardier CRJ1000. And oh, how I hate this aircraft! This really one of those cases where you look at a thing or use it and keep asking yourself ‘what on earth were they thinking’?

So what on earth were they thinking exactly? For a 100 seater I really do think the width of the cabin of this aircraft is insufficient. There is very little storage space, boarding takes for ever because the aircraft is just so long and basically, everything feels just a little cramped and tight. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones to be seated on 1F with the seat next to me empty.

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AND THEN IT ALL GOES TO SH…
We push back ahead of schedule at 14h14. Although the term pushback is used somewhat liberally in this particular case. Rather, we jerk backwards and then come to a stop again. And then nothing.

After about five minutes the pilot comes on the speakers to inform us that the pushback truck as damaged the nose gear and the incident will need to be investigated before we can depart. But it’s really nothing to worry about…

At 14h45 the captain informs us that the Air France ground engineer is already in his well-deserved weekend. So it will take him at least another hour to get to the airport. I just finish saying to myself ‘this is so going nowhere’, when they inform us that we will have to disembark while they check the aircraft.

At 15h00 we finally are allowed off the plane. A ground agent tells us we will have to go down to arrivals, then back up through security again and then to return to the departure gate for further information.

So I do just that. Only, the system won’t let me go through security because, according to the system, I’ve already been through once already. Which is in fact true. But this would not be France if there weren’t a jovial middle-aged man with a friendly smile who gives me his best ‘mais non, allez-y. Je vous laisse passer…’.

So I return to the gate, where they’re now boarding the flight to Charles de Gaulle. I ask one of the gate agents what’s going on. But she tells me she’s busy. So I check on the Air France app, only to find that there my original flight has been cancelled.

By this time, the CDG flight, which departs at 15h35, has completed the boarding process, so Madame finally has a moment to talk to me. The next thing I know, il n’ya aucun problem, and I’ve been reprotected on to the CDG flight instead.

I thank the gate agent for her flexibility and pass through the gate, thinking it must be my lucky day. As I do, I swear I can hear her sniggering. What’s that all about I wonder? And that’s when I realise: the CDG flight is operated by an ancient RJ85 in the 3+3 configuration. And…*this is the moment when I hear the music from the shower scene in Psycho in my head…*…and?

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And I’m on 4B, which means I’m stuck in the middle between two other people. This is really my worst nightmare. They can’t do this to me. Please Santa, I promise I’ll be good. I swear I’ll be nicer to my students. But please, not 4B.

The middle seat on 4B means the pitch is so tight that the only way I can fit into the seat is to sit there with my legs spreadeagled like a porno star, while Miss 4C sticks her elbow in my side.

Eventually we depart at 16h20. The flight was delayed so they could rebook all the passengers from the cancelled Orly flight.

SERVICE
The crew on this flight consists of two men. The purser is in his early forties, I should say, and at least he obviously thinks he’s really hot stuff. What’s with the black leather gloves, dude? Even once the doors close, the leather gloves stay on and he even distributed the refreshing towels still wearing them.

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MEAL
Once we’re airborne, the meal service kicks in tout de suite. It consists of a selection of hot or cold drinks and a choice between a savoury or a sweet snack – or sucré ou salé, as we say at Air France.

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I decide to have the hot chocolate and a packet of really tasty apple biscuits. They’re really very buttery and full of flavour. The only problem though, is that being confined on either side by another passenger in such a tight seat, I’m actually having trouble reaching the food and cup without accidentally taking out one of my neighbours’ eyes and I start to wonder if this is what extinction must have felt like for the Tyrannosaurus Rex with their little stubby arms?

ARRIVAL
By the time we land it’s already 17h15. And we still have to taxi all the way back to terminal 2G, which is out in the booneys. From 2G I have to catch a shuttle bus to terminal 2F and from there I have to walk to terminal 2E before I am finally at the counter for the busses that take you from CDG to the Gare de Lyon, which is closest to where I’m going.

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But still, I manage. There was no shopping and no lunch before the theatre. But I manage. In fact I arrive one minute before the curtain call.

EPILOGUE
I’m not going to write a report about the return leg. But just in case you were wondering: yes, that one was delayed by an hour too because of a technical problem. This was not one of Air France’s finest moments.

But all’s well that ends well. And so, for those of you who have managed to stick around until the very end,

I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY HOLIDAY AND MANY HAPPY LANDINGS IN 2018!

Where ever your travels may take you, enjoy them and stay safe.

– William

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WDL for British Airways, Economy Class – Avro RJ85: Zürich to London City

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Date: 13 May 2016.
From: Zürich.
To: London City.
Departure:
17:05
Arrival: 17:55
Flight time: 1 hour and 50 minutes.
Seat: 11F – window on the right side of the aircraft.

Prologue

Oh shit! I had really hoped I had seen the last of those god awful Avro Regional Jets. But by some cruel twist of faith it looks as though I will have to endure them again – hopefully just this one last time.

