Air France by HOP!, Business Class – Embraer 170: Basel to Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I arrive at Basel airport at 09h30 to check in for my flight to Paris at 11h00. Much to my surprise, the Air France KLM counters are deserted – there’s no queue at all. The check-in agent labels my suitcase, but only to Paris, and then hands me my boarding pass.

The Swissport Skyview Lounge Basel

The Skyview lounge is just as quiet. Where is everyone? Any moment now I epxect to see some tumble weed rolling across my path…

In my humble opinion, one of the lounge’s best features is the open air terrace, which originally was built to function as the smoking area. On a day like today it’s just lovely to sit there in the shade, watching the aircraft coming and going.

At about 10h40, ten minuntes after boarding for my flight to Paris should have started, the little Embraer 170 pulls onto its stand at gate 1, on the French side of the terminal. As a rule of thumb, if I slowly start packing up my belongings and perhaps quickly nip into the gents just as the aircraft comes to a standstill, by the time I make the schlepp from the lounge to gate 1, boarding is either just about to start or has just started.

Boarding

Boarding is… complicated and confusing. And I don’t quite know why. SkyTeam Priority and Business Class passengers, so zones 1, 2 and 3, are invited to board the aircraft through the exit on the left side of the counter, only to then have to cross over to the right side behind the counter. Once all passengers in zones 1, 2 and 3 have boarded, the riffraff is also allowed to board via the exit to the right of the counter only – you guessed it – to then have to queue on the left side. Only once all boarding passes have been scanned and all passengers are accounted for are we allowed to actually get on the plane.

The cabin

Today’s flight is operated by a dreaded Embraer E 170. I really don’t like these planes, they just feel so cramped and tight. There are two rows of Business Class, although you wouldn’t notice to look at it, given that Air France KLM refuse to keep the adjacent seat empty in Business Class.

And then of course there’s the curse of the misaligned windows. I really don’t understand what it is with this aircraft, but I’ve yet to find an airline that has managed to properly align its seats on the Embraer 170 to allow passengers an unobstructed view outside without having to crank their neck back.

The crew

There are two young females working the flight, and both of them are very friendly. What I also notice though, and I know this is what I do for a living, is that both the cabin and cockpit crews’ English is not all that good. The pilot making the announcements has a thick French accent hovering precariously close to the brink of comprehensibility, and the cabin crew are not much better.

A bottle of still water is already at my seat when I arrive.

We are welcomed to the flight and the crew apologise for our delay, which apparently was caused by some dreadful weather in Paris. Eventually, by the time we start our take-off roll we’re already running 30 minutes late.

The meal

This is the first time I get to experience the newish Air France domestic Business Class that was introduced a few years back without Covid restrictions or anyting of the sort. Basically, passengers sitting up front get a wider selection of drinks to choose from and both a savory and a sweet snack. The savory snack are these small crépes filled with soft cheese, which are okay. The sweet snack are three rather tasty and buttery sablés. To drink I have a glass of Coke Zero, as the cabin crew looks on despondently as every one of the eight passengers in the Business Class cabin declines her offer for a glass of champagne.

Arrival

As we approach Paris, the turbulence picks up. I’m starting to see what they were on about with that. It’s bad, like the trolley temporarily lifting off the floor kind of turbulence. As a result, our approach into Paris is rather circuitous, as we try to avoid the nastiest looking cloud cells.

Eventually we land with a delay 45 minutes and it looks as though there’s just been a severe downpour. The flight ends at Terminal 2G, which has been reopened again after a hiatus of two years because of Covid. And while I think it’s good news for Air France that traffic is picking up to the point that they can reopen a whole terminal, I also think 2G is just a bit inconvenient, because it really is just so far out in the boonies.

Getting to Roissypole from Terminal 2G

My hotel is at Roissypole, which is located roughly midway between Terminal 2 and Terminal 1, which is still closed. To get to Terminal 2F from Terminal 2G there is a shuttle that runs directly to the second entrance of Terminal 2F on the departures level. The journey time is about ten minutes, which isn’t bad if you happend to be one of the lucky ones that manage to grab a seat.

From 2F there is then the Roissyval shuttle to Roissypole.

Conclusion

So far, so good. Of course there isn’t really all that much to say about such a short flight. It was okay, but I really do think that it makes no sense to offer a Business Class cabin on an aircraft of this size, at least not if the airline is unwilling to keep the adjacent seat empty. The meal service and the champagne I honestly don’t care about on a flight of 45 minutes. But the space is important.

TGV Lyria, Business Première: Paris Gare de Lyon to Basel

Introduction

I‘m staying at the CitizenM in La Défense, far off to the West of Paris. My room has a brilliant view of La Grande Arche.

And of course I have to visit Le Train Bleu in the Gare de Lyon during my stay!

Looks like asparagus season has started.

I don‘t take photos of the whole meal. But I can hardly keep dessert from you: clementine souflé with koriander sorbet.

The lounge

The French railways operate a lounge for their First Class passengers at Gare de Lyon. The entrance doesn‘t look like much, but there is a large seating area on the upper level. The lounge has complimentary wifi and a selection of hot and cold drinks.

The lounge is located more or less in between halls 2 and 3. The TGV Lyria trains which serve Switzerland normally depart from hall 2.

Boarding

There‘s a bit of a hold up for my train to start boarding. Apparently they‘re experiencing delays in readying the trains. So eventually, the train doesn‘t start boarding until 12h40, twenty minutes after it should have already departed.

I‘m travelling in BusinessFirst today, which is the first First Class carriage behind either one of the engines. When I reach my seat, there‘s already a fat, smarmy Italian sitting there. He‘s on the phone to somebody who also speaks Italian. Not sure why he needs the phone, though. Because he‘s yelling loud enough to be heard in Sicily.

