Air France by HOP, Economy Class – CRJ700: Paris Orly to Basel

Introduction

The last time I saw Tutankhamun was more than twenty years ago, when I was in Cairo studying Arabic. And so, when I read that there would be an exhibition with artefacts from his vast tomb treasure in Paris, I figured it was too good an opportunity to miss. Before you ask: no, the death mask is not one of the exhibits and I very much doubt if that will ever leave Egypt again. One way or another though, the exhibition is well worth seeing and provides a glimpse into the ancient Egyptians’ understanding of eternity.

Getting to the Airport

On Sunday morning I leave the CitizenM hotel at Gare de Lyon at 09h30 and walk the short distance across the Seine to the Gare d’Austerlitz, from where I want to catch the RER C to Rungis and from there the shuttle to Orly airport. My flight to Basel will be departing at 12h00.

Only, once I get to the Gare d’Austerlitz I find out that there are no trains running, and instead there is a replacement bus to take me part of the way. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have taken that bus, because quite frankly, none of the staff that were positioned along the way to help stranded passengers actually knew what was going on. And so, two busses and one Uber later, I finally manage to arrive at the airport 35 minutes before departure.

Check-in

Air France’s domestic and Schengen flights operated out of Orly 1, otherwise known as Orly Sud. Luckily, I’ve already checked in online. Originally, I was hoping to check in my bag. But by the time I arrive at the terminal, I figure that check-in is already closed.

Airside

There are people standing around everywhere and there’s literally no getting through. Eventually I have to climb over a whole row of seats with my suitcase to bypass all the passengers and reach the entrance for the priority security lane. And Indeed, I think if it weren’t for my status with Air France, which allows me to use the priority lane, I’m pretty sure I’d have missed the flight.

Finally, I arrive at the gate about five minutes before boarding begins. Enough time to visit the loos. The flight is boarding from gate A22, which is in a part of the terminal that was recently extended and renovated.

Boarding

Boarding starts with a call for SkyPriority passengers. The gate agent tags my suitcase for me to leave it at the bottom of the aircraft’s steps. I think she’s surprised that I thank her for that, rather than start complaining…

The Cabin

This is a strange bird. F-GRZL was delivered to Britair in 2006 and was later on transferred to the HOP by Air France fleet. But the cabin is different to that on the CRJ-900 and the CRJ-1000. The bulkhead is lavender coloured, the seats are in dark grey, the window panels look old-fashioned and there is no Air France branding inside the aircraft.

Other than that though, pitch is good on row two and the seats are properly aligned with the windows to give passengers a good outside view.

The Crew

There are two quite senior cabin crew on this flight. One male and one female. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re professional and polite.

The flight time is announced as 45 minutes. The cabin crew start their service and inform passengers that due to the rather short flight time, they will only be serving passengers one drink each to speed things up and to make sure that every passenger gets at least something.

The Meal

There is a choice of hot and cold drinks, including alcoholic beverages like beer. Passengers also have a choice between a sweet or a savoury snack. The gentleman sitting next to me asks for the savoury snack, which turns out to be a packet of Pretzels. I have the sweet snack, which is a Madeleine filled with jam.

Arrival

It’s a nice day for flying today and as we approach Basel the ground visibility improves further. Eventually we land after a flight time of only 42 minutes. We park on a remote stand, and there’s even a bus to drive us the 200 metres from the aircraft to the passenger terminal. Ten minutes after we touch down, I exit the terminal building on the Swiss side and head for the bus stop.

I now have a whole working week in the office ahead of me before my next trip on Friday. Woohoo!

HOP by Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 175: Basel to Paris Charles de Gaulle

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Date: 05 March 2016
From: Basel Mulhouse
To: Paris Charles de Gaulles
Departure:
10:40
Arrival: 11:40
Flight time: 1 hour.
Seat: 5A
Aircraft type: Embraer 175

Introduction

I arrived home from a course in Luxembourg yesterday evening. Today, less than twelve hours later, I find myself back at the airport for a short flight to Paris. This is, as you may have guessed, just a positioning flight.

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Check-in

Location: Departures level, French sector.
Counters: Two SkyPriority counters and two Economy Class counters.
Facilities: There are four self-service machines available at the airport. Check-in on the Air France app is also possible.
The flight from Basel to Paris Charles de Gaulle is treated as a domestic flight. As the passenger you do not really notice any difference, save for the fact that you have to check in for the flight and pass through security in the French sector of the terminal.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge

Name: SkyView Lounge.
Type of lounge: Contractor lounge operated by Swissport.
Location: In the international Schengen area, right behind the duty free kiosk.
Facilities: Workstations, newspapers and magazines.
Internet: Wifi available free of charge.
Catering: Hot and cold snacks available throughout the day.
Behind security, the French sector is connected airside to the rest of terminal, which means that you can still access the duty free shop and, more importantly, the Swissport SkyView lounge. Admittedly, it is quite a trek from the French sector to the lounge, but at least that helps to pass the time.

