The airline with the best average rating is LEVEL with 7.7/10.
The average flight time is 8 hours and 44 minutes.More information
This may look like a classic flight from Paris to Guadeloupe, in the French Caribbeans. But in addition to a flight onboard the A350 with the probably highest density in the world, it will describe for the first time the plane+boat product from Air Caraïbes, and several surprises on the ground, in the air and in the water! Put your life-jackets on, and let's go!
I have planned to spend a week at Les Saintes, in Guadeloupe. The main option to reach it is to take a flight to Pointe-à-Pitre, on the main island, then to drive for an hour to Trois-Rivières port, and then to take on of the ferries that reaches Terre-de-Haut, the main of Les Saintes islands, in just over 30 minutes.
We are in the middle of school holidays and tickets are expensive. There is a large choice of airlines offering daily flights, including Air France, Level, Air Caraïbes, Corsair and XL AirlinesAyant eu la bonne idée de prévoir cette escapade en période de vacances scolaires, le prix des billets d'avion est en conséquence, et le choix difficile entre les 777 COI d'Air France et les bétaillères proposées par les autres compagnies, Corsair, Air Caraïbes et XL.
Interestingly, Level has the best seats with a 2-4-2 layout in a nice A330. But the flight arrives too late to take the ferry on the same day, and it is the most expensive. Surprinsingly, Premium eco is sold at a lower price that Economy (which does not even include bags nor meals!).
Air Caraïbes however offers since a year a combined plane+transfer+ferry service called "NavigAIR", including any assistance required in case one of the means of transportation is delayed. And surprisingly, the offer for Paris-Guadeloupe-Les Saintes is 100€ cheaper than the sole Paris-Guadeloupe!
Second good surprise: on the return flight, Premium Eco is only 50€ more expensive than the cheapest Economy fare. For a night flight, it seems perfect, not saying that a second bag is included should I want to bring back some souvenirs (who said rhum?).
Finally, an A350 is scheduled for the first flight, and a retrofitted A332 on the return flight, with a 2-3-2 Premium that has never been reported here, and that is probably much better than the one in 3-3-3 in the A350.
December 28th, 48 hours before departure, online check-in opens. It is time to choose a seat as this was not possible without an extra fee until now. Even in Premium. I can select seat in front of the plane… and of the boat. There is a free seat next to me, but since we are in the middle of holidays, I have little hope it stays free.
December 29th, little check over Air Caraïbes flights. F-ORLY, one of the A330 seems blocked in Guyana since the 25th, and is replaced by an A340 operated by the Portuguese airline Hi Fly. I wouldn't mind taking this plane that is becoming rare, but it looks to be often late, and I need to get my ferry on arrival.
Décember 30, departure day!
The alarm clock rings at 6:30. As I am still in bed, Paris Airports app tells be that my plane arrived at its gate. It is still an A350, called F-HHAV. It will have 4 hours and 15 minutes for its turnaround, which is plenty enough for me to reach the airport, and to prepare the plane for an on-time departure.
Let's head toward central Paris to take Orlybus shuttle, driving through December parisian fog. Ceiling at 300 ft, reduced visibilty, the weather observations are confirmed by the buildings that disappear in the greyish sky.
8:30, arrival at Paris-Orly. It looks early but we are only 45 minutes to the end of check-in. TX increased its check-in deadline from 60 to 90 minutes, which is a lot more than the shuttle flights I am used to take in Orly, having a 20 minutes deadline.
Self-checking kiosks are waiting for me.
I can check that I am check-in until les Saintes, label my bag, and find my way to the bag drop-off.
There is a lot of people near the counters, for our flight, the one to Fort-de-France in Martinique just after, and the one to French Guyana that won the A340 and is well delayed.
According to the instructions, I am to get a voucher for the ferry during checkin. Two agents, at the beginning and middle of the lane promise me that I'll get it at the counter.
8:45, we reach the front line. Finally, there isn't much people, but the organization is very poor. Some self drop-off kiosks are out of order, and staff is arguing on the best way to distribute passengers. On the top of it, some passengers managed to avoid the lane, and arrive from various places, without boarding pass or bag tag. A complete mess.
I ask for my voucher to an agent that promises to take care of it and leaves. I won't see him again.
Another one asks me to use a kiosk, which refuses to work. Finally, the luggage belt behind the kiosks fails. We have to wait
9:00, while still waiting, I ask for the voucher to another member of staff. He happily brings me this:
I have some doubts it will be useful, and start wondering whether it is normal that my by is labelled until the final destination, since we have to retrieve it in PTP and take care of it in the transfer and ferry. But my bags finally leaves as the belt was repaired.
The flight is on time, and waiting times are reasonable. Let's stop at the viewing platform. Not much to see due to construction works just below, besides a Wamos 747.
There is not a lot of people at security. A signs says that "security controls are mandatory", just in case you had a doubt.
