Flying on a tri-jet… while being a common occurrence in the 70’s, 80’s and early 90’s, the privilege of flying a B727, L1011, DC10 and MD11 became rarer and rarer during the past few years. Airline after airline started to take the 3-holers out of service. Massive amounts of B727’s and DC10’s were sent to the desert, while other airlines decided to convert their MD11’s into the cargo’s, or to buy converted MD11 freighters. This is exactly the reason why the MD11 was very high on my wish-list.
Varig offered me the opportunity to fly the MD11 for a reasonable 75 EUR. As I’m turning 21 very shortly, I decided to buy myself a little birthday-present, above the other trips I usually do in the first two weeks of July.
After a few emails with forum member Flying Belgian, we decided to do a ‘Mission MD11’. A date was set, namely July 6, 2005.
This was the plan: Flying Belgian was going to fly BRU-CDG on SN (operated by Axis Airways), while I booked a youth fare on the Thalys high speed train. The Thalys allowed me to arrive already at 9:08 in CDG, while the Axis Airways flight arrived 2 hours later (and was almost 3x the fare SN asked in comparison with the Thalys). About 3 months after our booking, Mission MD11 had finally started.
Wednesday July 6, 2005
My alarm went off at 4:30 in the morning, and I jumped immediately out of my bed, even after only 2 hours of sleeping. Mission MD11 gave me enough adrenaline to be already very awake at this early hour, while most people were still asleep (certainly students, as July – August is supposed to be holiday for us ).
After some final preparations, I went downstairs to have a look at the news on TV, as I was a little too early to depart to the train station already. After about 30 minutes, I was on my way to the station, which is only a 10-minutes’ walk. I catched a train to Ghent first before catching an Intercity train to Brussels. Those who have visited Belgium already will certainly know Ghent, as it is (in my unbiased opinion ) Belgium’s nicest city, and my place of birth as well.
OK: before you are all bored, back to the trip now. I arrived in Brussels 45 minutes before the departure of my Thalys train. For those who don’t know: Air France stopped flying to Brussels, in favour of the Thalys. Thalys operates 5 daily trains between Brussels South (no, this Brussels South has nothing to do with Ryanair Airport at Charleroi ) and Aéroport Charles de Gaulle. Taking the Thalys is very convenient for AF passengers, as you arrive almost in the middle of Terminal 2.
I counted at least 30 passengers on this train who had an AF connection. There were probably much more, as a lot of passengers apparently didn’t know that the first 2 compartments of the train had been entirely reserved for AF passengers. A lot of AF passengers however where spread into the other parts of the train. They apparently didn’t know that AF actually reserves First Class seats for its passengers, inclusive a First Class service.
Air France passengers putting their luggage on the train:
(displaying the image is not possible for some reason, so I have to give you a link to the picture: http://coppermine.luchtzak.be/displayimage.php?pos=-5183
The Thalys left and arrived exactly on time, and a few minutes after arrival, I was already on the bus to the famous spot near the Hilton where I was going to meet Flying Belgian after his arrival from Brussels. For info: arriving in Paris was exactly as I had expected it: we immediately ended up in the middle of a demonstration. Don’t ask me the reason why they were striking, but it caused quite some traffic jams. I took the bus to Terminal 3, where I arrived 15 minutes later. From this point, it was only a short walk to an (in my opinion) great spot for planespotters.
There were nice visitors like 9A-CTM, Croatia Airlines newest’ A320 in the Star Alliance livery:
Flying Belgian arriving on F-GIXH from Brussels:
Air Tahiti A343 F-OJTN:
Cabo Verde Airlines B752 D4-CBP:
And lot’s of others like VN-A141, a B772 of Vietnam Airlines; FAB2116, a B732 of the Brasil Airforce; B-6055, an A346 of China Eastern; 7T-VJW, an A332 of Air Algerie; ZS-SLA, an A342 of South African Airways; lot’s of others, and the most interesting aircraft for me: a L1011 of Starjet, A6-BSM, which is stored over there apparently.
