Finally the time came again for some international flights over the European skies. This time I flew to Denmark for a 6-day trip and I chose Air France, since they offered a good student fare of 227 euros plus taxes. Furthermore, they allowed me to leave from Pisa and come back to Florence, where I had to attend lessons at 5 p.m.
So, this is my report for the four segments, I hope you’ll enjoy it.
March 12, Wednesday
Scheduled dep.09.50- arr.11.35
Effective dep.09.55- arr.11.50
ERJ135 F-GRGR, Air France by Regional, 37 seats
20 passengers on board
This was the first time on a small regional jet and on an aircraft with less than 4 seats per row.
I arrived at the check-in counters at 08.20 and I asked for a window seat, which I obtained. There were two desks dedicated to this flight to Paris and no queue at all. Same thing when going through security. I had some time to kill but, after the 08.40 Ryanair flight to Hahn left, the apron was empty. I really didn’t know what to expect from a small aircraft such as the ERJ135, I was glad to fly on an aircraft I had never tried before, but the limited size scared me a little, since I am not a big fan of small airliners, especially when they fly through the clouds.
At 9.20 boarding was called through gate one, we boarded the bus and were ferried to our regional jet F-GRGR. I was the first to get on board, to be greeted by the stewardess and to pick some newspapers from seat 1A. The interior was more pleasant than I had expected, clean, with leather seats, and my seat 10A had good legroom. In the seat pocket I found a copy of Air France Magazine, with an excellent map of Air France hubs at Orly and CDG.
The safety demo was the slowest one I have ever seen! Since only one stewardess was on board I would have expected her to tell us what to do, without any visual demonstration, as I had experienced on other flights with one cabin crew member (ATR 42 flights in Italy by Italair and Alitalia Express). No! She first said that there were 4 exits on board, first in French and then in English; then she left the microphone for a while and indicated them stretching her arms and pointing at the exits. Same thing for the oxygen mask and the life vest: French, English, microphone down and visual…
Finally we left the stand and moved to the holding point of runway 22L. We waited for a Ryanair 737-800 from STN to land and then we took off. How silent the ERJ is!!!
Nice take off run, then right turn towards Genoa, Turin, the Alps…in the meanwhile service had started: a tray with some ham and cheese, some bread rolls, tea or coffee to chose from, water, yoghurt, chocolate cake…not to bad for a regional airline. This reconfirms the fact that regional airlines in Europe are great! The flight was uneventful until we descended towards Paris, where we found some turbulence on our way. Landing was at 11.34 on 26L. Here we waited for some time, since we had to cross runway 26R, which was in use for take offs: Alitalia MD80, Air France A340s, Lot 737, Islandflug A300F…and much more. Once at the stand we were bussed to terminal 2D, where I had my connecting flight to CPH, Copenhagen Kastrup Airport. Some of the passengers run to their connecting flights to the United States, they had very little connecting time.
At Paris I had to go through security again, but it went fast and I was soon at the gate for the CPH flight, gate D53.
March 12, Wednesday
CDG-CPH AF 2350
Scheduled dep.12.50 arr.14.45
Effective dep.12.50 arr.14.45
Boeing 737-500 F-GJNV 112 seats C/Y
About 40 passengers on board
Since the pervious flight was slightly late, I arrived at gate D53 when boarding was going to start, perfectly on time. Another “first” for me, i.e. boarding was through what I thought is called “mobile lounge”, a sort of bus whose cabin reaches different height levels, thanks to mechanic arms installed between the cabin and the wheels (this is the best I could do for a pseudo-technical description, to discover what I am trying to describe use your fantasy or go to CDG airport!).
The mobile lounge was at gate level and then, when all the forty of us were on, was brought down to look like a normal bus and it begun to run to our Boeing, parked at a remote stand. The “lounge” then reached the level of the aircraft cabin, the doors were open and we slowly moved on board the 737. There were four cabin attendants on this lightly loaded flight, but maybe they needed all the four for the return flight. Female attendants wore different uniforms, I don’t know whether this depends on age, hierarchy or what else…please inform me, if you can! With such light load boarding was soon completed and we moved on time to runway 27R. I had seat 11F, with no one sitting next to me (not a difficult achievement on this flight…), offering me fantastic views of the wing and a good listening to the engine take off symphony (though my favourite engines’ voice is MD80’s).
At 13.11 we were airborne and made a lot of turns but I had no reference to the ground, since it was cloudy. Soon after take off meal service started, or at least something looking similar, but inferior, to a normal meal service. Forget about trolleys going down the aisle with your tray in it. Think instead of your favourite cabin attendant walking with a plastic box under her arms and handing to you a Barbie-size tray with dried fruit, two small open sandwiches, a meatball and a tasteless cake. At first I didn’t realized this was the whole meal, “Wow! An appetizer!”, I thought…The choice of drinks was much richer (not a big effort). After collecting the empty trays, the cabin attendant disappeared till the voice of one of them announced we were landing at Kastrup airport in Copenhagen, on time, on runway 04L.
