One hour connection at Paris CDG – The Mad rush

0854 hours – the aircraft came to a stop. Six minutes gained, I said to myself. The seat next to me was empty and I requested the passenger sitting on seat 6C to let me stand in the aisle since I have a tight connection. He obliged. The door opened, the business class passengers stepped out and I ran. As the aerobridge ended, a cursory look to see if I needed to turn left or right and then running again, as fast as I could. I had already repented not packing sports shoes and having to run in formal shoes but if I had to make it to AF 226 which was to push back an hour and twenty minutes after my arrival from Munich, all I had to do was run. 

As I entered the main terminal area – I was right below the Air France lounge which I had visited on the way out. I knew exactly how far the gates were and that meant just one thing – RUN! A momentary halt to re-confirm the gate – L44 for AF 226 to Delhi, same as what Google says because Air France did not have the courtesy to update the gate in-flight when the pilot only announced gates for London, Detroit and Houston. I had overtaken around 20-30 passengers at this point of time and then came to a sudden halt. There were two lines leading up two escalators – which were shut down since the line had come down the escalators. I joined the shorter one but there hardly was any movement. There was chatter all around about connections and how there are at least 300 passengers ahead of us. 

PANIC!

Time was 0912 hours, 18 minutes to start boarding. With no choice, I stood in the line weighing my options if I missed the flight and almost everyone in the line was busy on their phones. I looked around – when I saw the sign of the elevator. There was a risk – I lose my number in the line, but I took that risk. The elevator was working and I was on the upper floor in seconds to make my way slyly into the line which wasn’t really moving and was much more disorganised than what it was a floor below. I looked back to see where I had joined the queue, the escalators were not visible. Clearly, I seemed to have jumped half the queue, but about 100+ passengers were ahead of me. 

With about 60 more passengers ahead of me, I spotted that a member of immigration team had stepped into another counter. This typically would mean opening up a new queue, but I was about to pass that queue manager. Quick thinking! The sanitizer I was holding fell down or did I lose the grip over it? I had to pick it up, just enough time for the immigration offer to open the counter and the staff to open another line with me being the first one there. No questions asked, passport stamped and off I went. A quick look at the watch, 0932 hours – well past boarding time and about 28 minutes for boarding to close. 

It was time to follow the signs again and RUN, which I did. Thankfully there was no security check involved and I was budgeting about 10 odd minutes for that. But the maze got me out in Terminal 2E – Gates L retail area. As I kept a steady pace of brisk walking, the number of Indians per square foot started increasing and my confidence that I will make it for the flight increased too. Finally, gate L44 was insight – flight was boarding and the time was 0937 hours. A quick visit to the washroom and buying a snack and cold drink from the vending machine – all near the gate and I was boarding at 0941 hours. 

Seat 10A – a bulkhead seat awaited me and I made myself comfortable looking for a bottle of water. The day had started very early in Munich, leaving the airport hotel at 0520 hours and walking in zero degrees to terminal one. Check-in was at “D” and security was quick. I had a coffee and croissant before proceeding to D16 from where boarding was to start at 0640 hours. The check-in agent had informed that the Paris – Delhi flight was full and Air France may not wait for all connecting passengers, which had added to the stress. The A319 to Munich started boarding at 0640 hours, exactly how it was to be and boarding was over at 0701 hours. Aerobridge was disconnected at 0705 hours. We were to push back before time but the Iberia aircraft next to us pushed back and we had to hold till it proceeded. 

Pushing back at 0715 hours, we took off from runway Two Six R and service started soon, which comprised the usual – Tea, Coffee, Cookie and Juice. I opted for Coffee as always. The flight was uneventful and descent commenced at 0808 hours and we landed at 0842 hours on runway Zero Eight R for a long taxi to the gate. 

The A350 to Delhi

Settled in my seat, I looked around for the cold towel and sanitizer kit. It wasn’t around. Unlike the BLR-CDG leg, this was handed over by the crew and not kept on the seats. Doors closed at 1035, just 10 mins post departure time. There were empty seats around. Considering that the flight was full as told to me in Munich, it seemed that we had missed connections! We pushed back at 1052 and made our way to Zero Eight L. 

The IFE had the same content as the three days before. I had hopes of a different content since the month had moved from November to December, but that was not to be the case. Internet was working and in anticipation of similar content I had downloaded some videos of interest on YouTube for offline viewing which helped during the journey. With nothing to see outside and nothing to see inside, the focus was obviously service and food. 

