Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 318: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Geneva

Airline: Air France
Aircraft:
Airbus A 318
From:
Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
To:
Genève Cointrin
Departure: 13h03
Arrival:
14:33
Flight time: 1 hour 30 minutes
Seat: 3A

This post marks the beginning of my sabbatical: my six months of paid leave start on 1 March 2020. Before I eventually do get on the plane to Oz though, there are still a few things that need taking care off. So I will still need to go to Luxembourg twice before I’m well and truly gone. This post and the next are of the positioning flights to break in the ticket, so to speak.

Check-In

The first leg will be from Paris Roissy Geneva. The flight is operated by Air France, but also carries the codes of SWISS and Air Mauritius.

As such, the flight will operate out of Terminal 2F, which is the Air France Schengen terminal. Air France has a dedicated check-in zone for its SkyPriority and Business Class passengers.

During the check-in process I interact with three Air France employees and obviously they have all been properly trained in customer care. The first is a middle aged man at the entrance to the check-in area. I approach him and ask if I can check in here, even though I‘m booked on the LX flight number.

He welcomes me to Air France and tells that bien sûr, I‘m welcome to check in here, and makes a joke that with SWISS being located in the ‚flying saucer’ on the other side, by which I figure he means Terminal 1, boarding might be a bit cumbersome.

Next a young woman ushers me to a free counter, where another young lady welcomes me to Air France and checks me in. Of course, I know that this amount of staff is a luxury not many airlines can afford. And I know Air France isn‘t exactly in excellent shape financially. But seriously, from the perspective of the passenger experience, this is really how it‘s done. Lufthansa, are you even paying attention…? As I exit the check-in area, all three wish me a pleasant flight.

The Lounge

The two piers at 2F are very elegant and stylish, but also not very practical. Today it‘s okay because there aren‘t that many passengers. But when it‘s busy, it‘s difficult to get through.

The lounge is one level down from the main airside area and is spread out over two levels. In typical Air France manner, the services available on both levels are identical and include a fully stocked bar as well as a counter with savoury dishes and another with sweet dishes. I can highly recommend the crêpes sucrées. Although you probably don‘t necessarily need to have five like me…

Throughout the lounge the Air France branding is visible, from the posters on the wall to the pattern on the floor. The lower level is usually a little less crowded, by the way.

The Cabin

Boarding is strictly by zones, with Business Class passengers boarding in zone 1.

From the inside, the Air France A 318 is easy to distinguish from the A 319 because it has cloth seat covers instead of leather. On every row of three there are four USB ports. The aircraft also has wifi available and the crew will distribute information cards in Business Class with instructions how to log in.

On today‘s flight there are six rows ahead of the cabin divider for a total of 24 seats. I count 20 passengers in the forward cabin. Incidentally, on the port side, there is no row 1. So row 2 is the bulkhead row.

Service

There are two cabin crew in the Business Class cabin. Both of them are middle aged. The female cabin crew is elegant in her appearance and very charming in dealing with passengers.

Once the doors close, packaged and scented wet towels are handed out. The flight time is 55 minutes.

The Meal

Despite the short flight time, Air France does a full meal service on this flight. Given the size of the cabin, the trays are served from the trolley.

On the tray there is an asparagus salad and shrimps on a raspberry coulis, which taste much better than they sound.

In addition, there is a small plate of cheese. The crew offer warm bread from the basket to go with that.

For dessert there is a rhubarb tarte and a small piece of dark chocolate. The flight attendant is very attentive and goes out of her way to make passengers feel comfortable. If only flying could always be like this…

Arrival

At 13h40 the captain comes on the PA to inform us that there will be a delay of about thirty minutes for our arrival, due to the fact that there was a dog on the runway and all arrivals had to be halted for forty minutes while they caught it.

As you may have guessed, I’m a big fan of Air France. Even so, I have to say that on this trip they really impressed me. First of all, because I find it refreshing that the staff on the front line who deal with the passengers obviously seem to enjoy their jobs. Or at least are sufficiently motivated to deliver a seamless and rather pleasant customer experience.

