Air France A380 First Trip Report: JFK-CDG 11/21/09
In the weeks prior to A380′s inaugural service between Paris and New York, Air France auctioned 380 Affaires- and Voyageur-class seats on each flight through eBay, with funds going to the Air France Corporate Foundation to benefit children in distress. Additionally, before the flight, Air France kindly asked passengers to provide gift-wrapped items for children ages 6-12. I hope my recipient did not favor the gift-wrapping over the actual item, as it was somewhat difficult wrapping a soccer ball!
With the inaugural flight just two hours from departure, I proceeded through security at Kennedy Airport’s Terminal One. Banners and balloons were lined everywhere, from check-in to the gate. Complimentary champagne was also being served at several tables set up throughout the terminal; of course I took advantage, and so did those waiting to board Alitalia and Turkish flights. Most of the passengers for Air France 380 were already waiting at gate 5. Notable figures were in the gate area speaking of the success the new aircraft will offer.
I took a seat wondering how long it would take for the near 538 people to board the aircraft. Boarding began at 19:35 with rows 80-92, upper level Voyageur. I sipped on my fourth glass of champagne waiting for my section before I realized it was 20:15, fifteen minutes before departure. A bit saucy, I walked through the doors and onto the jetway. Warmly welcomed by the gate attendants, I experienced this same atmosphere walking through the L1 door of the aircraft, as always with Air France. La Première, the first class cabin aboard the A380, seats nine in a 1-2-1 configuration. This class was unavailable for auction and may have been occupied by airline executives.
Prior to the flight, I had seen photographs of the La Première cabin and felt it was too bland. I regret to say that my opinion has not changed having observed it in person. Airlines such as Emirates and Singapore offer a more luxurious first class cabin aboard their A380s. Just behind La Première is the Voyageur cabin, with seating in a 3-4-3 configuration. As I found my seat, a neat gift bag was situated at 14A, just as they were at every other seat. I was grateful to receive a 1:250 scale model of the Air France A380, three different types of “Eau de Toilette” by Narciso Rodriguez, a booklet offering addresses to various artistic and musical locations in Paris and New York, and a detailed leaflet about the Air France Corporate Foundation.
Situated and ready for departure, I expected the legroom to be insufficient. In the past I have flown upper level Voyageur on the Boeing 747, which offers more legroom; sometimes I would even occupy a seat in the exit row. I was quite satisfied, however, with the space provided. Of course I occupied a window seat, and due to the curvature of the aircraft, there existed a notable space between by seat and the window. This space may make it uncomfortable for those who wish to sleep against the window. I did find it as a great place for me to store my gift bag and peacoat while the drunken woman at 15A on my return flight found it as a great foot elevator! Just below the seat in front of me, I noticed a footrest, something not so common in standard economy cabins. Each seat also featured the brand new AVOD system, similar to those on the Boeing B747, but greatly improved upon with a larger screen.
While still at the gate, a band of three men in red vests played tunes up and down the aisles, something I thought was a great touch to such an event. I looked at my watch, and it was 20:34 as we pushed back from gate 5. Kennedy ground crew were grouped on the tarmac taking photographs and videotaping the aircraft’s departure, as were the travelers who lined the windows inside the terminal building; for me, this was quite an experience. The engines started and we waited on the taxiway for about 15 minutes. Due to its wingspan and weight, the Airbus A380 is restricted to certain taxiways at Kennedy Airport. We taxied along taxiway Alpha past the Delta terminals, across runway 4R-22L, and on taxiways Juliet and Zulu toward the threshold of runway 31L. As we turned into position, everyone was able to watch the aircraft become airborne from the camera situated at the top of the aircraft’s vertical stabilizer via the AVOD. The aircraft made very little noise at full throttle, a gift to those who live nearby. Airborne at 21:07, the passengers applauded just before turning left for the Canarsie Climb.
The climb out from Kennedy was very smooth, and as we began to reach a comfortable altitude, the cabin lights were turned on and the cabin crew handed out our inaugural flight menus. Having always been pleased with the meal service aboard Air France, I was eager to see what would be offered on this inaugural flight. With a choice of tiny ravioli pasta with mushrooms and red pepper sauce or a puff pastry shell of grilled vegetables and chicken breast with mushrooms and vegetables, I chose the latter. The meals were served with complimentary champagne and the best quality wine offered on Air France. The meal included bread and various types of cheese (typical of French meals), and three beautiful petite desserts, something I have never seen onboard my previous flights. As always, I was very pleased with the service and attention provided by the various crew-members. Fluent in English and Italian, I have learned more French from my family and successfully practiced with the crew who were very much pleased with my pronunciation and accent! I even sat next to a friendly French couple, and we lightly conversed over dinner.
