A trip report in five parts
- Air France A380 Business Class, Washington Dulles – Paris
- Park Hyatt Vendome
- Mostly Eating in Paris
- British Airways Paris Orly – London and the Concorde Room
- British Airways “New” First Class, London – Washington Dulles
Looking for something to do for New Years I settled on Paris, there was non-stop business class availability on the Washington Dulles – Paris non-stop. And it’s their Airbus A380.
I’m not one to chase aircraft. I’m much more interested in the inflight product than the model of the plane itself. And believe it or not (it’s sort of something I hadn’t even realized until I stopped to think about it), I hadn’t actually ever been on an A380 other than crawling around one of Qantas’ during the oneworld MegaDO back at the end of January 2012.
So I was a little bit excited to finally fly one, though it wasn’t exciting enough to cause me to route myself in such a way that I would. (Over Thanksgiving I had the option of flying Korean’s first class on the A380 Seoul – New York JFK but opted to fly home to Washington Dulles instead.)
I made a bit of a strategic blunder, though, even before the turning up at the airport. I didn’t check in online. My usual mental model is that when there is the option of online check-in, you use it. Who knows when you’ll be delayed enroute to the airport? You may turn up in plenty of time to make the flight, but past the checkin cutoff time. Checkin online even if you can’t print your boarding pass, they can always reprint it at the airport, long past the time they cannot check you in for your flight.
I knew I was leaving with plenty of time to spare, so I didn’t bother checking in. It turns out I should have.
The check-in line for economy was quite long.
But there were only a couple of people ahead of me in the queue to check in for business class. There was also a separate check-in line for first class, with flowers on the desk.
I was quickly at the front of the line, they issued my boarding passes. And then…. “Would you please put your carryons on the scale, sir?”
I hadn’t intended to check a bag. I was using a 20 inch carryon bag, and had my laptop bag as well. If I had checked in online and printed my boarding pass, I could have gone straight to security and no one would have looked twice at my bags. This agent, though, was going to make darned sure I didn’t going over the cabin baggage weight limit.
Shockingly to me, my rollaboard actually wasn’t overlimit. It was pretty full, I was making a four night trip to Paris and needed some heavy clothes for late December. But she then said, “Your other bag too.”
My rollaboard and my shoulder bag combined were over limit. She insisted that I check the rollaboard. I considered ending the checkin process and trying to talk to someone else, or trying to checkin online still and finding someone to print my boarding pass. I stood there silent for a second and decided I had no really good strategic options, I had lost this exchange. And I turned over my bag to the checked luggage gods.
Then I proceeded to the terminal. This is Dulles so it’s a mess, long security lines and backscatter nude-o-scopes. And once you’re through security, you’re nowhere near your gates.
At least this time I could take train and get dropped off in the terminal I’d be flying out of and — since I wasn’t flying United — not the place where they supposedly plan to build a replacement terminal at some indeterminate point in the future,, from which you have to walk.
Once over at terminal B I found my way to the Air France lounge, which given that we were prepared for a full Airbus A380 was quite crowded. But not as bad as the gate area, and there was free wifi and some snacks.
There were mostly a few different kinds of sandwiches and some cheese. The refrigerator had plenty of mini bottles of water, I admit I took several knowing that I was boarding an Air France flight.
In my past flights I’ve never found Air France service to be particularly responsive. And as a European airline they don’t hand out and refill water very effectively, it’s important to bring your own. If I hadn’t found the bottles in the lounge I would have stocked up in the terminal.
I’ll never understand the dearth of water on European carriers. The glasses they give you for water seem smaller than I’m used to on US airlines, too. And they just don’t come around to top them off, you need to get their attention and it always seems like such a bother to them.
But I also find that restaurants don’t just naturally bring you plenty of water, and most hotels don’t provide them in abundance either. I guess I just drink a lot of water (and I probably drink a lot of water relative to an American, not just to Europeans, so the contrast to me is especially acutre).
They called for boarding approximately 50 minutes prior to our scheduled departure. I didn’t see any reason to get up from the lounge so early so I sat and made a phone call, answered a few more emails, while the lounge cleared out. About 30 minutes prior I figured I still didn’t quite need to board, but I might as well, so I walked out of the lounge and directly across to the gate.
By this time much of the line, or at least the premium cabin line, had dissipated even though the cabin was completely full. They checked my passport and boarding pass ad it was time to board. The person ahead of me, also flying business, confused himself and entered the jetway to board into the plane’s downstairs. The ropes did make it look as though they were only boarding through one jetway, but I did at least know to turn right and head up the jetway to the upstairs.
Once onboard it was just a sea of business class seats. It’s about 14 rows, I think half the upper deck, I don’t think I’ve been in a plane with more business class seats than back when I used to fly United’s old (recliner-style) business on the 747.
