France is in the Air – AF Business (Part 2)

Paris (CDG) to Los Angeles (LAX) on the A380

See Part 1 here:  SFO to CDG on the B77W

Two days before departure, I received an email from Air France regarding an “exceptional offer” for an upgrade.  Since I was flying Business Class, I knew it was a La Première (First Class) upgrade.  It piqued my interest.  After seeing some rave reviews, I may accept the offer if the price was right.  I had to click through a few screens before I finally got to the price.  $2562.45 to upgrade to La Première.  I considered it for maybe ten seconds before giving it a pass.

I started my trip home from Toulouse (TLS - home of Airbus) in Southern France.  I had a two-PNR, three-ticket number itinerary.  I was concerned that there would be complications and would not be able to check my bag all the way through.  My worries were quickly abated when the ticket agent was able to immediately pull up my entire trip.  “Flying to San Jose?” she asked.  “Yes!”  I was relieved.  I was very surprised to see one boarding pass with one bar code for all three flights.  We are talking about a French domestic flight connecting to an international flight to a Delta U.S. domestic flight. I was very impressed with SkyTeam’s ticketing connectivity.

Here was the morning snack on board my domestic flight from TLS to CDG in Economy.  There was a decent quality slice of pre-packaged citrus cake, but sadly, the coffee was instant. How un-European!  Even on Southwest Airlines’ short haul intra-California flights I can still expect hot brewed coffee. 

My flight from TLS arrived at CDG’s Terminal 2F 55 minutes prior to boarding time of my next flight to Los Angeles.  There were two long queues at passport control.  Unfortunately, the queue for SkyPriority and short connections was one in the same.  I patiently waited for my turn at one of two windows working the “short” line. 

After 30 minutes, I made it through.  I thought I would be home-free.  I can now take the quick Terminal 2E train connecting the K-L-M Gates that I was introduced to a few days earlier.  Wrong!  Needing to go to the M Gates, I was funneled through to a ground level hold area and there I waited (seemingly forever) for the blue shuttle bus.  After the bus finally showed up, the trek was slow behind baggage trucks and stop signs at busy intersections. The reason for the bus ride was not obvious until I arrived at the M concourse.  The bus dropped me off behind security so I would not have to re-clear security again.  Train passengers, on the other hand, had to pass through security check.

By the time I arrived at the Air France Lounge, I only had 10 minutes before boarding time.  I had just enough time to grab some fruit, a pastry, and water.  I didn’t even check out what scrupulous hot food I was missing.  It seemed I was not the only person having an express breakfast; others were in a rush as well.

Gate M46 was only two gates away from the lounge.  There, things were moving slowly.  Good!  It gave me some time to savor the view of my super behemoth out the window.  Even after these many years in service, the A380 still commanded attention.  Many photos and selfies were taken, even from passengers not flying on the flight.

Flight:  AF66
Origin – Destination:  Paris-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) – Los Angeles (LAX) 
Aircraft:  Airbus 380-861
Registration:  F-HPJH
msn:  99
Delivered (age):  May 2012 (5.3 years)
Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  10:25 am – 1:05 pm
Actual Departure – Arrival:  10:34 am – 12:51 pm
Takeoff CDG Runway 09R:  11:01 am  
Landing LAX Runway 24R:  12:42 pm
Flight Duration:  10 hours 39 minutes

Boarding was accomplished from opposite ends of the gate: Economy from one side and SkyPriority from the other.  Stanchions regulated the queue flow.  This boarding arrangement was a lot more orderly than the massive single mob funneling into one door mess that I have experienced on all of my previous A380 flights.  

Boarding directly to the upper deck from the loading bridge didn’t give me that special feeling of flying on a double decker.  If one didn’t know any better, one would never know there was a separate cabin down below.

Once again, I chose the last row in Business Class, seat 73L.  What a high number for a Business Class seat!  Flight attendant on station right behind me immediately offered to take my jacket upon arrival, quite a contrast from my inbound flight. Like my inbound flight, the cabin temperature was on the warmer side, the way I like it.

Seat design was the same as my flight from SFO on the 777-300ER, so no surprises there.  So far, none of the Air France A380s have been converted to the new seats.  The advantage of being on the upper deck is the handy extra storage bins below the windows.  The top of which was freely used as a side table.  

