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This is the outbound flight for a four-day week-end in of Alsace in the north-east of France, very close to the French/German/Swiss triple border point – this geographical peculiarity is part of this story.
EuroAirport Basel Mulhouse Freiburg (this is its longish official name), a.k.a EAP, has the unique feature of being a binational airport : its single terminal is split both landside and airside between a Swiss section (a.k.a BSL) and a French section (a.k.a MLH), respectively. It is entirely built on French territory, next to a convenient expressway, but the Swiss section of the terminal is connected to the Swiss territory by a 3 km fenced road (the "Airport Road") with underpasses disconnecting it from the French road network. Passport and customs controls at the administrative borders inside the terminal were discontinued when Switzerland joined the Schengen Area in 2008 : by and large, EAP operated from then on as any other Schengen area airport.
Signage to EuroAirport at the start of the Airport Road (Flughafenstrasse, in German)
The Covid-19 crisis shattered this smooth, quasi border crossing-free operation, when both France and Switzerland established evolving restrictions for entering and leaving their respective territories. At the time of this flight:
- entering Switzerland required a negative PCR test, less than 72 hours old, and entailed a strict quarantine if you had been staying recently in the greater Paris area, then rated as a "red zone"
- entering France required a negative PCR test, less than 72 hours old.
Air France would only sell us a CDG-BSL round trip ticket, and after receiving an umpteenth e-mail from AF reminding me to check about immigration and sanitary documents needed for my destination, and despite my locals friends reassurances, I called the AF hotline a few days before the flight : the operator immediately confirmed that yes, the exit to France at EAP was open and that we therefore did not need any border-crossing related document.
We had been supposed to get there in early March, but Season 3 of Coronavirus started early in the Greater Paris region, with a Red Zone rating which meant that any travelling would be virtual until late spring.
By that time, the Paris - EAP schedule had been reduced to a single round trip from CDG operated on Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday only, which through sheer luck matched the Ascension day holiday.
Arrival in front of terminal 2F by taxi; the driver was convinced that only Gate 13 was open, but Gate 6 (closer to the Skypriority check in counters) was open too. One Covid-19 related restriction is that the terminal can be entered by passengers and staff only, and there is a BP or ticket check at the door.
Long walk in the terminal behind three people who are not going to fly.
The Skypriority luggage drop was there
The queue seemed a bit long, but half a dozen counters were open, so it was moving fast
No, there was none of these dangerous items in the 8.9 kg suitcase checked in to save from confiscation our presents for our Alsacian friends.
This exit from the check-in area has been created during the Covid-19 crisis to reduce bidirectional passenger traffic.
The priority security check located closest to the train station used to be vulnerable to an influx of passengers, due to understaffing, and operating a single security check line: the sanitary crisis has not changed that. There is already a long line in front of us and it was going to double in length very quickly behind us. A second control line was opened at last shortly before it was our turn.
Ten minutes to cross the security check: not a commendable performance, as none of the passengers ahead of us hindered the process in any way.
Another novelty for a passenger of the pre-Covid era: a temperature control by this employee at the entrance to the jetty.
The jetty itelf was uncrowded – it used to be always congested somewhere, being designed with too little space for the capacity of planes operated at this terminal.
I hadn't paid attention to it when taking this picture: the emergency exit door, symmetrical to that of the entrance to the living room on the left, was open to separate the incoming and outgoing passenger traffic, respectively.
Unsurprisingly, breakfast services were no longer self-serve, which was both slower for the PAX and more expensive for AF.
Coffee machines have remained self-serve
With the nozzle adequately lowered to avoid splashes
Other drinks? Tea, hydroalcoholic gel (well, no), and a refrigerated cabinet (water, fruit juice, softs) that I did not photograph, but whose contents seemed quite usual to me.
The supply of strong alcohol is always high, out of reach of young children.
Wrapped food is self serve
Corn flakes (it was breakfast time!), but no muesli
Biscuits from Brittany
And that of my wife.