Paris Charles De Gaulle, Terminal 1
Varig uses T1 at CDG. Flying Belgian had already warned me before, and indeed: I couldn’t believe my eyes when I entered the terminal. I had expected a clean, good looking terminal, as Paris is a world city (deserving a world class quality airport), but no: Terminal 1 is a smelly, dirty, dark piece of crap. I don’t know how else I can describe it. What a difference with Terminal 2. Unbelievable but true. We checked a monitor for our flight, and after watching the arrival of our MD11 in the far distance, we went to our check-in row.
At this point, I told Flying Belgium: “Mission MD11 has succeeded”! A comment I would regret 2 hours later.
Check-in was handled by Globeground. There were about 8 passengers in front of us, and after standing in the little queue for about 10 minutes, it was our turn. The lady behind the counter was very friendly, and gave me a boarding pass without a seat assignment (although I had reserved 17A). Indeed: CDG-AMS-CDG is free seating on Varig, due to the low number of passengers flying this sector. What an excitement
Although this flight only had about 50-60 passengers on it, Flying Belgian had to wait till the end of check-in before he got his boarding pass, as he was travelling with a standby-ticket. Once he received his boarding pass, we continued to security and the checkpoint for passports.
Airside in CDG, Terminal 2
The guy checking the passports obviously wasn’t very interested in what he was doing, as he just let me pass without having to show my passport. He saw my boarding pass, and when I was taking my passport, he said already that I could continue. Quite amazing but true.
After going through security (the guy saw my pen and paper and asked me whether I was from the ‘paparazzi’ ), we went to our gate where Victor Tango Uniform was waiting for us.
Paris Charles De Gaulle – Amsterdam
Aircraft type: McDonnel Douglas MD11
Registration: PP-VTU ‘Star Alliance’
A few pictures from PP-VTU, standing at our gate (sorry for all the obstructions in the pictures):
Some information about the history of this plane: c/n48541 was built in December 1997, destined for Swissair as HB-IWQ:
Photo © Peter Unmuth - VAP
After the bankruptcy, Swiss took over the aircraft, but never painted it in the full Swiss-colours. The aircraft was taken out of the Swiss fleet in the beginning of 2004, originally destined for Southern Winds. Finally, Varig took delivery and registered the plane as PP-VTU. The aircraft is now scheduled to undergo a freighter conversion, to join the UPS fleet in 2007.
Back to the flight: it was 15:30 at this point, so boarding was about to start. Globeground staff was standing at the gate, making the final preparations before we were allowed to board. Imagine the excitement!
Time passed, and it was already 15:50 without any indication yet that boarding was going to start. I didn’t really care, as boarding the +/- 30 passengers wouldn’t take a lot of time.
16h: I started to get a little worried. Why weren’t they doing anything? The reason became finally clear, as an announcement was made. The disappointment was huge when the gate staff suddenly announced… that the fuellers, who still had to put 3 tons of fuel in our MD11, had started a surprise strike . Indeed: a bunch of (apologies for my vocabulary) morons had suddenly decided to do a surprise strike. No advance warning, nothing. Traffic at CDG suddenly came to a halt. It was apparently a general strike: no planes got fuel anymore. The only thing we could do was waiting, and hope that the strike wouldn’t last too long… but it did last long.
20 minutes later, Globeground staff announced (only in French this time, which is unacceptable) that they were negotiating with the strikers, as we only needed 3 tons of fuel (which is nothing for an MD11). Nothing happened however.
At this point, I was still defending Varig. The lady sitting on my left side suddenly started a discussion: “I do not want to fly Varig anymore”. I asked her what Varig had to do with a fuel strike. “Euh, I don’t know, but I still don’t want to fly them anymore”. Sigh :roll:
It was already 16:45 at this point, and we still hadn’t received additional information. A few minutes later, we saw somebody of Globeground at the door near our gate. So we went to him to ask him a few questions. They had apparently tried to fly to ORY first, fuel the plane over there, and fly ORY-AMS afterwards. But this didn’t work out apparently.
