Review of Air France flight Beijing Paris in Economy

Airline Air France
Flight AF381
Class Economy
Seat 39A
Aircraft Boeing 777-300ER
Flight time 10:50
Take-off 09 Feb 13, 01:40
Arrival at 09 Feb 13, 05:30
AF   #24 out of 94 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 5956 reviews
marathon
By GOLD 3864
Published on 17th March 2016
This is the second segment of a TPE-PEK-CDG trip back in early 2013. This FR begins in the taxi which was driving me back to PEK after spending an evening in Beijing, thanks to the then brand new visa exemption when you connect between two international flights to/from different countries.

The separation of the tollway towards Terminals 2 and 3 is 5-6 km from the airport, but even before that, there were dozens of cars stop on the emergency lane: their drivers were waiting for a call from the passenger that they would collect, saving the expense of the airport’s parking lot. I saw this in a number of other Chinese airports, but noticeably not in PVG.

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This is the toll gate ; there was little waiting.

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The toll gate reproduces the style of the traditional gates at the entrance of the cities (and of many villages, nowadays).

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The access to International / Hong-Kong / Macau / Taiwan Departures: there were actually no flights to the latter three, but all require a passport.

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You needed to show your passport to reach the check in counters : an efficient means of filtering the passengers in a country where few people have a passport.

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Flight MU8665 / AF381 to Paris was listed on time. Note that there were two flights to Bali, which is pronounced the same as Paris in Mandarin, but written differently.

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Check-in was as always at Counters B, but I had never seen such an inefficiency in the past five years in PEK. It was 23:03 when I arrived here.

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My FB-Silver status had still a few months of life, which gave me access to the Skypriority lines (at the very bottom of the list of eligible travelers). There were exactly seven passengers before me in the line.

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Once checked in, I took this picture at 23 :24, just after being checked in : it had taken 21 minutes to handle eight passengers including myself. There were twenty-some passengers in the non-Skypriority waiting line and two open positions to handle them: my status probably did not save me much time, if any. There was also a position for dropping lugage for passengers having checked in on the internet.

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It was a novelty then : for several years, it had been supposedly possible to check in on AF’s website, you entered plenty of information, selected your seat, and at the last Enter key, there was a message informing you that OLCI was not available in PEK.

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I then went through immigration, where much to my surprise, I did not receive an exit stamp on my visa exemption stamp. I had entered Mainland China on the brand new 72h visa exemption status, which had come in force on 1st January that year. But since my continuation flight was the next day (actually the same night, but after midnight), the exemption was valid only until that day. There was a number on that permit, and PEK had delivered 300 of them that day at 4:30 pm : it was both many and few. I guess that most would not have applied for a visa and stayed airside.

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I saw the AF crew on the way, and that confirmed what a FA had told me several years before: the AF FAs can chose a preferential area of destination, and it so happens that the older FAs tend to choose Asia. None of them on that crew was indeed young, but that did not stop them from being friendly and smiling.

Wifi internet access was free, but you had to register with a Chinese cell phone number (and for this purpose, Taiwan is not part of China !), or at a counter that I did not really try to find.

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A rather long walk in an eeringly empty terminal, where all the luxury shops were closed : only a couple food and tobacco/alcohol duty-free shops were still open.

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Two lounges which welcome passengers on quite motley sets of airlines.

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Their entrances had of course Chinese New Year decorations.

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There was a children area, with more kids than usual in this kind of facility, because this was the beginning of the Chinese New Year vacation.

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Plane spotting was limited at that time in the night, and mostly CZ.

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This is the 77W which was going to fly me to CDG

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The Air Astana aircraft heading to Almaty, at the end of pushback, behind a jet bridge.

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These internet access computers were all turned off.

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Boarding was supposed to be by zone, but the zones were not called for boarding, and it did not seem to create any problems.