Only when she was back at her seat did Mrs Marathon relaize that she had received two knives, but no fork.
I went to get a fork, obviously not self-serve, and the staff routinely gave me a fork and a knife, for a grand total of three knives for my wife.
There is no daily newspaper or newsmagazine any more, only magazines that nobody would consider reading, which eliminates any health risk and limits the resupply expenses/
On the lower floor (which I initially thought to be closed, having read too quickly the sign indicating the opposite)…
… there was about the same offering, and the seats were almost all occupied
No way out this way any more, but this remained the only way to reach the toilets at this level.
Unsurprisingly for a flight operated in E-170, boarding will be by bus
Going down the tarmac level
Have a nice trip!
Boarding has already started, which doesn't really matter, as the aircraft is not next to the terminal, far from it.
Exit to Switzerland or to France upon arrival? The staff at the BP control asked this question to each passenger and checked the documents required to enter Switzerland (in particular a negative PCR test certificate) in the first case, and nothing at all in the second case, such as for us, since this then was a domestic flight.
The PAXbus display only knows the Swiss destination. He won't be the only one.
Onward for a sightseeing tour of the tarmac at CDG !
CRJ-900 Lufthansa Cityline bound for MUC. Not only is it an intruder at terminal 2F because LH was formerly at Terminal 1, but this connection was certainly provided by an A32x before the sanitary crisis.
Arrival of an Austrian Airlines A320
From right to left, an Air Tahiti Nui 787-9, a Hop! E179 and the tail of a Bulgaria Air A32x
Regional jets used to be operated from Terminal G, presently closed due to the traffic reduction. They can nevertheless be parked there, with no discernable pattern (our aircraft had not been parked there overnight, since it had operated a flight to Paris earlier that day). The circuituous bus route, with many stops at intersections with taxiways, betrays the fact that Terminal 2G has been built as an afterthought, late in the history of CDG.
The washing machine of the people mover ("Lisa") connecting the three parallel halls of Terminal 2E.
AF A350 (far left) and 777 parked in front of Terminal 2E
A ten-minute journey to reach the aircraft which was barely more than 2 km as the crow flies… but a PAXbus is not a bird
We must also wait a bit in the PAXbus for the green light to board the plane
How long will this brand last, before being replaced by something like Air France Regional, like several European competitors? The name of Air France has already been added to the livery.
View of the left half of the cabin
A new task for the FA at the entrance of the aircraft: provide a mask to passengers not wearing a surgical type one.
An A318 parked a little off the terminal
She was clearly not intended to leave quickly, in view of her the engine cowling.
The width between the armrests is comfortable in the Embraer
27 cm between the limit of the seat and the seat pocket: this too is OK
The carpet is clean
The safety cards were worn, but not torn
No IFE (unsurprinsingly, in small aircraft), no press on paper: the entertainment on board is now provided by the offering of a faire selection of digital press. That entertainment lasted a while, due to the unloading of a missing passenger's luggage.
The cockpit seen from the central aisle (picture © Mrs Marathon)
We leave the parking lot at STD + 18 '
E-190 parked at terminal 2G
Then around terminal 2E:
Taxiing above the road serving Terminal 2 from the east, with Terminal 2E in the background
Three AF 777 at the terminal
A roster of AF 777s parked at Terminal 2E
Close-ups for aesthetics
An collection of four different types of long haul aircraft: AF 777, DL A330, AC 787, SQ A350 : only three foreign airlines parked at the only non-Schengen area terminal kept in operation!
Opposite Hall L, there was a row of AF 777s which I suspected were in long term parking.
AF 777 in Skyteam livery
Terminal 2F normally only accommodates Skyteam airlines serving intra-Schengen flights, but it was currently the only one in use for these destinations. A Finnair E-190, Lufthansa and Austrian Airlines A320s parked at Terminal 2F? It would have been unthinkable in the past.