Eventually, we land at 14h33 and taxi to our stand in the French sector of the airport. And that‘s when the culture shock sets in…

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Paris

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Embraer 190
From: Euroairport Basel-Mulhouse Freibourg
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2G
Departure: 06h20
Arrival: 07h20
Flight time:
one hour
Seat:
7F, window

On Friday evening I receive an e-mail from Air France, informing me that HOP would be going on strike on Monday and that my flight to Paris may be affected. I should be routing Basel – Paris – Luxembourg. On Sunday morning I call Air France from Malta to ask them what to do. Air France customer service is really very good, at least it is if you’re a Platinum member. A Belgian friend of mine, let’s call him the big, friendly C., refuses to fly Air France because he says their frequent strikes make them unreliable. But I tend to disagree, because Air France is a professional striker, in the sense that when they do go on strike, it’s usually in a well prepared, very organised and civilised way. If BA or Lufthansa were to go on strike, it would be complete and utter chaos, because they’re amateur strikers and used to everything going according to plan. But I digress. So their customer relations are very good and within minutes I’ve been rebooked onto the KLM flight via Amsterdam and even have a new e-ticket confirmation.

On Suday evening I arrive back in Basel from Malta at 22h40, one hour later than expected. As we taxi in, I notice the KLM flight that nightstops in Basel is conspicuously abesent, even though it should normally have arrived by 21h45.

I get on the bus to take me home, which is when I receive a message from KLM informing me that the flight from Basel to Amsterdam has been cancelled due to severe weather in Amsterdam. So once I get home, in between unpacking and packing again, I’m on the phone again to Air France.

At least by now they already know that my original flight to Paris will not be affected by the strike after all, and therefore, I am rebooked onto the original flights I had selected for this trip. And that girls and boys, is how I find myself at 05h25 on the airport bus again after a really rather short night’s rest.

There are two early morning flights to Paris which leave within just a few minutes of each other. The one flight goes to Orly, while the second flight goes to Roissy. The flights board from gates 2 and 1 respectively. My flight to Roissy this morning is completely sold out, no doubt due to the passengers that have been reprotected from the cancelled KLM flight.

This is my first flight with Air France since the introduction of the domestic Business Class product. The first two rows are for Business Class passengers. Unfortunately, on row 7 I’m too far back to catch a glimpse of what the service is like. What I do know though, is that seating is the same as on KLM, meaning that the adjacent seat is not left empty.

The seat pitch on row 7 is good though. The only complaint I have, is that it’s right next to the engine and the noise is quite loud.

We take off towards the south and then make a right turn to point us in a westerly direction.

The service in Economy Class consists of a choice of hot and cold drinks and a small packaged madeleine, which hits the spot nicely. The flight attendant tells me to mix one creamer and sugar with my hot chocolate for the best possible result. And she’s right.

There are two females working in the cabin this morning, and both of them are really good. They’re very friendly and do a lot of smiling and chatting with the passengers as they pass through the cabin.

Eventually we land after a flight time of one hour. It’s wet and windy here in Paris this morning. At Paris Charles de Gaulle airport, terminal 2G is dedicated to small regional jets and turboprop operations and is the hub of Air France’s HOP operation.

It’s a bit remote from the main terminal complex at CDG2, but for me its very convenient, because the flight to Luxembourg will also be leaving from here, so I will not have to change terminals.

First though, it’s time for breakfast!

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 321: Paris Roissy to Zürich

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A 321
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Zürich
Departure: 13h20
Arrival:
14h15
Flight time: 55 minutes
Seat:
25A, emergency exit on the port side

I disembark the Airbus A330-200 that brought me to Paris from Dubai and enter into Terminal 2E. My connecting flight to Zürich will depart from Terminal 2F, which sits opposite 2E. The route to take is clearly signposted for connecting passengers.

The security check is done in Terminal 2E and there is a dedicated queue for SkyPriority passengers. Right behind security is the passport control to enter the Schengen area. And then from there it‘s just a short walk to the main airside area of 2F.

Terminal 2F has two piers. And like the other terminals, it also has a striking desing.

By the time I get to 2F it‘s 12h, and I still have 50 minutes before boarding for the next flight begins.

The Air France lounge, le Salon, is located one floor below the gate area.

The lounge is very busy, which is why I don‘t take any photos. It has a good selection of hot and cold drinks and cold snacks, which are replenished and changed throughout the day.

At 12h35 I leave the lounge to find my gate. The flight is departing from F49, which is right next to the escalator coming up from the lounge. Boarding has just started for zones 1 and 2.

I‘m seated on row 25, which is the second emergency exit row on the A 321. Leg space is absolutely brilliant. What‘s more, the middle seat stays empty, so I have more than enough space to spread out!

On the down side, there is no window on row 25. But it‘s cloudy all the way to Zürich anyway, so that‘s okay.

As soon as we‘re airborne, the service begins. As a snack there is a tomato and egg sandwich. To drink I have a can of Perrier.