After a long corridor with a few shops, we reach the new building, with a much higher ceiling. It is quite pleasant.
Many flights depart to the Carribean this morning. Air Caraïbes "PTP" A330 to Dominican Republic and Haïti, and Wamos 747 to PTP, on behalf of Corsair, 30 minutes after us.
My ticket does not offer access to Icare lounge nor to the baby lounge. But wait, would that sign depicting a place with trees and a view over plane be indicating an "economy class lounge"?
Well. It looks like we've been sold a lemon.
And finally, our plane at the gate. An A330 arrives and will leave to Martinique. Two gates will be used, one for priority passengers, one for non-privileged cattle class.
9:50, pre-boarding is called. Did you say "pre"-boarding. Ok, let's wait a bit. I'll take advantage of this time to make a photo of the entertainment offered by Paris Airport (the magazine and arcade games) and of my documents. Two boarding passes, and Air Caraïbes loyalty card. The 3000 enrolment bonus miles added with the 2100 miles of this leg should be enough to get a free lounge entrance on the return.
10:15, there isn't a lot of people in the queue, I join them to approach the A350. I've never been so close to this type of aircraft.
On the left, "Caraibes" premium economy. It does not feel that premium. To the right, economy. In a hi-density 3-4-3 layout.
My row is 15, the 4th of the 34 in this "Soleil" (sun) economy cabin.
Wait… it is the first time that I see the life-jacket placed on the seat. Here it is after inflation.
I guess that Caraibes class passengers get one for each arm, while Madras business would get a full jacket.
Oh, actually it is just the amenity kit. A nice limited edition to celebrate 15 years of transatlantic flights. I'll see several ones used on beaches. It includes a pair of socks (a nice touch), a quite thin mask, and headsets. The pillow is large and thick, and the blanket on the small side.
Of course, the cabin is modern, although I find the grey line around lights a bit strange.
The window is huge, it doesn't fit in a single photo. The sit pocket is (almost) clean, and the armrest minimal, and beginning to show signs of wear.
As we still have to wait, let's have a look at the screen. Large and contrasted, but also quite reflective. Two fisheye cameras have a good definition and nicely complete the view from the window.
Doors are closed at 11:00, 15 minutes after the scheduled departure. The captain makes a detailed announcement, and indicates that we had to unload bags belonging to late passengers - apparently they have just showed up, he indicates that he refused them not be increase the delay. Alright then.
He finally says that we will take off at 232 tons, gives some details on the fuel that will be used, and that we may encounter some turbulences.
11:10, pushback with a view over Air Caraïbes very nice new livery.
Cabin crew then makes the welcome announcement, in French, English and Creole… we are already a bit in the islands! Safety demonstrations are made in French and English.
While taxiing, we cross this Moroccan 737 with a flowerish livery, Corsair Airbuses, and CS-TQY, the famous replacement A340.
11:33, line up on runway 24.
11:34, take off.
11:35, sun already shines in the cabin, as to say that we are no longer in Paris. We are only 1500 ft high, the cloud layer responsible for the bad weather in Paris is quite thin.
10 minutes later, warm towels are served. It is a nice gesture, not common in economy class.
The pitch is a little better than on AF 777s that I am used to. However, the reduced seat width is real. It is bearable for this day flight, but I'm not sure I'd enjoy it during a night flight.
Around noon, we are invited to check the lunch menu on our screens. Service begins at the rear of the cabin, while waiting let's see what is said about NavigAIR service. "Safety and serenity" they say… we'll see.
The trolley reaches our row after 13.00. Aperitif is served with the tray, I'll have a ti'punch. Rhum and lemon are generously served, and canne sugar is provided separately to add it.
The tray looks good, with metal cutlery, a large towel and an actual glass
The quantity is sufficient and I can't complain about the taste, as shown be the result:
There is now only a little more than 5 hours of flight left. …that's what we were thinking at that time, but we'll come back to it.
I really enjoy the reflection of the fuselage on the engine, and I'll spent long minutes watching it.
But let's have a look at the IFE. It works quite well, the are no adds and a decent selection of movies.
I'll manage to sleep for two hours, thanks to the comfortable pillow.
Reading time. Everything is quite coloured.There is an dutyfree shopping magazine, and Air Caraïbes propaganda, highlighting NavigAIR routes.
The increases check-in cut-off time is also highlighted. You need to know French, as only the safety card is translated in English.
The "fasten your seat belts" sign is turned on a few times, accompanied by a message in English according to which "the captain has turned on the seat belt sign…", but not in French. Possibly a feature of this new Airbus that was not customized?
I extract myself from my seat to show you the toilets. They are quite large and clean in the center… but the white panel coating is already worn…
A look at the aft of the cabin, then back to the front, a trolley is available to have a drink. Cheers!
17.00, a chocolate sweet is offered. Let's change to Pointe-à-Pitre time, it is now 12.00.
13.00, PTP time. We are at level 400, and there is only 90 minutes of flight left. Well, again, that's what we thought.
