This series of FR originates with an invitation by Chinese friends to a week-end in a remote town in Guangdong province, whose capital is Guangzhou (CAN). I won’t detail the numerous routings that I considered, which eventually turned out to be quite simple:
The round trip to HKG was much cheaper than that to CAN ; the LH night flights’ schedules made it possible to optimize the use of our days off (including Bastille Day, a.k.a. July 14th), and the side trip to Haikou (HAK) would add an airline (HX) and a Chinese province (Hainan Island) to my score card.
Now that the debates on same sex marriage are an issue of the past in France, AF and/or Flying Blue seem to have a hard time to assume that Mrs. Marathon is female, because this was not the first time that despite the Mrs. (Mme in French), her FB number referenced her as being male. This information was fortunately modifiable when booking the flight.
It was possible to reserve a dedicated seat for a fee when booking the flight, but once the flight was booked (and I needed to do it fast once the decision was taken), it was no longer possible, which I found strange. Why does AF deprive itself of such additional income ?
I received an offer for an upgrade in Y+ for 349 EUR (each, one way) a few days before departure. AF’s Y+ seat is notoriously worse than its Y seat for sleeping, and this proposal was a non-starter for me.
On the other hand, I connected to the OLCI a few minutes after ETD-30h to try and optimize the free seat selection (note that AF had initially put us on seats 46B and 46C, i.e. aisle and middle seats).
My wife always prefers aisle seats when flying long haul in order to be able to move around; I am a window seat addict for picture taking reasons, and the compromise when flying together is to privilege her aisle seat requirement on night flights when there is not much to see outside anyway. But could we improve on that, in a 3-4-3 layout ?
I decided for the first time to try the window seat + aisle seat option, leaving available the middle seat in between, and selected the next to last row in the cabin, betting that this rearmost isolated middle seat would be the least attractive of all for a passenger flying alone. Most central seats were blocked in the rear of the aircraft : probably a group which would be potentially noisy on a day flight, but the risk was less on a night flight. Alea jacta fuit…
D-day came. Neither of us had a last minute emergency in the office this time, and this time, I had been careful to check on the Internet before leaving home that the traffic was normal on our subway and train lines to the airport.
We were in the subway when a perturbation was announced over the PA: a braking train at that moment made it difficult to understand : my wife understood “B line” (the one going to the airport), I clearly understood “D line”, and I was fortunately right.
The first train to CDG would stop in each station, but run normally, which can never be fully taken for granted.
The proof of my statement came at CDG1, when it was announced that this train would go no further, and please wait for the next train on the other track, same platform. My guess is that train would recover a delay, at the expense of most of its passengers.
That is when I discovered that the traffic had actually been perturbed by a suspicious package. Eight minutes of waiting for the next train and reach CDG2: I decided that it was not worth taking the people mover.
Arrival at CDG2’s train station : the famous FIDS was undergoing maintenance on one side
But it was operational on the other side
Our flight was listed on time
But by the time we had reached the rather empty Terminal 2E
The plane was now half an hour late, with a departure rescheduled at a strange 23:59, maybe to avoid date change issues.
I had already printed our BPs and our checked luggage label, but I preferred obtaining (easily) new ones from these machines, especially the old-fashioned indestructible checked luggage label, due to our connection in HKG, which I shall describe at the end of this report.
Near zero waiting at the luggage drop
Even when you always take too much stuff, a ten day trip to a hot country does not weigh much in the hold.
Going through the automated PARAFE passport + fingerprint gates (for EU passport holders only, after registration for non-French passports) was equally fast. Their signage is misleading in that it seems to be part of the Access #1 priority path for J/F/Elite passengers.
PARAFE’s exit reach to the security check to gates K: my wife is each time more careful than I to head towards the gates L/M from where the flights to the Far East depart
Zero waiting time at the security check, where the staff was smiling and friendly : CDG made significant progress in this regard to improve the passenger experience there.
The signage of the baby care rooms has become gender neutral in CDG ; these toilets were closed due to cleaning, but stickers indicated the direction and time needed to reach the next ones.
This is what one of these rooms looks like.
Our A380 at her gate, like wrapped by the arms of an octopus, with catering loading trucks on the left and the jetbridges on the right.
I went around while my wife stayed with our hand luggage in front of screens displaying a game of the Euro 2016 soccer tournament. This PS4 play console was popular, with two young Asian girls giggling endlessly at the sight of multiple rather voluntary crashes.
