Our first destination in this vacation in Japan was in Fukuoka whose airport is conveniently served by a subway line, but I did not find any satisfactory solution to reach FUK, in terms of schedule and fare: with the existence of regional train passes for foreigners, the density of the train schedules, the certainty to find seats in these trains, the inefficiency of multi-destination FUK/KIX offerings and the margins needed in case I selected separate tickets (flying Peach Airlines on KIX-FUK), nothing worked right.
The choice narrowed down therefore to looking for an ordinary CDG-KIX round trip, and the result of my market research was simple. With very similar end-to-end schedules both ways, it was - either a direct AF flight departing from Paris on Sunday (wasting therefore a day off) and costing 100 EUR extra - or flying AY, departing from CDG on Saturday, with a short connection in HEL which is precisely on the great circle route, resulting in a very limited extra travel time.
Having access to AF’s lounge in CDG and KIX thanks to my FB status had not particular interest because in order to use it, we would need to - wake up earlier in Paris, i.e. have fewer hours of sleep - have our friends in Osaka wake up earlier, because I knew that they would drive us to either the airport or the most convenient train station to reach it, depending on their availability. Neither was acceptable, so forget about the lounge access.
Add to that that the long haul flight would be in 3-4-3 seating in an AF 777, vs. 2-4-2 seating in an AY 333, and that I had included in my comparison the modest extra charge for selecting a duo (aisle + window seats) with Finnair.
In short, no matter my Flying Blue Elite+ status, AF was not competitive and gaining a few FB airmiles was not going to change anything about it.
We took the infamous RER-B train to the airport. The good news was that we had a through train, without any stop from Gare du Nord Station to CDG. The bad news was that a guy boarded the train at Gare du Nord with an amplifier in our backs and set himself to butcher Mon amant de Saint Jean (a 1942 classic song) in a language that I did not identify.
The frown of the passenger in front of us from the first (false) notes made it clear that she too would have preferred some calm on a Saturday morning. Would we have to bear him all the way to CDG? No, he had a special key to open the end of train car door, and after collecting a coin from a couple on the other side of the aisle, went to the next car. Good riddance!
After going up the platform of CDG-2 station, a deployment of ticket controllers and policemen welcomed the passengers, some of which were already paying their dues on portable credit card readers. Their transaction was probably much more costly, but much faster than that of the incoming passengers waiting in line to buy their tickets to Paris. This is the result of a typically French administrative stupidity: I was explained that Paris Aeroports (the state-owned company managing CDG) would charge whopping fees to SNCF (the state-owned company operating the RER train) if the latter installed tickets vending machines in the luggage delivery rooms like in ARN, where passengers are waiting anyway. Who cares about the value of the time wasted by the passengers?
I never tire of the charms of RER Line B, this quintessential showcase of French suburban railway transport, and one of the first and last images of France for most foreign visitors.
Let’s leave railway transport and go to our core topic, air transport, with this well-known FIDS in the concourse of CDG-2 station.
All flights were listed on time, which, from my experience mostly limited that year to weekly shuttles to ARN, simply meant that their delays were not known yet.
A stark lighting on the mezzanine above the high speed train station
First view of Terminal 2D, in a wet setting.
Delta Airlines, Easyjet and Belavia tails
Departure of an AF A320 in Skyteam livery from Terminal 2F
Airports are used by people leaving or returning home, and also by some who call it home because they don’t have one.
Entering the Schengen Area at Terminal 2D is the promise of a long wait in uncomfortable premises: the police staffing is obviously insufficient there.
This won’t be a problem for us on the way back because we shall re-enter the Schengen Area in HEL and the exit will therefore be free in CDG.
The rather heterogeneous list of airlines using Terminal 2D – there are both Schengen and non-Schengen flights.
A display of Paris plans (with lots of advertising, as usual)
Check-in for our flight was just beginning.
I did not know there were so many Japanese, Chinese and Koreans have friends and relatives in Finland, or motivated by vacations in that country in early winter, but these were the languages I heard most in the waiting line. Or maybe they were attracted like us by Finnair’s efficient connections to the Far-East.