I ask him to move, which eventually he does after I decline his generous offer to give me somebody else‘s seat he‘s volunteering. The old Frenchman sitting behind me takes that as an opportunity to remind the guy that it‘s not permitted to make phone calls inside the cabin. You can take the Italian out of Italy, but…

Eventually we depart with a delay of 35 minutes

The BusinessFirst cabin

The BusinessFirst cabin is the same as the standard First Class carriage. The difference between the two classes is in the service, not the comfort.

Having said that, the premium cabin on the TGV is very nice. Seats are configured in a three-abreast seating arrangement in a mixed layout, with some seats facing each other and others behind each other. The single seats are mostly behind each other. There are only two sets of facing single seats.

There is plenty of storage space and legroom. Each seat has its own standard issue European electricity plug, and wifi is also available.

The meal

There are two crew serving the cabin, and they‘re really very friendly. They make a first run through the cabin to set the table and offer drinks and unscented hot towels.

There are three choices for the hot meal. Although, by the time they reach my row towards the end of the carriage, they‘ve run out of the vegetarian option. The fish option is king prawns, and the meat option is pulled veal. Which is what I have.

The tray comes with a small plate of cheese.

A pumpkin and chestnut salad.

And the veal is served with creamy mash and grilled chicoré.

The crew make two rounds with the bread basket. Because of Covid, the rolls are wrapped up individually in plastic.

And there is also a tasty creamy chocolate cake.

And to finish, a cup of not so bad coffee.

Arrival in Basel

In Basel, the TGV arrives at a platform on the Swiss side of the station, because it continues on to the Zürich terminus from Basel. That means there are no customs or passport checks on arrival.

Conclusion

Although I knew that complimentary food was served on the TGV in BusinessFirst, I was still rather surprised by the quantity and quality of this meal. I rather enjoyed it! I also thought that there was something very grand about dining while you speed along the French countryside doing an easy 320km/h and without breaking into a sweat.

The staff handled the delay professionally and proactively encouraged passengers to make their claim for compensation on the SNCF website (https://garantie30minutes.sncf.com/). I‘m not sure I‘ll make a claim, though. After all, I enjoyed my trip and I incurred no expenses because of the delay. I didn‘t have anywhere urgent to be anyway.

Air France, Business Class – Embraer 190: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Basel

Transfer in Paris Charles de Gaulle

My driver picks me up at the L2 door as I exit the mighty Boeing B 777-300 that has just brought me to Paris from Dubai. We descend to ground level and exit onto the apron. She opens the door for me to take a seat and then takes my bag and puts it in the booth. It’s just a short ride to the La Première lounge. Once we arrive at the lounge, I go through security and passport control.

We then go up to the main level and my driver wishes me a nice stay and tells me she’ll be back to pick me up at 08h40. The lounge is still quiet at this time of day. That is, until two Chinese gentlemen enter and start making phone calls. Apparently the reception is not so good, because it sounds like they’ve decided to shout whatever it is they want to discuss all the way to China instead of using the good old-fashioned phone. I think I’ll just go take a shower first…

The showers in the lounge are large and spacious. They’re basically fully equipped bathrooms and come with slippers, fluffy towels and a bathrobe.

By the time I’m done with the shower, there’s only me left in the lounge. It’s peaceful again. First, I ask for a cappuccino and a fresh orange juice.

Followed by Viennoiserie, still water and hot cocoa.

Boarding

At 08h40 my driver comes to collect me. My aircraft is parked on a remote stand at Terminal 2G. The terminal is currently closed, but the stands are still being used.

The busses with the other passengers are right behind our car. There’s a bit of a delay to let passengers onto the aircraft. Apparently, the purser is arriving off a flight from Turin which landed with a bit of a delay.

When eventually they give us the thumbs up, my driver comes to open the door for me and hands me my luggage. Funnily enough, I notice some of the passengers in the first bus taking photos of me and the car – probably just in case I turn our to be somebody famous. Don’t bother, it’s only me.

The cabin

There are two rows of Business Class for a total of eight passengers, seeing as KLM and Air France do not block the adjacent seat on the regional jets. But there are only three passengers anyway in Business Class this morning, so we still all get a row to ourselves.

Seat pitch on row 1 is excellent!

The service

There’s a further delay loading the suitcases onto the aircraft due to a shortage of rampers caused by Omicron. While we wait, the purser hands us a bottle of still water and a packaged refreshing towel.

We push off our stand with a delay of 35 minutes. However, with a flight time of only 45 minutes this morning we’ll only be about 15 minutes late arriving in Basel.

The cabin crew inform us that due to the Covid restrictions imposed by the French government, there will be no service on today’s flight.

The meal

Much to my surprise though, as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off after take-off, the cabin crew passes through the Business Class cabin asking passengers if there’s anything we’d like. I ask for a chocolat chaud, which she serves me with two buttery biscuits.

I have no idea if this the regular domestic Business Class service, or if this is also the result of the Covid measures.

Arrival

The weather en route is lovely, with good ground visibility. It’s a beautiful sunny day – until we reach les Vosges. The Rhine valley sits in a depression between Les Vosges in the west, the Schwarzwald in the east and the Jura in the south, making it susceptible to dense and often very persistent fog. Just like today.

The captain instructs passengers to completely turn off their mobile phones in preparation for an automatic landing.

And it really is bad. The ground only comes into view seconds before we touch down. The view reminds me a bit of that film ‘The Others’ with Nicole Kidman. There’s this scene when her dead husband returns from war and she meets him out in the forest… it’s that kind of low visibility.

