As announced in the three first reports of this journey, I am bringing you in quite unknown French islands, famous for their beaches, hiking trails and gastronomy inspired by fresh seafood: Saint-Pierre and Miquelon !
The easy option to reach this destination from Europe would be waiting for the summer, during which ASL Airlines operates a 737 once a week from Paris-CDG. But we won't do that. We'll go there right in the middle of winter, when wind blows and snow falls heavily. At that time of the year, you need to connect in Montréal, Halifax or St. John's. After the inward journey via Toronto and Halifax, we'll now experiment the return via Montreal.
Saint-Pierre - Montréal, this is more than three hours in an ATR 42 (the duration indicated by FR is incorrect, probably due to timezone changes). Three hours in theory, but you'll see that the eality can be a little different, as may start to look like a long-haul flight!
I'll also share with you a few photos of Miquelon and St-Pierre. Fasten you seatbelts and let's go!
You may have noticed that the announced Cessna return trip to Miquelon is not reported. While Saint-Pierre is the main island with 5000 inhabitants, only 500 people live on Miquelon. It was a disappointment: these flights highly depend on the weather, you even pay for the ticket just before departure, once the flight is confirmed. In our case, too strong winds and icing conditions (there is no de-icing in Miquelon) cancelled the flights several days. But here is a glimpse at the alternative to this 10 minutes flight: a 1.5 hours ferry ride, that can be quite rough (it is also sometimes cancelled). The local government purchased these two modern ferries. Here are also a few photos of the beaches, that unfortunately don't reveal how beautiful the island can be when the weather is sunnier.
But we are here to discuss about planes and not boats! 11.40, let's head to the airport. A final view of Saint-Pierre under the snow. Note that the weather is often much nicer, as you can see in the bonus at the end.
Saint-Pierre Pointe Blanche International
The ride from the most remote part of the town lasts five good minutes. A freezing wind is blowing, I rush inside the warm terminal. It has been renovated for the summer direct flight launched last year, and is very clean.
The check-in area is small, with two desks for our flight, and the one dedicated to Miquelon departures on the right. The is no priority lance since Air Saint-Pierre has no business class nor loyalty programme. It would be difficult to be unloyal to the only airline operating here!
The queue isn't short, a little more than one hour before the departure: the airport is so close to the city that passengers don't arrive very early. All the lights are listed: besides our flight to Montréal, there are only the 4 return trips to Miquelon operated with the Cessna.
I reach the check-in desk after 15 minutes. My suitcase ate a lot of Miquelon scallops, and the agent has difficulties to retrieve my complete booking to Paris, but finally manages to check my bag for the two flights. Montreal connection is special since bags from St-Pierre are directly transferred to Air France plane without having to clear the customs with them.
Here are the boarding pass. It is my first YUL-CDG BP with Air Saint-Pierre logo!
I also get seat 1A without making any special request, it is perfect.
Landside, a large mezzanine gives a nice view over the apron, the runway and finally the sea. Our plane is here. A café doubles as a duty free shop, but it is closed today.
Complete spotting: le ATR and le Cessna.
The rest of the landside area, nicely decorated.
12.10, an announcement invites passengers to go to the boarding area. Security controls are the same as in any large airport, except that the only lane is manned by two persons: a man and a women, the strict minimum. It is fast to go though, as well as at the immigration just behind.
This is the whole airside area. A few seats, a vending machine, drinking water, toilets, and large windows.
Our plane is being fuelled in front of us.
12.45, somebody arrives at the gate. The boarding starts 10 minutes later. Seniors and families are individually invited to board first. Passengers are manually identified on a list.
After this "priority boarding", passengers are called row by row, starting by rows 1 to 3. Let's go! The wind is strong, but it is the last opportunity to breath this pure Atlantic fresh air.
A last look at the Cessna, the tower and the first houses, and we board.
Nobody at the rear.
The aircraft is shaken as I walk along the aisle. The stewardess is in the middle of it to help passengers find their seats, and confirms that it is the wind that shakes the plane.
My first row gives a good legroom. On the side panel, a safety card is completed by a yellow card on the operation of the door …and several air-sickness bags!
The propeller is still strapped, which is probably good seeing the wind indicator.
10 minutes later the stewardess welcomes us "onboard this flight to Moncton" …whaaaat ? "that we'll reach in 1h40" …alriiiiiiight… "before continuing to Montréal" ….pfeeeew!
Actually, the FSP-YUL flight is almost as long as the 1500 km range of the ATR, and the stop is needed to refuel when the wind is too strong. But it is a bit surprising to hear an unknown city as a destination!
13.10, taxiing towards the runway begins, and the stewardess presents the safety demonstrations.
