Welcome to the continuation of this quick adventure from Toronto to Johannesburg with Air France.
As a reminder, here’s the rundown:
AF351 YYZ-CDG 1/8/2017 - Right here AF990 CDG-JNB 1/9/2017 - You are here AF995 JNB-CDG 1/10/2017 - Coming soon AF356 CDG-YYZ 1/11/2017 - After that one
When last I flight-reported, I had just arrived into Paris De Gaulle from Toronto, benefiting from a car ride from my plane and a whisk through immigration courtesy of Air France’s La Premiere ground services.
I grabbed a bus into the core of Paris, and spent a few hours wandering, seeing sights, enjoying some coffee, etc. But as I started to get hungry in the mid-afternoon, I decided it was time to head back to the airport — having heard much hype about the food offered in the Salon La Premiere. It was a quick bus ride back out to CDG compared to the inbound trip, and soon enough I found myself back at Terminal 2E.
Finding the check-in area for La Premiere was pretty easy.
I was welcomed into the little waiting area beyond whilst the gentleman in the picture above took my passport and took off to get me a boarding pass. There’s a small, comfortable seating area that more than sufficed for the few minutes I was here.
I was offered the paid upgrade about two days before departure. While not cheap, it wasn’t astronomical. It kind of went against the idea of having a “cheap-ish” premium cabin experience to open the year, but ultimately I decided to go for it based on reviews I’ve read of the La Premiere experience, and how tightly AF guards access to awards. This will probably be my only chance to experience it, and the timing (with a nice long layover in CDG) makes sense to “optimize” the experience.
A few minutes later, the gentleman was back with my boarding pass — which oddly includes boarding information for all three of my remaining flights on this trip. Can this single boarding pass be used for all three flights? If so, quite interesting.
He then escorted me through the hall and towards security control. Rather than having separate security and immigration checkpoints for First Class passengers as some airlines do, AF just takes the path of providing an escort to the regular security and immigration posts, although they did have separate laneway for La Premiere passengers to reach the front of the line.
A quick check, and we were through to airside. The elevators up to the La Premiere Lounge were just a few steps to the right, and we were quickly on our way upstairs to the red-tinged lobby of the Salon.
My escort explained the features and functionality of the lounge, and then wished by a good flight, and left me to explore.
Job one upon arriving at the lounge was to grab a shower, having spent a number of hours walking around Paris. There are a number of shower suites, all set up and ready to go, without any attendants to be seen. I found the suite comfortable and stylish, and really enjoyed freshening up.
My next priority was a snack — something to solve my growing hunger, but not so much that will ruin dinner in a few hours. I head over to the restaurant area.
There are some buffet items available, including an impressive array of bottled waters, some desserts, dried meat, cheese, and a few other things.
But the point of coming here is the menu, which features a variety of entrees and mains, most of which look very compelling.
The waiter gives me a few minutes to peruse the menu, and I end up selecting the Caesar salad, and the super-fancy cheese sandwich. The waiter suggested a nice Burgundy to accompany it, which I quite appreciated. He was excellent, very proactive and friendly, and took the lead in switching the conversation to English when it became clear that my attempt to keep up en Francais was not going as well as I might have hoped.
The snack started with this amouse bouche, which was some sort of celery cream with crab meat, or something similar. A nice little palate rinser.
Bread is offered, and once again, it’s delicious, crispy baguette that’s just perfect with a little bit of butter.
The Caesar came next. It was excellent, and the shrimp seemed very fresh. I was pleasantly surprised to see tomatoes, eggs, and some other ingredients beyond the usual Caesar mix of romaine.
The main was perhaps the most high-end cheese sandwich I’ve ever seen, and tasted it, too. Rich, melty, tasty goodness. I ended the snack very content and quite full as well.
