Air France, Business Class – Embraer 170 and Boeing B 777-200: Basel via Paris to Montreal

Introduction

Fourteen hours after I arrive home from my trip to Sao Paolo in Brazil, I find myself on my way back to Basel airport for my last overseas trip this year. I am on my way to Montreal again for another meeting with ICAO. When I checked my iPhone this morning, Montreal was reporting a temperature of -8 degrees. Why can they not have these meetings in summer?

Getting to the Airport

Transport: Bus line 50.
Journey time: About fifteen minutes, depending on whether it is a nonstop bus or not.
Departs from: Basel SBB, the main Swiss railway station.
Arrives: Euroairport, departures on level 2.
Cost: I think CHF3.50.

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Check-in

Location: Hall 1 in the French sectors. As you enter the terminal on level 2, which is the departure concourse, turn right.
Facilities: Web check-in, App check-in, airport check-in counters, self-service machines.
Counters: There is a dedicate counter for SkyPriority passengers. It is usually cordoned off, but a member of the ground staff will let you through on request. They do not even want to see your card or anything like that.

I drop my bag off. I have not really got that much stuff with me, I am only gone for two days, but it is just easiest to check-in a suitcase to make sure my suit does not get all crunched up.

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The Lounge

In theory, passengers with Air France are allowed to use the Swissport SkyView lounge on the Swiss side of the terminal. However, since the events in Paris last week, the French side of the terminal has been hermetically sealed off airside from the rest of the terminal. So instead of visiting the lounge, I grab myself a Coke Zero at the self-service café and settle down near a power outlet to work on my computer (When you go through security in France, it is important that you make sure your battery is still charged).

Boarding

SkyPriority have a separate queue and the gate dragons are strict in turning away passengers who are not entitled to use that queue.

Boarding is via the apron, which gives me the opportunity to snap a few pictures of my ride to Paris today. The flight is pretty full, from what I can tell.

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The Cabin

I seem to have lucked out today and despite the heavy load, the seat next to me on this short hop to Paris will remain empty. Previously I had not noticed that the Embraer 170 does not appear to have any overwing emergency hatches.

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The Crew

There are two middle-aged female cabin crew working the flight today. They seem friendly enough.

The Meal

The flight time to Paris is only 50 minutes. Hence, ‘the meal’ is limited to a cup of coffee and two tasty lemon flavoured biscuits.

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Transfer in Paris Roissy

As usual, the regional flights arrive and depart from Terminal 2G, which is really way out in the sticks. My connecting flight will be leaving from the L concourse of Terminal 2E. As I enter the terminal, I simply follow the signs for 2E. Immigration takes place in 2G, before you step on board the shuttle to take you to 2E.

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The Lounge

Type of Lounge: Salon Air France.
Location: One floor up from the main transit area.
Facilities: Two buffets with cold snacks, hot and cold drinks, desks to work on (but no computers), toilets are available in the lounge.
Internet: Complimentary wifi, no password required.

The lounge is very busy when I arrive. Even so, there are still plenty of seats available as the lounge is rather huge. I will not be staying here for very long anyway.

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Boarding

I arrive at gate L42 about fifty minutes before departure and boarding has already started. There is a separate line for SkyPriority passengers. Before you join the queue, your passport and boarding pass are checked by a security office. Business Class and Premium Economy Class passengers board the aircraft through the L1 door, while Economy Class passengers board via the L2.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2
Seat: 1B. The Business Class section on this aircraft is located between the L1 and L2 doors. In total there are 35 seats on five rows. On today’s flight only three of the middle seats on the rows of three have remained empty. Other than that the flight is full.

The seat is of the angled lie-flat type. Other than that though, it is fairly comfortable. Obviously the biggest drawback is the configuration with seven abreast. Apart from the fact that I certainly would not want to be the guy stuck in the middle, the configuration is now pretty outdated and can hardly match the level of privacy that Qatar Airways, Cathay Pacific or Singapore Airlines offer in Business Class.
Pitch: 79 inches.
Width:
21 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt ac power port is available at every seat, located at the bottom of the middle console.
Audio and Video: The entertainment system has a 10 inch screen and uses some very basic touch screen technology, which works really badly. In fact, the same thing can be said for the entire entertainment system – during the flight is has to be rebooted no less than three times and still it does not work!

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The Crew

The crew on this flight is friendly but quite reserved. Everyone is professional in the way they go about their duties, but they are completely lacking of any personal touch or warmth.

When I board the aircraft, a pillow, a nice thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at each seat. Just a piece of advice: the covers for the earphones are inside the slippers.

While we are still on the ground, the crew first distribute the vanity kits, followed by a welcome drink and a scented hot towel.

I really like Air France’s vanity kits. Not only do they look chic, I also find they are well stocked and include Colgate toothpaste and mouthwash.

