Flying the baby bus and A359

This is part two of the multi part trip report. You can find the first part here.

Immigration area was empty and the officer was kind. My passport was stamped without questions and security was a breeze as well. The international terminal wore a deserted look – a good reminder of why there should be terminals which can be used for both domestic and international based on time of the day. Time to depart – five hours and twenty minutes. F-HTYJ was three hours away from Bengaluru, operating as AF204. I had heard great reviews of the 080 lounge and that was to be my nest stop. I am always worried about connecting baggage and in this case it was on a codeshare flight, making me even more nervous. I had no control over it. 

When I got the tickets in my inbox, I was elated for three reasons. First, it was the Airbus A350, my second time on the type; second because it was in the Premium Economy of Air France and third because I would get to fly the A318 if all goes well! There have been next to nil reviews online of the Air France Premium Economy experience.

080 lounge

After a brief welcome, the staff summoned their manager and post discussion requested me to come back after a while since the lounge service is for four hours only. I was asked to come post 21:45. I headed to the BLR lounge but it had fans and no air conditioning. At 21:45, I was back at 080 and I was ushered in. The place is beautifully done up and divided across multiple sections. A bar, live counter, buffet and coffee machines complete the setting. 

I had a lot of time at hand and paced my meals and coffee accordingly. A tasty chicken pasta,a cup of coffee, loads of water and plain dosa later it was time to head towards the gate. 

Boarding and beyond

I walked up to the staff at gate 36-37 to show my IndiGo printed boarding pass. The staff reverified my passport, visa and printed a separate boarding pass for the CDG-TLS leg. Large queues formed and the staff started boarding for wheelchairs followed by Zone 1 (Business) and Zone 2 (Premium Economy) on time. 

Premium Economy

Non-business class boarding was from L2 and the premium economy seats looked refreshing. The Air France website talks about these being shell seats, but they are not so on the A350. Larger screens, comfortable seats with more recline and leg rest, additional stowage areas is what differentiates Premium Economy from Economy. There are 24 seats or three rows in 2-4-2 configuration. I was seated on the second row on the way out and bulkhead on the way in and both had its advantages and disadvantages. Blanket, Pillow and a packet containing sanitizer, wipes and mask was kept along with a wet towel.

Pushback and service

Boarding was complete at 0230 and we were ready for departure with the aerobridge retracted but waiting for pushback as the JAL787 next to us pushed back. We followed soon after and taxied to runway Zero Nine R (the new runway) and the two large power plants showcased their true power. 

Within minutes, the crew sprung into action and my pre-booked Vegan meal was next to me. It was a snack. The seat next to me was empty and I opened two trays to place the meal and coffee. Air France has free wi-fi for messages but it was not working. The moving map wasn’t working as well. I slept for a few hours and then saw some lights – which were Bahrain and Dammam. The IFE did not have any content that I would like. Very limited for the Hindi audience – in all three sections, movies, TV and music. 

I woke up when we were over Europe and I expected some nice views all along with some contrails as has been the experience in the past, but all that I saw was clouds all the way to Paris. The Internet had started working – both the messages and the inflight map was up.

About two hours to arrival, breakfast was served. It was a vegan meal again for me, followed by coffee run and another round of coffee before picking up the trays. At 0758 hours, we started our descent into Paris CDG. There was cloud cover all over so much that on short finals, one could see the top of some structures but not the ground of the buildings. We landed on runway Two Seven R and had a very long taxi to Gates M of Terminal 2E – the farthest!

Deplaning was smooth and my next flight was to board from Terminal 2F. With over three hours to go, I paced myself well to clear security and passport control – which had moderate rush. The walk + train + long walk later, I was at T-2F, near the Air France Salon lounge – where I intended to visit before the flight. 

Air France Lounge

The signature lounge is worth visiting if you have more than two hours of transit. I was ushered in after showing my passport, boarding card and the necessary payment confirmation. Air France has discounted rates for pre-booking based on the class of service. The lounge is spread across two levels and has shower rooms and spa. I decided to have a look first and select a place to sit. There are many counters serving food and multiple areas with coffee machines and a fridge full of cold drinks. There also is a station for alcohol and a section for healthy juices and food. 

All in all, the lounge was impressive with Mushrooms, Eggs, Hash brown, Bacon, Cheeses on offer along with juices. All of this was fresh. Packets of chips, biscuits, beer, cold drinks, mineral water and coffee machine dishing out coffees and hot chocolates were the options. I enjoyed the breakfast and multiple rounds of coffee before looking out for an A318 which was to dock right next to the lounge. 

F-GUGN landed from Basel and made its way to gate F35, right next to the Air France lounge. Elated was an understatement! I had never imagined I would get a chance to fly the A318, ever! Especially post COVID when the retirement of older types was accelerated. It was time to leave the lounge and admire this rare aircraft.

The Airbus A318

How rare is the A318? I thought the B717 was the rarest I would travel on since only 156 were built but turns out A318 is rarer with only 80 built and 10 in commercial operation right now. In October, I came across this enlightening tweet which had made me even more curious about the A318. 

It was time to board and I stood right in the front of Sky priority lane to enter the plane first, which I did. Occupied on 19F, the plane next to me was the A220 of Air France – which is replacing the A318 gradually. A gentleman occupied the seat next to me and I asked him if he works for Airbus, after I saw the Airbus branded bag with him. He replied something in French, which I did not understand. Over the next 20 minutes we used Google Translate to chat about aviation in the EU, new planes in India, IndiGo’s order, the A318, Paris airport and more. And yes, he did work for Airbus. 

After closing and opening the baggage compartment a few times, it was closed one last time and we pushed back at 1215 and a long taxi later took off from runway Two Six L, setting course for Toulouse – where this plane was born. It was a short flight of 55 minutes and the service included a cookie with Coke, Coffee, Tea or Tomato Juice. I opted for coffee again as I enjoyed the views outside and tried soaking in the A318 experience, as much as I can! We landed on runway Three Two R and one of the first things I noticed was the Beluga! Another WOW moment for me. Deplaning was fast and there was no other flight at this time of the day which meant the arrival section was all for us. Baggage belt number 6 said the FIDS but as more and more passengers crowded the area, belt 7 started, but so did belt 6 and the baggage arrived to a sigh of relief!

Next flight – on the A359, MSN002 Airbus Explorer the next day 

Summary – Flight 1

BLR-CDG (AF203)

Aircraft: F-HTYJ (A350-941)

STD: 02:40, ATD: 02:45

STA: 08:45, ATA: 08:42

CDG-TLS (AF7528)

Aircraft: F-GUGN (A318)

STD: 11:50, ATD: 12:15

STA: 13:10, ATA: 13:25

Website: Informative. Could select seats and edit them but could not change meals (4/5)

Mobile App: Gave timely notifications but did not allow meal selection (4/5) 

On-Time: No Complaints! (5/5)

Food: Can do better. The famed champagne was never offered (3/5) 

Service: Can be more polite (4/5)

IFE/Internet: Did not work on BLR-CDG for most time (2/5)

Charging Points: Worked well (5/5)

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