(Please excuse the delay in posting this. I was hoping to have some pictures to put up, but apparently that’s not going to happen. If they come online I will put them in.)
My wife and I decided to take a trip to Paris for our Honeymoon. Despite taking the trip in the middle of May, near the beginning of the tourist season, we found a very competitive price about two months before our departure and booked a return Air France ticket through Delta.com on 772/A343. After making the reservation, I called in and specifically discussed the seating maps with Delta staff to ensure that we reserved two adjacent seats on the aisle. (At that time I couldn't find the seat maps for AF
online, but now check out this helpful thread: http://www.airliners.net/discussions/general_aviation/read.main/1600577/
) Delta.com was accommodating, and gave us two seats on the aisle in the center of a 3-3-3 row, and two seats between the window and aisle on the way back in a 2-4-2 configuration. I periodically checked our reservation information on-line in the weeks before the trip and everything was fine.
J.F.K. International Airport
18 May 2004
Unfortunately, the snafus with Air France and Delta started before we even left for the airport. On the day of the flight, when I checked on line, our seat reservations had vanished—we still had seats on the aircraft, just not the ones we had reserved. I called Delta to check into this and the representative told me that there had been an equipment change and also a change in the Delta code share flight number from flight 8267 to Flight 8581. Unfortunately, nothing could be done about the seat reservation except at the airport, but the representative said that there was no worry, the flight wasn’t even 50% full.
At check in, everything was fine. The AF
agent was able to book us into two seats on the aisle in the center…but the plane was hardly half full. Rather the AF
agent said that the plane was fully booked and that AF
007 went out every night fully booked. I reconfirmed our seat choices for the return flight and those were fine. (So all is well that ends well, right? Well no actually, see below). As for that equipment change, we had gone from the 772 to the 773ER!
After checking through security, we decided to split a panini (driving the Belt Parkway really builds up the appetite) at the delicious Panini Grill stand in Terminal 1.
Air France Flight 007
(Delta Airlines 8581/8267)
Boeing 777-300ER (Registration: F-GSQ A)
New York- J.F.K. International Airport (JFK
) to Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle International Airport (CDG
Seat: 46E (3-3-3 Layout)
Scheduled Departure: 19 May 7:45pm
Actual Take Off: 19 May 8:30pm
Scheduled Arrival: 20 May 8:50am
Actual Arrival: 20 May 8:55am
The cabin of this plane is spacious and beautifully laid out, as big as it is, it appears even bigger. The overheard storage bins seem remarkably large and fold down to allow you to easily access your items in the bins. Here’s an interior (sorry only one photo, my wife asked me to stop embarrassing me on her honeymoon with all of this ridiculousness).
But while this may be the most advanced commercial aircraft in the sky, economy class is still economy class. The feel in the seats as an economy passenger wasn’t that much different from what I usually feel on my more typical trips in a CO
737. In fact, it was our impression that the seats on this aircraft recline back to a rediculous degree, giving you very little legroom when the passenger in front of you decides to move his/her seat back fully.
’s in flight service in no way compares to what you get on a CO
737! (More on that later).
The aircraft was loaded and made ready very efficiently and the aircraft doors were closed just a minute or two behind the scheduled departure time, but then we sat at the gate for a while and had further delays before leaving the Terminal 1 area. After finally getting out on to the taxiway there was only a momentary delay before we headed down the runway.
