This was the conclusion of my Middle Eastern holiday - my long journey home. I'm afraid no pictures on this trip - I promise I will put them up on my next trip report.
Air France 587 - Amman to Paris CDG - 9 January - Airbus A320-200
Duration: 5hours 10minutes
Amman's Queen Alia International Airport looks like it hasn't been updated appreciably since the 1980s, but it is very functional. We arrived early and were not allowed through the first security checkpoint for a while and had to wait in a lounge just inside the doors. The seats were new enough, though there was something that looked like a construction barrier between this lounge and check-in. In this area lived a small flock of pigeons and a farrel orange cat which was sleeping a few seats down from us. Once we were allowed through the first security check, we were the first in line for Air France check in. The staff appeared to be mostly natively French. They were friendly and efficient and got us checked in fairly quickly with no real issues.
The departure hall was somewhat disappointing. Few of the restaurants and shops accepted credit cards or foreign currency, which struck me as odd for an international airport which in theory is supposed to serve as a hub for an airline of some note. We sat for a while, ate dinner, and it was comfortable enough. When security opened for the gate area (our flight and another one - Turkish to Istanbul) were boarding and leaving about the same time from the same bank of gates, we lined up. Security was moving very slowly. There was a very large group of Romany going through at the same time causing a bit of a stir. They appeared not to speak Arabic or English (or any other language known to Amman airport security personnel). One child attempted to pull the purse off of the arm of one of my travel companions and another took the hat off of a police officer at the checkpoint and threw it on the ground (and when I say children, I'm talking children between the ages of 10-15) which struck me as a bold thing to do to someone visibly armed. Another child elected to sit in the metal detector. Once that group had moved through security seemed to speed up and work fairly efficiently and diligently, searching bags and people who set off the metal detector - and were very efficient. There was a separate lane for women behind etched glass which was unique, also.
The gate area was large-ish, had a PA system, modern jetbridges, lots of seating, and was equipped with all the accouterments expected of a modern airport. Boarding was politely and clearly announced in three languages and boarding was mostly orderly for being at such an ungodly hour. We got underway on time, had a fairly long takeoff roll for a narrowbody aircraft (though at 5 hours, this would be towards the outer limits of the range of an A320, especially in high density configuration).
Ground: 7/10 - Unruly passengers ahead of us aside, it's a somewhat out-of-date facility that is fully functional and has all the things you would need from a modern airport.
The A320 is usually a quiet, roomy, and nice way to get from place to place - the Toyota Camry of airplanes. Air France, however, has configured their A320s in a method which is totally unacceptable. Air France uses their A320s, I believe, mostly for fairly short-haul work in Europe, in the 1 to 2 and half hour range. This 5 hour flight however was ill-fitted for the aircraft. The specific issue is how tight the pitch in Y is. With the seats erect (and erect is like straight up and down), the seat in front of me was already cutting hard into my knees. When the seat in front of me was reclined, I had to very painfully contort myself to fit at all. I have never, in my life, been in such a tight seat. Ever. I was so severely dissapointed. It was a terrible flight as a result of this. There were movies on the overhead IFE, as well as the intermittent map showing our progress along on the route. The aircraft was clean, though the seats were very hard. They had winged headrests, which is nice. If they took out a row or two of seats, it would be a nice aircraft.
Airplane: 4/10: It could be a very comfortable aircraft with everything necessary to be pleasant - but the seating is so tight that it makes it absolutely miserable to be on this aircraft - especially for flights that are longer than an hour or two.
Whereas the aircraft itself was miserable, the service was actually quite acceptable. Boarding was efficient, quick, and polite. We were off quickly and very shortly after takeoff there was a drink service offered - which moved very, very quickly throughout the cabin (so many people just wanted to get to sleep). As with many night flights, the cabin crew was scarce throughout the flight, not much to anyone's offense or bother. About an hour out of Paris, the crew, who were - par for the course - with Air France flights, were very well dressed, groomed, and put together. This crew appeared younger than the crews on my other flights. The hour before landing saw the crew become very, very busy - scurrying about serving breakfast, a drink service, and a coffee/tea service, attending to all of the various requests of the passengers, and whatever else. Coming in to landing, they again, very quickly collected everyone's items, cutting it fairly close with landing. The breakfast appeared to have been served too late - with many people on the flight scarcely being able to real eat much of their breakfast before the crew was back around to collect everything. On the whole though decent.
