This series of four FR begins in November 2015 with the search for flights to go and meet our friends in Singapore. This happened to be the time when QR sent an offer where the Flight Reporters who met us recognized us immediately. I had neglected to shave that day, on the other hand, Mrs Marathon looked as young as always.
CDG - DOH : QR38 (A330-300) You are here DOH - SIN : QR944 (A350-900) (to be continued)
The friend that we wanted to meet most was available on week-ends only, so this routing which gave us two full week-ends in Singapore, including a French bank holiday, was perfect for us. Fifty minutes connection time in DOH: Mrs Marathon found that this would be tight, but I answered that if QR marketed it, it meant that it was possible.
QR sent updated tickets three weeks later, due to schedule changes. Good news: the flight out of Paris was one hour later, which would make it easier for us to leave our offices in time. But the time of arrival in SIN had not changed, and it rang a bell for me.
I checked on QR’s website, which confirmed that I would have a minus 10 minutes connection.
Hermione’s time turner watch has regrettably not been marketed, and I started revising my opinion that “if QR sells it, then it must be possible” and called QR’s hotline. The operator reassured me: the schedules were being completely updated and conflicts like this one would be solved by the end of January. She spoke impeccable French, with a slight and unidentifiable accent, and an insider later told me that QR’s European call center is located in Wroclaw, Poland.
Early February came, and QR kept planning a time reversing trip for us in DOH, so I called again the hotline. Another lady speaking impeccable French with a slight accent that I now knew to be Polish acknowledged that there was indeed a problem, but that it would be solved soon.
Indeed, two weeks later, the flight out of CDG was back to its original schedule, which restored the Marathons’ connection.
It was not over yet : QR must have felt Mrs Marathon's worry about a 50’ connection in DOH and a week later, QR delayed the DOH-SIN flight half an hour for our comfort.
QR never ceased worrying about the quality of their services, because each interaction triggered a Customer Satisfaction Survey.
These surveyed could be completed in a variety of languages, listed in an order which made me suspect that they too were handled in Wroclaw, because after English, what came next was Polish and Russian. Note that Chinese was proposed in both simplified and traditional ideograms (the latter are still in use in Hong-Kong and Taiwan).
Some thirty years elapsed then, i.e. the time I seemed to have aged in that (sadly more true to life) picture where I had shaved and replaced my jean vest with a strict business suit. Note that Mrs Marathon had completely disappeared, because in the clichés of QR’s communication department, a young couple buys LH tickets six months in advance outside school holidays, but only a mature gentleman would buy himself an upgrade in business class. That upgrade for the sole CDG-DOH flight would have more than doubled our flight budget and we did not follow suit.
QR was not discouraged and proposed more upgrade offers for the return flights, to no avail. Whereas the SIN-DOH is longer, the upgrade was only 481 EUR, vs. slightly more than 700 EUR for the CDG-DOH or DOH-CDG flights. Could it be that QR was desperate to fill its flights to/from SIN? The ensuing reports will give you the answer.
D-Day eventually arrived. It had been a rather stressing week for each of us, but we fortunately did not have any compulsory meeting holding us in our offices, delaying our boarding the RER-B train line.
Frequent users of this line have noted an unusual detail : these were the dead end surface tracks at Gare du Nord (North Station). On that day, and also two days earlier for another reason, there was a railway strike, which translated into a 50% reduction of the services to the airport, and the trains would no longer run through Paris. This time, I had kep abreast of the news on the internet, and it was a rather uneventful trip to the airport, albeit using an unusual route for use due to the need to connect in Gare du Nord.
The 18:57 omnibus train driver was kind anough to wait for us until 19:05. (Strikes created havoc on train schedules)
The train was actually very empty, although this was the evening rush hour. That was typical : when there is a railmen strike, many usual train users who can do it either leave work much earlier than usual, cancel travel plans or use alternative means of transportation, which can result paradoxically by very comfortable travel conditions as long as the traffic is not completely halted.