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There were very few poser ports in the room, all were already in use. It was not a problem for me: boarding was within a half hour and I had then a spare laptop battery, which meant that I could manage until the arrival in Paris on battery power. Depending on the signs in the airport, the lithium batteries were limited to 100 or 160 Wh, but mine was 55 Wh anyway.

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Boarding started and was more orderly than it seems on this picture.

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A peek at the business class, with the old seats – this was before the Best and Beyond cabin was announced.

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And the Y cabin

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Strangely, there was a vast majority of French passengers at check-in when I was there, but the split in this seciton of the aircraft was about 50-50.

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It was a narrow seat, but an even narrower touchscreen, which left ample space for a remote control.

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This screen size is usually derided as Gameboy technology. Picky readers will object that the production of the Gameboy ceased in 2003, well before this aircraft entered revenue service on 18 May 2007.

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The safety demonstration was translated in sign language

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The seat pitch was acceptable, but the 3-4-3 layout translated into a very narrow aisle, through which my laptop case of standard dimensions could barely make it, and very narrow seats where I felt constrained even though I am a rather small built. The seat was very hard and reclined only the symbolic thickness of a seat, and the plane’s inner wall was ice cold (I insulated myself with the small pillow): the comfort was what I would have expected from a long haul LCC. It was a far cry from the previous flight on Air China from Taipei.

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Another illustration of the seat pitch : a window and a half, which is standard in Economy.

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The sfety card, or what remained of it

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The amenity kit was hidden in the plastic bag containing a cheap headset : an eye mask and a wet tissue and that was all!

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About the audio offering, these three identical Carmen icons corresponded actually to the three CDs of the works, but CD#2 was useless because the soundtrack was hopelessly damaged.

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Two tails seen through the window.

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And another CZ A319

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We waited for a long time for the landing of three planes before taking off from Runway 36R

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See here the well lit curve of the Airport Express line. This dedicated rail link opened to operation in 2007; it goes to Dongzhimen, at the north-east corner of the second ring road, with an intermediate stop at Sanyuanqiao (“Threepence Bridge”)

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I found the plane very noisy, from the beginning of the climb, and that it vibrated a lot. Maybe that was because my previous experiences in that type of aircraft was in business class, ahead of the engines.

Time for dinner came. I was already typing the FR of my previous flight on my laptop and the FA just ignored me after serving my neighbors. I watched her go to the next row, and the flabbergasted look of my Chinese neighbor. I told her ironically: 看起来,她们觉得因为我工作,我不用吃饭。很有趣。(Apparently, they think that since I’m working, I do not need to have dinner. I find it very interesting) . Once she had recovered from the surprise of my speaking Chinese, she gestured forcefully to the FA who came back to my level:
- [standard FA smile] You did not want to have dinner ?
- [ironic smile] You did not offer me anything, I believe ?

She offered her deepest apologies for the goof. She had decently recovered; I had deliberately not made a move to observe how she would handle the situation once confronted to her mistake.

It was served quickly, and eaten quickly, because it was cold and without a choice. Remember that its was already nearly 3 am, in PEK’s time zone, and nobody wanted a lengthy dinner.

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It was a decent meal, which could not be compared to the meal on a domestic Chinese flights, due to the schedule. I asked for coffee: there was none and there would be none. The captain soon afterwards apologized soon afterwards on the PA, explaining that there was a failure on the water system which made it impossible to provide hot drinks.

My neighbors were nice people speaking only Mandarin, with a thick Beijing accent, and I did not want to disturb them. Four or five hours later, they went to the toilets, and I took this opportunity to go there too. Note the bottle of water, because there was no tap water due to the failure (it had been announced too). The flush was on another system and worked, and the toilets were clean. I am always amused by the female pictogram on the babycare board, as if men could not do it too.

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Since I was up, I went to the rear galley. The FAs were chatting together: this was not like on an SQ night flight where the FAs keep passing around proposing food and drinks in Economy. A major advantage of a passenger squeezed in a 3-4-3 layout is that the workload can be dramatically reduced if it is not expected to receive anything from them. Sure, they did go through the cabin to check empty handed if everything was OK, but that was it.

