This is part 4 of my series exploring my March 2017 trip to South Africa and Namibia, which started here.
Air France Flt. 864 Paris- Charles de Gaulle to Cape Town
Sched. Dep. 10:10AM Actual Dep. 10:45AM
Sched. Arr. 10:30PM Actual Arr. 11:18PM
Boeing 777-200, Business Class
My flight from Dulles landed at the M concourse of Air France’s Terminal 2E compound. It was a bit of a schlep to the K concourse, which is also the part of 2E where terminating passengers have to go for baggage/immigration/exit. There was a walk from where the plane emptied out to the Navette (shuttle) train, but it is pretty well-marked, and clean and orderly. It was then short two-stop ride on the Navette to the K concourse, where the Sky Priority security lane moved slowly, but not terribly. Two people pushed themselves in front of me, which seemed to be common theme with lines at CDG. There was no recombobulation area just through security which caused a bit of a bottleneck. The Air France Salon was just past security, downstairs.
Check-in was friendly. There were sections of the lounge on either side of the desk, but I asked where the showers were, and was directed to one side that I stayed on. I went right for the shower, knowing there might be a wait, and sure enough there was. But with seven showers, the line moved fairly quickly, despite there only being one cleaner. The shower room was nice, modern, and clean, with a package of a fresh bath towel, hand towel, and bath mat. There was also a small amenity kit with shaving and dental accoutrements, a comb, a deodorant wipe, and a L’Occitane body wash. There was also liquid soap in a dispenser in the shower. The only things I’d wished they had were tissues and some sort of moisturizing/hand/body lotion. The shower felt good.
The lounge was pretty busy with morning arrivals from all over the world, and lots of flights to the UK on Air France and Flybe boarding shortly before my own. Though it was hard to find seats, I found a small table. The basement location definitely made it a bit more claustrophobic than the open air lounges in some of the other 2E concourses. There was a cold buffet and a hot one. The cold one had some pastries, yogurt, cheese, and fruit. The hot one was half-empty on my first pass, with a sign for Belgian waffles, but no waffles, and what seemed to have been an egg tray, so all that there was was bacon, sausage, and potato. On my second loop, the waffles were back, as was a tortilla. There was also a perennial line for the coffee machines, which seemed only able to make baby cups of coffee. One of the three machines was nonfunctional. The internet was not great, possibly tied to the volume of users, but I had trouble staying connected. There was a full self-serve bar in the center of the room, which also had some savory snacks.
About ten minutes before scheduled boarding, I headed to the gate. (Fun fact: Cape Town is simply “Le Cap” in French.) Shortly after, they announced a thirty minute delay. There was plenty of seating in the gate area, though. About 35 minutes later they announced boarding, and there was already a huge line for Sky Priority. The 777-200 has a very large business cabin, plus a premium economy cabin, added to elites and you’ve got a lot of people!
Boarding didn’t actually begin, though. The delay continued and I was standing a long time, and people were very pushy and cutting lines. About fifteen minutes later, boarding actually begin, though people could not understand how to operate the self-boarding gates for some reason.
There are two business cabins on the 7777-200, and I was in the front one again, which was the larger of the two this time. The seats are laid out in a 2-3-2 configuration that goes almost fully flat, which feels more like Premium Economy than business. Thankfully I did not have a middle seat, and my seatmate was an American around my age. The cabin seemed to be mostly Americans this time around; go figure.
The seat had the same hanger/blanket/pillow as my flight from Dulles, as well as the packet of slippers, socks, and shoe bag, albeit in a different color. There was also a bottle of water and headphones at the seat. The seat really shows its age in the lack of storage, and the small, outdated television screen. There was an A/C power plug which I couldn’t get to work until a while after take-off. Although the delay was purportedly for cleaning, they didn’t do a great job, as there were wrappers and remnants from the previous occupant of the seat. My seatmate was an American solo traveler around my age who I got the impression lived in Europe. He was not interested in small talk at all, and he was one of the weirdest seatmates I’ve ever had for one reason: he did not go to the bathroom once on an eleven hour flight. And he was drinking water, wine, and coffee during the flight. Perhaps he had a catheter.
From boarding, the crew struck me as a bit friendlier than the Dulles crew- perhaps it’s a more senior crew on the longer flight. Newspapers, amenity kits, and champagne/juice seemed to come quicker than on the IAD flight. The flight attendant working my aisle proactively offered passengers basically whatever color amenity kit they wanted from about 6 colors, and when he ran out of a color said he had more in the back he could get for you. I didn’t open mine, as it was the same exact kit as on the flight from DC. As we began to take off, I loaded Manchester by the Sea. Although it was an older system and much smaller screen, the in-flight entertainment was pretty well loaded with new movies.