The train was completely empty from the last stations before CDG : air travelers had obviously massively chosen other means of transportation rather than take any risk with regards to the strike.
We reached this vintage CRT tube FIDS in a quasi-nominal time for an omnibus train.
The designers of CDG in the early seventies never envisaged the need for a rail link, and it was too late to serve directly Terminal 1 where this mistake was acknowledged and a branch of the existing RER-B line built towards CDG Terminal 2, so there is a people mover between CDG-1 station (which is actually within walking distance of the low cost Terminal 3, built later) and Terminal 1.
Arrival at the Terminal 1 APM station whose before station turnback switchgear betrays the fact that it was built decades after the terminal itself.
Since our ample time margins where nearly intact, we were very early at check in, which was all the faster that I had used the OLCI and printed BPS, so all we need was drop our checked suitcase.
Where did these young backpackers go ? Certainly not to Doha,
… BKK was a much more realistic destination. The PAX at the next counter was going to DPS.
Dropping our suitcase was a funny story. QR throws in a generous 30 kg checked luggage allowance with its cheapest Economy fares, but allows only a single 7kg maximum hand luggage including any laptop. We had our two laptops in a tight laptop bag, and a 9kg conventional hand luggage. (arriving with my laptop only in Changchun taught me a lesson about not parting from your first day essentials. It's too heavy, the staff told me, you must transfer weight from it into the laptop bag. The tourist documentation went into the even tighter laptop bag, Mrs Marathon holds her camera which was in the hand luggage, which having shed a kilo received an approved cabin luggage sticker (and the laptops bag too). As soon as we were out of sight of the checking counter, I put everything back the way it was.
OK, we had been granted a one kilo tolerance (some low cost airlines would having pitiless on that), and the courtesy of the staff was not an issue. But why the hell couldn't we mutualize our hand luggage weight allowance which was well below any luggage bin weight limit? Sheer dumbness….
She kept the BPs that I had printed in the office and gives us others, in a yellow « short connection » envelope which was supposed to be needed in DOH and did not seem to be.
I went up to the Arrivals level, two levels up, and I left Mrs Marathon on a bench with 15kg of hand luggage to go around the terminal for some plane spotting. (The view on the planes is not as good from the Departures level, because it is lower)
A Small Planet Airlines A320, hailing from Lithuania
The only long haul aircraft of TACV, the Cabo Verde flag carrier : a 757-200
The CDG-VAL people mover station seen from above
F-RAJB, one of the two French government A340 used to ferry troops to trouble spots abroad, and could also be used to evacuate civilians.
An ANA 787 heads home
A Kuwait AirwaysA330-200
A LOT E-190 that I often saw there. I missed a taxiing Air China A330 ; I was in the wrong place for a decent picture.
Going up the famous Plexiglas tubes in the center of the round terminal
The circular opening of the terminal
There was hardly anybody, so it was not worth going through the automated PARAFE gates (the passport and fingerprint reading process is slow, but since they hardly accept any passports other than French ones, they provide a highly efficient shortcut when it is crowded). The face of the immigration officer showed the boredom of a repetitive task, and he obviously felt that his chewing gum was a valid reason for not talking or smiling. So much for the image of his country…
So we were quickly airside, with its shops of luxury goods and cheap (quality-wise) souvenirs of the made in China miniature Eiffel Tower kind. What had changed since I had last been there was that all the signage was now trilingual, in French, English and Chinese (using the simplified characters in use in Mainland China and Singapore).
CDG1 is made of satellites, each with its one tiny security check. No problem there, the staff was relaxed and liked my tongue-in-cheek apologies for not having a tablet or an iPhone. The detector gantry rang : no, I had no forgotten metal thing on me ; it was a random explosive detection check. The female staff was all the more relaxed and smiling when I told her that I knew it had been randomly selected (which meant that I would spare her the protests of the "why me ?" kind. What was tested were the hands (both sides) and the belt buckle, taping a small cotton wad analyzed immediately by a machine. I guess a sloppy amateur chemist might stain his belt against his workbench ; we used to wear protection clothes for chemistry lab experiments back n high school.