Having been cleaned up and well-fed, let’s take a moment to explore the lounge, shall we? We start down the wing towards the showers, where there’s the “relaxation area,” a room with lounge chairs surrounded by these fibre optic hedges, all facing a wall onto which ever-changing patterns of colors are projected. This area impressed me greatly, and I thought it looked beautiful and seemed like a good idea. But unfortunately, when I tested the lounge out, I found it terribly uncomfortable for me. So no relaxing or napping here for me, I’m afraid.
Immediately behind these seats there’s a couple of day beds. But they’re not made up in any way, and it’s not exactly the most private situation in which to have a nap.
Washrooms were also down this hall — it’s an odd setup, with a number of “escape pod”-looking bathrooms around a central sink (although each pod has its own sink as well.) The bathrooms were quite stylish.
Heading back towards the main lounge room, some books and vases on display as decoration.
The main lounge room itself. A sense of quiet and calm was easy to maintain — I don’t think there were any more than 10 people in here at any one time.
Some of the seating options. All I tried seemed quite comfortable, and there was a reasonable number of power outlets, especially when compared to the anticipated number of guests
A wide variety of magazines and other literature on offer.
This area was labelling the “work area,” although I’m not sure what makes it any more work-y than any other part of the lounge.
And between the two, there’s this area I dubbed “the red bar,” which was never staffed, but has three different champagnes well-iced should you decide to sample it. And I did.
Sorta/kinda airside views from the lounge. Just mostly cars, with a few planes visible in the distance.
Behind the main room there’s a secondary room that remained largely unused and quite quiet, with more fibre optic hedgery in the middle.
Unfortunately, at this point, I discovered that the massage on offer was only available before 4:30 pm, and it was now after 4:30 pm. Too bad, I could have really gone for a back massage.
Exploration done, I settled in for a while to do some work, grabbing a water from the water buffet, and a glass of Bollinger from the champagne bar. Delicious, and the perfect temperature.
After working for a while, I decide to continue my champagne-off with the Moet Rosé. Also very good, but I’d give the slight edge to the Bollinger.
I set up in the “back room” and didn’t see another soul the whole time I was there. But neither did I get any service. Others in the main room seemed to have water or other drinks delivered to them.
Having worked for a few hours, and with the hour reaching about 8:00, I decided it was time for dinner, since we were about “half-way” to the likely dinnertime on the flight. The same waiter welcomes me back for dinner, and I decide to try the velouté and, after hemming and hawwing between the scallops and the lamb, I go with the scallops. The whites on offer are a Chablis and a Riesling from Alsace, so the Chablis it is, since the Riesling will likely be a bit sweet for dinner. More bread is also offered, and gratefully accepted.
A couple of tables over from me, the only other people in the restaurant at this hour are an older couple, who will end up joining me on the same flight down to Joburg in a few hours.
The velouté is out quickly, presented with some finely diced pumpkin, chestnuts, and seeds, with the soup itself poured over top. It is excellent — perfectly rich and creamy, with a nice subtle pumpkin sweetness to it.
Next up, the main course of gratinated scallops. Oh my, what to say about this dish? What indeed. It was masterful. Just absolutely excellent. Perfectly fresh, perfectly prepared, and the depth from the gratin and the truffles. Wow. Just an absolute pleasure. As much as I love lamb, I’m pretty confident I made the right call here. The Salon proudly calls out its Michelin Star menu, and it lives up to the hype with this dish. I’ll just leave it at that before I spill another few thousand words on this treat.
The waiter suggests some cheese to follow, and comes back with a nice little selection.
He then offers dessert, but I decline, as I’m too full. He gently peer pressures me into trying a light little creation from the buffet, an experience I almost laugh out loud at due to the shocking parallels to the Monty Python “But it’s wafer-thin!” bit. What he brings is a delightful little pastry that has a nice sugary crunch to it, and a hazelnut taste. It’s magnificent, and I devour the whole thing with gratitude for his insistence. I have a cappuccino to accompany it, which is also very good.