On the other hand, this rather stereotyped playground did not attract children.
Training for plane spotting starts early, as exemplified by this young Japanese, posted in a strategic corner of the terminal’s extremity.
This A380 was easier to see than ours.
I am always fascinated by the thickness of the root of the wing ; the door in the foreground provides the scale. On the other hand, references are missing to realize the size of the reactors.
Some plane spotting, using panning to counter the increasing lack of light : Easyjet A319 in Napoli livery
AF A321 in Skyteam livery
AF B777 at the gate, after nightfall
Corporate screenshot, once I was back with my wife at our boarding gate.
A young UM had been placed “in storage” in this space under the space under the screen; I vaguely overheard that she could watch DVDs on a console there.
The information displayed on these screens. The delay was caused by an aircraft change due to a technical problem: neither the ground staff nor the FA who served us on board knew the nature of the problem.
It’s a small air travel world, and while we were waiting to board, I came across a friend who was going to the wedding ceremony of a mutual friend in Shenzhen, the home town of his bride. I knew the date and the location, but this encounter was nevertheless unexpected.
Boarding – the escalator on the right was leading to the upper deck. A smiling and friendly welcome at the aircraft door, and an even friendlier welcome in the rear where we reached our seats. There were still few passengers in the rear; while I was taking my first pictures, my wife revealed to the FA that I was a Flight Reporter. He knew about this website and started a very friendly conversation.
This was where I was going to spend the night
The seat has a foot rest which I never use – I always find that uncomfortable.
At my window seat, I have a 60 cm wide personal space, excluding the shared armrest, thanks to 10 cm of extra space beyond the seat on the cabin wall side.
I even had 18 cm extra space at eye level
The seat pitch was standard for Economy, with 27 cm from the seat’s limit to the magazine pocket.
Very efficient headrests which avoid falling sideways during sleep.
The cleanliness was decent, no more, or even really decent if taking into account that this was a replacement aircraft.
This 8" diagonal IFE screen is 20th century technology in a 21st century aircraft
The frame of the IFE screen of my wife was somewhat broken apart : this minor problem was without an impact for using it, but we mentioned that to the FA to have it fixed in due time.
The in-flight magazine reminded me of something. Small wonder: this worn copy was a June issue.
The safety card, both sides
Boarding complete… and the Marathon’s gamble had paid off : there were only ten empty seats in that A380, and one of them was the middle seat between us.
This abstract work of art represents a take-off at ETD+1h
A menu on paper was distributed. It was not luxurious, but useful
My wife chose champagne and tomato juice, I Coca-Cola and water
The dinner as served
The bread was an extremely flat pyramid, which made it look bigger than it really was.
I chose the Chinese hot dish : rice and pork with Yuxiang sauce 鱼香 (which despite its name does not contain any fish 鱼 product)
And my wife stuck to chicken with suprême cream sauce and mushrooms, also with rice. When I wrote this report, it was “decent, no more” (quote) and “hum, average” (quote again) respectively in our memories.
The toilets were clean. These adhesive tapes on a ventilation louvre seal an access which could be accessible to passengers: they are a requirement on planes flying to the US, and AF’s A380s are of course dedicated to specific routes.
It is often too cold in the planes and we wore our hiking caps (an accessory which is as useful as a face mask on a night flight) : the FA brought us each an additional blanket taken from the Y+ supply, made of a much thicker and comfortable fabric than the standard Y. This was a nice spontaneous gesture, possibly because he knew that everything would be recorded and publicized in this report.
There is an eight hour gap in my pictures : I have the memory of a not very comfortable night, but the fact is that I did have a rather full night’s sleep, helped by tiring days before the flight.
The stairs at the rear of the cabin
The access to the upper deck (whose rearmost section is in Economy) was closed due to the presence of a trolley – it was open in a different time of the flight.
The transcription of the names of the Chinese cities was curiously heterogeneous in the airshow : nobody transcribes 重庆 (Chongqing) this way, whereas 成都 is indeed written Chengdu today.
Turn towards HKG
The karstic structures which made the tourist fame of Guilin 桂林 and Yangshuo 阳朔 further north-east.
This breakfast was served 1h40’ before landing : a correct timing.
My wife did not like this hot meal (a mini-sausage, omelet and some kind of a piperade), and it was a mistake for me to finish hers : I was uncomfortable for some time thereafter.
