My readers know that a negative title picture is a sign that things went wrong, and this FR is that of a bad flight, in stark contrast with the excellent outbound flight.
The report begins with this proposal of an upgrade to Y+ that AF was dumping at 189 EUR per person, barely more than half than the 349 EUR rate on the way in. But this was a night flight, and AF’s Y+ seat is notoriously uncomfortable for sleeping, because it only slides slightly down in its rigid support and its cushioning infamously hard.
In retrospect, I would have done better accepting the deal, but I chose to stay in the rear of the aircraft. There was no way to block a middle seat this time: the plane was packed and the only seats apart from the pair which had been assigned to us were isolated here and there. For an HKG-CDG flight which would be entirely by night, not having a window seat was no major loss: there would be nothing to see at take-off heading into the sea, there would obviously be nothing to see en-route, and I know the descent towards CDG well enough. My wife had the aisle seat that she cared for, and my neighbor would not disturb two passengers to reach the aisle.
The trip home began at the Hong-Kong station of the Airport Express, using the In-town check-in which made it possible to get rid of our checked luggage and spend the late afternoon / early evening with friends living in Tsing Yi.
No, we did not have any status, and there was only one counter for the AF flight anyway.
Tsing Yi is the last station on the Airport Express line to the airport, but this lien is dedicated to serving the airport only : you can’t take it from Hong-Kong to Tsing Yi, because there is no exit turnstile on the platform in Tsing Yi in the airport direction, and likewise you can’t take it in Tsing Yi towards Hong Kong. Of course, nobody in Hong Kong would consider jumping the turnstiles, although they are quite low. So we had to take the Orange line instead; it is parallel to the Airport Express Line and nearly as fast.
A prerequisite for using the In-town check-in at Hong-Kong station is having an Airport Express ticket from that station to the airport. There is no In-town check-in in Tsing Yi, but we could use our HK – Airport tickets to depart from Tsing Yi after dinner. It did cost us a little extra (2x85 HKD for a couple instead of 2x50 HKD leaving from Tsing Yi), but the comfort of not having our suitcase for the rest of the day and not having to budget the time needed to check in and drop the luggage in the airport was well worth the extra 70 HKD paid (Did you follow that ?).
It was a short ride to the airport; we overlook here the landside Arrivals level
The very long list of the flights that night
Note that the flight was planned to be ahead of schedule, but since we already had our BPs and did not have a drop a luggage, we only needed to proceed airside.
Whether you leave by ferry (see the CDG-HKG report) or by plane, it is reminded that you are not allowed to empty HK’s stores of infant formula, even if you have good reasons to not trust that sold in your own country.
There was little waiting to go through the security check and the immigration
People mover transfer and reaching the main airside area
This area was going to cost me a bundle, despite all my disingenuous manoeuvers to keep Mrs. Marathon from these duty free shops, claiming that they accepted payments in HKD cash only (of which we had little left), that we had barely enough time to board and other tongue in cheek arguments which were not really meant to fool her into not buying her favorites items “because it is cheaper here”.
The flight was confirmed ten minutes ahead of schedule
A playground where no kid was playing
What is really missing in HKG is power ports in enough places. There are some there, but you need to keep standing
And there are some, very far apart, near the seats : this group is the only one in the entire space behind. And like almost everywhere in HK, the plugs are (British) Type G only.
Front view of the bird operating that evening
The catering was being loaded
I had some doubts about the name « Gate Gourmet », though.
HKG is ideally plane spotter friendly by day, with wide and usually clean windows on the tarmac, lots of foreign planes, also bidirectional travellators (they are often one-way, to the gates only, in other airports)
but not by night, because there is very little lighting on the tarmac. My only prey was this AK 380.
Apart from the toilets and the drinking fountains, you can change a baby’s diapers and pour boiling water in instant noodles.
I was amused by the long list of airlines that this restaurant knows sometimes need to handle a major delay.
Boarding time approaches ; a brief look at these priority seats next to the boarding gate.
Going through the F cabin that Mrs. Marathon had a chance to try thanks to an upgrade due to overbooking (and possibly thanks to her then Gold membership at that time) a few years before.
There was neither upgrade nor miracle this time: my neighbor for that flight was already at his flight, and contrary to the flight in the reverse direction, we won’t have any more space than that of our seats.
During the entire boarding process, the two FAs in the rear have a private conversation, talking so loudly that we could catch every single word, without paying any attention to the passengers. If I had been sitting at the aisle, I would have come up and asked if we were an inconvenience for them in this plane. My wife did not do that, but was shocked by this behavior. The first impression is often the good one, and it was not good.
