Shortly before his death in 1643, King Louis XIII expressed in his testament that a council should be put in place to rule on behalf of his underage son, who would later become Louis XIV. However, upon his death, his newly widowed wife, Queen Anne, had the testament annulled. She had most of her husband’s former ministers sacked or exiled, declared herself her son’s regent and appointed the mercenary Cardinal Mazarin as her minister to oversee the affairs of the state.
Queen Anne successfully expanded the range of the crown’s power with the help of Mazarin. She appears to have held the unwavering belief that the crown’s entitlement to rule was divine providence, and in her view that meant that the monarch was destined to reign supreme. In as much, a lot of the decisions she took as regent were aimed to secure her son’s reign by increasing his powers.
Eventually, Louis XIV assumed control of the government upon the death of Cardinal Mazarin in 1661, at the age of 23. It had been expected that he would appoint a minister to oversee the government of the state, similar to the way his mother had with Cardinal Mazarin and his father before that had with the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu. But Louis XIV was his mother’s son, and believed that it was his duty to shoulder the divine burden of ruling the country by himself. And so the young Louis proclaimed to his astonished parliament that ‘l’état, c’est moi ‘-‘I am the state’, and assumed control of all affairs of the state.
Louis XIV went on to rule the French monarchy for 72 year. His reign saw the rise of absolutism in France and in Europe, which firmly placed the monarch at the very heart of political power.
I mention this all here, because the château de Versailles played an important role in fostering the image of the King who ruled by divine appoinment. The building is imposing, to say the least, and its dimensions are difficult to grasp, even from close quarters. Clearly, its main purpose had been to impress and to indimidate, to make sure the Roi de Soleil’s claim to power went uncontested.
My visit in July 2021
Today, the palace and its grounds are open to the public and are one of France’s major tourist attractions. The palace sits on a vast domain of land that sprawls over an area of more than 800 hectares. My plan had been to visit the palace during the Covid pandemic, in the hope of avoiding the worst of the notorious crowds that are usually lining up to enter the building and its grounds. And I think I managed that rather well. I purchased a ticket in advance with a jump the queue option. And indeed, I was able to enter without delay. There still were quite a few people. Nonetheless, it was still possible to amble through the palace and enjoy it at my own pace.
Where to stay
I stayed at the MGallery The Louis in Versailles itself. MGallery is one of the many brands of the Accor group of hotels. Usually, I rather like their properties. But sadly, The Louis is not one of them. The infrastructure is a bit dated and the staff could really do much better. However, what The Louis has going for it, is its excellent location only 200 metres away from the main entrance to the Palais de Versailles.
Below I have added some pictures taken during my visit. However, I am painfully aware of the fact that they do not really do the place justice. I also don’t think I would be able to fully describe the grandeur of the place in words. So I’ll just say that I’m glad I visited the Palais de Versailles. Not just because I wanted to tick it off the bucket list, but because it really is a truly very impressive sight to behold that is so closely linked and so prominent in the history of Europe.
The meeting at ICAO ends just after noon. But by the time everybody has said good bye to everybody else and pretended the whole situation isn‘t just one big fat mess caused by ICAO and EASA together, it‘s gone 13h by the time I get to have lunch.
Getting to the Station
My train isn‘t leaving until 16:23. But the weather in Paris today is something nasty. And so, at 14:15 I descend down into the Metro at Les Sablons in Neuilly Sur Seine. From here I have a direct train on the line number 1 all the way to Gare de Lyon.
The journey takes thirty minutes between Les Sablons and Gare de Lyon.
The SNCF Salon Voyageur Lounge
Today I‘m travelling in BusinessPremière, which is located in car number 11. In BusinessPremière passengers receive complimentary newspapers, a welcome drink and a hot meal. It also means I‘m entitled to use the Salon Grand Voyageur, which is located in Hall 3, one floor down from Hall 2.
The Salon is quite small, which is why I don‘t take any pictures. But it‘s comfortable enough. There are toilets in the lounge. There is also a coffee machine serving complimentary hot drinks.
Boarding for the train starts 20 minutes before departure and terminates two minutes before departure.
The train is quite full, presumably because it‘s Friday afternoon and people are on their way home for the weekend.
The seat is quite comfortable. There is a power socket and a footrest. Seat pitch is good, but the foot rest is in a slightly inconvenient position…
The service begins about 20 minutes out of Paris with the distribution of the scented hot towels, newspapers and drinks. There is a full bar service available. I settle for some sparkling water.
