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Air France JFK-CDG Affaires (Business)

Air France JFK-CDG Affaires (Business)

Old Jun 8, 09, 11:17 pm
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Air France JFK-CDG Affaires (Business)

Air France 11
15 May 2009
Seats 3A/B (Affaires)

It’s with a heavy heart and a lot of sympathy for the people who perished on AF447 that I write this trip report. My thoughts go out to all who lost loved ones. I also hope dearly that none of the fantastic Air France crew I met on my flight are lost on AF447.

This trip is part of a MKE-LGA, JFK-CDG, CDG-ATL-MKE trip, and there’s enough to say about each leg that I’m writing each separately. MKE-LGA on Midwest Connect/Republic is already posted at http://www.flyertalk.com/forum/trip-...0-mke-lga.html

Although my partner and I love photography, we are a bit self-conscious about taking photos aboard airplanes. In the case of this flight, it wasn’t just for the nerd-factor, but out of consideration for fellow passengers on a nighttime flight, where use of a flash may have been stressful or interrupted sleep in a dimly-lit cabin. I hope my descriptive trip report makes up, at least in part, for the lack of photos.

After an action-packed weekend in New York, we re-packed for Paris and headed to JFK. We were on a Delta ticket, and all DL flying from New York to Paris is done on Air France metal. We chose AF11, as it’s the second-to-last flight out and would get us to Paris around noon, late enough to have a good chance of having our hotel room ready when we arrive (which it was; more about the Westin Paris later). There was still a flight after ours, just in case of the unexpected, plus this was the only A340 flight, and I really wanted to try an A340 for the first time.

Online check-in was not possible, either from the AF or DL website. I called AF, waited on hold for 20 minutes, then an agent just told me not to worry about it and check in at the airport. I called DL’s SMS line, got an agent right away, who looked at my itinerary and told me that, since it was rebooked and originally had NW/DL flights but now has DL/AF flights, it makes the itinerary “kind of glitchy,” and that she’s seen problems with online check-in before with this issue. She reassured me my itinerary was intact (my biggest worry) and that our seat assignments were still what we had requested. Her explanation really put me at ease.

When we arrived at JFK T2, there were 2 business class check-in desks open, each with a customer there. My partner and I waited as the only people in line, for about 20 minutes (with me making comments about a theme of 20min waits with AF becoming a theme today). When we did finally get called up, the agent was super-friendly and chatted us up for...you guessed it...about 20 minutes...while another person waited in line. There were attractive flower arrangements at each business check-in desk. Once checked in, she pointed us to security and the lounge. She also gave us our Accès No1 cards for expedited passport control at CDG and explained how Accès No1 works. So the agents are nice enough, just don’t be in any hurry.

TSA agents at JFK were rude and mean, yelling at everyone. Anyone who had a camera was yelled at (no exaggeration) to take their camera out of the bag while already doing so! That kind of behavior is just not necessary. Even in a busy, crowded place like a New York airport, it doesn’t make crowd control go any smoother. It just increases blood pressure and causes ulcers for the agents and passengers alike. I think Yoga or Tai Chi should be mandatory for those agents. I expected better in Atlanta on return from Paris, but sadly, they were even worse. By stark contrast, the security agents at CDG actually helped departing passengers unpack their electronics, being understanding of the fact that non-Europeans would be unfamiliar with the slightly different rules, and making sure to explain clearly what to do.

We headed to the AF lounge, next to our gate, where our beautiful A340 waited. We were greeted with a friendly, “Bonjour, Messieurs, Bienvenue,” as we entered the lounge and presented our tickets. The lounge was excellent. The 2-floor layout provided lots of space but plenty of intimate areas, so it didn’t have that “big lounge” feel. There were fabulous hors d’oeuvres, everything from ramekins of Greek salad, to smoked salmon, to sushi, dim-sum, soups, and of course plates of cheese, fruit and mini-desserts. There were bottles of champagne and vodka in ice buckets, plus a pretty sizeable selection of liquor, wine and beer from which to choose. We chose a comfortable, quiet spot and had some cheese and Perrier and relaxed and read before our flight.

The lounge time went by quickly, and boarding time came. Boarding was done in a relatively orderly fashion, with people requiring extra time, then business class, then everyone else. We boarded aft of business class and were welcomed and shown to our seats. Waiting there were amenity kits and bottled water, as well as hard-wired noise-cancelling headphones. We unpacked our carry-on materials that we wanted handy for the flight, converting the myriad cubby-holes in the AF 340 into bookshelves, etc. After about 15 minutes, we were offered newspapers and magazines. About 15 minutes after that, champagne and orange juice were served, though the flight attendants offered to go get us whatever else we wanted. The champagne was wonderful. The FA primarily serving our area of the cabin was a young man who so kindly indulged my attempt to get my French “in-gear” that any time he came to our seats, he addressed me in French and my partner in English. This was a very nice gesture, considering he could have saved a lot of time just saying things once to both of us in English. He continued to address us bilingually for the entire flight. To try to save him time, if I could speak for both of us in French, I did so. Other FA’s addressed us sometimes in French and sometimes in English, so I/we just responded in the same language. It was really helpful to practice a little French before arriving in Paris.