The SkyView lounge is open to all passengers. If you are not holding a Business Class ticket and are not an upper tier member of any frequent flyer programme, you may still use the facilities for a fee of CHF38.- per person.

The lounge was recently refurbished on the entrance level. Apart from the new furniture, they appear to have planted new palm trees in the courtyard, which makes a huge difference. The palms that had been there before were starting to look rather sad.

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The main area of the lounge and the buffet are on the upper level. The food & beverages selection is pretty fair and, in my view, perfectly adequate for a lounge at a regional airport. Throughout the day, there is a good selection of hot and cold snacks to choose from. There is also an open-air terrace which doubles as the smoking area. You need not worry about the cigarette smoke though, because the terrace is fairly large.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts on time. Air France/KLM does not have a dedicated line for status holders and Business Class passengers. However, the first boarding call is for SkyTeam Priority passengers only, who are invited to just push to the front of the line. I always feel a tad uncomfortable, although most travellers seem to be used to it by now and you rarely get any complaints any more.

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The Crew

The cabin crew on this flight is made up of two middle-aged gentlemen. I would not say they are rude or impolite, they are just not gushing either. Evidently, they are also refusing to speak anything but French.

The Cabin

There are two things that really elude me about the cabin of HOP’s Embraer 175. First of all, I cannot understand why there is a cabin divider when HOP only offers an Economy Class product. And secondly, why is it that HOP, like Alitalia, finds it so hard to align the passenger seats with the windows of the aircraft? On most rows the windows are rather inconveniently positioned. As a result, to look out you generally have to twist you neck round quite a bit.

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The Snack

The flight time to Paris is announced as 55 minutes. Given that this is really just a short hop and a domestic one at that, it is rather nice that HOP will offer you hot and cold drinks and a choice of either sweet or savoury biscuits. As a rule, I would try to avoid the savoury snack because it is usually not very good. The sweet biscuits on the other hand, I can highly recommend. They are lovely, sweet and have a rich buttery flavour.

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Arrival

We land in a westerly direction, which means we have rather a long taxiway all the way back to Terminal 2G, which is the easternmost terminal in CDG. Terminal 2G is where all the HOP/Regional flights arrive and depart, in addition to a few other carriers like Luxair. There is an airside and landside connection from 2G to the other terminals.

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HOP!, Economy Class – ATR-72: Basel-Mulhouse to Paris-Orly

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Exactly one week after my return from Asia I’m off again. I have a meeting with the ICAO regional office in Paris, so at least it’s just a short trip this time.

Getting to the Airport

Transport: BVB bus line 50
Departs from: Basel SBB railway station, by the main exit
Frequency: Every 8 to 10 minutes
Journey time: 16 minutes
Fare: CHF4.20, one-way

It’s a lovely day for flying today, and it’s quite warm too. I’ve arranged to meet my colleague at 14h00 by the meeting point of the main railway station as he’ll be arriving from Zürich. Just in case you’re wondering, there are flights from Zürich to Paris, but they only go to Roissy, which is much further out of town, while we’re heading for Orly today. Secondly, my colleague has never been on a turboprop and simply wanted to give one a try. In any case, we make a brief detour to the Confiserie Bachmann for me to pick up a chocolate bun. And then from there we catch the bus line 50 to the airport.

Check-in

Location: Departures level on the first floor, French side
Facilities: Self-service check-in machines and baggage drop counters
Counters: Dedicated Air France counters

Once we are inside the terminal we cross into the French side, which is where the Air France check-in counters are located. The flight from Basel to Paris Orly can be booked as an international service from Basel to Paris or as a domestic service from Mulhouse to Paris. Obviously the latter will only cost you a fraction of the price of the international service. Strangely enough, if you look up the flight on the Air France website, you will find that, according to the timetable, the departure from the Swiss side is two minutes earlier than the departure from Mulhouse. We arrive at the baggage drop counter. While we’re there, we ask if it might be possible to sit together. When I checked in using the KLM app the evening before, I was automatically placed on 3A, while my colleague was relegated to the last row of the aircraft on 16D. Apparently passengers with status are automatically assigned seats in the front of the plane at the time of booking, even though the website does not in fact allow you to select seats on flights operated by HOP. Grudgingly the check-in agent agrees to move my colleague forward to the seat next to me. Not however, before insisting that she’s only doing this exceptionally and only because of my status. How very gracious, Ma’am. Later on when we board the plane, it turns out the flight is only half full anyway, so we could in fact have sat anywhere and I don’t quite understand what all the fuss is.

Airside

Air France does not have a lounge in Basel. And we’ve still got over an hour before the flight departs. So we decide to take advantage of the nice weather and visit the open air viewing gallery on the fourth floor until eventually our flight is called for boarding.

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Boarding

No priority boarding for Skyteam Elite members on domestic flights by the looks of it.

