One of my best friend lives in Paris and he's been bugging me to come visit him for quite some time. About 4 weeks ago I decided that I'd use Easter weekend to go see him plus take one day off work to make it a solid 4-day weekend. Since I work for the airlines, airfare wasn't a problem. I purchased tickets on Air France, British Airways and Virgin Atlantic, hoping that I wouldn't get stuck among all the Easter travellers.
Intended routing: SFO - CDG - SFO
Actual routing: SFO-LHR-CDG-SFO
Flight # 1
Virgin Atlantic VS020
Boeing 747-400 / REG # G-VHOT
STD: 1825 PUSH: 1819 TAKEOFF: 1838 TOUCHDOWN: 1038 ARRIVAL: 1121
SFO INTL TERMINAL
Our 744 to LHR
I arrived at SFO via BART and proceeded directly to the VS check in counters. The international terminal at SFO is just beautiful. Very nicely laid out and everything is very easy to find with monitors everywhere. Check in was very fast and the staff were very helpful and curteous even though they recognized me as an employee of one of their rivals. To my surprise, I received a boarding pass right away - and it wasn't even a middle seat! Off to a pretty good start. I had checked the loads prior to leaving for the airport and AF looked terrible as did BA. VS was leaving at a convenient time because I could work a full day and still catch the flight. I had always wanted to try VS for their AVOD system!
SFO INTL is very neat because the layout is so that the boarding gates are actually downstairs in relation to where all the shops are and where people walk. I think this is a really neat layout because it really helps with controlling the amount of people in ther terminal. If you've ever been to Philly airport, you'll know what I'm talking about - its usually mobbed with people hanging around their gates. SFO Int'l is really nice because you don't have that - the main walkway is reserved for shoppers and people in transit to their gates. Here's kind of an example:
Boarding commenced early and everyone was on board and ready to go about 20 mins prior to scheduled departure. We ended up pushing back from the gate a good 6 minutes early but then suffered along taxi from the A concourse of the INTL Terminal to RWY 28R. Long takeoff roll and rotated into the San Francisco twilight just about 18:38 local time.
Space isn't plentiful - as you'd expect in economy but VS' AVOD system totally makes up for it. I had nobody sitting next to me which was ideal because I found the seats quite narrow. I'm not sure if they're any narrower compared to other carriers but for some reason it felt extra narrow. Anyway, I was so busy with VPORT that it didn't even really bother me. VPORT really is great - not only is everything on demand but for geography geeks like me, it has an interactive moving map so you can follow the plane - zoom in and out as you want and see information about altitude, heading, winds, temp, etc.. I think most INTL carriers have the moving map but I don't know of any other than VS that have the "interactive" feature. Very cool indeed!
Food onboard VS was pretty average in my opinion. I had some pretty average beef with mashed potatoes and gravy and all it did was remind me of what airplane food is really like. I've had very few GREAT meals aboard airplanes - mainly because most U.S. domestic carriers don't even offer hot meals anymore. If they have meals at all, you have to pay $5 or even now $7 for a cold, not-so-tasty sandwich. I haven't been on an INTL flight in quite some time so it didn't bother me that he food wasn't great - I was just happy to actually be served something hot aboard an airplane! Anyway, I spent most of the flight using VPORT and taking snoozes. I watched "30 Days of Night", a documentary called "Fear of Flying" which I found pretty neat because it had cockpit views and stuff... plus I was curious as to how they'd try to convince someone that flying is VERY safe! By the time I had finished one movie and three documentaries, the flight was somewhere over greenland and just about halfway to Heathrow.
One thing I noticed about VS staff is they are extremely anal about keeping the floor area clean. I know that it is a safety hazard to have bags/trash/ etc laying around on the floor prior to landing, but I had at least 4 different flight attendants tell me to move my stuff. I had a small bag that I carry my book in, a pillow and a blanket on the seat next to me and I was told I couldn't even have it there... It wasn't just one F/A walking up and down the aisles, it was like 4-5 of them and they'd say conflicting things to me.. One said I could have my bag there and one said no, etc.. Anyway, I thought it was a bit annoying.
