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…

TGV Lyria, Business First: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel SBB

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.

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.

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.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Paris Charles de Gaulle

In the long and old tradition of giving my colleagues at work that I mention in my blog a nickname, I suppose I should mention that I arrive at the airport early today, at 15:45 to be precise, for a meeting with my colleague, let‘s call him the scruffy M., to discuss the handover of duties while I‘m away on sabbatical.

We finish just before 17h and then I make my way to departures one floor up. Zürich Airport is slowly getting into the groove for Christmas. The lights are up, but they‘re not yet on. At least not all of them.

To access the security checkpoint, there are separate lanes for Economy Class passengers and for those with priority. Which is a good thing, because the airport is quite busy today.

But at least the queue moves quickly. Once I‘m airside, there are more Christmas lights.

This is also when I realise that now‘s the season that‘s difficult for taking pictures of aircraft from inside the terminal, because it gets dark earlier.

The last image, above, is of my aircraft to Paris. I suppose I could say I was being artistic. But I think we all probably know that‘s not really the case…

In any case, boarding for the flight starts at 17:25. That‘s 30 minutes ahead of our departure time.

I‘m seated on 1A, which is the bulkhead row. There are three rows in Business Class this evening. And from what I can see, I think there are only six passengers seated up front.

The service on the ground starts with the distribution of the packaged towels and a small bottle of still water.

The Business Class cabin is being taken care of by a gentlemen with a Turkish name. And I have to say, he‘s brilliant! One of the best flight attendants I‘ve experienced in a long time. He‘s cheerful, friendly, attentive and all round excellent at his job.

Once boarding is completed, he greets every passenger individually, informs us about the menu on the flight and takes orders for drinks with the meal.

There is no choice for the meal. But then again, the flight is only 55 minutes to Paris.

The main course is a plate of salmon tatar with zucchini, a mango and avocado salsa, crème fraîche and pumpernikel crumble.

The dish is served with a plate of cheese and butter.

There is a selection of brown and white bread and crackers from the breadbasket and the crew go through the cabin twice offering bread.

For dessert there is prune compote with panna cotta and crumble.

Eventually, we make our approach from the east, and although there is quite some traffic, there‘s no delay and we arrive on stand at 19:15. Exactly according to the schedule.

The Star Alliance operates out of Terminal 1 in Paris. That‘s the one that looks like a flying saucer. It may not be the most practical design, but it‘s just so stylish…!

I exit arrivals and make a quick stop at Marks and Spencer to get a sandwich for dinner. From there I head outside at door 32 to catch the bus into town.

Terminal 1 does not have a railway station. So if you want to take the train, you first need to take the CDGval to Terminal 2. Alternatively, you can also catch a Le Bus Direct bus service. There are various lines. I think the service is very expensive at EUR19 for a oneway ticket. But the number 2 line goes straight to Porte Maillot nonstop, which is convenient for where I need to go.

The journey take 25 minutes in good traffic and 45 minutes in normal Parisian traffic.

To conclude, I must say this was a short but very pleasant flight with Swiss today. All of the crew were friendly and seemed generally happy to be there, which isn‘t always the case with Swiss.

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300: Paris to Beirut… or maybe not

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GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

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.

CHECK-IN

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.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE

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.

BOARDING

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.

CABIN

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

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

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 service.

The tray arrives with the following:

Shrimp tartare with fresh ginger and a lemon and mango salsa & edamame with pea cream.

A mixed green salad.

A plate of cheese (goat’s cheese, Cantal and Camembert)

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

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.

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.

ARRIVAL

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…!

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Paris CDG to Zürich

TRANSFER IN CDG 2

I must admit that I am just slightly worried about my connection in Paris. After all, Roissy is a big place that sprawls over a vast area. Fortunately, it turn out that Terminals 2E and 2F are connected to each other and within walking distance. So I needn’t have worried, because the whole process is swift and effortless.