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: There is a choice of orange juice, still water, champagne and fruit of the forest juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink:
Ice tea, served with butter sticks and an amuse bouche of artichoke cream with beetroot and Jerusalem artichoke.
Choice:
There are four choices for the main course – fish, pasta, duck or lamb.
Delivery:
Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Late lunch.
Meal:

  1. Duck and goose foie gras terrine; a medley of yellow and red sun-dried tomatoes with zucchini, carrots, Permesan cheese sautéed black grapes.
  2. Green salad with a choice of balsamic dressing or red pepper and olive oil dressing.
  3. Filet of cod with a leek cream sauce, onion, carrot and saffron basmati rice.
  4. Sainte-Maure and Camembert cheese.
  5. Selection from the breadbasket with butter.
  6. Praliné cream puff, lemon cupcake, pineapple parfait with vanilla cream and passion fruit sorbet.
  7. Tea or coffee.
  8. A piece of black chocolate.

The food is very tasty and filling, although I absolutely refuse to eat the foie gras. After the meal I spend my time reading in my Kindle. At some point the inflight entertainment does briefly work, and I watch an ancient episode of the Bing Bang Theory.

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The Second Service

Delivery: Trolley service.
Type of meal:
Light snack.
Meal:

  1. Cream of cauliflower with caviar.
  2. A chicken muffin with tomato and basil, which tastes better than it sounds.
  3. And a boursin cheese and cucumber roulade.
  4. Lemon cream puff, raspberry and apple tart, fresh fruit salad.
  5. Tea or coffee.

The meal is really just a snack, but it hits the spot nicely. After all, it is already gone 21h in Europe by this time. The meal is removed and shortly thereafter we start our descent into Montreal. Before the seatbelt sign comes on, the crew distribute another hot towel.

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Arrival

The airport is surprisingly quiet when we arrive. I am the first to disembark and in fact I am also the first person to queue for immigration. I head downstairs to collect my suitcase, which arrives a short while later. And then I step out into the freezing cold to grab a taxi into the city. And it really is freezing, with the temperature at -3 degrees Celsius. Well, at least there is no snow…

Getting into Town

Transport: Taxi.
Journey time: 30 minutes.
Fare: CAD40, it is a fixed rate from the airport to the city.

The journey into the city takes between thirty and forty minutes, depending on traffic and the driver’s driving style, which in this particular case can best be described as sporty.

Air France, Business Class – B 777-200: Papeete to Los Angeles

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Oh very well then, I think I will leave now…

My alarm goes off at 05:15. I step into the bathroom to take a shower and immediately shrink back at my own reflection. I am still a bit bleary eyed. And I am starting to look a bit like Captain Caveman, given that my last shave was the day I left Switzerland on 07 August.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: taxi
Departs from: Intercontinental Beachcomber Hotel
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: ca. CHF15

I leave the hotel just after six o’clock in the morning. Tahiti is only just waking up; it is still quiet. Even so, there is a surprising amount of traffic on the road. I assume this must be the beginning of the commuter rush hour, even though the whole concept of such a thing seems somewhat alien, if not irreconcilable to such a heavenly place.

Check-in

Location: there is a separate check-in area for all international flights, of which there are three leaving at more or less the same time
Facilities: dedicated Air France check-in counters, separate counters for SKY PRIORITY

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On the face of it, it looks like chaos. There are people everywhere. There are three widebodies leaving at more or less the same time: the Air France service to Los Angeles and then Paris, the Air Tahiti Nui service doing the same and another Air Tahiti Nui flight bound for Auckland. The check-in counters are located right next to the exit for international arrivals. The two Paris flights have only just come in and by the looks of it, welcoming friends and family home is a big thing in Tahiti.

People everywhere. In one corner I can hear music – is somebody playing a ukulele somewhere? In the middle of the terminal the crowd has formed a circle. In the middle of it stands a traveller who has just arrived. Three Polynesian men are doing some sort of dance in front of him that I can only assume is intended to welcome the traveller home. It looks and sounds like the Haka dance the All Blacks do at the beginning of a game. But this seems friendlier, even if these guys are just as beefy and tough looking as the All Blacks…

But in spite of it all, if it were not for all the people, the process is very well organised. To access the check-in counters you have to pass through a security check, where the name in your passport is matched against the passenger list.

Immigration is a bit of a surprise. There are four queues – one for each one of the three flights and a fourth queue for crew. Immediately behind immigration is security and it really is quite amazing just how swift the process is.

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The transit area looks as though it was recently refurbished. Either that or the facility is incredibly well kept.

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The Lounge

Location: first floor, the stairs and lift are located right between gates 50 and 40
Type of Lounge:
contractor lounge
Facilities:
washrooms, computer work stations, snacks, hot and cold drinks – I think it should also be mentioned that there is even a Lavazza coffee machine that uses those capsules which are so much better than that Nespresso rubbish…
Internet:
available for free, passwords are issued at reception

The lounge’s most redeeming feature – even better than the Lavazza machine if you ask me – is the view it offers of what is going on outside, with three widebodies in full view. Just brilliant.

