Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: 10. January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 10F
Flight time: 57 minutes

Introduction

Considering he’s an aerospace engineer, and rather a good one at that, it really is quite astounding just how little my friend, the wiry R., is interested in aviation and aircraft. As such, it is hardly surprising that when I tell him about my itinerary for my upcoming trip to Dubai, all he can muster is the kind of mournful ‘why’ that is usually reserved for parents to use on their four year old kid when he decided to drop a whole box of detergent in the toilet to see if the flushing would create bubbles. Not of course, that I got up to that sort of thing as a child…

But in any case, the answer really is quite simple. I’m on my way to Dubai. This is my third trip this year to the UAE, after having visited Abu Dhabi in February, and Dubai in March. And so, as the routine starts to get a bit long in the tooth, I figured I might as well take the opportunity to try some of those airlines I’ve always wanted to try but which somehow were always just a bit inconvenient or out of the way.

Getting to the Airport

I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur to the airport. The Swiss Federal Railways recently started to introduce new rolling stock on the network. I have to admit, even though trains really don’t do it for me in the same way that planes do, that the vehicles do look rather good from the outside. They’re sleek.

From a passenger’s perspective though, they’re somewhat problematic. After a series of technical issues which delayed their introduction into service, the Swiss association for persons with disabilities filed a complaint, quite rightly, because the trains were in fact inaccessible for passengers with reduced mobility, because although they have level access, none of the doors has a ramp with an inclination of less than 15 degrees. All I can say as an able-bodied passenger is that there isn’t much storage space and the cabin is rather cramped.

Check-in

Just as we pull out of the station, I receive a sms from Air France informing me that the flight is full, and that therefore they’re willing to check in my luggage free of charge. Which is admittedly a bit useless, seeing as I have a luggage allowance anyway with may status. The flight is operated by an Airbus A 318, which is admittedly rather small and has limited storage space too. So my first stop is the SkyTeam check-in counters on row 2 of check-in 2, where my suitcase is tagged to Paris and then sent on its way.

Airside

It’s the week before the big Easter weekend, and it looks like the whole world has elected to travel today. At the exchange office there’s a guy ahead of me inquiring whether they’ll accept Euros in Sri Lanka, because he’s just changed Swiss Francs into Euros and now has two crisp looking EUR500 notes in his hands…

The queue for security is endless and stretches all the way back to the entrance of the security area. The vapid Japanese chick behind me is on the blower, complaining to her bestie because Iberia forced her to check in her suitcase. ‘I mean, I thought they were, like, a normal airline, like, if they’re in the Star Alliance…like…’. She also doesn’t quite see why Iberia wanted her to check in the bag in the first place, even though, in her own words, there were so many shoes in the suitcase that the wheels collapsed.

Boarding

Boarding starts about ten minutes ahead of schedule. And it really is quite amazing just how many passengers you can fit in to this puny little aircraft. Fortunately, we started boarding early, because it’s taking for ever to find space for the copious bags passengers are bringing into the cabin, despite the gate agents’ best efforts to put as many bags as possible in the hold.

The Cabin

The cabin of the Airbus A 318 looks the same as that of all the other Airbus narrow bodies. But it is striking just how short this little airplane is. It’s kind of cute… I’m sitting on row 10, which is the emergency exit, and the legroom is excellent.

The Crew

There are four cabin crew on the flight today. They’re very professional, but these guys are also very friendly and seem totally unphased by the luggage issue. Thanks to their excellent effort, we manage to push back just a few minutes behind schedule.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, the meal service begins. Much to my surprise, given the flight time of only one hour, this consists of a selection of hot and cold drinks as well as a sandwich. There is no choice for the sandwich. It’s filled with cream cheese, apple and celery and tastes quite good.

Arrival

We land in Paris after a flight time of less than 60 minutes. Visibility is not too good, which is a shame, because we fly right over central Paris on the approach.

Eventually, the flight comes to an end on a remote stand. Which means a cool picture of my chariot – hurrah! I figure I might as well wait for all the passengers to disembark, so as not to have wait on the bus. The good thing about large airports like Roissy is that by the time I finally make it to the luggage belt, I only have to wait two minutes for my bag to arrive.

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Roissy Sheraton, which is perched right over the main railway station for Terminal 2 and within easy walking distance of Terminal 2F, where I just arrived, and Terminal 2E, from where I shall be leaving tomorrow.

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

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Introduction

I have a meeting to attend at the ICAO Regional Office in Paris. Originally the plan had been for me to fly with HOP! from Basel to Orly and then to return with KLM via Amsterdam. Eventually though, this proved too expensive because the airport of Basel is de iure on French territory. As a result, the flight from Basel to Orly is operated as a domestic service. As far as the fare is concerned, to combine that flight with a return on KLM would have meant a combination of a domestic oneway with an international oneway, which made the ticket very expensive. So eventually I had no other choice but to get myself a ticket from Zürich to Paris Roissy with a return on KLM via Amsterdam for less than half the price and which then qualifies as an international round trip.