There are separate queues for SkyPriority passengers for both security and immigration, which make the transfer painless. Twenty minutes after I exit the aircraft from Singapore, I’m already sitting in the lounge in Terminal 2F. My flight will be departing from gate F50.

LOUNGE

The pier has been completely redone since my last visit. And the lower level, which is also where the lounge is, has been extended to create an entirely new floor.

The lounge is already busy. But I’ll only be here for about thirty minutes anyway, to grab a coffee and go to the loo before my onward connection to Zürich.

BOARDING

Boarding starts on time and it looks as though it’s going to be a full flight, because they’ve already started labelling the larger items of hand luggage of passengers sitting in Economy Class to take down into the aircraft’s hold.

CABIN

Today I’m seated on 2A. The pitch is fairly tight on the second row. Once boarding is completed, I notice that 1D and 1F are still available. But eventually I decide that 2A isn’t that tight and I can’t be bothered to move again. I’m tired.

This morning there are five rows of Business Class and it looks as though the forward cabin is full.

CREW

The flight attendant serving Business Class is this big, friendly woman and she’s either totally cool or has nerves of steel. Because her service is friendly and unhurried. She’s doing a full tray service, serving twenty passengers individually and on her own with a flight time of only 55 minutes.

THE MEAL

The meal consists of:

Cooked ham with pickled vegetables

A selection of cheese and a chorizo soufflé

Milk rice

Strawberry tartare

Selection from the bread basket

The breakfast tray has a good size and combines a nice selection of different tastes and flavours. No sooner has the flight attendant handed the passenger behind me their tray, the captain comes on and announces the top of descent. But our flight attendant is hardly impressed and just carries on regardless. Excellent!

ARRIVAL

Being early on a Sunday morning means we’ll be making an approach for runway 34. Which is good news, because it means they’ll be bringing us in over lake Zurich and closer to the Alps, which look lovely covered in snow.

Eventually we land at 08h40. By the time we taxi to the gate it’s 08h50. And that brings to an end my Australian adventure. Tomorrow I’ll be off again, but nowhere near as nice as Australia.

CONCLUSION

All I can say is that this trip has firmly established Air France as one of my favourite airlines. The consistency of the product, the friendliness and professionalism of their staff, as well as the very high quality and quantity of the food make it a real pleasure to travel with Air France. I also think that both Air France and Roissy airport have made an impressive effort these last few years to upgrade and improve their service and the customer experience. I shall look forward to my next trip with them!

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 777-300ER: Singapore to Paris CDG

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INTRODUCTION

In Singapore I’m staying at the Changi Crowne Plaza Hotel, which has direct access to Terminal 3. I spend a blissfully lazy Saturday by the pool. I mean, what else could you possibly ask for? I have a room that opens directly onto the pool, it’s warm outside and all I have to do to watch the aeroplanes taking off is to look up from my Kindle whenever I hear one thundering by.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

To get from the hotel to Terminal 1, I exit the hotel on the second floor level and do two right turns, which brings me to the Skytrain station for the short trip across to Terminal 1.

CHECK-IN

The Air France check-in counters are on the very first row of counters when you enter Terminal 1 coming from the direction of the Skytrain. You really can’t miss them.

Online check-in is available, but it is not possible to save the boarding pass to Passbook or to have it printed. Still, it makes no difference to me, seeing as I’ll be checking in a suitcase anyway. There is one counter for La Première, four for SkyPriority and two baggage drop-off counters for Economy Class passengers.

There’s a bit of a hold up checking in. I’m not sure what’s going on, but the agents are taking their sweet time processing the passengers. Although admittedly, it probably doesn’t help that there’s one woman travelling on her own with, and I kid you not, five large Rimowa suitcases, four rucksacks, two laptop bags and one handbag. When the check-in agent breaks the news to her that, surprisingly, she’s exceeded her baggage allowance, she looks totally surprised…

LOUNGE

Air France uses the DNATA lounge in Terminal 1, which is fairly big but also very busy when I arrive. There’s hardly anywhere left to sit. The lounge has a good selection of hot and hold dishes and a wide selection of drinks. Other than that, it’s not a particularly memorable lounge.