The meal consists of a carrot cake with goat‘s cheese and peppers and two small pieces of salmon quiche.
And for dessert I have a slice of lemon cake with apricots.
It‘s really more of a snack than a meal, but given the time of day, I think it‘s perfectly adequate and quite tasty.
The meal ends with a cup of ginger and lemon tea.
The rest of the journey is uneventful. We arrive in Basel with a delay of three minutes which, funnily enough, we picked up only on the last eight kilometres of the journey from Paris.
As you may have guessed by now, I‘m a great fan of the TGV. It‘s fast, safe, reliable and it comes without the hassle of security checkpoints. And if everything else fails, the train just looks good inside and out.
The BusinessPremière product is attractive and certainly competitive with the airlines, especially when you take into account the much lower ticket price and the city centre departure from the Gare de Lyon.
The Sheraton at Roissy Terminal 2 is not a bad hotel. And without
a doubt there’s hardly a hotel here with a better view of the apron and the
runways beyond. The hotel’s main entrance is located right above the railway
station. From here it’s just a short five minute walk to Terminal 2E, from
where the flight to Beirut will be departing.
Air France checks in on rows 4 to 8 at Roissy 2E. The
SkyPriority counters are on rows 6 and 7. There is a separate exit from the
SkyPriority check-in area, which leads passengers directly to the priority lane
for passport control. As my flight will be departing from one of the M gates at
the satellite terminal, I will first have to catch the automated shuttle. Security
checks for the M gates are carried out in the satellite.
This is the same lounge I visited about three weeks ago when
I last flew to Dubai with Air France. The lounge has been designed in such a
way that it looks and feels like walking through a small park. It’s very bright
in the sunshine, and the lounging areas are all set in green carpets that
really do make it look a lot like a stylised park.
Air France tends to start boarding for its
flights early. Today’s departure to Beirut is scheduled for 09h05. But boarding
already starts at 08h10, according to the boarding pass. By the time I finish
writing a few e-mails and make my way to gate M24, it’s 08h30 and I figure
they’re probably just about to start boarding. But in actual fact, by the time
I reach the gate they’ve already made the final call and the aircraft is in the
final staged of boarding.
The flight to Beirut is operated by a Boeing B 777-300ER.
There is a small mini cabin ahead of the L2 galley with four rows, from 4 to 8.
And then there is the main galley from row 9 onwards. I’ve already reported on
this seat in a post from January. I think this is the best business class seat
Air France currently has in the fleet. It’s comfortable, private and has ample
storage space. And it looks good too.
Service on the ground begins with the welcome drink. There
is choice of water, champagne and water melon juice – which is what I have.
Next, the vanity kits and the menus are distributed. A pillow, blanket and
slippers are already at my seat when I arrive.
By 09h00 the doors are closed and we’re ready to go. We slowly start to push back from our stand, when suddenly there’s a loud thump and we come to an abrupt standstill, right there on the taxiway. For a few minutes, nothing happens. But then the one engine that had already been started up is shut down and we start moving forward, back onto the stand.
A few minutes pass, then the captain informs us
that the tow truck oversteered the nose gear and that therefore, we have had to
return to the gate for inspection. At around 09h45, the doors close, and we are
informed that everything is fine. We push back again, only to stop in more or
less the same position on the taxiway. Once more we stop, and then start moving
forward again. Once we’re on stand again, the captain informs us that the nose
gear is leaking hydraulic liquid, and that therefore, we’re going to have to
swap aircraft. At 10h15 we are allowed to disembark the aircraft. The gate
agent tells me it’ll be a while before something happens, so I might as well go
to the lounge.
I inform her that I only have a connection of two hours in
Beirut, which I’m not likely to make. She gives me a reassuring smile, tells me
not to worry and instructs me to go to the lounge. At 12h05 one of the lounge
agents pages me. I go to reception, where the staff inform me that the Beirut
flight has been cancelled. Passengers for Beirut have been reprotected onto
tomorrow’s flight. And I have been put on the Air France nonstop service to
Dubai. Well crap. Don’t get me wrong, I think Air France handle the situation
very well. But I was just rather looking forward to my flight from Beirut to
Dubai on MEA. Maybe next time…
The nonstop service will be departing from gate L48, which
means I’m going to have to make my way back to the main terminal. Fortunately,
I find a friendly and very helpful security agent. He explains that if I take
the train, I’ll have to go through security again. However, if I take the
shuttle bus, the journey might be longer, but at least I will not have to go
through security again. I figure the shuttle bus is the better prospect, mainly
because that will give me a complimentary tour of the airport and the aircraft.
