Hi and welcome to the highlight of this series - flying F on JAL from CDG-HND.
Long haul F is always a treat and so far my limited experiences in this cabin have been on LX, LH, UA, CX and now JL. I redeemed 70,000 miles from my AA account for this trip before the increase in award levels. It now costs 90,000 for a F class award from Europe to Japan.
For my short stay in Paris, I decided to stay in the Gare du Nord area. It's not the most appealing neighborhood but for the sake of convenience it is an ideal location. All I had to do was take the RER B from/to CDG with minimal hassle - a straight shot. I would say that buying the RER tickets proved to be the most challenging part of getting to Paris. There are vending machines conveniently placed at the airport and station, but they do not take credit cards (except for local debit ones) nor bills, just coins. Why on earth would they design such an impractical machine? Is it a government scheme to secure job protection for its employees so that the frustrated user would resort to finally make the line and talk to a real customer service agent? Paris never ceases to amaze me, and I mean that in the full sense of the word.
As luck would have it, when I took the RER to the city on arrival, it was a nonstop ride to Gare du Nord bypassing all the other stops along the way.
Gare du Nord.
When I decided to stay by Gare du Nord, I had to find a hotel and chose the Hôtel de l'Europe. It's a modest 2 stars property with a small room but it was clean and very close to the station, so it fit the purpose nicely. At only USD 67 or EUR 63 for the night I didn't have to think too much about it.
View from my room.
I did a lot of sightseeing during my 24 hrs stay and will include the pics in the bonus at the end of the report. The following morning trip on my day of departure I checked out of the hotel and locked my bags in the luggage holding area inside Gare du Nord while I went around town to do more sightseeing and shopping. Upon my return to the station by 15:00 I retrieved my bags and navigated through the maze to take the train to CDG. I can see how going through Gare du Nord can be a frustrating experience for the first time visitor - signs are not clearly marked, long waits at the elevators that are as slow as snails, ticket machines that do not accept any payments except for local debit cards or coins, crowded spaces that would take the ability of an acrobat to pass through and the patience of a saint.
I take the train to CDG and once I get off at T2 I head to the JL counter at T2E.
Arriving at CDG.
I arrive at the JL counter which is handled by AF. The agent at the F class desk greets me with a smile and after verifying my information hands me an AF boarding pass. I was slightly disappointment since I was expecting a JL one. While exiting I am thanked in Japanese by a JL agent when I make my way to the premium line - Access no1.
On my way to passport control & security.
Access no1 with friendly agents and officer. How refreshing! Unfortunately there was only 1 booth that was staffed for "priority" pax so it took a few minutes to clear.
Staff at the security line were nice and one of them even wished me a nice flight. I had to pinch myself and check if I was really in CDG. Once in the other side you encounter a few high end shops for any last minute purchase. I bet any wife (or mistress) would appreciate these gifts.
AF lounge - K hall.
The lounge consists of two sides. The left one has a second floor offering a more private environment. The right side seems more open and contains the showers in the back. Check-in was cordial and I was told that both sides were the same.
JL uses the AF lounge but unfortunately F pax don't get to see the AF Premiere lounge. Instead they use a cordoned off area within the right side area as I discovered when I was exploring this side of the lounge.
Left side lounge
Upon entering and settling down, I've heard a lady laugh and talk loudly in one of the tables. Eventually another guest approached her and asked her to be quiet. If I were her I would have been mortified. How embarrassing to have everyone around her listen to the request from the offended guest. I'm sure most were cheering and applauding deep inside while wearing a mask of indifference on the outside. :P
I thought that it was strange to have breakfast items during the late afternoon. The catering was light and I was expecting a more generous display.
Left side room 2nd fl.
These pralines were only found upstairs.
Right side of the lounge
This area contained the "mini room" for JL's F pax in addition to the showers. At one point when I was in the F section I saw two agents escort a pax out because she was not a JL pax. An agent was not always there to check so I thought that this was based on an honor system.
I sat near the entrance so from time to time I had the uneasy feeling of others staring at me. It's hard to say if they were looking with envy since they couldn't qualify to be admitted in such an exclusive corner OR the stare was out of pity for those F pax that couldn't get their own lounge and be placed in this semi opened space for everyone to see like an exhibit in a zoo. :P
Truth be told, I've heard a pax say to another "Oh no, we can't go inside there, this is for F class people" with a slight tone of mockery and disdain. A few minutes later I left and moved to the left side of the lounge. I felt an assault on my self worth and started having an existentialist crisis.
For a second my memory went back to that time when I flew in F with LX many years ago. I have a picture of myself at the seat and I thought about printing that on a shirt with the caption "Ceci n'est pas un grand voyageur".
JL's F section
I requested a shower and was immediately escorted to one by a staff. I like that AF provides a little pouch with L'Occitane toiletries and a wrapped set of nice towels. The shower room was roomy and well appointed, but the air vent was dusty. The dust accumulates over time so a periodic check from time to time would be advisable.
The catering was the same as the other room except for the pralines on the 2nd flr.
The JAL F experience starts now
As much as I wanted to linger in the lounge, I decided to leave for the gate at 50 min. before dept. The terminal was eerily empty except for the gate area. Once there, boarding has already started and I made the line for the F pax. There were two agents checking the boarding passes and passports.
There was a separate jetbridge for F pax and when I got closer to the entrance the purser steps out of the door into the jetbridge and welcomes me by saying "You must be Mr. jetsetpanda - welcome aboard" with a radiant smile. Oh this was going to set the tone for a wonderful flight. I just knew it deep inside me.
