Hello, and welcome to my first flight-report series of 2017, a lightning-quick run from Toronto to Johannesburg with Air France.
Although it didn’t fit into my definition of a “comfort run” for status miles (I look for less than 10 cents per status mile in premium cabins) it was an affordable fare, a schedule that worked for me, and a chance to try out Air France’s new business class product in on the 777, and an older product on the A380… but at least it adds another 388 to my “hit list.” Although far from an “irresistible offer,” it seemed a compelling adventure to start 2017. It also fits with an “adventures” goal for this year of trying more SkyTeam products. And maybe some other stuff too.
This will be my second time flying Air France, and I hope it goes better than my first. About ten years ago, I flew to Bangalore via Paris - AC to Paris, and AF onwards. The AC part of the trip went fine, and when I arrived into CDG, I was surprised to find Air France on strike. Surprise! Long story short — CDG was a mess. I was fortunate to make it to Bangalore only about six hours late, but my luggage never did make it to India, and wouldn’t be reunited with me until some two months later. But that was then, and this is now.
And so here we are.
Here’s the rundown of what we’ll be doing.
AF351 YYZ-CDG 1/8/2017 - Right here AF990 CDG-JNB 1/9/2017 - Coming soon AF995 JNB-CDG 1/10/2017 - After that one AF356 CDG-YYZ 1/11/2017 - Soon enough
I showed un at about 3:30, about three hours before my flight, because the schedule worked for me. As I made my way to the far end of Terminal 3 where most of the international carriers are housed, it struck me that for all my departures from this airport, this will be the first time I’ve traveled through the international section of T3. It’s kind of odd to be having a “new experience” at this airport at this point for me.
Inside, I quickly find the Air France/KLM check-in area, and head for the Sky Priority line.
There’s no wait, so check-in is pretty quick, although it does drag for a bit as the young woman checking me in wrestles with my reservation. Apparently, it’s unwilling to print out a boarding pass for my CDG-JNB sector. She tries for a bit, asks a supervisor, but eventually punts on it, advising me to get my boarding pass in Paris.
AF seems to insist on putting “approved cabin baggage” stickers on everything, a policy of which I am not a fan. And while the woman checked in next to me was given directions to the AF/KL lounge here at Pearson, I was not. Of course, she was also given an invitation, and I was not. I’m not sure why. Oh well.
Quickly enough, I’m off to security. They seem to be trying some new system with more “staging” of the access to the conveyor to drop your bags off. Like most “new systems” where the issues are still believe discovered, much less solved, this slows things down a bit, as does the usual security line issues of passengers unfamiliar with the rules and requirements, and agents unfamiliar with or incapable of communicating said rules and requirements. The wait is short, though, and soon I’m through and on my way.
There’s nothing I love more than an airport that forces you to walk through duty free on your way out of security. If this was part of the big “Rethink T3” push of a few years ago, I wish they’d re-think again.
Once away from all the fragrances and booze, it looks like they’ve actually done a pretty nice job of reinventing Terminal 3, at least in this international section. Immediately after duty free, there’s a central atrium kind of area that ’s attractively decorated and brings in some natural light, while creating a bit of a central hub.
Of course, away from that hub, it still has that T3 “long hallway with moving sidewalks down the middle” feel that the transborder section has — just bigger and wider, for obvious reasons.
And some parts are still, well, being enhanced.
Much of the gate area has been updated with the new “restaurant style” seating with iPads to offer entertainment or meal ordering from anywhere in the terminal. I tend to complain bout how little seating that offers in a given area, but at this mid-afternoon hour, the international section of T3 is not exactly jammed.
Before we hit the lounge, let’s do a little planespotting, shall we? YYZ T3 isn’t exactly HKG or NRT or JFK or SIN, or even CDG. But there’s gotta be something of interest to see. Up first, a bit of a rarity — a real, live, in-service A310. Yes folks, this is 2017. Air Transat keeps this old bird in the air because it’s cheap and they can pack ‘em in.