Photo ops from the upper deck is never good on the A380.  The windows are at an angle and there is a huge air gap between the inner and outer panels.

It took a while before I received my pre-departure drink, choice of Champagne or orange juice.  As with my flight out, the seat next to me remained empty until the last minute – when a few folks (most likely cleared upgrades) showed up filling all remaining empty seats.  At 80-seats, the A380 has a large Business Class cabin.  It’s probably easy to upgrade on this plane.  

The captain strolled around the cabin and said quick hellos to everyone.  That was a nice gesture.  Later, he announced the flight time was expected to be 10 hours 25 minutes.  The weather in Los Angeles was fair with temperature of 75°F.

Flight attendants passed out amenity kits – choice of two different colors: orange or blue – along with a glossy duty free advertisement.  At first, I thought it was the menu, but it was just an ad.  I have never seen ads being handed out on a flight before.    

The amenity kit was a different design from what I received on my inbound flight.  Dual pockets and stylish design were high marks for future reuse.  Contents, though, were the same as before.  

The in-flight entertainment system on this A380 was slightly different than the one found on the 777-300ER.  Specifically, for those of us who like to watch the map, I cannot listen to music at the same time. The most significant difference was the inability to create a playlist.  That option was tremendously useful as I browsed through the large number video choices on the 777.  But, that disparity was forgiven for the multiple aircraft camera angles found on the A380, with the tail camera being my favorite.

Downward camera looking at our tug

Boarding bridge being pulled back – almost ready for departure

We taxied all over CDG from the southeast to Runway 09 at the northwest corner.  It took us 30 minutes to reach the runway. There was also congestion due to larger number of departures during this morning bank. 

As expected, cabin noise was very low, even after all engines have started (occurred during taxi).  I think the A380 is still the king of quiet cabins.  In my video of the takeoff roll, noise from the rattling plastic panels was more noticeable than the takeoff thrust.

Menu was distributed shortly after takeoff (yay!).  The description of the two chef’s hot dishes was very elaborate; I had a difficult time choosing between the hen and the trout.

Above the overcast shortly after departure.

Amuse-bouche – Scallops in the mini bowl gets high marks.  The scallops were very tender, prepared like a ceviche.  

One hour into the flight, lunch service formally began with carts serving from back to front.  My Diet Coke was cheerfully refilled, however, the drink cart was without ice, which was rather strange. The bread (there were two choices, wheat or white) was cold; the salmon appetizer and salad tasted pretty typical.  

Main course was served while over Ireland at 36,000 feet.  I chose the hen.  I said “hen” a couple of times to the flight attendant (because it was written that way in the menu) but she didn’t understand.  Before resorting to pointing on the menu (we were both going that way), I gave up and said “chicken”.  I passed on the cheese plate.

Despite the fancy menu description, the dish looked and tasted like a frozen dinner.  I was disappointed.  The vegetable was soggy and the chicken (er, the hen) was greasy.  The sauce tasted unique and it was the only standout on this dish.

For dessert, I went with the pastry trio again.  Let’s just face it.  Between the sorbet, fruit plate, or mini pastries, which is the most French and the most decadent?  The mini chocolate square was a nice touch with the coffee.  

Lunch service was completed 2.5 hours into the flight.  The wait between courses felt long.  It was just a drawback of flying in a large Business Class cabin.  

Since this was a completely daytime flight – both out the window and on the clock (Europe time, that is), I didn’t attempt to sleep.  I instead worked on my laptop and snacked on goodies from the bar.  The view down below was spectacular.  Greenland never disappoints.  

The art gallery in the mezzanine (that’s what Air France calls it), went totally unused.  In fact, just like my flight out, the entire forward cabin was dark and quiet.  The gallery, designed to be a gathering space, was totally deserted.  I felt lonely standing there snacking by myself.

This was in stark contrast to the area by door 2.  The galley, three of the four Business Class lavatories, and the buffet/bar were located there. 

Clarins beauty products

Not shown is the buffet cart filled with candy, cheese, and fruit.

Everyone hung out here.  They stretched their legs, made small talk, snacked and drunk away.  Crowding was an issue from the foot traffic and flight attendants.  It was difficult to socialize there, because you were always in the way of something or someone.  After a few minutes, I gave up and went back to my seat.  