No sooner had I booked the ticket, the Air France pilots decided to go on strike over management’s intention to strengthen Transavia in Europe. And so my original flight to Paris at 16:40 was eventually cancelled and I was reprotected on to the later flight at 18:00. In the sum of all things, I think Air France handled the situation very well. Given the amount of strikes the carrier’s staff has staged over the years though, that is hardly surprising…

Getting to the Airport

I leave Basel on a lovely Sunday afternoon. Probably this is going to be one of the last nice days before autumn sets in. I take the 15:07 ICE to Zürich, which is surprisingly punctual today. German trains are notoriously late. The journey to Zürich main station takes fifty minutes. At the main station I cross the platform and board the airport train. The journey to the airport only takes eight minutes.

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Check-in

Terminal: Check-in 2
Row: 4
Counters: Dedicated SkyTeam check-in counters. There is a separate queue for SkyPriority passengers

I drop my bag at check-in and collect my boarding pass. I’ve already checked in using the KLM app but the Add to Passbook functionality is not working – again. The airport is pretty busy in the retail area above the railway station, while the check-in area is fairly quiet.

The Lounge

Type of Lounge: Air France branded lounge
Facilities: Small area for work and two work stations with computers, the toilets are outside
Wifi: Available for free on request at reception
Catering: A small selection of cold snacks and drinks, the only hot item is a tomato soup which looks as though it has been there all day

Security is easy. Here too there is a dedicated queue for First Class and Business Class passengers and Priority card holders. The security check point will eject you straight into the duty free shopping area. To reach the Air France lounge walk through the shopping area and turn left. Keep walking past the Swiss restaurant and then do a sharp left turn. Go up the stairs and you arrive at the combined reception area of the Air France and OneWorld lounges, both of which are operated by the same company.

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Boarding

My flight is boarding from gate A05, in one of the oldest parts of what used to be Terminal A. This is a bus gate, so I should be able to take some decent pictures of my chariot to Paris this evening.

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The gate agent scans my boarding pass and informs me that I have been upgraded to Premium Economy Class. And so has my colleague M. I do not get a chance to check out the back of the bus, so I am not sure if the flight was really that full – presumably because of the strike – or if this is simply a sign of goodwill on Air France’s side to apologize for the strike.

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Our bus pulls up next to the aircraft. The A 318 really is a strange bird. Somehow the proportions just do not seem right. Obviously it has the overall dimensions of the other Airbus narrow bodies. But it is just so short!

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The Cabin

Seating: 3 + 3 with the middle seat left empty
Pitch: 32 inches
With: 17.5 inches
Facilities: none

There are four rows of Economy Premium, although initially the seating seems a bit strange. There is one person sitting on either side of row one. Rows two and three are empty and then on row four there is a couple sitting on the left side and three of us sitting in the right side. I am not sure if perhaps the gentleman at the window should have been on row three instead. But it does not really matter. The flight is on fifty-five minutes.

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The Crew

There are three cabin crew on today’s flight. The purser is a middle aged gentleman who has obviously decided not to let the strike dampen his spirits. He is actually quite funny and interacts easily with the passengers.

As I enter the plane, there are refreshing towels laid out by the entrance for passengers to take. Even so, once the doors close one of the crew passes through the cabin offering larger, better quality towels to passengers sitting in Premium Economy. No offence BA, but those flimsy little things you offer in First Class as towels are really no match for these rather substantial things Air France provides in European Economy!

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The Meal

Type of meal: snack
Choices: none
Meal:

  1. savoury maccaron filled with salmon mouse
  2. something with olives, fennel and aniseed
  3. roll of cream cheese
  4. fresh fruit salad
  5. dessert
  6. bottle of mineral water
  7. sweets bag from Fauchon
  8. coffee

I have never bothered so far to try Premium Economy Class in Europe on Air France. So perhaps that is why I am all the more surprised when shortly after take-off the service begins and one of the crew places a tray with food on it in front of me. Goodness!

What’s more, the food is rather tasty. Of course it is only a small snack, but on a flight of less than an hour I was not really expecting any much other than perhaps a cup of water and a forced smile.

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I am just about finishing my coffee when the cockpit crew announce that we have started out descent.

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Arrival

Schengen flights operated by the mainline fleet arrive and depart from Terminal 2F. The airport and terminal are surprisingly deserted this evening, and I can only imagine it having something to do with the strike.

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Getting into Town

Mode of Transport: suburban train
Fare: EUR20 for a return ticket
Journey time: 30 minutes to Châtelet Les Halles

There are various options to reach the city from Charles de Gaulle. The cheapest way and probably the quickest is the RER train. Not all the trains stop at all stations on their way into the city. Fortunately, tonight I am in luck and the next train will only be making a brief stop at Terminal 1 before going direct to Les Halles.

There I change to the Metro, from where it is another eleven stops to my hotel in Neuilly. The good thing about the Paris metro is that the stations are very close to each other. So even though there are eleven stops, the journey does in fact not take that long.

All in all, this was another good experience with Air France – despite the strike. The service was very good and I think the way the airline handled my booking was very good and proactive. Even so, a strike is always inconvenient and leaves a bad impression. What good are nice service and good food to me if I cannot even rely on the airline to operate the flight I have booked? I can appreciate that the pilot’s union may be a tad unhappy about the way things are going. But the moment your passengers start getting the full brunt of it, I think you are on a slippery slope.