Something a bit newer across the hall — a Hainan Airlines 787-8. I’d really love to fly them someday. The business class seat doesn’t look amazing, but the five-star rating and reports I’ve seen on the food and service compel me… as do the fact that they semi-routinely offer very attractive premium fares. Someday. Note the China Eastern tail in the background.
An El Al 767.
Jet Airways pushing back, presumably off to Europe, and then likely onwards to India. There would be (I presume) another Jet A330 parked by the lounge, making me wonder why they have two birds here, the massive Toronto population from India and its region notwithstanding.
Alright, let’s hit the lounge, shall we? There aren’t many lounges here, but at least there are some, which puts it miles ahead of the transborder section of T3. They’re in a cluster upstairs.
The elevator doors open to present this classy, dignified, and serene sight.
Oh wait. That’s not the right one, is it?
Well, that’ looks a lot less inviting, frankly.
The lineup seemed to be due to it being a quiet time, and there only being one agent to check-in and help guests. Needless to say, the person at the front of the line needed more assistance than just a quick boarding pass scan. Once she was on her way, the rest of the check-in went very well, with a friendly young woman checking boarding passes, confirming pronunciation of my last name (Lounge that greets you by name? Somewhat unusual), and briefing me quickly on WiFi (including a pass little ticket with the password) and washroom locations.
This lounge was recently redone, and they seem to have some pride about that. It’s a fairly nice, modern space. The main hall has a variety of seating options, and power plugs are abundant. That’s a big plus. I also appreciated the artwork and some of the design touches.
The lounge stretches out along the side of the terminal, with big windows and some comfy lounge-y chairs facing outwards. I choose one of those seats for my home. There are also desks for those looking to do some work, or eat some food.
The setup makes airside views very good. In this case, my seat is right in front of this BA 777-200 soon to head back to London.
Or, if you’re not feeling particularly social, you could take one of these seats down the hall by the washrooms. They look quite comfortable, if you’re so inclined.
Speaking of the washrooms, it’s very attractive and clean. So that’s a plus.
Back to the lounge, more seating options, including a few little areas sectioned off for groups.
And a TV lounge area.
A few reading options on offer.
Restaurant seating the buffet.
Speaking of said buffet, I found the food options a little underwhelming. There were a few cold options along the centre island, starting with some kinda Costco-looking desserts.
And then some salads, sandwiches, cheese, etc.
And some crackers and dips.
Drink options start with a half-decent bar, which includes some bubbles — in this case a prosecco.
It continues with some juices and water. Soft drinks and I believe some beers were located in a fridge underneath.
And the drinks conclude with a coffee maker.
In the centre, there are a few hot options.
There’s a “beef and rice” offering, and some vegetarian options, including mixed veggies, and (the remains of a) veggie lasagna.
I think these offerings were changed regularly — when I arrived, there were signs trumpeting the food options were kosher (I presume this serves as a contract lounge for El Al), and before leaving, there seemed to be some butter chicken making the rounds. I would have liked to check that out, but just noticed on my way out.
I retreat to my seat with a little snack — a couple of olives, a little sandwich, some hummus and crackers, a lemon tart and a Nanaimo bar — as well as some prosecco. Nothing outstanding here, although even a bar Nanaimo bar is pretty good.
I also tried the beef and rice, which proved to be a mistake. This seemed like “beef with brown sugar sauce,” and was just way too sweet for my preferences. Fortunately, the second Nanaimo bar soothed my pain.
The lounge agent also asked if I’d take a moment to offer my thoughts on their lounge. I was tempted to include “check out my review soon on Flight-Report.com" in the comments, but ultimately I did not. Wasted opportunity, in my opinion.
Good airside views means some decent spotting, although it’s from a distance. KLM arriving from Amsterdam — kudos for still rocking The Queen to YYZ!
China Southern is a new arrival at Pearson, and is arriving here in alliance livery.
