As we are relocating to MRU early next year due to my partners job we were entitled to a 'pre-transfer' journey to check things out . As hubby was already in South Africa for a business trip we travelled separately .
I was not looking forward to the trip because I had heard bad things about AF and also about CDG , an airport which I had never used before . To make matters worse I was up most of the previous night with a very nasty stomach bug and was really unsure whether I should be travelling at all .
Got the TGV from Brussels Gare du Midi direct to CDG , because I was ticketed on the MK codeshare flight number I could not check in at Gare du Midi , nor could I use online checkin which I was initially disappointed about but which actually worked to my advantage .
Having arrived at the TGV station at CDG the first pleasant surprise was that it was not at all difficult to find my way to Terminal 2F - I had heard all sorts of stories about how difficult it can be to find your way around at CDG but they seemed to me to be unfounded .
I checked in the old fashioned way , and after waiting for the difficult man in front of me to finish his check-in I was greeted in a very friendly manner by the AF check in person ( a very nice surprise as I had read a lot about AF staff having 'attitude' ) . I smiled at her nicely and I think she took an instant liking to me after having dealt with the previous customer who had seemed a bit surly . I explained that I had been a bit unwell and that if it was at all possible I would prefer an aisle seat as I expected to get up quite a bit in the night and I did not want to annoy sleeping pax by climbing over them , at first she said that unfortunately there were no aisle seats available , then she smiled and asked me in English if I could speak English ( I am sure that she was being polite as my French is so atrocious that there could have been little doubt what my native tongue was ) when I said "Yes" she picked up the phone and had a brief conversation with one of her colleagues . After hanging up the phone she gave me a very big smile and said that I had an aisle seat in an exit row - proof yet again that asking nicely gets better results than making demands . As I mentioned my French is pretty awful , but I had understood her conversation on the phone and I found it extrememly funny when trying to get me assigned to the exit row she made a big point of the fact that I spoke English - it seemed very strange that speaking English should be a prerequisite for getting an exit row on AF and I wondered what Jacques Chirac would have thought of it .... but then again I doubt if he has ever travelled in Y in his life .
After proceeding through security and making my way to terminal 2F I noticed a large number of people queued at the standby desk confirming my initial impression that this would be a full flight . Boarding was the usual zoo with the lucky J class people boarding through 1L while those of us in zoo class all piled through 2L .... and it was there that I discovered which exit row I had , yes , 13C was right by the 2L door so once aboard I just sat straight in my seat without having to fight my way down the aisle .
I had heard a lot about AF flight attendants , most of it came down to two stereotypes ... that they looked like supermodels .... and that they had attitude to match ... and , as is often the case , there seemed to be some basis to the stories , certainly the guy in the jump seat opposite me was gorgeous , but he also did not mess about when he put pax in their place .... if he told someone off they knew that they had been told off , however , he was at least nice enough to stroke my ego with a little light flirting .
For such a busy airport the taxi out to the runway seemed remarkably short , barely enough time to do the full safety briefing before we rumbled along the runway and into the air getting brief views of Paris as we skirted around the northern edge of the city , but , being late October and about 17:00 it was not long until it was dark outside .
Being in the first row of economy meant that there was not long to wait for the meal service and the food was quite reasonable if unspectacular ... sorry but I didnt take notes at the time so I dont remember that much about it except that it was a moderately spicy chicken dish served with a ridiculously chilled bottle of vin ordinaire . No choice of meals either , if you hadnt ordered a special meal then tough luck if you didnt like chicken . I will be the first to admit that over the years I have been very fortunate for the most part with my longhauls , they have mostly been on NZ/TG/SQ/MH/CX and the like , so it was a bit of a shock that once the meal service was over and the lights had been dimmed the cabin crew completely disappeared ... I dont just mean that a few of them went to rest while the others attended to the cabin , I mean that they completely and utterly disappeared , very twilight zone . Want another drink ? go to the galley and help yourself !
I also noticed when the curtains were open that AF has old style sloping beds in J certainly better than an economy seat but no substitute for proper lie-flat ... I was not sure whether it was just because this is principally a leisure route ? Do AF have proper lie flats on their more important routes ?