Arrival of an Air China A330. The closure of China to European tourists (and reciprocally from Europe to Chinese tourists) lead me to assume that this aircraft was primarily loaded with freight.
The parking lot for LH Skyteam aircraft, along the taxiways leading to the north runway pair. There were always one or two foreign aircraft, waiting there between two night flights, but were are now only AF ones, on the left…
… and on the right
Arrival of a 747 Cathay Pacific freighter; the sanitary crisis dealt a fatal blow to the passenger version of this aircraft.
A330 departing in front of us
AF aircraft only behind us
Police caught plane-spotting (unlikely)
Take off, and some very unusual views of Terminal 1
Before the sanitary crisis, there were no non-Skyteam aircraft at terminal 2F, and conversely no Skyteam aircraft at Terminal 1 … which is now obviously used as a parking lot today (note a 737 Travel Service stranded in this AF fleet).
The CX 747 goes to terminal 2E after bypassing terminal 1
General view of CDG
… with aircraft parked in remote areas
The Gonesse hospital center
The cloud cover, although still sparse, quickly made it difficult to identify the overflown villages.
The plane made more than a U-turn to head towards EAP
Revealing part of the department of Oise, on the left
With the castle and the golf course of Chantilly in the foreground
And CSF, a.k.a. Creil Air base, in the background
The curtain has been drawn behind the two rows of J
At the lower right corner, Lagny le Sec and Le Plessis-Belleville, bypassed on the west by Road N2.
Beginning of service, reduced to one drink. Will AF's infamous "sweet or salty" snack survive Covid-19?
A coffee and a glass of water for both of us
I did not try to ask the cabin crew to make me reuse this cup, despite AF's suggestion
The cloud cover obscured the landscape during most of the flight, so I skip there to the descent towards EAP. The curtain is reopened
Although strictly speaking, I was using an electronic device for this purpose, I did not stop taking pictures during the descent.
We were already in Swiss airspace, in the canton of Basel-Country, when the aircraft passed under the very low cloud ceiling. The passengers sitting on the right had the best view, on the city of Basel.
Ettingen in the center of the picture, and in the background Hofstetten-Flüh, almost entirely surrounded by forests in the canton of Solothurn.
Seen from the ground, the plane was already lined up on the runway
Reinach in the foreground, Therwil in the center right and Ettingen in the background on the left
With in the center the bell tower of the Catholic Church of St Peter and St Paul
Hésingue, and to the right Road D105 which bypasses the south of the perimeter of EAP.
Entering airport's airspace
A mysterious 747 painted white in the maintenance area
Miscellaneous parked aircraft
This white Gabonese Republic 772 made the headlines, when she was seized in 2015 by the French justice further to a lawsuit by the Swiss company contracted to convert her into a presidential jet, then released on grounds of diplomatic immunity. She has now been "in maintenance" at EAP for several years, with no end in sight to the increase of her parking bill.
Touchdown, as seen from my seat
… and as seen from the ground; a Wizzair A320 was waiting for the runway to be cleared before taking off
The raison d'être of this ATR42 is the transport of Swiss soldiers assigned to KFOR, the UN multinational interposition force in Kosovo
Not only soldiers leave EAP to PRN: this modest 200,000 inhabitants capital of a state with disputed international status is served from EAP by no fewer than three airlines: Easyjet, Wizz Air and Enter Air, the latter possibly with this 737
Lots of Easyjet A320s at the terminal: Easyjet has 9 aircraft based here
Going past the plane-spotting hill at the end of then landing run
And turning to reach the terminal
Thanks to @Esteban for tracking our arrival from the ground!
We were going to have the questionable pleasure to enjoy the view of the inside of this jetbridge, but conversely to not take pictures.
Having been seated in row 4, we were logically among the first to deplane and had the surprise to be greeted by a policemen at the door of the plane, demanding Covid PCR test result certificates.
