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

Transfer in Zürich

By the time I ‘m comfortably settled on one of the sofas in the SWISS First Class lounge it’s 06h30. I have another hour before my departure to Paris. As soon as I take a seat, one of the lounge attendants comes over and asks me if there’s anything I’d like to order from the menu. I tell her a coffee would be great. Other than that though, I’m still quite full from breakfast on the plane.

The one thing that really always strikes me about SWISS, is just how incredibly ugly their uniforms are. And it’s not just that they’re ugly, they’re also clearly of very poor quality, badly cut and would even make a supermodel look frumpy. I understand that not all airlines can be like Singapore Airlines with their timeless and iconic SQ Kebaya that was designed by Balmain in 1968. But I also think that the appearance of an airline’s staff in their uniforms and the pride with which they wear it says a lot about the corporate culture and management’s appreciation for their frontline staff.

Boarding

At 07h15 I exit the lounge and make my way to the boarding gate at A 66. I figure I might as well wait for the intial scrum to pass before I step aboard. By the time I reach the gate it’s already more or less emptied, with just a few remaining passengers milling about. You know the ones. They wait until the very last moment to step aboard because of some incredibly important call they need to make at the top of their voices… Well let them, I’m tired and I need to sit down, so I make a B-line for the gate attendant who scans my boarding pass and then sends me on my way.

The service

I’m seated on 1A. A bottle of still water and a refreshing towel are already at me seat when I arrive.

There are two middle-aged women working the Business Class cabin, and they couldn’t be more different from the crew of the previous flight from Singapore. One of them barely speaks any funtional German and has a strong Eastern European accent when she speaks English. Meanwhile, her colleague is doing a bloody convincing interpretation of the Queen of Frump. But I must say, they are friendly, if perhaps a tad too reserved. We can’t all be social butterflies…

The cabin

There are nine rows of Business Class, for a total of 36 seat. However, there are only four passengers in the forward cabin on this flight. I ask with one of the cabin crew and apparently they’re expecting a full load on the inbound to Zürich.

The expected flight time is exactly one hour.

The meal – breakfast

Within minutes of getting airborne, the crew start preparing for breakfast. On the small tray there is a glas of berry Birchermüsli and a plate with cold cuts, cheese and egg.

To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice. The crew make two rounds with the breadbasket. As soon as I’m done, the crew remove my tray.

Looking from above, the difference between Europe and Australia is really quite striking. In Europe more or less every inch of land is exploited for agriculture, whereas in Australia you can spend hours flying over vast stretches of untouched wilderness.

Arrival

Very soon we’re starting our descent into Paris. The crew pass through the cabin with the chocolates while the passengers are treated to a complimentary sightseeing tour of Paris. Our approach brings us in past Notre Dame cathedral, then the Tour Eiffel and the Arc de Triomphe at Etoile. We continue on a Westerly track in the direction of Versailles before eventually doing a 180 degree turn to line up for an approach towards the East.

I already miss Australia, but I’ve very much missed this too. No matter what troubles Europe may be heading into right now, the age and traditions of its cities are comforting to me – because they speak of longevity and of resilience.

Our aircraft comes to a stop at one of the stands on the D concourse, and within minutes my suitcases appear on the luggage belt. And just like that I’m back where it all began two months ago.

Conclusion

This brings to an end my sabbatical of 2022, which should have happened in 2020 originally, and then very nearly didn’t happen at all. Before I left on this trip, my dad asked me why it had to be Australia, if the purpose of this trip was for me to have some time to work on my Phd thesis in peace and quiet. And I guess it’s a valid point. All I can say is that I really like being in Australia. The lethal snakes, spiders, sharks and croccodiles aside, I like the way the earth smells in Australia, I enjoyed going for long walks along the beach early every morning in Manly, and I loved listening to the unique strangeness of the whistles and chirps (and also screeches…) of the birds. And I really, really enjoyed the openess and the friendly curiosity of the Australians.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-100: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Zürich

Introduction

A week after my return from Bogotà I am at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport again. In pre-Covid times the Lufthansa carriers operated out of Terminal 1 and even had their own, dedicated satellite. However, Terminal 1 has been closed since the start of 2020. And for the time being, the Lufthansa airlines have had to relocate to Terminal 2B.

