Back in 2006 I was planning a trip to Europe and at the time I was a member of NW's Worldperks program. I wanted to redeem my miles on AF and it was a struggle trying to find inventory until one day I called and the agent said “two business class seats opened up on AF 83 SFO-CDG”. Those words were like music to my ears. I was elated and couldn’t believe how lucky I got at the last minute. For those who have dealt with the agony of checking award inventory continuously in the hopes of grabbing that elusive seat, you could understand my pain.
You see, my sister and I planned this trip using NW miles about 3 months ago. We tentatively booked something close to the dates we wanted because we were traveling at the end of April/beginning of May; typically the start of the busy season. Fortunately the reservations were made under the name of a Platinum member, which meant we could alter the itinerary at any time without penalty. I am a stubborn optimist and checked availability for the dates and flights that I wanted almost religiously on a daily basis. Persistence paid off two days before my original departure date. All that time I was told repeatedly that this particular AF flight looked very full by numerous agents but I never took a “NO” for an answer hoping for something to open. I knew that UA canceled its Paris nonstop some time ago and this nonstop by AF was a very coveted flight. SFO has a large and wealthy market base and it would not be problem for AF to sell those seats at premium prices. I was even more appreciative of my good fortune the day I went to reissue the tickets at the NW airport counter (this was on Fri. and I left Sat. the next day) when I passed by AF and learned that the flight for Fri. has been canceled. Talk about close call! It was now imperative to get good seats together for tomorrow’s flight since it was going to be full to the brim.
“I’m sorry, monsieur but we don’t have anything together,” said the AF reservations agent in an apologetic way. “However, if you want, I can assign you 8K and 5K for now and you can go to the airport to request adjoining seat 5L which is open but restricted to airport control until day of departure. I suggest to get to the airport about 3 hours before departure when the counter opens” she continued. On the AF 744, row 5 has about 4 seats that are bassinet designated and are held for airport control until the day of departure. The configuration is 2-3-2 in J and I believe seats 5A,L and the 2 aisle ones in the middle are the ones restricted. The flight is configured with the NTC and the upper deck is Economy. Personally I think AF should operate a 3-class configuration on this route. It is one of the longest ones in its system and there should be a demand for F seats.
Being at the airport at 12:30P was not a problem, considering that on my original schedule I was supposed to leave at 6:00A on NW SFO-MSP then MSP-EWR to connect to AF EWR-CDG. As expected, there were lots of people by the time the AF counter opened. We were the first ones to be checked in by the L’Espace Affaires agent and she happily switched my seat to 5L. She gave us an invitation to the AF lounge and wished us a good flight. Unfortunately, we did not have a chance to use it since we decided to have lunch with a friend who later dropped us at the airport. At about 1 hour before departure we tried going to the lounge but upon entering the agent said that it was closed and passengers were heading straight to the gate. I guess it will be the Arrival lounge in 2C at CDG then.
This is the first time that I have used a digital camera and my postings are still a work in progress as I learn the ropes. In the past, I have always relied on my 35mm SLR and this time it was not different. Thankfully I used both cameras because after the AF meal service all my digital ones were lost due to an error that I incurred by exceeding the amount limit. The pics that you will see for this report were scanned from regular prints. I apologize in advance for the blurry quality on some of them as I experimented with settings and controls.
Photography is a hobby for me and I started doing it about 5 years ago. I never took any classes nor had any training but I was always intrigued by the power of a picture and what it conveys. For me, photography is a vehicle for self-expression just like cooking, painting and other art forms. I show you the world using my perspective and if we are able to “connect” then I am glad that we have reached a deeper level of understanding that is beyond mere images. I am not an artist nor claim to be one, just a regular person sharing what I am passionate about. By the way, I’m into “food porn”. I’m fascinated by food. Perhaps this was due to my background. My father had an import business and owned restaurants in different countries. As a child I was fascinated by different cultures and the more I am exposed to them the more I realize what we have in common. In college, I wanted to be a chef and graduated with a degree in Hotel and Restaurant Management but never pursued that path for one reason or another. I enjoy cooking for family and friends and in more than one occasion someone told me that I have missed my call. I guess I’m decent because people always eat what I give them and ask for seconds. I think I’ll be happy if I have a job sampling different airlines and photographing their food.
