This is the first in a series of reviews from my late December 2018 trip to London.
Air France Flt. 377, Detroit to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (DTW-CDG)
Boeing 787-9, Economy
Sch. Dep. 9:05PM Sch. Arr. 10:45AM +1
Act. Dep. 9:11PM Act. Arr. 10:28AM +1
Air France Flt. 1780, Paris-Charles de Gaulle to London-Heathrow (CDG-LHR)
Airbus A320, Economy
Sch. Dep. 1:20PM Sch Arr. 1:45PM
Act. Dep. 1:26PM Act. Arr. 1:44PM
For New Year’s this year, I decided to go to London. Prices weren’t that cheap, but I had a four-day weekend which is rare. I spent extra to fly on Delta, and did a ridiculous routing on the outbound to ensure I’d get enough MQDs to qualify for medallion status for 2019. Alas, I flew from DCA to Detroit to Paris to London, and my calculation turned out to be off from Delta’s – since its close to impossible to calculate MQDs on a mixed partner/Delta itinerary – by two dollars. I should have flown IAD-AMS-LCY on KLM instead, which would have been a lot shorter flight time. Or I could have flown premium economy on Virgin or something. Instead, I made the probably stupid decision to pay $299 to guarantee my status for the following year. I decided to pull the trigger because I’ll now have over 10000 MQMs rolling over, and have decided to use my Skymiles Amex to get an MQD waiver next year. This seems like an expensive folly, but I’m just going to try not to sweat it.
There were two pros of my routing: I was able to leave from DCA as opposed to Dulles, and I left fairly late, which together meant I was able to basically work a full day. By the same token, it meant I did not arrive in London til late in the day, and I do not think I would fly it France’s 787 in coach again in the future if I had a choice, as it was quite uncomfortable and I got very little sleep.
The DCA to Detroit part of the trip was unremarkable, so I’ll pick up from leaving the main Sky Club in Detroit. There was a closer one to my connecting gate, but I wanted to shower so I went to the one at the center of the concourse. My boarding pass had said the flight would board at 8:20, and when I checked in at the Sky Club, the agent said 8:30. Well I left the lounge around 8:00 and rode the people mover down to the other end of the terminal, and at 8:06 the flight was already boarding group 4. (As a Delta Elite, I was group 3.) So, I can’t tell you much about the gate operation.
There were CBP agents screening every passenger on the way to the jetbridge. There were a lot of West Africa-bound connecting passengers, and they were being asked about the cash they were taking out of the country, etc. I got through with just a question or two.
I haven’t flown Air France long-haul in coach in many years, and never on its 787 in any cabin. Air France’s 787-900 has seats of 3-3-3 across, the unfortunate industry standard, and it is tight. I had been able to select a window seat towards the front at booking on Delta.com that stuck. On either Delta or Air France’s website, I was able to choose “preferred” seats a few rows further up for $24, but that seemed to serve no purpose. I could also pay for a bulkhead for about $44, but the reviews seem mixed.
The cabin was still empty when I boarded, walking through the premium economy cabin. Although the cabin was cramped, the cabin was new, fresh and clean. The black seats with red stitching are very chic. Each seat had a (thin) pillow in a red pillowcase, along with a fairly standard airplane blanket, and a plastic bag with low quality headphones and an eyemask.
The personal in-flight entertainment had a pretty big screen, that was super easy to use. It was actually a bit too big when the person in front of you reclines, as it is approximately three inches from your face. There was an OK selection of American and English TV and movies, but it was a very global selection overall. In addition to USB power under the screen, there was a standard power outlet between each seat (which I can’t imagine anyone can easily reach mid-flight unless they’re a contortionist or have the row to themselves.
Boarding took a long time. The flight was completely full and the flight crew didn’t seem particularly interested in helping people settle in, and people had trouble understanding the whole numbers and letters things. Both my row mates (who were not traveling together) were headed to Guinea, and the woman in the middle seat had very strong perfume on, and did not seem to understand the concept of personal space, which made for a quite uncomfortable flight.
We pushed back from the gate a bit late, around 9:15pm, and were wheels up about ten minutes later. Surprisingly, Air France has the same safety video that it had in February 2017, when I flew from DC to Cape Town via Paris. I thought it was cute then, but now I thought it was dumb. <shrug> Already the cabin was super warm, and there were no individual air vents. It only got stuffier and stuffier as the flight went on. My seat was also extra narrow as the seams in the fuselage bulged right where my shoulders would normally go. Combined with the woman who leaned over the armrest on my other side, it was a cute experience.
Fifteen minutes after takeoff, the flight attendants came around with packaged wet towels and menus. Given the heat, it was already refreshing. Wifi was available just after takeoff, but was very very expensive: 5 EUR for 20 MB, 10 EUR for 50 MB, and 20 EUR for only 200 MB. You could use Flying Blue miles at least, but given those rates for such little data on a night flight, no thanks.
About an hour into flight, the meal cart reached me, with a choice of pasta or chicken. I got the chicken, which the menu described as “chicken in a pepper and sherry sauce” with “rice with cilantro.” I’m not sure that’s what it was, as it was a few pieces of chicken in a bland cream sauce and bland rice. The two best things on the menu were the olive bread and corn salad. There was a tiny cup of water on the tray, along with a small piece of chocolate cake, which I’m not sure was the “coconut brownie,” and a cup of applesauce which the menu described as “fruit compote.” Air France, if you’re going to bother to have a menu in coach, it should be accurate.