The nice thing about arriving in Basel with Air France is that you can save yourself the aggravation of having to queue endlessly to enter France and then Switzerland.

Instead, we end up waiting forty minutes for the first bags to finally arrive on the belt. Here too the handlers are having to deal with a staff shortage caused by Omicron. But these things happen. I wish all those affected a swift and full recovery and no lasting effects.

As of 15 January 2022 persons entering Switzerland by air must complete an entry form online within 48 hours prior to their arrival. They also need to show a negative PCR test that was taken no more than 72 hours prior to the start of their journey, even if they are fully vaccinated and boosted.

Before customs and the exit to Switzerland the airport authority has set up a checkpoint for passengers entering Switzerland with this large queueing system. There are signs everywhere asking passengers to get their QR code and negative test result ready for inspection. Only… there’s nobody there and I just walk through.

God, I’m glad to be back home again!

Conclusion

This brings to an end the first two weeks of 2022 and my first bout of travel for this year. As I mentioned in one of the previous posts, it’s been interesting to see how the authorities in different countries are trying to handle the pandemic and the population. I think the measures in place say a lot about a society and its culture. Having said that, I’m not going to discuss what I think it says about Norway that they think not selling alcohol is an appropriate measure to combat the spreading of Covid 19…

Travelling in times of Covid 19 is tedious, a nuisance, and expensive. There is also an apparent lack of harmonization between countries that makes it difficult to prepare. In 2022 I think there is no longer such a thing as an seasoned traveller, because the rules keep changing. However, this trip also made me realise that many of the rules have probably not been put in place because they are, in and of themselves, considered effective measures to combat the spreading of the virus. My arrival in Basel is just one of many examples of that. I got a PCR test done in Dubai before I left and I registered online within 48 hours of arrival – even though the evidence suggests that the authorities couldn’t even be bothered to have somebody man the checkpoint at the airport to make sure. It seems to me, therefore, that the only real point of many of these measures is simply to deter people from travelling.

I know I’ve said it before, and I’ll keep on saying it. There is only one effective way out of this pandemic: you need to get vaccinated and you need to get your booster. It is your civil and moral obligation, and everything else is just selfishness. It’s unlikely that we’re going to eradicate Covid completely, so we might as well start getting used to living with it.

In terms of airlines, on this trip I flew with KLM, SAS/Air Baltic and Air France. KLM’s short-haul Business Class product on the mainline fleet was a disappointment. It has been stripped down to the absolute minimum. It’s basically the same service you get on the Cityhopper flights. But while the latter tend to be fairly short runs, the mainline routes can be fairly long.

SAS was a major source of overall suckage. They’re currently transitioning into something of a virtual airline, and frankly, it hasn’t done them a world of good. Their frumpy staff and the fact that they only appear to cater unhealthy and unappealing food options did not exactly give me the warm and fuzzies. It’s kind of tragic that I consider myself lucky that the flight from Oslo to Paris with SAS was actually not operated by them! And Air France were simply brilliant. Not only did they manage to meet my expectations from previous experiences with their La Première product, they even succeeded in surpassing them! Flying is quite a hassle with Covid 19, but Air France’s impeccable premium service reduced that hassle to the absolute minimum.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Dubai to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

I’m finally on my way home. These were two very long weeks, and although it was nice to be back up in the air again, I can’t really say that I was able to fully relax and enjoy the trip with Omicron looming in the background. It’s been interesting to see though how the authorities in different countries are trying to manage the population and the pandemic. In Dubai, the government is clearly trying to convey the impression that things are back to business as usual. There are only few measures in place. However, the many Emirates A 380s parked up for long term storage at Al-Maktoum airport are a sad reminder of the fact that things are still far, far off from being normal.

Getting to the airport

My Air France flight back to Paris departs at 01h30. There is also a daytime departure with Air France from Dubai. However, that service does not have a La Première cabin, as it is operated by a Boeing B 787-9.

In Dubai I stayed at the Courtyard by Marriott in Al-Barsha, which is very near the Mall of the Emirates. I stayed here because the Al-Barsha district is still within close range to shops and restaurants, but still closest to the Emirates Flight Training Academy, where the course I was giving took place.

The Blacklane car to the airport arrives to pick me up at 22h45. I have no idea what type of car it is exactly. All I know is that it’s a Tesla with doors that open upwards, which make it look quite a lot like the Batmobile. The journey from Al-Barsha to the airport takes about 25 minutes on a Friday night, depending on the level of insanity and/or suicidal tendencies of the driver. Luckily, my guy appears to be a level-headed, mild mannered and well-formed personality, if his very civilized style of driving is anything to go by.

Check-in

Most of the European carriers operate out of Terminal 1 in Dubai. Air France and KLM check-in on row 1. While the airport is quite busy, it’s still a far cry from the chaos there used to be at the terminal in the old days.

There’s a long queue for check-in, as the KLM flight to Amsterdam and the Air France flight to Paris are checking in at the same time. The La Première counters are cordoned off. I approach one of the DNATA agents that handle check-in on row 1 and tell her that I’m checking in for Paris. She escorts me past the long queue and opens up the La Première lane for me. She checks my documents and calls for a rep from Merhaba to escort me through passport control and security to the lounge.

There is no dedicated lane for First Class passengers at passport control or security, which is slightly awkward because it means that the Merhaba rep’s main purpose is to push me ahead of the queues.

Al-Ahlan First Class lounge

Behind security we catch a train to the D concourse, which is where the gates and all the lounges are located. There is a SkyTeam lounge here too, which is rather nice. However, for First Class passengers Air France uses the Al-Ahlan lounge instead, which is not so nice but very quiet. When I arrive at the lounge, there’s only me. A while later, the other two passengers in La Première arrive, and that’s it.