What seemed new to me were the many power ports between the seats in the satellite's waiting area. It was not crowded, because there were only the passengers of our flight ; an Egyptair flight would leave later.
The times when you needed navigation to find the webpage providing you a meager quarter of an hour of free wifi internet access are over ; there is an offer for a faster access for a fee, but the standard access was good enough for my needs, which was simply displaying the home page of Flight Report.
QR offers magazines to their passengers, or rather, I suspect these magazines agree to provide for free these copies to QR.
A case in point is The Economist's 2016 prospects issue, published in late 2015 : some papers already look quite stale, like the comments on the Taiwanese presidential election, written before it was held in January this year. It very much like the dumping of unsold copies.
I spotted our aircraft taxiing in as we were going to enter the tunnel towards the satellite. Had we been ten minutes earlier, I could had have had better pictures that these taken as night was falling on CDG.
There were no plane spotter phobic staff this time; actually, a staff moved aside to let me take one of these.
There were two PS4 stations and a cell phone recharge station at one end of the tiny boarding room, clos to the entrance of the toilets.
Men do not need to wear a kilt anymore for changing their baby's diapers in CDG
… and gettig there. There is a small story behind this picture, because a staff of the security check arrives as I was taking it and was quite puzzled. Once he was reassured that I had no unhealthy motivation, he became very friendly and talkative about the issue of the cleanliness of the toilets.
Not at that time, but after the departure of the daily Air China flight, because its messy passengers splash water around and empty their tea leaves in the sinks and clog them.
Mrs Marathon told me that there was the same vending machine in the ladies’ room, which means that they too can buy condoms.
A Taiwanese wink with this sign put against a pillar after the Eva Air flight has departed.
Time of boarding
The advantage of an A330 flight is that the seat layout is typically 2-4-2, which means that half of them are twin window + aisle seat sets. The advantage of QR is that they do not charge extra for them, unlike a sadly growing number of European legacy airlines. I made the selection somewhat late, so the remaining pairs of seats were in the rear of the aircraft.
The rear cabin while still empty
There was a blanket and a pillow on each seat.
But when you look under the seat, ouch !
Each window seat and each aisle seat in the center have a massive 19 cm wide IFE box (you can trust me for having measured it!). My laptop would just fit next to it, and that was a case when I was not sorry to be short.
Better not be too tall, because 25cm from the seat's limit to the magazine pocket could be deemed standard for short haul aircraft, but that was less than what you get on a Chinese domestic flight, and it was not much for a long haul flight.
Some readers have teased me on my use of a measuring tape when flying, but this was a circumstance where I found its data interesting. I found the sear’s width decent, period. Mrs Marathon, to whom I asked when writing this report, remembered that she was often knocking herself to the armrests, but no bid deal. However, the width between armrests, measured exactly the same way, shocked me : give or take a few millimeters due to the uncertainty on the measure, 43 cm was exactly the same as for the AF 777 seat that I had lambasted in an earlier report. I clearly remembered finding it unacceptably narrow on a night flight, and I was certain not to have had the same impression on that QR flight. The width of the armrests themselves was similar too, so ?
My hypothesis is that the seats were indeed the same width, but that the fact that these were twin seats on QR made a major difference : on the side opposite my wife, I had on the QR flight extra space (the armrest and some spare space to the cabin wall), whereas on AF, my personal space stopped at the middle of the central armrest, shared with a stranger. Note by the way that QR lets you select your seats for free, whereas unless you have Platinum FB level, AF charges for the seat selection like low cost airlines, and these seats are in an expensive category.