A snack is served, from the front of the cabin this time. A "big muffin" was announced on the menu, it is a tuna and cheese sandwich and a madeleine instead. Breakfast-style drinks are offered, I choose a chocolate.
I should mention that cabin crew is fabulous since the beginning of the flight. The will for instance take the time to describe all the drinks available, or ensure that UM are eating well.
Other members of crew will answer passenger questions. Such as the one seated in front of me, wondering why the screen indicate 90 minutes left, more than an hour after the captain announced the same thing. And I must admit that we are no longer flying towards PTP.
And actually. At 14.15, the captain announces that he was informed by New York ATC that a fire broke out at Piarco Center that manages a part of the airspace over Carribbean. They are negociating with San Juan ATC that replaced Piarco, but our flight should be at least one hour longer than expect. That is unusual.
Side-note: apparently that was a false alarm: http://www.looptt.com/content/authorities-no-fire-piarco-airport-extinguisher-caused-evacuation
Our plane is now facing the North-West, and getting further and further from Guadeloupe. Supposing we are only one hour late, I'd have 2hours and 20 minutes to leave the plane, get my luggage and take the transfer before the ferry leaves at 16.45. There is another ferry at 17.30, but I don't know if they have seats available.
20 minutes later, we finally turn towards our destination. We should already have been on the ground.
The flight deck announces that our forced itinerary will allow us to do some tourism, and describes St-Martin and soon St-Barthelemy on the left. Here isSaint-Eustache, Saint-Kitts then Nevis
At that moment, a last chocolate is offered, and an announcement invites passengers connecting on NavigAIR to pick-up their luggage. Copied!
The captain then indicates Montserrat, its still smoking volcano, and the lava flow that completely destroyed the South of the island between 1995 and 97, including Plymouth, the former capital city.
Next islands : Guadeloupe! The flight deck announces that we pass level 100, and we are invited to get ready for landing.
We land at 15:15, and triligual announcement wish us a warm welcome in the West Indies. An Air Transat flight is ready to take off to Canada after us, while an XL 330 is already here, it left from Paris-CDG early this morning. Air France promotes Paris 2024 olympics on an A320 dedicated to regional flights… and you can guess in the background the Wamos 747 that we saw in Orly.
In the cabin, everybody is in action stations! Many have short connections, including to St-Martin that we overflown one hour ago. My boat leaves in 1h15, the last of the day is in 2 hours. "Serenity" the ad said… we'll see. The instructions are to pick-up luggage and to find the shuttle next to exit #3.
Outside the jetbridge, a desk handles passengers connecting on other flights. Immigration is passed without any control, and we reach the luggage delivery hall, with 4 belts. Ours are announced on belt number 4.
15:40, luggage start arriving on the belt. 15 minutes later, no more bags, and just a few passengers left. But I still don't have my suitcase. Passengers from Corsair and AF flights are now arriving.
Another passenger is taking NavigAIR shuttle to Marie-Galante island, and we enquire at the luggage service where we are told that our bags were probably delivered at the regional terminal, and should appear on belt number 2 in a few minutes. Of course.
Belt number 2 only indicates regional arrivals. At 16.10, the belt finally starts and a few bags appear, followed by the head of a handler asking "all good?" - "Well yes, so far…". The blue "Navigair" label is no longer here.
Back to the arrivals hall, somebody is waiting for us. She will drive the passenger to the city terminal to Marie-Galante, as asks me to wait for "a grey BMW". She don't know anything about the ferry, she is just in charge of the transfer.
16.30, an old BMW finally apprears. We apparently have a 40 minutes drive ahead of us, as there is no traffic today.
My driver drops me at Trois-Rivieres at 17.15. I am supposed to give the voucher I don't have and an ID card at the ticket office.
But I am just asked my name, and given my tickets that are ready. The 16.45 boat is actually scheduled at 16.30, I am moved to the last one today, supposed to leave at 17.30, in a few minutes.
Luggage are taken in front of the boat, and loaded as in a regional plane. The pitch is ample, but seats are hard plastic shells. The boat will finally wait 30 more minutes for a large group also coming from the airport.
Last challenge: the captain indicates that there is a big swell, with waves of more than 2 meters. He also suggests people that don't want to be wet to sit inside, at it won't be possible to move once outside the port.
He wasn't lying, and sea-sickness bags will be useful to several passengers.
18.35 : Terre-de-Haut! A last announcement from the captain wish all passengers a nice stay, and suggest a fresh Coke followed by a good rhum to recover from the trip!
Luggage are unloaded on the wharf.
The cabin in this A350 is modern (for now) but the 10 abreast layout is unpleasant, I would not like to experiment it on a night flight. Happily, the crew was efficient and nice, and the catering is qualitative. The Carribbean touches allow to feel on holiday as we step in the aircraft. However, NavigAIR product lacks consistency, especially on luggage management.