Eventually we touch down at 14h15. By 14h46 I‘m already on the train to the office, where I need to sign off a few documents. And then from there I head back to the airport.

On the four flights I took with Air France for this trip to Dubai, the airline provided a solid product at a consistently high standard. Unlike boring Lufthansa in its perpetual identity crisis and dreadful BA, flying with Air France is still a pleasure, firmly establishing them, in my view, as Europe‘s best airline right now.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 330-200: Dubai to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Airbus A 330-200
From: Dubai
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle
Departure: 07h00
Arrival:
11h10
Flight time: 7 hours 10 minutes
Seat:
3C, aisle seat

Air France operates two daily flights from Dubai to Paris. AF655 is the night time service which departs Dubai at 01h30, to arrive in Paris at 06h15 in the morning. This flight is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER and features Air France’s fabulous la Première.

AF659 is the day time service that leaves Dubai at 06h40 and arrives in Paris at 11h40. This service is operated by an Airbus A 330-200. Air France is currently in the process of refurbishing the Business Class cabin on its Airbus A 330s. In both the old and new versions, the seating configuration is 2 + 2 + 2, seeing as the aircraft are mostly deployed on mid-haul sectors only. The main difference between the new and the old seat is that the old seat is an angled lie-flat, while the new seat is also lie-flat but horizontal.

Theoretically, only aircraft in the new configuration are operated to Dubai. However, for operational reasons it may happen that you will find yourself sitting in an aircraft in the old configuration.

If check the seat map, in the new cabin the first row on the port side is row 1. Whereas in the old configuration, the bulkhead row on the port side is row 2.

I leave the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa at 04h26. The journey to the airport takes exactly 14 minutes to complete – partly because there is hardly any traffic with it being the weekend, and mainly because the driver clearly has a pressing appointment with death and thinks I might fancy coming along for the ride.

Air France operates out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Check-in is done in area 2 and there are seven counters open when I arrive.

When I arrived in Dubai a week ago, the immigration officer stored my passport data, so that I could use the biometric smart gates. As a result, passport control for departures is now very swift and painless.

At this time of the day, Terminal 1 is not very busy. As such, security only takes a few minutes and then I’m on my way to the shuttle that will take me to the D gates.

In Dubai Air France uses the SkyTeam lounge for its Business Class passengers. The lounge is very spacious. I’d like to say it’s also quiet, but that would be a lie, because there’s this beastly little squirt making enough noise for ten. Luckily the little creep soon vanishes when the Saudia flight to Jeddah is called for boarding. Peace at last…

Boarding starts at 05h55. It’s still dark outside and the location of the gate makes photos of the aircraft impossible.

Boarding is by zones, with Business Class passengers in zone 1 boarding first.

My first impression of the seat is good. The cabin looks tidy and the seat configuration is practical. There is a stowage compartment right below the video screen and in the side of the seat.

The inflight entertainment has touch screen technology and the picture is very sharp. Complimentary wifi for text messages is available. For more capacity, passengers can purchase individual packages.

The divider between the two seats is good, and in the open position offers at least some privacy.

On this service, Air France serves the main meal immediately after take-off, which I think is rather inconvenient, because most passengers have had an early start and want to sleep, more than anything else. And so I decide to skip the meal and go off to Noddy land instead. In the bed position the seat is very comfortable, and together with the thick blanket and plump pillow makes for a good few hours of sleep.

I wake up halfway into the flight. One of the crew sees me and immediately comes to ask if I’ll have breakfast, which she subsequently brings me with an espresso and fresh orange juice.

The meal consists of a plate of smoked salmon and smoked turkey.

Fruit salad and yoghurt.

And a selection of bread.

There is also a choice of English breakfast or sweet crêpes. But seeing as I already had something to eat in the lounge, I decide to skip the hot meal.

A bit over an hour out of Paris the lights come on and a light snack is served.

It consists of three small canapés with cheese, salmon and grilled vegetables.

A bowl of fruit.

And a strange looking dessert I steer clear of…

The crew on this flight are truly excellent. Throughout the journey they are constantly passing through the cabin and even actively asking passengers if there’s anything they can do for them.