Plane at the gate
As expected, flight was very full and Business Class did not have one open seat. Two male FA’s were at the door greeting customers and directing them to their respective locations. Pre departure drinks were offered in glasses and the choices were orange juice, champagne and water. A FA took my coat after I sat down and the amenity kit with bottle of water were already placed on the seat. Hot towels were distributed while on the ground, which was bit odd.
There was plenty of space for carry-ons. Got to love the roominess of 747’s. Overall the cabin was spacious and the seats looked smart. However, when I looked up I couldn’t believe how dirty the overhead lights were.
Once the doors closed, the safety video was shown (has anyone noticed the perfect American English spoken in the video? Also, when you call AF Reservations, you are greeted with a normal voice instead of the heavily accented French one that was there before?). Take off was smooth and I was afforded a view of downtown SF during climbing as you can see next.
Once we reached cruising altitude, menus were distributed. I noticed the new design in deep yellow with a picture of a vanilla bean and slices of candied orange peels. It was titled …le gout du voyage PAR AIR FRANCE. Inside it featured a green leaf with a broccoli …le plat du jour. The menu is smaller and not as distinctive as the previous design. Personally I don’t like it because it lacks character, the logo is missing, there is an ad for AGS on the inside back cover and more French elements could have been incorporated in the design of the menu. Instead of the broccoli page featuring the plat du jour AF could have used a background of cheeses or pastries from a market display or pastry shop stand.
CHOICE OF HORS-D’OEUVRE -Bloc de foie gras de canard -Demi-Homard du Maine a la Parisienne
CHOICE OF MAIN COURSES -Grilled tournedos of beef with Mediterranean-style vegetables, mashed potatoes with fennel and chanterelle mushrooms -Fillet of sea bass duglere accompanied by wild rice, sugar snap peas and new carrots -Plat du jour: Duck confit – This is a traditionally prepared thigh of duck confit, accompanied by baby vegetables and a three bean stew
OUR SPECIAL SELECTION OF CHEESE
ASSORTMENT OF DESSERTS -Cherry clafouti, dacquoise, sherbet served with cookies, choice of fresh fruit
Espresso is served at our Bar Espace
EXPRESS SERVICE Hors d’oeuvre of your choice, our special selection of cheese and pastry
Fruit juice, coffee, tea, hot chocolate Fresh fruit, yogurt
Fresh Bakery selection, breakfast pastries, butter and preserves
CHOICE OF MAIN COURSES -Crepe filled with scrambled eggs and chives accompanied by bacon, cherry tomato and potato galette -French toast served with cinnamon and poached peach
CHAMPAGNE Mailli Grand Cru Cuvee Le Fleu 2000
WHITE BURGUNDY Pouilly-Vinzelles “En Paradis” 2002 Louis Latour
RED BORDEAUX Medoc Chateau de Saint Christoly 2003
The purser greeted each passenger and explained the features of the new NTC seats and operation of the entertainment system. He was polite, professional and very approachable. The first drink service took a long time. I looked at my watch and it was about 1 ½ after take off with no drinks yet. For those unfamiliar with AF service, carts are rolled down the aisle during each course and breads are not warmed.
I had a tomato juice and the FA handed me a package with a swizzling stick and celery salt. The drink was accompanied by Fauchon’s Gaufrettes au Sel de Guerande(mini wafers) which were excellent. I love any snacks from Fauchon as a matter of fact.
For appetizer, I chose the Parisian lobster and as you can see from my pic, it was served with some salade russe like addition, lemon wedge and some leaves.
The foie gras and duck confit were tempting, but unfortunately I had to restrain myself since I am cursed with gout. The lobster was the lesser of the two evils and it proved to be a wise choice. It was exquisite, perhaps the best dish out of the whole meal sequence. It was a nice half lobster tail with a claw that has been perfectly chilled. Simple with a lovely presentation.