BOARDING

The flight will be departing from gate D34, and on the boarding pass it says that boarding will commence at 22h30 for the 23h10 departure. I figure 22h30 indicates the time to report at the gate for the security check. Luckily, there is a separate and much shorter queue for SkyPriority passengers. Just as I’m packing away my things, boarding for the flight starts, with an invitation for SkyPriority passengers to board first.

CABIN

On the Boeing B 777-300ER Air France has a reverse herringbone configuration, with the window seats facing towards the windows for more privacy. The seat is fully lie-flat and has more than enough storage space. USB and electricity plugs are also available. The seat is quite wide, so that when in the fully flat position, there’s still enough space to toss and turn in your sleep.

There are two Business Class cabins, one forward of the L2 door and the other aft of it. I am sitting in the forward cabin on 4A, which is the second row in the forward cabin with four rows of seats.

The cabin and seat are kept in Air France’s colours – white, red and blue – and look very attractive and fresh. When I arrive at my seat, a pillow, blanket and slippers have already been placed at my seat.

CREW

The crew on this flight are excellent. They’re quite senior and they do an outstanding job. Throughout the flight they’re checking that the snack bar is replenished and the toilets are regularly checked, kept stocked and clean.

SERVICE

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with the welcome drinks. There is a choice of champagne or fruit juice on the tray, but other drinks are also available on request. After that, scented hot towels are handed out.

The flight time is announced at thirteen hours and twenty minutes.

Once we’re airborne, the crew distribute the menus and pass through the cabin with a tray offering more champagne.

THE MEAL

Originally, the plan was that I’d eat in the lounge and just go straight off to sleep once we’re airborne. Which is why I nearly overdosed on the creamy mashed potatoes they had in the lounge. That and the fact that I’m just a sucker for a good plate of mash… In any case, I make the mistake of looking at the menu and decide that it does all sound rather interesting. And I’m not really tired yet anyway, so… bugger it. I’m in! The tray arrives with the first course, the salad and the cheese already on it.

First course

Semi-cooked tuna in a black pepper crust, served on quinoa salad and poached shrimp on a citrus salad with cucumber and a yuzu vinaigrette.

This is a tasty dish and the presentation works well. It’s also properly seasoned (which is something Singapore Airlines didn’t manage quite so well…).

Salad

The salad comes with a small bottle of balsamico mixed with olive oil. It’s mostly leaves but it’s still a fairly large salad. With that the crew offer a selection of breads.

Main course

Penne with a mushroom ragout, roast tomatoes and garlic oil.

There is a choice of four different dishes for the main course. The pasta is good and has managed not to go all hard and rubbery as it sometimes tends to do on a plane. The ragout is flavourful and creamy.

Selection of cheese

Unfortunately, it doesn’t say anywhere what the cheeses are, but they’re very good!

Dessert

Chocolate praline éclair, violet mousse, yuzu meringue tart and strawberry sorbet.

For dessert there is a choice of either ice cream (banana, vanilla or strawberry sorbet) or three small pastries. I initially go for the pastries, but then the flight attendant tells me that the strawberry sorbet out of Singapore is usually rather nice too. Just in case I’m interested. Oh very well then, bring it on. Je souffre en silence…

After the meal, the crew set up a fairly substantial buffet in the galley with a good selection of some delectable French sweets by Fauchon, sandwiches, noodle soups and fruit.

And I go off to the land of nod for a solid seven hours. Incidentally, the blankets Air France provides in Business Class are lovely. They’re cosy and warm and fluffy.

AMENITIES

The amenity kit is some special edition to commemorate Air France’s 85th jubilee. It may not necessarily look like much, but at least it contains some useful items, including eye shades, ear plugs, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, a comb, and a pen.

SECOND SERVICE

The second service begins ninety minutes out of Paris. The lights come on and passengers are given a scented hot towel to revive.