Two hours into flight, trays were finally cleared, concurrent with a water/coffee/tea service. I tried to sleep, but barely did, as it was damn warm, the woman next to me kept invading my seat, and reeked of perfume. I tried for about 2.5 hours before climbing out to the mid-cabin restroom, which was spacious and clean even mid-flight, and then to the beverage station set up in the back galley, which had water, soda, juice, and champagne (!) (I guzzled down three tiny cups of water).
I slept a little bit better after that break, and woke up 90 minutes before landing as the cabin lights came on for breakfast service. Breakfast was as expected- yogurt, a blueberry muffin, and orange juice all on a tray, and then coffee or tea. It was cleared super-quickly, so it seemed unnecessarily early. And then at 10:12am local time we were on the ground. It was a longish taxi, but I was in terminal 2E at 10:35am.
There was a long walk that dumped me right into the area of the 2E L concourse that contains “Instant Paris,” a “free” “lounge” area for transit passengers, basically a number of nice seating areas with a bakery/deli-type take-out restaurant and some vending machines.
At the end of it is the Yotelair, a hotel run by international pod-hotel company Yotel. In addition to renting out small rooms, it is a Priority Pass-participating “lounge.” The reviews were pretty bad, but I decided to check it out anyway since I didn’t have any other lounge access and plenty of time. Yeah, it was bad.
The “lounge” is one small room that looks like a small lobby of a Hampton Inn, and was so crowded there wasn’t a seat remaining. The only seats available were at a cafeteria-like table off to the side. It was so crowded, I didn’t get a picture.
My first goal was a shower; I wasn’t sure if that was included with Priority Pass—but to my surprise it was. The woman at check in told me to wait and she’d come over with a key. The wait wasn’t long, and she told me a shower number. It was a bit confusing to find, as the showers are amongst the pod/rooms. The shower room itself was very bare and was a bit dirty, but it did the trick. It at least had a toilet, something too many lounge shower rooms don’t have.
With Priority Pass, you are given a 10 EUR credit for food and drink, which can be used for food and drink at the vending machines. For most guests, you use a contactless card to access the machines. For Priority Pass, you need to hail down one of the staff members, who will check off what you get on the little price list listing items they give you at check in. The food choices were abysmal: chips or rice cakes. For drinks, there was a free coffee machine. (If you get there before 10:30am, there is a continental breakfast for 10 EUR, but I didn’t see any of it.) Unless you need a shower, I’d skip the Yotelair its entirety.
After my shower, I flagged down a staff member, got two packages of rice cakes, a Diet Coke, and a water, and headed into the main Instant Paris area, for much comfier seating and free wifi. I got a sandwich at the little restaurant, and when I finished, my gate was announced and I headed to my gate.
My flight to London was out of Terminal 2E’s K concourse, where many non-Schengen flights, including my flight to Cape Town two years ago. To get from the L concourse, I took the “Navette” people mover for a short ride, and then it was a quick pass through security. Beyond the mall by security, the concourse is pretty sparse, due to its open, though stunning, design. One thing that was cool was a little classic (free) arcade area they had set up.
Boarding for my flight to London-Heathrow started a little early. There were well-defined lanes for different zones to board. Although I was literally the first person after Sky Priority, the agents told me I had to check my rollaboard. Since I’d have to deal with UK immigration anyway, I didn’t put up a fight, though it was total BS as it was an A320. After a security check, I then joined the line of passengers waiting on the ramp, as no one has boarded yet.
Air France doesn’t have a flight into London-City, but maybe it’s not worth it given that Paris-London O/D passengers are going to take the train anyway. (Though British Airways has a flight from Paris-Orly to LCY.) It seemed almost every passenger was connecting from elsewhere.
The plane was a standard A320 with tightish pitch associated with most intra-Europe flights. No wifi or in-flight entertainment. Much of the plane had been labeled “preferred” seating, which was available to me for 11 EUR – not worth it. I could have upgraded to Business Class for 84 EUR, also not worth it. Instead I took my window seat in the first not-preferred row, number 20.
Boarding took a very, very long time, finishing up around 1:20pm – meaning boarding took about the same length of time as the flight. I dozed off for a bit and awoke when we were in the air and snack service was beginning. Despite the short length of the flight, Air France does a free drink and sandwich. Oddly, the large bottles of water they were pouring out of had Russian labels. Now the sandwich…. good God, the sandwich. It was whole wheat bread with a goat cheese, beet, and raspberry spread. If it sounds disgusting, that’s because it was. I would’ve preferred a Biscoff!
We landed around 1:30pm London time. As is typical with Heathrow, there was a long taxi process, taking 15 minutes to reach the gate. Once we were parked, police came on board and dealt with something in business class, but it didn’t take very long. By 2pm, I was at border control. As of now, American passport holders still can’t use the kiosks there, and there were no agents at any of the booths. Once they came out, though, it moved quickly. My bag was out by the time I got through, and by 2:15pm I was at the Underground for the ride to my first hotel, the Intercontinental.
Compared with the easy trip back to DC from London on Virgin, I regret doing this roundabout routing (especially since I ended 2 MQD short anyway), and because the Air France 787 experience was so uncomfortable.