Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Amsterdam to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Amsterdam… it is not pretty!

My flight from Bogotà arrives in Amsterdam at eleven in the morning. My onward connection to Paris is not until 14h30. At 11h15 the aircraft comes to a stop on its stand, we disembark and I make my way to security – where there’s already a very long queue forming. There are ground staff everywhere, trying to manage the queues. All in all it takes me over ninety minutes to reach the head of the queue. The security staff do an excellent job, despite the fact that they are basically being subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse, yelled at, and even threatened.

I think what strikes me the most about the situation in Amsterdam is the incredibly high level of aggression among passengers. That, and the complete and utter stupidity of the human race. Standing in a queue for ninety minutes brings out all the worst in humanity, and makes you wonder how we managed even to invent the bloody wheel before killing each other. There’s one guy giving the girl from security hell, insisting that his Business Class ticket gives him privileges to jump the queue. She makes several attempts to explain to him that the priority line has been shut down, and there there is only the one, very long queue. Then there’s the American family who feel they need to jump the queue because their flight will be leaving in 45 minutes, to which another American tells them to just shut the f**k up and deal with it, he actually watched his flight depart without him from the queue… It really is quite horrible. Still, at least the queue for immigration is very short.

By the time I get to the Crown lounge in the Schengen area it’s already coming up to 13h00 and the place is crawling with disgruntled passengers. Bugger this, I’m better off outside where I can at least see the aircraft departing.

Boarding

My flight is leaving from C07. Next to us at C05 is the previous flight to Paris, which leaves only thirty minutes earlier, at 14h00. While I sit and wait, I watch the poor front line staff dealing with passenger after passenger who arrives at the gate, only to be told that they have missed their connection. What’s probably worse, is that the aircraft is still on stand, probably due to a slot restriction. And passengers don’t get that, “if the aircraft is still here, why won’t you let me on…?”.

My flight is running more than an hour late by the time we start boarding. The missed connections from the flight at 14h00 contact the gate agent of my flight to be reprotected, only to be told that the flight is already full. Which is, of course, a joke, because by this time everybody on the flight knows that not all passengers that are booked on the flight are going to make it through security on time. There’s a lot of frustration everywhere, especially when eventually we push back from the gate with twenty reported no-shows, twenty empty seats that could have been taken by the passengers from the previous flight.

The seat

I’m seated on 3A. The middle seat is left empty, and there is an elderly American gentleman on 3C. Seat pitch on row three is very tight, my best option is to spread my legs wide to avoid having my knee caps crushed when the guy in front of me decides to recline his seat while we wait. Other than that, the seat has a USB port integrated in the arm rest and there’s wifi available on board. There are six rows of Business Class on this flight, and all seats are taken.

The service

While we wait for our ATC clearance, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with packaged towels and still water.

The meal

The flight time to Paris is fifty minutes. Service is by FlyingBlue status, and as a result, I ended up being served first, which is rather awkward, to be honest. The meal consists of a zucchini and mozzarella salad, bread and camembert cheese and a very rich chocolate cake that is so thick that I am unable to finish it.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is lovely. It’s sunny but not too warm, with a temperature of about 22 degrees. We land from the West, and then take the long taxi route to our stand at 2F.

More delays

But the fun doesn’t stop there, boys and girls. First, there is a delay with the delivery of the luggage, which takes about thirty minutes to start arriving. Still, at least my suitcase made it, so there is that.

Getting into town

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Molitor Hotel near the Roland Garros tennis court. Only, the RER B train line from CDG airport is not running today. So instead, I first have to catch a replacement bus to Stade de France.

Then from there I catch the RER D train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

Then from there the RER A to Auber.

And then from there the metro line 9 to Ange-Molitor. In total it takes me two whole hours to get form the airport to the hotel. By the time I arrive I’m just a total wreck.

Conclusion

The short hop from Amsterdam to Paris was incredibly tiring and really not at all enjoyable. It wasn’t just that there were many delays and a lot of queueing involved. These things happen. What made the whole experience unpleasant was the extremely high level of anger and aggression – and the rather off-putting stench of entitlement coming off some of the passengers.

I salute all the front line staff in the call centres, at security, the receptionists at the lounges, the gate agents, the cabin crew, the ground handlers and rampers, the stoic pilots and the excellent air traffic controllers for their professionalism. You guys are doing an incredible job in the face of adversity this summer. May you receive really, really fat bonuses and pay rises for it very soon. You deserve it. Not everybody would put up with the shit you guys are having to deal with. Until then, you have my gratitude for returning me home safely. Thank you!


– William

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bogota El Dorado

Introduction

I’m on my way to Bogota to give a course. The flight from Paris departs at 15h40 on Monday. However, there either is no connecting flight from Basel or it’s already fully booked, which means that I end up spending Sunday evening at the Pullman Hotel at Paris airport.

Check-in at Terminal 2E

Terminal 2E is Air France’s non-Schengen terminal. From the SkyPriority check-in area passengers have direct access to the priority lane for immigration.

I think they have a rather clever process in place in Terminal 2. In addition to the main concourse K, there are also the two satellite terminals L and M. While immigration is centralized for all passengers leaving France on the K concourse, security screening for departures from the L and M gate is done directly in the satellite, which clearly helps to better manage the queues.