1: Do I know exactly what is inside each of my luggage? Well, no, I did not remember the exact number of clothes in each category, so Item 1 was a failure. 2: Am I certain to not have left my luggage without supervision from the time I prepared them? Definitely no. I shuddered at the thought of what my son might have surreptitiously placed in my luggage left without supervision in the living room overnight. 3: Am I certain to not have accepted a luggage or object of another passenger or any other person? Clearly no, since my wife gave me documents that she had printed in her office. Never underestimate the danger of hotel reservations and tourism information printouts.
Items 4 to 6 (checked luggage size, forbidden items in cabin and in checked luggage) were OK.
The initial italic print mandated that If you answer NO to one of these questions, please contact the check-in staff immediately, and I wondered how many passengers do, because most should if they answered these questions really accurately.
The check-in employee – a very friendly young woman – was amused by my taking all these pictures, making even a fake lurch sideways to be in the frame ; she told me that she did not mind if she was in the pictures, a rarity among airport staff.
My checking in took some extra time because machine reading of my passport failed, and then the luggage tag printing machine turned out to be out of paper.
Thirteen kilos for my wife’s luggage, vs. ten for mine (My wife: Yes, but I have all the presents for our Japanese friends!). If AY charged each checked luggage, we could have managed with a single 23 kg piece.
A carry-on luggage gauge marks the end of this stage of the trip. Finnair sets an 8kg limit to the carry-on luggage; ours did not have a suspicious size but I haven’t seen any check about this.
The priority access to the security check was limited to a shortcut which was worthless on that non-rush traffic day, reaching the same ordinary lanes.
These seats just before the security check are for use by the passengers who need to remove their too metallic shoes; they can protect their socks with blue plastic "slippers” at their disposal in the column on the left.
Immediately after being searched for dubious substances (like macaroons, whose contents are paste-like, therefore a probable no-no) at the security check , craving passengers can buy their dose (at an inflated 2.50 EUR per macaroon) from this dealer in sight of all.
This duty free shop lies shamelessly when it claims that duty-free shopping items are not in the hand luggage quota.
It had noted this page on the website of Finnair, which has no reason to be bound by the promises of a shop owner in CDG. Unlike the jetties at Terminal 2F, Terminal 2D offers a rather unencumbered view on the apron.
The set of power ports that I tried was off power, but it had a view on a modern work of art on the radiator.
This other one was powered (the modern art gallery continued on the radiators).
We could have nearly boarded the previous Finnair flight: a staff had looked in the line at check-in the eventual late passengers for this flight.
These bright flowers were the only color spots in the landscape.
The weather outside was really bad.
With such poor lighting conditions, I did what I could in terms of plane spotting, beginning with this Air Malta A320
There she leaves
Air Serbia A320
Meteorological allegory of the financial outcome of the Paris 2024 Olympics
Departure of the preceding Finnair flight, operated with an A320
Departure of a Belavia E-175LR
Departure of a Delta Airlines757-200
Arrival of Croatia Airlines A319
A reminder of the long gone era when the corporate color of Europcar was orange?
This fountain had water (unlike those of Terminal 2F earlier that year)
"Prenez un verre" : this means “have a drink”, but literally “take a glass”… and there was none around.
No passenger was trying to play this red piano,
… and few dared sitting in the vicinity, in case a passenger would.
This way for connecting to a non-Schengen flight or other terminals
Arrival of the star of this report
Another Flight Reporter?
Dreaming in front of planes (like the incoming Finnair A320 which would operate our flight) is for all ages.
This kid was not alone watching the ballet of large birds
But this one was probably happy to be warm and dry
Especially since it had both shelter and food, with all the crumbs from this neighboring food court.
Plus the ones left by passengers who had brought their picnic
The only portion of blue sky was there, although there was some awful weather in one of these LED-lit tiles.
Boarding was called by zone, but no need to envy the first ones, since they had to wait in the jetbridge
… until an airport staff removed this strap barrier (possibly after a handicapped passenger had been seated)
Jetbridges with windows covered with raindrops
Like on AF European flights, the seats are neutralized in Business class, but they are otherwise the same as in Economy, and the limit is simply set by moving the curtain forward or backward.
These seats have a magazine pocket in the upper part, which provides more space for the knees below.
The seat pitch was very comfortable: no less than 32 cm from the seat pocket to the seat edge, whereas AF sometimes provides as little as 22 cm.