With that, I’m stuffed, and the only thing left to do is to to find a place to sit and relax for the rest of my short stay here. This time, I select a seat in the main room, against the window. There aren’t more than about five other passengers in here all night, so it’s not exactly crowded. I also conclude my chamagne-off by sampling the Alain Ducasse bottle. I think the Bollinger is still the best of what’s on offer here.
I then check in at home — it may be late here, but it’s early back home — and relax for the rest of my short stay here. Around 10:30, a woman named Mary introduces herself to me, and tells me that it’s just about time to head out for my flight. So I gather my things, and take one last look at the crowded mayhem that is Salon La Premiere.
Overall, I’m not sure where I’d rank the Salon in the great First Class Lounges I’ve had the privilege to sample over the years. In terms of cuisine, it is by far and away number one. I don’t think there’s any contest there. It also “felt” the most exclusive, by virtue of size in comparison to number of guests, with there never being more than a handful of guests at a time throughout the eight or so hours I was there. But in terms of overall experience, I’d probably put it just a hair behind the Lufthansa First Class Terminal at FRA, although I’m not sure I can qualify exactly why. Perhaps it’s just fond memories of my first real First Class ground services.
Anyway, it’s downstairs via elevator, and into the car we go, on a cold and rainy night. On the way over, Mary tells me that they’ll have a Jaguar joining their fleet for La Premiere transfers next month, with plans to add electric vehicles to the fleet in the near future. It’s such a treat being whipped past all the gates in a car like this — just like the LH FCT, it really adds to the exclusiveness of the experience. Although I have to say, the fact that as a La Premiere passenger you get both the pickoff and dropoff by default, probably gives AF an edge over LH in terms of overall best First Class ground services I’ve experienced thus far.
I have to chuckle as we drive — CDG seems like such a maze as a passenger airside, and it seems even more of a maze here as Mary zigs and zags this way and that as we make our way across the terminals towards my Whalebus.
Eventually, though, we get there, although in the rain, I don’t stop to get the on-the-ground pictures of my car, or my plane, that I would have liked to.
We head up the stairs, and Mary escorts me to door 1L, where she wishes me a good flight, and hands me off to the La Premiere crew for my flight.
Flight: AF990 From: Paris De Gaulle (CDG) To: Johannesburg (JNB) Date: 1/9/2017 Aircraft: Airbus A380-800 Registration: F-HPJB Seat: 2A ATD (STD): 00:20+1 (23:30) ATA (STA): 11:05+1 (11:10+1)
For this flight, I had selected 2A, the second seat on the port side of the plane. When I purchased the upgrade, the seatmap was showing empty, and ExpertFlyer was showing the flight as P8, suggesting I was the only here. To my surprise, there were already a number of people on board as I boarded, including passengers in 1A and 3A.
The seat is large, and has an attractive look, but privacy seems very minimal, and I’m disappointed to see a very old-style “pop-up” TV screen in use. This seems way behind the times.
A look across the aisle shows just how little privacy there is. These seats would eventually be filled. Actually, all nine seats would end up filled. As the flight was showing zeroes across the board in both business and economy several days out, I suspect the flight was significantly oversold, leading to opups… and likely to me getting an offer. I noticed no such offer was presented for the JNB-CDG leg.
Close up on the seat, which is simply adorned with just a pillow.
Legroom shot. As expected, it’s great. I like the “red carpet” touch throughout the cabin.
Shortly after I sat down, one of the flight attendants working first presented me the amenity kit, which looks nicely-adorned, and pajamas for the flight.
A cubby towards the outside of the seat has much of the details — headphones (the same as offered in business class, I note), power port, headphone jack, and combination USB/network port, plus the “flip up” lever for the TV, and an old-style remote control for the IFE system. And a little bit of storage space, to boot.
Seat controls are in the armrest, but I didn’t find myself mistakenly triggering them, fortunately. They’re pretty basic, and pretty intuitive.
A look out my window at the rainy night outside as boarding continues. Between the amount of seat between the seat and the window, and the super-thick A380 lower-deck windows, it feels like you’re a long way from the window.
