After spending an entertaining time in Manhattan departure day had finally come for my girlfriend and me. We left the Radisson JFK at 11.00 and the shuttle took us directly to Terminal 1. Air France check-in would not open until 12.45 so we sat down at the glass front in the restaurant area upstairs. Unfortunately only few aircraft passed T1 during that time but it was better than nothing. Air France’s F-GSPO was parked at gate 7 and I knew it would be our aircraft for flight 023 to CDG. In the first moment I just saw the round last letter and feared it would be F-GSPD again, the aircraft I already had on 9/11.
Terminal 1 is very convenient, a large hall in modern architecture. Air France check-in is located on the opposite side of the counters visible here:
Photo © Kamil Macniak
We went in line at 12.20 to make sure we were the first passengers to check in – I had planned to get the very last row in the B772 where only two seats are located side by side. Exactly on time a female AF employee called us and within few minutes we had our boarding passes, with seats 48A and B. I was wondering why the B772 had the same number of rows as the B77W, but later found out AF simply has left out some numbers.
Interestingly, she told us there were no more window seats left on the connection to MUC, but I decided to deal with that later.
Spotting at JFK
After leaving behind our heavy luggage we immediately went back to the AirTrain and headed for Terminals 5/6. There’s a glass front close to the walkway between the AirTrain station and Terminal 6 – I had seen that place the night before but the main disadvantage was that many travellers and airport staff pass by there. And since binoculars are regarded as a dangerous weapon in these days by certain Americans it’s a bit risky to stay there longer than ten minutes. After a DTW flight delay (full story here) and an “interview” by Homeland Security (full story here) in September I didn’t want to risk missing my flight later in the afternoon due to a possible stupid security check or whatever.
However, while walking to that glass front one level above the AirTrain station I noticed a corner with elevators – and with stairs located directly behind, almost out of sight. I hadn’t seen that corner at night and found out it was a perfect place for spotting. Usually all travellers take the elevators and nobody would come around. Due to dark green glass, nobody would see us from the street level or from the walkway to the Terminal. The place is high enough to provide great views of one runway, half of the jetBlue ramp, plus of many aircraft taxiing to other Terminals. A similar place can be found above the AirTrain station at Terminals 2/3.
Here’s a pic taken from the staircase at T6, with five different jetBlue tails:
We spent about three hours up there and I got many goodies. Examples were Aerolineas A342 (LV-ZPJ), Aerosvit B763 (UR-VVF), Emirates A345 (A6-ERA), Cathay Pacific A346 (B-HQB), Egypt Air B772 (SU-GBY), Italian Air Force A319 (MM-62174), Loftleidir/Israir B763 (TF-FIC), South African A343 (ZS-SXE) and many more. JetBlue sent in two of their latest tails (N605JB & N607JB), I got 31 new birds of their fleet alone. Including some limited spotting from the hotel and from the AirTrain I could catch 90 new regs in only a few hours.
12. April 2005
New York (JFK) – Paris (CDG)
Air France AF023
F-GSPO (c/n 320), delivered 02/2001
Tempo, seat 48B
Photo © Jeamourra Franck
Photo © Cence jojo
Photo © Vivian A Watts
Photo © K.H. Ng - HKAEC
Security checks didn’t take very long and weren’t special, so we found ourselves at Gate 7 shortly after 16.00. We sat down at the front end and I could get some more regs. Boarding was started on time and before entering the plane I used my binoculars to get some last Delta regs. An older man, apparently waiting for his Austrian flight to Vienna, starred at me and seemed to be concerned…how I hate that happening at a US airport! You never know whether these guys call the cops…
As usual on AF, we were welcomed with a friendly “Bonsoir Madame, bonsoir Monsieur” and walked down to our row. Back there, another smiling male F/A welcomed us. I sat down, took out my binoculars, my little notebook and the AF fleet list to mark F-GSPO. The F/A saw it and had a longer look at me. One minute later he came by and asked me whether I were an aviation fan – wow, in contrast to several American F/As I have met he was the first one to realize immediately what I do. I said “sure” and started talking to him about my hobby. We had a nice conversation about Air France, aircraft types, destinations and much more. I showed him the pictures I had taken of AF planes and the food served on the flights before – he found that very funny. We realized we had found a “friend” on this flight. (To make it easier to distinguish between F/As, I’ll call him J. from now on)
Thanks to the last row, there was not only more seat pitch but also more space to the sides. Boarding was completed early and many seats remained empty, especially in our section. I guess load factor in Economy was around 70%, the “early” afternoon service to CDG doesn’t seem to be very popular.