The view from the train is rather nice too…

The security screening is done on the ground floor, the main airside area is then one floor up.

Le Salon Air France in satellite M

The Business Class lounge is busy when I arrive. Not that it makes a difference, because it’s only once I’m in the lounge that I remember I forgot my belt at security, so I leave again and make the schlepp back down there to retrieve it.

Once I get back to the lounge again just after 14h00, the peak is just over. It’s still busy, but not full. During peak hours there is a second, smaller food station available in the lounge. However, once the mad rush is over they close this one down.

Boarding

I rather like the archiecture of 2F. The terminal is spacious and with plenty of seating opportunities.

On my way to the gate I’m distracted by this gorgeous looking aircraft. How can anybody not like the A 350? I really need to get myself on a flight with one of these.

Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky taking photos of my own ride to Bogota. The way the aircraft is parked means that I only get to take the photo below.

Boarding is by zones, starting with SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. There’s also a Covid check for connecting passengers.

The cabin

Air France does not have a First Class cabin on the Boeing B 787-9. The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors and comprises of 32 seats in a reverse herringbone configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 arrangement. I’m on 1A, which I think it just brilliant because it offers a lot of privacy. Because the seats are staggered, there is no seat on the other side of the aisle. I don’t find the proximity to the galley bothersome and the curtains block out all the light.

A cushion and a proper, thick blanket are already at my seat when I arrive.

There is more than enough storage space in the seat. Morover, there’s a small compartment that houses the earphones and that can also be used to store smaller items.

There’s also a multi-purpose electricity plug and usb port.

The service

The crew on this flight are a friendly, chirpy bunch. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in Business Class comes to welcome me aboard and introduce herself to me. I notice she and her colleagues consistently address me by my family name.

The service begins with a welcome drink – there is water, champagne and orange juice on offer.

Next comes the distribution of the vanity kits, which feature Clarins cosmetics, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, eye shades, socks, and earplugs.

The crew also offer sanitary kits for our arrival in Bogota, where it is mandatory to wear face masks inside the terminal building.

The menus are also distributed. I notice that the crew first take orders from the Platinum members before asking the other passengers for their meal choices.

And finally, a very hot towel is distributed to passengers.

We take off in a Westerly direction , which takes us past the Musé de L’Air at Le Bourget and then the city of Paris with the Eiffel tower and then Versailles. The flight time to Bogota is just over ten hours.

The meal – first service

There are four choices for the main course. I go with the vegetarian couscous.

The meal begins with an apéritif. At the flight attendant’s suggestion, I try the Vermouth with Perrier, which is not bad. With that, there is a small box of cashew nuts and cranberries.

The tray arrives with the salad and the first course. The foie gras is an Air France staple, and probably a reason to order an Asian vegetarian meal in future… The other starter is an asparagus salad. I don’t touch the foie gras, but the mango chutney it is served with is nice. There is a selection of rolls on offer too.

The salad comes with pine nuts and a small bottle of olive oil and balsamico.

Once the first course is removed, the crew bring the cheese dish and more bread.

And then comes the main course: vegetable couscous with lemon. And very nice it is too.

For dessert there is a choice of vanilla ice cream, coffee ice cream, strawberry sorbet, or a selection of pastries – or any combination of all.

The service is unrushed but efficient. There are no long waits in between courses, and once I’m done my tray is quickly removed. For the rest of the flight I reline my seat and read. Outside there is nothing much to see except the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.

Second service

Ninety minutes out of Bogota, the second service begins. There are two options available – fish or pasta.

I go with the ravioli filled with cheese in a cream sauce with champignons, which is a really excellent and rather substatial dish for the second service. In addition, there is also a bowl of pear compote and a buttery piece of cake.

Arrival

By the time we land in Bogota at 19h15 it’s already dark outside. The crew come to say good bye, and then it’s already time to disembark. Immigration in Bogota is easy and very quick. Within twenty minutes after landing, I’m already through customs and on my way to the taxi stand.

At Bogota airport you can either take a regular yellow taxi from the taxi rink outside exit six. However, this may not be the safest option. Alternatively, you can ask for a taxi and the taxi booth near exit five. They will log your journey with your name and passport details and those of your driver. You also pay directly at the counter, and not the driver.

Aegean Airlines, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Athens to Berlin

Getting to the airport

In Athens I stay at the Sofitel Athens Airport, which is literally just across the road and one floor down from the terminal. Journey time: 2 minutes. If you’re coming from the city though, there is a train and a metro that run out to the airport. The journey time from Syntagma square is about 45 minutes and the trains only run every thirty minutes. A oneway ticket will cost you EUR9.90.

Check-in

I enter the terminal building just after 12h00 and it’s crawling with people. Currently, the terminal is a bit of a construction site, because expansion works are underway. And about time too, by the looks of it.

Athens attracts quite some unexpected traffic. American, United, Delta and Air Canada all operated two flights a day from their respective hubs. In addition, all the middle eastern carriers, like Gulf Air, Saudia and Emirates, also operate a regular schedule to the Greek capital.

There is a fast track for security, with no queue at all. It’s a bit misleading though that there’s a sign asking passengers to remove nail clippers and scissors from their bags – because most passengers interpret that to mean that they won’t need to remove liquids or laptops (which are not mentioned explicitly) – only to be barked at by the dragon at the security checkpoint.