Placing the remote control of the IFE on the top of the armrest is often a bad idea, because you could unwillingly press on the buttons during your sleep, but this one is adequately protected by the depth of its cover.
The list of the languages available on the IFE. Chinese was in simplified ideograms – it did not show in that list, since 中文 is written the same in traditional ideograms.
The slightly worn plastic safety card.
The headphones, after unwrapping.
A refreshing tissue was distributed shortly after takeoff.
The amenity kit, in a non-woven material, and the contents of its twin
Then came the time for the safety demonstration ; QR belongs to the airlines which use humor to have its passengers watch the video. I got the message that QR sponsors the Barcelona Football Club, with here a changing room which should tidied up before takeoff.
They had a brilliant idea for the oxygen mask demonstration. “Should you need oxygen” at the sight of one of the stars of that club,
… like this overexcited crowd of female supporters of all ages …
… to the point where they gasp for oxygen when he approaches
On the other hand, for this clandestine smoker in the toilets …
… it is a red card (the most severe sanction in football, a.k.a. soccer in the US).
The ideal position in case of an emergency landing
… is not the best one in case of a free kick.
I am no football fan, but I did find this video amusing, and enjoyed watching it (beyond pure Flight Reporter duties), which was a proof of quality (getting the attention of a traveler who would not look at it spontaneously).
Meanwhile, the decorative lighting of the terminal had changed to the blue-white-red pattern (the colors of the French flag) which had first appeared after the 13 November, 2015 terrorist attacks. (There was a rather bland white lighting before).
A rather nice blue mood lighting when dimming the lights for take-off.
I spotted the Eiffel Tower, but it was to far to take a decent picture of it. The urban sprawl only appeared through gaps in the cloud cover.
There was quickly nothing left to see outside, and I had to revert to the IFE. In the first season of the show (a.k.a. the first flight of that trip), I understood nothing of the navigation’s logic, which lead me to believe that the movie offering was indigent. In season 2, I eventually understood and found a lot more, without being overly impressed.
With regards to games, there was navigation and no hesitation : there were three of them, period. It was verging on fundamentalism
A7-AEC had been delivered by Airbus to QR on 30 March, 2005, and its moving map showed its age, less through its looks than because it was a fixed program alternating in an unchangeable way various means of displaying the information.
There were a few variants were the information was quite illegible.
It could be possible to send e-mails or SMS, but it was not.
Dinner fortunately was served, here before unwrapping.
And after unwrapping. We did not ask for wine, but wine was available. There was no choice, with a red cabbage salad, chicken with polenta and broccoli, cheese and a rather stodgy cake. The bread was served very hot, but by the time I needed it, it had become cold and quite hard outside. Overall, it was not bad, but it was not exciting either.
I liked this decorative pattern, which appeared on the cardboard wrapping of the silverware (in metal, with very plain shapes, but much better than plasticware) and on the paper cup.
Two hours and a half between the pictures above and below, showing the breakfast tray. That meant at most two hours of sleep, or not much more than two hours before dinner and breakfast. I would have much preferred sleeping until the beginning of the descent (about an hour and a half later), especially since the amount of food plus a coffee plus a glass of water did not make much of a difference. Better serve it together with the dinner.
The wrap contained that, but had very little taste. The 5x5 cm pastry had more ingredients, but was so small that it was quickly forgotten.
Blue mood lighting
Dawn was going to rise on the Arabic desert
This was our position at this time in the flight
That was where I discovered the existence of a PIP (Picture in Picture) functionality, which allowed to keep the moving map while trying to understand the logic of the IFE’s navigation. At least one good feature.
Sunrise (on the other side ; I always choose my seat in order to have the best lighting conditions)
Various lightings on the spoilers
The very small Saudi towns seen at the beginning of the descent had so little lighting and color contrast that the autofocus of my camera just quit.
The runway’s orientation (16R) will provide me a superb view on Doha during the final descent – conversely, there will be nothing to see at take-off of the connecting flight.