Eventually, by the time I arrive at the L concourse, it’s
just gone 12h30 and boarding is expected to start at 12h45. I figure I might as
well make use of the food voucher I was given by Air France and get myself a
smoothie from a place called naked. Only, the voucher is for EUR26, but my
smoothie is only EUR6.90. I explain to the young lady that it’s okay. But she’s
not happy and before I know it, she’s prepared a bag for me with a large bottle
of Vittel, two cookies, the smoothie and a packet of cheese and onion crisps –
which brings the total to EUR23.90. She clearly looks happier now…
At 12h45 boarding starts by zones from gate L48, starting with zones 1 and 2 for SkyPriority passengers.
The service on the ground pretty much follows that of the
previous flight. The departure of the second flight goes well. Although by the
time we enter the runway for take-off behind a Thai Airbus A 380, we’re running
45 minutes late. But the flight time is announced at six hours and 25 minutes,
so we should be arriving in Dubai on time after all.
The meal service begins with a glass of champagne, a glass of sparkling water which are served with a packed of Cranberries and cashew nuts. For an amuse bouche there is a smoked scallop in a velvety vanilla and parsnip cream.
The good thing about the change of my travel plans is that
the menu for the flight to Dubai is more appealing than that for the Beirut
shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream
Goat’s cheese, Cantal & Camembert
The Main Course
And for the main course, I have the cod fillet with a creamy Noilly Prat sauce and artichoke cooked in two different styles (grilled and puréd)
For dessert I go wit the pâtisserie: wild blueberry clafoutis, opera cake and a cannelé cake
All the dishes are excellent. The smoked scallop is an unusual but tasty combination with the vanilla and the fresh ginger with the starter is refreshing and goes well with the shrimp. The main course is a signature dish created by Air France’s chef, and I have to say, this dish is outstanding. It’s a really nice, chunky piece of fish and the glazing on it is lovely.
The crew on this flight were only so so. They’re friendly,
but they don’t really seem to be in the mood to work. As a result, the meal
service is uncoordinated and chaotic and takes forever to complete. Later on
during a flight, I ring to ask for a coffee. Eventually, I ring five times, at
the end of which still nobody had showed up. So I stand up and go to the galley,
only to be told off because of ‘the turbulence’ and the fact that the fasten
seatbelt sign is on – despite the fact that we haven’t experienced any
turbulence at all for the last ten minutes. Of course, this is just a minor
thing and I guess it had to happen sooner or later. There are only few airlines
that you can consistently rely on with regard to their staff. And I should also
say that so far my experiences with Air France have always been very good.
The Second Service
An hour out of Dubai, the lights in the cabin go on for the
crew to start the second service, which consists of a small plate with a smoked
salmon wrap, an apricot tart and a profiterole. With that I finally get to have
the coffee they wouldn’t deliver.
Eventually we land in Dubai at 22h50. In the end, the flight time was longer than originally anticipated because we had to fly around a thunder storm. Because of our later arrival, the queues for immigration are something nasty, and I end up queueing for 35 minutes to have my passport checked. And it looks as though Air France has prepared a little parting gift for me. Because in addition to the delay, they’ve also managed to make my suitcase vanish…!
I just arrived in Paris on a flight from Zürich. The walk from 2F to 2E takes about 10 minutes to complete and is quite painless. Of course it helps that the airport is not very busy. What I find impressive about Paris Roissy, is that although the airport as a whole covers a huge surface, the individual terminals are still quite pleasant and easy to navigate through.
With Bucharest being non-Schengen, I will have to go through passport control to enter 2E. Behind the checkpoint they have these brilliant machines where you can scan your boarding pass. The screen will then give you information about your flight and tell you from which gate you will boarding. But I still have some time to kill anyway, so I decide to check out the Air France lounge first.
I’ve never been to this lounge and I must say, it really is very nice. It’s spacious, with lots of place to sit. In addition to the toilets, there are also showers, a sauna and a quiet area if you want to relax.
The food options are also very good and include a variety of fresh salads with different dressings and vinaigrettes, as well as a selection of warm dishes.