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So in the galley, for those who could move around (I had seen passengers bringing back food in the cabin, but I did not want to wake up my neighbors), there was still a selection of food left.

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This was the offering from close up : bread, miniature fruit skewers, and cups of spaghetti + carrots that I found rather low quality.

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And some simple drinks

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Breakfast arrived : omelet or Chinese meal for the hot meal ? I chose the Chinese option, expected to be better since the catering ahd been loaded in PEK, and was very satisfied. The orange juice was of the cheapest kind, and there was again no coffee (there were again excuses by the captain after the standard information at the beginning of the descent, which were completely lost in translation by the interpreter).

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Another picture of AF’s steerage class,

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That was what AF shamelessly called a “modern and comfortable” seat in their in-flight magazine. Modern was debatable with such a small IFE screen. Comfortable it was not.

(Since I do not drink alcohol, I did not ask for any, but did not see any either during the service)

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Touchdown on time. Several passengers around me exclaimed : 下雪! (It’s snowing!).

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My experience was that luggage delivery was slow in CDG, so I could afford to wait and be among the last passengers leaving the aircraft in order to take a picture of my seat row.

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The second Y cabin (the interpreter is in the far right).

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The Y+ cabin , en 2-4-2 layout

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And the J, in 2-3-2 layout

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The reflections did not help taking a picture of the plane at destination.

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I remembered the palne registration number geeks, though : F-GSQV had refused to provide hot water that night.

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A Chinese guide reminded the schedule of the day to his group

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Terminal E’s Departures level was completely empty, seen here from the Arrivals level

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A plant decoration on the wall on the left

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And this evidently empty children area.

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It was a very long distance through this terminal, on foot, on escalators, on a people mover…

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… and I eventually reached immigration, where six passengers were enough to clog the automated PARAFE passport and fingerprint reading booths. All others rerouted themselves under the retractable barriers to reach the manned counters. My policeman was the smiling kind, and I could ask him a souvenir entry stamp on my passport, that an EU citizen would not spontaneously receive here.

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Now I needed to recover my luggage. I believed they did not come from Haneda, Lagos and other exotic places, and that I had apparently taken a wrong turn somewhere.

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It did not really matter: as I had anticipated, the luggage delivery had not yet started when I eventually reached the delivery room which had some Chinese New Year decorations – a good point for the airport.

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Since it had not really provided me an advantage in PEK, the only plus from my soon to expire FB Silver membership was the priority tag on my luggage, and they were indeed among the first to be delivered, exactly 60 minutes after the touchdown. As a reference, they had appeared 46 minutes after touchdown in PEK on the previous connecting flight from TPE, and I had no status on that flight.

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A rather verbose message on the screens alternated between French and English on the screens to warn passengers against illegal taxis. It was obvious that the police was doing nothing to stop them : several went up to me to propose their service on the short walk to the legitimate taxi station.

[This was in the pre-Uber times, so the situation is now different in this matter]
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Verdict

Air France

6.0/10
Cabin5.5
Cabin crew7.5
Entertainment/wifi5.0
Meal/catering6.0

Beijing - PEK

6.9/10
Efficiency6.5
Access9.0
Services2.0
Cleanliness10.0

Paris - CDG

8.0/10
Efficiency7.0
Access7.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness10.0

Conclusion

It would be unfair to compare this flight in Economy with AF for Chinese New Year 2013 with the similar trip for Chinese New Year 2012 on SQ. Not only a Boeing 777-300ER is not an Airbus 380-800, but AF is simply not in the same quality range as SQ, no matter what AF’s management would like to believe. The real comparison was with MU, on the CDG-PVG return leg. Both CDG-SIN and CDG-PVG reports are posted in English, and I’ll let my readers compare, but the verdict was damning for AF.