Eventually, we land in Paris ahead of schedule, despite the detour via Saudi Arabia. The flight ends at Terminal 2E. I now have to make my way to 2F for my onward connection.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris Roissy to Dubai

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Boeing B 777-300
From: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
To: Dubai
Departure: 14h00
Arrival: 23h50
Flight time: 6h50mins
Seat: 3L, window seat

To date, the UAE’s three largest airlines, some of the country’s ANSPs and a few smaller operators use the tests my university is responsible for. Which is why I regularly travel to the UAE to train new assessors. Every time I come here, the flying Dutchman tells me it’ll probably be the last trip for a while. But that never really seems to be the case…!

I go through immigration in terminal 2G, at which I just arrived on a flight from Basel. Behind passport control is the stop for the shuttle bus, which pulls up just as I’m through passport control. The journey to terminal 2E(K) is nine minutes.

On the way I get a nice tour of some of Paris’ best sights (at least I think so…):

Once I enter the building at 2K, I head one floor up to the main concourse. My flight to Dubai is boarding from K41, which is the gate immediately next to the escalators.

I don’t recall having passed through this terminal before. And I must say, the architecture is spectacular.

Just as I step off the escalator, boarding for my flight begins, 55 minutes before departure. That seems rather early to me, but I figure I might as well skip the lounge and just get comfortable on board instead.

Well hello, gorgeous! Aren’t you a lovely big girl… in case you hadn’t realised, I seriously have a thing for the B777. Those engines…!

The Business Class cabin on Air France’s B777-300ER is configured in a reverse herring bone layout. There is a smaller Business Class cabin of four rows between the L1 and L2 doors, and then the larger cabin after the L2 door. Row 3 is the bulkhead row of the forward cabin, immediately behind La Première.

Air France has one of my favourite Business Class products. The design of the seat is great and the amount of privacy offered is also very good.

There is ample storage space and the layout of the seat is very practical.

When I reach my seat, a pair of slippers, a thick pillow, a nice, fluffy blanket, and a bottle of Evian have already been placed there.

A member of the crew quickly comes to greet me and then hangs my jacket.

Once boarding is completed, service begins with a welcome drink. There is a choice of champagne or fresh juice. I have the latter, which turns out to be a combination of apple, banana, orange, pineapple, spinach and something else I’ve now forgotten. It’s quite tasty!

This is followed by the distribution of the unscented hot towels, which are also very fluffy.

We take off heading westwards. Our flight today is routing via Switzerland, the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt and Saudi Arabia. The flight time is six hours and 25 minutes.

After take-off, the vanity kits and menus are distributed.

The service begins as soon as the seat belt sign is turned off. To start, I just have a glass of Perrier, which is served with the appetizer, which is smoked duck with a celery and hazelnut purée. There’s also a packet of cheese-filled crackers.

The tray is served with the first course and salad on it. The starter is foue gras, which I simply don’t like, and a lentil and cauliflower salad, which is very tasty and flavourful.

There’s a lovely selection of warm bread served with the meal.

For the main dish, I have the fish, which isn’t all that good and has a somewhat off-putting smell from the reheated mussels.

Next is the cheese course, which is served with more bread. There are three pieces of cheese, a camembert, a cantal and a goat’s cheese. All three are quite subtle and go well with a glass of port.

And finally, for dessert I have a small ramekin of mocha ice cream, which is a refreshing conclusion to the meal. Two hours after take-off, the service is completed.

For the rest of the flight I lounge in my seat, reading my Kindle. I can highly recommend Ian McEwan’s The Cockroach, which is a brilliant satire based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis but in reverse, in which a cockroach finds himself transformed into the British prime minister.

90 minutes out of Dubai, the lights are turned on again and a light snack is served ahead of our arrival.

The snack consists of a chicken wrap and two sweet pastries and is perfectly adequate, given the short flight time.

Eventually we land after six hours and fifty minutes, including 25 minutes spent holding over Dubai. The airport seems very quiet and there are hardly any people on the shuttle to the arrivals building.

Immigration is deserted. I’m seen to by a friendly young guy, who tells me he’s now registered me in their system, so I’ll be able to use the eGates on my next visit.

I grab a taxi and make my way to the hotel. It suddenly starts raining heavily, and within minutes Sheikh Zayed Road is flooded is places. I’ve never seen Dubai like this. It’s still warm though.

Air France, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Basel to Paris Roissy

Airline: Air France
Aircraft: Embraer 190
From: Basel-Mulhouse
To: Paris Charles de Gaulle (Roissy)
Departure: 11:10
Arrival: 11:55
Flight time: 45 minutes
Seat: 1A, bulkhead row, window seat

Nine days into the new year my travel activities resume. I catch the 09h27 bus line 50 from in front of the Swiss railway station.