And finally, my ride over to Paris arrives from its outbound trip, just as Hainan gets ready to head to Beijing.
I entertain myself with my spotting, and some puttering online. Lounge WiFi is fast and much better than the free general-use airport WiFi, but I heard a lot of comments in the lounge about it being hard to connect to. It requires an access code, but unlike most hotspots, it doesn’t seem to prompt users to connect, rather waiting for the user to open a browser and try to navigate before inserting itself for validation. I got connected easily, though. Here’s a corporate shot to prove it.
Finally, apparently my seat is facing pretty westwardly, because I’m rewarded with a very nice view of the sunset over Pearson as boarding time approaches.
I leave the lounge generally satisfied with the experience. It’s a pretty nice space, although a little small. While it was almost empty when I arrived, by the time I left, it was very full, with flights for Amsterdam and Paris in, as well as Jet Airways to Delhi also seeming to have a lot of the space.
But soon, it’s closing in on boarding time, so I head downstairs to get a look at my ride over to Paris this evening. Sadly, this is as good a shot as I could muster.
We were in a little shared gate space, naturally being shared between our flight to Paris and the KLM flight to Amsterdam, which made the space a little hectic, to put it mildly. By the time I’m there, the parade of wheelchairs (I counted 19 either lined up or arriving at various points) is being assembled, so I assume boarding is soon.
The economy line is chaos already, but oddly there’s nobody in the Sky Priority line. This strikes me as odd, but starts to make sense as the gate area rapidly devolves into chaos. They call for people traveling with children to come to the front of the line, but when they come down the open Sky Priority space, they were quickly told to get in the main line, where they were inserted into the font.
But then more wheelchairs showed up, so the whole lineup had to shunt backwards again.
Anyway, boarding started, but the process was quite chaotic with announcements also blaring for the KLM flight next door, and the usual “who should be where” confusion in terms of lineups. And I’m not just talking about “Sky Priority line” versus “General Boarding” lineup. Despite having his boarding pass checked by no fewer that three different gate agents before reaching the front of the line, the gentleman in front of me gets a red light when he tries to scan his boarding pass. It’s pretty easy to tell why, upon further analysis of his boarding pass — he’s going to Amsterdam.
Eventually, though, we get through it, and I’m on my way down the ramp. Boarding will be through door L1, as I’m pretty sure is always the case at most of the T3 gates, with the way the terminal is configured.
Flight: AF351 From: Toronto Pearson (YYZ) To: Paris De Gaulle (CDG) Date: 1/8/2017 Aircraft: Boeing 777-200ER Registration: F-GSPV Seat: 11A ATD (STD): 19:07 (18:35) ATA (STA): 07:37+1 (07:50+1)
Fortunately, this 15-year-old 777 has been updated to AF’s newer business class product, a very nice reverse herringbone layout. For this flight, I decided to try the rear mini-cabin, with three rows behind the second doors. When I moved to this seat about four days before departure, I was the only one in the mini-cabin, but it would end up with all but two seats occupied. Paid upgrades? Opups? Folks following me ‘cuz I’m such a trendsetter? I don’t know. You be the judge.
Although the colour scheme is very neutral with lots of whites and creams, I found the cabin quite attractive, with nice uses of little splashes of colour, and textures as well.
The seat came equipped with a bagged blanket — quite thin, but very nice — and decent pillow, and a slipper set, as well as a coat hanger. I hadn’t even taken my seat when the purser, a very nice 40-something man with glasses whose accent in English sounded more German than French to me, asked if I had a coat I’d like hung up. I politely declined, having followed my usual procedure of jamming my coat into my carry-on once I was on-board.
Legroom shot. One thing I noticed, especially in the photography, is that while the cabin has been retrofitted, the lighting system had not been, clearly. Old-style lights making everything look so yellow and lifeless, and forget mood lighting or gradual turn-ups from dark to light — you’ve got off, on, and half-way, and that’s about it.
