My trip out of Paris on an Airbus 380 was an interesting one. I woke up at the Intercontinental early, planning to get in a morning of sightseeing before heading to the airport on the RoissyBus at around 11am. Upon waking, though, I discovered emails from both Air France and Delta informing me that my flight had been “rescheduled” 90 minutes later. I assume it had left New York late the night before, but I was pleased to have such advance notice, and also didn’t mind an extra 90 minutes in Paris. When I first booked this trip, I was scheduled to have only a 22-hour layover, which now turned into 26 hours.
I headed to the RoissyBus around noon for the 45 minute trip to the Airport. To give you an idea of just how large DeGaulle is, the estimated arrival time at Terminal 3 was a full 20 minutes after the arrival time at Terminal 1. DeGaulle is really a series of airports, not connected architecturally or physically. Terminal 2 is itself about 7 different terminals 2A through 2G. I’ve actually only flown out of 2E, which is home to most SkyTeam longhaul flights.
I had checked in from my netbook at the hotel, but needed to print a boarding pass. When I got to the Kiosk, though, I received an error message. So I headed to the nearest SkyPriority lane, where I decided I might as well check my luggage if I had to wait. Then it was through immigration, then to a monorail to the L gates, and then through security. None of the waits were long, but it was exhausting. After clearing security, I headed upstairs to the large Air France Salon lounge.
It was about 2pm when I arrived, and I saw people noshing on sandwiches, salads, and soups. When I approached the food area though, there was no food other than packaged chips and cookies, bread, and yogurt, and the lounge attendants were clearing the real food away. What made this even weirder was the menu posted above the cleared food area – which stated lunch was served til 2:30pm!
I was hungry. All I’d had to eat was a muffin, and I didn’t know how long my flight would be delayed or how sufficient the Air France food in coach would be for the next 10 or so hours before I got home. So I had some pieces of bread and a coffee and left the lounge (which otherwise seemed lovely, though who knew it was possible to have less food available than a Delta SkyClub or United Club). I then headed to the concourse in search of some food and maybe some souvenirs.
Alas, there is no hot food anywhere in the 2EL gates. Just a few cafes serving coffee and prepackaged sandwiches. And there were no real shops either, just duty free and newsstands – a huge contrast to the Dublin airport, which had shops up the wazoo.
After grabbing a cold sandwich, it was already almost time to board. Air France uses two special gates for the A380 – one for Sky Priority, and one for general boarding. Unlike normal boarding, though, they do not actually announce boarding by zone. All Sky Priority boards, and everyone else boards. That means I boarded along with First, Business and Premium Voyageur (similar to economy plus). It was kind of a zoo.
After getting off the escalator to the top deck, I turned right, so I didn’t get to see First Class, but I did get a good view of Business and Premium Economy (previously Premium Voyageur). I have to say, I would much sooner buy a Premium Economy ticket than a Business ticket on this flight, as the seats looked better than many of those in business tickets, and about half the cost. Unlike Delta’s economy comfort, United’s Economy Plus, or even KLM’s version, though, the price difference between Premium Voyageur and coach is not a $50-$60 add-on, but rather several hundred dollars. Of course, a guy on my flight in coach insisted he had paid $60 extra for preferred seating, and made a stink to the flight attendants that he should be in Premium Voyageur. No dice, buddy. (Maybe he paid for economy comfort on a connecting leg on Delta? (Update- the purser came over and explained that is what he did, but he continued to argue.)
Economy itself was fine, with some pluses and minuses. It was cool being in the upper deck, where there were only six rows of economy in a 2-4-2 configuration. Since I had a window seat, I had a little storage cubby next to my seat, built-in so the plane can easily be configured in an all-business upper deck. I was surprised to find there was no in-seat power, though, and the pitch was pretty tight, especially with an aggressive recliner in front of me – who, even though she was in an exit row and about 5 foot 5, reclined as soon as she got on the plane. (Violating the norms of economy travel- thou shalt not recline all the way in an exit row, certainly if you are not sleeping.) The seat also had adjustable headrests, which is good for me – particularly when an aggressive recliner forces me to sit totally upright.
The in-flight entertainment was good, not spectacular, with a mix of European and American films and some not super-recent television programs. It had a USB connection for other devices, and you could actually download airport maps, Paris transit maps, and Air France bus information from the IFE system to a jump drive or other device. One annoying thing was the touchscreen was not very sensitive at all and I had to press hard and repeatedly.
Boarding took quite a while – unsurprising for such a big plane. Just before take off though, the IFE monitors switched to a view from the camera mounted atop the tail, giving you an awesome view of the plane as it smoothly taxied down the runway and shot into the air.
Air France offers printed menus in coach, which is a nice touch, as the only other airline in recent memory to offer this that I remember was Turkish. Unfortunately,they ran out of duck in their small allotment of coach meals up top (sacre bleu!), so I was left with the palatable meatballs, which came with a rather large salad and a personal bottle of wine.
Shortly before landing, there was a second meal service, which seemed to be miscatered—it seemed like breakfast! It consisted of a small cheese sandwich, a yogurt drink, and orange juice.
In the air, in coach, I really didn’t feel much of a difference between the A380 and any other newer plane, but it was still a cool experience. Overall, a relatively pleasant experience on Air France once I left CDG.