Unfortunately, when I check the status of my flight, I notice that the departure time has been moved back from 18h15 to 20h25. Apparently there were a few ATC related delays on the aircraft’s previous journey to Algiers.
Eventually boarding start just after 20h. Finally! I mean, I think Air France has done a good job keeping passengers updated. But at some point all you want is to either go back home or just get on the damn plane.
The cabin on this aircraft is slightly different to that on my previous flight. This aircraft has another type of seat that is covered in leather, whereas the seats on the previous aircraft had cloth covers. There is also a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of this aircraft.
There are four rows of Business Class with a total of 16 seats on tonight’s flight. 14 out of 16 seats are occupied. There is a pillow and every seat, which comes in handy later on when I doze off…
There are two flight attendants welcoming passengers aboard. They’re quite friendly. As on the previous flight, the crew distribute packaged cold towels and drinks. They also pass through offering blankets to passengers, which is a nice gesture of goodwill given the long delay and the late hour.
Once we’re airborne, one of the crew members passes through the cabin distributing menus.
I kind of like that, not many airlines still give you a menu on a short intra-European flight. The meal consists of
a starter of smoked salmon with salmon roe and a lobster terrine,
a choice of guinea fowl or shrimps for the main course,
a plate with butter and cheese – served with bread,
a dessert made with some kind of puff pastry and cream.
I go with the shrimps for the main course. And I must say, the quality of the meal is good. Although I’m certainly not the world’s greatest Quinoa fan, this stuff is nice and creamy, with a rich cheesy flavour.
As soon as I finish the meal, the tray is removed and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I order a refreshing mint tea and then relax into my seat. And nod off.
The next thing I know, we’re already descending through the snow as we make our approach into Bucharest. It looks decidedly hostile outside! There’re a lot of snow wafting across the apron and the baggage handlers I can see are muffled up to their ears to protect themselves against the cold. It’s definitely not a night you want to be outside.
As far as I’m concerned, of the big European carriers, Air France offers by far the best short-haul Business Class product. Admittedly, their seat is the same Euro-style Economy Class torture instrument with the middle seat empty as that of its competitors. But apart from that, the crews are very professional and the food is good.
I also think that Air France and its hub in Paris are better than their reputation. I even notice about myself that I’m always slightly apprehensive when I’m travelling on Air France. But in actual fact, so far I’ve hardly had anything to complain about.
I’m on my way to Bucharest to give a course with the Romanian air navigation service provider. As I’m teaching on Tuesdays until 13h30, the direct flight with SWISS was not an option for me, because it leaves too early. And so I ended up being booked with Air France via Paris.
Getting to the Airport
I’m not having much luck with transportation this week. Monday started with a rejected take-off in Frankfurt that Lufthansa turned into a dog’s breakfast and which eventually saw me arriving in Zürich with a delay of four hours and several missed meetings late.
My flight today will start boarding at 14h40, so I figure I had probably best take the 13h55 train to get me to the airport at 14h10. But of course I miss that train and the next one, three minutes later, has been cancelled. And the one after that is running late. Crap!
But eventually, things turn out for me. At 14h20 my train pulls into the station at Zürich Flughafen. I even have enough time to change some currency before continuing on my way to the security checkpoint.
Air France is checked in by DNATA at Zürich airport and has obviously succeeded in securing one of the best locations in check-in 2. As you get off the escalators, coming from the railway station, the check-in counters are just on your left.
I’ve already checked in using the Air France app, so I can head straight for security. There is one lane open for Business Class passengers and the queue is fairly long when I arrive. But obviously they’re preparing for the evening rush hour and after only a few minutes a further line is opened to speed things up.
By the time I’m through, there’s just another five minutes to go before boarding begins, and so I head straight for gate B31 from where the flight will be departing.
Boarding starts more or less on time. The first call is for Business Class and Platinum card holders to board through the attended gate. Once that is done, the remaining passengers are invited to board via the automatic gates.
The flight is not full today, so boarding is quickly completed.
The Airbus A 318 is a strange little aeroplane. It’s essentially an Airbus A 319 which never fully grew. The aircraft has not been a commercial success and to be honest, I’m not sure if the production line is even still open for this type. In any case, Air France currently has a fleet of 18 of these short, stubby little aircraft.
