Long story made short, the best schedule-price compromise for that vacation consisted in flushing most of my FB account’s airmiles before another "improvement at the customers’ request" devalued them below usable levels. This quasi-red eye schedule looks awful to the naked eye, but we would have a long train ride thereafter, reaching our final destination in Japan in late afternoon, in time to get a bath, have dinner, and then crash to the tatami mats.
Among the recent so-called improvements, “in response to the majority of requests and expectations of its customers, Air France and KLM adapted the standard seat reservation modalities in Economy (…) by proposal the pre-selection of a standard seat for 20 EUR or 6,500 FB miles per flight and per seat” (end quote).
This service was however not available on my flight. Could it be that the majority of customers to KIX were not more interested than us by this extra fee?
It was supposed to be possible to book twin seats (in the narrowing back of the plane) at ETD-50h, but only scattered seats here and there were displayed as available.
The truly Cornelian choice came at ETD-30h: - Keep the preassigned seats, with a desired aisle seat for my wife but scarifying my wish for a window seat, which was arguably less interesting for a (partly) night flight ? - Spend 54 EUR for the last aisle+window pair, located next to the rear galley ? - Try again the neutralized middle seat gamble by selecting a window seat and the corresponding aisle seat of a set of the three? The upgrade to Premium Economy was a non-starter at 349 EUR, because AF’s seat in that class of travel was never designed for sleeping. The upgrade to business class was out of budget, but arguably cheap when compared to the price of the ticket in J.
We are not big spenders on air tickets, so Option 2 was rejected; my wife privileged security with Option 1, but I pushed for Option 3, after checking that the flight was not full in Economy at D-1. It was a risky challenge because the first Saturday in August is a peak travel day in Economy in France, but nothing venture, nothing win.
D-day came. No perturbation warning in the subway and the train, but better take an ample time margin on a peak traffic day. For once, the first train was a through train to the airport beyond Gare du Nord Station.
What was usual though was this musician in the train, asking for money after a few minutes.
And a beggar laying and recovering this bilingual request on the seats after a few minutes (without music).
Arrival in CDG station, with its FIDS where only one face only was in operation.
Our flight was at the bottom of the list of flights, all announced on time.
There seemed to be a traffic jam at the access to the parking lot.
The self-check-in machines in the access to Terminal E were more cooperative than usual, but the one I used was apparently out of luggage tag paper.
I tried again, successfully this time, at one of the machines at Terminal 2E's Zone 5.
This long line of self-check-in machines with staff with red jackets was after the initial filter (where staff check that you printed your BP and luggage tags) and I wondered in retrospect who would use them. Or maybe the filter was there to steer the passengers who did not have them yet towards these machines.
No, I did not check a zero kilogram suitcase
Only after validating its departure was it weighted
Gate K47, therefore no people mover ride (to Gates L)
Yes, check in had been smooth and eventless.
It was not very crowded around Zone 5, that dedicated to Economy non-status passengers on long haul flights.
We stopped on two of the few seats behind the check-in banks to eat a picnic landside, avoiding all liquid/gel constraints when going airside. (Can you possibly imagine French sandwiches without cheese?)
The layout of the toilets has been designed when nobody imagined that a man could change a baby’s diapers, and the child care room is therefore on the women’s side – see on the left. What has changed since, only a few years ago, is that the pictogram no longer shows a skirt wearing figure with the baby, but it is hidden by the plants.
Nothing is done to encourage the use of the PARAFE passport self-checking gates: the direct access is closed and you need to go through the general manual passport control path, and then show your passport to a staff to let you to the right like if it was a favor.
That, plus the fact that non-French EU passport holders must first register their fingerprints to use PARAFE, results in very few passengers using it, which makes it an efficient shortcut for Economy non-status but well informed passengers.
There was nearly no waiting at the security check, which was all the faster that the staff at the control screen was handling some undefined issue and was not looking at it.
All in all, we made it airside much faster than I had expected, going past this souvenir shop where everything was at outrageous prices compared to downtown outlets in the tourist areas of the city.