Like a lot of other widebodies, the ride on the 773ER was great, very smooth, and of course, this plane climbs very rapidly. Takeoff and the first 40 minutes of the flight were very smooth. The seat-belt sign was extinguished very early into the flight (perhaps at about ten minutes in), much sooner it seemed than on a typical flight for me. Upon crossing south of Boston into the Massachusetts Bay we did finally hit some rocky air. By this time the FAs were already into starting the pre-meal bread/beverage service. The turbulence got to be quite bad at times—probably moderate-sized chop: water sloshing out of glasses, impossible to pour anything into the glasses without spilling. I think on most airlines (certainly CO
/NW) the FAs would have been sent back to their seats. Not here! They just went on serving dinner, they were quite unflappable. The turbulence continued, stopping about a hundred miles east of the Labrador coast. This was perhaps a tail wind, as our speed during the trip peaked during the turbulence at 630 MPH (according to the flight view/”Geo Vision”). We were at FL330 at this point, but later in the flight we climbed to FL360. Average speed during the trip was 595 MPH – 605 MPH. There were further bits of mild-moderate turbulence later in the flight, but they were episodic, not lasting very long. The flight traveled over the North Atlantic directly over Shannon, then east of Cork and into CDG
Dinner Menu was as follows:
Prosciutto with Melon
Penne with salmon and cream sauce
Sauté of beef with Paprika and rice pilaf
Lemon Cake with Poppy Seeds
Coffee and Tea
The wife reports that the prosciutto with melon was “terrific, melon was perfectly ripe, prosciutto was nicely aged and complemented the melon”. The salmon was absolutely terrific. I even asked for seconds (refusing to spare my wife any embarrassment). Bread was hard and tasteless, but lemon cake was good. A nice white wine which complimented the salmon was available.
As for the FAs on this flight, they seemed quintessential French service industry workers: polite but cool, aloof and diffident, willing to do what is expected but not a jot more. On a CO
/NW flight the FAs are almost always cheerful and glad to see you, here they have the cool indifference of the French, although they were certainly never rude. They basically disappeared after the meal service was over, leaving a lot of things undone: for example near the end of the flight one of the aft washrooms had run out of paper towels, things like that. The FAs left in their place a well-stocked (non-alcoholic) drinks cart in the aft of the plane, which I preferred to them anyway. They returned towards the end of the flight to serve breakfast.
Not only are the flight attendants not particular attentive, but Air France doesn’t do a whole lot to make you feel more comfortable—especially English speaking passengers. On most international flights the FAs will often circulate with a good selection of newspapers in English and the native language of the airline (e.g., German for LH
, Danish etc. for SAS) but while AF
presented a pretty good selection of French newspapers, the only English language newspaper was the Wall Street Journal—European Edition. There was one copy of the Economist, for our twenty rows of coach (which I selfishly pinched for myself). The announcements are bilingual, with French first and then an English rendering that was often very highly accented occasionally to the point of being incomprehensible.
On this flight, the crew really did have a moment to shine though. The Sauté of beef plat turned out to be very popular and the crew ran out of it during the meal service. A francophone women in the same row but on the other side of the plane was not pleased by this. She first protested that she wanted the beef not the fish, then one-by-one she picked up every item on her tray and tossed it into the aisle. The FA
who had just served the meal was having none of it. He got in her face, gesticulating with his finger at her, and told her to pick up the items she had thrown down. She refused, another FA
repeated the message, and then a third FA
, who appeared to be the Senior FA
repeated the message. To top it off, another FA
brought out a pair of rubber gloves for her. (This is how misbehaving pax should be treated; I fear though that FAs on a U.S. carrier wouldn’t be empowered to do this.) She refused still, sitting motionless. The FAs simply ignored her. Eventually one of them picked up the two plates that held the plat and dessert, but left everything else. Finally, she put on the rubber gloves and picked up the debris off the floor. Score one for sanity en vol.
As for the IFE, this was really only a consumer curiosity to me since I had brought some goods books aboard to read (“Seven Ages of Paris” and the new Chernow biography of Alexander Hamilton--can’t recommend these two more highly) but I feel the IFE was much less impressive than it looked. Several of the features e.g., “Games”, “AF
Quiz” didn’t work at all. The “video selection” was pretty lousy: a continuous loop of one episode each from the “Love Boat”, “Happy Days” and “Streets of San Francisco” (featuring Michael Douglas!). The movies were also pretty lame: “Along Came Polly”, “Calendar Girls”, etc., but I guess that is Hollywood’s fault, not AF
. The controls in the software are also somewhat hard to work. I spent virtually the whole trip with the “flight view”/“Geo Vision” option on so that I can watch our relative position and flight stats while reading. Nice maps and stereographic projections on the software. Tried to sleep, but no luck; the wife managed to get some shut-eye though.
Limited breakfast was served before arrival. Coffee, OJ, yogurt and brioche.
Landing was perfect. The combination of a very skilled pilot and the handling of this amazing aircraft meant that you barely even notice touchdown.