The Aegean Airlines lounge

The Aegean lounge is located at the far end of the terminal, near gates 11 and 12. The young lady at reception informs me that the lounge is full up. She hands me a voucher of EUR10 to buy food and drinks at any one of the concessions outside and asks me to come back later to check if there’s any space in the lounge.

Let’s face it, the view is much better outside the lounge anyway, which just overlooks the car park…

Boarding

Our boarding gate changes twice, and actually I don’t know what the original gate should have been. I just keep receiving notifications from Aegean in the app. First we are redirected to gate B20, only to be informed when we get there that we should all go to gate B27 instead. The boarding announcement is in the style of “I’ll just yell something incomprehensible in my thick Greek accent and wait for passengers to start moving”. And then the scrum begins. Their only saving grace is that we’ll be boarding from a bus gate.

The cabin

There are four rows of Business Class for a total of 16 seats. And the cabin is full. On a row of three the middle seat is kept empty, and there is a little table that folds out of the seatback of the middle seat to provide some extra storage space. Other than that though, there are no video screens, no electricity plugs and no wifi.

The leg space on row three is excellent.

Alas, the cleanliness of the cabin leaves much to be desired. There’s a snotty hankerchief in my seat pocket, and the others don’t look much better either…

The service

While boarding is underway, the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering champagne, orange juice or still water.

There are five crew on this flight. It is noticeable that all of them are very young. There is only one male in the crew and the four females are heavily, but at least professionally, made up. They’re quite friendly and interact with passengers with ease.

The meal

While we’re still on the ground we’re also handed the menus. However, I already booked my meal online at the time of booking. Preodering is not just available for special meals.

The meal service begins very soon after take off. First, a cover is placed on the tray table.

The meal is quite extensive.

For the main course I go with the fish and the celeriac and potato mash, which is very nice. The fish is juicy and the mash is quite unusual.

There’s also a salad. And if I ever meet the creep who though adding pomegranate to every blood thing was a good idea, I’m seriously going to give him a piece of my mind. I mean, why?

On the tray is also a small bottle of olive oil with balsamico and crackers…

… some tasty greek cheese…

… and dessert. Bread rolls are also offered from the bread basket.

The dessert is very good, but also very rich. It’s basically pieces of biscuits with milk chocolate.

After the meal, the crew don’t offer coffee or tea. However, they do offer small boxes of dark and milk chocolate.

For the rest of the flight, I busy myself reading and wondering if the American sitting in front of me was raised on a farm, of if perhaps she just thinks it’ll look better on her Insta profile to post picture after picture of her duck face, while she dirties the seat with her shoes. Some people…

Arrival

The flight time to Berlin is two hours and forty minutes.

It’s very bumpy on the approach, which probably accounts for the very positive landing we experience… We taxi to our stand and then I make the long schlepp to arrivals and then the railway station.

Getting into Berlin

From the airport I first catch an intercity train going to Berlin Hauptbahnhof, which takes about thirty minutes. And then from there I catch the S Bahn for three stops to Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten in what used to be West Berlin.

Air Europa, Business Class – Boeing B787-8: Madrid to Athens

Getting to Madrid Barajas Terminal 2

The entrance to the Plaza de España metro station is located just a few steps away from the main entrance to the hotel. The ticket to the airport, including the surcharge, is EUR4.90 for a oneway for one person. The journey time, including changing trains at Nuevos Ministerios, is about 45 minutes.

I alight at the stop for terminals 1,2 and 3 and make the long schlepp to the check-in area.

Check-in

Air Europa checks in at Terminal 2.

There are two counters open for Business Class passengers. However, I think this is only the check-in for European or Schengen flights. I’ve already checked in online, so I can bypass the counters and head straight for the fast track for security, which is empty.

The AENA Puerta del Sol lounge

Air Europa no longer has its own lounges at Madrid. What used to be their lounge on the E concourse has now become the AENA Puerta del Sol lounge, operated by the Madrid airport authority.

Which also means that the place is rather busy when I get there, and all the window seats with their fabulous views of the apron are taken. The buffet in the lounge only serves cold snacks.

Boarding

Our flight arrives late on its previous flight from New York, it taxies past the lounge on its way to the gate. Boarding is a complete mess. There are two lanes – one for Economy Class passengers, and another for passengers needing assistance, families travelling with their satanic brood and SkyPriority passengers. Boarding starts about forty minutes late, and there are no announcements by the staff and the departure screen at the gate is not updated either.

When eventually boarding does begin, there’s another hold up because the obnoxious, entitled hipster parent of one of the little demons is refusing to have the stroller put in the hold.

The cabin

The cabin looks nice, especially with the mood lighting. As we enter, I take a quick photo of the Economy Class section, which looks quite spacious.

The Business Class seat is rather old fashioned. There are 22 seats in a 2 + 2 + 2 configuration. The seat is fully lie-flat, but it’s not very long. I would also recommend taking your shoes off before lying down. I wear a size 46 and couldn’t fit my feet in the little cubby with my shoes still on.

There isn’t a lot of storage space either. To be precise, the storage space available is in odd places and not very conveniently located. Furthermore, all the storage areas are marked with “Do not use during take-off, taxi or landing” stickers.

The inflight entertainment has touch screens.

Other than that, the seat is very grimey. There’s old dirt and pieces of food in the cracks and the off white of the seat looks greasy in places.