I think this is one of the most generous footwell I’ve seen on this kind of seat. Even the most ardent hater of “coffin seats” surely couldn’t argue with the foot space here.
A look across the mini-cabin before many of my fellow passengers had arrived.
And a look from over the shoulder of seat 10A.
The upper wall of the pod contains many of the options, including a headphone jack, the wired IFE remote (which remained inoperable for the whole flight), and a reading light (which came in handy, because the only control I could find for the overhead lights was on the non-functional wired remote).
Seat controls are extra-basic. And before anyone mentions it, in light of my comments on the IFE remote above, the “light” button here seems to operate only the light in the footwell. I really liked the “move the seat forward and back” buttons at right. It only works while upright, but it let me line up with the window better for a look out while on takeoff and landing.
Further along the upper pod wall, there’s a little cubby that’s (sorta) magnetically closed.
Inside, there’s lots of storage.
And the AF-offered noise cancelling headset, already plugged in and ready to go. I found these “good enough,” although I did somehow manage to knock the cover off the right earphone, and had a devil of a time getting it back on. Never did get it quite right. The headset was comfortable enough, though, and I was able to sleep with it on, as I am wont to do on planes.
The door of the cubby also has a little mirror, for those of you who want to look at someone they love in-flight.
In the lower side of the pod, there’s the usual literature, a bottle of water, and the power outlet and a USB port, pretty conveniently located.
The IFE screen is of the pop-out variety, and while it seems like there’s a lot more bezel than screen, the size is pretty good. I found it pretty easy to navigate, although it’s hard to get away from a lot of scrolling when it comes to lists of items to select.
The selection was okay, though. There were a few things I was interested in seeing, although understandably, there’s also a lot of French-language content, which interests me a lot less. The IFE was fully functional on the ground, and I select The Magnificent 7. It’s about what I expect it to be, and I quite like it. As fate would have it, I also timed it perfectly — the movie will end mere minutes after my dinner is done in the air (spoiler: we take off at some point in the near future).
An ugly and reflection-filled look out my window as boarding continues.
Service began with one of the flight attendants coming through with water, champagne, or orange juice on a tray. Champagne for me, of course.
Amenity kits — a number of different colours, although all with the same contents — were distributed next on another tray. We’ll unpack this a little later.
The moving map is pretty cool, with a number of interactive features, including the map guiding you through a few highlights of your destination. That’s one big 777, though. Although, as I’ve snarked about the plane icon on AC’s moving map being a 787 even when you’re on a 777, I give them credit. That is clearly a 777. It’s even a -200. So good work on the accuracy. Aside from scale.
Pre-departure service continues with a warm towel. Not the best I’ve had.
We had to wait a while whist traffic cleared behind us, but soon enough we pushed back. I really liked the AF safety video, which incorporates a lot of French fashion stuff, but does so in a lighthearted an somewhat self-depricating way.
No need to de-ice this evening, so it’s a short taxi down to the southern runways (one of which an AF A340 famously slid off a number of years ago after landing too long on a rainy summer day), and we’re off and into the cool, crisp night air above Toronto.
As we climb, I entertain myself by getting some pictures of the amenities so far. First, the amenity kit itself. Pretty standard offerings. I like the presence of mouthwash, and the the toothpaste is a bit larger than the oft-seen “one-and-done” Colgate tubes.
The slippers bundle.
And the slippers bundle unpacked. The slippers themselves were nothing special, but the shoe bag is a nice addition. And while it makes sense to bundle the socks here, I’m not sure why the earphone covers fit in.
Around this time, I’d have taken some pictures of the menu, and spent some time reflecting on what I’d like to have, except menus haven’t been distributed yet. This strikes me as odd, but okay. What do I know.
Once we’re to cruising altitude, the drink cart comes down the aisle. I select champagne, and its accompanied by surprisingly delicious bread (almost shortbread) twists, and an amouse bouche that include guacamole, a shrimp, some grapefruit, and some chives. It’s a delicious little shot. Not a combination I’d have thought of, but I really quite like it.