We arrived at Terminal 2E at CDG
, not 2F, where there was the tragic collapse of the terminal roof on Sunday, 23 May. I was quite surprised at the condition of the terminal. Flying in on the flagship AC
I expected the terminal of the Airport so highly touted by the French government and Air France to be equally impressive. It was not impressive. It wasn’t dirty, just drab and dingy. It looked a lot more like the terminal at YXE
or YNG than the Terminal 1 facility at JFK
that we had departed from. There was a short line through Passport Control that we cleared after a ten minute wait. Then after receiving our bags promptly at the carrousel, we walked through customs with our bags and towards the Terminal 2 RER station. Unfortunately, we just missed an express RER B train, so we took the local train to Les Halles/Châtelet. Train service in Paris during our trip was great (both RER/Métro), much more advanced than the train service I’m accustomed to in the NYC area, although the trains themselves are smaller and less comfortable—no “salle conditionale” for example.
Paris was great. Hope to go back again very soon.
Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle International Airport 26 May 2004
We had to leave the apartment that we were staying in on the morning of 26 May so we stowed are luggage in a locker at the Gare du Nord and enjoyed a last few hours in Paris before our afternoon flight. After arriving at CDG
via the RER, we determined that our flight was leaving from Terminal 2C. Unlike at JFK
where the check in location for each flight was clearly marked, here there were no such markings, so we actually had to check in at a few different desks before we found the right one for flight 010. Upon checking in we were NOT given the two seats that I had specifically reserved a few months before and which I had confirmed as recently as eight days ago. Rather, instead of being in the two seats between the window in the aisle—accommodations that make economy quite tolerable—we were given the absolute two worst seats: two seats in the center of a 4 seat group. Non! I questioned the agent further as to why these seats were assigned to us rather than the ones I had specifically requested. She said those WERE our seats, they had been assigned to us and she seemed confused as to why I was questioning them. To make matters worse her English was rather poor. So I asked were I could find someone who worked specifically for Delta (thinking they might be more fluent in English). She pointed the way, I thanked her and moved in the direction she pointed.
(Let me add at this point, that the English language skills of the Air France staff that I dealt with were inexcusably bad. The French people who I spoke in English with during our stay in Paris spoke consistently good or even excellent English. And additionally, previous trips with foreign flag carriers (again, e.g., LH
/SAS) were staffed with personnel whose English was clearly understandable. Why cannot AF
hire staff with better English language skills?)
After some difficulty I found the Delta reception desk and spoke with a Delta employee who had fluent English. He helpfully informed me that for administrative reasons Delta had changed the flight number associated with my Air France flight (from old number 8260 to new number 8532). When that change was effectuated, the computer reservations system had wiped out all of the seat reservations. This apparently had happened in the last week, because of course I had just checked the seat reservations a week ago when we checked in at JFK
. The flight was booked solid, there were no seats that could be reassigned. I expressed my strong displeasure at this result, and he informed me that seat reservations were not guaranteed. Great! He also suggested that it is possible that someone might not check in for their seat, so I should check with the agents at the gate handling the flight and see if we could get reseated. Otherwise he had nothing else to offer.
I found all of this astonishing. Seat reservations not guaranteed? CO
/NW seem to take them pretty seriously, I guess the Delta gent wanted me to lower my expectations. Perhaps some airline had at some previous point in my life vaporized my seat reservation merely for their administrative purposes, but I couldn’t remember it happening. I would never had bought these tickets in the first place if it had meant sitting in the middle of a row on an 8 hour flight. I would be more understanding if this was an equipment change—it wasn’t.
The line for passport control and security was very short and we walked through almost without delay. The seating area at Terminal 2C was somewhat too small for the number of passengers awaiting to fill an A343, but perhaps we had been pushed over to Terminal 2C as a result of the Terminal 2E collapse.
As instructed by the previous Delta agent, I checked in with the agents working at the gate for this flight as soon as they arrived to get the flight ready for departure. They followed standard AF
operating policy: make a cursory check to see if they are required to do anything for you, and if they are not so required, coolly dismiss you. So were stuck in those seats for the flight.