Food and service

The food service started soon with my pre-booked meal having been served first. Somehow the Vegan booking had disappeared to VGML all along is what I figured out. The meal consisted of Pasta, salad, fruits and apple pulp. This was served with wine, beer, tea/coffee, orange juice, tomato juice and water. The meal service ended with another round of drinks which meant more coffee for me.

It was curtains from a service perspective. Luckily all I had asked for extra bottles of water with me but then hunger pangs took over. While the premium economy section is right  behind the galley, it is exclusive for Business Class. I walked down the aisle to the galley to find some toffees, biscuits and cake. Not enough for my hunger, I thought but something is better than nothing. I took it and asked the crew for a cup of coffee which was quickly handed over. 

The rest of the time was killed by being active on various whatsapp groups. It is always special to overfly cities you have been to and identify landmarks from the air. In this case it was Bukhara and Samarkand in Uzbekistan. The next thing I was looking forward to was to fly over the Wakhan corridor – the narrow strip of Afghan land over which carriers started flying post the events of August 2021 in Afghanistan. 

The next round of service finally started and the options were a fruit or cheese sandwich. I opted for fruits and what was offered was meager quantities of nuts and fruits at dinner time.

We landed on runway Two Nine L and taxied to one of the farthest gates on the international side. Deplaning started quickly and I was out quickly making a rush towards immigration. The long walk later, I spotted a short queue for immigration but one which moved slowly. As more and more passengers joined in, the immigration authorities diverted some queue to the special counters meant for G20 delegates and sped up the process. Baggage took eternity to come. I was almost sure that my baggage may not have made it but it did, confirmed the ground staff. Over 20 minutes of wait later – the priority tagged baggage arrived. The ground staff said this was a regular issue since the loading was not done properly in Paris. The Air France experience was over and though not bad, I was glad it was over

Transfer to Air India

I had the boarding card for the next flight, an early morning departure to Pune from Delhi and made my way to the transfers section. A solitary counter of Air India was open but it seems the airline pays this person just to tell the passengers “to go to the first floor”. Today was no different than past experiences and I made my way to the first floor where Namaste’s from Air India staff greeted me but none of them were helpful with check-in. I was directed to “E” for check-in, where Air India check-in was not open. I came back to “F” from where I was directed but “F” had only Air India international flights. The staff relented and let me proceed towards check-in which was smooth. The security was slow but at that time of the day, not a terrible affair. 

The food court now has more options than before but I settled for a full meal of Thali at Dilli street before heading towards the gate and catching a nap. Boarding was to start at 0345 hours but nothing moved until 0355. This was the perfect time to sleep, which I did. 

Breakfast (Vegan gone for a toss) was Idli Sambar and Upma and since it was pre booked, it was served first. This also had Mango Yogurt with it. Interestingly, the south indian option also had Idli Sambar and Upma. The difference? Idli was dipped in sambar in my meal, while it wasn’t in the south indian option. This was followed by a Tea/Coffee run.

We made a smooth touchdown on runway Two Eight at Pune and parked amidst the morning chaos of flights. Apart from aerobridge, rear stairs helped speed up the deplaning process and a bus took us to arrivals. 

Air India is surely changing but it has miles to go before it can compete in true sense. From cutlery which looks extremely old and borders dirty to ground staff who is clueless – the hub experience isn’t what one would look for. 

Summary – Flight 1

MUC-CDG (AF1123)

Aircraft: F-GRHY (A319)

STD: 07:10, ATD: 07:15

STA: 09:00, ATA: 08:54

Transfers at Paris CDG: Horrible (1/5)

CDG-DEL (AF226)

Aircraft: F-HTYN (A350-951)

STD: 10:25, ATD: 10:52

STA: 23:20, ATA: 23:30

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. Felt underfed. The famed champagne was never offered (2/5) 

Service: Can be more polite and attentive (3.5/5)

IFE/Internet: Worked wonders (5/5)

Charging Points: Worked well (5/5)

Transfers at Delhi: Not bad (3/5)

DEL-PNQ (AI851)

Aircraft: VT-PPQ (A321)

STD: 04:45, ATD: 04:55

STA: 07:00, ATA: 06:42

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

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

Food: Cutlery needs to be cleaner. The cups look dirty (3/5) 

Service: No Complaints (5/5)

IFE/Internet: NA

Charging Points: NA

Ground staff needs to be more attentive and helpful. Something needs to be done about the connecting passengers counter at Delhi

I liked this boarding pass of Air France – very sustainable and passenger friendly – Just one boarding pass for two flights

Read the first part – IndiGo on the Air France codeshare and second part – On the baby bus

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