Seven hours into the flight while over Manitoba, it was almost dinner time back in France.  I felt hunger again.  The cabin was stirring with sound of clanking silverware.  I went back up to the buffet/bar asking if the midflight snack would be served or I had to request it.  A flight attendant went through the drawers and showed me available snacks not on display on the cart before ultimately offering me the cheese sandwich advertised in the menu.  She suggested better heated, so I requested as so along with a cup of tea.  Back at my seat, for a few moments, I thought she had forgotten about me.  When she finally showed, my simple sandwich and tea were both nicely plated.  She later returned and offered refill on my tea, which was nice.  

Crossing the Rockies and Great Salt Lake with Salt Lake City (SLC) airport.

About 90 minutes to go, pre-arrival meal service began.  Unlike lunch, the cart went from front to back.  Seated in the last row, anticipating what’s to come, I broke out the menu and prepared a second choice.  I wanted the shrimp and the lady seated next to me got the last one.  Figured.  I went with the grilled scallops.  Bread choice was same as before, wheat or white (boring) but at least it was warm this time.  Just like before, there was no ice to go with my Diet Coke.

Given the scallops amuse at lunch was good, I had high hopes for the grilled scallops.  Nope.  The scallops were rubbery and dry.  The entire dish was soaked in oil – not appetizing at all.  The only saving grace was the panna cotta. 

We made our initial approach to LAX over Las Vegas.  I have seen this approach many times on the trackers while spotting at LAX.  I smiled a bit and thought “I am familiar with this approach!”      

Five minutes before descent, the captain announced the sky at LAX was fair with a temperature of 65°F.  

Turning west above San Bernardino (SBD).

Snowcapped mountains atop the LA Basin.

Downtown Los Angeles and the massive double-decker, multi-lane Highway 110.

Runway in sight!

The famous LAX In-N-Out Burger.  I ate lunch and saw this flight land from there the previous weekend.  Surprisingly, there was not many people eating outside on this Sunday.

Slowing on LAX’s Runway 24R, 10 hours and 39 minutes after departing CDG.

Rolling all the way to the end of Runway 24R.

A surprising sight, two Japanese Government 747-400s at the remote gates.

Pulling into Gate 154 at Tom Bradley International Terminal with a Lufthansa A380 at the gate.  Many more A380s would be arriving after us.

With dedicated upper and lower deck loading bridges, deplaning was a quick process.  Once again, boarding and now deplaning via a dedicated bridge did not give me the special feeling of flying on a double decker.

At immigration, numerous upon numerous self-service border control kiosks were available for use. A large number of service staff was on hand to guide the crowd.  One can tell LAX is all about volume, well equipped to handle multiple A380 arrivals at once.  Fortunately, our flight beat the rush on this day. Without a crowd and only minimal queuing, I breezed through immigration and customs with plenty of time to kill at the excellent Delta Sky Club in Terminal 5 before my flight home to San Jose.

Final Thoughts

Service on both flights was excellent.  Language was not an issue and flight attendants were eager to serve.

Food quality was disappointing departing Paris.  One would expect catering to be top notch from the home airport flight kitchen.

On both flights, the front cabin was always quiet and dark.  If you are looking for rest, that’s where you want to sit.  Intended gathering spaces up front went unused on both flights.

On the A380, having the buffet/bar at a busy and space-constrained location (galley and lavatory) was a poor design choice.  The more spacious mezzanine area, which went unused, could be converted to a buffet/bar without loss of usable space.  

Air France needs to quickly complete the conversion of its Business Class seats.  Having direct aisle access will put its Business Class product on par with the competition.  It will also save us poor souls who prefer window seats from being trapped.

Despite the not-quite-lie-flat seat, I nevertheless was able to relax and sleep comfortably.

Unless you need to log an A380 (or are looking for an upgrade), flying in a smaller Business Class cabin on another aircraft type is more preferable for more expedited service.  

Despite both Air France and Groupé ADP’s (Aeroports de Paris) attempt to make connections at Paris-CDG easy, it still left much to be desired.  A half hour wait at the premium line at passport control during rush hour is not acceptable.  Also, why run a slow connection bus when there is a fast concourse connection train?  The airport needs to determine how to flow connecting passengers onto the train without clearing through security again.  


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