The bin underneath the ottoman pulls out to reveal a few goodies — a nice tasseled blanket, and a set of slippers.
The lone male flight attendant working First tonight stops by to offer a pre-departure beverage, and I request champagne. He returns with a bottle of Krug, and I am happy, because I love the Krug.
With boarding taking a while, I decide to go check out the lav. Because AF decided to put a changing room in, there’s only one lav for the nine F passengers, and it’s nothing particularly special. I guess there aren’t many options on the lower deck.
Back at my seat, I’m quickly offered a refill by the female flight attendant who will be leading service for me tonight. I request some water to accompany it, and it’s quickly delivered. She pours the last of the bottle of Krug into my glass, and informs that the French believe that if you finish a bottle of champagne, you’ll either get married or have a baby within the year. I respond that I don’t think my wife would be terribly pleased with either event.
A hot towel is presented shortly thereafter.
Boarding takes a while, as one would expect with a whale that’s apparently sold out, and there’s some weirdness as a few people are brought down from upstairs, spend a while milling around door L1 chatting with folks, and then depart. A few more people come on board afterwards, and then head upstairs. A couple of last-minute VDB, perhaps? I’m not sure. The captain keeps making announcements saying they hope to be underway soon, and eventually comes out to greet First Class passengers. He starts addressing me in French, and then asks if I speak French, I respond “un petit peu,” and he smiles and starts speaking very slow French. “J’espere… que… vous… appreciez… votre… vol.” I have to chuckle at the delivery, and he switches to English to reiterate his point, before adding that they hope to start the engines “very soon.”
And sure enough, they do start ‘em up. We’re delayed a few more minutes as there’s a plane behind us, but then we finally push back, about 40 minutes behind schedule.
It’s disappointing not to have an IFE that can be used for takeoff and landing, meaning I can’t watch the tail camera. Although at least they put it up on the bulkhead monitor.
It’s a very short taxi by CDG standards, and we start our long, slow, oh-so-majestic roll, eventually taking off into the midnight skies above Paris. Trying to get a good “takeoff” picture in the dark, from the seat so far from the oh-so-thick window is all but impossible.
Off the ground, I pop up the IFE. It’s an older generation interface than the flight from Toronto, as expected. It’s not great with touch, but quite responsive enough when using the wired remote.
The movie selection appears about the same as YYZ-CDG, though, and I choose Eye in the Sky, which turns out to be more of a morality play than an action movie, so is a little bit more enjoyable than I had expected.
Hey look, we’ve got our own in-flight news crawler!
Once we level off, I take my goodies to the changing room to get settled in for the flight. While I may have complained lightly about the small and ordinary lav, I love that there’s a change room on board. It’s so much nicer than changing in a lav, even a very clean and spacious lav. Well, okay… I’d feel fine changing in one of the EK shower suites over this. Or the TG First Class lav. But still, it’s a nice touch. There are also some amenities available to those who want them.
Let’s take a look at some of the goodies, shall we?
First, the slippers bundle. This includes a very nice pair of slippers — much nicer than business class — as well as socks and a shoe horn, all in a shoe bag.
And now the amenity it disassembled. It contains everything you’d expect. Apologies for the slightly skewed perspective — I had to use panorama to fit everything in.
And lastly, the pajamas. These were quite attractive, and very comfortable.
But they fit a bit tight for me, unfortunately.
Heading back to my seat, I pass the stairs up to business class, where I will have to slum it on the way back to Paris tomorrow night.
The female flight attendant leading my service — I found it odd AF cabin crew don’t seem big on introducing themselves by name, even in F, although they use the passengers’ name regularly — drops by to explain that, unfortunately, there have been no menus boarded tonight. (Perhaps AF’s New Year’s Resolution was to never print another menu?) She walks me through the service options, the choices of which come down to “Have the soup/salad/appetizer or not,” and “pork with lemongrass or lobster.” The menu doesn’t get me super-excited, and it’s not helped by the fact that the FA struggles with English vocabulary for some dishes. But between her pretty-good English and my pretty-terrible French, we get it all sorted out.