The lounge has all the basic amenities, including showers. Spa treatments are also available in the lounge. However, they are not complimentary. There are plenty of food options in the lounge. But considering how quiet the lounge is, it’s difficult to say just how long the food has been standing around on the buffet.

So instead I just order a Laksa from the menu.

Boarding

At 00h45 another Merhaba rep comes to pick all three of us up to escort us to gate D20, where boarding is already in progress. She then vanishes rather unceremoniously.

The airbridge to the L1 door is cordoned off, but there’s a gentleman standing by the entrance whose job it is to let through the passengers in the First Class cabin. At the L1 door I am greeted by three flight attendants. They welcome me aboard and one of them shows me to my seat and helps me settle it.

The cabin

A glass and a small bottle of Evian are already at my seat, together with the menu for the flight, a Covid kit and a packaged refreshing towel.

The cabin crew then bring me the pjs and the vanity kit.

The crew

The purser, the flight attendant working the La Première cabin and then the captain come to introduce themselves to me. The captain informs me that the flight time to Paris should be exactly seven hours. The flight attendant asks me if I’ll be having dinner, which I decline. Instead, I ask her to make up my bed once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign has been turned off.

After take-off, I head for the toilet to change. When I return to my seat, the flight attendant has just finished preparing the bedding for me and has closed the curtains. She takes my clothes to hang them up, draws the curtain for me to get into bed and wishes me bonne nuit.

As a side note, I request the XL pjs and they’re very big. I’m six foot tall and they’re loose and very baggy on me.

The meal

Much to my own surprise, I manage five whole hours of deep and comfortable slumber. I awake just under ninety minutes out of Paris and decide to change back into my clothes straight away. As soon as the flight attendant spots me, she wishes me a good morning and inquires if she should remove the bedding and start preparing breakfast for me.

First, she brings me a new glass and a fresh bottle of Evian.

Followed by a bowl of fruit, a bowl of plain yoghurt, a packet of granola, butter and two small jars of strawberry and apricot jam.

Next she brings a glass of fresh orange juice and an espresso.

For the main dish, I go with the banana pancakes served with baked banana, maple sirup and jam.

And finally, she also brings me a brioche and a roll from the breadbasket. The breakfast service is extensive, filling and very tasty.

Arrival

Just as the crew start clearing away my table, the mighty B777 dips its nose and we start a shallow descent into Paris. The crew start preparing the cabin for our arrival. The purser and the La Première flight attendant come to say goodbye and thank me for flying with them. I find it interesting that both of them explicitly mention that they appreciate me having chosen La Première again.

We land just before six in the morning and slowly taxi to our stand at Terminal 2E. We do not taxi all the way to the stand. We stop adjacent to it and then shut down the engines while a tug tows us the last few metres onto the stand. Behind the airbridge I can already see my ride back to the La Première lounge.

I now have three hours to make my connection.

Air France, La Première – Boeing B 777-300ER: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Dubai

Introduction

It’s Saturday morning and I’m on my way to Dubai to give the next course. In Paris I stayed at the Roissypole Pullmann hotel, which is just a few metres from the entrance to the station. I exit the hotel just before 10h in the morning to make my way to Terminal 2.

I like the rather brutalist concrete architecture of the station. Although I think the effect would be much better if it weren’t littered with vending machines and just the big, empty hall.

The Roissyval only takes about five minutes to make the journey to Terminal 2 and passengers are obviously making the effort to keep their distance on the train.

Terminal 2 is the home of Air France and some of its partners. Terminal 2F is for Schengen flights, whereas I shall be leaving from Terminal 2E.

Check-in

The La Première check-in area is at the far end of the terminal. There is an Air France agent standing at the entrance. And so the La Première experience begins. I show him my passport and he smiles at me: “Mr. A., bonjour. We’ve been expecting you. Take a seat and let me take care of everything”. And he does. Paul calls over a porter to take my suitcase, while Michelle brings me a glass of Perrier to drink.

Paul checks my vaccination status and the negative PCR test I took in Oslo. With that out of the way, he returns my passport and tells me to take my time with the Perrier. Michelle will be back to escort me through the terminal in a few minutes.

Michelle is a charming woman with excellent conversational skills. She takes me through security, stopping other passengers for me to pass ahead of them and she will not even let me pull out the trays myself for me to put my belongings on the belt.

Behind security she brings me to a lift which takes us up into the La Première lounge.

Air France La Première lounge, Terminal 2E

Michelle asks me if perhaps I would like some breakfast. She makes sure I’m settled at my dining table and tells me she’ll be back in a few minutes with my boarding pass and passport.

Meanwhile, a friendly young man brings me the menu and takes my request for freshly pressed orange juice.

I just love the little sea horse, which Air France staff apparently refer to as ‘la crevette’ – the shrimp.

The selection on the menu is very good. I order the scrambled eggs with confit onions. The young man asks me if I prefer my eggs soft or well done.

I also order the plate of French cheese with mustard seed chutney.

And some fresh fruit salad as my saving grace.

And a lovely cappuccino.

There is also a buffet with small snacks to choose from. However, I decide to show at least some restraint in light of what lies ahead.

Once I’m done with the meal, I take a seat on one of the comfy sofas and read until it’s time to leave. Michelle will be back to pick me up at 12h50 for my 13h30 departure.

Boarding

Just before 13h00 Michelle arrives to bring me to the aircraft. There’s a slight delay because of an issue with the L1 door. I am driven to the aircraft in my own car. I think it’s a BMW. But beyond that, I couldn’t say what type of car it is. But it’s certainly a very smooth and powerful ride.