With our tray tables now cleared, I planned to take a short tour of the aircraft. However, because this was an overnight flight, the mood lighting was turned on, and passengers finishing their coffee and tea were preparing to sleep. Situated at the window, I did not want to be a disturbance to my two neighbors and decided to try out the AVOD. Air France offers a choice of films, news, TV programs, music, games, and flight information with the AVOD. Films are offered in various languages, including Italian, German and Dutch. I found the flight information pages to be quite useful and sophisticated. Passengers have a choice to view a variety of maps: total route, day/night, autozoom, and high resolution, as well as interactive views: world explorer and location indicator. The autoplay map displays current location, aircraft speed, distance traveled, distance to destination, local time at destination, estimated time of arrival, and more. Additionally, three camera views are available to the passengers: nose, tail, and down cameras. After playing with the AVOD, I tuned to “The Taking of Pelham 123” and fell asleep for a bit.
Unfortunately, my sleep was disturbed quite often. As with most aircraft, air conditioning nozzles are located above each seat. The Airbus A380 did not have any, and so I found myself waking in a sweat, having to ask the crew for water. Most of all the cabin crew calls were extremely bothersome. Anytime a passenger or another crew-member called a fellow crew-member, a notification loudly sounded through the speakers above each row. Trying to sleep with crew calls every 10-15 minutes was highly inconvenient. This has never happened to me on any of my transatlantic or overnight flights, even when seated near a galley. I am not sure if this is a problem with all Airbus A380s, but the 6h56 airborne, I slept at most 2-3 hours.
I was able to doze off for what seemed like a couple of hours when the mood lighting slowly became brighter with the rising sun. The crew became busy in the galley as we were about to be served a light breakfast. About one hour prior to landing, I opened the shades to view the engines and wing in the daylight. I was amazed with the size of the engines and seemingly endless wingspan. For breakfast we were served cereal and red berry yogurt along with a sandwich pastry and coffee or tea. Having little sleep, I took a strong espresso and enjoyed my light meal.
In preparation for our descent into Roissy-Charles de Gaulle Airport, we were informed that the weather was 11 degrees (52 F), overcast and windy. Having checked the weather while in New York, I was looking forward to a week of clouds, wind and rain. I returned my seat to its upright position as the AVOD was preset to the flight map as we continued west. The cabin grew quiet and everyone took out their cameras in preparation for landing. After making a 180-degree turn east for runway 26L and with the flaps fully extended, we began our final into Roissy. In and out of the clouds, we touched down at 09:19; to my surprise the Airbus 380 landed smoothly with all its weight, payload and cargo. The passengers applauded and praised our crew-members who provided an unforgettable and safe journey. Having landed on the airport’s southern-most runway, it only took flight Air France 380 11 minutes to taxi to terminal 2E, gate 61. Just as in New York, the ground crew gathered to witness the aircraft’s arrival, as did the travelers inside the terminal building.
Due to the crowd of photographers and passengers wanting to tour the aircraft after we were parked at the gate, it was rather difficult to capture some “quality” photographs of the cabin. (On my return flight Air France 6, I captured video footage and photographs.) I was able to meet with the captain, however. To my surprise, our captain was female. On my previous flight to Paris in July 2009, the First Officer of flight Air France 11 was also female. I congratulate her and the crew on having been able to fly the inaugural flight and for doing an amazing job! Service was amazing, the flight was smooth, and we arrived 25 minutes ahead of schedule.
Video: Descent into Paris
A few notes regarding the Air France Airbus A380-800:
- A bulkhead is located in front of row 10 and is missing a window
- Voyageur class starts at row 10, just behind the L/R2 doors; the lavatories shown on SeatGuru as before row 10 are actually in La Première, and before the L/R2 doors
- Seats 11A, 11L, 34D do not have a seat in front and therefore have extra legroom
- Upper level Voyageur has seating in a 2-4-2 configuration while lower level Voyageur has seating in a 3-4-3 configuration
- Lavatories and galleys separate the Affairs cabin into two sections, contrasting with SeatGuru’s map
- Row 30 is an over-wing exit row with extra legroom and can be purchased at an additional cost (about 60$) after check-in for your flight
- Because of production delay, Air France did not add the Premium Voyageur cabin to the first A380; the second and third A380s may have this cabin
Vol Air France 380 (KJFK»LFPG)
Date: 21 Novembre 2009
Registration/N˚ d’identification: F-HPJA
Entry Door/Porte: 1/5
Scheduled Departure/Départ Programmé: 20:30
Actual Departure/Vol Parti: 20:34
Departure Runway/Piste: 31L
Takeoff Time/Décollage: 21:07
Descent Time/Atterissage: 09:19 +1
Landing Runway/Piste: 26L
Arrival Time/Vol Arrivé: 09:30 +1
Scheduled Arrival Time/Arrivée Programmée: 09:55 +1
Exit Doors/Porte: 2E/61
Baggage Claim/Bagage: 32
Vol Air France 006 (LFPG»KJFK)
Date: 27 Novembre 2009
Registration/N˚ d’identification: F-HPJA
Entry Door/Porte: 2E/61 & 62
Scheduled Departure/Départ Programmé: 13:30
Actual Departure/Vol Parti: 14:00
Departure Runway/Piste: 27L
Descent Time/Atterissage: 16:15
Arrival Runway/Piste: 31L
Arrival Time/Vol Arrivé: 16:28
Scheduled Arrival Time/Arrivée Programmée: 15:45
Exit Doors/Porte: 1/5
Baggage Claim/Bagage: 04