A standard 44 cm width between armrests, without any additional space on the window side this time.
The seat pitch was in the low average of Economy seats, measured from the seat’s edge to the magazine pocket.
The magazine pocket had been in a better shape
It was difficult to keep it in place
The in-flight magazine was now the July issue
The duty free in-flight magazine proposed the same card holder as that of HX, seen on the previous flight, but it was much cheaper (25 EUR vs. 390 HKD), and AF did not feel necessary to state that the credit cards and the cash are not included. The French passengers are not as naive as the Chinese ones.
The magazine pocket was worn ; on the other hand, the carpet was in mint condition
You all know about AF’s standard IFE screen in Economy: an 8” screen, with faint touch screen capability, powered by an equally outdated audio-video unit. Furthermore, as NGO85 noted, the square format means that a movie’s image is either truncated or using a fraction of the screen only.
You don’t want to watch a movie on that nowadays, even though this was exciting when AVOD appeared a generation ago, and playing Shanghai – a classic Mahjong solitaire game – is a test on your patience, because of the frustration at the lack of precision of the pointer and the response time.
The safety card, both sides
Pure chance was it that we were at the same row 51 as on the inbound flight, but this time we had an ice-cold air draft on the head. I quickly took my cap out of my hand luggage, then jury-rigged a keffiyeh with my blanket, to no avail: that ice-cold wind was directed precisely at our faces.
The FA call button was unanswered : the FAs who were preparing dinner service did not pay attention to it and routinely cancelled it later. My wife complained several times to the FA in her aisle about it. The FA was rather uncooperative, said that she had taken the necessary actions (without any impact for us) and mentioned the problem to the chief purser.
On the other hand, during boarding, after a very long and loud conversation with her colleague about the houses that she was renting in Spain during her vacations, that FA who kept ignoring the presence of passengers in the plane said, always very loudly, that she was going to have a coffee, and my wife indeed saw her back from the upper deck and felt the smell of coffee that she was comfortably taking witting on the rear jumpseat, oblivious to the boarding of the passengers. The chief purser came up and said “You could set up chairs too ?” with a joking tone, but this was obviously a hidden scolding in public.
No need of a top quality IFE screen to display the image of the low quality camera located on the tail – the only operational one, because the other two appeared to have failed.
A menu on paper was distributed.
This was my dinner, as served by the FA without any obvious enthusiasm by the same FA.
Whatever the shape, the AF bread is always more or less the same size
The Szechuan-style pork sauté was warned to be spicy, but it was barely mild to whoever enjoys authentic fiery hot local food in Sichuan (nobody in China writes 四川 like AF does), but it was good.
Spicy is a no-no for my wife who was careful to choose the sautéed chicken with red wine sauce, which was OK too.
These were decent meals for a long haul flight in Economy.
The chief purser came up later and explained to my wife that in some aircraft, a temperature sensor could become clogged and disrupts the A/C settings. I had already covered my head, including the face, with my blanket to try to contain the assault of the ice cold ventilation, but I could hear the dialogue.
My wife mentioned that the rating of that flight on Flight Report would not be good and the chief purser answered “Oh, the people write what they want on Flight Report”, terminating there the conversation and giving me the impression that passengers’ opinions were not of any concern to him. I decided that nothing to be expected from that crew and tried to go to sleep without catching a cold. I noted that Shaoguan - the real destination of that whole trip – appeared on the airshow, and that there was again this archaic transcription of 重庆, which has been transcribed Chongqing for decades.
A coffee to wash this meal down
We were still a long way to destination, but there was nevertheless a 7 hour gap in my pictures (which does not mean I slept for 7 hours), one less than on the way in, on a flight which was one hour longer due to the prevailing winds, and therefore a long time to breakfast.
There was a rather random assortment of snacks, sweets, mini-sandwiches and fruit cups. This heterogeneity meant that you had a fair chance to find an item which could suit you. This was not what had struck me when I was in the galley at that time.
I heard the FA handling the rear right of the cabin say to the Chinese interpreter something like : there is a guy sitting on the jumpseat in the rear, you must tell him not to stay there . The word in French (“mec”) was halfway between “guy” and “jerk” on the rudeness scale, but definitely not one which should be used about a customer, in the presence of other customers. That this FA did not realize that, or thought that in that flight with mostly Chinese passengers, nobody would understand his French did not even surprise me from him. That it did not surprise me did shock me.
My wife told me several times "We really feel like cattle with these FAs". They reminded me of the guards on the junior school outings by bus, whose role was only to keep us in check : making the trip pleasant for us was clearly not in their priorities.