At the airport, I cross over into the French sector for check-in. There are three counters open: one for SkyPriority passengers and two for everybody else.

The check-in agent tags my luggage and issues my boarding pass for this flight and the next. I then head one floor up for security. There is a dedicated line with a separate entrance for priority passengers. As at check-in, here too there are no queues.

My departure gate is right opposite the exit from security. But I still have some time to kill and I’m hungry. So I figure I might as well make the schlepp to the Swissport lounge.

By 09:57 I’m enjoying a plate of eggs and beans in the lounge. I don’t take any pictures because the lounge is quite busy. But I really do think it’s still one of the most nicely designed lounges around, especially with the winter sun coming through the windows.

And what on earth is it with women that even the most untalented and uninspired among them all seem to think they know how to sing? For heaven’s sake! There’s this big, blousy American lady, by no means a spring chicken, belting out a Motown medley as she meanders in and out of the buffet section. She’s dreadful and sounds like somebody’s strangling the cat. But she just won’t stop!

By 10h10 I can’t stand it (her) anymore and head for the gate, where boarding should start soon anyway.

Boarding starts on time with a call for SkyPriority passengers to board first. But there’s a scrum for the gate the moment the gate agent picks up the microphone, making it difficult to actually get to the counter.

On the Embraer 190, Air France has two large storage compartments at the front of the cabin, which are great if, like me, you’re on the bulkhead row and the overhead bins are already full. Pitch on row 1 is brilliant!

Mr 1C is a fat guy in his late fifties, I’d say. He obviously think he’s hot stuff, the big shaker-mover. He’d also obviously already assumed the seat next to him would stay empty, judging by the unhappy look he throws me when I appear. I just think he’s a creep.

He literally spends the whole flight intentionally spreading out as much as he can and generally has the manners of a pig.

On domestic services, Air France does not have a Business Class product. Also, seats on domestic flights are assigned automatically and cannot be selected until check-in opens. Although in my experience, they make sure that status holders are seated as far up front as possible.

Service consists of a selection of hot and cold, non-alcoholic drinks and a choice between a savoury and a sweet snack. Which is not bad for a flight of 45 minutes.

I go with some Perrier and a piece of lemon and poppy seed cake, which tastes okay.

The crew on this flight consists of two gentlemen in their forties. They’re your typical Air France cabin crew. Friendly and professional but perhaps not very warm.

The flight passes quickly and eventually we land in Paris on schedule. The flight ends at terminal 2G, which is used for smaller commuter flights.

The facility is fairly quiet. Passport control for my next flight, so leaving Schengen, is done in terminal 2G, before I catch the shuttle bus to terminal 2K.

Air France, Airbus A 320 – Economy Class: Zagreb to Paris Charles de Gaulle

The journey from Zagreb to the airport takes 18 minutes by Uber. Within walking distance of the Canopy Hotel, where I was staying, is also the bus terminal, from where Croatia Airlines operates a bus service to the airport.

Zagreb airport has a terminal building that may not be very large in relative terms but seems somewhat excessive for the amount and type of traffic it handles.

The departures concourse is best described as a large, cavernous space. Air France checks in on counters C08 to C11 and there is a dedicated counter for SkyPriority passengers. Check-in opens only two hours before departure, so there’s really no point in arriving too early. There isn’t anything much to do either.

On a postive note, there is a fast track for security for SkyPriority passengers.

There is only one lounge at the airport that is used by all carriers operating into Zagreb. The Primeclass lounge is located right behind the duty free, between gates 33 and 32.

On my way to the airport, I kept trying to remember what the lounge looks like. But for the life of me, I couldn’t remember. As it turns out, that’s likely because the lounge really is not particularly memorable. Although I must say, the food offerings are great. And I can highly recommend their vast selection of Burek.

I’m not sure what’s going on with my booking. So far, all I’ve managed to do on the app is check in. And when I finally managed that, I found myself suddenly seated on 3A, which is not the original seat I reserved.

What’s more, when I tried again at the self-service kiosk at the airport, the screen wanted to know if I had a visa for France. When I selected ‘no’, the system crashed and the screen went black…

Boarding for the flight starts thirty minutes before departure from gate 31. SkyPriority passengers are invited the board first. Alas, taking pictures from inside the terminal is slighly problematic…

Row 3 is the first row of Economy Class, which means I have the divider curtain right in front of me. The seat pitch is very tight, but still okay. Not sure I’d want to do a longer flight in this seat though…

This, in case you’re wondering, is to hang your jacket on the seat.