From the RER B railway station at Terminal 2, it is about five minutes on foot to Terminal 2B. To get there, you first need to cross the departure hall of 2D.

Check-in

In Terminal 2B there are two check-in areas. The Lufthansa group checks in its flights in area 1. There are two First Class counters, three Business Class counters and six Economy Class counters. The check-in agent sends my suitcase on its way and then wishes me a pleasant flight.

With my passport and three boarding passes in hand, I make my way to the security checkpoint, which is located between terminals 2B and 2D.

I really like the architecture of 2B/2D. The security checkpoint is one floor up, and there is a dedicated queue for First and Business Class passengers.

The security check is a bit of a mess, mainly because the staff are too busy bitching about the passengers to pay attention to what they are doing. But eventually I still manage to get through.

The lounge

The contractor lounge is incredibly ugly, dirty and not very appealing. Although SWISS can hardly be blamed for that. The food options are simply strange and the place is a complete mess. I do a walk through and quickly realise I am probably better off outside where at least I can see the aircraft movements. I honestly think the public seating areas in this terminal are nicer than those in the lounge.

Boarding

The added benefit of not staying in the lounge means that I am at the gate to watch the inbound from Zürich pulling onto its stand. The flight today is operated by an A 220-100, and the flight is full.

I’m the last to board. Sitting on 1A I think there’s hardly any reason to board first, only to have to watch the entire aircraft file past.

The cabin

The cabin is well maintained. There are four rows of Business Class for a total of twelve passengers. All twelve seats are occupied.

Seating on row one is quite tight, with not much leg room.

Service

The crew up front is a lovely young woman, presumably of Eastern European origin. She’s the maître de and she’s really excellent. She is serious, but not unfriendly, and very professional in her interaction with the passengers. Once the doors close, she passes through the cabin with small bottles of water and packaged towels.

The meal

The flight time is fifty minutes, which is not really all that much. The meal is another SWISS original – a hearty Wurst & Käse salad (slices of Cervelat with cheese, boiled egg, cornichons and radishes). You may like it, or you may not… With that, bread rolls and butter are served from a basket. Dessert is some gelatinous concoction. To drink I have a Coke Zero, and the cabin crew even ask me if I would like lemon and ice with that.

And there is a silver lining: at least on this flight he crew remember to pass through the cabin with chocolates for the Business Class cabin.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Zürich at 16h20 after an uneventful flight. I now have six hours and twenty minutes to make my onward connection. I think I am slowly starting to get excited about this trip…!

Air France, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Amsterdam to Paris Charles de Gaulle

Transfer in Amsterdam… it is not pretty!

My flight from Bogotà arrives in Amsterdam at eleven in the morning. My onward connection to Paris is not until 14h30. At 11h15 the aircraft comes to a stop on its stand, we disembark and I make my way to security – where there’s already a very long queue forming. There are ground staff everywhere, trying to manage the queues. All in all it takes me over ninety minutes to reach the head of the queue. The security staff do an excellent job, despite the fact that they are basically being subjected to a constant stream of verbal abuse, yelled at, and even threatened.

I think what strikes me the most about the situation in Amsterdam is the incredibly high level of aggression among passengers. That, and the complete and utter stupidity of the human race. Standing in a queue for ninety minutes brings out all the worst in humanity, and makes you wonder how we managed even to invent the bloody wheel before killing each other. There’s one guy giving the girl from security hell, insisting that his Business Class ticket gives him privileges to jump the queue. She makes several attempts to explain to him that the priority line has been shut down, and there there is only the one, very long queue. Then there’s the American family who feel they need to jump the queue because their flight will be leaving in 45 minutes, to which another American tells them to just shut the f**k up and deal with it, he actually watched his flight depart without him from the queue… It really is quite horrible. Still, at least the queue for immigration is very short.

