We would have organized our summer vacation around it if she had told us before, but everything was already booked when our best Chinese friend invited us to her wedding on 8 September in HK (The numbers 6, 8 and 9 are most auspicious in Chinese numerology, with the number 8 being best for weddings).
Fortunately for us, early September was not a peak season on this line: the summer vacation was over and it was still typhoon season - a random risk which hit HK and its surrounding twice in the ten days before this flight. The consequence was that the direct flights on AF were affordable (on the other hand, the award tickets were not), which would allow us to optimize that week: departure from CDG on Friday night, return in the night from Sunday to Monday the next week-end.
Since I could choose our seats in advance, I selected Seats 45A and 45C, betting on the neutralized middle seat far rear (passengers with the only choice of leftover middle seats who first take the ones further front)
Special seats were charges 30 EUR each (twin seats in the rear and the first two rows after the one next to the curtain), or 60 EUR (exit row), with a 10% rebate if booked in advance.
Exit row seats don’t have a window and being in the front of the cabin is a modest gain of time when deplaning: only the twin seats could be interesting for us, but not at any cost.
This flight was not a good sell, for the above mentioned reasons, and AF offered discounted upgrades some time before the flight. That made the business class considerably cheaper than if bought upfront, but we could get so much more with 1,276 EUR in Hong-Kong! What’s more, AF did not show which seats were available: I could discover after paying that the only remaining seats were from any window.
The OLCI opened at STD-30h, while I was still in Stockholm, and I shifted us to the next to last set of three seats which had become available (the last one is less attractive because the passengers coming back from the toilets in the rear tend to bump into Seat 48C). The fee for upgrading to Premium Economy had not changed (small wonder: AF’s Y+ seats are infamously uncomfortable for sleeping); on the other hand, the upgrade for Business class had become more expensive.
FB status and Twitter status
I was going to fly from ARN the day before, and that ARN-CDG flight was going to be special (I made its report special too, with a bonus on all special meals on that line, in French here), because that would be my 60th qualifying flight in 2017, which meant that I would reach FB Platinum status. The only potentially interesting perk of that status was booking special seats for free, and I looked forward selecting two twin seats for the price of one (that of my wife). The problem was that it took always two days for FB to credit a flight, and that 61st flight would be coming too soon.
I’m not a Twitter user but Flight Reporter friends told me several times about the reactivity of the AF Twitter team. Nothing venture, nothing win : as soon as I was home, i.e. around ETD-24h, I twittered to AF that I wish they would credit this flight faster than usual so that I could use this FB-Platinum advantage.
Radio silence the next day, and we had already been in the lounge in CDG for some time when AF answered by requesting my date of birth and my e-mail address “to secure my request”. No kidding? Wasn’t my FB number enough to identify me, and did they really need a secure request to credit my status flight faster ? I provided the requested information and made an effort to remain polite when telling them that it was much too late by then.
And AF188 was descending towards HKG when AF sent me a Twitter message (received once deplaned) to congratulate me for reaching the mythical (sic) threshold of 60 status flights and apologizing for the delay of the answer. We were 2 days after this 60th flight which had been credited in exactly the same delay as usual: the impact of my messages had been strictly zero. I had had the same experience after registering on Twitter with the sole purpose of sending a request to AF.
Message received 5/5 : no matter if you are FB Elite+, if you are a nobody on Twitter, you are a nobody for the AF Twitter team. I would have accepted a “sorry, we can’t / did not manage to avoid this inefficiency” answer, but this disdain was painful. So much for FB’s image.
It would have taken more to ruin my trip, though.
The experience in CDG
A taxi was not an option on a Friday evening, so we took the train (the infamous RER-B line). There is no direct train at rush hour time, and to add insult to injury, ours ended its run at CDG-1 station “for traffic regulation reason”, which added an extra five minute wait on this platform.
We arrived later than expected at CDG-2.
I may be naïve, but I believe that if arriving passengers need to wait in such an endless line to buy a train ticket to Paris from the remaining two operational ticket machines, it would be more efficient to do it in the luggage delivery room, while waiting for their luggage. One could also naively imagine repairing the other machines, but I guessed that the relevant maintenance staff were already home for the week-end
Flight AF188 was listed on time, but promises of a FIDS are like promises of politicians : they are a commitment only for those who believe them. And whether you believe that departing time or not, the check-in deadline does not change.