The service

The service start with still water or orange juice being served as a welcome drink. Sure, the plastic cups are probably not the height of sophistication. But at least we get a drink, which is more than I can say for my previous flight with Iberia.

In addition, the crew pass through the cabin with complimentary wifi codes (which don’t work) and earphones.

As we taxi out, I notice two Airbus A 380s of BA parked up for long-term storage. The photo is a bit grainy. But judging from the state they’re in, I’m guessing it’ll take quite a lot of work to make those two aircraft airworthy again…

Eventually we take off in a southeasterly direction and then turn towards Barcelona, from where we start our Mediterranean crossing. The route takes us over Sardinia and Italy, and then over the Adriatic into the Balkans. The flight time is three hours.

The meal

There are no menus, and from what I can tell there is also no meal choice on this flight. The main dish is tortellini filled with mushrooms and served with a creamy mushroom sauce, melted cheese and cranberries. Although my partner’s dish is missing the cranberries.

There is also a small salad of something, which mainly tastes of artificial basil.

There is butter and a small triangle of La Vache Qui Rit cheese, which I always hated as a kid and still don’t like much. There are also crackers and two rolls of bread.

After the meal, coffee is served in cardboard cups. And it really is quite horrific coffee. I also think that on a flight of three hours it would not have been too much to ask to have a proper cup.

When the cabin crew comes to remove my tray, I feel just a wee bit like Oliver Twist as I inquire if there’s any dessert at all. The cabin crew looks at me with rather unconvincing surprise and tells me she’ll check and be right back. At this point I’m expecting her to return and tell me that catering forgot to load dessert. However, much to my surprise she returns with a bowl of dessert that she miraculously produced out of nowhere. With that, she gives me a wooden stirring stick to eat the piece of cake. It’s roughly around now that I start to suspect the good lady is trying to take the piss. I shouldn’t have bothered…

Arrival

I spend the rest of the flight watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory, until eventually our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent into Athens.

We land and then taxi to our parking stand on the satellite pier. This is my first time using the satellite here in Athens. On my previous visits it was not open. From the pier there’s a very long underground passage to the main terminal.

Conclusion

I used to enjoy flying Air Europa. Their catering was innovative and the crews always seemed warm and sincere. But the cost cutting over the last two years appears to have taken its toll on the airline. The catering on this flight was… meh, and the crews have basically stopped caring. Shortly I’ll be travelling to South America. I had looked at Air Europa too for my trip. Now I’m kind of relieved I didn’t book them in the end.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 170: Amsterdam to Rennes

Introduction

Today marks the beginning of my summer vacation. And Rennes will be my first stop. Originally, I was booked to fly from Basel to Rennes via Paris. However, that connection was cancelled and rebooked via Amsterdam. The originally rebooked departure from Basel to Amsterdam should have been just after 10 in the morning. But then another schedule change meant that I was rebooked again to depart from Basel to Amsterdam on the morning departure at the ungodly time of 06h30. This also meant that I would have a layover in Amsterdam of about six hours.

Normally, I would have jumped at the opportunity to use that layover to go into Amsterdam for breakfast at De Bakkerswinkel in the seedy part of town by the central station. However, given that KLM is currently advising passengers to show up for security screening four hours (!) before departure, I figured I better not risk it.

I’ll be making a separate post of my stay at the Yotel Air at Amsterdam Schiphol. This post is about the flight from Amsterdam to Rennes.

Boarding

The flight to Rennes departs at 13h40, with boarding expected to start at 13h13, which is an oddly specific time… And of course our aircraft is on a remote stand, so we’ll have to be bussed there.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class, but the forward cabin remains empty on this flight. I’m seated on 3A, the first row of Economy. As I’ve already mentioned, and complained about in previous posts, properly aligning the seat rows with the windows appears to be a bit of a problem on the E170 aircraft. And this includes the configuration Air France has them in. I do have a window seat on 3A, but I seriously need to crank my head back to be able to look out.

I count a total of 68 passengers.

The crew

The cabin crew are two females in their mid- to late thirties, if I had to guess. They’re both business friendly. Not gushing, but not rude or unfriendly either.

The flight time is announced at one hour and ten minutes.

The snack

The service consists of a small and very tasty, buttery biscuit and a cup of Perrier. Air France have stopped using plastic cups and serve all their drinks in Economy in cardboard cups instead.

After the meal I’m still tired. I quickly doze off and only awaken again when the captain comes on to announce the “début de déscente”, the top of descent.

The landscape below is very flat, green and lush. And not exactly densely populated.

Arrival

Our arrival is a bit shaky because of the wind. We land on runway 28 and then have to backtrack up the runway, as the only taxiway doesn’t reach all the way to the end.

There are only open stands at Rennes airport, which is very small and really quite dinky.

I completely forget that we’ve arrived on an international service. In as much, it takes me by surprise to find myself in front of an immigration counter upon entering the terminal. The check is not really so much about the passport or ID, but about checking the vaccination status of arriving passengers entering into France.

Getting into town

To get to the bus stop, make a sharp left upon exiting the terminal and just keep on walking until eventually you will see the bus stop. Both the C6 and 57 bus lines run to the centre of town. The journey takes about thirty minutes and costs EUR1.50. Apparently, you don’t need to buy a paper ticket and can normally just badge in with your credit card. However, when I try that, it doesn’t work. So I have to buy a ticket from the driver, who can only accept cash.