Menus were distributed once we were in the air. The wine selection was the same as on my outbound flight, but there was a heartier meal selection, with lunch after take-off, mid-flight refreshments including a hot chicken sandwich, and then a seafood dinner. There were more options for lunch than the dinner on the red-eye, with a lamb, guinea fowl, salmon, and vegetable risotto on the menu. In addition, you can pre-order special meals on Air France flights out of Paris. Oddly, they are all Asian: Japanese, Chinese, Thai, and Indian. I thought about it, but it didn’t seem right on a Paris-Cape Town flight. For lunch I was torn between the lamb confit and the guinea fowl, but since I had done the lamb on the last flight, I figured I’d go with the fowl.
The drink cart came out shortly after reaching cruising altitude, and was similar to that on the IAD-CDG flight, with the same cranberry/almond mix being served at the same time as the amuse bouche, which did not match the menu description, and was some sort of seafood/edamame thing.
Meal service was much better on this flight, with a more senior attendant who was extremely friendly and warm with each dish, offering tastings of wine, and asking how everything was. He commented that this was his first time flying the Cape Town route and noted that there were so many less South Africans than on the Johannesburg route, which isn’t totally surprising to me given Cape Town’s status as a tourist destination. On Paris-Johannesburg, Air France also offers its new business class on certain flights, giving locals a reason not to fly South African.
The meal was presented in courses, unlike on my previous flight. The first tray just had a small green salad and a meh appetizer combo of foie gras pate, which I didn’t eat, and a grapefruit quinoa salad. The bread was warm, another difference. The guinea fowl wasn’t super flavorful but was fine. I was offered a cheese course when my main was served, but opted against it. The star of the meal was dessert. The FA presented me with all of the different choices – three different sorbets, fruit, and a chocolate and caramel baton cake. The cake looked so rich I thought maybe I shouldn’t indulge, but I’m glad I did, as it was definitely one of the best desserts I’ve ever had on a plane, with a crunchy layer and a ganache. I couldn’t finish it was so rich. I could’ve sworn I took a picture but it seems to have disappeared. But it was huge and delicious and looked super fancy.
Manchester by the Sea ended just as my tray was collected and I was offered brandy, just as we had crossed into North Africa. In proof that the seat design is not dispositive of my ability to sleep, I fell asleep fairly quickly and slept for about 4 hours with minor disruptions, despite the fact the seat was fairly narrow and didn’t lie completely flat. (The controls of the seat were relatively simple, except the presets for “flat”, reclining, and sitting upright were nonfunctional.)
With about 4.5 hours left in the flight, I decided I should get up and stay up so I could sleep when I got to Cape Town in the evening. I managed to jump over my sleeping, nonpeeing neighbor, and stopped at the bathroom. There was a display set up with self-serve small savory packaged snacks, fruit, Valrhona chocolate bars, and La Duree candies. I grabbed some Coke Zero and then headed back to my seat and watched “American Pastoral,” based on one of my favorite books from college.
There was a crew change while I slept, and though the new crew wasn’t quite as awesome as the first FA I had, they were still friendly, and my FA had a smile on her face and was quite pleasant the whole time. I asked for and received a cappuccino, which was powdered, disappointingly, since espresso was on the menu, suggesting there was an espresso machine. I later requested a Coke Zero which the FA must have forgotten about, so I had to request a second. By the time American Pastoral ended (not as good as the book, but good), we were already off the coast of Northern Namibia, with 2 ½ hours left of flight. Next up was “Hell or High Water,”which was quite good. (In retrospect, I realize that I watched three completely depressing movies on this flight.)
With about an hour and 45 minutes left in flight, the cabin lights were turned on, followed by hot towels. The FA from earlier in the flight came back for the light dinner service. The meal was an express service, on one tray. The entrée choices were scallops, risotto, or shrimp; I went with the shrimp which were cold and blah. The carrot puree was okay, but the “honey, orange-glazed” vegetables lacked any flavor – certainly neither honey nor orange. My neighbor had gotten the risotto, which looked significantly more substantial. The salmon and cucumber appetizer wasn’t my thing, but the giant berry panna cotta certainly was, and was the star of the tray. I had a Coke Zero and a coffee to keep myself going for the remaining hours before I’d make it to the hotel, and Hell or High Water ended with about an hour left in flight, so I loaded an episode of Family Guy.
For the second time in the past month, the agent on landing struggled with getting the jet bridge to line up, but eventually figured it out. Immigration was easy, and luggage had already started coming on the belt as I passed through – an advantage of a late-night arrival into Cape Town. I had prearranged a transfer to my hotel through Rikki’s/Sports, as I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to request an Uber via wifi. There was a guy waiting with a sign with my name on it, and he took me on a long walk to the shuttle van. I hadn’t realized I had booked a shared transfer, but thankfully I only had to wait for one couple and I was dropped off first at my hotel on the border of Green Point and De Waterkant. The ride took 20 minutes and cost about 20 USD plus tip.
All in all, it was actually a very pleasant flight down to Cape Town. I was kind of ruing the eleven hours on the outdated product, but I slept well, ate well, and watched good movies. The service was very good, and the timing of the flight – with a short layover in Paris – made it a relatively good routing to South Africa. Of course it was still 25 hours of travel door to door, which is always long, but I was in Cape Town, which, spoiler alert, was a city I loved.