Check-in counters were not crowded, but I had printed paper BP in the office because my wife’s phone is the kind which you can use for phone calls only. No luggage drop for us either: quite exceptionally for us on a long haul private trip, we had carry-on luggage only.
An isolated passenger tried in vain to use the PARAFE passport and fingerprint reading machines which were obviously out of order. My wife was courteously welcomed with me in the "Accès N°1” priority lane, but the time advantage was slim because there were few passengers anyway.
We had received this message (my translation) from AF a few days before the flight, with perfectly clear maps : our flight would not depart from where the lounge would be.
To celebrate its 10 years of existence, the lounge of Hall 2L is being renovated !
During the renovation, we welcome you in the lounge of Hall 2K. For the departure of your flight, a shuttle will accompany you to our boarding hall. In order to fully enjoy your experience in this lounge, we recommend you to add 10 to 15 additional transfer time
No people mover needed now: the lounge in Hall 2K is not far beyond the security check. A friendly welcome by one of the BP reading machines and by a lounge staff who tried to be useful next to them.
Unlike at Terminal 2G, having access to the lounge does not mean you have a better view on the tarmac, quite on the contrary.
To have ample space, the key is going upstairs.
But if my wife wants to avoid climbing stairs, I want to power my laptop and both want to sit together, the equation becomes more complicated.
Like and more efficiently than in ARN, the passengers in CDG choose strategically selected seats in diagonals to prevent couples from bothering them.
Some areas were cordoned off here and there to remind passengers that there is an elite inside Skypriority and that they were not part of it.
I did not even know this category
The result was that it was not any easier to find a seat on Friday evening at the CDG-2K lounge than on Monday morning at the CDG-2F lounges. My wife eventually rushed to a seat left by a departing passenger. We could not afford to be choosy: the armrest was badly worn.
The power ports were even more worn than the armrest : none was powered.
I had to take power from the plug of another armchair.
A look at the local supply of magazines, before going to the buffet.
True to its name, 歐洲時報 ( "European News") is a European daily, and even a French one since it is published in Paris. On the other hand, no name can be as inconspicuous as 朝日新聞 (Morning Newspaper), which is indeed published in the morning in Ōsaka.
Le Monde could be published anywhere on this planet, preferably in French speaking countries since this name means "The World" in French ; it is published in Paris and often referenced as "a leading evening newspaper” when you want to pretend not naming it.
Working spaces which were unused, presumably because the chairs were much less comfortable than the sofas.
This was the buffet which was nearly identical to that next floor.
Cheese and desserts
The three hot meals
Bread and potato chips
Now the drinks : this is the alcoholic offering
The coffee machine and the cooled cupboard for beers and soft drinks.
Time for boarding was coming : we left the lounge early due to the bus shuttle announced by AF’s message, but it turned out that our flight would depart from Gate K43, and it was much too early, all the more so that like (nearly) any AF flight I boarded that year, it was late.
It allowed me to explore a little the terminal Two play areas, in electronic version
And in traditional version; both were equally popular.
A coffee machine (for a charge) which was feeling very lonely.
And a passenger who seems to prefer being by herself
The end of the terminal, towards the inside and towards the outside
The only aircraft visible from this end was this one, a probable Aeroflot A320.
Never despair: social progress eventually reaches CDG,
… including a pictogram allowing men to change a baby’s diapers (it took a social media campaign to obtain this – in ORY, the baby care facilities were solely in the women’s rooms).
Boarding started at STD-40’ ; the priorities were respected
There were few newspapers on the stand going down towards the jetbridge, but still enough for us.
These two pictures are the only hints of the Skyteam livery of our aircraft (F-GZNE) that I managed to take in CDG.
An A340 at next gate
Refueling was under way
A friendly welcome at the plane’s door, and we go through nearly the whole aircraft, starting with the J cabin
The small Y+ cabin
And last the Economy seats, in two cabins of unequal sizes
The cushions and blankets were already on the seats
Twin seats in the rear of the aircraft were available for a fee which deterred the passengers : I saw only one during boarding on the left side and I am not sure there was anybody on the other side. They did not remain empty during the night, of course.
The carpet was clean. When you are at a window seat, this support is a definite nuisance if you need to place a biggish carry-on luggage at your feet.
But a Flight Reporter is used to bringing the adequate gear.
Ten years ago, you had a power port in Business Class only, not on all airlines, and AF was infamous for delivering not a single milliamp of power from its power ports, so I was traveling with two spare batteries. Now, laptops are much less power hungry, thanks to static memories and lithium batteries, and conversely, many airlines provide functional power ports in Economy too.
