Note: Hidden in this post is a stupid mistake I made, but realized before any significant consequence. If you spot it before I reveal it, you get a gold star!
Lufthansa Flt. 2229, Paris CDG to Munich, 1h 30 min, A320, Business Class
The Hilton CDG is on the airport property, but given the size of CDG, that’s not saying much. It wasn’t too bad, though, as I took the CDGVAL airport shuttle train two stops to the Terminal 3/Train Station exit, and the Hilton was a few minutes walk from the station. The property is modern and a fairly typical airport hotel. As I arrived, a Qatar Airways flight crew was checking in, so I waited patiently. Then two French people walked up and literally stood about 3 feet in front of me, as if I were a hologram. My face must have shown my repulsion/shock/anger and the clerk called me over, and said, “Sir, it’s okay.”
I had booked the Hilton because of a competitive rate, about half that of the CDG Sheraton, its location, and my Hilton HHonors Gold status – though before the recent massive devaluation of Hilton HHonors points. Hilton treats its mid-level elites very well, though, with upgrades, free internet, and free breakfast, which all came through on this stay. I was pre-assigned to the Executive Floor, the highest in the hotel, and given access to the Executive Lounge. The room was fine, with cool views of the runway, but nothing remarkable. I decided I’d head to the gym first as I was fighting to stay awake to get my body closer to New York time. I was exhausted though, and lasted only about 25 minutes. The gym was also adequate, and there was a small indoor swimming pool which French teenagers were enjoying. I then headed up to the Lounge, only to find it’s hot hors d’ouvres service had ended, and though the lounge was open for 2.5 more hours, there was no food available at all except a fruit bowl. (The sign suggested there was “salty mix and beverages” til 11pm, but alas, no salty mix.) The lounge was nothing special, so I had a diet coke (no booze available) and an apple and then headed back to my room.
I worried I wouldn’t be able to sleep through the whole night due to the time change, so figured I’d go to the gym around 7am and then head to the lounge for breakfast before checking out around 9am for my 11am flight. I woke up around 4am, but fell back asleep and somehow found myself awake at 7:50. Whoops. I figured breakfast wasn’t such a priority as I had lounges and flights awaiting me with tons of food, so did a short workout, then headed to the lounge to grab some coffee. Alas, the coffee machine wasn’t working, though they had about four people working on it. There was tasty scrambled eggs and pastries available though, so I had a bite, then showered and headed back to Terminal 1.
I could have flown directly from Paris to Newark on United in First Class, but that would have been boring. I still would have had to spend a night in Paris, so there was little incentive. Lufthansa First Class is known to be quite good, though, and significantly better than United’s. Plus, I’ve never flown Lufthansa (or even any of the airlines it owns). Generally, though, Lufthansa does not release First Class award seats to partners until 14 days out. (United.com will tell you otherwise, but will give you a problem if you try to book it. Only the ANA site is reliable.) Somehow, when I changed my ticket in January, there was availability in First Class from Dusseldorf to Newark, so I grabbed it. But that plane flies Lufthansa’s old first class product, and there are no special First Class perks in Dusseldorf. I knew there would be a good chance of switching to either Frankfurt or Munich if I checked back 14 days out. So, from Vietnam, I saw on the ANA site that there was availability on the MUC-EWR flight in First, operated by Lufthansa’s new First Class product, and allowing me to take a later flight out of Paris. The internet connection at the Intercontinental was wonky, so I used my international cellphone to call United. The line estimated a wait time of five minutes, so I held. Five minutes soon became fifteen, and fifteen became thirty, and I gave up, having used up about $7 of international SIM card minutes. The next day, the availability was gone. Miraculously, a few days later, in Thailand, the seat was available again, and I called using Google Talk on my Ipod and made the change for a $75 fee, using my AmEx Platinum, which will reimburse the fee as part of my $200 annual benefit.
Terminal 1 was a bit of a zoo. All Lufthansa passengers must print out their boarding documents at a kiosk, then head to the counter for luggage drop. There was a negligible wait at the First/Business counter, and then I headed towards the departure gates. I was looking through my folio of documents and realized I had my “Access No. 1” card from Thai from the night before which I had never had an opportunity to use. An agent saw I had it in my hand as I approached what seemed to be a massive line for border control, and directed me to the Access No. 1 line. I tried scanning my Thai card at the Access No. 1 gate, but it said “Card expired.” The agent swiped his own card and let me in though. The line was slow, as it seemed they only had two border control officers working the lines, which had hundreds of passengers in them. I saw the sign then said “Gates 50 to 59”, but realized I was leaving from Gate 63. Perhaps they connected after border control?
Did you spot my mistake?
I was flying to Germany. I didn’t need to wait on line for passport control. That’s why Lufthansa didn’t give me an Access No. 1 card, and why the passport control didn’t lead to my correct gate. Duh. Gold star anyone?
So I humbly walked backwards through the line, and headed to the proper gate area. Security had a short wait, but I was directed to a line behind a French family. One boy kept coming up to me and hugging my leg. I just kept saying “Bonjour!” Then the mother started arguing with the security agent about her bottle of water, aerosol cans, liquid Tylenol . . . fortunately, another agent waved me over, or I’d still be there.
The small gate area accommodated a variety of Star Alliance carriers. I proceeded downstairs to the Lufthansa lounge area. Even though I was connecting to a First Class flight, I was directed to the “Business” lounge, instead of the Senator lounge. I’m not sure if that’s the correct rule (since I don’t think Lufthansa has First Class flying out of Paris). The Business lounge is their generic lounge for business passengers and Star Alliance elites, whereas the Senator lounge is where they keep the good stuff for more valued travelers. I was very glad I had done breakfast at the Hilton, as there was really close to nothing in the lounge, just some pastries and bread. There were no English language newspapers. At least the coffee machine was functioning. It was one big room, and alas a French family came in after me, with very loud children echoing throughout. There was free internet, so I sat and blogged for a bit.
About 10 minutes before scheduled boarding time, I headed upstairs to the gate, where a huge line of people had already formed. I found the priority lane and got in that line behind several families. About 10 minutes after scheduled boarding time, boarding began, again with no announcement. There were papers as you boarded, again, none in English. Maybe the Germans are still upset about World War II?
The leather seats on the very new A320 were standard intra-European business class – the same as coach but with the middle seat blocked. They were probably the thinnest I’d ever seen, though, and extremely uncomfortable. You could feel any move of the person behind you involving the tray table or seat pocket. No IFE. Upon boarding, the only thing a Flight Attendant said to me was asking me if I could put my bag under the empty middle seat instead of in the overhead bin as it was a “fully booked” flight. No offer of drink or to take my jacket. Boarding took a long time, and they we waited on the runway to take off before finally getting airborne, about 30 minutes late. The two Flight Attendants had been barking at each other across the cabin (in soothing German) before take-off, so I was unsurprised by their cool German efficiency in meal service. I was surprised at the size of the meal, which I’m guessing was a “Snack” – a green salad with some ham and gouda, rolls, a chocolate panna cotta, and a bag of chocolates – given the 65 minute flight time. Generally, it was underseasoned, though I’m not sure if my palate has grown less sensitive after two weeks of Asian food. I tried to doze, but the seats were just too uncomfortable, so I read until landing. And soon we were on the snowy ground in Munich.
It was a short flight, so not a big deal, but the uncomfortable, cold flight reminded me that people who reflexively say European carriers are better than American ones don’t really know what they’re talking about, as I’ve had better experiences on Delta regional jets in business.