F-GSPO was pushed back even before 17.00 so I was confident we would arrive at CDG on time. I still didn’t like the idea to change planes within one hour – at CDG you never know. We taxied to the runway without further stops and turned in for take-off. The GE90s roared and a few moments later our T7 lifted off into a beautiful blue sky. Too bad we were seated on the right side so we couldn’t have a last look at Manhattan. We flew an immediate left turn and headed north over the coastline.
JFK is well visible on this picture:
Only minutes after reaching our cruising altitude drinks and pretzels were served. Before I had decided what to drink, J. came along and asked: “Champagne for you? Champagne?” I was surprised Air France still serve Champagne and our choice was clear. J. filled up our glasses to the brim to make sure we get enough…
The IFE system seemed to be the same as on the B77W, the screen showed the “Programme Bleu” menu. Audio-Video-on-Demand was not yet uploaded, but surprisingly many more features were available which did not work on the B77W. So in addition to several movies there was a good choice of TV series (including McGyver ) and some funny games. I also used the “Your opinion” feature.
After some 40 minutes in flight, J. ran by and gave us three “Planete Bleu” items which they usually hand out to kids. “Souvenirs for you!”, he said. We were really surprised about finding two different bags with playing cards, pens, stickers inside, plus one small red pillow. Nice stuff for any collector!
Finally, it was dinner time, and we had chosen to try the fish (the alternative was beef). The meal consisted of penne with salmon and cream sauce, prosciutto with melon, cheese, yogurt and a lemon poppyseed cake. All tasted great and together with some rolls it was really enough.
After dinner I continued to play some games and listened to music. Suddenly, J. showed up again, smiled as usual, and gave us two packages. Cabin lights had been dimmed already and we switched on our personal lights. And big surprise: the packages turned out to be amenity kits from L’Espace Affaires, two blue/grey bags with lots of nice stuff inside. A truly cool present!
Some more time passed and – we could have known it – J. came by again. This time he gave us one red package, an amenity kit from L’Espace Premiere. “I could only get one, they are counted”, he explained. It got better and better, that’s what I call personal service!
Drink service had been stopped after a while, but as we were seated in row 48 we could get out as often as we wanted without disturbing anyone. In the galley section just two meters behind here was a self-service bar and we could drink as much as we wanted. They even had a bottle of champagne there in the beginning, but it didn’t survive very long.
While hanging around in the galley section my girlfriend sat down on the door – usually a place where you aren’t allowed to sit. While I was standing on the other side of the cabin (out of sight) one of the younger F/As always looked at her and smiled at her. She then gave me a sign and I moved over – she told me about the guy and we had a good laugh. But guess – as soon as the very F/A realized I belonged to her he suddenly came by and told my girlfriend that she should not sit down there!
Later in the flight we waited until J. showed up in the galley again. Prior to the trip my girlfriend had taken some handicraft textile butterflies just in case we need a small “present”. The moment had come and we handed them out to J. to say thanks for his gifts. He was really surprised and smiled all over, even put the items on his shoulders for fun. Then he said: “Thank you so much, let me kiss kiss you!” Before my girlfriend could say anything he kissed her on both cheeks, in typical French style. She was a bit confused in the first moment, but well, no problem, that’s how they say thanks.
Breakfast time had come, though I still didn’t feel hungry after the rather filling dinner. As it’s common in France, it was a small breakfast, consisting of a pastry, yogurt and orange juice and coffee.
Breakfast trays were collected quickly and descent into CDG was already started. It was still dark outside, but because of this we had great views of endless lights in and around Paris. After parallel approach with (most likely) another AF B777 we touched down early. I was really confident about our connection but then we taxied around for a really long time. I couldn’t see anything in the darkness but it was clear soon we would be parked at a far off remote position.
Buses were waiting outside and a gangway was brought to the aircraft. As I had expected the crowd didn’t move anytime soon and I was getting more and more concerned about the connection. In the meantime, J. came to our seats and we could talk some more minutes. I asked him about his favourite destination he answered that would be Buenos Aires, no doubt. Then he told me some six destinations where he would fly to in the coming weeks.
As the crowd started moving I asked him about taking safety cards. “Sure”, he said and opened a bin with a huge bag full of safety cards. “How many?”, he joked and handed several brand new ones to me. Then we thanked him for the great and personal service and he just smiled and said “Oh no, no need to say thank you, you’re welcome!” Why can’t all these well know rude and uncaring F/As learn some lessons from him?