The only other thing that kinda bothered me about VS is they turned off VPORT at the top of descent. I understand they don't want people being distracted on landing etc but they could have at least kept the interactive map on so we could see the route for arrival into Heathrow. We ended up circling for quite some time and it woulda been nice to see where we were...Heathrow apparently was real busy when we arrived at 11 a.m so we circled for a good 20 minutes before continuing to final. Entered the HOLD at 10:38 and touchdown was at 11:05. The landing was absolutely HORRIBLE by the way.. It was extremely windy at Heathrow and it was one of those landings where it wasn't straight at all so they had to correct with the nosegear. It almost felt like we were gonan skid off the runway for a few seconds before the captain straightened her out and put us on the taxiway en route to T-3. When we arrived at T-3, the SQ A380 was actually occupying our gate so we had to wait a few minutes b/c of our early arrival. It was amazing seeing the A380 at LHR!! I wasn't able to get a picture b/c I was seated in the center section of a 3-4-3 config and everyone was crowding around the windows to check out the 380.
Heathrow was just as hectic as it usually is. I didn't get on the first flight to Paris so I ended up waiting at heathrow from 11:20 to 16:00 when BA 316 pushed off the gate en route to CDG.
FLIGHT # 2
British Airways BA316
Airbus A-319 REG # G-EUPS
STD: 15:15 PUSH: 16:00 TAKEOFF: 16:25 TOUCHDOWN: 18:09 ARRIVAL: 18:17
I can't wait for BA to open T-5 in just a few short days. Heathrow is a clutter **** and is just sooo annoying to transfer through. I had to go from T-3 to T-4 and it took me well over an hour (I know it can take MUCH longer). The security line for T-4 was short but there was only one x-ray machine being manned and they were taking their jolly good time getting people through. Anyway, after taking a bus and gettin through security, I got my standby boarding pass to CDG and headed up to check out the heavies - most of them heading off to North America.
When BA 316 FINALLY boarded, some 30 minutes after scheduled departure, I realized I had the last row, middle seat.. great.. I guess I can't complain though since I was on standby. At least I got to sit next to two very interesting people, one from Greece and one from Lebanon. Had some good conversation on the quick hop across the English channel and northern France. Flight time from T/O to T/D was only 44 minutes - real nice.
I can't say enough bad things about Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. EVERY time i've gone there, there has been mass chaos and just absolute anarchy among the people. Our flight disembarked and of course I was the last one off the plane, but it took about 20x as long as it should have because the CDG airport staff couldn't get the jet-bridge onto the plane for some reason. They had to call an engineer to fix it and we sat there aboard the hot airbus for about 20 mins. Once off the plane, the line for passport control was the size of the entire plane because they had ONE person checking passports. Even though it didnt' seem like he was even looking at the passports, it took a good long time considering he had to get through some 100+ passports for already irate passengers. More ranting about CDG in a bit...
FLIGHT # 3
Paris CDG - San Francisco SFO
Air France AF084
Airbus A-340-300 REG # F-GLZN
STD: 10:15 PUSH: 10:25 TAKEOFF: 10:41 TOUCHDOWN: 13:53 ARRIVAL: 14:05
CDG Airport is worse than Heathrow. MUCH worse. I proceeded to terminal 2E (which is supposedly the nice* terminal). In fact, the facilities are quite nice but the operational aspect of things is just a disaster. After trying to find what area my flight to SFO was checking in at, there were like 4 different queues for who the heck knows. I had to ask what the queues were for from the people standing in them and they didn't even know!! Finally, I realized the right line to be in wasn't even a line, it was a glob of people pushing towards one AF employee who was supposedly checking passports. He wasn't checking passports in fact, he was just standing there making sure people don't fill in too quickly into the self service kiosks. After being told to use the kiosk, it wasn't working and I knew it wouldn't because I have a staff ticket. You have to physically check in to get a staff standby card as they have to check your documents, tickets etc....Anyway, for some crazy reason the check in counters were roped off and there was a mob of people trying to get through to the check in agent because it seemed like none of the kiosks were working correctly. The AF agent had no clue what she was doing as she was sending people to check in agents and the agents would refuse the people b/c they weren't in the right line... ughh.. It took over 90 minutes for me to check in AND I didn't have any baggage. If I had had luggage, I should've made a 180 and gone back to my friends house because the line for baggage was at least an hour long ( who knows why ) and that woulda made me miss the flight (I arrived over 2:30 hours ahead of flight dept time).