Service: 6/10 - Good Air France standards of friendliness, professionalism, and service. Breakfast was served too late - and that shouldn't have happened. Language skills were strong.
Not the greatest. There was a hot quiche dish which I after a bite I didn't eat (in their defense, I don't care for quiche), fruit plate, roll. I honestly would have preferred just to have a croissant or something. They had a hurried drink service. Though I know better than to expect it in economy, there were no mimosas available. Strange for what I'd expect on AF, but again, I cannot complain.
Service: 6/10 - I know it's not that long of a flight, but the poor execution of the meal, lack of choice, and extreme rush to eat are things there simply are no reason for.
Not much to say here. Some short programming on the overhead LCDs, intermittent views of the inflight map, which was nice. A lot of airlines are equipping their A320s with PTVs, especially for longer flights like this one (airlines like AC, RJ, DL on the 737s). It's nothing remarkable, but by no means below average.
IFE: 6/10 - Not good, not bad.
Takeoff was longest I have ever experienced on a narrowbody. It slowly worked its way off of the ground and ascended slowly off to the West and North. Load factor appeared to be about 60% up front, somewhere between 80%-90% in back. There were a few bumps going over the Alps, and some more turbulence during the descent into Charles de Gaulle. The airplane ride was quiet and unremarkable. Cruising altitude was at 38,000 feet, it was somewhat cloudy ride from the Med all the way into Southern France. Landing in Paris was cold, but we got a gate right away in 2F.
Air France 22 - Paris CDG to New York JFK - 9 January - Boeing 777-200ER
Duration: 8hours 15minutes
Charles De Gaulle is a scattered and crazy place to change planes. On our transfer from 2F to 2E on the way to Cairo, the signs directed us to the nice little people move/train thing that swiftly and easily moved us between Aerogares. This time, however, the signs directed us to a bus vestibule on the lower level. We had the good fortune to arrive just as a shuttle bus was arriving at the vestibule. We boarded the bus - in the very cold morning - and it sat at the stop for more than 5 minutes with its doors open. A loud gentleman speaking very quickly and confusingly was directly people on to the bus. Eventually the bus set off, stopping 3 or 4 more times before arriving at the vestibule for 2E that corresponded to the gate we were leaving from, 34. As the bus continued through these stops, it would stop for 5 odd minutes at each stop, opening its doors the entire time, freezing the passengers - and people kept getting on, but no one got off. Eventually, as it got full, an Indian family encompassing three generations packed in, with the middle-aged parents trying to get their small children and the elderly grandmother on the bus. The driver shouted in French from the front they needed to get further in before we could alight. It was a loud and hectic affair. It was so loud hardly anyone could hear the driver, and of those who could, few seemed to understand French. After roughly 20-30 minutes on this shuttle, we arrived, made our way upstairs into a very long security queue. After about 10-15 minutes in queue, we were taken out and put in the orange line, which took another 10 minutes, but finally we cleared security, arrived at out gate, and settled in for a short 15 minutes before boarding.
Aerogare 2E is the very model of what the modern airport terminal should look and work like. It is large, airy, open, has lots of windows, but so many that the sun gets piercing, it is dotted with first-rate duty frees and little shops and restaurants, almost all of which not only seems to cater to smattering of European languages, but accept half a dozen currencies and credit cards. The gate areas are large, have lots of comfortable seating, and the large queue areas make boarding organized. Well done CDG on 2E. A welcome improvement.
Boarding moved quickly, efficiently, and politely, with three agents checking in passengers. They spoke terrific English (aside from the requisite French) and were well dressed. There also appeared to be somewhere between 25 and 35 standby passengers they had to deal with. Once on board, we waited a very long time. A PA announcement informed us that we were waiting for some late luggage to be loaded onto the aircraft before departing (likely belonging to some of the throng of standby passengers?). About half an hour late, we departed and moved fairly quickly to the runway for takeoff.
Ground: 7/10 - 2E is a delightful facility, a model terminal. The shuttle system to get passengers between terminals sucks. SUCKS.
Air France's 777-200ER is a very nice airplane. The exterior, like the other AF 77E on our journey was badly in need of paint. Much of the nose areas around the cockpit windows was all together missing paint. Doesn't inspire much in the way of confidence - even if I know Air France maintains their aircraft well, it sure doesn't look like it from the outside.