The next shock was the IFE , a battered old ceiling monitor was all there was ... at first I assumed that this was because we were in the exit row and I concluded that doing without a PTV was a small price to pay for the comfort and convenience of the exit row , but the first time I got up to go to the toilet I realised on the way back that nobody had PTVs , quel horreur ! On the plus side AF did provide eyeshades and earplugs although I preferred to put my noise cancellation headphones on ( if you dont have them and you travel longhaul you absolutely must get them ... in my experience a lot of the fatigue from a long trip comes from the constant drone of the engines ... of course I will be the first to admit that I would rather suffer that noise than have the engines stop completely (!) but a set of noise cancelling headphones makes a huge difference , try it , you wont regret it )
I slept fitfully through the night , and everytime I 'resurfaced' I would look up at the video screen hoping to see the map so that I could tell where we were , but no , the first time it was some stupid Will Smith movie - it looked bad even by his abominable standards seemed to be about an alcoholic superhero , and the next time I woke up it was Sex and the City which I had already seen . I also noted that the couple sitting next to me seemed to know half the pax and there was a constant flow of visitors chatting to them throughout the night . Sometimes they would provoke one of the cabin crew to emerge from hibernation by either sitting in the jump seat , or on the "do not sit here" sticker on the casing for the slide in the door - either offence earned a very swift rebuke which I fully agree with , I just wish that they had delivered the rebukes at a lower volume , however , as is often the case I must have slept better than I thought that I had because sooner than I expected I woke up and smelled the coffee - yes , breakfast was being prepared . An adequate but instantly forgotten meal was followed by the sight of the sunrise , no matter how many times I see sunrise or sunset from an aircraft I never get sick of it . Our descent had started and suddenly the island was in sight , I got a good look at what should soon be my new home , from what I could work out we flew down the west coast turning inland more or less over the delightfully named town of Flic en Flac before landing at Sir Seewoosagur Ramgoolam ( try saying that first thing in the morning ! ) International Airport . Joy of joy we were the first longhaul arrival of the day . What happended next absolutely amazed me , after an uneventful landing and taxi the plane pulled up to the terminal and the airbridge was positioned next to the 2L door ... I assumed that we mere mortals would be strictly instructed to remain in our seats so that the J pax could disembark , but no , we were told we could disembark and so I was the 3rd passenger off the plane ( If I had paid J I would have been absolutely furious about this )
Customs and immigration were a breeze , and then things started to go horribly wrong ... my bag appeared on the belt suspiciously early , a warning bell told me to make sure that it was mine but instead of checking the tag I turned it over as I knew that it had HKG security tape on it , sure enough I saw what I was expecting and having 'confirmed' that it was my bag rolled it away to get the transfer to my hotel ... quickly found my driver and started the nearly one hour trip to my hotel where hubby would be meeting me in the afternoon when he arrived from JNB . Got to the hotel absolutely knackered and really looking forward to a shower and change of clothes when the person on the checkin desk said to me "Mr Ewen ? We have had a phone call from Air France , you have taken someone elses bag " I indignantly replied that of course I had done no such thing , after all I had checked the bag when I grabbed it off the belt and it was mine.... except of course that it wasnt. Worse still it belonged to one of the AF crew and she needed it immediately as she was going to sleep all day and then crew another flight back that same evening ( how had I failed to notice the "Crew Priority " tag on it ?) so instead of a shower and a change of clothes I had to face a 2 hour round trip from my hotel to the Movenpick to drop off the bag that I had stolen ( if you are reading this I am really really sorry for the inconvenience ) and return to the now busy airport to retrieve my own .... and no one to get mad at or to blame except myself DOH !
I wont bore you with all that nonaviation related stuff about our actual stay in Mauritius other than to say that the people were lovely and the food was great - shame that it was not really a holiday as we had so much to do in so little time to begin organising our move
Fast forward a week , saturday morning , time to get going again . Hubby was flying to JNB first and his flight was only a few minutes after mine ... I thought that he was really lucky because he was flying business while I was flying cattle , he thought I was lucky because I would be home the same night while he had to go to JNB for a long layover before flying overnight JNB-ZRH-BRU .
Again , due to the codeshare I could not online checkin but I managed to secure an aisle seat which usually keeps me happy , and it was close to the toilets so that I could monitor the length of the queues and judge when to join them .