We were among the last passengers to leave the plane at around 06.15 and I wasn’t amused seeing the crowded buses which should take us all the long way to the terminal. While walking down the stairway I suddenly saw a guy holding up a sign saying “MUNICH”. We approached him and he asked us for our names. He looked at a list and said: “Ok, I’ll will accompany you to your gate so that you get your connection!” Wow, again Air France’s customer service really surprised me.
13. April 2005
Paris (CDG) – München (MUC)
Air France AF1422
F-GUGH (c/n 2344), delivered 12/2004
Tempo, seat 17F
Photo © Kevin Minter - Mint Photography
Photo © Korbinian Klinghardt
Photo © Bastiaan Smeets
Photo © Paul Massey
No other passenger seemed to be bound for MUC and the AF employee took us to a minivan parked only 10 meters from the aircraft. One last look at the large GE90 and we got into the car. The guy spoke some French into his radio and then really pushed the car. At high speed he drove us across the airport and again we realized how far off the aircraft had been parked. After crossing some taxiways we were stuck behind a slow baggage cart. Our driver tried to overtake him regularly on the left side, but there was traffic. After some seconds he moved the minivan to the right and overtook the cart by even leaving the marked road. Express Transfer across CDG, now that was fun!
Finally we arrived at Hall 2D and followed our guide through an empty area of the terminal. Nobody was waiting at passport control and within one minute we found ourselves in the middle of Hall 2D. Then our guide showed his ID at security and we didn’t have to wait at the end of the queue. The checks were fast and we were accompanied onwards to our gate. It was 06.40 and boarding had already started some minutes ago. He talked to the lady at the counter and then said “Bon voyage!” I was still amazed by that service and glad we had made it on time to our gate. I’m quite sure we wouldn’t have been able to get our flight when we had been dependant on the buses. My guess is we saved some 20 minutes in the end – we arrived at 06.40 and boarding was finished at 06.55. So thanks Air France for saving the A318!
The aircraft was finally confirmed when I had a short look at the computer screen while waiting for my boarding pass receipt. I read F-GUGH = mission accomplished!
The bus brought us the aircraft where we had to wait some more minutes until final boarding started. Most passengers seemed to be business travellers, wearing suits and being in hurry apparently. Again a warm welcome on board and we walked down to row 18. The interior is not different from any other of AF’s A32X aircraft, but the cabin still looked very new.
Photo © Antoine Ossadzow
Though we had seats B and C but I didn’t bother about that any longer. A guy already sat in A and when I said “Good Morning” he only moved his lips a bit and looked pissed – well then I was quite sure he was a German.
I soon realized the plane wasn’t full at all – two rows around even remained totally empty. After some minutes I asked a F/A whether boarding was completed. She said “Yes” and we decided to move one row forward. Some other passengers looked at us as if we were aliens – they were definitely annoyed that we were faster in conquering an empty row!
Engine start-up was really quiet and after a few minutes our “baby bus” headed for departure. We had to wait in line for a while but finally were cleared for take-off. Surprisingly – with engines still relatively quiet – the A318 accelerated really powerfully, much better than A320s or A319s I have experienced before. The A318 lifted off early and climbed steeply into the clouds.
It didn’t take very long until service started and we were served a typical French – meaning small – breakfast. We could take a (fresh) pastry from a basket, later drink service followed. I decided to try a hot chocolate this time. We were still full from the meals on the longhaul flight, so it didn’t matter. However, if you are hungry you should take some extra croissants…
The remaining flight was uneventful and I killed the time by listening to some music with my MP3 player. I was a bit annoyed that the window was dirty outside so pictures were no option, unfortunately. But I would have been really disappointed about flying AF and not getting at least one dirty aircraft.
On approach to MUC we passed through some turbulence and soon touched down at runway 26L. Minutes later we arrived at our gate and it was time say good bye to the “baby bus”. Nice ride, it’s definitely my new favourite in the A32X family. Even better if you additionally get PTVs like on Frontier…well, just joking!
Air France is totally different from what I experienced in former times. They really care about customers, you get friendly and professional F/As and ground staff all over, adequate entertainment systems, tasty food and clean, comfortable cabins. Plus they offer competitive fares and have a satisfying frequent flyer program. What else do you need? Way to go Air France and SkyTeam!