The winding Heijiang River, a contributor to the XI River 西江, close downstream to Wuzhou 梧州 city.
The crossing of Expressway G321 with a railroad
The Xi River 西江 (one of the contributors to the Pearl River), and the eastern end of Zhaoqing 肇庆 city, west of Guangzhou 广州
Again the Xi River, and the west end of Foshan 佛山 City
Air to air with a China Southern A330 which veered to the right below us
A glimpse at a mega-project : this artificial island in the background is the end of the bridge being built between Macau and the Hong-kong's Lantau Island. The bridge leaving this island towards the left joins Zhuhai 珠海, located in Mainland China at the border with Macau.
Spoiler :this is the same bridge and the artificial island on the right, seen the next day from Zhuhai.
Taipa Island that Flight Reporters know for Macao’s airport (MFM)
With massive image processing, MFM’s runway which was entirely built on the sea appears faintly in the top of this picture.
Landing was going on one of HKG runways 25. I checked Flightradar24 one day too late, but I have no reason to believe that the approach had been any different from one of the following days. I was lucky : a window on the left side provided a view on Hong-Kong, if the natural haze and clouds allowed it.
Under the wing in the center of this picture, the thin oblique line surrounded with water is the former runway of the mythical Kai Tak airport. The weather was not ideal (it seldom is), and my pictures are what they are, especially in adverse lighting conditions.
With the extremity of the Shing Mun River, bottom left
The transparency of the air was again marginal to show once more the former Kai Tak runway from the north
The same, with Taiwai in the foreground
The sun’s reflection on the ICC Tower
The harbor between the mainland and Tsing Yi Island
The viaduct starting from Tsing Yi Island on the left
… by way of the tiny Ma Wan Island in the center and reaching Lantau Island on the right
In the distance, the Hong Kong bay in the distance, with the top of one of the viaduct’s piers
Imminent landing Runway 25R
The route on the air show was shifted north a few kilometers ; I noted that it was the same on the return flight.
Landing in HKG at 17h41, i.e. ETA+16’ : the plane recovered most of its initial delay, but the captain nevertheless apologized for the delay.
Hainan Airlines A330
Arrival of a Cathay Pacific777
Dragonair A320 (recently renamed Cathay Dragon, but the liveries have not been all changed)
An international selection of airlines (SQ, QR, Seychelles Airways, Finnair, BA, LX)
Deplaning through the F cabin which had not been empty on that flight
Welcome to HSBC (Hong-Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation)
This sign points at immigration, but we do not go this way, and we do not have a connecting flight either.
For our travel continued on a ferry towards Mainland China, without entering administratively in Hong Kong. There was nobody behind this pillar : the waiting time to buy ferry tickets was minimal.
It was impossible to recover our checked luggage at this stage, since the delivery was beyond the immigration: it was redirected to the ferry. The checked luggage receipt was replaced by another stuck behind the ferry’s ticket like that for air travel.
The waiting time at the security check to the ferries was nil.
Most ferries are towards Shenzhen, the Chinese city located at the border with Hong-Kong : the ferry avoids Hong-Kong’s immigration (which is useful for the few nationalities which need a visa) and a rather cumbersome trip by subway to the border station in Lowu which is very tiring after a long haul flight, but feasible and cheap from the city center:
Let’s go back to HKG : we go down the escalator parallel to that used by the passengers connecting to other flights, on the other side of the glass wall.
This map of HKG’s terminals shows the ferry piers on the right.
A short ride on a people mover
And going up to the seaside area of the airport.
It was nothing short of deserted
Some duty free shops with ordinary wares (alcohol, tobacco, and miscellaneous travel items)
What was less ordinary was this poster in the center which reminded that the export of infant formula is limited to 1.8 kg per person. The purpose of this limit which is effective since 2013 is to avoid shortages caused by massive purchases by Mainland wholesalers, after the scandals of milk tainted with melamine by shady major milk producers sent tens of thousands of babies to hospitals in the China in 2008.
The pictogram top right indicates a (very) hot water fountain for instant noodles.
A small open air platform for smokers provided a good view of the operations on the ferries before departure, despite the uncomfortable hot and humid air.
This crane loaded typical air freight containers
A ferry heading towards Shenzhen leaves
Boarding was announced : we went down a bridge without any banking advertising
The load ratio was very low, around 10%.
