MIAMI — After an exhausting week at the Paris Air Show, it was time to head back to New York. After the issues caused by a recent French air traffic control strike that affected my flight out to Paris, I was happy to see that my flight was on-time, and the Airbus A380 I was promised was awaiting me at the gate. How did the A380 compare to my flight out on the older A340, and is the Air France A380 all it’s cracked up to be?
Getting to Charles De Gaulle airport (CDG) in the Paris suburbs is remarkably easy. A quick 30 minute ride on an express commuter train, and I was right in the heart of the sprawling airport. (Funny side story, the train to CDG also serves Le Bourget, where the air show was being held. My train was supposed to stop at Le Bourget, but blasted through the station and went direct to CDG. This was great for me, but not so much the hundreds of passengers looking to go to Le Bourget!) As soon as I entered the departures hall at CDG, the fun began.
De Gaulle is busy, very busy. After determining which terminal my flight departed from and which check-in counters were serving my flight, I was presented with the longest line I have ever seen. Although I had already checked-in online and only needed to drop off my bad, the line to do so was massive. I had no patience to wait an hour to do what should take seconds, so I decided to just bring my bag on board. A quick shuttle train ride later, I breezed through customs and security, and was at the gate in no time.
I was relieved to see that the A380 was indeed waiting for me this time; there would be no aircraft downgrade this time. The concourse was pretty quiet, with only a few shops and places to eat. I wandered around for a bit and attempted to play one of the many Playstation 3 kiosks, but they were almost all broken. There is little worse for kids than having nothing for them to do than by teasing them with something to do, only to have that something not work.
About two hours before the flight, the gate screens displayed that there would be a delay of about an hour and a half, but to a “technical check.” Uh oh. Being an #AvGeek, I made use of this time and found a wall of windows that overlooked the active taxiway, and planted myself for about an hour. After spotting some awesome and obscure aircraft, I headed back to the gate for the new boarding time, only to see that boarding was also complete! Air France had bumped up the boarding time, but never made any announcement. In fact, I never heard any announcements at any point anywhere in the terminal. Is this a French thing? Either way, I’m happy I didn’t miss my flight.
I boarded directly onto the upper deck of the A380 and took the walk of shame through business and economy plus classes to my “Seat Plus” in economy. The last six rows of the A380 on the upper deck are economy, and that is where I found myself. I was in seat 91L, which is technically a premium seat because it is in the exit row and provides oodles of legroom. Although Air France does not tell passengers, I was aware that the row did not have a window thanks to SeatGuru.com. What the row also lacked came as a surprise, and several passengers picked up on it.
In-flight power is becoming a necessity, and most new aircraft are delivered with it. While the main deck provides power outlets to all seats, these are not available on the upper deck in economy. However, USB ports are attached to the IFE screens. Sadly, the USB ports were not installed in the exit row. Even though these are premium seats which passengers must pay to upgrade to, they lacked a feature that all other seats have. This was not a big deal for me, as my phone was fully charged, but it was a problem for another passenger in the row.
Before we pushed back, two passengers in row 90 asked a flight attendant where the USB port was, while holding her phone and USB cable. The flight attendant seemed as if he had never been asked this question before, and began searching the seat for the elusive power port. On most seats, the USB port is attached to the bottom of the IFE screen. In the exit row, the screen is stored in the arm rest, and the arm that held up the screen replaced the USB port assembly. This did not sit well with the other passengers. Towards the end of the flight, she asked again, and this time she was escorted to the main deck to plug her phone in. This was a very simple issue that left the passenger with a negative feel for the airline.
Beyond the USB port, the flight was pleasant. I found the seat to be quite comfy, and obviously legroom was not an issue in the exit row. The meal was decent, but nothing to brag about. One interesting note about the meal service was that the meal tray was actually larger than the tray table in the exit row, which seemed a bit odd.
Thankfully, the IFE on the A380 was several generations newer than that on the A340. The screen was a generous size, and the video choices were plentiful. The selection of older movies such as Pulp Fiction was very satisfying, and kept my entertained throughout the entire flight. The A380 also features several “landscape cameras” to watch, including tail, nose, and belly. However, my screen would only bring up the tail camera, with the other two coming up as unavailable, even though it was working on other screens. The tail cam was plenty though, and watching takeoff and landing through that dirty lens was quite exciting.
The A380 really is a remarkable aircraft. It is quiet, spacious, and is a marvel of engineering. While not exactly as posh as the Emirates A380, Air France has created a nice product which is a massive upgrade to the A340 that I flew to Paris on. While there were some oddities, I still enjoyed my flight quite a bit.