My wife settled there with our hand luggage next to the boarding gate (and next to a power port that I was not going to have time to use)
Meanwhile, I went for some plane spotting. Terminal 2E is notoriously plane spotter unfriendly, with boarding corridors which makes it impossible to get close to the windows which are covered with black dots anyway.
But there are windows at the end of the terminal too, and they have neither corridors nor black dots.
There are half a dozen reclining chairs for taking rest in front of this window, which is the only one offering a decent view on planes in this terminal.
There are as many more seats about a meter high flight of stairs, with a sleeping passenger and lots of rubbish on the ground. It looked like the cleaning staff would not go down these stairs.
Some plane spotting through that window: an AC 77W
A Rossiya A320 in front of a Kenya Airways 787
A row of AC, AA, CX, KQ and FV tails
The terminal from the floor level, going up the stairs.
Flight AF246 to GIG, departing from the neighboring gate, had passengers of an unusual nationality.
Their routing was easy to guess: since PEK is the only major airport with which FNJ is connected, they had flown Air Koryo on FNJ – PEK and did not even need to leave PEK’s Terminal 2 to continue on AF for a loong PEK – CDG – GIG trip.
These Croatian athletes unsuccessfully asked for a picture together with the North Koreans. The one with dark glasses had the obvious looks and behavior of a shepherd dog.
AF’s newspaper offering was on a stand in the sloping corridor down to the jetbridge itself. There were French titles only (Le Figaro, Le Monde, Libération, Les Echos, L’Equipe). The last passengers did not have a chance to grab a copy. AF also offers to download a much wider offering on your tablet or smartphone, but there is no USB power port in the unrenovated Economy cabins that we were going to fly in.
Our plane could have been this one
Only that my wife heard that we would be boarding by bus, and the jetbridge indeed ended with stairs down to the tarmac.
We were last to board in the first bus, and I had hopes to have an ideal standing location in front for taking pictures on the way, but a staff with two UM teenagers arrived at the last moment and I had to move further back.
No major disappointment, because the bus route was between buildings, with little view on the planes.
Arrival at the destination. The staff went to the plane to receive confirmation that the cabin was ready, and then returned to bring the kids to the plane.
Refueling was on-going, and I feared that a staff might prohibit picture taking (it sometimes happens in CDG and ORY).
I should have held my camera straight in order to have a correct panoramic picture of the plane.
Easyjet A319 in two different liveries
Good luck: there was no camera unfriendly ground staff that day.
I did not linger much on the tarmac, having a chance to have a view of a nearly empty cabin.
The enormous GE90 and the truck catering to its appetite.
I first went through the Premium Economy cabin, as seen here while deplaning.
And the Economy cabin which was still quasi empty since I was among the first passengers from the first bus.
The rear cabin
Our three set of three seats
The overhead luggage bins were quite worn
The corridor in the rear of the aircraft, where the seat layout changes from 3-4-3 to 2-4-2 in the last rows.
The rows when still empty
Cleanliness check: some dust in the bottom of the magazine pocket, but OK.
Marathon cleanliness test: the carpeting was OK
Mrs. Marathon’s cleanliness test: failed, with this cheese wrapping stuck on the bag of her blanket.
AF’s seat in Economy is not more generous in pitch or width in a 777 than in an A380
The difference with an A380 is that the window seats are against the wall, which provides at best a centimeter of extra space width when sitting there.
The safety card, both sides
The efficient head rest was a good point in favor of that seat.
On the other hand, an 8 inch screen belonging to the Pokemon generation is a joke at the time of the Pokemon Go generation.
I did not really try the headphones, distributed with a good eye mask.
These headphones should have been compatible with a stereo jack plug, but I had sound on one side only.
