CGN-CDG-YUL(-YOW) and VV
CGN-CDG 01 Sep 01
Photo © Frank Schaefer
Begin of trip from Germany to Canada. Cologne’s new Terminal 2, from which AF operates their service to Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport, is impressing, transparent, short distances, clean and stylish.
Our flight was quite booked. Taken from the terminal to the aircraft by bus, there were actually two Saab 2000’s on the tarmac, both in the well known AF livery, and all clean washed. Upon boarding the plane, it showed what kind of narrow pipes these airplanes are from the inside. Very limited headroom. Not exactly a relief for people suffering claustrophobia. The seats were comfortable though, dark grey leather-like.
After a long taxiing towards the other end of the main runway, the bird hummed like an aggressive wasp up into the partly cloudy skies over Cologne. It was just two or three minutes later that we saw the city being pulled away underneath like a carpet, centred by the famous cathedrals, toy like.
The flight itself was a bit bumpy, the service was excellent! A very elegant young flight attendant served small trays with nice little delicatessen, cheese cubes, cake, yoghurt, water, coffee, and the best thing: a small bottle of red wine on each tray! Great! I never had red wine around noon, but flying with AF can turn anyone into a vino.
After half an hour, the descent into CDG began, and we touched down next to other planes taking off and landing at the same time all over the place. What an airport!
CDG-YUL 01 Sep 01
Photo © Stuart Ross
Photo © Stephan Curkowskyj
Well, to begin with, we were overwhelmed by CDG’s terminals. What an amazing architecture! It tops all other airports I have ever been to, forget Frankfurt, don’t even mention Brussels, I like Schiphol, but CDG’s terminals are like vast modern sculptures. Terminal 2 F was the one our connecting transatlantic flight left from. Breathtaking. Walking there is an adventure, we were glad we did not get on of these shuttle busses. We overpassed the train station, futuristic underneath. Terminal 2 F then is the ultimate climax. You listen to that Star Trek like sound before each loudspeaker announcement, you head into one of the oval glass departure halls, bend steel structure beams and glass… like on another planet. I still get goose bumps just thinking about it. Everyone smokes everywhere, there are elegant shops underneath. The terminal was very busy, people from all over waiting, outside one AF 747 next to the other.
F-GITA was parked there as well, waiting. Having heard about the notorious delays one usually has to deal with when flying AF, we were surprised that our flight was actually very much on time. The 747-400 from afar was shiny white, but before boarding we had a close look at it, and I thought it had not seen a wash for ages. It is actually a pity for the otherwise quite elegant AF livery.
Boarding was fluent, the inside of F-GITA clean and tidy. Seating was reasonable, we had two seats in the very rear, one aisle, one window seat. Tempo, that is how their Economy Class is called. All flight attendants again very French, elegant, but distant.
Having taken off on so many 747 flights before, it is still stunning over and over again, having all this trembling power around, the ever a bit “too-long-it-feels” run until these tons of metal lift off. The ascent went steep and quick, leaving this large airport area. We could see parked Concordes from above. Westwards. Over the Bretagne, heading for a long ride, about which there is not too much to mention, except for the excellent catering again, all these few superb little things, and again wine. In flight entertainment is not worth a sentence, no PTV’s, and dull movies and shows. Still a good flight.
1800 local time, we drifted into YUL, Montreal Dorval Airport, circling south half way around the city and landing from the west. That was the first time ever I came in to land from that direction. Montreal is a fascinating place with all these wide rivers around, this time seen from above. It looked as though we were about to land on water, but a few seconds before touchdown we saw the Montreal suburbs reappear. The pilots did not fulfil a good job though, not a smooth landing, they probably dropped their cigarettes or had some of that great wine as well.
Dorval Airport seen from the tarmac in the slant of the late afternoon: still sort of crummy. Getting off the plane, and into the terminal. That old carpet. That horrible aquarium for the smokers, with the charm of a provincial bus stop waiting room. That long walk through the gloomy tunnel. All still there, unchanged, I was surprised, and I wasn’t. I just wondered what we all had paid that Airport Improvement Fee for three years ago, when we were here last. One is tired from a long flight, and one tries not to be bothered. Waiting in long lines for customs in the neon basement light. Well yes, sorry, all you Montrealers. I still miss Mirabel. Little did I know I would see it again on the way home…
Last leg on that trip, not a flight, but a bus ride, the AF shuttle to Ottawa. Only six passengers. Big big sky over the outskirts of Montreal, darkening, it feels so good to be in Canada again…
YUL - YMX - CDG 24/25 Sep 01
Photo © Stephan Curkowskyj
Leaving from Ottawa to Dorval in the driving rain. Traffic jams on Queensway. Sad having to go back home. The bus arrived at Dorval, punctual. Other than the Dorval arrival experience, departing from Dorval is different, as the entrancing terminal is quite new and not too crowded. The AF check-in desks were not too crowded. The clerk told us, after our baggage went out of sight, that… AF 347 was delayed. Her English was quite limited, but we figured that due to Dorval’s night curfew, the plane which had not arrived yet, had to land and therefore take off from YMX, Montreal Mirabel Airport, shortly after midnight. Five hours late, well, we were not too mad about that, especially after the terrible events of September 11. A lot of flights to the US were still cancelled that night, so we were glad our flight was going to go anyway. Until the arranged bus transfer between YUL and YMX, there was still time to spend at Dorval. With food vouchers in our pockets, we had yet another several Hamburgers.