At 17:30, the guy from Globeground made an announcement I really didn’t want to hear: “Ladies and Gentleman, the flight has been cancelled” . My blood was boiling at this point. I wasn’t angry at Varig (yet), but the attitude of the strikers had really disgusted me. Almost no flights were leaving at this point, by the way. It’s amazing how an obviously not so numerous number of people is allowed to cause such a huge mess at a big airport as CDG. They should have to prohibit this by law.
We went downstairs to arrivals, and because all other passengers had bags checked in, we had to wait over there for the bags. But… Varig hadn’t officially cancelled the flight yet, so the ground staff refused to take the bags out of the aircraft. At this point I was getting a little annoyed, and went to the Globeground girl who hadn’t done anything yet. She had nothing done at the gate to assist the passengers (she was just standing and sitting there already from 15:30), and now also, she was just standing there, a few metres away from the group of passengers. This while the guy from Globeground (who was really helpful by the way) had to do all the work. So I went to her, and told her that I and Flying Belgian didn’t have any luggage. I asked her whether there was no faster solution to help us out, instead of just waiting there before the others would get their luggage. She told me I could go upstairs to the Globeground desk, but luckily, the other Globeground guy told me in time that this wouldn’t be a solution. Because I and Flying Belgian didn’t have any luggage, he told us to follow him. We would go upstairs to the Varig desk. There was also a third person without luggage: she was from Asia (sorry, I forgot from where exactly, but I think she was from Thailand), and we went to the Varig desk, which was… closed. Nobody there. So we had to wait. And wait. Till after about an hour, somebody from Varig appeared. The guy from Globeground, who had already told us that I was going to get a hotel room from Varig (not Flying Belgian, as he had a standby ticket, which wasn’t a problem as one room was enough for both of us), went immediately to him. We got the opportunity to speak to him for 2 seconds. As the Globeground guy had promised me a hotel room, I went to the Varig guy, and asked him whether he was the one arranging the hotel rooms and rebookings to the next flight. His reply: “You don’t get a hotel room”. At this point, Flying Belgian said: “but he paid for his ticket, and we aren’t from Paris anyway”. His reply was: “C’est dommage”. His attitude was frustrating: “all this is your problem, not mine. Let me do my job in the easiest possible way, and f*ck off”. We didn’t have the time to talk to him further, as he just walked away. Can you imagine this?
The lady from Asia had to call her friend in Paris to ask him whether he could pick her up. So during the 90 seconds the Varig guy was there, she had asked him whether she could use a phone. “If you want to phone, use a public phone”. Also the Globeground guy was so amazed by the rude attitude of this guy, that he offered the lady to use his own (!) cellphone, so that she could call her friend. At this point, I told the guy from Globeground that it was a pity that the staff from Varig couldn’t be as professional as he was. Big thumbs up to him! He stayed calm all the time, and helped the pax in the best possible way.
As I wrote above, the guy from Varig had walked away already after 90 seconds, and he stayed away. Till 18:45. Not to assist the pax flying GRU-AMS, as I first thought, as they had joined us already in the meantime at the Varig ticketing counter.
He arrived, and I was the first in line to have my ticket changed.
Varig: “Come back tomorrow, same time, same flight. Next”.
Me: “Euh, ok thanks, and how about the hotel room I was promised?”.
Varig: “Vous êtes un passager local, you don’t get one”.
Me: “Sorry but I’m not a local passenger as I’m from Belgium”.
Varig: “That’s your problem, orders from the supervisor”.
Me: “Sorry but this is unacceptable. Other airlines have restarted their flights in the meantime. You tell me that I have to wait 24h for the next flight, while there are plenty of other flights to AMS in the meantime, and you don’t give me a hotel room?”
Varig: “Indeed, you don’t get one”. Again with this “I-don’t-care”-mentality.
Me: “I want to talk to the supervisor”
Varig: “The supervisor isn’t here”
Me: “When will the supervisor arrive?”
Varig: “If you are lucky within one hour”
At this point, he had left his counter. I did something I totally didn’t like, but his attitude had made me so disgusted that I asked him his name, as I was going to write a letter of complaint.
Me: “What’s your name, Sir? I’m going to write a letter of complaint”
Varig: “You don’t get it”.