Conclusion

I had a really early start this morning, which didn’t exactly give me the warm and fuzzies – even if it was to get on a plane to Amsterdam and then on another to Rennes. However, that quickly changed the moment I stepped of the plane when we arrived in Rennes. This place is just so nice, and the weather is stunning! And tomorrow, I’m off to Mont St. Michel!

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

Encore une fois! The last time my colleague, the Flying Dutchman, told me we probably wouldn’t be returning to Dubai for a while, I figured that would probably not be the case. I hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon though. My last trip to Dubai was only in January 2022. So this is a bit of a déjà vue, really. But then again, Air France’s La Première is always nice for a review.

And so this trip report begins with me stepping off the Roissyval at the terminus station at Terminal 2F. From what I can tell, traffic levels at Charles de Gaulle seem to be recovering nicely from the pandemic, the place is certainly very busy.

Check-in

I walk from the Roissyval station to Terminal 2E, which is home to the non-Schengen flights for Air France and their SkyTeam partners. The La Première check-in is located at the far end of the terminal. When I arrive, there is only one couple with their cat checking in. Otherwise, the place is deserted. Anne takes my suitcase off me and asks me if I’d like anything to drink. She brings me a cold Perrier while she completes all the necessary check-in formalities. She tells me to take my time with the drink. I should just let her know when I’m ready to go airside. And that more or less sets the tone for my La Première experience.

Getting airside is cumbersome with so many people, so it’s even more convenient to have your own Air France escort to help you briskly bypass all the long queues for immigration and security. She even helps me to take out my laptop and liquids; and to replace everything once we’re through security.

The lounge

The lounge is very busy. The entrance has been decorated specifically to mark the occasion of the Cannes film festival. There’s even a red carpet laid out in front of the lift as you arrive in the lounge.

Anne asks me what I would like to do first, while I’m in the lounge. I tell her a bit of lunch wouldn’t be bad. So she guides me to one of the single tables and hails for a waiter to attend to me. While we wait, she tells me she can highly recommend the coquillettes jambon et trufes. Only once she has made sure that I have been handed over to the lounge staff does she bid me good bye and wish me a good flight.

As usual, there are traces of the little flying seahorse everywhere. Had I already mentioned how much I like the Air France branding?

Sweet baby Jesus! This dish is just divine. It’s so sumptuous and delicious. It’s small pasta with cooked ham, pieces of cheese and a buttery black truffle sauce. And it really is so, so good!

For dessert I go with the Baba au Rhum, which certainly doesn’t disappoint. First, the waiter brings the bottle of rum.

The Baba is served in this lovely silver dish. The waiter cuts the Baba in half in front of me, drowns it in the rum and then puts a generous dollop of cream on top of it.

And then after the meal I have an espresso.

I then move to the lounge area and read until my driver comes to pick me up to take me to the aircraft.

Boarding

At 13h00 a friendly young man comes to pick me up. He takes my passport and hand luggage off me and guides me to the lift down to the ground floor. There’s a brief stop for the police to check my vaccine status, and then we’re off. I take a seat in the back of the sleek black BMW and enjoy the view outside.

The cabin

I’m the first passenger to arrive in La Première. Apparently, all four seats are taken, so I’m quite lucky to have managed to secure 1A – my favourite seat.

The cabin crew welcome me on board, and David comes to introduce himself to me. He’ll be doing the service in La Première. Already at my seat is a tray with Evian and a refreshing towel; a Covid travel kit with one mask, hand sanitizer gel and a sanitizing towel; and the newly designed La Première vanity kit. Slippers and a red blanked are already in the ottoman, and shortly after, the crew bring me the pyjamas in case I want to change.

The crew

The crew are friendly and attentive. Eventually we end up stuck on the aircraft for nearly two hours. First, some passengers needed to be offloaded because they didn’t have the correct travel documents, then there appeared to be some hydraulic failure with the breaks, and then we missed our slot. Throughout our wait on the ground, the crew pass through the cabin regularly, topping up drinks and making sure passengers are comfortable. Even the captain comes out of the cockpit several times to keep passengers in the La Première cabin updated about the flight’s status.

The meal

The meal service is just one of the many highlights of any journey in La Première, and this flight is no exception.

After our first hour on the ground, the crew serve the appetizer to pass the time. With the caviar there’s also a small ramekin of warm cashews and berries.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a lime and vodka whipped cream.

Eventually we take off with a delay of two hours. We depart to the West, flying straight past Le Bourget and the city of Paris to our left.

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew spring into action and start setting my table for a late lunch.

Soup: Chilled cucumber soup with aniseed and fresh goat’s cheese.

This is excellent and very refreshing. The combination of the goat’s cheese with the cucumber goes very well together to create a nicely balanced taste.

Starter: Honey and ponzu langoustines with celeriac salad, green apple and wasabi jelly.

I just love the presentation of this dish. The langoustines are flavourful and chunky, and the wasabi jelly gives the dish a nice hint of spice.

Main course: Rolled filets of sole with a tomato and verbena jus, served on Swiss chard ravioles.

This is another excellent dish. It is served with the sauce on the side and the taste is truly magnificent. I don’t know how they do it, but somehow Air France always manage to not completely ruin the taste of fish on a plane. The rolls are chewy and moist.