After 2100 hrs, two busses parked in front of the terminal. Still heavy rain, and the planers of new Dorval terminal forgot a roof in front, passengers holding bags and baggage overhead to protect from the rain while lining up to get into the bus.
Bus ride across dark and rainy Montreal suburbs, we finally arrived at Mirabel after half an hour. The passengers were all tired, most of them French speaking. When the bus halted in front of the abandoned Mirabel terminal, one guy behind us yelled “Welcome to the twilight zone!” with a strong French accent.
Coming into the terminal, we felt like derelicts. We faced a desk, and I had forgotten about it, where we were to pay that Airport Improvement Tax again. Mind you, we are Germans, speaking English fluently and French just enough to find our way around, that old bag at the counter yelled at us in Quebecois, that we had to pay that fee right here, several times. I was unable to get that, so I yelled back “English please”. Service and politeness in Germany, forget about that, we were treated so well in Ontario and in the US, but that was so rude to people who obviously did not have a pleasant time being shipped between two airports and facing a long delay. Well, she must have had a bad day, all women have that at least once a month…
So there we were at Mirabel, the place I have taken off back to Europe a lot of times in the eighties before it was more or less closed down. Still a nice place, definitely not crowded, especially not after ten at night. Only one other flight, Canada 3000, leaving for CDG as well, and a few cargo jets on the distant tarmac.
AF, the red-eye airline, it proved to be true. And our inbound flight had been so pleasant.
The flight, AF 346, F-GISB, B 744, came into YMX at 2315 hrs. Estimated turnaround as AF 347: 0115 hrs. Security staff in the terminal, almost more than passengers, made us feel safe.
Boarding commenced at 0030 hrs, we were already jet-lagged. Outside, bubbles of rain on the wings and flaps. Nothing happened, time went by. We thought one of the passengers was still awaited. Or security reasons for the growing delay, whatever. Way after 0200 hrs, mechanics entered the aircraft, passengers getting nervous. No information given by the attendants. “There is a problem, but we will fix it”. Bang, out go the lights, the air-condition, darkness for half a minute, then it all turns on again. Then, this is your captain speaking, only French, and so low, something about problem, electric, Dorval, broken, delay, that much we could figure.
We asked the flight attendants to explain that in English, but they did not seem to have passed the first lessons in school (mind you, what would happen on an AF flight in a real serious emergency, you better learn French before being evacuated!), and they had lost their countenance already. By what we could put together piece by piece, there was some broken electronic item in the system. It was going to be replaced still. It had to be brought over from YUL, obviously from the Air Canada maintenance centre. That piece came at about 0310 hrs. In the meantime we were served dinner (excellent, yes, without any turbulence). Sometime before dawn we must have taken off finally. Well, we were to tired to care, but a group of French Canadians on this flight had just missed their connection to Marseille and worse the departure of a cruise ship leaving from there. They were outraged!
So that was more like a strange day flight bound for Europe, with the blinds down for most of the trip. We touched down at CDG at about 1730 hrs local time. F-GISB, poor plane, unwashed and exhausted, but huge like every 744 seen from the tarmac, when you turn around entering the bus for the terminal.
Photo © Philippe Gindrat
Even after all the hassle back in Montreal and the odyssey, entering CDG terminal was great once again. People smoking everywhere, so did we. AF arranged a new connection to Cologne for us, the last one on that day, bound to leave at 2010 hrs. And again, meal vouchers provided for us, Pizza Hut in Paris, well, not very romantic.
We were quite shocked to see a lot of soldiers in the terminal with machine guns, flocks of them patrolling between travelling mothers with babies. Air travel has changed, that we could see clearly.
There is not much to say about the last segment of our trip. We took off from CDG just as it got completely dark outside. But we did see Paris form above this time, the Eiffel Tower, the boulevards, rivers of light. One last bottle of red wine and succulent food (Thank You, AF), we touched down in Cologne.