This translated into 75 cm from the back of the seat.
The location of the magazine pocket in the upper part of the seat back was not the only reason for that: it only gained 5 cm of space for the legs.
The space between armrests was nearly the same as that of AF’s A32x whose seats have been widened slightly at the expense of the width of the aisle.
The carpet was clean
The cover of the seat ahead of me was damaged but was nevertheless functional.
Same for the netting of my seat pocket: it was damaged, but not exceedingly so.
This was not dirt lower right in the seat pocket, but slightly damaged paint.
Cleanliness check failure for the seat pocket of my wife, which was decorate inside with the chewing gum of a previous passenger (Failure for the passenger too, for leaving it there after use).
The safety belt buckles don’t have a logo, but you don’t see them once you are seated: it is an unimportant detail for me.
The plane was equipped with collective screens which would show a simple moving map alternating with uninteresting short programs (if my memory is correct).
The contents of the magazines pocket
I spare you the details of the duty free magazine; but this is the BOB offering
The safety card both sides
South America and Africa as well as any land south of the Equator are unchartered territory for Finnair.
According to this drawing, our HEL-KIX was going to stop over in PEK and ICN, or alternatively in NGO. The aircraft actually flew quasi-directly above the first two airports.
The configuration of HEL’s only terminal is simple: three sides of a rectangle, with the Schengen Area flights in the right hand side half.
No problem for finding space my daypack under the seat in front of me, or better alongside the wall to have more leg space. Many passengers are connecting to a long haul flight to the Far East and did not need to maximize their hand luggage, unlike what happens on the AF flights to ARN where space in the overhead bins are chronically insufficient because AF deters passengers from checking in luggage by extra charges.
Did I forget to mention that the weather was bad that day?
With the camera focus set to infinity, this is the best I managed to do out of this Air Seychelles A330.
Take-off Runway 27L; I did not even try to identify the plane which landed just before on Runway 27R
We were very soon in the clouds
… and there was no hope for an outside IFE once above them.
I did not try later to identify these aircraft on Flightradar24; they were too far away to see any detail.
The trolley reached our row.
Finnair only offers a drink, but my wife obtained a coffee AND a (highly diluted) cranberry juice. And also a generous serving of smiles.
Compare that with the offering of Marathon Catering SARL (that was where an operational water fountain airside had been useful) – this was the meal for one person; my wife selected the same meal on the menu that I had proposed.
We would not see the Finnish landscape this time: it was not only too late but also too cloudy.
The gates of the connecting flights were displayed on the screens: ours would be Gate 52.
But the arrival gate was displayed too, and we would have a bus transfer.
Descent towards HEL
This rotating hatch is that of the thrust inverter.
The ground appeared less than two minutes before touching down Runway 15
Crossing the axis of Runway 04R/22L
Deployment of the thrust inverters
The unusual shape of the control tower
Arrival at the parking spot
One more door shot
The bus was too close to the plane to take her in a single picture
From the rear door of the bus
Deplaning from both ends of the aircraft
Screens overhead in the bus provided the gate information.
It was 16:29, local time, when the bus dropped us at the terminal, and boarding of our flight to KIX was due to start at 16:45, which meant that we had no time for window shopping.
We walked therefore past duty free shop window windows without stopping, without stopping for plane spotting either because it was night and the presence of deplaning corridors makes HEL very plane-spotter unfriendly.
Five minutes later, we were at the passport control exiting the Schengen Area, which was a shocking difference of aesthetics and fluidity with the passport control entering the Schengen Area at CDG-2D.
And optical check of the face (not the fingerprints). I admit I wasted time there because I did not understand immediately what I was supposed to do.
I don’t know whether the problem was the machine or my wife, but she did not manage to get her passport read. No problem: there were just as many manual gates which were equally available. (She went through the automated gate like a breeze on the way back.)
More shops to go through
Not only we did not have time, but we did not have the status to enter this one.
Arrival at Gate 52 at 16h40: despite the bus transfer and our lack of experience with the automated passport checks in HEL, we still had a five minute margin until boarding would begin.
There were J upgrades on sale, but I did not enquire about the price.
An illustration of the plane spotter-unfriendliness of HEL
There are very few power ports: I did not see any outside these six cabins.