Sometime later, I went to the galley upstairs, since the gate was opened (due to no trolley out of its storage – there is a sign reminding that). Surprise, not only it was warm up there, but I also had a warm welcome from the few FAs who happened to be there.
A common question of the « is everything OK » kind was enough to let me loose, and I told the whole story, facts only but hiding nothing : FAs indifferent to the passengers, without any feeling of empathy, not responding to the call button, in a cabin swept by an ice-cold wind. A senior FA who seemed very professional (he was serving a Y section further in front on the main deck) listened attentively, without comments, but the others were responsive.
I mentioned Flight Report and the contrast with our outbound flight; a FA new this website and highlighted to his colleagues the level of detail of each report. The FAs help me with a coffee (or was it tea, more relevant for my throat to try and avoid catching a cold ?) before I went down to the fridge below.
Nothing special in the toilets, with a lavender scented crème for the hands.
A detail of the honeycomb pattern floor which was not spotlessly clean.
I took advantage of two passengers being away and the third one asleep to take a shot of the wing through a window on the right.
Remember that I had not seen the chief purser’s face during his earlier interaction with my wife. He was this attentive FA in the galley on the upper deck, and came back to us before breakfast, for a long exchange on the failures on this flight. Was the answer about FR that I had overheard an unfortunate wording, or misinterpreted by my wife and I? He anyway did his best to provide all the understanding and care for the comfort of the passengers which had been lacking in that cabin so far. The loud and long private conversation of the FAs during boarding? “I’ll talk about it with them”. He offered to each of us a tiny set of chocolate, probably form the J supplies; this was a symbolic gesture, but the quality of a commercial relationship is also made of symbols.
The breakfast, as served
And after unwrapping. It was standard long haul Economy fare.
The cabin during the descent : note that our FAs had not had the window shades raised and never did. But shortly before landing, the chief purser came up to us and told us simply “I talked about Spain to your FAs”, a cryptic message for insiders only which meant that he had given them a dressing down about their behavior during boarding.
Like on the inbound flight, the trajectory of the aircraft was offset (voluntarily or not?) by a few kilometers north, which gave the impression that the aircraft was following a right hand pattern before landing westward.
On the other hand, the tail camera showed that we were in final.
The landing was especially rough, but then according to the airshow, we were in open nature ^^
A view of the wingtip fence at dawn, once the bumpy slowdown was over.
We were of course among the last to leave the plane : a dozen Chinese, mostly women, were taking pictures of the aircraft at her gate. (I had the impression that there was a vast majority of Mainland Chinese passengers on board, probably connecting from all over South China, or having made it by land means of transportation to HKG).
I took this picture twenty minutes after the final stop of the A380, which gives an idea of the maximum amount of time needed to deplane, since we were in the very rear of the aircraft.
A panoramic view of the Departures level of Terminal E which was completely empty at that time.
Two long haul AF aircraft : A330
More views of the completely empty Departures level – my wife saw an isolated staff in a shop.
Arrival at the fork between arrivals and connecting flights
Some more plane spotting with an alignment of AF planes seen from the people mover.
And an AF A320 in Skyteam livery, just before reaching Terminal 2E
Going through the PARAFE passport and fingerprint reading booths was fast because most the passengers who had deplaned before us were Asians and oriented towards the manual counters. Despite the long haul people mover and walking tour that incoming passengers have to take in Terminal 2E, we had to wait for our suitcase : it appeared 50 minutes after the plane’s final stop.
We only needed to reach the train station
And board this train. It would stop in each station, but it was relatively pleasant with the early morning light and relatively few passengers, because the Monday morning rush hour had not begun.
The first days in the office in Paris were difficult : both of us had caught a bad cold kindly provided by this A380 courtesy of AF, and handling business meeting with a tremendous headache was no fun. The week ended for me with a two-day sick-leave, which would have been three days if I had not had urgent business to handle, and my wife had not fully recovered on the next Monday.
Needless to say that as soon as I was capable of typing it, I filled a detailed and factual complaint form on AF’s website. I am OK to handle so-so flight conditions on exotic airlines, but not to be sick after deplaning. AF had outrageously exceeded my red line, and the behavior of these FAs was unacceptable too.
I first received an automated message from AF acknowledging that they had received “an exceptional volume of complaints” (quote). I was obviously not the only unhappy passenger, or maybe most of AF's customer support staff is on vacation. Anyway, it was my worst long haul flight in many years.