Salad: To conclude the first part of the meal, I have a salad of mixed leaves with smoked salmon and asparagus. The photo was taken during a brief moment of turbulence, hence the blur…

By this time, we’re already cruising over the Eastern Mediterranean, and the views are spectacular.

Cheese: Camembert, Cantal, Bleu d’Auvergne, Maroilles, and Crottin de Chavignoles. What can I say, French cheese…

Dessert: Blackcurrant and violet fresh cheese finger on a fine biscuit layer.

By the time dessert comes around, I’m already quite full. David laughs when I tell him so, but confess that my curiosity is compelling me to have something just the same. So eventually, he suggests I just try the blackcurrant cheesecake finger. And I really must say it is very good. The taste of cassis is exquisite and delicate and the biscuit is buttery rich.

To end the meal, I have some mint tea, which is served with a small box of three chocolates from the Maison du Chocolat. But I’ll save those for later.

Bedtime

David makes up my bed for the remainder of the flight. The meal service takes about two hours, so there are still four hours to go to Dubai. He asks me if he should wake me for the pre-arrival snack, but I tell him there’s no way I could eat anything more. Except maybe for that small box of chocolates…

The bedding is comfortable. A memory foam mattress is put on top of the seat to make it more comfortable. It looks a lot nicer when I return to my seat after David has finished making up the bed. But I sit down before I remember to take a picutre. My apologies!

Arrival

We land in Dubai with two hours delay. It’s gone midnight. The airport is quiet, as many operators have moved their service to the new airport temporarily while the second runway is resurfaced. A rep from Merhaba ground services is there to pick up the La Première passengers. As we step off the plane, the cabin crew point out our names to the agent, who then escorts us to the train and then, once we reach the main terminal, to the dedicated Merhaba immigration counter.

Conclusion

And that ends yet another epic Air France La Première experience. What impresses me most about Air France is the consistency of their service delivery. Sometimes, you have a great experience on a flight. But then the next time you try it, you find it significantly diminished in comparisson to what your memory suggested. But that is not the case here. Whether its their service on the ground or in the air, Air France is reliably consistent. As far as I can tell, currently their’s is the best First Class product currently available on the market. And in a month’s time I’ll have the chance to test that theory ‘scientifically’.

Air France by HOP!, Business Class – Embraer 170: Basel to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I arrive at Basel airport at 09h30 to check in for my flight to Paris at 11h00. Much to my surprise, the Air France KLM counters are deserted – there’s no queue at all. The check-in agent labels my suitcase, but only to Paris, and then hands me my boarding pass.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge Basel

The Skyview lounge is just as quiet. Where is everyone? Any moment now I epxect to see some tumble weed rolling across my path…

In my humble opinion, one of the lounge’s best features is the open air terrace, which originally was built to function as the smoking area. On a day like today it’s just lovely to sit there in the shade, watching the aircraft coming and going.

At about 10h40, ten minuntes after boarding for my flight to Paris should have started, the little Embraer 170 pulls onto its stand at gate 1, on the French side of the terminal. As a rule of thumb, if I slowly start packing up my belongings and perhaps quickly nip into the gents just as the aircraft comes to a standstill, by the time I make the schlepp from the lounge to gate 1, boarding is either just about to start or has just started.

Boarding

Boarding is… complicated and confusing. And I don’t quite know why. SkyTeam Priority and Business Class passengers, so zones 1, 2 and 3, are invited to board the aircraft through the exit on the left side of the counter, only to then have to cross over to the right side behind the counter. Once all passengers in zones 1, 2 and 3 have boarded, the riffraff is also allowed to board via the exit to the right of the counter only – you guessed it – to then have to queue on the left side. Only once all boarding passes have been scanned and all passengers are accounted for are we allowed to actually get on the plane.

The cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a dreaded Embraer E 170. I really don’t like these planes, they just feel so cramped and tight. There are two rows of Business Class, although you wouldn’t notice to look at it, given that Air France KLM refuse to keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class.

And then of course there’s the curse of the misaligned windows. I really don’t understand what it is with this aircraft, but I’ve yet to find an airline that has managed to properly align its seats on the Embraer 170 to allow passengers an unobstructed view outside without having to crank their neck back.

The crew

There are two young females working the flight, and both of them are very friendly. What I also notice though, and I know this is what I do for a living, is that both the cabin and cockpit crews’ English is not all that good. The pilot making the announcements has a thick French accent hovering precariously close to the brink of comprehensibility, and the cabin crew are not much better.

A bottle of still water is already at my seat when I arrive.

We are welcomed to the flight and the crew apologise for our delay, which apparently was caused by some dreadful weather in Paris. Eventually, by the time we start our take-off roll we’re already running 30 minutes late.

The meal

This is the first time I get to experience the newish Air France domestic Business Class that was introduced a few years back without Covid restrictions or anyting of the sort. Basically, passengers sitting up front get a wider selection of drinks to choose from and both a savory and a sweet snack. The savory snack are these small crépes filled with soft cheese, which are okay. The sweet snack are three rather tasty and buttery sablés. To drink I have a glass of Coke Zero, as the cabin crew looks on despondently as every one of the eight passengers in the Business Class cabin declines her offer for a glass of champagne.