It’s raining quite heavily when we reach our stand. Michelle gets out of the car, takes the umbrella out of the booth and opens the door for me, to prevent me from getting wet.

I manage to sneak one picture of the mighty B777 taking me to Dubai today. And then from there we take a lift to the airbridge.

There are four flight attendants standing by the L2 door as I enter and they greet me like they’re genuinely happy to see me. Michelle introduces me by name to the purser, who welcomes me aboard. She then escorts me to my seat, where she informs me that she has checked again that my suitcase has been loaded on to the flight. With that, she bids me good bye and wishes me a pleasant flight. Merci Madame, vous êtes très aimable!

The La Première cabin

There are four seats in the First Class cabin, and a young couple will be joining me on the way to Dubai. So, three out of four seats are occupied on today’s flight. The cabin and the seat are very well designed and offer a lot of storage space. The cabin also looks very elegant.

There’s a comfortable ottoman to rest your feet on, or use if you would like one of the other passengers to join you for dinner. Beneath the ottoman is a large drawer which contains a red blanket and the slippers.

Amenities

When I arrive at my seat, there is a soft pillow on it which provides good lumbar support. There’s also a blanket, shoe spoon and slippers in the ottoman.

In short succession, the crew come to introduce themselves and hand me the vanity kit…

… and pjs. The flight attendant very diplomatically asks which size I take, which is a nice gesture, I think.

I’m also handed a Covid kit, and the flight attendant recommends I frequently wash my hands and change my mask after four hours. I also notice the whole crew regularly disinfecting their hands throughout the flight.

I’m also brought a glass of the Veuve Clicquot 2008 Grand Dame with a hot towel and a packet of mixed cranberries and cashews.

Meanwhile, the weather outside is getting worse and worse.

Once we’re airborne though, we’re treated to some spectacular views and the horrible weather in Paris quickly clears up to reveal a snowy European landscape.

The meal service

The meal service in La Première is always a delight. And this flight is no different. As soon as the seatbelt sign is turned off, the crew distribute the menus and take orders for the meal.

The table is set and once again, I am struck by the attention to detail by the crew. They set the table always making sure that the flying sea horse is looking the right way up.

The side plate has both salted and unsalted butter on it.

Appetizer: Caviar quenelle with a vodka and lime whipped cream

In preparation for the first course, the crew pass through the cabin with a bread basket containing a nice selection of breads and rolls.

Soup: porcini mushroom cream

The soup is excellent. It is served very hot, and has a rich flavour to go with the velvety texture.

Starter: Oyster mushrooms with honey and Melfor vinegar served with cheese, beet hummus, sunchoke purée and crushed pumkin with orange

Now this dish is spectacular. The combination of flavours is just divine and so subtle. I also love the presentation.

Main course: Langoustines served with scallops filled with truffles and a reduction with julienne vegetables

The main course is simply outstanding. The truffles go exceptionally well with the scallops and the reduction complements the delicate flavour of the langoustines perfectly. I am completely smitten by this dish.

Mixed salad with boiled egg

Air France has a wide selection of sides that can be added to the salad. However, by this stage I think it’s wisest to keep it simple. The salad is served with a olive oil and balsamico dressing.

The cheese: Bleu d’auvergne, Camembert, Cantal, Crottin de Chavignole & Maroilles

With the cheese I have a lovely class of Sauternes. I also ask the flight attendant to really just give me a taster of each cheese. The dish is served with more bread and the selection is excellent. But way too much for one person after such an epic meal. And there is still dessert, after all…

Dessert: hazelnut ice cream & a verbena chocolate finger

By this stage I’m already quite full. But I must keep going in the name of investigative blogging. At least that’s my excuse. The hazelnut ice cream is excellent and reminds me of my childhood in Malta. Back then, dessert in restaurants was either chocolate or hazelnut ice cream.

The chocolate finger is amazing, with a delicate hint of the verbena. But it’s so rich I can hardly finish it.

And to calm the stomach after such an excellent meal, I have some mint tea.

After the meal, the crew quickly clear everything away and ask me if I’d like them to make up the bed. I tell them I won’t be needing a duvet and just ask the curtains to be drawn. One of the flight attendants brings me two nice fluffy pillows and wishes me bon repos. The meal is completed in about two hours and thirty minutes.

Arrival

We land in Dubai with a slight delay after a flight time of six hours and fifteen minutes. The airport is calm and the terminal quiet. The First Class flight attendant asks me to follow her to the L2 door to disembark, as the L1 door is still inop. At the door she and three other flight attendants thank me for choosing Air France and then hand me over to the Merhaba agent who escorts me through immigration, baggage claim and eventually drops me off in front of my ride to the hotel.

Conclusion

This was another highly enjoyable flight with Air France. I booked the trip with them because I wanted to avoid the hassle of travelling in times Covid. However, I also wondered if the flight with Air France would be able to live up to my previous experiences with their Le Première product. If anything, I think this flight may have been even better than the last. The processes on the ground are seamless and really take away all the hassle of air travel. What’s more, the staff on the ground and in the air are all just so nice and friendly. Everyone seems genuniely concerned with making the experience a pleasurable one. It’s little things, like the fact that they very purposefully announce every dish as they place it in front of you and give you detailed explanations of what’s on the plate. Or the fact that one flight attendant brought me two big pillows when she realised I just needed a cat nap. As far as I’m concerned, Air France has to have – hands down – the best First Class product currently in the business.

SAS, Business Class (operated by Air Baltic) – Airbus A 220-300: Oslo to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Introduction

Today I’m on my way from Oslo to Paris. I exit the hotel just after six in the morning and make my way across the road to the terminal.