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Boarding

The boarding sequence is, in this order: UMs, passengers needing assistance, families with small children, SKY PRIORITY passengers, general scrum

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This is the part I have been looking forward to most: walking across the apron to board the aircraft and then climbing the stairs. And it is not just any aircraft. My chariot today is the mighty Triple Seven. Say what you will, but I think she is hot!

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2 – This is an old school kind of seat. Having said that, I think I prefer it to the herringbone I experienced on Air New Zealand, for the simple reason that it offers more privacy and there is a lot more storage space. Moreover, the storage space is easily accessible and conveniently located. But there are drawbacks of course. First of all, the cursed middle seat, which really should not be an option for a Business Class product. And secondly, having to climb over the person on the aisle if you happen to be seated by the window
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp; a blanket, pillow, hangar, slippers, socks and earphones have already been placed in the seats when the passengers start boarding the aircraft
Audio and Video: available on demand, the selection of films is somewhat limited though and the quality of the picture is no good at all

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The Crew

The cabin crew on this flight is a mix of Tahiti based crew and Paris based crew. The maître de is a woman of Polynesian descent. The service provided by all the crew is very personable and friendly. They all take their time to interact with the passengers in a very charming and outgoing manner.

After take-off the ladies change into a typically Polynesian dress and wear a Tiaré in their hair. It is a nice touch I think.

Once we are airborne, the crew distribute the menus and the vanity kits.

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Amenities

Brand: no name
Content: shoe spoon, a large tube of Colgate toothpaste, toothbrush, eye shades, earplugs, Clarins cosmetics, lip balm

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The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: orange juice, still water or champagne
Hot towel before the meal: available but not scented
Pre-meal drink:
full bar service, served with an amuse bouche and a crispy snack
Choice:
four choices for the main dish, including one vegetarian option
Delivery:
tray service
Type of meal:
lunch, hot meal
Menu:

  1. A mini vol-au-vent with salmon roe, shrimp and cream cheese served as an amuse bouche
  2. Crispy crèpes filled with cream cheese and walnuts to go with the aperitif
  3. Seasonal salad with a choice of balsamic dressing, French dressing or basil infused olive oil
  4. For the first course a terrine of cauliflower and carrot, a chunky piece of grilled Mahi Mahi with lime juice, grilled lamb with tossed vegetables
  5. Polenta and vegetable cake served with a bell pepper coulis
  6. A variety of bread from the breadbasket, I count four rounds
  7. Cheese from the cart
  8. For dessert a combination of pastries: pineapple tartlet, praline cream puff, strawberry maccaron served with mango sorbet
  9. Tea and coffee
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Something has gone awfully wrong here. I am always telling my Dutch colleague P. from work what a useless airline Air France is. On this flight however, I am finding it difficult to explain why. First we have the friendly crew, that cannot be right. And now the food: this meal is quite unusual in all respects. First of all the sheer amount of food you are served is incredible. You really do not need to go hungry with Air France. Secondly, some of the dishes are really quite interesting and unusual. I decide to go with the polenta and it really is very tasty.

The biggest pleasure though, are the desserts. So often on a plane dessert consists of some ghastly creamy concoction that is advertised as being this or that with a hint of so, so and bla but eventually ends up tasting of artificial cream and nothing else. But Air France is not having any of this: the pastry is rich and has managed to remain surprisingly crisp. It is not at all soggy.

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Once everything is cleared away, the lights go out and the blinds are lowered. I never quite understand why people do this. After all, it is a daytime flight and under normal circumstances they would not be sleeping at this hour either.

The Second Service

Menu:

  1. Goat cheese canapé with tapenade
  2. Smoked tune canapé with eggplant caviar
  3. Hazelnut and chocolate puff pastry
  4. Fresh fruit
  5. Fresh cheese
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Arrival

We are running behind schedule and eventually arrive in Los Angeles fifty minutes late. As such this is not really a big deal for me. But the queue for immigration is incredibly long, presumably because we arrived shortly after a China Southern A 380 which must have been pretty full by the looks of it.

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Getting to the Hotel

Transport: complimentary hotel shuttle
Departs from: international terminal, hotel shuttle pick up area
Frequency: every 15 – 20 minutes
Journey time: ca. 10 minutes
Actually I am not going into town. I shall not be staying in Los Angeles. I have an onward flight tomorrow morning, so I figure I might as well take a hotel at the airport. I am staying at the Hilton LAX Airport on Century Boulevard.

Conclusion

I was fully expecting not to like Air France. Much to my surprise though, I thought they were rather good. First of all, the Polynesian touch provided by the local crew is brilliant, they were all just so nice and friendly. Secondly, the meals are something else. In terms of quantity and quality they make the likes of SWISS or Lufthansa look pretty sad. I do not think I will go out of my way to fly Air France again. But I think I may now stop actively avoiding them.