The interior is nice. The C and J seats aren't particularly impressive looking, but they aren't substandard either. I myself being in Y, found the Y cabin to be pleasant enough, decorated in beige and royal blue. The aisles were wide, the bins and walls, carpets, and upholstery were relatively clean - a few marks of dirt and frayed ends in a few places, but generally well kept. The seats have average 32" pitch that are slimline towards the bottom and more thick and plush near the top. For long flights, the seats are fairly hard and unsupportive near the base of the bottom and back cushions. The lavatories are entirely too small, almost to the point of being unusable. Additionally, one of the Y lavatories was out of commission.
Airplane: 7/10 - In fairly clean, well kept condition - a good configuration, roomy, airy, comfortable. The lavatories were small, however, and the exterior looked awful.
I have already over and over extolled the virtues of Air France's service. They are well dressed, well put together, very professional, have top-notch language skills, are engaging, friendly, and in my experiences, entirely consistent in this performance. This daytime flight had numerous drink and coffee services, we had frequent updates from the crew during our flight, and numerous sincere apologies regarding our delayed departure and arrival into New York JFK. The purser was perhaps middle aged and seemed very genuinely to be a leader amongst the crew - constantly offering direction and wandering the aircraft, seemingly inspecting. The crew was mostly young and well kept and attentive. I found it nothing but pleasing. The service on Air France and Lufthansa in my experience is almost as strong as my favorite Asian carriers.
Service: 8/10 - Great language skills - good crew - good attention to detail, attentive, friendly, well kept and nicely dressed. Not much more to ask for.
Actually, not bad. Air France can't help being a French airline - and French cuisine being very sophisticated, is not always the best suited to airplanes. That said, French cuisine is good.
We had a drink / breakfast service right after takeoff. We could order the breakfast of our choice from a menu - a great touch, in my humble opinion. I ordered a blackberry and peach bread pudding. It had a fruit compote with it, as well as small muffin and a blackberry cobbler. It was all completely delicious. I loved it, in every possible way. Terrific food.
Lunch, however, right before landing, did not have a menu. There was a light roll, some cheeses (which were excellent) and this bizarre kind of cold pizza type thing I had not previously encountered. It was a thin bread with a tomato based sauce with peppers and onions in it with a slightly melted cheese on it, served cold. After a few bites I let mine be. It was a mixed bag for lunch.
As for drinks, I asked again for a mimosa with breakfast. No such luck. I stupidly asked for champagne with lunch. No again. Their white wine, in a small bottle, a Savignon Blanc, was characteristically French in its bite, but was generally acceptable. The red wine with lunch, however, all French, all of different vintages. Of myself and the two other members of my party who ordered Red wine, mine tasted slightly bitter beyond what a Cabernet should, one of my companion's wine was entirely acceptable, and my fiancee's had very noticeably began to turn to vinegar. Wholly unacceptable to be serving wine which had gone bad. It's like serving anything else past it's expiration. I did appreciate the real metal cutlery, though.
Food:: 6/10 - A mixed bag. Breakfast was amongst the best food I've been fed in Y on an airplane. Lunch was all together unimpressive. Serving bad wine is not okay, especially on the national airline of France.
I am in love with AF's AVOD system. The combination of both remote control and touch screen controls is great. There are a fair number of options available to choose from in all venues of entertainment (movie, tv, games, maps). The map is nice, the system is reasonably quick and responsive. The screen could stand to be larger and higher resolution, but hardly terrible flaws. The Air France quiz attempts to claim the French, not Americans invented the airplane, asks what year the Air France A380 will enter service (and considers answers which are not 2007 to be wrong). It also asks how often Air France aircraft are washed. Not a good topic. All in all, I was happy with it. It worked great, had all I needed. The only thing I did not like was waiting for movies to start, but big deal.
IFE: 7/10 - A great system - the only way it could be improved is a bigger, sharper screen, and movies that start right away (and a less inaccurate and propogandized quiz, haha).
Takeoff was swift, but not noteable for the 777. There were several instances of light chop on the way across the Atlantic - on a routing taking us further North than I had expected, skimming southern Greenland. Our approach into JFK was fairly slow and measured, working our way about the pattern for a lot less time than I had expected. The landing was bumpy and despite spoilers and reverse thrust the airplane took a very long time to slow down (must have had a lot of cargo in the hold?). We had a fairly extended taxi into our gate. I can't speak to C or J, but Y looked to be about 90% full, thanks to some help from a slew of standby pax.