I’ll come back to the IFE programs, but the screens were no longer Gameboy supplier leftovers of yore.
The welcome presentation on the IFE screen is nearly an ad for Flight Report.
Passengers who brought their own headphone can use the IFE immediately
… plugging them in this jack plug, or possibly in this USB port.
The other passengers must wait for the distribution of this kit containing earphones, an eye mask and a refreshing towel.
Entertainment, reading lamp, FA call : everything is managed from the touch screen, so there is no remote control.
There are seat lights only overhead.
Boarding completed and bingo ! the neutralized middle seat strategy worked one more time.
The Marathons took immediate advantage of that and verified that much like any gas, carry-on items spontaneously expand to occupy all available space.
The safety card, both sides
The AF A340 at the gate next to ours pushed back before us
Take-off at 00:14, i.e. STD+39’
Take-off to the west, which provided a view on the illuminated Eiffel Tower, in the center of this picture
The seat width between armrests is much less than in an A32x
The seat pitch was no better than in an A32x. It was acceptable in normal position, but if the passenger in before you is a drag who reclined immediately his seat, it becomes really inconvenient when the dinner is served. Only that I was the drag this time.…
I did not know if it had to do with the difference in temperature between Sicily and Sweden in the previous weeks, or some treacherously frigid air-conditioning somewhere? I did not know, but I had caught a bad cold the week before, and after struggling against a terrible headache at work that day, and taking dinner in the lounger, I collapsed in my seat immediately after take-off.
The FA refused to wake me up to have me straighten my seat back ; my wife who cared as much about my comfort as that of others did it. She has been right to do it because I immediately went back to sleep. A bonus point for the FA who did not wake up a passenger for a dinner that he obviously didn’t want to eat. This was the menu in three languages (French, English and Chinese in simplified characters) which had been distributed:
You owe the following pictures to the loyalty of Mrs. Marathon, who warned be of the limits of her loyalty:
- I guess you’ll want pictures of the meal, but better warn you, I won’t measure it!
Mrs. Marathon was not very hungry either because of her meal in the lounge, but she found that this meal was decent.
I meanwhile slept like I seldom did in Economy on a long haul flight, and this was where I woke up after eight hours of flight.
It was the right moment for playing with the moving map program which used fully the potential of the touch screen to rotate the view, zoom in and out,
… look virtually left and right
This IFE screenshot corresponded quite well to what I saw through the window during one a very few phases without clouds.
This entertaining moving map program has a serious defect though : as soon as I stopped handling it, it reverted to the cyclic demonstration mode, and taking control again to identify a feature seen through the window wasted time. It became downright frustrating after two hours of flight.
A pause for going to the galley, similar to any other galley, photographed while the FAs were all in the cabin. The said FA were as welcoming and helpful as on any other flight, and served me a hot tea (the dry air in the cabin had done nothing good to my throat).
A door similar to any other door
AF keeps confirming that only women are qualified to change the diapers of a baby,
… and that this plane had not been to the US for a long time, from the condition of the adhesive tape sealing this opening in the toilets.
It must have been an opening which was often used for maintenance purposes, because the corresponding tape was intact overhead.
AF offers snacks to its sleepless passengers, and provided me an opportunity to discover that gourmandise is an English word too.
The cloud cover was completely opaque outside.
What else could I do ? Use the chat function with the passenger seated in 47C? Not to write her (privately) what I could tell her (privately) – it’s in French, but I guess you can understand the keywords describing banned topics.
I was not going to infringe any law, because PAX47C, a.k.a. Mrs. Marathon, was listed as occupied and therefore not available for this kind of communication. (She was watching something on the IFE.)
Since I had nobody to communicate with, I reverted to the moving map which told me that our destination was Hong-Kong, in the Hong Kong (special administrative region). Good thing to know that.
These screenshots show the amount of navigation needed to skirt between the Chinese military airspaces.
Like on all AF flights to China, South Korea and Japan, there was an interpreter on board, for translating crew announcements and help communication with the passengers. But we were flying to HKG and I had the impression that she translated into Cantonese, not Mandarin, because I understood nothing of her translations. I only managed to detect the word 安全帶 (safety belt) which was obviously pronounced the same. In retrospect, I have a doubt because the interpreter on the return flight spoken an unmistakable Mandarin.
The lighting came back gradually in the cabin two hours before landing in HKG.