The sea bass was disappointing. It was overcooked. Fish was a bit dried out, vegetables were cooked to mushiness and the limp aspect of the carrots was noticeable. Deep inside I knew that the confit would have made a better choice but I couldn’t risk a gout attack surfacing again since I was already recuperating from one the previous week and was still in mild pain when I boarded this flight.
I also noticed that the cheese plate was served at the same time that you requested your main dish choice. There were 3 pieces consisting of a roquefort, camembert and one mild one, perhaps beaumont?
Service was efficient and drinks were refilled promptly. The dessert cart followed and I indulged in some luscious strawberries, sweet grapes, intensely flavored mango and raspberry sherbets; and a sinful dacquoise pastry. I was slightly disappointed by the Danish butter cookies since I was expecting some French ones like calissons. I guess provisions depend on country of origin in this case.
Once the meal service ended, a bar was set up in the galley with a basket of fruits and an assortment of beverages.
Crew was friendly, polite and willing to engage in small conversation. I tried the NTC seat and I found my feet touching the bulkhead wall all the time. I’m 5’9”, by the way. The flat seat is a bit inclined but not too bad if you sleep on the sides. I cannot sleep on planes so I stayed awake reading or walking for the rest of the night.
Pretty soon it was time to serve breakfast and I tried the French toasts but they were average. There was no syrup to go with it so it was a bit dry except for the poached peaches. The orange juice was fresh squeezed but very acidic and the La Crème yogurt was reliably satisfying as usual. The bowl of fruit included pieces of watermelon, strawberries and pineapples but for J or F class I prefer my fruits sliced and not chopped. Our FA asked if we wanted any hot drink but forgot to offer us the basket of baked goods. Well, I guess the less carbs you consume the better.
Once we landed, FA’s made small talk to each customer to thank us for choosing AF while the plane was taxiing to the gate. A very nice touch IMHO. Alas, we did not park right at the gate and had to take one of those cylinder movers to Immigration. The formalities were quick and once outside we proceeded to the Arrivals lounge over at 2C. The agent was welcoming and I thought this small lounge was just adequate. There are a few showers/WC at the back of the lounge and each one is supplied with a small AF pouch of L’Occitane single use toiletries. The pantry was well stocked with breakfast pastries, cereals, beverages, cheeses, cookies and a bowl of hard-boiled eggs. There were 2 computer terminals offering internet connections. We then headed to the Hilton CDG and crashed for a couple of hours before heading to the city.
** BONUS AIR FRANCE **
My love affair with AF started at an early age when I was a kid in 7th grade and used to go to the airlines' offices after school to collect brochures and promotional materials. One day I stopped by the AF sales office and picked up a brochure about their inflight meals along with one of their 747's and a timetable. I remember waiting with anticipation to get home and start reading the literature that I got. I was mesmerized by the pictures of the planes, beautiful meals, the elegance of the AF livery and cabin configurations and in the seclusion of my room I studied the route network and destinations of the airline's timetable with great enthusiasm. AF was one of my favorites back then and I promised myself that one day I would fly with them when I grew up. At that time I was living in Costa Rica so flying AF was not quite feasible.
AF might not be the best airline out there, but it has a distinctive flair and elegance that is evident, especially in the livery. Some time later after this trip report, I took a camera and headed to SFO airport to capture images of planes as a project. I stumbled upon an AF 744 parked in a secluded corner of the tarmac and I started to shoot.
Even though this is not part of a trip report, I decided to share these images with the community. This is for all the AF admirers out there. I hope you enjoy it.
San Francisco - SFO
Paris - CDG
I like flying AF because I have been a fan of this airline since I was a kid. There is a connotation of elegance and class associated with the name and I find these qualities evident in their plane livery. I have always found their inflight magazine engaging, artistic and quite informative. It seems to be geared towards a sophisticated and cultured audience unlike other competitors' publications that feature tons of golf and love matching advertisements.
AF is not perfect and some improvements can benefit its image, but in my experience I find their crew to be polite and professional, their meals somewhat enjoyable despite the exploding traces of sauce on their casseroles, their desserts something to look forward to and their Gallic panache uniquely distinctive.
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