They are configured with a seating capacity of a maximum of 118 seats. On today’s flight there are four rows of Business Class with a total of 14 seat. On the port side of the vessel there is no row 1, the bulkhead row on this side is row 2. I am seated on 2A, a window seat. With only three passengers in the Business Class cabin in total, I have the whole row to myself, which is obviously very luxurious and makes for a very comfortable ride. The seat pitch throughout is 32 inches. In addition, there is a red pillow at every seat, which gives the impression of a very bright and fresh cabin.
The service up front is done by the maître de, a young French woman. Apparently, the English language continues to be a problem for Air France. But as long as I can communicate with her in French, I think we should be alright. While boarding is still in process, she welcomes me on board, brings me a refreshing towel and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to drink. I order a bottle of still water.
Throughout the flight she takes good care of the three of us, in addition to helping out with the service in the back. What I particularly like though, is that Air France strictly enforces a closed curtain policy on its flights.
As soon as we’re airborne, the meal service begins. The flight time is estimated at 1 hour and 5 minutes, which is not very much. The meal service consists of one tray that has on it:
a wholegrain, bresaola and horseradish sandwich,
pickled vegetables served with a tartar sauce,
a warm cheese stick,
a bowl of diced pear in honey,
a Tropézienne cake and a small but sinfully dense chocolate cake thingy,
a box with two chocolate pralines.
To drink with that I have a Coke Zero. Coffee, tea and hot chocolate are also available after the meal, but I decline the flight attendant’s offer.
The meal is not particularly big or anything, but given the short flight time I think it is perfectly adequate.
Eventually we start our descent into Paris. It’s quite windy, but at least it’s a bright sunny day here – despite the cold. Terminal 2F is home to Air France’s European Schengen flights. My connecting flight will depart from 2E, which is in walking distance and very quick and easy to reach from 2F.
Ever since I saw the sketch about the Death Star Canteen on Youtube, I’ve been a big fan of Eddie Izzard’s. So much so that I thought it would be cool to see him live some day. And indeed, this year he was on a world tour to promote his new book and show. But unfortunately, there was never an opportunity for me to go see that.
Getting to the Airport
But then I saw on Facebook that Izzard would be doing stand-up comedy in Paris in December. And so it came about that I find myself on the way to Basel airport on a Saturday afternoon to catch the HOP by Air France service from Basel to the iconic Paris Orly airport. The flight should leave at 14h20, which should get me into Paris around 15h30. In other words, I should have enough time for some Christmas shopping and to grab a bite to eat before the show begins at 20h00. Or something like that…
Check-in for Air France and KLM is in the French sector of the terminal building. There are four self-service machines. Strangely enough though, three of the machines have ‘Vol Paris CDG ou Amsterdam’ showing on the screen, while the fourth machine reads ‘Paris Orly’ only. For some strange reason, it is indeed the case that the flight to Orly is checked-in on a different machine on which the other flights to CDG and to Amsterdam do not exist. And vice versa.
I’m not sure what this is about exactly, but I suspect it was something to do with the flight operating as a domestic flight rather than an international one.
With my Platinum card I have access to the fast lane, which doesn’t really mean anything at all. Because just before the security checkpoint the fast track merges with the normal line. Which means you end up with everyone in the normal queue giving you the stink eye for – in their view – trying to jump the line. Which, of course, is a very grave case of serious misconduct in France, given their history of égalite, fraternité and all that nonsense.
One way or another, the truth of the matter is that I’m a bit of a wuss – I’m not a big enough asshole to simply not give a shit. And so, I try an apologetic smile. I’m hoping the smile conveys something along the lines of a ‘Mea culpa, I promise never to do that again, cross my heart and hope to die, Ma’am’. But then I catch my reflection in one of the glass doors and conclude that I have rather a pained expression and look more like I urgently need to go to the bathroom for a number two…
There’s been an aircraft change, and instead of the scheduled ATR42, the flight is operated by a Bombardier CRJ1000. And oh, how I hate this aircraft! This really one of those cases where you look at a thing or use it and keep asking yourself ‘what on earth were they thinking’?
So what on earth were they thinking exactly? For a 100 seater I really do think the width of the cabin of this aircraft is insufficient. There is very little storage space, boarding takes for ever because the aircraft is just so long and basically, everything feels just a little cramped and tight. Even though I’m one of the lucky ones to be seated on 1F with the seat next to me empty.
And then it all starts going to sh…
We push back ahead of schedule at 14h14. Although the term pushback is used somewhat liberally in this particular case. Rather, we jerk backwards and then come to a stop again. And then nothing.