A horse (or camel ?) race track alongside Highway #1
In the background of the previous picture, a group of low houses in a strict grid layout
At the periphery of the Lusail new town:
Lusail’s international speed circuit
Next to it, the multipurpose arena of Lusail
The environment is very desert
These neighborhoods are still nothing but bare streets
This here looks more like the storage for building material
The artificial pools of Lusail
High rises built in a still very empty landscape
The Ritz Carlton in the foreground
The twin high rises on both sides of Pearl Boulevard, under the wing
One of the circular marinas of the Pearl Qatar artificial island
The St Regis Doha
The Diplomatic Zone and the business district of Doha.
The end of Doha’s harbor
A taxiing QR A330
This Jordanian E-175 was the only non Qatari Aircraft seen until our plane reached its final stop.
I did not know this regional airline : Al Maha is a Saudi airline, but its logo, although green instead of brown, shows that it is a subsidiary of QR. I was going to have better shots while boarding the next flight.
A QR 787
Reaching the gate next to a spotlessly clean A380
… even the tires of the main landing gear were being cleaned !
Going through part of the J cabin while deplaning
A long corridor, and then nearly verybody turns left for transfers
There was a long line, and it was to become even longer behind us, for the safety check.
The line was actually moving fast: we were past the controls in ten minutes, not because of the number of counters in operation, but because it was not requested to remove the laptop, liquids, and the like from the hand luggage. There was ample space after the security check to replace your stuff in order.
What happened next belongs to the FR of the connecting flight. I should have proposed a Qatari tourist bonus, but all I had Qatari was this orchid (Dendrobium Mozah Bint Nasser al-Missned) named in the honor of the previous First Lady of the emirate when she visited Singapore’s Orchid garden in 2009.
This is rather a Singaporean flower, so I’ll propose a Paris tourist bonus, of which there are few on this website.
The André Citroën park, built on part of the land made available when the Citroën automobile factories moved out of Paris (they were alongside the Seine river in the downstream-most section of the city).
I took these pictures during one of the first fair weather days in spring, and there were still few kids playing in the water fountains between these two greenhouses.
In summer, when it is hot and the place is crowded with children between 2 and 8, this interdiction is never respected either.
A spherical shape appears at the far end of the lawn
It is a tethered balloon, which provides a view of Paris and its south-western suburbs (if the wind is weak enough, for safety reasons)
According to aviation rules, this balloon has registration number like any aircraft (F-HOAG), even though it only plies a 150 m vertical route.
At the Seine River end of the park, the tracks of the RER-C suburban train line have been placed on a viaduct in order to provide a pedestrian access to the river banks,
… where this boat moored permanently contains the studio for an eponymous high quality TV magazine focusing on all topics related to the sea (Thalassa θάλασσα is Greek for “sea”)
Air, land and sea : this bonus gathered all three elements of long distance travels. Thanks for reading me up to here !
Paris - CDG
Doha - DOH
The IFE box cost ½ point in comfort; I would have been more severe if it had not been possible to book twin seats for free. I have an “above average” memory of the FAs, who were smiling and efficient, and far removed from the “robotic” service that some FReporters described. It took me a long time to understand the logic of the IFE’s navigation, whose moving map program was outdated and the audio-video offering somewhat disappointing when I finally found it completely. The dinner was decent ; the breakfast was a waste of sleep time for very little food. I wish they would cancel it altogether. A red-eye flight in Economy is the worst test for an airline : the meal is either too long or not enough, there are few chances of interactions with the FAs, and it is a flight where you sleep too little and too poorly. In all fairness, QR did quite well in that test where you can collect demerits only.
Border and security checks were fast in CDG, whose accessibility was standard but had been a source of stress in the preceding days, since I did not know what the effects of the strike would be.
The safety checks were faster than expected in view of the length of the lines in DOH, but there was excessive walking for the connection and no indication of the time or distance.
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