Arrival

As we approach Paris, the turbulence picks up. I’m starting to see what they were on about with that. It’s bad, like the trolley temporarily lifting off the floor kind of turbulence. As a result, our approach into Paris is rather circuitous, as we try to avoid the nastiest looking cloud cells.

Eventually we land with a delay 45 minutes and it looks as though there’s just been a severe downpour. The flight ends at Terminal 2G, which has been reopened again after a hiatus of two years because of Covid. And while I think it’s good news for Air France that traffic is picking up to the point that they can reopen a whole terminal, I also think 2G is just a bit inconvenient, because it really is just so far out in the boonies.

Getting to Roissypole from Terminal 2G

My hotel is at Roissypole, which is located roughly midway between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1, which is still closed. To get to Terminal 2F from Terminal 2G there is a shuttle that runs directly to the second entrance of Terminal 2F on the departures level. The journey time is about ten minutes, which isn’t bad if you happend to be one of the lucky ones that manage to grab a seat.

From 2F there is then the Roissyval shuttle to Roissypole.

Conclusion

So far, so good. Of course there isn’t really all that much to say about such a short flight. It was okay, but I really do think that it makes no sense to offer a Business Class cabin on an aircraft of this size, at least not if the airline is unwilling to keep the adjacent seat empty. The meal service and the champagne I honestly don’t care about on a flight of 45 minutes. But the space is important.

Air France, Classe Affairs – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

This evening I‘m on my way to Paris. Since February I’ve been going to the office again more or less every day. So I’ll be starting my journey in Winterthur.

I catch the 16h54 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich Airport at 17h06. It‘s Friday late afternoon, and most people have probably left early to enjoy the lovely warm weather. Because the train is more or less empty.

Speaking of empty, so is the airport. Air transport has been rather slow to recover in Switzerland. SWISS, as Zürich‘s hub carrier, has one last bank of departures between 17h and 18h, but that’s then basically it. In the evening there’s just a handful of long-haul departures.

Check-in

Air France checks in at Check-in 2. There is a separate line and two counters for SkyPriority passengers. Currently, online check-in is not possible with Air France, as they want to see your Covid pass before checking you in.

Airside

From check-in I head straight for security. There’s hardly any queue. Like most other airports, Zürich has a dutyfree shop right behind security. If, like me, you want to avoid have to weave in and out of deranged last minute shoppers, my suggestion is that you do a sharp left turn before the dutyfree shop begins. That will bring you to a corridor that takes you past the lavatories. But it’s still much quicker than going through the shop!

From security, I head one floor down to the sports bar located at the Southern end of the terminal. I’m not into sports bars really. But its one redeeming feature is the outside viewing terrace. It can’t be missed on such a balmy evening!

Just before 18h I make my way back inside. Boarding should be starting in just a few minutes.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate B 39 on the B pier, which is split into a Schengen and a non-Schengen part. From what I can tell, the flight is completely sold out today.

The Classe Affairs cabin

I’m seated on row 2. The seat features an individual USB port, a cup holder and a hook to hang a jacket.

There are three rows of Business Class with twelve seats in total. Ten out of twelve seats are occupied.

Seat pitch row 2 is very tight.

The crew & service

Once boarding is done, the crew distribute small bottles of still water and disinfectant towels.

The crew and friendly and professional. During the meal service one of the crew is constantly patrolling the cabin to make sure passengers have refills of drinks or to not keep them waiting to remove the tray.

The meal

The meal is tasty and more than adequate for a flight time of one hour.

The meal consists of a tasty cucumber andcouscous salad with a poached egg on puréed peas.

With that, there is also a plate with two types of cheese and sone butter.

There is also a selection of rolls from the bread basket.

And for dessert there is this obscenely rich chocolate fondant. With dessert I have some mint tea.

Arrival

We land on time and taxi to our stand at Terminal 2F. In contrast to Zürich, Paris Roissy seems quite busy. There’s a huge queue to enter into France, because they’re checking that only passengers with Paris as their final destination are allowed into the country. That wasn’t the case last week when I did the same trip.

Getting from CDG2 to La Défense

In Paris I’ll be staying at La Défense, out West of the city. To get there, I first need to catch an RER B train to Châtelet-Les Halles , and then from there an RER A train to La Défense.

Not all of the RER B trains from CDG serve all stations on their way into the city. And this evening I’m in luck. I catch a train the only stops at the Expo and then runs through, all the way to Gare du Nord. All in all, the journey to La Défense takes me under an hour.

Air France, Business Class – Embraer 190: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Basel

Transfer in Paris Charles de Gaulle

My driver picks me up at the L2 door as I exit the mighty Boeing B 777-300 that has just brought me to Paris from Dubai. We descend to ground level and exit onto the apron. She opens the door for me to take a seat and then takes my bag and puts it in the booth. It’s just a short ride to the La Première lounge. Once we arrive at the lounge, I go through security and passport control.

We then go up to the main level and my driver wishes me a nice stay and tells me she’ll be back to pick me up at 08h40. The lounge is still quiet at this time of day. That is, until two Chinese gentlemen enter and start making phone calls. Apparently the reception is not so good, because it sounds like they’ve decided to shout whatever it is they want to discuss all the way to China instead of using the good old-fashioned phone. I think I’ll just go take a shower first…

The showers in the lounge are large and spacious. They’re basically fully equipped bathrooms and come with slippers, fluffy towels and a bathrobe.