That was the worst part, passport control and getting to the gate was indeed annoying but it was manageable. Security was strange - they designated cetain lines by certain colours and the agent in charge of putting people in specific lines had decided to go on break or something, so there were a bunch of asian people holding up the line questioning what the colours meant... at this point was about to throw something at someone....
I finally got to the gate and asked for a boarding card but was told to wait as they'd issue me a baording card in 20 minutes time. I took some pics of the AF airbus that we were about to board:
Boarding was fine and I boarded last as I've leart that this gives the highest chance for an upgrade. I proceeded to the check in desk and two men were standing there looking real grumpy. I asked for my boarding card and they gave me something wayyy in the back. I asked if there was any space up front and they didn't answer me, so I went to the lady who was collecting boarding passes. She had previously told me that Economy was full and Business was half full, so I'd have a good chance for an upg. I asked her for the upg but she told me "maybe onboard". I was one of the last people on board and made casual convo with the cabin crew and subsequently the captain. I was very surprised that they were excited to see me when I told them I work for one of their competitors!!! The captain and I talked about ATC for a few mins then he gave me a tour of the A343 cockpit!
I was thrilled to see the cockpit! The crew proceeded with their briefing and didn't even mind me standing there taking pictures. Real cool of them! The cabin services director then advised me to "follow her" and she directed me to seat 01E. I was very happy that she was so nice to give me a complimentary boost up to biz. I made myself comfortable and was real proud of myself for charming the crew and using my knowledge of airlines to my advantage to get me the upgrade. Keep in mind I paid FAR LESS than anyone on board that flight, that's for sure. (ZED ZM)
J cabin on AF was great - they have pretty much lie-flat seats and have comfortable pillows. I had the first row so nobody in front - which was great. I couldn't believe my luck, a 11 hour flight back to SFO and I was deathly tired - nothing better than being boosted up to J so I could sleep!
I ended up sleeping for a good 5 hours. Didn't make much use of the AVOD system as I found it somewhat difficult to work. I think my handset was worn out or something. I did manage to watch half ot he movie Juno, which I had previously seen anyway.
Meals were very poor in my opinion. They served two meals, one an hour after dept. and one an hour before arrival. The menu looked real nice but the food was far from average. I was very disappointed in the food. You would think a French airline would pride themselves in serving good food... Not the case. The chicken was very mediocre, vegetables soggy and the pototes dry and tastless. The only good part of the meal was the wine and the cheese. I would've given it a 1/10 if it weren't fo rthe wine & cheese.
Second meal was just as bad. It was some real tough lamb with again, tastless and dry potatoes with some tomatoes with fried something on top. I managed to eat half of it before then again ordering wine & cheese - which kept me going for the last leg of the flight.
Sorry for the bad quality in pictures. I didn't want to use flash as it would bother people and I don't have a great camera. I think you get the gist on most of the pictures though.
Overall, Air France had an extremely friendly crew, great seat, great service. The food was quite honestly bad (the food I had on VS was better - and that was in economy). The ground staff at CDG were downright abysmal, but the cabin crew made up for their misfortunes. Because I was upgraded and treated so well by the cabin crew, I will definitely fly AF again.