The tray arrives with the hot meal and all the other items already on it. There are three choices for the hot meal. My meal consists of:

Fruit salad

Yoghurt

A selection of bread, croissants and pain au chocolat

Crêpes in vanilla sauce with a passion fruit and mango salsa.

The breakfast is quite substantial and the hot meal is simply divine. This is total comfort food. The vanilla cream is rich and not overly sweet and the pancakes are light and thin.

ARRIVAL

Just under forty minutes out of Paris, we start our initial descent into Paris. The captain comes on to inform us that we’ll be doing an automatic landing in Pairs because visibility on the ground is very bad.

We touch down, the mighty triple seven gives us one last impressive roar as the reversers open to slow us down, and then it’s done. We’ve landed and I’m back in Europe. By the time we arrive at our gate in Terminal 2E it’s already 06h10. I now have just slightly over an hour to make my connection back to Zürich from Terminal 2F.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Zürich to Paris CDG 2

Date: January 2019
Origin: Zürich Kloten
Destination: Paris Charles de Gaulle, Terminal 2F
Seat: 1A – window seat on the port side of the aircraft
Flight time: 1 hour

INTRODUCTION

The first two months of 2019 I’ll be spending travelling more or less nonstop, and six of those eight weeks will be for work. But luckily, the start into the new year sees me going on vacation first.

Unlike my usual vacations, which normally have me travelling to a lot of different places, this time around I’m planning to spend most of my time in one place. On the one hand, I just need a place to wind down after a very hectic and stressful 2018. On the other hand, now that I’m a PhD student, I guess I had better make a start if I intend to complete my degree within the minimum permissible timeframe of three years.

There will be a slight detour getting to some of the destinations, but by my standards, I’d like to think they’re only minor ones. But I’ll come to all of that later on.

The first leg of this trip is more or less a positioning flight – the preamble, so to speak…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

One day before departure, I receive an e-mail from DNATA, Air France’s handling agent in Switzerland, informing me that everything is ready for my flight in La Première and if I have any requests, I should not hesitate to contact them by mail or phone.

About two hours later, I receive a phone call from Air France, inquiring about the pick-up for the complimentary transfer to Zürich airport. We agree for the car to pick me up at the office in Winterthur at 13h30. The journey to the airport should take about thirty minutes, which means I will get to the airport just around 14h00, a bit over an hour before departure. At exactly 13h30, I receive a message from my driver, informing me that he’s expecting me outside on the parking lot.

It turns out the car Air France has sent to collect me is a BMW 730X, and it’s absolutely gorgeous. I honestly have no idea about cars and I haven’t even got a driver’s licence, but this car is just really nice. Of course, it also helps that the interior is colour coordinated with my Pumas…

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CHECK-IN

The driver drops me off in front of Terminal 2. He takes out my luggage and wishes me a pleasant journey.

I haven’t checked in yet, so the first stop will be at check-in. The agent there immediately checks me in to my final destination and puts a print out of the whole itinerary and the boarding passes in a bright red La Première branded folder.

He suggests having somebody escort me to the lounge, but I tell him I’m quite familiar and know my way. And so I decline.

LOUNGE / AIRSIDE

In Zürich, Air France uses the Aspire lounge, which is operated by DNATA. There is no dedicated or separate First Class section to the lounge, but that seems hardly necessary.

BOARDING

My flight will be departing from gate B 34. Boarding starts with a delay of about thirty minutes. Apparently, the aircraft was late departing from Paris on the inbound. Boarding is done by zones, and the first to be allowed aboard are zones 1 and 2. As I am travelling in La Première, I am invited to use the manned gate instead of one of the automatic gates.

CABIN

I like the Air France cabin. First of all, because I think it looks very colourful with the dark blue leather seats and the bright read headrest covers and pillows. There are four rows in Business Class with a total of 16 seats on this flight, although I would say only half are occupied on this flight.

The pitch on row 1 is very good.