Hubby was determined to get me into the lounge before boarding , he kept telling me that as a Star Gold he was entitled to a guest , and I kept telling him that only applied if it was actually a lounge operated by a Star carrier ( which this wasn't ) , personally I prefer to avoid the embarrassment of trying to get into a lounge when I know perfectly well that I am not entitled to but he got "that look" on his face and I knew that I was going to have to go along and try .... well , the inevitable happened ... but I did think that she could have been slightly more polite , I didnt mind the refusal , as I said , I knew that I was not entitled , but there is a nice way to say "no" and then there is the way she said it .. I just wanted to crawl under a rock and hide
Now I have to be clear about one thing .... I absolutely hate long daylight flights , and I have been fortunate that most of my longhauls have been overnight as I usually manage to at least doze a bit but there was no getting away from the fact that this was not going to be pleasant .. I had charged up my ipod , made sure that I had spare batteries for my noise cancelling headphones and taken plenty of reading material but I was still not looking forward to the trip , especially with no PTVs .
This time my seat was in the last row of the first Y cabin , the crew on this flight were just as cute as on the previous flight but with a lot less attitude and I made a mental note to reward them for this by not stealing any of their luggage this time . The plane was pretty full but not completely sold out as the previous flight had been ( it was the first of three flights to CDG that day and I think the early morning start might have put a few people off it ) I heard one of the cabin crew say that there were approx 30 empty seats in Y ... but unfortunately that didnt include any of the seats in my row , having said that I was lucky that the woman sitting next to me was tiny and slept through most of the flight as did her husband by the window ( and as is often the case with couples she automatically leaned in towards him thus giving me a bit more space - thank god they hadn't had a nasty row before boarding )
Considering that the flight was a little shy of 12 hours the crew served brunch/lunch/whatever with almost indecent haste presumably so that they could once again do their amazing disappearing crew trick . The meal was again adequate but unimaginative though at least the wine was not quite so chilled as on the trip down . I was very surprised to see a miniature of rum nestled in the middle of the tray , not a spirit I am fond of but I thought that since "rhum arrangée" is a typical Mauritian drink I ought to try it , except when I checked the label it was actually from Martinique rather than Mauritius and when I opened it and sniffed I decided that , for me at least , 11:00 was a little early to be hitting perfumed rum . With hindsight , if I had bothered to check the magazine and see what movies they had scheduled I would probably not only have downed my rum in one gulp , but I would have scrounged the unconsumed bottles from everyone elses trays as well and drunk myself into oblivion . First we had "Get Smart" then "Indian Jones and the zimmer frame" and finally "Kung Fu Panda" all great ways to make an 11:00 flight seem like it is actually endless - when we hit some turbulence somewhere up over the Horn of Africa it came as something of a relief and I can honestly say that it was the best part of the flight as far as entertainment was concerned . The crew put in a brief appearance to serve a snack in between "Incontinence Pants Jones" and "Kung Fu Panda" and I spent another entertaining twenty minutes trying to work out what made this a 'snack' since it was no more and no less substantial that the earlier meal ... but apart from the snack/meal conundrum it was no more interesting than any previous offering ( although definitely more entertaining than any of the movies which were obviously sponsored by Lobotomy Weekly magazine . Finally after 11 gruelling hours we made our approach into CDG , taxied with remarkably little fuss up to Terminal 2 D ( I think ) and disembarked to find one (1) person on passport control for a nearly full 747 - fortunately after about ten minutes they managed to round up some more staff ( these things always amaze me ... the flight had left MRU 11 hours earlier so presumably they had known it was coming and yet often immigration/customs/agriculturay officials throughout the world seem taken by surprise as though the incoming aircraft has just materialised from nowhere without any advance warning ) . Made it to the baggage belt in time to hear an announcement that they were having difficulty opening the doors to the cargo hold and finally after about twenty minutes saw a bag ( which I positively identified as mine this time ) and headed off to the TGV station only to find that the nonstop train to Brussels was running two hours late .... fortunately I just managed to squeeze on to a CDG-Lille-Brussels TGV that was about to depart .
All in all I would have to say that AF exceeded my expectations but that this was probably helped by the fact that my expectations were pretty low in the first place - out of all the longhauls I have flown I would place them 2nd from the bottom slightly ahead of KL but light years behind my first tier NZ/CX/MH and still well below my second ranked tier of SQ/QF/LH ... on the bright side I didnt have to pay for the ticket and you know what they say about gift horses
Looking forward to doing my next trip report which will be BRU-LHR-MRU oneway in J coming to you sometime in January