Me: “No sir, your name” and I gave him a pen and paper
At this point, he walked away, but I stepped after him and asked him for his name once again. So he took my paper, and wrote a name on it. “Is this your name?”. “No, the one of my manager”. “I want your name, Sir, not the one of your manager”. “Mauro, call me like that”, and he walked away.
Those who know me well, will know that it is very difficult to get me angry. But this guy really made my blood boiling. I didn’t try further to get his name, and went back to the counter, where some heavy discussions with other disgusted passengers where going on. “Mauro” joined again, and 2 minutes later, I heard somebody who was as disgusted as me shouting: “IS THERE ANYBODY WITH BRAINS OVER HERE??????”. This passengers must have been angry as well .
As it was clear that Varig didn’t want to do anything for its customers, Flying Belgian did a great job in finding a hotel room. Everything around the airport was full (or the price was something like 160 EUR), but thanks to a friend working for Accor Hotels, he managed to book a Mercure hotel at one RER-stop from the airport for a very good price.
End of day 1.
Thursday July 5, 2005
It was 8am when I got a telephone call from forum member Md-11er, who knew about our situation. “Fred, todays Varig flight is cancelled as well”. “Whaaaaat???”. There went our last little bit of hope. We got up quickly, and went to the RER station to proceed to Terminal 1, in the hope that Globeground would be able to help us out. I checked a flight information screen, and the flight was arriving from GRU apparently, but the CDG-AMS-CDG stretch had been cancelled. Without any real reason, as everything was back to normal at CDG.
The people at Globeground were again very friendly, but they told me that they could do nothing as they were waiting for somebody from Varig, who was going to arrive at 11am (it was 9.15am at this point). They said they were going to try to put me on the 12:35 Air France flight to AMS. I was disappointed, but it was better than nothing I guess? However, there was one problem. The Varig representative was going to arrive at 11am, while check-in for my AF flight (in Terminal 2, the other side of the airport) was going to close only one hour later. The RG representative really had to arrive at 11am, otherwise it would be a serious problem for me, as the next available flight was only around 17:35. Knowing that I had to be in BRU the next day for a BMI flight at 7:20, I really had to take the AF flight at 12:35, or I would never be able to arrive in BRU on time.
The people at the Globeground desk asked me to come back at 11am. So me and Flying Belgian left. Because Flying Belgian his ticket could also be used on AF flights, we went to an AF desk, where the lady told him that AF would accept his ticket without any problem. I asked the lady which aircraft would operate the 12:35 flight to AMS, and was glad when I heard: ‘a sept-trois-sept’. It was a nice surprise, as AF only operate the –500. This would be my first B735 flight! However, there was one condition: the RG representative had to be on time.
Time passed by slowly, and it finally became 11am. Flying Belgian had already gone to T2 in the meantime, to change his ticket for the AF flight.
I arrived at the Globeground desk, and my fear became reality: nobody from Varig. The people from Globeground were annoyed as well at this point. I asked her whether they knew why the flight had been cancelled. “No sir, even we don’t know it”. Quite amazing but true.
At 11:20, somebody from Varig arrived, threw a few stamps at the Globeground desk, and walked away. They changed my ticket, and with only 25 minutes to go, I ran to the bus station at the arrivals level (one level above the departures level, and the other side of Terminal 2). I stopped a bus which was about to depart, and arrived at CDG Terminal 2F only 10 minutes before check-in closing time.
As this report became quite long in the meantime, I’ll keep the AF flight for another trip report. I hope you ‘enjoyed’ this report, although it didn’t contain a flight report, neither a very positive flight experience.
I’ll send a letter of complaint to Varig, because the behaviour of their ground staff at CDG was unacceptable. I hope to get my money back, or at least a compensation which can be used for another Varig flight. Only when I get a compensation, I’ll be able to make a second Mission MD11.
All comments/additions/criticism/… are welcome! By the way: in case you know something about the new EU legislation, and you think I have to refer to certain rules/…, feel free to post it over here as it would help me to write my letter of complaint. Thanks!