Airline #71: Luxair to Paris-CDG and Air France Paris to Washington

This is the conclusion of a much-delayed series covering my Labor Day (August-September 2019) trip to Paris and Luxembourg. My last post covered my day exploring Luxembourg City.

Luxair Flt. 8013 Luxembourg to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (LUX-CDG)
Sched. Dep. 11:00am   Sched. Arr. 12:00pm
Actual Dep. 11:00am     Actual Arr. 12:05pm

Air France Flt. 54 Paris-Charles de Gaulle to Washington-Dulles (CDG-IAD)
Sched. Dep. 1:15pm     Sched. Arr. 3:40pm
Actual Dep. 1:28pm      Actual Arr. 4:01pm

The city bus from the train station got me to Luxembourg’s Findel Airport at 9:20am for an 11:00am flight. All check-in is through the airport’s main modern glass terminal, Terminal A. The main carrier is Luxair, the flag carrier of Luxembourg, which flies (flew?) to a mix of short-haul leisure destinations (predominantly in the Mediterranean), including several on the North African coast, and European destinations. The airline has 8 737s, which it uses on its longer routes, and then 11 turboprop Dash 8-400 it uses for shorter flights.  For some reason, I’ve always thought of it as a cool airline and wanted to fly it, so it was exciting to be flying it as my 71st airline – even if it was on the second-shortest flight in their network to Paris. (Their actual shortest is a 49-mile leg from Luxembourg to Saarbrucken, which continues onto Hamburg—a route they started after Airberlin collapsed. The longest flights are a seasonal once weekly to Cape Verde and a year-round Canary Islands flight.)

Luxembourg Findel Airport Terminal A

Welcome, I guess?

Luxair is not a member of any of the alliances, but it participates in the Lufthansa Group’s Miles & More program, and codeshares with a bunch of European carriers. One thing of note is that Luxair doesn’t duplicate many routes with the flag carriers—only Munich with Lufthansa and Lisbon with TAP.  They do serve the same city but different airports with BA and Alitalia, and then overlap with Ryanair and Easyjet in a few cities as well. Its route to Paris is a codeshare with Air France, and given the length of the flight and train availability, I assume is almost entirely connecting traffic. One thing I was surprised by was how much Luxair markets itself as a connecting carrier for flights from Europe to leisure destinations in the Med and Middle East. I guess the location makes sense for some points in France, Germany, Scandinavia, and the UK.

I printed my boarding passes at a Luxair Kiosk. There was a separate check-in for “Luxair Tours” which was very long, but none of the other carriers had a line at all.  The security line wasn’t long but I was stuck behind a group of verrrrry slow senior citizens from the U.S. who were confused by the need to take off their huge chunky belt buckles. It took me six minutes to pass through, which wasn’t too bad, and then I headed to the lounge.

There is one lounge at LUX, creatively called, “The Lounge,” and it participates in Priority Pass. I wasn’t expecting much, but it was nicer than I’d expected, despite a fairly unfriendly welcome.  There was a range of different styles of seating: bar style, dining tables, lounge chairs. There were windows all along one side, so it was nice and sunny.  There was plenty of seating and outlets, even with a large bank of morning flights boarding soon.

Seating at The Lounge, LUX Airport

The buffet was pretty small, with croissants, rolls, bread, charcuterie, cereal, yogurt, fruit, and salad.  There were coffee machines, fridges with soft drinks, wine and Cremante self-serve, and a tap of Bofferding, a Luxembourgish pilsner.

Food at The Lounge, Luxembourg Airport

Drinks at The Lounge, LUX

One thing that was interesting was everyone seemed to know at least one other person in the lounge. There were a lot of consultants and bankers, either heading to the U.S. via Paris, Frankfurt, or Amsterdam, or to London-City on BA. Many were expats living in Luxembourg and talked about having seen each other at blah-blah’s party or the reception at UBS or whatever.

LUX Flight Board

The lounge used the generic free airport wifi, and it was a pleasant place to sit for the half-hour or so before I headed to the gate. Luxair’s Dash-8s all leave out of Terminal B, which I reached by heading downstairs, through duty-free, and across long moving walkways. There are very few services at the B-gates, as a heads up for anyone who might be heading that way.