By the time I’m done with the shower, there’s only me left in the lounge. It’s peaceful again. First, I ask for a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice.

Followed by Viennoiserie, still water and hot cocoa.

Boarding

At 08h40 my driver comes to collect me. My aircraft is parked on a remote stand at Terminal 2G. The terminal is currently closed, but the stands are still being used.

The busses with the other passengers are right behind our car. There’s a bit of a delay to let passengers onto the aircraft. Apparently, the purser is arriving off a flight from Turin which landed with a bit of a delay.

When eventually they give us the thumbs up, my driver comes to open the door for me and hands me my luggage. Funnily enough, I notice some of the passengers in the first bus taking photos of me and the car – probably just in case I turn our to be somebody famous. Don’t bother, it’s only me.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers, seeing as KLM and Air France do not block the adjacent seat on the regional jets. But there are only three passengers anyway in Business Class this morning, so we still all get a row to ourselves.

Seat pitch on row 1 is excellent!

The service

There’s a further delay loading the suitcases onto the aircraft due to a shortage of rampers caused by Omicron. While we wait, the purser hands us a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

We push off our stand with a delay of 35 minutes. However, with a flight time of only 45 minutes this morning we’ll only be about 15 minutes late arriving in Basel.

The cabin crew inform us that due to the Covid restrictions imposed by the French government, there will be no service on today’s flight.

The meal

Much to my surprise though, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the cabin crew passes through the Business Class cabin asking passengers if there’s anything we’d like. I ask for a chocolat chaud, which she serves me with two buttery biscuits.

I have no idea if this the regular domestic Business Class service, or if this is also the result of the Covid measures.

Arrival

The weather en route is lovely, with good ground visibility. It’s a beautiful sunny day – until we reach les Vosges. The Rhine valley sits in a depression between Les Vosges in the west, the Schwarzwald in the east and the Jura in the south, making it susceptible to dense and often very persistent fog. Just like today.

The captain instructs passengers to completely turn off their mobile phones in preparation for an automatic landing.

And it really is bad. The ground only comes into view seconds before we touch down. The view reminds me a bit of that film ‘The Others’ with Nicole Kidman. There’s this scene when her dead husband returns from war and she meets him out in the forest… it’s that kind of low visibility.

The nice thing about arriving in Basel with Air France is that you can save yourself the aggravation of having to queue endlessly to enter France and then Switzerland.

Instead, we end up waiting forty minutes for the first bags to finally arrive on the belt. Here too the handlers are having to deal with a staff shortage caused by Omicron. But these things happen. I wish all those affected a swift and full recovery and no lasting effects.

As of 15 January 2022 persons entering Switzerland by air must complete an entry form online within 48 hours prior to their arrival. They also need to show a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to the start of their journey, even if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Before customs and the exit to Switzerland the airport authority has set up a checkpoint for passengers entering Switzerland with this large queueing system. There are signs everywhere asking passengers to get their QR code and negative test result ready for inspection. Only… there’s nobody there and I just walk through.

God, I’m glad to be back home again!

Conclusion

This brings to an end the first two weeks of 2022 and my first bout of travel for this year. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, it’s been interesting to see how the authorities in different countries are trying to handle the pandemic and the population. I think the measures in place say a lot about a society and its culture. Having said that, I’m not going to discuss what I think it says about Norway that they think not selling alcohol is an appropriate measure to combat the spreading of Covid 19…

Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, a nuisance, and expensive. There is also an apparent lack of harmonization between countries that makes it difficult to prepare. In 2022 I think there is no longer such a thing as an seasoned traveller, because the rules keep changing. However, this trip also made me realise that many of the rules have probably not been put in place because they are, in and of themselves, considered effective measures to combat the spreading of the virus. My arrival in Basel is just one of many examples of that. I got a PCR test done in Dubai before I left and I registered online within 48 hours of arrival – even though the evidence suggests that the authorities couldn’t even be bothered to have somebody man the checkpoint at the airport to make sure. It seems to me, therefore, that the only real point of many of these measures is simply to deter people from travelling.

I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it. There is only one effective way out of this pandemic: you need to get vaccinated and you need to get your booster. It is your civil and moral obligation, and everything else is just selfishness. It’s unlikely that we’re going to eradicate Covid completely, so we might as well start getting used to living with it.

In terms of airlines, on this trip I flew with KLM, SAS/Air Baltic and Air France. KLM’s short-haul Business Class product on the mainline fleet was a disappointment. It has been stripped down to the absolute minimum. It’s basically the same service you get on the Cityhopper flights. But while the latter tend to be fairly short runs, the mainline routes can be fairly long.

SAS was a major source of overall suckage. They’re currently transitioning into something of a virtual airline, and frankly, it hasn’t done them a world of good. Their frumpy staff and the fact that they only appear to cater unhealthy and unappealing food options did not exactly give me the warm and fuzzies. It’s kind of tragic that I consider myself lucky that the flight from Oslo to Paris with SAS was actually not operated by them! And Air France were simply brilliant. Not only did they manage to meet my expectations from previous experiences with their La Première product, they even succeeded in surpassing them! Flying is quite a hassle with Covid 19, but Air France’s impeccable premium service reduced that hassle to the absolute minimum.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.