Boarding continues and I cross fingers for our middle seat to remain empty. The FA who was managing our section of the cabin had told my wife that the plane was nearly full (“there may be 5 – 6 empty seats”), and on a summer vacation peak traffic day, there was little chance that these empty seats would be in Economy. The second bus arrives; the cabin gradually fills up and at the last moment, a very polite young man comes to our middle seat. You don’t win each time at the neutralized middle seat lottery, but…
But a FA came up ten minutes later and asked our neighbor: "You are Maxime S*** ? Please follow me. “He rose politely, all the more smoothly that his only hand luggage was small daypack, and the FA guided him towards the rear galley to go up the other aisle. I saw them disappear into the Premium Economy cabin.
It all happened very discreetly, but we both understood what had happened. How can you raise hell against the upgrade of an airline staff, when that breaking of airline rules provides you an extra wide twin seat set? My seat widened from 44 to 92 cm; well no, I shared that empty seat with my wife for storing all our miscellaneous travel stuff.
Remember that my wife was dubious about this seat selection gamble, but it was actually won. Aigle Azur, Ukraine Airlines and Easyjet planes parked next to ours
The tail of the Air Azur A320 is in Orange2fly livery, with an Aigle Azur marking on the fuselage
I don’t like much AF’s new safety demonstration – I find it unnatural.
Pushback occurred meanwhile, and taxiing began, providing more plane spotting opportunities.
Air Seychelles A330
XL Airways A330
Adria Airways CRJ 700
A jumble of TG, TK, UL and DY tails
An Easyjet A32x in fully orange livery takes off above an AF A380.
I do not know what these yellow trucks are for
Icelandair 757 parked next to the Terminal 1, saving jetbridge fees.
Arrival of an Easyjet A32x
Take off would be from Runway 27L, but better be patient, because there was a lot of departing and landing traffic ahead of us
Like this AF A330, for instance
This unusual Turkmenistan Airlines 777 was too far and the air was too hot for a decent picture The TG A380 taxies on her long way to BKK
Taxiing past Terminal 1 during take-off
The aircraft with a blue tail at the extreme right is for staff training.
Two Fedex aircraft in the freight area
The limit of the airport grounds Le Bourget Airport (LBG), dedicated to private business flights.
Air-to-air shot of a plane flying much lower
This was a Ryanair738
The Terneuzen – Gand canal in Belgium
Terneuzen, on the south bank of the Escaut River, close to its mouth
A sandbank on the Escaut, halfway between Terneuzen and Anvers
One of the branches of the Rhine River.
The locks at the intersection of Highways 59 and 257
Hoek van Holland harbor
The former Valkenburg air base. It has been disused for ten years, but is curiously still blurred on Google Maps and Google Earth.
The end of the Frisian Islands. Wangerooge Island, center, has an airport, but it was impossible to identify it from that distance.
Cuxhaven, at the mouth of the Elbe River
Wittmundhafen air base
Brünsbuttel Harbor, at the western end of Kiel’s canal
A wider look at the plain of Schwelstig Holstein, with the Kiel Canal
Kiel, at the other end of the canal, appearing in the top of the picture
A short interruption in this European geography lesson with the aperitif (Coca-Cola for me, tomato juice for my wife, plus a glass of water, and 15 grams of something peanut flavored), served exactly one hour after take-off. It was already 21:30 in KIX local time, and setting the passengers in the arrival time zone was obviously not AF’s priority.
Langeland Island, in Denmark
AF provides a paper menu in Economy too.
Tiny Femø Island
The meal was served at last. No matter if you think in French time (15:23) of Japanese time (22:53), it was too late for a lunch or a dinner, respectively.
I chose the Japanese menu, accompanied by this cup of miso soup (misoshiru 味噌汁).
My wife chose chicken
This meal was qualified "average" by both of us, only that my wife did not like the appetizer.
The slices of apple were supposed to be OK until the 12th of August, but all were already decaying, with a bad aftertaste. I am used to eating blemished fruit, but not to the point where they taste bad.
The cabin while still lit in daytime mode
And slightly later in night mode, at 23:40 Japanese time: it was high time to go to sleep!
The toilets in the back of a 777 are covered with mirrors: the only picture which would not be a self-portrait is this one. It was clean.