13.12, runway backtracked, cabin crew seated, we can take off from runway 26.
As we take-off, we can notice Pointe Blanche islet that gave its name to the airport.
And the sky turns from the grey to the blue as we cross the clouds.
Clouds that disappear after 45 minutes, as we approach the first Canadian grounds, Cap Breton island in Nova Scotia.
…according to my personal IFE.
You can find Sydney there, with a climate quite different from its Australian sister.
14.10, meal service began a few minutes ago. It takes some as the stewardess is talkative and knows a lot of people.
Here is the offered tray, with some apple juice. There was a large choice of drinks.
Cold meat with pickles as starter, cold meat with green beans and tomato as main, cold m… uh no, (preserve) fruit salad, mayonaise, butter and baguette. A mint candy and basic plastic cutlery complete the package.
This is clearly no gastronomy and you better like pork, but it is still good and unexpectedly fresh. During that time, we are flying along Nova Scotia and an ocean of ice.
The landscape changes a bit as we reach Prince Edward Island.
Again, a lot of white. It is sometimes difficult to see where the land ends and where the water begins.
We approach Moncton airport in the fog, before forests and white tracks appear… and suddenly an airport. Greater Moncton Roméo LeBlanc International Airport hosts UPS, FedEx and Purolator, but also a flying school and some scheduled flights.
We don't taxi towards the terminal building but in front of this small brown building where a fuelling truck is waiting for us.
15.00, engines are stopped, we are invited to stay seated, seatbelts unfastened and to completely turn off all electronic devices during the fuelling.
This is a nice moment of silence, after two hours of the noisy Pratt & Whitney engines. It is also the opportunity to discuss with other passengers.
15.20, end of fuelling. 2 hours and 9 minutes to Montréal are announced, at 20 000 ft.
There is still some snow on several taxiways, but it does not seem to prevent us to safely taxi to the threshold of runway 29. A red Dash-8 lands next to us.
15.25, the Dash vacates the runway and we take-off.
This Dash 8 is apparently on of the two doing maritime surveillance for the Canadian Coast Guard.
We also see the place where we refueled. The terminal is on the other side.
Aaand that is the external view for the two remaining hours to Montréal!
As there is nothing interesting outside, let's have a look at what happens inside. 16.00 is snack time! It is the second service on this flight scheduled to last 3.25 hours.
Biscuits with hot or fresh drinks are offered.
While the stewardess discusses with passengers, I visit the rear of the cabin.
I promise I did not touch at the buttons. Toilets are clean, but still without water in the sink, replaced by antibacterial gel.
I spend the rest of the flight listening at music. Intra-auricular (or noise-cancelling) headsets are a must-have to reduce the buzzing of the engines.
17.15 Saint-Pierre time, 15.15 Montréal time, "fasten seat belts" sign is turned on. The captain takes the mic to inform us that we are to land in Montréal within 15 minutes, where we'll find snow and -8°C. The stewardess then makes an announcement to request us to check that phone are in airplane mode.
Clouds are thick, and we see the ground as we are already south of Montréal. We flown by downtown towers and Mont-Royal without seeing them.
15.30, we softly land. According to the green wings of the Airbus, the temperatures must be low!
We head to a remote stand and engines stop at 15.35. Finally.
Here is our very straightforward route.
Goodbye little ATR, hello mobile lounge!
The mobile lounge, even in low position, is higher and bigger than our ATR.
While the lounge drives to the terminal, a ground handling agent informs passengers that AF flight will board at gate 55, KLM at gate 57 (as usual), and that passengers on AF don't need to pick their luggage.
15.55, almost five hours after the departure from Saint-Pierre, we finally reach Montréal terminal. The flight for Paris takes off in two hours. ✈️
But this report would not be complete without of few photos of the islands:
Bonus : Click here display hide
Saint-Pierre is a small town made of coloured houses and protected by a colony of seals (while waiting for the whales that come back in summer), surrounded by many pounds…
…pounds that are perfect to practice hockey, when not done on the ice rink where the two local teams take part in a very popular championship.
Seals are not eaten, at the difference of the huge and very good scallops from Miquelon than can be prepared in many ways.
Landscapes are unique and varied:
And the light is exceptional, even in winter.
Air Saint Pierre
Saint-Pierre - FSP
Montreal - YUL
The airline as well as the airport are devoted to the service of the island. They do whatever is needed to safely bring passengers on-time to their connection flights. The cabin is not excessively spacious and quite noisy (the ATR 42-600 should improve this), but the generous catering and nice landscapes help to cope with it. All in all, a singular and endearing airline, as the two islands are.
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