Delta 6801 (Operated by ComAir) - New York JFK to Minneapolis - 9 January - CRJ700
Duration: 3hours 12minutes
It saddens me to think that JFK is probably the flagship international Airport for the US. The arrival into Terminal 1 was unremarkable. It's a fairly crappy facility, ugly, outdated, less than ideal signage. Customs was fine, had a nice enough, if sarcastic agent. The lines took maybe 10 minutes (A Korean Air 744 arrived maybe 5 minutes ahead of us).
After visiting the Air France transfer counter - worked surprisingly by a less than helpful Frenchman who was slow at doing almost everything, we made our way up to the airtrain, took it over to Terminal 3, and got in the security line that stretched all the way across the check-in area. The line took upwards of half an hour, and the combination of hot air vents and opening and closing doors made the temperature swing violently. The security area was too small and moved slowly. The facility itself looks badly dated, frumpy, and in places, in disrepair (we saw buckets in a few places collecting water leaking from the ceiling). After security the gate area was merely dated and ugly, but generally functional. There was not nearly enough seating area around the gates, the seats weren't that nice either. Delta needs to get this place some help, in a bad way. Maybe the crappiest place I have changed planes in recent memory. The airport in Siem Reap, Cambodia is actually nicer than this place. There are, however, a huge number of stores and restaurants (not nice ones) to meet the needs and preferences of any traveler (though all are super expensive - $5 Red Bull, c'mon).
Seemingly all Delta Connection flights were leaving from Gate 21. Because of several delays, our flight waited for 3 flights to board after our scheduled boarding. Finally, in a free-for-all, we were let down the jet way, to some stairs, and down a maze of covered walkways out to our airplane. The ladies at the desk spoke English with more inflected accents than the gate agents in either Paris or Amman, but were just fine, if not polite. We boarded no more than 15 minutes late.
Ground: 4/10 - Not convenient to transfer, facility are dated, ugly, in disrepair, not entirely functional, leaking roofs, impolite gate agents, disorganization. I mean, it works, but there isn't much else nice to say.
Expectations on a CRJ are low, but the ComAir CR7s actually aren't half bad. I would say there were the equal of the Egyptair E170 I had ridden about a week earlier. Comfortable, fairly attractive dark blue leather seats, adequate leg room, bins aren't quite as big on the E-Jet, but my bag fit, so it was fine with me. All in all, a comfortable ride for flights on the shorter end of things. The ceiling in the aisle is kind of low (though I stand 6'5"/1,95m) and sitting up front in row 3, it is actually a very quiet aircraft. The seats showed some signs of wear and tear, as did the carpets, but not so bad as to complain. The bins showed a good deal of dirty and scuffing. I would describe the aircraft as being in wholly mediocre condition.
Airplane: 6/10 - Nothing to complain about - I have no problem riding on the DL CR7, I wouldn't seek one out nor would I avoid one. Up front it is nice and quiet though.
Our two flight attendants were not that well put together. One of the two FA's, a gentleman, had a badly wrinkled uniform and the other FA, a woman had not done her hair at all and looked generally disheveled. Not really bothersome as much as just noticeable after so many flights with crews so nicely finished. Our male FA was a bit of an airplane buff, pointing out an EK A380 landing while we were waiting our turn to take off. After takeoff there was a drink service with a small bag of peanuts. It was alright - though I was thrilled to have coke products on an airplane again. No can, but easily the largest plastic cup I've ever been given on an airplane. Any bigger and it might have counted as a fast-food small. On the second drink service my row was skipped, which mild irked me, but not enough to bitch about it. The cabin crew seemed to be more going through the motions than actually giving a damn about anyone's flight anyhow, which isn't unusual for US domestic, just a bit of a change from my last two flights on AF. It goes without saying there was no IFE (beyond my book).
Service: 5/10: Exactly what you'd expect flying US domestic. Nothing remarkably good, nothing unusually bad. They got us there, didn't really do anything offensive. Not well put together or sincere, but you can't really expect that either.
Took off late, after waiting forever to takeoff. That's JFK. The flight was smooth. The takeoff was the most surprisingly thrusty I have ever experienced. I was not expecting to be pinned to my seat. The flight was smooth, though the pilot seemed to make more sudden and steep turns than I am used to on commercial. Landing was unremarkable and we made our way swiftly to a gate on Concourse E after landing at MSP - 15 minutes late.