As we waited to board our flight, we sat and waited next to a group of passengers who were smoking in the non-smoking section of the gate area (depositing their ashes directly on the terminal floor). Airport security witnessed all of this and did nothing. (France is remarkably protective of its smokers, one extremely annoying thing about visiting the country).
Air France Flight 010
(Delta Airlines 8260/8532)
Paris-Charles-de-Gaulle International Airport (CDG
) to New York- J.F.K. International Airport (JFK
Airbus A340-300 (Registration: F-GL
Seat: 35E (2-4-2 layout)
Scheduled Departure: 26 May 3:55pm
Actual Take Off: 26 May 4:30pm
Scheduled Arrival: 26 May 6:10pm
Actual Arrival: 26 May 6:21pm
This was, to put it simply the worst fight of my life. In addition to being stuck in the middle of a row, let me tick off the reasons.
The crew. The crew on the JFK
007 (above) were not friendly, but they were polite and generally responsive. This crew on this CDG
fight was rude and surly, almost aggressively so. They were slow in virtually every aspect of the service. Overall, the worst set of FAs I had ever come into contact with (again, I perhaps have unreasonably high expectations when it comes to FAs because the two airlines I fly most regularly are CO
The accommodations. In case you missed the Love Boat, Happy Days or Streets of San Francisco episode on the way to France, you could watch the same exact episode on the IFE on the way back to the U.S. While AF
offered about ten different French-language newspapers on the Jetway, there was not a single English language newspaper available (not even the FT
or the “International Herald Tribune”—although there were a few copies of the Economist and Time floating around). They ran out of Perrier and white wine (mon Dieu!) on the flight, and just like on the JFK
flight an aft bathroom had been emptied of its paper towels.
The Aircraft. The A343 seems smaller than the 773ER, and of course it was also more noticeably worn and tired than the brand new 773ER. But there were other more substantial things indicating that this was a worn aircraft. For example, the controller to my IFE unit was stuck in the arm rest. A few rows back the door to the compartment holding the oxygen masks came off, meaning that the pax sitting beneath had to spend the fight with a set of oxygen masks in his face; the aft bathroom door had to be finagled and battered into locking position for the “occupied” light to come on. The aft galley/washroom area, which had been so spacious in the 773ER, was much smaller by comparison on the A343, meaning the inevitable tangles between the surly crew and pax.
The fight began on a course due west of Paris, we ran into some significant turbulence as we crossed over the Channel Islands. The flight took its usual course over Labrador and down . The flight was at FL360 mostly, before climbing to FL380 for about the last three hours. The average speed was between 505 – 515 MPH. The lowest speed during cruise was 485 MPH and the highest 540 MPH.
Salmon terrine and pasta salad with spicy rouille
Chicken with mustard and sautéed vegetables
Hake and crayfish fricassee, potatoes and French green beans
Coffee and Tea
The salmon terrine “tasted like bologna” (my wife’s words), the pasta “had an oily dressing on it, it was disgusting”. The fricassee “was a fish stew with an odd yellow/orange color, very bland taste, but at least it was better than it looked.” The sautéed vegetables were haricots vert that been reduced to a thick mush from being overcooked. The chicken with mustard was very good, good mustard sauce and chicken that was tender and perfectly cooked. The lemon tart had a good lemon filling, but with a crust that “tasted like overcooked butter; it was too thick.”
Breakfast was orange juice, coffee/tea, more crème fraiche, a Belsen-brand chocolate sandwich cookie and a Swiss cheese sandwich which both of us passed on. Don’t ask for coffee refills.
The trip ended fine, another very smooth landing. I could not have been happier when we arrived at the gate at JFK
and I was able to finally take my leave of this flight. Again, my expectations might be too high, but I simply could not believe the way that Delta had mangled our seat reservations and the way that AF
had treated us as passengers. I have written a letter to DL
complaining about the loss of the seat reservations, I’m not too optimistic about receiving an adequate response. Unless I do, I will simply never fly DL
/AF again on a transatlantic flight, no matter how low the fare.
Thanks for making it through this trip report. If you have any corrections or clarifications, please don’t hesitate to email me.
(Edit: to call out HTML link to Seat Map Thread; change mistaken am to pm)
[Edited 2004-06-08 18:23:29]
[Edited 2004-06-08 18:25:54]