Departures are on the upper floor of the building. The check-in hall is an enormous, cavernous space. At six in the morning the place is not very busy.

I print my own baggage tag at one of the multi-purpose self-service machines and then head over to the Star Alliance Business Class drop-off. Behind check-in is a long corridor that leads to the security checkpoint. Along the way, I stop at the Dr. Dropin test facility to get the mandatory PCR test out of the way.

There is a dedicated fast track for Business Class passengers and the process is swift. OnceI’m airside, I’m still in the domestic part of the terminal. The border crossing to leave the country is to the right.

The SAS Gold lounge

SAS has a lounge in both the domestic and international part of the terminal. They are both one floor up from the common airside area.

Business is obviously still slow, because the Business Class lounge is closed off and not in service. Instead, all passengers are invited to use the Star Gold lounge.

There are plenty of seating options, and the lounge is nearly empty during my stay.

There is a nice selection of cold breakfast dishes available from the buffet. Just a word of warning though. Coffee is generally dreadful in Norway, and the SAS Gold lounge is no exception.

The terminal is very generously laid out, with lots of space and enough place to sit.

Boarding

Our departure is scheduled for 07h55, with boarding supposedly starting at 07h25. Eventually we start boarding at 07h40, which is no big deal, because there are only 32 passengers on the flight.

The cabin

The flight today is operated by a wetlease from Air Baltic with one of their Airbus A 220s. The aircraft is a stark contrast to the old and tatty looking B 737-700 I flew into Oslo on yesterday.

The A 220 really is such such a lovely aircraft from a passenger’s perspective. It’s spacious and so quiet. Of course it helps that the flight is not even half full. Air Baltic only has a row 1 on the starboard side of the aircraft, as the opposite side of the cabin is occupied by storage space. Thus, on the port side, row 2 is the first row of the cabin.

In the middle of the row of three there is a large, removable table, which is very convenient.

Leg space on row 1 is good.

Once we move off stand, our first stop is the de-icing station. It’s an interesting operation they have going on here. They are de-icing six aircraft at a time, and the process only takes a few minutes to complete.

Once we’re airborne, we’re treated to some spectacular views of the vibrant sky.

The crew

The crew have also been leased in from Air Baltic and they’re a lot more engaging than the SAS crew I had yesterday. They take their job seriously and tend to passengers’ needs in a charming and old-fashioned way.

The meal

Okay, this really is abissmal. Shame on you SAS! The flight attendant enters the cabin and inquires if there’s anything I’d like. I request an orange juice and a coffee. Juice is not available, but instead the flight attendant offers me an orange and mango smoothie. And that’s it. She moves on to the next row.

On her way back to the galley I hail her down and shyly inquire if there’s actually anything to eat. To which she replies that they had been informed by SAS that food for passengers was only on request and not actively offered. She tells me she’s happy to bring me something if I like. Then minutes later she’s back with my hot breakfast…

I think not even the Italians have pizza for breakfast, and they invented the bloody thing. But apparently that’s the only ‘dish’ the crew have on offer.

Well that was surprisingly disappointing… With the meal out of the way, I sit back, read, and enjoy the views outside.

Arrival

We land in Paris with a slight delay, caused by the defrosting before departure. The flight ends at terminal 2D. Terminals 1 and 3 at Charles de Gaulle airport are currently still closed.

The wait for the suitcases to arrive is very short. I guess that’s one of the few advantages of the pandemic and the result of there being less travellers.

From terminal 2D I walk to the railway station between terminals 2E and 2F and grab a Roissyval train to Roissy-Pole, which is the airport’s ground transportation hub and the location of all the airport hotels.

Conclusion

What on earth was that? It’s kind of tragic that the only good thing about this flight was that it was not operated by the carriers that should have been doing the flight. If this is seriously SAS’s idea of a European short-haul Business Class product, then I have to say I think it really sucks. Their only saving grace was that the flight was operated by Air Baltic.

I’m definitely not impressed with the two flights I took with SAS on this trip. And I’m certainly going to try to avoid them in the future. Definitely not worth it!

Air France, Airbus A 220-300 inaugural service: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Berlin in Classe Affaire

Introduction

Early in October 2021, Air France took delivery of its first of 60 Airbus A 220-300s, making it the largest operator of the type in Europe. F-HZUA has spent most of the month flying around France for crew training purposes. With the beginning of the winter schedule on Sunday, 31 October 2021, the aircraft will be deployed on Air France’s extensive European network. The inaugural flight will see it flying to Berlin.

Check-in

I check-in for the flight on the Air France app. However, boarding passes are not issued on the app because of Covid. So instead, the boarding pass is issued as a pdf that needs to be printed. One way or another, you’ll have to contact one of the check-in counters directly at the airport.

Terminal 2F is Air France’s Schengen terminal and has a dedicated SkyPriority area for check-in. I have a pleasant chat with the lady at check-in. She issues me a boarding pass and wishes me a lot of fun on my flight to Berlin.

From the check-in area there is a direct access to the security screening area.

The new Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

As I already mentioned in my previous post, Air France recently opened a new Business Class lounge in between the two piers of Terminal 2F. The lounge is very nice and enjoyable!

Boarding

The flight departs at 09:55, and boarding is scheduled for 09:10.

When I reach gate F55, all the video screens are showing off the new Air France A 220-300, highlighting its fuel efficiency and improved fuel burn compared to older types. There are Air France ground staff everywhere, holding up signs that read ‘Welcome A 220’.

Boarding starts with zone 1, which is for SkyPriority passengers with status or seated in Business Class. And I really must say, Air France has risen to the occasion to make the even something special. As I enter the airbridge, there are two Air France staff holding trays with Air France A220 branded gear pins.