Long haul red-eye flights in economy never get good ratings, but this one was among the worst I ever had. The seat was too hard and unacceptably narrow even for a thin passenger. The sound level, the glacial wall, the low quality IFE screen and the unusable audio recording worsened the results. No having hot water on board was bad luck for AF, and tough luck for the grading of this flight.

The FAs blundered when not offering me dinner, and were providing minimal service during the flight.

PEK did not fare well either : the check-in procedure was inefficient and there was next to nothing in terms of services.

CDG was as inefficient as usual; the priority tag on my luggage limited the loss on performance.

Information on the route Beijing (PEK) Paris (CDG)

Les contributeurs de Flight-Report ont posté 31 avis concernant 2 compagnies sur la ligne Beijing (PEK) → Paris (CDG).


Useful

La compagnie qui obtient la meilleure moyenne est Air France avec 7.5/10.

La durée moyenne des vols est de 11 heures et 5 minutes.

  More information

9 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 159919 by
    jubino 20 Comments
    Ah le AF bashing continue!!! Ils y en a qui ont une dent contre AF! Pourquoi ressortir un FR de 2013 ( 3 ans après ) qui plus est lorsqu'il a déjà été publié en français il y a justement 3 ans...? Et comme par hasard il sort après un FR plutôt satisfaisant pour AF ( AF650). Une envie de casser cette bonne image laissée dans le FR précédent ? Des comptes à régler avec la compagnie nationale ? C'est dommage et assez pitoyable... Les cabines ont changés et vous le savez très bien en tant que fristes reconnu notamment sur le PÉKIN CDG...
    • Comment 336647 by
      marathon GOLD AUTHOR 10137 Comments
      You completely missed the point of this translation, and possibly of this website.
      a) I made no mystery that this flight was in 2013
      b) Many visitors of Flight Report cannot read French (and your comment will be lost in translation for them, incidentally)
      c) Nobody should base his opinion about an airline on a single report by a single traveler, especially AF which has so many reports. Each traveler has different priorities. For instance, I care for seat width, but never watch movies on the IFE.
      c) Reports of old flights make it possible to see how an airline improved or degraded, with regards to both the hard and the soft product. I let readers compare, why not with the recent report on flight AF 650
      d) My reports are based on facts, supported by pictures whenever possible.
      e) No, I do not synchronize my reports with those of other Flight Reporters.

      Last, not least, I look forward towards reading your first Flight Report, on Air France or any other airline.
    • Comment 336790 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6739 Comments
      This report makes it pretty obvious that it is from 2013, and pre-Best & Beyond cabins. Also, translations are always welcome. The whole point of having a 2nd website in English is to have FRs in English for the non-Francophone world. This report fulfills that purpose. Yes, it is old, but it is a data point nonetheless and, as Marathon points out, older reports allow readers to compare and see how products have evolved over the years. With almost 2000 AF reports on this site, in both French and English, one little report from 2013 isn't going to bring down the Average AF grade. I don't exactly see how this is AF-bashing? I didn't see any unreasonable comments. Not to mention, the average grade of 6.8 out of 10 is by no means disastrous--it's actually quite good for Economy in the dreaded 3-4-3 configuration. IMO AF is one of the best experiences in Economy, with free champagne, wines and liquors, pleasant cabin crew, and generally tasty meals. If I'm going to be stuck in Y, I would much rather fly on AF than any U.S. carrier. Based on my generally positive view of AF, I don't find this report to be overly negative, but rather objective.

      Et comme par hasard il sort après un FR plutôt satisfaisant pour AF ( AF650)
      - Huh? What does someone else's report have to do with anything. Some are positive and some are negative...that's the point of reviews. Are Flight-Reporters supposed to consult each other on which grades they should give? Sorry, but I don't get it.

      If I were to translate some of my old Flight-Report on AF where I sing AF's praises with high grades (which I have done many times) would you also complain? Would old data points be ok, if they are positive, but not negative? This is, of course, a rhetorical question.