After about five minutes the pilot comes on the speakers to inform us that the pushback truck as damaged the nose gear and the incident will need to be investigated before we can depart. But it’s really nothing to worry about…
At 14h45 the captain informs us that the Air France ground engineer is already in his well-deserved weekend. So it will take him at least another hour to get to the airport. I just finish saying to myself ‘this is so going nowhere’, when they inform us that we will have to disembark while they check the aircraft.
At 15h00 we finally are allowed off the plane. A ground agent tells us we will have to go down to arrivals, then back up through security again and then to return to the departure gate for further information.
So I do just that. Only, the system won’t let me go through security because, according to the system, I’ve already been through once already. Which is in fact true. But this would not be France if there weren’t a jovial middle-aged man with a friendly smile who gives me his best ‘mais non, allez-y. Je vous laisse passer…’.
So I return to the gate, where they’re now boarding the flight to Charles de Gaulle. I ask one of the gate agents what’s going on. But she tells me she’s busy. So I check on the Air France app, only to find that there my original flight has been cancelled.
By this time, the CDG flight, which departs at 15h35, has completed the boarding process, so Madame finally has a moment to talk to me. The next thing I know, il n’ya aucun problem, and I’ve been reprotected on to the CDG flight instead.
I thank the gate agent for her flexibility and pass through the gate, thinking it must be my lucky day. As I do, I swear I can hear her sniggering. What’s that all about I wonder? And that’s when I realise: the CDG flight is operated by an ancient RJ85 in the 3+3 configuration. And…*this is the moment when I hear the music from the shower scene in Psycho in my head…*…and?
And I’m on 4B, which means I’m stuck in the middle between two other people. This is really my worst nightmare. They can’t do this to me. Please Santa, I promise I’ll be good. I swear I’ll be nicer to my students. But please, not 4B.
The middle seat on 4B means the pitch is so tight that the only way I can fit into the seat is to sit there with my legs spreadeagled like a porno star, while Miss 4C sticks her elbow in my side.
Eventually we depart at 16h20. The flight was delayed so they could rebook all the passengers from the cancelled Orly flight.
The crew on this flight consists of two men. The purser is in his early forties, I should say, and at least he obviously thinks he’s really hot stuff. What’s with the black leather gloves, dude? Even once the doors close, the leather gloves stay on and he even distributed the refreshing towels still wearing them.
Once we’re airborne, the meal service kicks in tout de suite. It consists of a selection of hot or cold drinks and a choice between a savoury or a sweet snack – or sucré ou salé, as we say at Air France.
I decide to have the hot chocolate and a packet of really tasty apple biscuits. They’re really very buttery and full of flavour. The only problem though, is that being confined on either side by another passenger in such a tight seat, I’m actually having trouble reaching the food and cup without accidentally taking out one of my neighbours’ eyes and I start to wonder if this is what extinction must have felt like for the Tyrannosaurus Rex with their little stubby arms?
By the time we land it’s already 17h15. And we still have to taxi all the way back to terminal 2G, which is out in the booneys. From 2G I have to catch a shuttle bus to terminal 2F and from there I have to walk to terminal 2E before I am finally at the counter for the busses that take you from CDG to the Gare de Lyon, which is closest to where I’m going.
But still, I manage. There was no shopping and no lunch before the theatre. But I manage. In fact I arrive one minute before the curtain call.
I’m not going to write a report about the return leg. But just in case you were wondering: yes, that one was delayed by an hour too because of a technical problem. This was not one of Air France’s finest moments.
But all’s well that ends well. And so, for those of you who have managed to stick around until the very end,
I WISH YOU ALL A HAPPY HOLIDAY AND MANY HAPPY LANDINGS IN 2018!
Where ever your travels may take you, enjoy them and stay safe.
Strasbourg is the capital of the Grand Est region of France and the official seat of the European parliament. It’s a very neat and pretty city that is easy to navigate on foot. The centrepiece of the city is, of course, the magnificent cathedral – a huge, imposing building with intricate masonry and a very tall bell tower.
Personally though, I think my favourite it the main railway station. The original building is already very nice, with large windows with coloured glass looking onto the platforms. The entire building is now covered inside a huge glass structure that is quite unusual.
In Strasbourg I am staying at the MGallery Hotel Cour du Corbeau, which belongs to the Accor Group of hotels and is ideally located just on the other side of the canal from the cathedral. The facility has been open since 2009 and is obviously very well maintained, because there are hardly any signs of wear and tear. The hotel consists of a number of old buildings and town houses that have been beautifully restored and parts of the original buildings have been integrated into the hotel’s structure.