We disembarked through a loading bridge and walked through what is more a shopping mall than an airport, to the baggage reclaim area in terminal three. Bags come out quickly, a feature common to all Scandinavian airports, and at 15.05 I had recollected my bag and left the area for the magnificent delta-shaped terminal three, full of natural light and well organized.
After some days in Denmark, the following Monday I flew back to Italy, again with Air France, of course.
March 17, Monday
Scheduled dep. 07.20 arr.09.20
Effective dep. 07.20 arr.09.30
Airbus A320 F-GFKH 159seats C/Y
I arrived at the airport by bus at around 6 a.m. and went straight to check-in counters in terminal 2. The queue for economy class was quite long and since the one for business class was empty the agent invited us to change desk. I was the faster to move and in less than five minutes I had my boarding passes with seats according to my request: window seats in the rear for both flights.
Boarding was perfectly on time at gate A20, with good availability of newspapers at the gate. The flight was going to be operated by an A320 instead of an A319; The stand next to us was occupied by a SN Brussels Airlines ARJ to, have a guess, Brussels.
Since I got used to Air France flights with crowds of cabin attendants I was not surprised to find five of them on this flight with less than 100 people, some of them were laughing in the rear. I was sorry to disturb them, occupying seat 27A. I was the only one in the whole row, no one sitting in row 26 nor in the other rear rows.
The captain soon welcomed us on board the A319…and I hoped he would soon realize the plane he was going to fly was another model, though similar!
Since I was quite tired from the early morning departure, I didn’t pay much attention to the safety demos, since I had flown on the A320 other times, and I tried to get a nap. Anyhow, I assure you, this time too the crew walked down the aisle pretending to inflate the life vest.
Once left the stand, we slowly moved to runway 04R. A lot of SAS models, from smaller turboprops to the big Airbuses, could be seen, as well as a Singapore Airlines 777, some Sterling 737-800 and a lot more. Took off was on time and I was soon ready for breakfast…
This time some croissants came out from the magic plastic box under your favourite cabin attendant’s arm. Would you like something to drink? Yes, an orange juice, please. No, we don’t have orange juice, only tea or coffee.
I know airlines are reducing costs, but I think this was ridiculous! A world class airline like Air France offering just tea or coffee on a morning ,international, two hour flight between two capital cities? I was very disappointed…
After flying over Holland, Belgium, the city of Reims in France, we turned westwards to CDG and then turned left to land on runway 09R. Before landing the crew announced gate numbers for connecting flights, mostly to the USA, domestic French destinations and the Indian Ocean.
I had some four hours to spend before the connecting flight to Florence so I decided to take the shuttle bus to Terminal one and pick up some airline timetable. Unfortunately most of them were available only on the check-in counters, but these could be accessed only by travelling passengers, after showing a valid ticket. Of course I didn’t have a ticket to Washington with United or to Bangkok with Thai, so I took the shuttle bus back to terminal 2D and took timetables there, although the choice was limited to Air France and its partners.
March 17, Monday
Scheduled dep.13.25 arr.15.20
Effective dep.13.30 arr.15.25
BAe 146-200 Air France By CityJet EI-PAT 92 seats
The best thing to do proved to be going through security and simply wait for the flight to Florence. Boarding began on time at 12.45 through gate D62. We went downstairs and were bussed to the aircraft, waiting at one of the remote stands. The flight was quite full, almost totally, but I was luck again and the seat next to me was empty. There were 6 seats per row, quite cramped for a BAe 146, except in the rear, where there are only 5 or four. I chose the last rows to have more space, and I was very satisfied.
The cabin crew wore the flower symbol of Ireland on their pockets (the one on Aer Lingus aircraft’s tails, sorry, I don’t know the name) and stressed the attention of being on “an Air France flight operated by the Irish airline City Jet”. In fact, that day was St. Patrick’s day.
This flight was the best of the four: a decent meal on a decent tray served by attentive and nice cabin attendants, great choice of drinks, several refills of tea and coffee almost all the flight long, leather seats and low cabin noise, hot bread offered twice during the meal…and a spectacular view of the Alps!
Landing was at 13.20 and we reached the parking stand at 15.25, just five minutes behind scheduled. I disembarked from the rear door and soon bags were delivered from the conveyor belt in the small “arrivals” terminal at Florence airport. The shuttle bus to town cost 4€ and took 20 minutes for the journey and I arrived on time at the university for the lesson starting at 5 p.m.
The whole trip was successful, I arrived on time, safely, had no trouble with connections…my only surprise comes from Air France mainline operations. I know the CPH flights out of Paris fall in the service level of “less than two hours”, but even in this sectors things have to be improved. Reading other reports in this forum I often hear of better service levels on even shorter international routes. Regional carriers gave a better service and indeed this was delivered with more friendliness and “physical presence” in the cabin. I personally like Air France, they offer a reliable and worldwide service, but maybe the economy class-inter European passenger needs some more attention.