An on-time departure from New York seemed too good to be true. The captain came on and explained the delay in French and then English (with an adorable French accent), with equal levels of detail, that the gate would not pull away from the airplane. A look out the window revealed some puzzled looking guys shaking their heads around the wheels of the gate. Keeping his word, about 10 minutes later, the captain came on for another bilingual announcement, “The gate is completely broken. We cannot taxi away with the gate where it is. They are sinking of a solution. Don’t worry. When we get to Paris, zees will not happen; it will be much better!” Another glass of champagne later, the ground crew decided to hook a tug to the gate and pull it away. We were then off, about an hour behind schedule.

Takeoff was smooth. We had a great, scenic, nighttime view of New York City on the way out and got “wet feet” after passing over Boston, before flying over the Atlantic Provinces.

Beverages were served, along with a baguette, and dinner menus were distributed. They took our orders for the main-course, which had a choice between fish, which I had, and beef, which my partner had. The abbreviated dinner service then commenced. I have to say, for a quick dinner to maximize sleep-time, it was very enjoyable and did not seem rushed at all. We did eat at a slower pace than most of the passengers around us, and they served everyone at their own pace. They did a good job getting the people who just wanted a quick one-tray meal off to sleep quickly.

After drinks & baguettes, they served a tray, which contained the appetizer (foie gras with apricot/cherry confit and baby salad greens), cheese plate and dessert. We are both foie gras fans (shocking for both being vegetarian at previous points in our lives), and we both LOVED the appetizer. Without our asking, the FA saw we needed more bread for our foie gras and brought it promptly. We ordered wine and both wanted different wines paired with our first and second courses. The FA obliged, served us our first wine right away and then brought the second wine with our main courses without our asking again. When we finished our appetizer, he took our appetizer plates and swapped them for the main course plates, which were brought out individually, rather than on a cart. I had orange roughy in an herb sauce with pureed potatoes. My partner had steak with potatoes dauphinoise. Both were tasty but slightly overcooked. We then meandered through our cheeses (brie, bleu, and a hard cheese), and dessert (a tasty peach tart). Overall the meal was quite filling and good-quality, certainly on-par with other business-class food offerings (except for CO’s over-the-top quantity of food, where if you eat everything they give you, you finish dinner halfway across the Atlantic). Just under 2 hours after departure, dinner service was cleared away. Tea, coffee and digestifs were offered. I had herbal tea and an absinthe (I think), then put the seat in the sleep-position and went down for the first-ever meaningful night’s sleep on a transatlantic flight.

The Air France business seats are an anomaly to me. My partner and I both agreed they didn’t feel super-comfortable to sit in, yet we rarely shifted around. Of course, leg-room and shoulder-room (the main issue for us travelling together) was way more than we needed while sitting or reclining. The odd thing was, for seats that didn’t feel too comfortable, and which had slightly insufficient foot-room for my 6’2” partner in the lie-flat position, we both slept like babies. The canopy around my head was also nice. I’ve had a number of good transatlantic flights, but never slept like that. We did Delta on the way home, so there will be a full description in that trip report. Overall, though, we both found the Delta recliners on the 767-300 quite different from the AF seat but also very comfortable. I’d take either across the pond anytime.

A very telling experience happened about 2 hours into the four-hour sleep, when I woke up to use the restroom. This required walking through the galley behind the cabin. I found the entire cabin dark, and there was barely a sound. I think almost everyone was asleep, actually. As I walked back to the galley, all the galley curtains were tightly drawn. As I pulled the curtain, and stuck my head in to ask if I could pass through, 3 FAs could be seen sitting on stools eating dinner, speaking quietly. Quietly! How considerate! How refreshing a change from a recent NW Hawaii-West Coast flight, in which cabin crew were in the front galley guffawing and making a racket, with galley lights in my eyes while trying to sleep in the middle of the night! As I asked if I could pass through the galley, feeling bad for interrupting their dinner, the FA who had served us dinner got up to let me pass. On the way back through the galley, he asked me if there was anything I needed and advised me that if I did, to come on back, as they were trying to keep the cabin quiet and dark until just before arrival. Back in my seat, with a smile on my face over the considerate scene I had just witnessed, I went right back to sleep until breakfast. The 4 hours of sleep made a world of difference in terms of our arrival day being enjoyable and productive.

Just as they moved dinner along at a good clip to get 4 hours of sleep in a 6:40 flight, they moved breakfast along, too. About 40 minutes before landing, the FAs raised some of the window shades to let some light in. We were almost over France, where it was about 11:00am. Breakfast was one tray, with a bowl of good-quality, fresh fruit and a container of yogurt. Coffee and a basket of croissants and pastries followed. A croissant and the fruit was more than enough for me, so soon after dinner. I am a big eater, but I don’t see how people can want a full, American-style breakfast so soon after a big dinner. Though each individual plate during dinner is small-ish, the total quantity of food is quite a lot.

We were descending when breakfast was cleared away by the same gentleman-FA who served us throughout the flight. At this point came the best part of the flight.