I don’t know. Maybe I’m just thick but I just don’t get it. Apparently we’re booked on a HOP flight. But so far this looks and feels a lot like the usual Air France. Check-in is done by Air France, the gate is manned by Air France staff and the aircraft standing at the gate has the full old Air France livery. It’s cool though to have the opportunity to walk across the apron and board the aircraft the old fashioned way.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 2 + 2
Seat: Standard economy seat
Facilities: None
Audio and Video: Nil

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The cabin on this bird is starting to look a bit tired, but at least it seems well maintained. There aren’t that many status card holders on today’s flight. The first five rows are empty, save for row three which is occupied by my colleague and me. The rest of the passengers are sitting clustered together further down the back of the bus.

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The cabin crew are very strict about the use of electronic devices during take-off and landing. So the only pictures I have of our departure are during the climb out. I kind of like the droopy effect of the prop blades.

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The Crew

There are two male flight attendants working the flight. I’m not really quite sure if one is more senior than the other as both of them have no stripes on their uniform. Both the crew also demonstrate the same apparent lack of interest in their customers – the passengers. But somehow, this being Air France I’m not even surprised by that. Before departure cold towels are passed around which have a rather overpowering odour.

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The Snack

  1. A selection of hot and cold drinks (I have a coffee and a still water)
  2. A choice between sweet biscuits or some strange looking salty snacks with dried sage (I decline)
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The meal is nothing special for sure. However, given that HOP was conceived as a kind of low-cost carrier, one really can’t complain. The complete lack of warmth, personality or friendliness by crew on the other hand, makes any Ryanair crew seem positively gushing with enthusiasm. The meal ends with one of the flight attendants passing through the cabin with a brown paper bag for passengers to throw their rubbish in. I mean, at least they could have had the decency to use a rubbish trolley like every other self-respecting airline.

Arrival

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The flying time to Paris is just over one hour, which is good as the seats really aren’t that comfortable. The crew distribute sweets before the landing. There is a slight delay for our arrival once we land, because the marshaller takes a while to arrive to wave us onto the stand. Domestic flights arrive and depart at Orly West.

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Getting into Town

Transport: Orlyval to Anthony, then the RER line B to the city
Departs from: Departures level of Orly West
Frequency: Every few minutes
Journey time: 6 minutes from Orly to Anthony on the Orlyval, then ca. 25 minutes on the RER B to the city centre
Fare: EUR9.- from Orly to Anthony, EUR3.50 from Anthony to the city centre

ICAO’s Paris office is located in Neuilly, roughly half-way between the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile and the new arch at La Défense. I’m staying at the hotel Foch, which is a very nice and small hotel near the Palais des Congrès at Porte Maillot and Etoile metro stations. To get there I have to take the Orlyval to Anthony, change to the RER B to Châtelet and then from there take the metro to Neuilly – Porte Maillot.

Epilogue

Don’t worry, I’m not doing a full report on the return. After all, a flight with HOP is hardly that exciting. But I still want to share with you the experience of checking in at Orly West, and how my colleague singlehandedly managed to destroy one of the automatic check-in machines with only very little help from me. It’s all rather complicated. In fact you cannot help but feel that somebody really must have put a lot of effort into making things just that little bit extra complicated to spice things up. We arrive at Orly West for the return flight and check our flight on the FIDS, which shows up as checking in at sector D. That’s all it says. The only problem is though, that there is a Hall 1, 2, 3 and 4 in Orly West. And each Hall has a check-in sector A, B, C and D. Which effectually means that there’s no means of guessing where to go unless you ask one of the friendly staff at the information desk.

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So we finally find our check-in sector. I scan my boarding pass and out comes the baggage tag for my colleague’s suitcase. We figure like that it will get a priority label and might arrive as one of the first bags in Basel. My colleague then proceeds to one of the many baggage drop facilities and places the suitcase inside. He scans his boarding pass and then the door closes. And then the alarm sounds, the machine starts blinking in shades of green and yellow and slowly we begin to wonder if he will ever see his suitcase again. And then an Air France ground hostess arrives. Oh dear! She looks like she might be la présidente of the French general worker’s union. She also looks like my colleague is the only thing standing in the way of what she probably thinks is her well-deserved break. So she stands there looking at the machine, seemingly clueless about what to do next. Her mood does not improve any as she realises that we’re finding all of this rather funny. Eventually we manage to explain to her that the alarm probably went off because there was a mismatch between the name on the baggage tag and the name on the boarding pass that was scanned at the baggage drop. Well at least now she knows what went wrong, but she’s still not a happy bunny. Eventually some guy working for Aéroports de Paris arrives and finally manages to free the poor, frightened little suitcase from captivity.

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And then the baggage drop process is repeated, this time however using my boarding pass. And off the little suitcase goes on its big journey home. And so do I. I now have the rare privilege of spending a whopping three weeks in a row at home before my next journey. I’m going to enjoy this. Oh yes, and just in case you were wondering: no, HOP! by Air France did not really impress me.

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Uhm…this was a poster in the metro station. What can I say? I’m a fan!