Tried & Tested

Air France B747-400 Voyageur (economy)

10 Jun 2011 by BusinessTraveller

The connection My connecting flight from London Heathrow to Paris CDG's Terminal 2E arrived at 1250, with the departure for New York set for 1335. For a review of the short-haul leg click here.

Conveniently the Paris-New York leg also departs from Terminal 2E, so it only took around 15 minutes to pass through security and reach gate E72. By the time I arrived boarding had commenced and there was a long queue. Not too surprising I thought, as I was expecting to travel on Air France's A380 aircraft which is scheduled to serve this flight, and which potentially carries up to 538 passengers on each flight. For a detailed look at the layouts chosen by the six A380 operators, including images and seatplans, click here.

It took around 25 minutes to get to the front of the queue, and as I neared the front I was confused by the sight of a B747-400 aircraft sat at the stand. When I questioned this with the attendant checking my boarding stub, he said that the flight should have been operated by an A380 as scheduled, but had been changed without any explanation to the crew. The captain later apologised for the aircraft switch, although I didn’t catch the reason. I have contacted the Air France PR team regarding this, and will add the details here when received.

There was a fairly long wait on the ground, with the flight eventually taking off at just after 1425.

The seat Unlike the new A380 aircraft scheduled on this flight, Air France's fleet of ten B747s are somewhat older, and are due to be phased out of the fleet in the next few years. As a result little has been done to upgrade the cabins in recent times, and it shows. Inflight entertainment is still via communal TV screens, and the seat itself, while clean and functional, is certainly not modern.

I was sat in seat 33H, an aisle seat in the middle section of a 3-4-3 layout. The seat featured a fold down table, a coat hook, a drinks holder, and a peculiar small compartment with two small metal bars across it – I couldn't work out what it would be used for as it was too small to keep any worthwhile in it. The limited IFE controls (volume, music channel choices and crew call button) were built into the side of the armrest, and a packet with headphones, eye mask and refreshing towel was handed out after take off.

The flight Shortly after take off drinks were offered, and a lunch menu handed out. In economy the choices were as follows:

  • Starter: tomato salad with mozzarella cheese
  • Mains: Chicken, tomatoes, wheat berries with vegetables, or vegetable lasagne
  • Dessert: Bel Paese cheese, amaretti almond cookie, Sicilian lemon tartlet

There was a vague Italian theme to the menu, confirmed by a header stating that the meal service had been “selected by Air France to celebrate its partnership with Alitalia” -  a nod to the fact that the carriers are joint venture partners along with fellow Skyteam member Delta on transatlantic routes.

I chose the chicken, and on the whole the meal service was not bad – certainly better than many other economy long-haul flights I have experienced. However the vegetable lasagne choice ran out very quickly, much to the annoyance of the passenger next to me who said she was a vegetarian (I didn't ask if she had flagged this up as a meal choice in advance). The purser apologised for the lack of lasagne – it's not clear if this was down to the aircraft switch or poor planning.

Red and white wines were both Vin de Pays d'Oc 2010, with one of two varieties being available on each flight – either Couleurs du Sud or La Baume.

After the meal a brandy was offered, along with coffee. An American passenger sitting across the aisle for me asked for a latte which clearly wasn't on offer on this flight - she had also requested the “fruit basket” earlier in the flight, so I wondered if perhaps the normal A380 service offered these as extras, or whether she was more used to business or first class service.

I didn't watch any of the inflight entertainment, as I couldn't face squinting at a small screen or the lack of ability to pause the film. For the record though, the movies shown were Rangu (an animated film), followed by a series of TV programmes including a wildlife documentary and hotel design feature.

For the rest of the flight I worked with my netbook on the table which was fairly steady, although a little tight when the passenger in front reclined (had I had a fullsize laptop I think it would have been very difficult to continue working on the table at this point) and then read a book. In some ways it was liberating not to have dozens of channels to flick through, but there's no doubt I'd choose a flight with a seat back TV and on-demand movies any day.

Around 90 minutes before landing we were offered a snack consisting of a cheese roll, biscuits, orange juice, an Actimel yoghurt drink, and tea / coffee.

Arrival We landed at 1515, 20 minutes ahead of schedule, but then had to wait 20 minutes as all of the bays were occupied, so we didn’t disembark until 1555.

Having experienced US immigration before, I knew the queues would be long, so having left the aircraft I rushed past as many people as possible, but this was all in vain, as before even reaching the main queue everyone (apart from US citizens and Green Card holders) was stopped at the end of a corridor by an official who said that we would have to wait as the immigration area was “full to capacity”.

When we were eventually allowed through 20 minutes later the queue was enormous, and it took another hour to get to the front. Indeed it would have taken longer, had the officials not seen the sense to eventually open up the desks normally reserved for US citizens and Green Card holders. 

Verdict A convenient connection at Terminal 2E for those looking to fly from London to New York via Paris. When this service features the A380 superjumbo as scheduled it is no doubt of a far higher quality than the flight I experienced – the sooner the B747-400 aircraft are phased out of the fleet the better.


Mark Caswell

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