This was the breakfast as served.
The same after unwrapping
Scrambled eggs, Portuguese-style poultry sausage : this was standard AF Economy fare.
Nothing unusual in this breakfast: it was exactly the same as the one I often had that winter on CDG-ARN morning flights, except the curd cheese which was extra. My wife received bread of a slightly different shape but was just as compact.
The clouds did not clear while the plane kept zigzagging in the Chinese airspace.
The fuselage hides partially the name of Guiyang, the capital of Guizhou province, the poorest in Mainland China.
When the clouds eventually dissolved, there was hardly any trace of human presence, and in particular no visible road.
We now reached the plain and the population density increased
Pingnan 平南village (县), upstream from Guangzhou on the Xijiang River
The approach of HKG showed the other problem of the moving map : it was much too imprecise, and furthermore the plane was hiding a significant part of the map, which complicated the localization of the landscape.
This was the trajectory as seen by Flightradar24
The Western Dam of the fresh water High Island Reservoir, east of HK
The gigantic Kau Sai Chau public golf of the Jockey Club
Sai Kung City 西貢市
The city of Shatin 沙田, whose homonymous river has been canalized in a straight line, making it an easy reference point during the descent to HKG, even in hazy conditions.
The same after enhancing the contrast
This causeway will eventually be the eastern end of the road crossing the Pearl River estuary, linking Hong-Kong to Macau and Zhuhai.
This artificial island will accommodate the international terminal, since an immigration control will be needed for both destinations.
This super-project (no fewer than 50 km of bridges and tunnels!) is very late on the Hong-Kong side due to geological problems: at least two years behind schedule, which is enormous in China where the tendency is more to scamp the construction in order to deliver the infrastructure on time.
It was taking shape, but still a long way from completion.
Note the condensation cloud overwing in the last kilometer before the touchdown : the air is both hot and saturated with humidity.
Touchdown at 18 :00 local time, i.e. half an hour late, no counting the limited amount of time for taxiing to the terminal
In such unfavorable weather conditions, better not waste time plane spotting; this British Airways A380 is there for the record only.
And a Qantas747
Deplaning going through the J cabin
Welcome in the home of Hong Kong & Shanghai Banking Corporation
A long travellator aided way
There was nobody at the immigration’s e-channels
And hardly anybody at the “all passports” immigration, whereas I remember having waited ages each time I had landed in HKG before. (The categories of visitors who are eligible to applying to e-channel registration have increased, which must have helped).
Seven minutes elapsed between these two pictures ; it could have been even less if the passenger just ahead of us had not had some undetermined problem.
We did not have any check-in luggage and went directly landside
… where the fountains have water.
There were well marked meeting points for groups.
Nobody was waiting for us : we took the Airport Express which was half the price of the Arlanda Express, for nearly the same distance and a construction cost several times higher.
In both cases, you get a good wifi internet access, but here, you have power ports too, type G of course.
Arrival in 24 minutes at Hong-Kong station, and transfer with the free shuttle bus serving our hotel on Hong-Kong Island.
Thanks for reading me !
I now propose you a double bonus on Hong-Kong, as visitors seldom see it.
Excuses, the Hong-Kong way
Bonus : Click here displayhide
The very poor visibility when descending to HKG precluded identifying Shatin’s Chinese Heritage Museum, an excellent museum that Westerns visit because of its location far from the city center. (Chinese tourists are probably more motivated by the cultural heritage, and it is on the way from Shenzhen for those who enter HK by subway).
There would be much to tell about its collections which owe a lot to a generous donation by the late T.T. Tsui (1940 – 2010), a very rich businessman and Chinese antique collector…
… like for instance this polychrome wooden 12th-13th century statue of Guanyin 觀音,
… but I’ll only recall an anecdote which struck me during our visit there.
Not only the entrances of the exhibit rooms bear pictograms reminding the various prohibitions (see two pictures further up)
… but the guards have "rackets" with the photography-related interdictions (no tripod, no selfie stick, no video), and the prohibition to make noise (third pictogram, below). Their vigilance, but also their kindness towards visitors of obvious good faith, was flawless.
Dr Tsui’s collection, at the upper level, attracted fewer visitors despite its merits, so we had the rooms nearly for us only, apart from a group of a dozen visitors with a guide who would have not been any problem if he had not been using one of these belt-held loudspeakers which are ubiquitous in Mainland Chinese tourist sites, at a sound setting which made it audible three rooms away.