I tried to store my luggage in the overhead bin and a FA advised me that I was welcomed to place it under the foot stool in front of my seat. The brown leather seat was roomy and as comfortable as it looked. On the side the Bose headphones, Loewe amenity kit and Shiseido skin care set were already placed.
The FA's introduced themselves and welcomed me aboard. I was asked what I wanted for pre-dept. drink and this was brought right away along with an oshibori.
Compartments and controls.
The kit was compact and very complete with Loewe branded eau de toilette, packaged towel and lip balm. In addition a packet of tissue, dental set, comb, eyeshade and moisture mask were also provided.
Taxiing and take off
After the door closed, the captain welcomed passengers over the speaker and FA's placed themselves in the front to bow when the announcement finished.
A couple of 787's
Au revoir Paris.
Right after take off a FA noticed that I did not opened my slippers so she took them out of the bag and handed them to me.
Shortly after menus were distributed.
À la carte menu
Let the feast begin
Amuse bouches - radish with cream cheese & mini quiche served with beverage of choice.
At one point the FA takes my meal order and I chose the duck with foie gras and truffle sauce. I love duck, foie gras and truffle, so this was triple feast. Besides, what could be more representative of a F meal than this dish? I was really looking forward to the main dish when minutes later disaster strikes. The purser comes and kneels besides me. In a very apologetic way she explains to me that only 2 duck dishes were loaded and that 2 of the passengers have pre-ordered this meal ahead of time so my highly anticipated dish was now an unfulfilled wish. Now that I think about it, I should have pre-ordered my meal. I knew about this service but out of laziness and thinking that an airline like JL would have a 100% choice for F pax, I did not do it. My assumption proved to be wrong and lesson learned.
I could see that the purser was terribly sorry and felt uncomfortable with this situation. She offered me the other two dishes or even a mix and match with the Japanese items. In the end I went with a seafood theme and had the cod in boletus broth with the Japanese lobster dumpling.
Sushi "Te-Maki" with Caviar de Sologne.
The FA brings the caviar and shows me how to assemble the first roll with chopsticks. She gets the seaweed, places some rice in the middle, spoons some caviar along the rice and asks me to roll it up and enjoy. I must admit that this is an unconventional way to enjoy caviar, but it actually worked. The crispiness of the seaweed makes a good contrast to the blandness of the rice and the taste of the caviar is somehow enhanced.
A lovely assortment of different items.
Another round of bread.
Cod with boletus broth.
Delicious fish with firm flesh and cooked just right. The broth was flavorful and I used the bread to soak it up. I thought that there was too much salad on top though.
This was followed by the Japanese main dish which was served with miso soup. There was a comforting quality to this dish and the pairing with pickles was brilliant.
Lobster dumpling with white miso and deep fried taro & spinach.
The FA's kept the glasses refilled and at this point I was drinking Royal Blue tea "Queen of Blue". After the meal the FA brought me both the verrine and Japanese desserts. The terrine was deliciously creamy and the yumochi made with sticky rice had a yuzu (citrus like) flavor which was refreshing. When my tray was cleared I was handed a bottle of water.
I was asked if I wanted a lounge wear but I declined since the plane was not cold at all. As a matter of fact it was a tad warm which is something that I have read Western pax complain about JL. However I didn't refuse the offer to have my bed made and the FA quickly pulled some duvets from the overhead bins and in a blink of an eye my bed was ready.
I couldn't sleep too well and eventually got up to read. A FA saw me awake and chatted with me for a few minutes. When I mentioned that I had trouble sleeping she said that probably the cabin was too warm but I assured her that was not the case and that I always have a hard time sleeping in planes. We started talking about food and I told her that I enjoyed pickles, so a few minutes later she surprised me by bringing me a plum pickle. It is precisely this kind of unexpected service that makes JAL so special and endearing. I called it the "wow" effect.
For those who like to nibble there were a few snacks placed in the galley.
I then went to the WC and the FA opens the door for me as she sees me about to enter the WC. There is a separate trash container for towels and a bidet.
Feeling peckish I order the healthy ramen set. I am given an oshibori to freshen up before the meal.
I browse through the IFE but couldn't find anything that caught my attention so I decided to read a little. Later as we got closer to arrival I tried the curry rice. It was served with salad with two dressings and pickles.
Love napkins with hole.
A sweet touch to the end of the meal.
Right before arrival FA's bid farewell to each passenger individually. The purser along with the other 3 FA's that were working the F cabin thanked me for flying JL with a bow.
Arriving in HND with Mount Fuji in the background.
Taxiing to the gate.
My plane at the gate.
I made the most of my short 24 hrs layover in Paris and always enjoy my visits to this city. Here are a few places that I visited:
Place des Vosges
Maison Européenne de la Photographie
Andres Serrano's works.
Du Pain et Des Idées
Air France Lounge, 2E - Hall K
Paris - CDG
Tokyo - HND
JAL offered a top notch product in F and it was a pleasure to fly with such a professional and attentive crew. The Japanese excel at customer service and it is not surprising that this quality is also found aboard their airline, particular in the uncanny way in which they can anticipate customer's desires and expectations.
Catering was excellent with meals that were well presented and delicious. The issue that I encountered was a bit of a letdown and it is always disappointing to not have your first choice of meal, especially when flying F. The crew did its best under these circumstances and this could have been avoided if I had pre-ordered my meal in advance. I was always under the impression that JL catered a full choice for all passengers in its F cabin but it seems that is no longer the case.
I'm glad that I was able to take advantage of the old mileage redemption for this trip through AA. Even at today's higher redemption rates, flying F with a world class carriers is worth every penny or mile.
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