The Finns are the world leaders in consumption of coffee per inhabitant, but it is not offered to them.
I did not have time to go any further: it was time to board and what happened next is in the next FR. In the meantime, I propose two tourist bonuses on Fukuoka:
Bonus : Click here displayhide
Only the stone foundations remain of the several concentric fortifications of the vast castle of Fukuoka.
There may have been a dungeon at the uppermost level; the historians are still debating on its past existence, and all the signage mentions that. It provides today a panoramic view on Fukuoka’s skyline.
Fukuoka’s airport is unusual Japan in that it is inside the urban area. I did even try to suggest going there for plane spotting, but the unhindered view from the castle park, a blue sky and a powerful zoom were good enough for that.
737 ANA, longer than the preceding one, but the registration number was not legible.
These birds exist in Star Alliance livery too: 737
CRJ-700 belonging to Ibex Airlines, a regional airline cooperating ANA, without being a subsidiary
Now the competitor, with this JAL737
This is a bigger Boeing, but would rather not take risks about the type
JAL has regional subsidiaries: Japan Transocean737-400
Japan Air Commuter Dash 8 – Q400
J-Air E-190 in Universal Studios livery
Japan has not dearth of LCCs: Skymark Airlines737-800
Fuji Dream Airlines E-170
Jetstar Japan A320
The only foreign aircraft I saw were Korean: Asiana Airlines A321
777-200ER Korean Air
Air Busan A321
Marathons and illuminations
Bonus : Click here displayhide
After a long and sleepy train ride, we arrived at the central station of Hakata, Fukuoka’s twin city. (Fukuoka was historically the local seat of military power, whereas Hakata on the other side of the river was the city of merchants.)
I noticed of course this monument at the edge of the station’s front square
Stars who had left their footprints? Not the Hollywood kind, but stars, nevertheless. The key was there: these footprints are those of the successive winners of the Fukuoka Marathon.
The 2012 edition winner was Kenyan, and his 2h06’58" performance deserved respect
I was not going to enter this race: the2017 edition of the Fukuoka Marathon was held on the day of our arrival; I saw from the train runners who would be towards the bottom of the overall ranking.
No, I did not do it on purpose, but it was kind of dumb to land a few hours after the start of this marathon, and leave Osaka a few hours before the start of its own marathon. It would be for next time!
I arrived too late for the Fukuoka marathon, but just in time for the illuminations of Hakata station which started on 12th November (Christmas is not a holiday in Japan, but January 1st is).
When it comes to New Year illuminations, the Japanese don’t cut corners: some 100,000 colored LEDs had been installed there, according to the local TV evening news!
We only need to take these escalators to reach the outside mezzanine
… which was illuminated too, of course
Walking at the upper level under countless drapes of light
… with a panoramic view of the station’s plaza.
A sort of light cascade was crossing the avenue on the far end of the plaza
The canopy above the station’s entrance
Christmas markets are fashionable in Japan: we also saw one in Osaka.
The local curiosity was that the animation on the plaza was a live radio program
… whose studio, sound-proofed by thick windows, overlooked this very plaza.
In a way, it was live and in public!
After we had admired these decorations in comfortable weather conditions (it was much warmer in Fukuoka than in Osaka), it was time to go down these escalators
…and go back to our hotel, not with one of the neatly parked taxis waiting on the parking lot in front of the station, but simply on foot.
Thanks for reading me!
Paris - CDG
Helsinki - HEL
A rather comfortable seat pitch for Economy, boosted by the seat design with a magazine pocket towards the top, collective screens displayed a moving map at times: these are small advantages which makes the Finnair A32x more comfortable than those of AF. The crew was especially smiling. On the other hand, apart from a drink, food is either BOB or DIY.
The fluidity was OK at CDG Terminal 2D was OK (but woe behold passengers arriving from non-Schengen area flights!). The accessibility of CDG was as poor as usual. I have no special remark on the services: wifi internet access, power ports (the first one I tried was not powered, though) and the signage.
Fluidity was optimal at the passport control leaving the Schengen Area in HEL. The two half-terminals are interconnected, but there is nevertheless a lot of walking involved. There were way too few power ports in the vicinity of the gate of our next flight.
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