Boarding happens very fast. The next thing I know, we’re already pushing back while the crew scramble to get all passengers seated.

Fortunately for me, by the time boarding is completed, the middle seat on 3B remains empty.

As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew start preparations for their service. The flight time is one hour and forty minutes.

The service consists of a complimentary snack and drinks from the bar trolley. To eat there is a choice between a tuna, parsley and lemon bagel or a hummus and grilled vegetables sandwich. The crew pass through the cabin twice offering sandwiches.

To drink I ask for sparkling water. What’s really nice on Air France is that even in Economy Class they will give you a complete can of Perrier.

The rest of the flight passes quickly and pleasantly enough. We land in Paris just a few minutes ahead of schedule. But there’s a delay reaching our gate, because the stand is still occupied by a Tarom B 737. By the time we make onto the stand, it’s 20h07. I now have 53 minutes to make my connection from terminal 2E to 2G, which is pretty much out in the booneys.

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.

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.

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, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris CDG

INTRODUCTION

The course with Flydubai was really good fun. The course participants were eager and keen to learn, which always makes my job a lot easier. I’ll be back in Dubai for another course with Emirates in three weeks’ time. But now it’s time to start on the journey back home. I have three classes I’m teaching at the university on Monday.

Air France currently operates two daily services to Paris out of Dubai. There is the daytime service which leaves at exactly noon. And then there is the night time service which leaves at 01h35, roughly around the same time as all the other European carriers. To be honest, I would have preferred the daytime service. However, that flight is operated by an Airbus A 330-200 which still has the old Business Class configuration and has no First Class. The night time service is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER in the new configuration.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

On this trip I stayed at the Sofitel Downtown near Burj Khalifa and the Mall of Dubai. I leave the hotel on Friday evening at 22h30. Being the weekend here in the UAE, traffic on Sheikh Zayed Road is unusually quiet and calm. As a result, the journey to the airport only takes twenty minutes to complete by car.

To get to the airport, you can either take a taxi from the hotel for AED50 or a Lexus limo for AED70 or the metro for AED20. The metro obviously takes a bit longer because it stops a few times on the way. But there is a metro stop about two minutes away from the hotel, with trains running from there directly to the airport.

CHECK-IN

Air France serves Terminal 1 in Dubai. It’s a bit unfortunate that the check-in rows for the various airlines are not marked outside the terminal. As a result, drivers tend to just pull up to the first vacant spot on the side of the road and offload you there.

Air France and KLM check in on row 1, which is at the far end of the terminal. As far as I can tell, the whole of check-in row 1 is dedicated to Air France and KLM and their flights to Paris and Amsterdam respectively.

There is one check-in counter for La Première passengers, which is cordoned off. There is a DNATA representative standing by the entrance to the SkyPriority counters. I approach him to ask if this is also the queue for First Class. He asks my name and he’s obviously been expecting me, because he immediately escorts me to the La Première counter and calls for a ground agent to escort me from check-in to the First Class lounge.

As soon as my suitcase is labelled, the check-in agent wishes me a pleasant flight and sends me on my way. The ground agent collects my passport and boarding pass holder and off we go. We take the normal entrance to immigration, but once we’re past the checkpoint, she guides me to the diplomatic passports section and then from there to a separate, dedicated security screening area. The process is very swift and efficient and just like that I’m through immigration and security in no time.

LOUNGE

Air France arrives and departs on the D concourse, which is where pretty much all other airlines except Emirates operate from. The shuttle to the D concourse takes only a few minutes to make the journey.

In Dubai Air France uses the Ahlan lounge for its La Première passengers. The lounge is quite large, but rather oddly shaped around the mezzanine level of the airside area. There is a separate dining area and a large buffet with a lovely smell of Indian food coming from it.

Other than that, the lounge has showers but no area where passengers can have a lie down and sleep. The wifi access code is available at reception.

The ground agent leaves me at reception and tells me she’ll be back to take me to the aircraft at 12h50.

BOARDING

At exactly 12h50, the ground agent appears in the lounge to inform me that it’s time to leave. We go downstairs and from there board a golf buggy to take us to gate D18. It’s actually not that far, but given that my back is still painful, despite the painkillers, I’m definitely not complaining.

Rather embarrassingly, it turns out they’ve been waiting at the gate for me to arrive so they can start boarding. The ground agent escorts me past the long queues and no sooner has my boarding pass been scanned, one of the gate agents announces that the flight is now ready for boarding. As it turns out, I am the only passenger in La Première this evening.