By the time I get to the Crown lounge in the Schengen area it’s already coming up to 13h00 and the place is crawling with disgruntled passengers. Bugger this, I’m better off outside where I can at least see the aircraft departing.

Boarding

My flight is leaving from C07. Next to us at C05 is the previous flight to Paris, which leaves only thirty minutes earlier, at 14h00. While I sit and wait, I watch the poor front line staff dealing with passenger after passenger who arrives at the gate, only to be told that they have missed their connection. What’s probably worse, is that the aircraft is still on stand, probably due to a slot restriction. And passengers don’t get that, “if the aircraft is still here, why won’t you let me on…?”.

My flight is running more than an hour late by the time we start boarding. The missed connections from the flight at 14h00 contact the gate agent of my flight to be reprotected, only to be told that the flight is already full. Which is, of course, a joke, because by this time everybody on the flight knows that not all passengers that are booked on the flight are going to make it through security on time. There’s a lot of frustration everywhere, especially when eventually we push back from the gate with twenty reported no-shows, twenty empty seats that could have been taken by the passengers from the previous flight.

The seat

I’m seated on 3A. The middle seat is left empty, and there is an elderly American gentleman on 3C. Seat pitch on row three is very tight, my best option is to spread my legs wide to avoid having my knee caps crushed when the guy in front of me decides to recline his seat while we wait. Other than that, the seat has a USB port integrated in the arm rest and there’s wifi available on board. There are six rows of Business Class on this flight, and all seats are taken.

The service

While we wait for our ATC clearance, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with packaged towels and still water.

The meal

The flight time to Paris is fifty minutes. Service is by FlyingBlue status, and as a result, I ended up being served first, which is rather awkward, to be honest. The meal consists of a zucchini and mozzarella salad, bread and camembert cheese and a very rich chocolate cake that is so thick that I am unable to finish it.

Arrival

The weather in Paris is lovely. It’s sunny but not too warm, with a temperature of about 22 degrees. We land from the West, and then take the long taxi route to our stand at 2F.

More delays

But the fun doesn’t stop there, boys and girls. First, there is a delay with the delivery of the luggage, which takes about thirty minutes to start arriving. Still, at least my suitcase made it, so there is that.

Getting into town

In Paris I’ll be staying at the Molitor Hotel near the Roland Garros tennis court. Only, the RER B train line from CDG airport is not running today. So instead, I first have to catch a replacement bus to Stade de France.

Then from there I catch the RER D train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

Then from there the RER A to Auber.

And then from there the metro line 9 to Ange-Molitor. In total it takes me two whole hours to get form the airport to the hotel. By the time I arrive I’m just a total wreck.

Conclusion

The short hop from Amsterdam to Paris was incredibly tiring and really not at all enjoyable. It wasn’t just that there were many delays and a lot of queueing involved. These things happen. What made the whole experience unpleasant was the extremely high level of anger and aggression – and the rather off-putting stench of entitlement coming off some of the passengers.

I salute all the front line staff in the call centres, at security, the receptionists at the lounges, the gate agents, the cabin crew, the ground handlers and rampers, the stoic pilots and the excellent air traffic controllers for their professionalism. You guys are doing an incredible job in the face of adversity this summer. May you receive really, really fat bonuses and pay rises for it very soon. You deserve it. Not everybody would put up with the shit you guys are having to deal with. Until then, you have my gratitude for returning me home safely. Thank you!


– William

Air France, Business Class – Boeing B 787-9: Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bogota El Dorado

Introduction

I’m on my way to Bogota to give a course. The flight from Paris departs at 15h40 on Monday. However, there either is no connecting flight from Basel or it’s already fully booked, which means that I end up spending Sunday evening at the Pullman Hotel at Paris airport.

Check-in at Terminal 2E

Terminal 2E is Air France’s non-Schengen terminal. From the SkyPriority check-in area passengers have direct access to the priority lane for immigration.