And then in the airbridge, there is a lineup of staff on both sides holding up the same ‘Welcome A 220’ signs. As passengers pass by them, they are greeted by every one of the staff individually.

The cabin

Air France has its A 220-300 in a standard 2 + 3 configuration. In Business Class, only one of the seats on a row of two is sold, and on the row of three the middle seat is kept empty.

The seats have good pitch, and it’s the same pitch throughout the cabin. Every seat has a USB and thunderbolt port, a cup holder and a headrest that can be adjusted for height.

The seats are in dark blue, and there are the usual brand elements you find everywhere on Air France, for example the little red swish embroidered on the headrest. The little seahorse is emblazoned on the winglets, on the engine cowlings and on the fuselage right next to the L1 door.

The crew

The crew on this flight are truly excellent and have obviously been trained specifically for this event. Both the cockpit and cabin crew make all their announcements in French, German and English and make sure to point out how delighted they are to be joining this inaugural flight to Berlin. They also actively encourage passengers to ask them anything about the new aircraft.

But apart from that, they seem genuinely happy to be there. They’re all smiles and very attentive.

Once boarding is completed, the crew pass through the cabin with sealed refreshing towels.

And then we’re on our way…

The meal

It takes a while for the meal service to begin, and I suspect the crew are still trying to find their way around the new aircraft. I also think the trolley containing the food has been specially chosen for this flight, because it’s spotlessly clean and looks new.

The meal consists of a crêpe with a tasty vegetable and cream cheese filling. There is also a dollop of cream cheese on top of the crêpe, as well as a spicy red pepper sauce. A slice of French cheese completes the dish.

In addition, there is a separate bowl of yoghurt with jam and a plate with apricot jam and butter. The crew make two rounds through the cabin with bread rolls and croissants. And of course, being a French airline, there are copious amounts of Laurent-Perrier going around.

The meal is very good and hits the spot nicely. To drink I have a glass of orange juice and some still water.

Arrival into Berlin

The flight time to Berlin is 80 minutes, which brings us in at around 11:30. As we start the descent, the crew pass through the cabin with flight certificates.

We taxi off the runway and come to a stop right in front of the Berlin Brandenburg Willy Brandt sign, presumably for the photo shoot that is likely to happen while the aircraft is on the ground in Berlin.

And with that, my inaugural flight on the Air France A 220-300 is over. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience, and Air France did a good job in bringing back a bit of the excitement of flying in their organisation of the event.

Presenting the New Salon Air France in Terminal 2F, Paris Roissy Airport

Terminal 2F is the Schengen Terminal for the mainline fleet of Air France. It has two piers. Previously, there was a separate lounge in the tip of each pier, one floor down from the public airside areas. The lounges tended to get crowded quickly. Because they were located on the ground- and first floors, the views were somewhat limited.

Fast forward to the summer of 2021 and Air France has opened a new and very elegant centralised lounge, located right in between the two piers. The new lounge covers a large area and stretches over two floors. There are plenty of seating options on both levels, and there are multiple bars for guests to get food and drinks.

Perhaps the most important improvement of this lounge is that is has a lot more showers, which can be booked at reception. There’s also a dedicated quiet zone, with dimmed light and heavy curtains for passengers in need of a rest.

Most noticeable, the design of the lounge is very beautiful and modern. The centerpiece of the lounge is the grand white staircase leading to the upper level of the lounge. There is plenty of natural light, which is complemented by shifting mood lighting.

It’s difficult to capture just how elegant this lounge is and the sense of space it gives. Personally, I think this new lounge is one of the nicest Business Class lounges I’ve every visited. I also think it’s probably the best Schengen Business Class lounge out the right now.

Le Train Bleu, Gare de Lyon – Paris

Introduction

Le train bleu was the unofficial designation of a scheduled service provided by the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-lits, who also operated the infamous Orient Express, that ran from Calais to the Côte d’Azur from 1922 on. The train got its name from its carriages’ blue livery.

Le Train Bleu was eventually terminated when travel became more affordable and demand for luxury travel gave way to mass tourism. What remains, is an excellent restaurant within the Gare de Lyon in Paris. And today, I am going there for lunch.

Le Train Bleu restaurant opened back in 1901 on the occasion of the inauguration of the Gare de Lyon in Paris. Originally, it went simply by the name of Buffet de la Gare de Lyon. However, in 1963 it was renamed to take its current name.

The restaurant’s interior is spectacular in the opulent fin-de-siècle style and really unlike anything I’ve ever seen in a restaurant. It looks more like a cathedral than a restaurant.

Access to the restaurant is via the grand staircase in the middle of Hall 1 of the main concourse of the Gare de Lyon.

The menu

The menu offers a wide selection of seasonal dishes that nicely showcase French cuisine.

The waiting staff

The staff at the restaurant are all very friendly and helpful. I think what impresses me most though, is a) just how many waiting staff are active in the restaurant at the same time, and b) just how nicely paced the meal is.

The meal

We begin with an amuse bouche of lightly smoked white fish on cream cheese.

For the starter I go for the lightly smoked salmon with seasonal pickled vegetables and blinis. The presentation of the dish is lovely, and the taste is excellent, with a nice variety of subtle flavours.

For the main course I have the quenelles à la Lyonaise. Quenelles are a kind of fish dumpling. They are served in a rich bisque infused with cognac and a side dish of grilled basmati rice. And lovely, crunchy French bread.

The main course is absolutely divine, and mopping up the bisque with the bread when I’m done has me making the most obscene moaning noises.

My travel companion has the grilled scallops, which are nicely presented and apparently taste very good. The scallops are served on a bed of chickpeas.