The rooms are nicely appointed and very clean. Next time I’m visiting Strasburg I’ll definitely be staying at this hotel again.
Date: 25 March 2017. Departure: 15:10. Arrival: 16:50. Flight time: 1 hour 40 minutes. Aircraft: Airbus A 319. Seat: 2F, window on the second row.
Terminal 2E and 2F are connected airside and you can easily make the transfer on foot. On this particular occasion the process is incredibly swift, given that I’m the only customer at the security checkpoint and the many staff at the four open security lanes look absolutely bored out of their wits.
I checked in for the flight using the Air France app, which works very well since the last release. As I already mentioned, my flight will be leaving from Terminal 2F, which is the Schengen terminal for all SkyTeam carriers. There are two piers to the terminal.
I really like the architecture of the building.
There is an Air France Business Class lounge located in the tip of the pier and both piers have their own lounge. However, right now the lounge on the one pier is closed for refurbishment. The lounge that is opens appears to have undergone recent refurbishment. They didn’t do anything drastic, it’s more of a facelift really.
The lounge is nice and has many seating options along the huge curved windows that offer some excellent views of the activities on the apron.
The food options in the lounge are good, with a wide selection of salads, soup, sandwiches, cheese and sweet snacks.
Showers and toilets are available in the lounge.
Boarding for the flight is from gate F21, which is a bus gate. Which means I hit the jackpot and my ride to Madrid is parked on a remote stand. Oh happy day!
The cabin layout is your bog standard European Economy Class seat with the middle seat left empty. Even so, I think Air France have done a good job working on the appearance of the aircraft, which looks elegant and bright. There is a red pillow at every seat as I board the aircraft.
Seven of the twelve seats are occupied.
There is one gentleman working the Business Class cabin. I assume he must be the purser. His English and Spanish are both excellent and he goes about his duties conscientiously.
The service on the ground begins with the distribution of small bottles of water and packed refreshing towels which are lightly scented.
There is no drinks service ahead of the meal being served. Despite the flight time of one hour and forty minutes, we are served the same type of meal that you also get on the much shorter sector from Paris to Zürich. But somehow, given my recent experience with Lufthansa from Munich to Malta, that really should not surprise me. Short-haul Business Class catering in Europe is definitely going to the dogs.
It’s not that there is something wrong with the meal and it tastes okay, I just think it’s a bit small. It’s also an odd combination of randomly selected items.
The meal consists of:
a savoury cheese muffin, served warm
a brioche filled with cream cheese and tomato paste
two shrimps sautéed in sesame oil, served cold
a berry maccaron
and some incredibly rich chocolate thing that clings to your teeth
a box of chocolate covered wafers
To drink I have a Coke Zero and then coffee.
I think this is the first time I’ve landed in Madrid coming in from the north. The airport is fairly busy, with quite a few departures to Latin America. There are three LATAM aircraft parked at the gate and two Avianca Dreamliners taxiing out for departure.
In Madrid, Air France uses Terminal 2. Normally you can make your way into town using the metro. However, for the time being, the station and tunnels of the metro line that runs to the airport are out of service for maintenance. But a there is a replacement bus service in operation – the SE2 – that takes passengers to the next open metro station. Just stay on the bus until the final destination and then follow the other passenger.
Air France provided a solid service on both flights today. The crews were friendly and professional and the aircraft both looked as though they were in mint condition, with a tidy and modern cabin. Of course it helps that the B 787-9 from London to Paris still has that ‘new car’ smell to it and the crew were obviously very proud and eager to show off the product.
As I said, the meal was a bit of a let down. But I think that has less to do with Air France and more likely reflects a general trend among the European carriers.
The transfer in Paris was painless, highly efficient and certainly much more pleasant than connecting at that rat hole they call Frankfurt airport.
Date: 25 March 2017. Departure: 10:30. Arrival: 12:04. Flight time: 30 minutes. Aircraft: Boeing B 787-9 Seat: 10B, aisle seat in the second row of the Economy Class Extra cabin.
It’s 07:30 on a Saturday morning as I step off my British Airways flight from Basel. We actually arrived 15 minutes ahead of schedule and we weren’t even penalised by ATC for it!