I think they have a rather clever process in place in Terminal 2. In addition to the main concourse K, there are also the two satellite terminals L and M. While immigration is centralized for all passengers leaving France on the K concourse, security screening for departures from the L and M gate is done directly in the satellite, which clearly helps to better manage the queues.

The view from the train is rather nice too…

The security screening is done on the ground floor, the main airside area is then one floor up.

Le Salon Air France in satellite M

The Business Class lounge is busy when I arrive. Not that it makes a difference, because it’s only once I’m in the lounge that I remember I forgot my belt at security, so I leave again and make the schlepp back down there to retrieve it.

Once I get back to the lounge again just after 14h00, the peak is just over. It’s still busy, but not full. During peak hours there is a second, smaller food station available in the lounge. However, once the mad rush is over they close this one down.

Boarding

I rather like the archiecture of 2F. The terminal is spacious and with plenty of seating opportunities.

On my way to the gate I’m distracted by this gorgeous looking aircraft. How can anybody not like the A 350? I really need to get myself on a flight with one of these.

Unfortunately, I’m not so lucky taking photos of my own ride to Bogota. The way the aircraft is parked means that I only get to take the photo below.

Boarding is by zones, starting with SkyPriority and Business Class passengers. There’s also a Covid check for connecting passengers.

The cabin

Air France does not have a First Class cabin on the Boeing B 787-9. The Business Class cabin is located between the L1 and L2 doors and comprises of 32 seats in a reverse herringbone configuration in a 1 + 2 + 1 arrangement. I’m on 1A, which I think it just brilliant because it offers a lot of privacy. Because the seats are staggered, there is no seat on the other side of the aisle. I don’t find the proximity to the galley bothersome and the curtains block out all the light.

A cushion and a proper, thick blanket are already at my seat when I arrive.

There is more than enough storage space in the seat. Morover, there’s a small compartment that houses the earphones and that can also be used to store smaller items.

There’s also a multi-purpose electricity plug and usb port.

The service

The crew on this flight are a friendly, chirpy bunch. Once boarding is completed, the lead flight attendant in Business Class comes to welcome me aboard and introduce herself to me. I notice she and her colleagues consistently address me by my family name.

The service begins with a welcome drink – there is water, champagne and orange juice on offer.

Next comes the distribution of the vanity kits, which feature Clarins cosmetics, a toothbrush and Signal toothpaste, eye shades, socks, and earplugs.

The crew also offer sanitary kits for our arrival in Bogota, where it is mandatory to wear face masks inside the terminal building.

The menus are also distributed. I notice that the crew first take orders from the Platinum members before asking the other passengers for their meal choices.

And finally, a very hot towel is distributed to passengers.

We take off in a Westerly direction , which takes us past the Musé de L’Air at Le Bourget and then the city of Paris with the Eiffel tower and then Versailles. The flight time to Bogota is just over ten hours.

The meal – first service

There are four choices for the main course. I go with the vegetarian couscous.

The meal begins with an apéritif. At the flight attendant’s suggestion, I try the Vermouth with Perrier, which is not bad. With that, there is a small box of cashew nuts and cranberries.

The tray arrives with the salad and the first course. The foie gras is an Air France staple, and probably a reason to order an Asian vegetarian meal in future… The other starter is an asparagus salad. I don’t touch the foie gras, but the mango chutney it is served with is nice. There is a selection of rolls on offer too.

The salad comes with pine nuts and a small bottle of olive oil and balsamico.

Once the first course is removed, the crew bring the cheese dish and more bread.

And then comes the main course: vegetable couscous with lemon. And very nice it is too.

For dessert there is a choice of vanilla ice cream, coffee ice cream, strawberry sorbet, or a selection of pastries – or any combination of all.

The service is unrushed but efficient. There are no long waits in between courses, and once I’m done my tray is quickly removed. For the rest of the flight I reline my seat and read. Outside there is nothing much to see except the vastness of the Atlantic ocean.

Second service

Ninety minutes out of Bogota, the second service begins. There are two options available – fish or pasta.