Service begins with an amouse bouche, a salmon timbale with caviar on top. Very nice, and continues the F trend of not having a caviar course, but instead integrating caviar into one of the starter dishes. It is accompanied by more Krug. Have I mentioned that I love Krug?
My table is then set for dinner, with bread and salad offered off the top. The FA explained the salad as “greens with your choice of toppings from the cart,” but said cart was never offered, so said salad never really got eaten. Oh well. I wasn’t starving.
A corn soup was offered next. Nothing terribly exciting. A decent starter.
A fois gras appetizer was presented next. I nibbled at it a bit, but as I’ve said before here, to much consternation from the faithful, I’m not a big fois gras guy.
The main was presented next. Pacing here was excellent, by the way… dishes were promptly cleared, and the next course presented. The goal was obviously to present a pretty full meal as quickly as possible, to allow maximum sleep time on this nine-plus hour flight. The lobster was… weird. Some parts were cooked perfectly, some seemed overdone. Some had a bit of a spicy (wasabi?) taste to them, some did not. The potatoes were very good. Very buttery. All in all, this dish didn’t totally click with me, although it was a very generous quantity of lobster.
A nice cheese plate was offered next. A few years ago, I did not like any type of bleu cheese. Now I quite enjoy it. So maybe there’s hope for me yet, fois gras crowd.
And lastly, dessert. A chocolate tartlette. This was very rich. Perhaps a little too much chocolate, to be honest.
Overall, the meal service left me… whelmed. I wouldn’t say I was underwhelmed — I ended up full and most of the dishes were pretty good. But there was nothing that really screamed to me “This is exclusive First Class awesomeness!” Perhaps I was spoiled by having taken my previous two meals in the Salon La Premiere.
Coffee and tea were offered, but declined. I was quite ready for bed, and as I got up, the female FA asked if I’d like my bed made up. I politely accepted her offer, and headed forward.
On my way out of the lav, I caught the male flight attendant and asked if they offered XL pajamas, afraid that perhaps, like EVA, they did not. But they do, in fact, and he quickly offered to go get me a pair. These ones fit much better indeed.
Back at my seat, my bed was made up, and looking quite comfortable.
A bottle of water, and a chocolate bar were also presented.
I snuggled in and quickly found myself asleep. I have to say, the privacy may be lacking, but in terms of comfort, AF offers a great bed to A380 F. I found it very comfortable, and loved their bedding choices.
I slept very well, waking up with the house lights already up, and breakfast being served around me. Were were a little shy of 90 minutes out of Johannesburg.
As soon as the female FA noticed me waking, she offered to set me up for breakfast, and the table was quickly set, with (apparently freshly-squeezed) orang juice, and a good strong coffee.
I wasn’t thrilled with the fruit presented, which was most charitably described as “exploded grapefruit.” I picked at it, but it wasn’t to my liking.
The choice for main, I was told, was a crepe or an omelet. This is Air France, so I went with the crepe. Very nice presentation.
And even better when the lid was taken off.
I loved this dish. I wasn’t really expecting chocolate, but I didn’t object. The berry compote had just the right bit of sweet and sour. What a delight.
When I was done, another FA (who I really hadn’t seen before) cleared the dishes, asking if I’d like anything else. I decide to try my luck, and request the omelet, if they have any extra. She goes to check, and comes back to tell me that it’s actually a poached egg. That’s fine by me, so it’s brought by the regular female FA a few minutes later. The egg was a little bit overdone, perhaps… not runny at all… but it was pretty good. The sauce worked with it nicely, the tomatoes and cheese were tasty, and the minced mushrooms quite nice as well.
With breakfast done, it was time to get changed, as we’d be landing in JNB pretty soon. On the way there, I snapped this pic of the remnants of the snack buffet set up alongside the stairs.
Outside, it’s a lovely-looking morning.