Still no menu. So I’ll go check out the lav. There’s only one near the mini-cabin, immediately aft of door R2. It’s nothing special, but at least there’s some amenities, if not decorations.
Back at my seat, and the the drink cart makes its round again. First comes the table cloth. Then comes… a tray with everything but the main course. Interesting. Still no menus. And apparently AF is focusing on getting dinner done very quickly. This is just a 6:30 departure Toronto time, but it’s a short flight, and it’s already after midnight Paris time, I guess.
I enjoyed the starter, a simple combination of smoked salmon and smoked duck, but it seemed pretty fresh, and was very tasty. The baguette was also shockingly excellent. With good butter offered, a simple white mini-baguette can be such a pleasure.
Dishes are quickly cleared. And then the cart comes back down the aisle, and I’m pretty surprised when one of the senior female flight attendants simply says “Beef, scallops, or pasta.” I have to take a second to process. My immediate thoughts:
“So we’re really not supposed to get a menu?”
“Are we playing Jeopardy? If so, I’ll say ‘What are three foods that are notoriously risky choices for selecting on a plane?’, Alex.”
Eventually, I select the beef. But I still feel kinda weird about this whole exchange. Aside from the purser, who was excellent in my interactions with him, I found the rest of the crew generally pretty good, if not overly warm — but this interaction was terse to the point of being bad for economy class.
Eventually, I choose the beef, and it’s delivered, along with another magnificent baguette. It’s not the best beef dish I’ve had on a plane, but it’s not the worst either. It’s not terribly overdone, and it’s pretty tender. The veggies are done perfectly, and the potatoes are just okay, with a little bit of a thyme flavour to them. The sauce was a tasty roasted tomato afair, and I used it to dip the meat. There was also a very delicious taragon dijon mustard offered, which introduced a nice bit of heat. Overall, I’d give this main a fair dish.
The cheese selection was pretty decent, if basic. I enjoyed it.
Someone took a bite out of my cake before I could get a picture! I really enjoyed this… a nice rich chocolate treat, but still pretty light, and with a little bit of a crunch to it. I really enjoyed it.
After dinner, coffee and tea were offered, but declined. Cognac was not declined, and was quite enjoyed.
Dinner service wrapped up about 90 minutes into the flight — which is pretty remarkable, given that it didn’t get off to a super-fast start off the ground. So I guess the one-tray presentation was to speed things up, which I understand on a short TATL flight. AC does the multiple course approach, unless you select the lighter “express meal” option, and that means it’s not lights out until an hour longer into the flight.
But the service experience of the meal left me with mixed feelings about the meal. Things like not offering a menu, a foil ramekin, and the rather terse introduction of main course options strike me as the kind of service mistakes that cheapen the premium cabin experience, and that’s never a good thing.
Dinner ends, the lights go down, and my movie ends without a few minutes of each other, which is brilliant. I’m not sure I’m entirely sleepy, as it’s only about 9:00 in the evening, but I figure I should try to get some shut-eye, because it’s going to be a long day in Paris, as we arrive first thing in the morning, and don’t leave until 11:30 pm.
As I recline my seat to the lay flat position, we’re out over Labrador, about to head out of over the Atlantic.
And I guess I was sleepy, because I sleep pretty solidly all the way across the Atlantic. Okay, so at some point I woke up enough to register that we were going through some light-moderate turbulence enough to cause me to sleepily remark to myself that “we’re knuckleballing around pretty good.” And then I was back to sleep.
When I woke up, the house lights were up, we were about to cross the western shore of the British Isles, and the breakfast cart was coming down the aisle. So I guess I slept okay.
Fo this meal, I was served by the purser, who was excellent, holding my pillow in place behind me while I got my seat in the right position, and offering a friendly hope that I got some sleep along the way. Breakfast is unsurprisingly of the continental variety, with some fruit (which is pretty good), a yogurt, and a number of bread or pastry options. I select a turnover and a roll, and it’s later joined by a croissant.