      When you decide to write reports, we certainly hope you'll make the effort of translating them to English like Marathon has, or just write them in English. AF reports are always welcome on the English site as we don't have nearly as many (naturally) as the French site.
    • Comment 336711 by
      marathon GOLD AUTHOR 10137 Comments
      « Those who do not read history are doomed to repeat it.” (George Santayana, 1863-1952).

      Incidentally, I shall take a very similar flight this summer. Same airline, same expected aircraft, similar schedule, same Flight Reporter… and same measuring tape^^ : stay tuned for the comparison :)

      Thanks for your readership and support !
  • Comment 159989 by
    cndam 10 Comments
    Thanks for the report. I enjoyed and fully appreciate it. One thing I would point out is that their headphones are pretty good for Y class standards - good padding and sound (compared to air canada/austrian/ethiopian. I do find their new product more comfy (babe because the seat cushion had new padding) and their catering above average for Y class.
    • Comment 336712 by
      marathon GOLD AUTHOR 10137 Comments
      I am admittedly no expert on headphones (I seldom listen to music and never watch movies in flight) and value your opinion.
      I'll take a similar AF flight this summer and look forward to comparing the experience.
      Thanks for you comment !
  • Comment 161296 by
    BombieFlyer 93 Comments
    Hello Marathon!

    I appreciate your effort to share older flight reports. I too have a lot of old experiences that I'd like to share but felt discouraged that it might not go down well with the crowd because it's 2-3 years old. But you are right, reading old reports makes us see how far an airline has gone to improve itself or how far it has continued downhill trajectory

    Anyway, it seemed from this report that AF was not at its best moment. The inoperable water system was probably a hard decision AF management had to choose. Delay the flight until it's fixed (might be hard since PEK is an outstation) or just fly back to France without water but at least the plane can be fixed properly. I could understand this and I'd rather fly than being delayed further. But the IFE system is inexcusable in my humblest opinion. It looks almost exactly the same as the IFE onboard AF's A340-300 that I flew in 2005 from CDG-YYZ. What have they done in that 8 years span to improve the product then? Apparently not much :(

    Anywho, I look forward to read your experiences again in the future, both old and new! :) :)

    -Bombieflyer-

    • Comment 337776 by
      marathon GOLD AUTHOR 10137 Comments
      I appreciate your effort to share older flight reports. I too have a lot of old experiences that I'd like to share but felt discouraged that it might not go down well with the crowd because it's 2-3 years old. But you are right, reading old reports makes us see how far an airline has gone to improve itself or how far it has continued downhill trajectory

      -KévinDC made it clear that “vintage reports” are welcome on the website. Well established contributors were equally supportive too, so please do share your older experiences !

      Anyway, it seemed from this report that AF was not at its best moment. The inoperable water system was probably a hard decision AF management had to choose. Delay the flight until it's fixed (might be hard since PEK is an outstation) or just fly back to France without water but at least the plane can be fixed properly. I could understand this and I'd rather fly than being delayed further. But the IFE system is inexcusable in my humblest opinion. It looks almost exactly the same as the IFE onboard AF's A340-300 that I flew in 2005 from CDG-YYZ. What have they done in that 8 years span to improve the product then? Apparently not much :(

      - We agree that AF made the obviously correct choice in not cancelling this flight because of the water system breakdown, which probably happened during the incoming flight.
      This IFE system was derided in most AF Flight Reports, and maybe this website had a tiny influence in having them replaced by much more modern ones in the “Best&Beyond” revamped cabins. It will take time to have all the planes refurbished though, and the planes which are scheduled to leave AF’s fleet like the A343 will not.

      Anyhow, I look forward to read your experiences again in the future, both old and new! :) :)

      - I just started posting a new series of flights on an old Indonesia vacation. Enjoy, and meanwhile, thanks for your comment and support !

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