Murphy's Law in action Part 1
We had made one the day before for later use, but an unfortunate computer bug in the lab (which, to make matters worse, was now closed because this was a bank holiday) had delays the delivery of Mrs. Marathon's test result – she only received it at 10 pm that day (!).
There was no legal ground for requiring a PCR test from us since this had been a Paris - Mulhouse domestic flight, but the policeman we were dealing would not listen to any contradiction and tempers started to rise dangerously with my wife ("You are not going to teach me my job !").
Murphy's Law in action Part 2
The policeman seemed ready to accept a certificate for our first shot of Covid vaccination, which had no validity whatsoever for border crossing – assuming to start with that we were going to cross the border – but I had been unwise in leaving them at home since they could not be used to cross a border.
Defeating Mr Murphy
The policeman was scrutinizing my own PCR test result, while in the meantime other Mulhouse bound passengers deplaned and told the other police(wo)man that they had left their home in a Paris suburb and had no PCR test requirement. The policewoman knew her job much better than her colleague and waved them past the checkpoint, at which point "our" policeman had at last admitted the validity of my certificate and gruffly let us both go to save face.
In retrospect, I did not understand whether this PCR test requirement assumed that the passengers had been connecting to an international Schengen flight at CDG-2F, or that they were bound for Switzerland: two basically incorrect assumptions , since we can buy a non-connecting ticket on this flight and exiting to France was possible. In addition, nothing had been arranged to tell international passengers from the domestic ones. At best, there had been inadequate training of this policeman before assigning him on this job.
It's an understatement to write that Mrs Marathon disliked this experience – this was definitely the kind of welcome she expected after months of confinement. Chance had it that AF sent her later a detailed satisfaction questionnaire : I filled it out for her, not mincing words on the experience on arrival, asking AF to kindly clarify if Mulhouse and its airport are in Switzerland or France, and no, I wouldn't recommend AF based on that flight. (Of course, this incompetent policeman was not under AF's responsibility, but what matters to a PAX is the ease of travel from start to finish, and we had the choice on this trip to fly or take a high speed train.)
Considering the time it took us to get past the first few meters out of the plane, our suitcase was already circling (here in the background) on the carrousel. Our local friend could see it from landside and was wondering why it was taking us so long to get there.
And yes, sorry for the policemen assigned to this peculiar airport, we were going to take the French exit without ever leaving the French mainland (the brief descent through Swiss airspace did not count).
It also allows you to go to Germany, but not directly, unlike the Swiss exit.
Flying domestic when all the travel restrictions within the French mainland have been lifted ?
In Covid times, it ain't that easy.
I have always liked the Embraer's 2 + 2 seat layout and the adequate width of their seats. Future will tell us if the elimination for sanitary reasons of the somewhat symbolic food offering will be perpetuated for reasons no longer related to the health of the passengers.
I gave top marks for entertainment because there were many more newspapers provided on line that I was interested in than I had time to read.
The sanitary crisis has not changed anything on the ground at terminal 2F, for flights that departed from there previously, or hardly so. Apart from cleanliness, CDG is slighly below par on all criteria because of the mediocrity of the rail connection and of the chronical understaffing of the security Access #1.
The paths are very short at EAP, but all it takes is a grain of sand, materialized by a policeman who was cumulating a poorly designed assignment with (much worse IMO) a blatant ignorance of the applicable regulations, resulting in a disastrous memory of the arrival in the airport. I gave a bad mark in fluidity (for lost time) and in services (for very unpleasant relationship).
I am not in a position to judge accessibility, which was excellent when locals are waiting for you with a car.
The lounge at CDG-2F fared better in the sanitary constraints game than I expected, thanks in particular to the low traffic which did not penalize excessively the time needed to obtain the catering which is no longer self-serve. I noted though that passengers were waiting outside when we left. I shall always regret that it offers such a poor view of the traffic, which was an original wrong architectural choice.