A last hot towel was presented to wrap up service.
Soon we were on final descent into JNB.
And touchdown! I really love the A380 tail camera.
It’s a short taxi, during which the male FA drops by to chat a little bit, wish me well on my continuing travels, etc.
We quickly pull up to the gate, and will be disembarking through door 2L. I think they only have two-jetway options at JNB, so it’s one main deck and one upper deck, I believe.
The F crew all bids their goodbyes, and we head off. I chat a little bit with the couple who had been in the lounge with me. They’re retirees from Sweden, on their way to Cape Town for some golfing. They’d been booked through Istanbul (I presume on TK), but ended up rebooked on AF due to the snowmageddon chaos at IST. Wow! This pretty much confirms my opups theory — how else does one go from booked in TK J (at best… as TK doesn’t offer F) to AF F on the rebooking? A nice upgrade in terms of class of service. Although, to be candid, the in-flight food was likely just as good on TK J.
We’re met at the door by a couple of ground agents with all the F passengers’ names on cards. Apparently, the ground services will continue here.
On the way down the jetway, I try to get a picture of the plane, as I’d failed to do so during my rainy drop-off at CDG. This is what I get. Not great.
And here’s the F crowd on the move, on our way to customs. Much like CDG, AF uses the oh-so subtle “have the ground agents push the people in line out of the way and then escort their passengers through” technique, which I’m sure everyone in the rather long line absolutely loves.
With the escort, immigration is pretty quick, and as I’m traveling without alone and just with carry-on, I bid my thanks and fare wells to the ground agents, and continue on.
I’ve already decided not to head into town. I had originally thought maybe I’d head to Sandton and hit a steakhouse I really like, but I’m not interested in food at this point. So instead, I take advantage of my Priority Pass card for once, and hit the Ses Fikile arrival lounge, just past the baggage hall.
I’ve reviewed this before here, but here are some thoughts.
When I walked in, there was no one at the desk, so I kind of peaked my head around the corner to find a number of Menzies staff around the large central table, seemingly engaged in some sort of a staff meeting. An attendant notices me, and comes and checks me in, asking if I’d like a shower. Why yes. Yes, I would, thank you.
The shower stall room is fine — quite attractive in its colours, and the water is hot, so no complaints.
It’s an arrival lounge, so this is a fairly small space. The focus for most is on getting a shower, maybe doing a little work, and then heading out. Here’s a panorama shot I took after the staff meeting ended, when I had the place to myself. I find the lounge quite attractive.
Bar and food options are pretty minimal — this isn’t really a “come for breakfast” kind of arrival lounge, but that suits me just fine at the moment.
There are s a few reading options offered.
I grab a glass of water and sit down to get caught up on e-mail — the WiFi is fine, and quite fast with no one else on it — and try not to listen in on the staff meeting, which gets a little heated between the person who seems to be the manager and the rest of the staff. Kinda awkward.
After a while, the meeting breaks up, and I decide it’s time to head on out. Just a few few more steps, and I’m in the atrium of the arrival hall at JNB, intending to head over to the planespotting deck to spend some time watching the goings-on airside.
We’ll pick the story up there next time.
Thanks for joining me for this flight-report. I hope to catch you for the return flight very soon.
Air France La Premiere Lounge
Paris - CDG
Johannesburg - JNB
So there it is... my (likely) one La Premiere experience. Would I do it again at the same cost? I'm not sure. The onboard experience was solid, but I'm not sure I'd pay up for it again.
The lounge and ground services? Absolutely. If I ever find myself transiting CDG in AF business class, and have a long-enough layover, I wouldn't think twice before buying F ground services and lounge access. The lounge is great, and the rest of the ground services treatment even better.
Still, I'm glad to have had the experience, and will fondly remember this segment from my arrival in CDG to getting off the plane in Johannesburg, very fondly.
Y'know... I say I probably wouldn't pay up for AF F again... but the 77W product sure does look like something I'd like to fly some day.
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