After half an hour of it, I could not bear it anymore and addressed of the few guards to tell her basically "It’s great to recommend silence to visitors, but the loudspeaker of this guide is just unbearable”. She paled, assured me that she would do something about it and darted away. I did not expect any result, and headed with my wife to the room which was furthest away from this noisy group. A quarter of an hour later, I saw three people coming directly towards me: the guard who identified me to a manager who assured me that it would not happen again and the guide who was livid and offered me excuses.
In Britain, nobody would have made a guide apologize to a visitor. In Japan, nobody would dare using a loud speaker in a museum. In China, nobody would have seen anything wrong about a guide using a loudspeaker in a museum, or several guides each with a loudspeaker in the same room, for that matter
But Hong-Kong is no longer a British colony, it was only briefly under Japanese control during the war, it’s not quite China either. It’s Hong-Kong.
Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay, at the far end of the Hong-Kong world
Bonus : Click here displayhide
The trail reaching Tin Hau Temple at Joss House Bay is definitely out of the beaten track. You need to go to the end of a subway line, take a minibus and leave it in the middle of nowhere before its end station at a tiny fishermen’s settlement.
It is probable that none of the foreigners on board this CX A350 which flew above it while we visited it has ever heard of it.
They probably had never heard of this engraved rock alongside the trail : this engraving which is precisely dated 20th July, 1274 is no less the oldest extant document written in Hong Kong, about the visit of an official of the salt administration.
The crowds during the annual festival celebrating Tin Hau’s birthday are such that there are special ferries shuttling between here and Hong-Kong Island, hence this landing stage.
The temple is deserted the rest of the time and feels like being at the far end of the world
The readers of my Taiwanese bonuses of yore will recognize this goddess : Tin Hau (in Cantonese) or Tian Hou (in Mandarin) 天后 is no other than Matsu 媽祖, the goddess protecting seamen who receives special devotion in Taiwan.
This votive model is quite special.
It represents a gunboat, a possible memento of the times when pirates were plentiful in this sea.
These incense spirals, with plates protecting the visitors from falling hot ashes are typical from Hong-Kong.
Hong-Kong, is not only a bustling urban forest of skyscrapers
How could you not want to pray in such a peaceful place ?
Air france Lounge - 2E, Hall K
Paris - CDG
Hong Kong - HKG
A bilevel lounge without a lift (I did not see one, but did not do a complete search) has the advantage of providing ample empty space to passenger without any mobility problem, and the inconvenient that most passengers without a mobility problem do not bother to go upstairs, so that passengers with a mobility problem are bound to a crowded level. (This remark does not apply to the lounges at Terminal 2F, where both levels are crowded in the morning and where the lift is for the staff only). There were relatively few passengers overall, so we eventually managed to sit next to each other.
It would be an easy task to check regularly the power at each electric plug to repair those which are powered off, but they apparently don’t do it in CDG (and they don’t in HKG either).
It was not a grand dining experience in the lounge, but there was enough food of sufficient variety to eat well enough to skip the dinner on board, which was my priority. I have no special remark on the welcome and the cleanliness of the facilities.
The neutralized middle seat strategy at the very rear of the aircraft improved significantly our comfort on board because AF’s seats in Economy are actually very cramped, in terms of both width and seat pitch. Only because I immediately crashed to sleep was I not bothered by the incline of the seat ahead of me, which was more than in an A32x.
My wife found that the dinner which I did not even see was decent, and the breakfast was the standard kind : it was overall standard catering in Economy on a long haul night flight.
A small bonus for the FA who did not wake me up for straightening my seat during the dinner service, and a demerit in comfort for this cabin where you can’t have a passenger sleeping (somewhat) comfortably while the passenger behind him eats comfortably.
A taxi was not an option for reaching CDG on Friday evening, and the rail link was as poor as usual, with this train terminating at CDG-1, forcing most passengers to go down inconvenient steps with their luggage from the train to the platform and then back on the next train which was of course already quite full.
We did not use much CDG’s service since we already had BP and did not check luggage. All I could say is the signage was OK. I penalize in that grade the inefficient uselessness of AF’s Twitter team.
It was a longish walk airside in HKG, but with travellators. It was the first time in my experience that going through the immigration in HKG was fast. The Airport Express is very comfortable and much more affordable than its equivalent in ARN and OSL (the brand new one in TPE is even cheaper); we’ll see in the report of the flight back that buses can be good option too.
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