CREW

The crew on this flight is really excellent. There are four ladies in total and they are very charming and professional in their demeanour and the way they go about their duties. As soon as boarding is completed, the maître de comes to welcome me aboard and offers me a welcome drink. She also brings me a bottle of still water and a pre-packaged, scented towel. She informs me that she will send a message to Paris to make sure there will be somebody at the arrival gate to pick me up.

Funnily enough, she also checks if there was somebody there to escort me from the lounge to the gate and on to the plane. When I say no, for a moment she looks quite upset. So then I explain that I specifically declined an escort because I didn’t think it necessary. And she seems to accept that.

SERVICE

The flight time is announced as one hour, which isn’t really very much. Even so, the crew still succeed in delivering a professional and unhurried service. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the lovely smell of something heating in the ovens starts wafting through the cabin, and I’m curious what the source of the smell is…

THE MEAL

The meal consists of one tray. On it there is

  • a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with cucumber
  • a small plate with pumpkin and zucchini salad
  • a bowl of apple compote
  • a small dark chocolate

As it turns out, the divine smell is from the waffles that are served warm with the meal. And man, they’re good.

To drink I have a Coke Zero.

ARRIVAL

As soon as I finish, the crew come to remove my tray and shortly thereafter, we start our descent into a dark and cloudy Pairs. The maître de comes to let me know that she has been informed that there will be somebody expecting me upon arrival.

We land on the southernmost runway and then take the long way around to Terminal 2F.

The doors open and there’s a gentleman standing there, holding an iPad with my name displayed on it. He takes me downstairs and packs my bags into the booth of the waiting car. As I said, I’m not the expert, but I think this is the same type of BMW that picked me up in Winterthur to take me to the airport.

Royal Air Maroc, Business Class – Boeing B 737-800: Casablanca to Paris Orly

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INTRODUCTION
I wake up this morning to find it’s raining. The light outside is strange, with the sun trying to push through the cloud while the rain is still pelting down. We’ve heard all sorts of horror stories about how long it takes to leave the country, so we’ve decided to make an early start.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
We exit the hotel just after 8 in the morning. The journey from Mohammedia to the airport should take roughly an hour and we still need to refuel our car and return it to Europcar.

About five minutes into the drive the heavens open. At least this will hopefully slow down the traffic which is ‘interesting’ here in Morocco, to say the least… Theoretically, you could also take the train all the way from Mohammadia to the airport, but I don’t think I have the nerve for that this morning.

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CHECK-IN
We return the car without any issues and then make our way towards the terminal. And this is where the fun starts. To enter the terminal, you first have to go through security and have your passport checked (1). Fortunately, you only need to show your passport and not your ticket, because I only have that in electronic form.

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From there I head one floor up to the departures level. Royal Air Maroc operates out of terminal 2. There is a dedicated area for Business Class passengers. The check-in agent is not overly friendly and not overly bright I don’t think. There are immigration forms on the counter, but it doesn’t occur to her to point out to me that I might need to complete one of these for immigration, even when she checks my passport (2).

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From check-in I head for the dedicated fast track for security and passport control. To enter the fast track area, again you have to show your passport (3). Immediately behind the security check is the passport control (4), where my passport is checked and stamped. And then behind passport control there is another guy who checks your passport (5) before allowing you inside the actual airside part of the terminal.

LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The lounge really doesn’t look like anything much to write home about. In addition, I’m here with the wiry R., whose flight to Brussels will be leaving 5 minutes after mine. So instead of staying in the lounge by myself, we decide to have a coffee and this really tasty chocolate thing at one of the many cafés in the terminal.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight starts twenty minutes behind schedule, due to a medical case that needs to be boarded first. When eventually boarding starts, I first show the gate agent my passport (6) and boarding pass, which he scans. Immediately behind the boarding gate another guy is already waiting to inspect my passport (7). And then finally, before I can enter the airbridge, I actually have to show my passport again (8)!

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THE CABIN
The cabin of this aircraft is quite nice. Royal Air Maroc has a dedicated Business Class cabin in a 2 + 2 configuration. I really like the colours of the cabin and seats. The only thing I’m not too happy about, is the fact that the seats are covered in leather rather than cloth.