Terminal B, LUX

View of Terminal A and walkways from Terminal B

The scheduled 10:30am boarding time came and went, and I started getting a bit nervous, as I had a tight connection in Paris given the terminal change. At 10:40, they were polishing the plane, which only increased by nerves.  Although there was no announcement, I saw people getting rollaboards tagged at the desk, so I went up and did the same; I knew the Dash 8 doesn’t accommodate big carry-ons.

Luxair Dash 8

Approaching the Luxair Dash 8

Luxair Dash 8

Luxair Dash 8

At 10:45am, all rows boarded at once, via a walk across the tarmac. The first 3.5 rows of the plane were business class, but they had the same 2-2 configuration as the rest of the plane.  At check-in, half the seats had been unassigned, but somehow, they all got filled. My row seemed to have a particularly tight pitch, but it may have been an illusion. The seats were pretty much what you’d expect on a Dash-8, older but well-maintained blue leather, each with an individual air nozzle. Each seat had a copy of the Luxair magazine which was in English and French, except for the kids’ section, which was in French and German, for some reason. As we settled into the cabin, the woman next me asked me to hold her shirt while she applied some sort of pad to her upper arm. Not sure if it was a nicotine patch or what but it was very strange.

Business class, Luxair Dash 8

Economy, Luxair Dash-8

At 11:00am, we started moving even though there was a guy standing in the aisle rummaging through his bag in the overhead bin which didn’t seem to concern anyone. At 11:10am, we were wheels up. My seat was right next to the propeller which was kind of cool on such a short flight, as you could really feel/hear it.

The Luxair website had said that the Paris flight has a special, more limited cabin service than other Luxair flights. The flight attendant passed out a little white bag with a bottle of water and a cupcake/muffin inside, which got to me about 20 minutes into the flight. Only six minutes later, she came back around with a basket of hard candies as we began our initial descent.

Snack, Luxair Economy LUX-CDG

We touched down at 11:48am, but it took quite awhile to taxi to Terminal 2G at CDG, reaching the stand at 12:05.  No one disembarked until bags were off-loaded, so it wasn’t until 12:10pm that I was off the plane—ten minutes before my scheduled boarding time for my next flight and one hour before the gate closed, in terminal 2E’s Pier M.  It was a race!

I had checked out the connection in advance, and the CDG website said it should take 25-30 minutes. First, I headed to Passport Control, where there was no wait. Then I proceeded to the bus area, where they sent a completely empty bus to Pier M away just as I was getting there, and the next bus wouldn’t come for 9 minutes, at 12:20pm, i.e., my scheduled boarding time. I knew I’d probably be fine, but it was still a bit stressful.

Floor it, driver

Move, I’m Gay

I ended up at Pier M at 12:23pm, where I rushed through duty-free and the mall, before getting to the gate at 12:28pm…only to find boarding hadn’t even started yet. So, I took a bathroom break and grabbed a baguette, before joining the end of the Zone 3 line. (In Washington, on my outbound flight, there was a separate boarding line for the A380 Upper Deck economy. There wasn’t this time.)

 

Queuing at CDG

Made it.

Boarding started about 15 minutes late, and Zone 3 was called at 12:42pm. Just as I had made a poor seat selection on my outbound flight, I made a mistake on this one as well in my selection of the “Duo” extra-cost seat in advance. I had thought I chosen the next to last row, but on the left side of the plane, 93, not 94, is the last row. So, I had limited recline. It was still a lot better than my outbound flight in the bulkhead, though, as it had standard legroom and width, and actually two side cubbies. There was some extra storage behind the seat, and the lack of an IFE in the back of the seat meant I wouldn’t have banging on the outdated IFE disturbing me (though there were the bathroom queues).  As for the seat itself, it was the same as the outdated A380 I flew out on, and as poorly maintained and cleaned.