The seat reminds me on Asiana’s old business class, and is certainly less comfortable and stylish than Singapore’s regional business class on their A330s. It boggles my mind that Air France would bring A380s into the fleet and not take the opportunity to introduce a flat bed business class. That puts them behind United, British Airways, and US Airways. It even puts them behind Swiss and Lufthansa and Delta. Now American is even getting into the act on their 777-300ER aircraft and plans to retrofit existing 777s. And to me, business class is primarily about the seat.
Oh well, the flight was non-stop and it was several orders of magnitude better than flying coach!
Amenity kits and slippers were distributed while on the ground.
Since I didn’t board when they first called passengers, I wasn’t onboard all that long before it was time to depart. We had a long takeoff roll, and it struck me as we ascended that the plane felt sluggish. I’m not sure if it’s because the A380 is so large or because we were on the upper deck, but the physical sensation was that the plane was a bit underpowered. Nonetheless, takeoff was smooth.
Once in the air I got up and changed into some American Airlines pajamas for the flight, and when I returned to my seat the crew began service.
Dinner offerings were as follows:
Balik salmon and Granny Smith apple
Champagne foie gras terrine, poached shrimp with mayonnaise cream sauce, coconut-fig chutney on cranberry-raisin bread
Choice of Main Course
Pan-seared tournados of beef with Burgundy-style butter, buttered flat beens, mushroom risotto
Please refer to the suggestion card for today’s special dish
Our special selection of cheeses
SUGGESTION DU JOUR
Pan-seared Cap hake fish
Noilly Prat wine sauce, braised fennel, flat beans
Orange juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate
Fresh fruit, yogurt
Fresh bakery selection, breakfast pastries, butter and preserves
I had a glass of Laurent Perrier champagne along with the amuse bouche
Then it was time to put out my tray. A new plane, so new-ish seat, the tray didn’t actually fit and wouldn’t lay flat.
Appetizer was fairly tasty
They came around with entrees and by the time they reached my row, were out of beef. Only the fish was available, which wasn’t going to be my selection but I wasn’t especially hungry in any case. I debated not taking the entrée and just going to sleep, but I was curious to see how it was — overall I found the food on the flight to be somewhat better than the last time I flew Air France out of Dulles. So I did snap a photo of the fish:
Once the flight attendants to cleared the dinner tray, I put the seat into its best angled flat mode, used the blanket as a mattress pad, and put my head down. They had no extra pillows, which was a bit disappointing because there wasn’t much substance to the one in the seat, but I managed to fall asleep.
I did notice that since everyone was having their trays cleared at roughly the same time, everyone was adjusting their seats at the same time too. And these Air France business class seats are the loudest seats I have ever encountered. When they are adjusting there’s this ‘whirring’ noise that they make. Which the entire cabin was making in unison. After a few minutes most people were settled in, so it didn’t continue, but it was sure strange.
And I did have a decent rest, I slept most of the flight and didn’t wake up for breakfast. Instead, I got up about 55 minutes prior to arrival, went to the lavatory to change back into my street clothes, and read for the remainder of the flight. I figured I’d get something to snack on once we’d arrived.
An Air France business class flight of about 7 hours is fine. It was non-stop for me, so I would absolutely do it again. But I was definitely in a sea of people, didn’t have much personal space, and would have preferred a crew that was easier to get water from.
In contrast, though, I was talking with a co-worker about his own Air France flights this past summer which I had helped him to book. He usually flies coach, but had a plethora of Delta miles (before Delta became more or less unable to book Air France business class most of the ime). He love Air France, thought it was incredible. So it really does depend on your starting point for what you think of such a thing. I found it perfectly passable transportation, especially when I relied on myself for water and comfortable sleep clothes.
Once we landed we were off the plane farly quickly, given the jetway expressly for the upper deck. It was a long walk to immigration, which went quickly since with a business class ticket we were entitled to the priority line. Once through it was quick to pick up the checked bag (about which I’m still bitter), and I decided to change terminals to find the Air France arrivals lounge.
With a flight arrival of about 8:45am, I didn’t figure I would have much luck checking into my sold-out hotel. I didn’t want to turn up there and have to deposit my luggage and go out into the city without having a shower. So a visit to the arrivals lounge would accomplish both having a shower, and killing time that might make it possible to check on arrival at the Park Hyatt.
We arrived at terminal 2E, and 2C where the arrivals lounge is makes for a reasonable walk. Indeed, I don’t entirely understand why Air France has its arrivals lounge at the very end of a terminal which is populated predominantly by other airlines and indeed some other airlines which aren’t even members of Skyteam (such as Emirates).
But the obscurity of the lounge perhaps contributed to its being basically empty when I arrived.
At the check-in desk I was immediately directed to an empty shower room, where there were towels but strangely no amenity kit. The last time I used the arrivals lounge there was a plastic package with shampoo, toothpaste, etc. But I had everything I needed with me, so didn’t bother to ask about this.
I freshened up and then went into the dining area of the lounge for a coffee, some meats, cheeses, and a croissant, and then grabbed some more bottles of water from the lounge refrigerator.
Then it was time to head into the city, having managed to burn off a couple of hours since touchdown.