I have no particular business in London today and in fact I’m only here now to make a connection from T4. Air France recently received its first Boeing B787-9 and is deploying the aircraft on the Roissy to Heathrow route for training purposes. This will be my first flight on the larger B787-9.
In Heathrow Air France and the entire SkyTeam alliance use Terminal 4, which used to be British Airways’ long-haul hub until Terminal 5 opened. I have checked in for the flight using the Air France app.
There is an airside bus transfer from Heathrow’s T5 to T4 which runs every ten minutes and takes roughly 15 minutes to complete the journey. There are only two of us on the bus making the trip.
Transferring between terminals at Heathrow really is the best and by the time we eventually pull up at the bus stop for Terminal 4 I’ve all but drooled all down my front at the sight of so many A 380s of so many different carriers on the ground in the same place at one time.
The SkyTeam lounge is located opposite gate 10 and I must say, the entrance is rather stylish. Inside, the lounge looks clean and modern and features these walls with greenery growing out of them. I know there’s probably some more appropriate and totally hip description or term for the thing. But if there is, I don’t know it. But it sure looks nice.
Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. I do not try the shower but the toilets are in very good condition. On a side note, it strikes me that in England the pissoirs tend to be mounted much lower on the wall than they normally are on the continent, which kind of forfeits the purpose – unless you’ve been very disciplined with your target practice…
Moving along swiftly before this blog starts listing precariously towards the bottomless pit that is toilet humour, have I mentioned the food in the lounge at all? I don’t think so, which is a pity because it’s brilliant. I live in Switzerland, where people tend to be awfully health conscious and start ‘tsk-tsking’ with disapproval if you so much as confess that you occasionally enjoy a good old English fry up.
Which is why my wee little hearts starts beating just a little faster to a gentle pitter-patter at the sight of the breakfast spread in the SkyTeam lounge! Although the pitter-patter might also be from the cholesterol invoked semi-coma I lapse into after demolishing three sausages… But there are healthy options too, things like fruit salad, yoghurt or doughnuts.
Boarding is from gate 9, which is awful for so many reasons that you start to suspect they did it on purpose. First of all, it’s impossible for me to take a decent photo of the aircraft taking me to Paris today. Which was sort of the point of coming to London in the first place. And secondly, it’s awfully cramped and once boarding starts, it’s really just a complete mess. There is a SkyPriority queue, but trying to reach it is not so easy.
Air France still knows how to treat its passengers. As a Platinum member of the Flying Blue frequent flyer programme I am able to select any seat in both Economy cabins free of charge. And so I park myself on 10B, which is an aisle seat on the second row of the Economy Extra cabin.
The Economy Extra cabin on the Boeing B 787-9 consists of three rows in a 2 + 3 + 2 configuration, for a total of 21 seats. Much to my surprise, Air France seems to be fairly confident about the B 787’s reliability because they’ve sold most of the seats on the flight today.
The seat itself is very nice. In fact I think if I really had to, I could well imagine doing a daytime long-haul flight in this seat. Recline is good and the padding seems adequate enough to remain comfortable even on long flights. There is also ample storage space.
The inflight entertainment system is very good and has an extensive selection of media available to while away the time on long flights. The system is touch-screen operated and is very responsive. More over, the moving map is pretty cool and the transition between the different types of views on the map is smooth.
Wifi is available on board the aircraft, which I don’t try out on this flight, and there are individual A/C power ports and USB plugs at every seat.
SERVICE & CREW The crew are rather nondescript on this flight, although to be fair, with a flight time of only 30 minutes, it’s not as though they’re given much of a chance to shine!
Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, pretty much as soon as the main lading gear doors have closed, the service begins. There is a choice of hot chocolate, tea, coffee or cappuccino. To eat every passenger is given a rather large and tasty croissant.
No sooner have I taken my last bite of croissant, the captain comes on again to advise the cabin crew about the ‘début de descente’ and down we go. It’s a nice sunny day in the Paris area today and we’re lucky to be given a straight in arrival. Presumably to make up for the forty minutes delay we picked up leaving Heathrow.
Our flight arrives in terminal 2E, which is the non-Schengen terminal. My next flight will leave from 2F.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Configuration: 2 + 2 Seat: Standard economy seat Facilities: None Audio and Video: Nil
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.
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.
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.
A selection of hot and cold drinks (I have a coffee and a still water)
A choice between sweet biscuits or some strange looking salty snacks with dried sage (I decline)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Uhm…this was a poster in the metro station. What can I say? I’m a fan!