The purser, who seems very concerned with me getting my daily caloric requirements, is very proactive, and all but insists I have some cheese with it. He comes back a few minutes later with a cheese plate that appears to have the same content from dinner. But it’s an appreciated thought.
I largely pick at breakfast, still pretty stuffed from dinner, which was only about four hours ago. Kudos to AF for not starting breakfast until an hour before arrival into Paris. AC, by contrast, starts breakfast at least 90 minutes out, so AF picks up another 30 minutes or so of quality sleep-time on TATLs, if that’s important to you. And it should be.
After breakfast, the purser keeps me stocked with water, orange juice and coffee, as while I may not be hungry, I’m very thirsty.
Once I’m satisfactorily hydrated, I put my seat back into a lounge position, and enjoy watching the moving map, which is providing some tourist highlights of Paris as part of its rotation.
Shortly after breakfast, the purser stops by again, and informs me that I’ll be met by an agent upon arrival at CDG. He says it’s such a long transit for me, he hopes I don’t plan on just sticking around the airport. I laugh, and reply that no, I’m heading into town for a little bit to play tourist. He wishes me well on my onwards travels.
Here’s another AF difference over AC — it seems like AC turns on the seatbelt lights, and enforces it, pretty much from the top of the descent, usually at least 20 minutes out. On this flight, the seatbelt light was still out with the moving map showing 10 minutes left, allowing me to chill and maybe even doze a little bit on final descent.
But eventually, the seatbelt light does come on, and descend into the clouds. And keep descending through the clouds. These clouds are never ending. Are we ever going to make it through these clouds?
And then look, there’s the runway. And we’ve landed. Apparently, it’s quite foggy out.
Yep. Just a little foggy.
This being CDG, we taxi for roughly a decade and a half, touring all of the various terminals, sub-terminals, and sub-sub-terminals, before finding our own home over in 2E. We park it there, and the seatbelt signs are off.
It seems to be taking them a while to get door 2L lined up with the jetway, so meanwhile, we all head towards 1L, from which we depart.
There, I’m greeted by a lovely young woman from the Air France La Premiere team. I suppose this would be a good time to introduce the fact that I was offered an expensive-but-decent last-minute upgrade to First Class for the CDG-JNB sector, and after hemming and hawwing it for a bit, I decided to go for it. More on this, of course, in my next Flight Report.
Back to the here and now, my escort through CDG confirms that I’d like to go into town, as opposed to just spending the next 15 or so hours in the La Premiere lounge. While that’s tempting, I think my plan is to head into town and play tourist for a few hours, and then spend a bunch of time in the La Premiere lounge. So she whisks me down the elevator to the tarmac, where a car awaits.
A short drive later, she escorts me through passport control in a matter of seconds, and then through the arrivals level. She even offers to accompany me to the left luggage place (after apologizing that security regulations prevent her from just holding on to my carry-on luggage for me), and then on to the bus terminal for my ride into Paris, but I respond that I think I’m okay, so we bid each other adieu in the departure hall, and I’m on my way to ditch my luggage, find my bus, and head into Paris for a bit.
That’s where we’ll leave this adventure for now. I’m looking forward to checking out La Premiere in a few hours, though.
Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll see you on the next flight-report.
Air France KLM Lounge
Toronto - YYZ
Paris - CDG
A pretty good TATL sector with Air France. As mentioned, the meal service was okay, although a little odd. And I was conflicted with rating the service. Some interactions with some of the crew made me want to mark it down, while all interactions with the purser made me want to mark it up.
A very good seat that makes this older 772 feel new again, and certainly makes AF a much more competitive TATL player than the old 772 J seat.
I'm already impressed with the La Premiere ground services at CDG, and I've only seen the proverbial tip of the iceberg at this point. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the experience!
12 LIKESLIKE TO THANK THE AUTHORTHANKS ! FLIGHT-REPORT LIKED
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