This is the first in a much-delayed series covering my Labor Day (August-September 2019) trip to Paris and Luxembourg. Given how long has passed, the posts won’t be super detailed, but I’ll do my best from notes and pictures.
Air France Flt. 55, Washington-Dulles to Paris-Charles de Gaulle (IAD-CDG)
Airbus A380, Economy (Upper Deck)
Sched. Dep. 6:05pm Sched. Arrival 7:35am +1
Actual Dep. 6:45pm Actual Arrival 7:51am +1
At the end of the summer, I took a long Labor Day weekend (Thursday night to Tuesday) to visit Paris, which I hadn’t been to in years, and Luxembourg, which I had never been to at all. The combination was just a result of noodling around on ITA Matrix for awhile, when I discovered an Air France fare with an open-jaw from DC to Paris and then Luxembourg back to DC via Paris that was hundreds of dollars cheaper than a round-trip to Paris. Checking out a new country was fun, I figured, and tagging Luxembourg onto a Paris trip is an easy train ride, so I booked the flight for about $485. Not a crazy cheap deal, but for regular economy over a holiday weekend, with normal routings that would credit to Delta (except for the short LUX-CDG) leg, pretty good. And it would allow me to fly a new airline (#72), Luxair!
I arrived at Dulles at around 4:05pm for my flight, and found the longest TSA Precheck line I’d ever seen. They’ve since adjusted it, but part of the problem was that Clear had a long line that was feeding into the front of the Precheck line. It ended up taking 25 minutes, which is just really long for Precheck.
I headed to the Turkish Airlines lounge, which I had Priority Pass access to. While there was no wait, this time, the agent told me I was lucky because they had just cleared a massive line minutes before I arrived. When I got in, I found it just as crowded as on other visits, and thus seats or getting a drink were a battle. It got a little better after a bunch of the Star Alliance flights boarded. The food was the same as always, better than a domestic lounge but not outweighed by the lack of calm. So at 5:05pm, I headed to the gate for 5:15pm scheduled boarding.
Air France flies an ever-changing mix of aircraft on its Dulles flights, and I was on an A380 both ways. While the first few times I flew an A380, there was a bit of novelty of flying such a big bird, it’s worn off. It doesn’t help that Air France hasn’t updated the interior at all in ten years – and won’t, as it is retiring the planes. It was the same as a flight I did One thing I did do to make it better was pay $32.25 each way to get a “duo” seat in advance (a reduced price with a Delta Medallion discount, and a good use of my Ritz Carlton Visa annual travel credit). These are the side seats in the small coach section in the back of the upper deck, which has its economy seating arranged in 2-4-2, as opposed to the 3-4-3 seating on the lower deck. So, you’re guaranteed not to have someone in a middle seat next to you, and get to be on the upper deck, which is little less chaotic. Interestingly, a few hours after I checked in, I got an email telling me check in was open, and that an upgrade to business was available. I clicked through and saw an offer of a $552 upgrade, which is not bad. I figured it wasn’t worth it, though, given that the A380 doesn’t have a great business product. I also had booked a room at the Ibis Paris Charles de Gaulle to use upon arrival as I didn’t think my room would be ready. (You can book rooms hourly there, but I booked a whole night, as Dosh had an $80 rate for the night, but I’d get $36 back; if I had more than three hours, it would come out cheaper than the hourly rate of 14 EUR plus tax.)
By the time I arrived at the gate, there were already long lines formed. Air France uses two gates to board the A380, but the signage is super unclear. The lines for the upper deck economy section were separate (and much shorter), but you couldn’t hear any of the boarding announcements from that line, so it was weird. Oddly, I could hear the nearby Porter boarding announcements super clearly.
Because of the separate boarding lines, the boarding process was a bit odd. After preboarding, Zone 1 (Business and First) boarded at 5:20pm, followed by Zone 2 (Sky Priority including Premium Economy) at 5:30, then Zone 3 for the lower deck and Zones 3, 4, and 5 for the upper deck at 5:40. Given how few rows of coach there are, and the fact that everyone was in a single line, it made sense. There were a lot of folks confused by the two gates, though, and who didn’t realize they were seated on the upper deck. This was also my first flight using facial recognition in lieu of a boarding pass, and it didn’t work—but I think that was because I hadn’t done passport verification of any sort.
The plane looked exactly the same as it did on my flight seven years ago. After walking through business and premium economy (which look pretty much the same on the AF A380), I ended up with a bad seat—row 88, which was the bulkhead. The bulkhead seat has restricted legroom, and also a narrower seat, since it has the tray and the TV in the seat. (The exit row has the same narrowness issue, but better legroom.) The situation was worsened by the fact that my seatmate took over the entire center armrest, and then some. There was also no in-seat power of any kind, since it is in the seatback screen in the rest of the coach. Ugh. There was a very thin pillow with a stained pillow cover on my seat, as well as a plastic bag containing a blanket, headphones, and an eyemask.