I go with the ravioli filled with cheese in a cream sauce with champignons, which is a really excellent and rather substatial dish for the second service. In addition, there is also a bowl of pear compote and a buttery piece of cake.

Arrival

By the time we land in Bogota at 19h15 it’s already dark outside. The crew come to say good bye, and then it’s already time to disembark. Immigration in Bogota is easy and very quick. Within twenty minutes after landing, I’m already through customs and on my way to the taxi stand.

At Bogota airport you can either take a regular yellow taxi from the taxi rink outside exit six. However, this may not be the safest option. Alternatively, you can ask for a taxi and the taxi booth near exit five. They will log your journey with your name and passport details and those of your driver. You also pay directly at the counter, and not the driver.

Pullman Hotel, Roissy Airport

The Pullman Hotel at Roissy airport is located right next to Roissypole station, between Terminals 1 and 2. It’s literally about two minutes on foot from the station to the lobby.

Since my last visit, the hotel has resumed full operations. Back in the spring there were still Covid restictions in place. This means that the pool and the gym are now back in service and open to hotel guests.

The lobby and bar area have windows all around, which gives the space a nice, bright appearance. Strangely though, whenever I visit this hotel, it feels a bit like a ghost town.

Opposite the bar there’s a small, open business centre.

During my stay, I’m upgraded to a king suite, which is spacious and nicely designed. The suites take up the space in the rounded tip of the building. In any case, there is a sitting room area with a good size working desk.

The bedroom is large and very comfortable. It’s a slightly odd shape though, owing to the rounded facade of the hotel.

There’s also an Illy espresso machine and complimentary soft drinks and beer in the fridge.

The bathroom is spacious and has a separate shower and bath.

The cosmetics are by Bigelow’s.

In addition, every room has its unique QR code that guests can use to order room service. If your rate includes breakfast, this also means that you can order breakfast to be served in your room at no extra charge. It is also possible to order breakfast for the same day, and there are multiple options for breakfast available, which allow for a lot of customization.

Eurostar, Standard Premier Class: Paris Gare du Nord to London St. Pancras

Getting to the Gare du Nord

It takes me 90 minutes to get from Fontainebleau to Gare du Nord. I first catch the bus line 1 to the railway station at Fontainebleau Avon, and then from there the RER R train to Gare de Lyon. At Gare de Lyon I can’t resist the opportunity to take a photo of this legendary engine, which just looks really funky – despite it’s age.

On the other side of the platform are three resting TGVs.

From Gare de Lyon the RER D runs to Gare du Nord. It’s only two stops and takes about seven minutes.

At Gare du Nord I am temporarily distracted again…

Check-in

There is no check-in as such on the Eurostar. However, because you go through French immigration, French customs and English immigration at Gare du Nord, Eurostar advise you to be at the station two hours before departure. The Eurostar has its own terminal, located on the upper level of the station.

There is a dedicated line for Business Premier passengers, which means that they don’t have to show up quite so early for their train.

Once you’re through immigration and security, there is a fairly large waiting area. However, given that the Eurostar train has a capacity of 750, it does tend to get rather crowded.

Boarding

Boarding for the train starts thirty minutes before departure and it’s a complete mess. There are people pushing and showing everywhere, so I figure I better wait for the initial scrum to settle.

It also doesn’t help that there are no signs to tell you in which direction your coach is. As a result, the platform is full of people walking up and down in search of their carriage.

The cabin

The cabin of the train is in a two + one abreast configuration. There are a few units of four facing seats for families or groups.

Leg room is very good. In addition, when you recline the seat, the lower part moves forward, which means that you don’t infringe on the personal space of the person sitting behind you.

The service

Each one of the Premier coaches has its own attendant. The staff are nice enough and I have to say they’re very polite and really take care of passengers. If you ask them for extra water or a top up of you tea, they take care of it straight away.

The meal

There’s a delay of fifteen minutes departing Paris. As a result, the crew already start serving lunch while we’re still in the station. There is a choice of vegetarian or fish. I decide to go with the vegetarian.