Other than that though, the seat is comfortable. There is a pillow on every seat when I board the plane. The leg room is good and even when the woman in front of me reclines her seat, I still have more than enough space. There is also an extendable footrest.

Mind though that there are no power plugs on the seat.

For inflight entertainment, Royal Air Maroc uses a system called Sky-RAM. You need to download the Royal Air Marco app first. Once that’s done, you can turn on the wifi and watch films, listen to music, etc. on your own device for free.

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SERVICE
The service in the Business Class cabin is done by a really friendly and very charming young Moroccan lady. While we’re still on the ground, she passes through the cabin with a selection of drinks. She also distributes newspapers and magazines.

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Once we’re airborne, the maître de distributes the menus, which have the same intricate pattern as the bulkhead. Before the meal service begin, the crew hand out hot towels that are scented with jasmine.

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THE MEAL
The meal service is really the highlight of this flight. We start with a glass of Laurent-Perrier champagne and a bag of salted almonds.

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Shortly after, the table is set. The trays are then brought out individually and contain the first course and the dessert.

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The first course is a plate of honey-marinated scallops with salad and asparagus. This is quite good and the vinaigrette served with the meal goes well with the lemon as a dressing for the scallops.

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No sooner has the first course been removed that the hot meals are brought out. Royal Air Maroc places all the hot meals on a cart, which is nicely decorated with roses. There is a choice of lamb tagine or chicken breast in a cream sauce with rice and vegetables. I decide to go with the latter, and it really is good. The vegetables are not at all soggy and don’t give you the impression of having been cooked to death. The chicken has a tasty grill flavour and the rice also very flavourful.

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After the hot meal, the plates are removed and the cheese cart is rolled out. Blimey! There is a choice of five different cheeses. I make the mistake of asking to try a small piece of each one. But obviously the charming young lady’s interpretation of ‘small’ is not the same as mine and she cuts me a large chunk of each cheese. The cheese is served with bread, crackers and fruit.

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And then finally, it’s time to tackle the dessert which has been eyeing me all through the meal. The wiry R. would be drooling right now if he saw this. It’s a tasty pecan caramel pie that is simply lovely. I really wish more airlines would make desserts like this. Seriously, it’s divine. The pasty is crumbly and buttery. The caramel is sweet, with a subtle hint of salt.

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The meal concludes with a glass of sweet Moroccan tea, served from a dainty little silver tea pot.

ARRIVAL
Eventually we land in Paris Orly just slightly ahead of schedule. Royal Air Maroc operates out of the south terminal, together with all the other carriers from the Maghreb. But the process is fairly swift and efficient and within just a few minutes I’m through passport control and already have my suitcase back.

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And now I shall kick back and enjoy the weekend in Paris! To get into town, I exit the terminal through door C and then take the shuttle bus to the RER station Pont de Rungis. A ticket on the shuttle will cost EUR2.-. From Pon de Rungis I take the RER train to the Gare d’Austerlitz. That ticket costs EUR10.40.

CONCLUSION
All in all, I must admit I was quite surprised by Royal Air Maroc. Quite frankly, I thought they were going to be a real stinker. But it turns out their service is in fact quite professional and elaborate. Admittedly, I’m not so sure I’d want to connect through Casablanca – their hub – which is just tedious and really very boring. But other than that I don’t think I’d mind having to travel with them again.

Iberia, Business Class, Airbus A 319: Zürich to Madrid

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INTRODUCTION
I’m now into my fourth week of travel and in looks like this is going to be another one of those trips…: I’m on my way to Casablanca for the user group meeting. But because I’m teaching until 13h30 on Tuesdays and the meeting is scheduled to start on Wednesday, my choices for flights are somewhat limited. Which is why, initially, I booked myself on an Air France service from Zürich via Paris. With that I would leave at 15h00 after teaching and would arrive in Casablanca at 21h35, so not too late. But then of course, Air France decided to go on strike…

Initially, I was rebooked by Air France on a Lufthansa service via Frankfurt, with a departure from Zürich at 20h00. The only problem with that though, is that the flight doesn’t arrive in Casablanca until 00h35, by which time the car rental office in Casablanca is already closed. So I had to come up with another option quickly…

And so I find myself on a late Tuesday afternoon on my way to Zürich airport.