I went back to the galley to wait for the lav to brush my teeth and freshen up before landing, and our FA, the same young man, came up to me and said,
“I saw your guide-books, are you visiting Paris for vacation?”
“Yes we are.”
“You’ve been there before, no?”
“Actually, never.”
*He gasps in apparent horror and shock.
“Well I live in Paris. Can I give you some advice? Would you like me to proceed in French or English?”
“Whichever is easier for you.”
He then lists, in French, all his favorite hangouts, museums, neighborhoods, etc. He takes out a piece of paper and writes this all down. He explains the taxi system and the A/B/C fares and how to avoid being ripped off, both in taxis and in general as a visitor. He explains the Métro, shows me how to get to the places we want to see from our hotel, and pulls his 1998 Métro map out of his jacket pocket and gives it to me. What wonderful service that showed perception and consideration on his part. Both meals could have been schlock, and I’d have still walked off the plane smiling. I made sure to thank him for making our first Air France flight a wonderful experience and letting him know we’ll be back.

Landing at CDG was smooth. We disembarked at a jetway, rather than a remote stand, and the captain did point out as we were pulling up to the gate that the gate was indeed working!

Passport control at CDG took a minute. There was no need to even use the Accès No1 line, as there were numerous passport agents available. Baggage was coming out as we arrived off the tram at the baggage claim area, and customs was nonexistent.

Of course, the hustlers were in full-force, just as our FA predicted, approaching tourists for rides downtown for €70, claiming a taxi would be €100. We just did as our FA said, got into an “A” fare taxi, and got downtown quickly for €40, including a generous tip for loading and unloading our embarrassingly-heavy baggage.

I was really impressed by Air France. I know I encountered a particularly excellent FA, and not all are at his level. Overall, the service was the typically-reserved French service that nonetheless never misses a step, the food was very good (especially considering the abbreviated eastbound dinner), the priority placed on sleep was welcome, and overall the flight met or exceeded our expectations for transatlantic business travel. Based on this experience, we would not hesitate to fly Air France again.

I certainly hope none of the crew I met were lost on AF447. If anyone has any way of knowing that the AF11 crew from 15 May are safe, please post a reply, if you feel it’s appropriate to do so.
msntriathlete is offline  
Old Jun 9, 09, 5:32 am
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Great report, really superb! Have an IAD->CDG coming up in a couple of months and can only hope its as great as your experience.
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Old Jun 9, 09, 6:30 am
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Great and uplifting - AF needs all positive feedback and some as we speak. Merci!
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Old Jun 9, 09, 1:45 pm
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^ Excellent report. Glad to hear about a positive AF experience for a change.

I will be flying from JFK-CDG in January in AF C and am looking forward to it!
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Old Jun 10, 09, 8:16 am
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Great report indeed, a real contrast to the usual take that AF food is subpar. Interesting. I'll be flying them in J to take advantage of the Prince de Galles hotel deal from a few months back and this makes me look forward to the trip ^
gleff is offline  
Old Jun 11, 09, 4:03 pm
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I've flown a few AF long hauls in both Affaires and Tempo during the past year or so, and been very impressed on all the flights. Service, food, comfort, you name it. IFE is about the only letdown, which is a pretty minor complaint.
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Old Jun 12, 09, 2:38 am
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Wirelessly posted (Palm TX: Mozilla/4.0 (compatible; MSIE 6.0; Windows 98; PalmSource/Palm-D050; Blazer/4.3) 16;320x448)

Bravo on a great report !!
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Old Jun 12, 09, 5:19 am
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Great report, very nice FA with the Paris advice. ^
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Old Jun 12, 09, 6:28 pm
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Thank you for sharing, I enjoyed your review and look very much forward to my upcoming experience of this route in October.
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Old Jun 13, 09, 5:50 am
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Thanks for some great reading. We are also on this service in October, but I believe it's on a 747.
botham is offline  
Old May 19, 10, 12:06 pm
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AF11 on-board is good, however WATCH OUT at Check-in -- They will do ANYTHING to board non-rev / space available employees including keep revenue passengers waiting until they close the flight, basically voiding your reservation. I had this happen right in front of me and when I called the supervisor over, she supported her report and then after I asked her for her business card, she made a notation in my record voiding my return segment. Value went to zero and AF became very uncooperative. I have stopped flying them -- too had because I go to Paris a lot and it would be nice. Thier ground staff are as bad as BA, but in a more malicious way. I think I will need to complain to the FAA website at this point, this needs some relief.
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Old May 22, 10, 4:54 pm
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Thank you for a such a great report.
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Old May 22, 10, 5:49 pm
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I really enjoyed you trip report! Photos are always great but I understand your reasoning. Thanks ^
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Old May 22, 10, 10:30 pm
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Why you didn't put on A380 yet? Next time if you bookable the ticket online on operating A380 aircraft. You have try to be on A380 in the future. I loves to fly on A380. I actually that I saw A380 in ZRH by last month. She looks so gorgeous. I took a couple shots of SQ A380. Maybe next time if you can try to fly on A380 sometimes in the future. It will have more enjoyable for your ride on A380. You will love it lots. I'll guaranteed can do that for you.
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