Air France A380, Upper Deck Economy

Air France A380, Upper Deck Economy

Before we took off, a French guy in the row in front of me gave me a lecture not to bang on the IFE—without me ever touching the system—and then fully reclined, before takeoff, which is an unforgivable sin. Then, at 1:10, when I’d been on the plane nearly 30 minutes already, someone asked me if I would switch seats with them, to an exit row, so they could sit with someone. Since that was a windowless seat, and a narrower seat, I said no. I think a lot of the people in the Upper Deck that had been assigned seats apart from their companions hadn’t realized that people had paid extra for these seats in advance. Anyway, the guy found another seat, and I somehow ended up with an empty seat next to me for the flight.

At 1:15pm, our scheduled departure time, there was an announcement that they needed to unload baggage from no-show passengers. While still on the ground, at 1:21pm, the flight attendants came around with menus, followed by packaged wet towels. Finally, at 1:29 we pushed back, and, after a lengthy taxi, we were wheels up at 1:47pm.

It was interesting comparing the service from my outbound, where I was in the first row of economy, and this flight, where I was in the last. They did do the separate aperitif service listed in the menu as specified this time, but it took quite awhile to get to me, since the FAs started with premium economy then worked their way back. They reached me at 2:35pm, or about 50 minutes after takeoff, and I had a Heidsieck Monopole champagne and a package of savory waffle crackers.

Aperitif, Air France Economy, CDG-IAD

About an hour later, already past Ireland and over the North Atlantic, I got my meal, which was a choice of chicken or pasta. It’s here where service got really wonky. She placed the tray with the couscous-like “pasta salad”, bottle of water, cheese and dessert on my tray table, and asked me what I wanted. I asked for the chicken and the white wine, and the FA said she would have to get it as there were none left on the cart.  When she came back, she plopped the chicken down, and walked away, without giving me bread or a drink. At that point, a passenger decided it had been too long so she was going to march to the rear galley with used trays and disrupt service further, making it impossible for me to get the FA’s attention. At this time, the other FA was offering people a second pass of the bread basket, so I at least got one from him. Then I ended up using the call button to get my wine, and when I said, “Oh, I never got my wine,” there was no apology.

Lunch menu, Air France Economy CDG-IAD

Lunch, Air France Economy, CDG-IAD

The meal itself was not good, so I’m glad I’d gotten a sandwich. The chicken was pretty dry, and though the menu said it came with chopped vegetables, it was actually accompanied with mashed potatoes, with a single broccoli floret buried within. I didn’t like the pasta salad either.  The clafoutis was good but too cold, as was the bread.

Twenty-five minutes after I got my meal, there was a coffee, tea, or cognac service, and a half-hour after that (2.5 hours into flight), the cabin lights were dimmed.  My notes show that I was surprisingly chilly and there was a strong smell of fish sticks coming from the galley (crew meal?).

I dozed for about 90 minutes, then did some work. Cabin lights came on about 90 minutes prior to landing, and about 30 minutes later, the “snack” got to me. The turbulence was really bad, so the FA had to actually ask passengers to help hold the cart which was a first.  The snack was a tiny sandwich, apple slices, and a vanilla milk drink – definitely was glad I brought my own sandwich for earlier in the flight.  Then at 3:54pm local time, we were on the ground in DC. Deplaning took quite a while given my seat in the last row, and around 4:10 I was off the plane onto the people mover to immigration.

Snack, Air France Economy CDG-IAD

Since I had the two seats, my experience was better than my overnight. And the “Duo” seats are less cramped than the 787 I flew in December. But I think as long as Air France is flying the A380 out of Dulles (which is still the plan for one of their daily flights this summer), I’m better off avoiding it (in any cabin). I do think there’s a chance Air France speeds up its A380 retirement plans in light of the global travel situation, and I think it will be a long time before we see two daily Dulles-Paris flights again.

So, this concludes my summer 2019 trip reports. Which seems to be okay since it looks like there may not be any summer 2020 trip reports. (And I did go out of order and cover my November Rio trip already.)  I’ve actually been quite busy working from home, and am now fostering a sweet dog, so I’ve had less time to catch up than I’d anticipated. But hopefully over the next week or so I’ll start reporting on my New Year’s trip to Dublin and Belfast. Hope you and yours are safe and well.

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