Our tickets had seat numbers in this cabin in 3-5-3 layout, and we were strangely seated three passengers next to each other, even though there were plenty of fully empty rows.
There was a smaller first class cabin upstairs. Apart from the inconvenience of having to climb a rather steep staircase, the fittings of this cabin were not what dreams are made of. There was only one passenger there.
This “warm tip” was next to pointless that night, in view of the number of passengers on board.
No overhead luggage storage bins, but there was space for hand luggage along the front bulkhead, below the screens which broadcasted in loop a safety demonstration during at least twenty minutes.
It focused mainly on the fine art of wearing a life vest.
There was a poster on that too, for the passengers who did not watch the video.
Please fasten your seat belts : it was written and reminded in the safety video …
… but where were they ? On the other hand, the fixed armrests made it impossible to use the empty rows as lie flat seats which would have been welcome after a long haul flight.
We reached the harbor of Jiuzhou, located next to the border of Mainland China with Macau after slightly more than an hour of eventless sailing. Going through the Chinese immigration was all the faster that there were so few passengers, and then we were immediately at the luggage delivery area.
Luggage delivery was by a crane which unloaded large flat containers in synthetic fiber. A passenger did not hesitate to cross the rope and get closer for taking pictures.
The lids are removed to unveil the suitcases lying flat.
There was an instant of worry, but no, our suitcase was actually under another one. It had received a second airline type tag, with the logo of CKS (the ferry company), with final destination ZUI (Zhuhai’s harbor), not to be confused with ZUH, its airport.
This is the end of this FR and of its logistics continuation, and the beginning of a tourist bonus which is very short, because you can revert the expression and say about Zhuhai that « It’s a nice place to live, but you wouldn’t want to visit there », because there is not all that much to see there, even though the city is pleasant.
The statue of the Fisherman’s Wife (a nice local legend of a goddess who fell in love with a human) is in all tourist leaflets,
… but not this tram station, for a good reason : the project has been completely halted even though the first test runs had already started.
This 7 billion yuan (1 billion euro) investment had been criticized when it had been launched, in particular the design of these stations which were modern looking but completely inefficient to shield passengers from the pouring rains during the monsoon. But the project was supported by Li Jia, the secretary of the Communist Party in Zhuhai, the local seat of power in today’s China. Testing was well under way, as this picture taken by a friend a year ago shows.
That was until the day when Li Jia was accused of “serious breaches of Party discipline”, the Chinese euphemism for corruption. It is used in China to disgrace ( and sentence to life) a local leader who lost it out in the ferocious internal feuds inside the party, whereas he is untouchable “from below”. Once the secretary general had fallen, Zhuhai’s tram project screeched to a halt and nobody knows if it will ever be commissioned. This was a Pharaonic project, because for pure prestige reasons, the local Chinese leaders had chosen a very expensive catenary free powering technology, which only makes sense in historic town centers like that of Bordeaux.
Since then, the rails rust slowly and this switchgear where the concrete had been broken to modify something and remained that way. Nobody knows if Hitachi Rail will finish the project, and if another provider takes over, all the hardware related to the proprietary track powering system will be unusable, both on the track and on board the trams.
China’s spectacular economic development is strewn with failed white elephants like this one. Few foreigners are aware of them, because the tourist brochures and the guides never mention them.
Thanks for reading me up to here !
Paris - CDG
Hong Kong - HKG
The weak (but not damning) points on this flight were a rather nondescript catering which should be eaten with moderation (eating my wife’s leftovers was a mistake), and a 20th century technology IFE screen. On the other hand, the A380 is noted for its low noise level ; a window seat provides a significantly increased width thanks to the wall’s curvature (but there are only two of them per 10-seat row) and having an empty middle seat was a significant plus (but there were only 10 out of more than 500). I had a long sleep, which was not taken for granted in economy and was valuable. The FA was initially friendly, and then especially attentive and open to conversation once my wife had disclosed my Flight Reporter status. As far as I could judge, AF managed efficiently a late technical problem in CDG : the plane’s delay in HKG was minimal. In short, it was an excellent AF flight.
There is always a small glitch in CDG, and this time, it was this train which terminated in CDG1, but it was without consequences and everything else went well.
HKG’s efficiency was as impressive as usual, with this last minute rerouting of our checked luggage to ZUI, even though it was in the hundreds of pieces of luggage to be delivered landside in HKG.
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