There had often been turbulences so far, and I found that the cabin furnishing vibrated a lot. During the night, these turbulences and vibrations kept rising; I found myself paralyzed in an increasingly agonizing situation… until my wife inadvertently woke me up, trying to get hold of the camera bag at my feet, triggering this nightmare in an actually smooth flight.
What she wanted to photograph was this city in the vicinity of Krasnoyarsk
And the lights of the polar day at high latitudes in the distance.
Since I was awake, I went to the galley where these drinks were available.
Miscellaneous sweets and disappointing small sandwiches. My wife saw a distribution of ice creams during my sleep.
A FA offered to serve me coffee (or tea) in the galley: this was the only personalized interaction that I had during the FAs who seemed to skirt any contact with the passengers. In the rear galley, the two FAs had had a semi-professional conversation while I was there, on their respective learning of foreign languages: it was an acceptable topic (contrary to private vacation issues on my HKG-CDG flight the month before), but that dissuaded from addressing them. In the middle galley, they seemed to always go handle some business as soon as I was approaching. It gave me a very strange feeling.
Dawn appeared slowly on the horizon
I could see a number of stars, but they do not show in my pictures (there is only the light at the wingtip and a few reflections).
A FA passed with a bottle of water and a pile of plastic cups from within by her flashlight.
The sky lightened
Sunrise above Siberia, as the planes makes the first of a long series of turns
The route as seen by the airshow
Rising sun on a miniature IFE screen – some drizzle appeared on the edges of the window.
To the health of Flight Report!
My wife was not convinced that AF was really interested in her opinion
Because this "program" was not available
These were not mountains – we were still at cruising altitude – but clouds.
The navigation is especially complex in that airspace
Flightradar24 was a lot more precis than AF’s airshow. The plane had to avoid the military airspaces around Dalian 大连 and Qingdao 青岛 (south of Yantai 烟台) which are two major naval bases, as well as the North Korean airspace.
Breakfast, as served. Like the previous meal, it was nondescript economy food. Nothing wrong, nothing worth raving about.
A somewhat hazy view of ICN
The international city of Songdo 송도국제도시, an integrated city, lower left
And that of Gwangmyeong 광명시, a typical suburb of Seoul infiltrating all space between the mountains. Its white KTX station is on the left.
Seoul’s air base (SSN)
The South Korean mountains
Samcheok, on the eastern coast of Korea
Arrival in the Japanese airspace. Matsue 松江, our final destination that day, was just outside the lower left edge of this picture of Lake Nakaumi 中海.
We flew across Honshū 本州, the largest Japanese island, then above the Inland Sea, flying above the small Shōdoshima Island小豆島, south-east of Okayama 岡山.
That was when I was lucky to have an ideal view on a spectacular phenomenon: the Naruto whirlpools. The east end of Inland Sea ends is a narrow strait south of Awaji淡路 Island.
Twice a day, the rising and falling tides create powerful currents across these straits, and spectacular whirlpools.
It was pure luck that Flight AF292 would take this route, flying just south of the straits at a low altitude, that it was precisely the time of the rising tide, that there were no clouds and that I was on the adequate side of the plane.
It was too early for tourist boats around these whirlpools where you would not want to venture in a small boat: I remember the memory of churning water way more than a meter deep.
A last look at the viaduct before it was hidden by the edge of my window
Sceneries seen from a plane are not for ever: the viaduct disappeared on the left of the window. The plane flew alongside Awaji Island, with the town of Minami-Awaji 南あわじ, which true to its name lies at the southern end of the island.
And then the east coast of Awaji
Naruga Island 成ケ島, little more than a sandspit protecting Yura 由良
Landing on Runway 06R – Runway 06L is 500 longer and was already in sight on the left.
A CI A330 heads home to TPE
Air Asia A330
The planes parked at the terminal
Japan Transocean Air 737-400 in vintage South West Airlines 南西航空 livery (a former name of that airline until 1993).