It took exactly one month to receive an answer awarding each of us 5,000 FB miles; from the actual market value of the LH award tickets in Economy that I use airmiles for, that translates into 30 EUR each. Or 0.20 EUR per hour of post-flight sickness for me (and less for my wife who was sick longer). The core of the message is worth quoting (my translation) :
Our crew must ensure that the temperature on board is pleasant throughout the trip. I regret that this has not been the case. On behalf of Air France, please accept my apologies. To prevent this from happening again, your comments were taken into account.
Off target answer : the crew did try to adjust the temperature, but there was an A/C control failure. Either Customer Support did not read carefully my message, or their data bank of standard answers does not include an adequate answer, and they chose the next best answer. However, they do recognize there has been a problem.
Availability and courtesy of our staff to our customers are part of the service requirements that our company is very committed. Your comments are important and allow us to improve the quality of our services.
No acknowledgement whatsoever of any wrongdoing of the staff. AF appears to consider the behavior that I described to be normal.
From my experience of miscellaneous complaints after flights with AF in the past decades, my expectations were low and I was not surprised, but nevertheless once more disappointed.
Let me propose a tourist bonus with a tongue in cheek explanation of the curse on that flight. There are around one hundred temples in Hong Kong dedicated to Matsu 媽祖 (better known there under the name of Tin Hau 天后), a goddess protecting seamen, and I could not avoid visiting one of her temples, that of Repulse Bay, on the south shore of Hong Kong Island.
This temple was brand new I first saw it 30 years ago, with its exuberant sculptures
No, this is not Matsu, but the Heavenly Mother 王母
The Long Life Bridge長壽橋
There is no small profit, and three days of life gained here and there are worth taking.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t very clean under the Long Life Bridge
There were half dozen male and female workers cleaning up the mess of flotsam which had washed ashore at the foot of the temple.
It made me dubious about the quality of the water at that beach next to the temple.
Matsu saves from shipwrecks, but does not care about cleaning up afterwards , I said probably too loud to my wife.
You should never deride the Queen of the Skies, especially helped with two giants, one hearing one thousand leagues away and the other seeing one thousand leagues away calls for help, and also derogative comments too, and this bad flight was possibly her revenge.
This temple was also dedicated as is very often the case to Guanyin, the bodhisattva of mercy, who tried to relieve us by way of the merciful chief purser of this Flight AF185.
Better return to the north coast of Hong Kong Island. A visit to Hong Kong is not complete without a crossing of the bay on the mythical Star Ferry, dirt cheap and offering a unique panorama.
The quality price ratio is overwhelming in favor of the Star Ferry compared to these cruise ships.
The Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, dwarfed by the triangular Central Plaza building
Once on the Kowloon side, there is a superb view on Hong-Kong Island by fair weather. The triangulated Bank of China building, and the much lower HSBC building, halfway between the Bank of China and the Hong Kong Observation Wheel
Another moored cruise ship
The view is actually much more beautiful at dusk. Again the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Center, and the Central Plaza
A nearly full moon above the skyline
The Bank of China far left, the Ferris wheel below the International Finance Center, and the west end of Hong Kong Island
Tourist boats shaped as traditional junks
The night is falling
A cruise ship sails slowly past the lit buildings.
Strolling on the banks of Tsing Yi Island, facing Tsuen Wan, is nice too by night. If you do not need to check a luggage (or even if you do, see above) and have some spare time, you can take the MRT to Tsing Yi, have a walk outside, grab something to eat in the shopping mall (unless you have a lounge access) and take the Airport Express to the airport.
What happened next is at the beginning of this FR, but do you really want to experience this flight again? Thanks for reading me all the way to here !
Hong Kong - HKG
Paris - CDG
Entering a plane in good health and deplaning sick only deserves a zero in cabin comfort.
The FAs who handled our section of the aircraft did not belong in a plane, or at least in that plane, with the charitable hypothesis that personal circumstances had made them oblivious to the core objective of their work. I thought that the days of the infamous “AF FA lottery” were gone, and was disappointed to find that this was untrue. Damage control by the chief purser towards the end of the flight saved the crew from an infamous zero grades, but could not crank it up to average.
A day will come when I try to download the online media offered on a smartphone (I do not have a tablet), but I have doubts about the ergonomics on such a small screen, even smaller than that of the outrageously outdated IFE screen.
The only decent point in this disaster was catering, which was OK for a LH flight in Economy.
For both departing and incoming passengers, HKG was true to its reputation of excellence. The in-town check-in was a real plus for us, in view of our program on our last day in HK.
The only reason waiting for the checked luggage in HKG is not outrageously long is that the walking and people mover itinerary in CDG2E is outrageously long. Delivering a suitcase 50’ after the plane’s final stop is not a feat. I did not manage to connect to the internet while waiting for our suitcase.
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