One thing that is nice about the window seats on the upper deck is that there is a large storage compartment on the side, which fits a lot – especially important since I had no underseat or seatback pocket storage. On the other hand, the space between the seat and the wall was filthy, as was the seat in general, as there were earphones, earplugs, a napkin, and a spoon at my seat. Seems like a rushed cleaning on the turnaround.
Our 6:05pm departure time came and went with no information. At 6:25pm, there was an announcement that we were delayed due to some late arriving luggage, which seemed dubious. At 6:30, the flight attendants distributed the packaged wet wipes/slash towels. At 6:45, the captain announced we were ready, and the TVs rolled the same safety video that I had noted as being cute on a flight back in March 2017. At 6:50, we pushed back from the gate, but we weren’t actually airborne until 7:09pm.
Once the seatbelt sign was turned off, there was a parade of kids in the aisle, mostly from premium economy, heading to the bathroom. Menus were distributed at 7:17pm, which I perused while trying to find something to watch on my little IFE TV. There weren’t many options; notably, the TV shows were several years old. No, I do not now, nor did I ever, want to watch “Two Broke Girls.” Unlike some of Air France’s newer planes, there was no wifi on board.
The same two flight attendants were serving the Premium Economy and upper deck Economy cabin, so it was about 8pm til the meal cart reached me in the first row of economy. While the menu indicated there would be an “aperitif” service, there was just the main meal cart, which honestly was fine given the flight length. The choices of a Southwest chicken and a Mediterranean pasta were weird, but I went with the chicken, which was served with mashed potatoes, and a “Texan salad” on the side, which was rice with some beans and corn. The chicken was surprisingly flavorful and moist, likely due to the insane amount of sauce in the tray. There was a cup of water on the tray, and I was offered a choice of red or white wine. The tray also had a roll, a piece of cheddar cheese, and a cheesecake.
Trays were cleared about 45 minutes later, accompanied by a fairly friendly coffee/tea/water service. I managed to doze off on-and-off for the next few hours, despite the warmth of the cabin and the cramped seat. With about 90 minutes left in flight, I woke with the cabin lights and the breakfast service. Breakfast was basic: a small muffin, plain yogurt, and orange juice, served with coffee or tea.
We ended up making up a fair bit of the delay and were on the ground at 7:41am, and at the gate at Terminal 2E’s Hall M at around 7:50am. Deboarding such a big bird takes awhile, but I was off the plane at 8am.
In all, it was a fine flight, but man does that plane feel old. Last year I had done Air France in coach on its 787, and I didn’t find that particularly pleasant either, so I think I’m going to avoid Air France coach for awhile… It’s interesting to me how the common perception is that foreign airlines provide some sort of superior experience to U.S.-based ones, but I am pretty sure I would’ve preferred being on a Delta flight.
Once at CDG, I boarded the little train to the main arrivals facility at Terminal 2E. Note that you can go to the Yotelair I reviewed last year as an arrivals lounge on the way, and if I didn’t have a hotel room awaiting me, I would’ve stopped there for a shower. By 8:15am, I was at a long but fast-moving passport control line, followed by customs at 8:27am. From there, I schlepped to the terminal 2 CDGVAL stop for the shuttle train that would take me to Roissypole, where the Ibis awaited. The train ride was quick and at 8:46 I was at the Roissypole/Terminal 3 stop. I had a bit of déjà vu from the last time I rode the shuttle, back in 2013 when I spent a night at the Hilton CDG.
The Ibis is right next to the CDGVAL stop. I had emailed ahead to let them know I would be a “late” arrival from the night before, and check-in was quick and easy. I was in my room by 8:51am. The room was definitely small, but clean and super modern. It was basically just a bed with a TV mounted on the opposite wall, and then a small bathroom. The window looked out onto the Roissypole RER station. With a checkout time of noon, that was plenty of time for more than two hours of solid sleep, plus a shower.
On my way out, I snapped some shots of the large lobby, which had a lot of people hanging out, presumably after checkout before heading to the terminal, and looked quite comfortable and recently renovated.
My first night in Paris I was staying at the InterContinental Paris LeGrand, so the best way into town is the Roissybus which goes directly to Paris Opera, and leaves just a couple hundred feet from the Ibis. I gabbed a croissant and a coffee at the Roissypole Marks & Spencer and bought my ticket at a machine and waited. By 12:10pm, I was on my way for the hour ride into the city, much of which was spent with stops at terminals 2E, 2, and 1. By 1:10, I was at Opera and a few minutes later at the Intercontinental, where I dropped my stuff before heading out to explore for the afternoon—definitely more well-rested than if I had gone directly from the plane!
Up next, a combined hotel review post of the InterContinental Paris LeGrand and the Mercure Paris Bastille Marais which is neither near Place Bastille nor the Marais, discuss.