Seen after deplaning: Philippine Airlines A330
… and KLM
A short trip with a people mover covered with advertising for H.I.S., a Japanese travel agency
It will be a long welcome to Kansai (the plain where Ōsaka is located; the other major Japanese plain is Kantō where Tōkyō is): there was a long line at immigration and 53 minutes elapsed between this picture and the recovery of our checked luggage which was already waiting for us.
Nothing to declare? The customs officers took our customs forms and waved us through with no further discussion. Once landside, the foreign exchange booths were easy to find.
On the other hand, the ATMs in the Arrivals hall are not so easy to locate in a recess, without any signage.
There are ATMs at the post office at the upper level, but this post office is well hidden too, recessed at the far end of the gallery. (The Japanese Post Office ATMs accept foreign credit cards, unlike the ATMs of the Japanese banks in town). Once I had located that post office, sending a parcel of food items to Japanese friends (it would not keep until we would meet them) was fast. It was Sunday, but on Monday, they had already received it.
No, I was not going to be robbed of my freshly withdrawn yen: these actors were attracting tourists to a stand for taking pictures in Japanese traditional clothing. The Chinese love these pictures in folkloric clothes: that this booth existed here was a sign of the development of Chinese tourism in Japan (Japan started delivering individual tourism visa to Chinese nationals in 2010 only, and they were difficult and expensive to obtain).
I went to the toilets which were all the cleaner that there were reminders on how to use them.
It is usual in Mainland China and Taiwan to dump used toilet paper in a waste paper basket next to the toilet seat, including sometimes in upscale buildings. We then had a loong line to go through to buy our regional train passes (contrary to nation-wide train passes which must be bought abroad before traveling, regional passes can be bought on arrival – an advance reservation on the internet provides a modest discount) : overall, it took us two hours between deplaning and boarding the train.
This is the end of this FR, and the beginning of a rather eclectic tourist bonus
Let’s begin with Matsue 松江, a middle-size city away from the major tour routes. It is interesting though, with its castle which is one of the twelve authentic castles in Japan (all others are post WWII concrete reconstructions)
It’s impressive wood structure survived four centuries of history
… capped with these stylized dolphins which in Japan protect a building from fires.
Matsue is also associated with the memory of Lafcadio Hearn, known here under the name of Koizumi Yakumo小泉 八雲, which is the name he took when he became a Japanese citizen. This journalist of Irish and Greek descent arrived in 1890 as correspondent of Harper’s, the American magazine, and never left. His writings made a lot to get the “Rear Japan” 裏日本, i.e. the western side on the Japan Sea, to both foreign and Japanese readers, especially its tales and legends.
He lived only five months in this house, but this is the one which has been preserved, with this very tall table made on order for him: he was of short built, but extremely short-sighted, and that table brought the paper closest to the eye.
From Matsue, a day trip to出雲 is a must. That is where one the oldest Shintō shrines is located. What better means to get them than ride on the Sunrise Express? This night trains leaves Tōkyō 東京 at 22:00 and ends there in Izumo – the single track line is not electrified beyond this station.
The reason this station master so obligingly takes pictures of the tourists is that this train is the very last surviving night train in Japan: all others have been eradicated by the competition of faster planes and cheaper night buses. Only this one remains today (for how long?), with its luxurious single or double berth first class compartments.
And this dormitory car, similar to the ones I saw thirty years ago, but with much more fancy furnishing of imitation light color wood.
The Great Shrine of Izumo is one of the oldest in Japan, with a history beyond human memories. Recent archeological finds gave credence to the tradition that it was much larger and taller in a distant past.
Like in all Shintō sanctuaries, the commoners do not have access to the inner part, reserved to the top dignitaries and to the gods.
The gods gather in Izumo each year in April to decide about the year to come, and our hosted in these side buildings around the main sanctuary.
Beyond Izumo, it is worth going to Iwami Ginzan 石見銀山, literally Iwami’ Silver Mountain. This was the main silver mine in Japan, from its initial discovery in 1526 to its exhaustion in 1923. It made the fortune of Japan in the 18th century, at the time when this country produced one third of all silver mined in the world.