For dessert, I really just can’t resist and go for the crêpes Suzette. What a classic! At le Train Bleu the dish is prepared at your table, including the bit where they set the whole thing on fire with a healthy dose of Grand Manier. And this is just heaven. I shove a fork of the sweet goodness in my mouth and all the frustrations of the last two years are just washed clean off me. And all that remains is the zesty flavour of the orange juice combined with the creamy, buttery richness of the crêpes.

My travel companion has the chocolate fondant, served with creamy vanilla ice cream and an elegant hint of licorice.

Once I’m done, I do for a moment consider a cup of mint tea to round off the meal. But I’m running out of time. I have an appointment at the Louvre at 15h00 to see La Gioconda, otherwise also known as Mona Lisa, and I don’t want to be late. Luckily, I’ll be back in Paris next week, and already have another reservation at Le Train Blue, so perhaps I can try all the things I missed out on this time…

And tomorrow? I’m in Paris, and tomorrow is the start of the IATA winter time table. With that you can probably figure out what I’m up to next…

Air France, Economy Class – Airbus A 318: Paris Roissy to Copenhagen Kastrup

Introduction

On Sunday morning, just after eight, I have an early breakfast and then head out for the palace. I want to make the most of my stay and visit the palace grounds again. The palace building does not open to the public until noon on Sundays, but the gardens are open already and they are deserted at this time of day, save for a few keen joggers.

Getting form Versailles to Paris Roissy airport

For the next leg of my grand tour, I will be taking a flight from Paris to Copenhagen. As Versailles is to the south of Paris, while Roissy airport is to the north, I figure I better spend the night at a hotel close to the airport to avoid an early start. Normally, the journey from Versailles to Roissy is quite straightforward: first, take an RER C train from Versailles Les Chantier to Massy-Palaiseau and then from there catch an RER B train to Roissy airport. The journey should take about 90 minutes. However, this summer somebody had the bright idea of doing maintenance works on both the RER B and C lines simultaneously. As a result, parts of both lines are disrupted. And so, I end up alighting at Massy-Palaiseau but then taking a replacement bus service to Les Baconnets, and then from there catching another train to the airport. I depart from Versailles Les Chantiers just after 16h. All in all, the inconvenience is minimal and only adds thirty minutes to the whole journey, so that I arrive at the hotel just after 18h.

Getting from the CitizenM Roissy to Terminal 2

At Roissy airport I spend the night at the CitizenM, which is located at Roissypole – the airport’s main transport hub that is located midway between Terminals 1 and 2. An automated shuttle runs frequently between the terminals.

I like the CitizenM hotels. They’re easy to use and very convenient. I also like that their lobbies are a nice showcase for Vitra design furniture.

The hotel is only a short three minutes walk from Roissypole station.

And from there, the journey to Terminal 2 takes about four minutes.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I still need to drop my bag at the SkyPriority counter. The check-in agent is friendly and swift. Access to the fast track security line is right next to the SkyPriority check-in area.

The Salon Air France in Terminal 2F

I just love the design of the airside area of Terminal 2F. By the time I’m through security, I still have a little less than an hour to go before boarding, so I figure I might as well visit the lounge.

The lounge is quite busy, which is why I don’t take many pictures. They have removed some furniture to make space for more socially distanced seating. And I also think they’ve reduced their buffet offerings, because the buffet area is looking decidedly empty!

Other than that, I am considering writing a letter to Air France to suggest they ban families with children from the lounges. The kids usually aren’t even that much of an issue, but sometimes you get the impression that their parents just don’t know how to behave around their own kids in the presence of strangers.

Boarding

There is a separate lane for SkyPriorty passengers to queue for boarding, which is nice and helps to avoid the usual rush once the flight’s departure is announced. Today’s flight is operated by an Airbus A 318 and it appears to be full.

The cabin

The cabin looks neat and tidy. I was able to secure a window seat on the exit row. So the leg space is simply brilliant on row 10.

On each row of three seats there are four USB powers sockets. The aircraft is also equipped with wifi. The use of the network for receiving and sending messages is complimentary. For writing mails or surfing, there is a charge of EUR15 in Economy Class.

The crew

As usual on Air France, the three cabin crew members are very nicely turned out and put together. It always impresses me how much more professional they manage to look than some of the vapid flight crews you get on SWISS sometimes. I mean, the ugly SWISS uniform is not really their fault, but I do think that somebody should tell them that a foulard around the neck is really not the height of sophistication, and neither is the lipstick laid on so thick that it ends up sticking to their teeth and makes them looks as though they have a severe case of bleeding gums.

Upon entering the aircraft, the crew hand out surgical face masks to all passengers wearing one made out of cloth. Apparently, it is a legal requirement in France for it to be a bona fide surgical mask that has to be worn aboard an aircraft. The cloth masks won’t do.

The flight time is announced as one hour and 25 minutes.

The meal

The meal service consists of a packaged croissant and a very limited selection of hot and cold drinks. As airline coffee in Economy on European short-haul flights usually leans towards the crap instant variety, I only ask for a cup of water. Other than that, I think the only other cold option is orange juice.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Copenhagen on time, just before 10h30. Unlike Paris, Copenhagen airport looks fairly quiet. What’s more, half the shops appear to be closed, which makes the whole place really look kind of sad.

Fairly quickly my suitcase arrives on the luggage belt. And then I’m off to explore the city.

Getting into Copenhagen city

Probably the most convenient and cheapest way to get into the city is via the Metro line M. The station for the metro is located right at the far end of the main terminal building. Trains run frequently and only take about 20 minutes to make the journey from the airport to the city centre, the sights and the shops.