The main dish is some sort of small pasta with olives and an artichoke pie.

For dessert there is a small apricot pie.

And the meal is served with a bread roll and butter.

A bottle of still water is on the tray, but other drinks are available from the trolley.

The meal ends with tea or coffee.

All in all, I think the meal service on the TGV is better than that on the Eurostar. I also think they present the meal a lot nicer on the TGV. Still, the quality of the food is good, and hits the spot nicely for an afternoon departure.

Arrival

Eventually we arrive in London with a delay of eleven minutes. The exit from the platform is at the very end, which gives me a chance to take a photo of the business end of our train. Eurostar is currently in the process of renewing its rolling stock with trains produced by Hitachi of Japan. However, I’m lucky to have had a last minute equipment change, which means I get to travel on the much cooler, older rolling stock that looks very similar to the TGV.

Conclusion

The journey time from Paris to London is two hours and thirty minutes. The time in the tunnel under the channel is only 20 minutes, which is quite amazing. I like travelling by train, and I think it makes sense to take a train where it is a viable option to travelling by plane. Nonetheless, I thought there was quite a bit of unnecessary hassle on this trip, starting with the fact that they expect you to be at the station two hours before departure. I think next time, unless it’s too expensive, I would try the Business Premier fare instead of the Standard Premier, simply because it allows you to arrive at the station much closer to the train’s departure time. The signposting at Gare du Nord could also be much improved.

Fontainebleau – Crêperie L‘Hirondelle

L‘Hirondelle is a small breton crêperie in the centre of Fontainebleau, close to the entrance to the jardin de Diane, which belongs to the palace grounds.

The restaurant opens at 19:00 on weekdays, and if you haven‘t made a reservation for a table, you better be there at 19:00 sharp, as the place is very popular and quickly fills up.

The menu comprises of a variety of savoury and sweet dishes. From what I understand, a galette refers to the savoury pancake that is made with black wheat, whereas the crêpe is made with regular wheat flour.

In addition, you can also order a plain galette and add your own toppings from a long list. The people who run the place are very accommodating, so if there’s anything you don’t like, they’ll happily make the dish without it for you.

And to drink you can choose between brut or doux cidre from the Bretagne, which is traditionally served in a mug.

Galette filled with champignons, tomato coulis & glazed onion.
La Locmaria but without the chèvre fondant.
La Belle-Île.
La Morgane.

L‘Hirondelle is a small and unpretentious restaurant with fabulous food. It’s run by a brilliant woman and her young son, who occasionally helps with the service. The service is unrushed and laid back, but you usually don’t need to wait long for the food to arrive. A meal for two persons with sparkling water and some cidre will set you back about EUR50.

Le Château de Fontainebleau

The château at Fontainebleau dates back to the 12th century, when the original building was commissioned by King Louis VII. Every subsequent ruler of France added to and expanded the château, with some of the most significant changes being commissioned by King François I, who is also credited for bringing Leonardo Da Vinci’s Gioconda to the Louvre.

The château de Fontainebleau is very different to Versailles, in that it was intended and mostly operated as the residence of the royals of France, whereas Versailles was never a home and only ever served as a showpiece for Louis XIV to enact his role as the roy soleil who ruled by divine prerogative.

Today, the château is open to the public. An adult ticket costs EUR13 and can be purchased either on location or online. Figuring there might be queues, I opted to get the ticket online. Although I needn’t have bothered because the place was far from crowded while I was there.

On the ground floor there is also a very nice café that serves an excellent lunch that I can highly recommend.

If you’re close to Paris and have a few days to spare, I can highly recommend a visit to Fontainebleau. I think it’s worthwhile to stay in the town of Fontainebleau for a few days, because it’s really quite charming. Also, the grounds of the château are mostly open to the public. Walking through the park in the evenings is lovely, with the golden light of the setting sun seeping in between the trees.