The entrance to the L1 airbridge is cordoned off. A security watchman opens it for us when he sees us approaching and then immediately closes it again once we’re through.

As on my previous experience with Air France in Paris, the ground agent steps aboard ahead of me and then introduces me to the flight attendant who has been expecting me at the door. She then wishes me a pleasant flight and leaves.

CABIN

The flight attendant introduces himself to me with a genuine, friendly smile. He takes my backpack off me and escorts me to my seat on 1A. He stows away my jacket in my own personal cabinet and then leaves me to settle in.

As I’m the only passenger in La Première tonight, he suggests making up 1D for me as a bed after take-off, so then I can switch depending on what I feel like doing.

The Air France cabin really is a class act. It’s not just that it looks nice, it’s also nicely finished and has been well thought through.

And I have to say, it is very cool to know I’ll have this gorgeous cabin all to myself tonight!

CREW

In short succession the maître de and then the captain come to introduce themselves and wish me a pleasant flight. They all stay and chat a while, but without prying or being nosy. In short, they go out of their way to make me feel at home and to make sure I’m comfortable.

SERVICE

While we’re still on the ground, the male cabin crew in charge of the La Première cabin brings me the vanity kit, the pyjamas, the menu and some fresh orange juice with a ramekin of nuts. The slippers and a pair of socks, as well as a thick pillow are already at my seat when I arrive.

I change in to my pjs while we’re still on the ground in Dubai. The flight time is announced as six hours and fifty minutes.

THE MEAL

Given that it’s already approaching two in the morning by the time the crew are released to start their service, I inform the flight attendant that I’d rather sleep straight away, but that he should wake me with enough time for breakfast. He makes up the bed for me and brings me a small bottle of Evian and a box of chocolates. And then I go off to sleep.

Around 80 minutes out of Paris, the flight attendant gently wakes me up to inform me that it’s time for breakfast. By the time I draw the curtains to get up, he’s already set the table on 1A for breakfast. There is a choice of two hot meals. I go with the banana pancakes and the apricot and strawberry compote.

A lot has been said in many of the travel forums about the horrific instant coffee Air France serves in La Première. My suggestion is to go with the espresso instead of the coffee, because the former is made with a proper coffee machine and tastes much, much better.

The meal consists of:

A selection of breads and pastries, served with butter and jam.

Natural yoghurt.

A bowl of fresh fruit.

The hot meal – in my case the banana pancakes.

Orange juice.

The pancakes are lovely and the accompanying compote is sweet with a hint of vanilla. Catering is something I think they do really well on Air France, even in Business Class.

ARRIVAL

The weather in Paris is cold and misty. In fact, the visibility is down to 200 metres, which is why we end up doing an automatic landing. Eventually, the aircraft comes to a stop at one of the gates on the M satellite of Terminal 2E. When the doors open, there’s already an Air France ground agent expecting me. The crew bid me farewell and hand me over to the ground crew.

We take the stairs down one floor and then step outside, where a BMW is waiting to take me to the main terminal building. Once we get there, we take a separate, dedicated counter for immigration and then head downstairs to the baggage reclaim area.

The ground agent retrieves my suitcase and then escorts me out to arrivals. It’s nice to be back in Europe!

I shall be spending Saturday here in Paris, as I still have an appointment with royalty that I haven’t seen twenty years.

CONCLUSION

On my way to the airport in Dubai, I was wondering if Air France would be able to live up to my expectations from my previous, exceptional La Première experience to Singapore in January. As it turns out, they certainly could. Once more, the service is flawless and opulent and the crew go out of their way to make me feel welcome.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 380: Paris CDG to Dubai

TRANSFER IN CDG 2

Immediately behind the immigration booths in Terminal 2G is the exit to the bus stop for the airside busses that connect to the other terminals. Terminal 2E M is served by the red line. Frequencies vary depending on which terminal they’re serving.

The journey by bus from 2G to 2E M take about five minutes.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

I haven’t transferred through the M satellite before. But I have to say, it’s a very nice facility. The main lounge area is on the first floor.

I think Air France has put a lot of effort into updating, expanding and modernising the lounges at its hub in Paris in recent years. And this one here is no exception. The lounge has a very nice, spacious feel to it and it’s also rather quiet and stays like that for the duration of my stay. It’s a far cry from the horrific Lufthansa Business Class lounges in Munich and Frankfurt, which are somehow always too small.