CHECK-IN
Iberia checks in at Check-in 2 in Zürich and the carrier has its own dedicated counters which are, I think, manned by DNATA staff. I’ve already checked in using the app, but my luggage is heavy with all the documents I’m carting around. So I figure it will be more pleasant to check it in. The check-in agent kindly labels the case to Madrid only, seeing as I’m going to have to spend the night there, and then wishes me a pleasant journey.

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AIRSIDE
I’m travelling with the wiry R. on this trip, who clearly has a bit of a sweet tooth and is a bit of a culinary snob. And so we forfeit the comfort of the Aspire lounge in favour of the Sprüngli Café behind security and indulge in a milky coffee and a truffe du jour. Which is, admittedly, very good for the taste buds but not so good for the waste line.

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The two following pictures were taken from the airside sports bar, which has an open terrace that lets you get up quite close to the aircraft.

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BOARDING
Boarding for the flight is from gate B33. The B concourse is quite busy at this time of the day. There’s a slight delay to start boarding, apparently because the aircraft already arrived from Madrid behind schedule.

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CABIN
I’m seated on 2F, which is a window seat on the starboard side. Row 2 is also the bulkhead row on this side of the aircraft. On the port side though, the bulkhead is row 1. Seating on this aircraft is in your standard 2 + 2 Recaro Slimline configuration, with the middle seat on a row of three left empty. The cabin looks rather drab, in varying shades of a rather boring grey colour. The cabin isn’t really all that clean either. And it’s not the type of new ‘sorry, we’re in a hurry so we didn’t clean the cabin’ dirt, but rather the type of old crusty muck that comes from years of neglect. The seat pitch is good though.

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SERVICE
I wouldn’t go so far and say the crew are friendly, but they’re polite, helpful and very professional. They also adhere to the defined service process, which I think is rather nice.

There are no welcome drinks or towels before departure. The only thing the crew distribute on the ground are the Spanish and foreign language newspaper.

The flight time is announced as two hours.

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THE MEAL
As soon as the crew is released after take-off, one of the flight attendants comes through the cabin taking orders for dinner. There is a choice of pasta with salmon or stuffed chicken breast with green beans. I go with the latter option.

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The meal is not that bad actually. The tray contains the hot meal, a green salad with dressing, a plate of cheese and a tub of yoghurt for dessert. Bread and butter are served separately from a basket.

The salad hasn’t gone completely limp and the hot meal has a rich creamy sauce. The chicken breast is filled with some type of cream cheese, apricots and olives – which work surprisingly well together.

To drink I have a Coke Zero. Once I’m done with the meal, the flight attendant removes my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to have. So I order a coffee, which is served with a small piece of pretty decent chocolate.

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ARRIVAL
Our descent into Madrid is very atmospheric, with the setting sun putting on a spectacular show of colours.

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Eventually we land in Madrid at 21h15, slight behind schedule. Iberia calls Terminal 4 home, which I still find quite a spectacular construction! The building is massive and the design is modern and elegant. It’s also very empty!

In Madrid I’ll be staying at the Madrid Airport Hilton. It’s quite a bit away from Terminal 4, but there is a regular complimentary shuttle bus that takes about 15 minutes to make the journey.

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Paris Roissy to Bucharest Otopeni

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INTRODUCTION
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.

AIRSIDE
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.

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THE LOUNGE
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.

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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.

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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.

BOARDING
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.

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THE CABIN
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.

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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…

SERVICE
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.

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THE MEAL
Once we’re airborne, one of the crew members passes through the cabin distributing menus.

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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.

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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.

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CONCLUSION
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.