CHECK-IN

Location: Check-in 2, row 2.
Facilities: Dedicated British Airways counters staffed by DNATA personnel in British Airways uniforms.
Counters: There are two baggage drop counters for Economy Class passengers and two counters for premium paying passengers.

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Check-in is also possible via the BA app, which works very well, or using web check-in.

It is just gone 05h30 in the morning and I am on my way to work. The train is just pulling out of the station in Basel when I decide to check my phone for messages. Oh crap (Did I just say that out loud?)! There is one message from British Airways, informing me that my flight to London will be operated by WDL, a small German charter company. The usual Embraer 190 has been substituted by an Avro RJ85. Well that certainly explains the rather odd looking seat map when I checked in yesterday using the app.

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LOUNGE

Location: On the top floor of the E dock.
Type of Lounge:
Aspire contractor lounge operated by DNATA.
Facilities:
There are no toilets or showers in the lounge, from what I can tell. Or at least I could not find them. Other than that, there are a few magazines available and a few desks with power outlets to work at.
Catering: Sweet and savoury snack type food.
Internet:
Provided by the airport. The code is issued on request at reception, as you enter the lounge.

The Aspire lounge at the E dock is fairly new and rather elegant. Like all the lounges over in E, it has an excellent view of the apron, runway 28 and the central terminal area beyond. At this time of day, the lounge is pretty much deserted and there are only passengers bound for London, from what I can tell.

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BOARDING

Priority Boarding: Business Class passengers and Executive Club Gold card holders queue separately to the right of the counter, while Economy Class passengers queue on the left.

Just before boarding starts, one of the gate attendants makes an announcement to inform passengers that there is only very limited storage space on the aircraft and therefore, larger pieces of hand luggage will have to be checked in and placed in the hold. Of course, this does not go down very well with the high and mighty wannabes, who all seem to think their rather lame excuses for keeping their luggage are going to work. It is also a bit undignified to see a grown man sulking – ‘it’s not fair, his is much bigger than mine’. Guys, are we still talking about hand luggage here?

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CABIN

Configuration: 3 + 3.
Seat: The WDL website is amazingly uninformative. It is nearly as though they do not want anybody to find them on the web. In any case, the upshot is that I have no data about the seating capacity on their Avro RJ85 nor on the width or pitch of the seat.
Pitch: The pitch on this particular aircraft does not even feel that bad. When I am sitting upright, me knees do not touch the front seat and I can even slouch down and stretch my legs under the seat in front of me.
Width: You really need to like the person you have sitting next to you on this aircraft, because you are going to have them up close and personal for the entire duration of the flight – especially if, like me, you find yourself trapped in the window seat.

I would consider myself an averagely sized, adult male. Even so, I end up with my right shoulder jammed against the wall of the cabin and my left shoulder being given a free massage or a shove every time the big guy next to me decides to raise his arm to scratch his nose.
Facilities: Reading lamp and air vent.
Warning: Rows 8 through 11 are located under the wings of the aircraft. The overhead bins on this aircraft are fairly old school and small. However, on those rows immediately under the wing the height of the overhead bins is only about half that of the standard sized bins.

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SERVICE

The service is done be two young and friendly female cabin crew. They both speak excellent English but with a decidedly German accent. If I had to guess, I would say they are both Turkish. Just like WDL’s website and the white livery of its aircraft, the crew are rather nondescript. They have a run of the mill uniform and that is just about it.

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THE MEAL

Choice: Yes.
Type of meal:
Dinner snack.
Meal:

  • Bulgur and chickpea salad with falafel. From what I can tell, there are a number of options to choose form, because in some cases the passengers refuse the meal they are initially offered and are then given another instead. At least I presume it is different because otherwise they would hardly take it.
  • Diet Coke.

It is really at moments like this that you start to wish the airlines would abolish serving food in Economy Class. Of course my luck will have it that I usually hold my fork in my left hand, despite the fact that I am left-handed, while the guy on my left holds his on the right. But eventually we still manage, by coordinating our respective arm movement.

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ARRIVAL

Eventually, after about an hour of doing a pretty convincing impression of a can of sardines, we begin our descent into London City. We approach the city from the southeast and then turn west and then north to approach the airport from the west. We make our final turn onto the final approach right above the Shard, which looks close enough to touch from up here. And shortly after that we land. And I can finally get off the plane. Thank God!

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CONCLUSION

And so I finally make it to London. In summary, the Avro RJ85 really is quickly turning into an old heap of junk. It’s not just that it’s tight in the 3 + 3 configuration, it just looks and feels very worn too.

Even so, I think British Airways were pretty good in a) that they managed to secure a replacement for the aircraft originally scheduled to make the flight, and b) the way they handled the irregularity by informing passengers both by SMS and, in more detail, by mail. Let’s face it, if this had been SWISS, they probably would have just cancelled the flight without really giving a shit.