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.

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.

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

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

Paul checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put my belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

Air France, Airbus A 220-300 inaugural service: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Berlin in Classe Affaire

Introduction

Early in October 2021, Air France took delivery of its first of 60 Airbus A 220-300s, making it the largest operator of the type in Europe. F-HZUA has spent most of the month flying around France for crew training purposes. With the beginning of the winter schedule on Sunday, 31 October 2021, the aircraft will be deployed on Air France’s extensive European network. The inaugural flight will see it flying to Berlin.

Check-in

I check-in for the flight on the Air France app. However, boarding passes are not issued on the app because of Covid. So instead, the boarding pass is issued as a pdf that needs to be printed. One way or another, you’ll have to contact one of the check-in counters directly at the airport.

Terminal 2F is Air France’s Schengen terminal and has a dedicated SkyPriority area for check-in. I have a pleasant chat with the lady at check-in. She issues me a boarding pass and wishes me a lot of fun on my flight to Berlin.

From the check-in area there is a direct access to the security screening area.

The new Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

As I already mentioned in my previous post, Air France recently opened a new Business Class lounge in between the two piers of Terminal 2F. The lounge is very nice and enjoyable!

Boarding

The flight departs at 09:55, and boarding is scheduled for 09:10.

When I reach gate F55, all the video screens are showing off the new Air France A 220-300, highlighting its fuel efficiency and improved fuel burn compared to older types. There are Air France ground staff everywhere, holding up signs that read ‘Welcome A 220’.

Boarding starts with zone 1, which is for SkyPriority passengers with status or seated in Business Class. And I really must say, Air France has risen to the occasion to make the even something special. As I enter the airbridge, there are two Air France staff holding trays with Air France A220 branded gear pins.

And then in the airbridge, there is a lineup of staff on both sides holding up the same ‘Welcome A 220’ signs. As passengers pass by them, they are greeted by every one of the staff individually.

The cabin

Air France has its A 220-300 in a standard 2 + 3 configuration. In Business Class, only one of the seats on a row of two is sold, and on the row of three the middle seat is kept empty.

The seats have good pitch, and it’s the same pitch throughout the cabin. Every seat has a USB and thunderbolt port, a cup holder and a headrest that can be adjusted for height.

The seats are in dark blue, and there are the usual brand elements you find everywhere on Air France, for example the little red swish embroidered on the headrest. The little seahorse is emblazoned on the winglets, on the engine cowlings and on the fuselage right next to the L1 door.

The crew

The crew on this flight are truly excellent and have obviously been trained specifically for this event. Both the cockpit and cabin crew make all their announcements in French, German and English and make sure to point out how delighted they are to be joining this inaugural flight to Berlin. They also actively encourage passengers to ask them anything about the new aircraft.

But apart from that, they seem genuinely happy to be there. They’re all smiles and very attentive.

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with sealed refreshing towels.

And then we’re on our way…

The meal

It takes a while for the meal service to begin, and I suspect the crew are still trying to find their way around the new aircraft. I also think the trolley containing the food has been specially chosen for this flight, because it’s spotlessly clean and looks new.

The meal consists of a crêpe with a tasty vegetable and cream cheese filling. There is also a dollop of cream cheese on top of the crêpe, as well as a spicy red pepper sauce. A slice of French cheese completes the dish.

In addition, there is a separate bowl of yoghurt with jam and a plate with apricot jam and butter. The crew make two rounds through the cabin with bread rolls and croissants. And of course, being a French airline, there are copious amounts of Laurent-Perrier going around.

The meal is very good and hits the spot nicely. To drink I have a glass of orange juice and some still water.

Arrival into Berlin

The flight time to Berlin is 80 minutes, which brings us in at around 11:30. As we start the descent, the crew pass through the cabin with flight certificates.

We taxi off the runway and come to a stop right in front of the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt sign, presumably for the photo shoot that is likely to happen while the aircraft is on the ground in Berlin.

And with that, my inaugural flight on the Air France A 220-300 is over. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and Air France did a good job in bringing back a bit of the excitement of flying in their organisation of the event.

Presenting the New Salon Air France in Terminal 2F, Paris Roissy Airport

Terminal 2F is the Schengen Terminal for the mainline fleet of Air France. It has two piers. Previously, there was a separate lounge in the tip of each pier, one floor down from the public airside areas. The lounges tended to get crowded quickly. Because they were located on the ground- and first floors, the views were somewhat limited.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and Air France has opened a new and very elegant centralised lounge, located right in between the two piers. The new lounge covers a large area and stretches over two floors. There are plenty of seating options on both levels, and there are multiple bars for guests to get food and drinks.

Perhaps the most important improvement of this lounge is that is has a lot more showers, which can be booked at reception. There’s also a dedicated quiet zone, with dimmed light and heavy curtains for passengers in need of a rest.

Most noticeable, the design of the lounge is very beautiful and modern. The centerpiece of the lounge is the grand white staircase leading to the upper level of the lounge. There is plenty of natural light, which is complemented by shifting mood lighting.

It’s difficult to capture just how elegant this lounge is and the sense of space it gives. Personally, I think this new lounge is one of the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve every visited. I also think it’s probably the best Schengen Business Class lounge out the right now.