The town in a narrow valley has been preserved, because no other activity replaced mining until tourism revived it.
There are only 130 km as the crow flies, but it takes around four hours b train to reach Hiroshima 広島, which illustrates the geographic separation between the Sea of Japan and Pacific Ocean sides of Japan. There are many foreign and Japanese tourists in Hiroshima, but very few foreigners go to Kure 呉, an easy half hour train ride away from Hiroshima. The signage is excellent from Kure station though, and the staff at the local tourist office as friendly as anywhere else in Japan. I do not know if their level in English was any better than that of that sign, though.
Yamato Museum History Museum of the Self-defense naval forces Kure tourist office Service center for the city inhabitants
I suspect that most of the 10 million visitors (1000万人) of the Yamato Museum in 10 years were mostly Japanese (including many school groups).
The 500 meter walk from the station goes through a supermarket – nothing unusual for a Flight Reporter used to going through duty free shops to be airside.
The point here is to be seaside: Kure was and still is a major Japanese Navy and shipbuilding port. Kure was of course severely bombed in the spring of 1945. The very didactic History Museum of the Self-defense naval forces (i.e. the post WWII Japanese Navy) is mostly focused on its mine-sweeping activity, with the visit of this submarine (provided by the US when Japan rearmed) as a bonus.
All Japanese school children know the name of the Yamato 大和, which with her sister ship the Musashi 武蔵 was the most powerful cruiser in the world. She was sent on a suicide mission without any air cover towards Okinawa which had been overrun by the Americans, but was sunk by the American planes before she could reach her target. This museum recalls her history and that of the arsenal.
This carefully restored Mitsubishi A6M Zero had crashed in Lake Biwa琵琶湖, near Kyōto 京都. This carrier based fighter bomber which surpassed all its opponents has also been used at the end of the war for kamikaze 神風missions, loaded with a 250 kg bomb without a launch mechanism, instead of two 60 kg bombs for a normal mission.
This museum also displays a rare Type 10 Kaiten 回天, a miniature single use submarine for suicide missions, which was little more than a human guided torpedo. The Kaiten sank fewer ships than their aerial counterparts, partly because a kamikaze 神風 pilot who had not found a target could fly back to his base, whereas a Kaiten was irretrievable after launch. They did not have the same psychological impact on the Americans either, because they could not be told from ordinary torpedoes.
Kure is still an important naval base in today’s Japan, as shown by these moored ships. The local peculiarity, which may not have an equivalent elsewhere in the world (at least not in Japan) is that it is possible to legally have an excellent view on these submarines that most navies in the world try to hide from the public.
It was even possible to watch the sailors come and go.
Even more surprising, the walk which provides this view on these submarines was duly mentioned in the brochure and the map provided by the tourist office at Kure’s station !
Until when will these submarines dissuasive only ? On the day of our arrival in Japan, a flotilla of no fewer than 230 Chinese fishing boats, escorted by six of their coast guard vessels, entered the territorial waters of the Senkaku 尖閣 islands, claimed by China under the name Diaoyu 釣魚. This provocation of unprecedented magnitude was another step forward for the Chinese naval adventurism, which does not bode well for the future.
Thanks for reading me!
Paris - CDG
Osaka - KIX
The narrowly won gamble on the neutralized middle seat warps the comfort rating, because even though this empty seat did not provide extra sleeping space, it did provide space for our miscellaneous stuff and being separated from the aisle by my spouse only made moving around much easier. The food was quite nondescript, apart from the bad apple slices for dinner. It was again the same technically outdated IFE system, in terms of airshow program and screen quality and dimension. The paper newspaper offering was certainly not enough for all passengers, but we did get what we were interested in since we were among the first to board. The FAs did the job in a friendly manner, but avoided any interaction with us at all other times, which gave a rather strange impression.
For once, there was no significant problem in CDG, even though it was a peak traffic day.
The waiting time was excessive in KIX, both at immigration and railway pass delivery. I did not expect such a poor efficiency.
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