The lounge has a business area with desks to work on, a kid’s playing area and a quiet zone where passengers can lie down and have a rest. There are showers that are available on a first come, first serve basis, as well as a Clarins ‘Spa’ for passengers to get a complimentary facial treatment.

As far as food options are concerned, during my stay the lounge is serving breakfast. The dishes change according to the time of day, obviously. There are scrambled eggs and bacon available, in addition to a large selection of pastries, fruit, cheese and hams.

And of course, there’s also a few eternal alcoholics helping themselves to the hard booze at nine o’clock in the morning. ‘It’s the jetlag, darling…’.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts one hour before departure from gate M 28. Boarding is done by zones, with zone 1 and zone 2 for the SkyPriority passengers boarding first.

And it looks like there’s been an aircraft change. And what a nice one it is too! Originally, when I booked this flight, it should have been operated by a Boeing B 777-300. But outside, staring my in the face in all her glory, in an Airbus A 380! I mean, I know the Business Class on this bird isn’t quite as fancy as that on the B 777-300, but I also have to say that since Airbus announced the end of production and Air France and Lufthansa announced that they were downsizing their respective fleets, every flight I can snag on one of these aircraft is a bonus. Of course, it also means that I’m determined to make sure I fly with every airline that operates the A 380 before they go out of service. Luckily, I don’t have too many left on the list.

CABIN

The cabin is in a old fashioned 2 + 2 + 2 configuration and admittedly, there isn’t much privacy in the setup Air France has. There is no divider in between the seats and all the six seats in a row are aligned.

Storage space is also limited in comparison to the B 777 seat of Air France. There is obviously space to put things, but somehow most of that space is not really in a convenient position.

The seat is slightly angled, but it is still possible to sleep on your side or on your stomach without having to make any serious contortions.

One of the biggest problems of the Airbus A 380, which I think should be considered a design flaw, is that the aircraft is just so bloody quiet, even with the engines on take-off thrust. I mention this here because there are two Frenchman on this flight that are obviously determined to talk all the way to Dubai, which is six very long hours away. Throughout the flight, various passengers tell them to done it down, but apparently, it’s to no avail…

CREW

The crew are what I have come to understand as being very typical of Air France crews. There friendly and efficient in their work, but there’s not much warmth in them – the service and their interaction with the passengers seems quite formal.

SERVICE

When I reach my seat, a big pillow, a thick blanket and a pair of slippers have already been placed at my seat. Once boarding is completed, the service on the ground begins. First, there is a drink service with a choice of champagne, water or fruit juice.

Shortly after, the vanity kits and the menus for the flight are distributed. And then eventually, thick hot towels are passed round and orders for the main course are taken.

THE MEAL

The meal service is always a highly enjoyable experience with Air France in that the quality of the food is normally very good and you certainly needn’t worry about going hungry. And today’s flight is no exception.

Appetizer

For a pre-meal drink I have a Coke Zero, which is served with a small box of packed cranberries and cashews and a small ramekin with a beet mousse and cheese crumble.

First course

The first course is a plate of sautéd shrimps with a mango tartare and a couscous with flowers, grapefruit and vegetables. The first course is served with a choice of either brown or white bread.

Salad

There is also a salad with pine nuts, served with a small bottle of olive oil mixed with balsamic vinegar.

Main course

For the main dish I have the poached pollock with a curry and coconut sauce and Camargue rice.

Cheese

Dessert

And finally, for dessert I go with the apricot tart and vanilla ice cream.

The meal is very enjoyable and flavourful. The mango tartare goes nicely with the shrimps and the pollock is flaky and juicy, and complemented nicely by the rice.

SECOND SERVICE

About one hour out of Dubai, the lights come on again and the second service begins. It’s really just a small snack and consists of a small plate with a small vol au vent, a piece of apricot pie and a chicken wrap.

ARRIVAL

We touch down in Dubai at 23h05, twenty minutes ahead of schedule. We park on the non-Emirates pier, from where we have to take a shuttle train to the arrivals hall. Luckily, I reach the immigration just ahead of the rush hour, so at least I don’t have too long to wait there.

But there seems to be a problem with the baggage delivery. Or rather, it’s a bit unfortunate that they put the Air France flight as the same baggage carousel as the Lufthansa flight, because it means there are the combined bags of a whole A 380 and a B 747-400 to delivery onto the same belt.

Eventually, my suitcase arrives after a wait of 45 minutes. And then I head outside to grab a taxi to my hotel.

Here in Dubai I’ll be giving a course for Flydubai, which has become the newest airline to use the English language test for pilots I developed.