Rennes to Fontainebleau via Paris

Rennes railways station is about 15 minutes from the Balthazar Hotel on foot if you’re walking at a leisurely pace or if you’re carting along a suitcase. The station is an interesting design and looks fairly new.

At the entrance to the station I find this sign of the name of the station in both French and what I presume is Breton.

Access to the trains is via the upper level of the station. To access the platforms, passengers need to show their ticket to one of the SNCF staff waiting by the stairs. It’s a lot like boarding a plane.

There’s even a lounge, but seeing as I only arrive at the station about ten minutes before departure, I don’t have the time to visit.

The TGV to Paris today is sold out. Access to the platform is restricted to holders of a valid ticket for exactly this train. In Rennes two TGVs are merged to run as a twin composition nonstop to Paris. The first train to arrive is the TGV from Brest. This is followed a few minutes later by the train from Quimper. The number of the carriages are numbered through from the first train to the second.

I know, I know. I’ve already said this before. But damn it, that TGV is really something. We slowly pull out of the station at Rennes at 11h35, so we’re on time (are you reading this Deutsche Bahn…?). We run over a few points to change tracks until eventually we’re on the TGV’s own dedicated line. And then, about five minutes out of Rennes, the TGV accelerates to 300km/h and just keeps on going like that until we reach Paris ninety minutes or 350 kilometres later. Trains heading for the Atlantic coast arrive and depart from Paris Montparnasse, which is one of the smaller stations in Paris. Deutsche Bahn, are you still reading this? Because we actually pull into Montparnasse station four minutes ahead of schedule.

But I’m going off again. Sorry. In any case, the short-haul trains that serve Fontainebleau leave from Gare de Lyon, which is also the station for the Mediterranean division of the TGV and all trains heading south to France’s Mediterranean coast. Funnily enough, this also includes Switzerland, which is in fact landlocked…

To get from Montparnasse to Gare de Lyon I take the metro line 6. I alight at Bercy station, which is then only a short walk of about ten minutes to Gare to Lyon. I guess you could also change to another metro line at Bercy to take you the one stop to Gare de Lyon. But with all the walking you do in the metro, I doubt you’d be any faster.

By the time I reach Gare de Lyon it’s just coming up to 14h00 and I haven’t had lunch yet. They’re also working on the line to Fontainebleau until 15h30. Which is why I wisely made a reservation for 14h00 at the Train Bleu to while away the time with some good food. At least that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it…

Today my pleasure is pissaladère of langoustine with shellfish cream bavarois and anchovy purée.

Followed by a divine gratin of macaroni with lobster in a thick bisque, served with nice, crusty bread.

And the fluffiest lemon soufflé I’ve ever laid eyes on, served with wild thyme sorbet.

Tickets for the RER short-haul train to Fontainebleau can be purchased at the machine. Just be warned though that there are machines for the long-distance and TGV trains, and other machines for the short-haul and île de France trains. The trip to Fontainebleau takes 39 minutes and costs EUR5 for a oneway in second class. To the best of my knowledge, there is no first class carriage on this train.

I alight at Fontainebleau Avon, which is a different village to where the château is. From here I can either take the bus lines 1 or 8 to Fontainebleau. It’s a journey of a little less than 15 minutes and costs EUR1.50.

I’m aware of the fact that I probably don’t travel enough on the TGV to say I’m an experienced TGV buff, and I’m sure they have delays like other trains too. Nonetheless, I think the state of the French railway network is nothing short of impressive. It’s not just that they have the funkiest, meanest rolling stock out there and a very nice onboard product. It’s also the fact that the network and infrastructure have been invested in continuously to be able to offer passengers a good and reliable service. Which is exactly where the Deutsche Bahn have failed. The ICE trains may be nice and comfy, but the obsolete infrastructure make the trains prone to serious delay and unreliable service. I fully support shifting to rail travel within Europe. But for that to happen on a large scale, the railway companies need to put on their big-boy trousers and step up to the plate. From what I can tell, the French railways with the SNCF are already doing a pretty good job with their extensive TGV network.

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.