In Memoriam

Today our thoughts and prayers are with the people of Paris. We hope, as they begin the process of healing, that they are able to look forward to a day in which such senseless and cruel acts of barbarism become nonexistent.

We stand with the brave Parisians. Vive la France!

Salute to France

“Your Attention, Please – Now Boarding Flight 007 For Paris”

Last time, I shared with you how attending an Air France exhibit in Chelsea on a warm June afternoon morphed into spending Christmas week in Paris. Any chance to go to Paris is a gift, whether at Christmas or any other time of the year. And add to that, the wonderful luck we had in being able to take advantage of highly discounted fares, which enabled us to fly in first class (a/k/a La Premiere). Mon dieu!!

Our adventure began at the La Premiere check-in desk at JFK. After handing over our passports, we were given our boarding passes and our personal “handler” – at least, that’s what we called him – arrived. He was very nice and very French and escorted us through Terminal 1 to our waiting area. Along the way, he insisted on carrying our carry-ons as he whisked us through security.

Eventually we arrived at what seemed to be a private dining room, which had 2 tables, a seating area and lots of windows. We were immediately greeted by a waiter who offered us a glass of champagne or cocktail and presented us with a menu. No matter that we were on a dinner flight – perhaps we were feeling peckish and required some grub before boarding. We decided to have champagne and a couple of hors d’eauvres, both of which were yummy. 

Paris - AAC choosed dinner
AAC CPA checks out the menu….

Paris - Champagne

Paris - Tasty Vittles
….and has some bubbly with a little tasty thing 

After awhile, our friendly handler arrived to escort us to the plane. We were taken to a private elevator and then towards a special boarding area. As we were flying on an A380 (double-decker configuration), we boarded through the lower deck, at which point our handler wished us a bon voyage.

Paris Chariot Awaits
Our chariot awaits

Check out the AF A380 Aircraft

The purser met us as we stepped onto the plane, introduced himself and escorted us to our seats. There are only 9 seats in the cabin, so we could have easily found them ourselves, but who were we to complain?

Paris 1st Cabin
Our cabin and our seats in front

Once at our seats, we met our flight attendant (FA) and, again, offered a glass of champagne while he explained how the seat worked and presented us with an amenity bag, along with pajamas and slippers, as well as a dinner menu.

The Air France A380 holds up to 516 passengers, so you can imagine that it took awhile for boarding to be completed. While we were waiting to leave the gate, we chatted with the FA and got used to our surroundings.

Paris - AAC settles in
AAC CPA settles in

Finally, it was time to depart. The plane doors were closed and we pulled away from our gate and began to taxi (which, at JFK, can sometimes seem almost as long as the flight). What’s really cool on the A380 is that there is a closed-circuit camera in the tail of the aircraft, so you can see where you are going. Even though it was dark, it was still interesting to see where we were going, especially at takeoff and, later, at landing.

Paris - Watching our taxi
Taxiing towards the runway

Once we were wheels up, the FA was immediately at our seat to take our cocktail and dinner order. As it was a relatively short flight (about 7 hours) and because we had already eaten on the ground, we opted to have 1 or 2 dishes and then have our bed made up so that we could get right to sleep. We’d always heard that food on Air France was among the best in the sky. And the airline did not disappoint; however, the real culinary treat awaited us on our return home. For some reason, the food when flying out of Paris is superior. More about that later.

Paris - Menu Cover

Paris Joel R

Paris OnBoard Dinner Menu
Our dinner menu

Note the chef’s bio in the menu. As stated, Joël Rubuchon is one of the most celebrated chefs in the world.

Once we had eaten, we changed into our PJs – by the way, in our cabin there was one bathroom and one changing room, which was particularly luxurious. And the pajamas were kinda cute, too.

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper on planes, even when I have the luxury of a full-size bed (not to mention pharmaceuticals). In this case, I think I managed to get about 4 hours which, for me, is a bloody miracle.

(AAC CPA, on the other hand, can go to sleep while sitting up straight as the plane is taxiing towards the runway.)

I must have awakened about 90 minutes before landing, and our FA offered me some breakfast (heaven forfend that I should be hungry!).

After a delicious (and I mean deeelicious) Croque Monsieur and some tasty fresh fruit, I was ready to change back into my traveling clothes and prepare for gay Paris.

Paris - Croque Monsieur
My extremely yummy breakfast

As we made our final approach, the captain reactivated the closed-circuit camera and I was able to watch our descent and landing from my seat. We landed a bit early, and it was a slightly overcast and cool looking day.

Coming in for a Landing
Our landing into CDG, Paris

We gathered our carry-ons and our FA wished us a very happy holiday and safe travels.

As we stepped onto the jet way, we were immediately met by our next handler, who seemed to know exactly who we were, as he called us by name. With a brisk “Bonjour et bienvenue à Paris”, we were escorted off the jetway, down a corridor, into an elevator and taken onto the tarmac.

Get a load of this: We were then handed off to a chauffeur and private car to drive us to customs and baggage claim. How much fun is this!!! Our handler met us at customs and whisked us to the front of the line (oops, “Pardonnez moi, tout le monde!”) So customs was a breeze, and then we were escorted to baggage claim.

And then, we had an experience that had never ever happened to us before. Can you imagine what it was? It was so rare that it never would have occurred to us. It seemed inconceivable that it could ever happen. The baggage carousel started to move and – much to our amazement – the first piece of luggage on the carousel was mine! I mean, what are the chances? We both tingled a bit when that happened. Zoweeee!

Our handler assumed that, of course, we’d be met by our own car and driver, but we had to ruin his day and say that a taxi would do nicely, merci. So he escorted us out of the terminal and, somewhat embarrassingly for us, took us to the head of the taxi queue, and made sure that we were given the first taxi. And, off we headed to the City of Light for a lovely Christmas week. 

To be continued……

Travel Fantasy Memory – Bucket List Item: Flying Air France to Paris

It started like this in June, 2014:

You – in this case: AAC, CPA – see a poster on the street alerting you to an upcoming exhibit that’s right up your alley (and, best of all for AAC, is free!). And there it is:

AF is in the Air
Invitation to an exhibit

What a cool thing to do of a summer Saturday afternoon in Chelsea, right? So, after meeting friends for brunch, we head over to the far west side on a street full of interesting art galleries (who knew?) and then into a loft building.

An attractive young woman outfitted in a beautifully tailored Air France uniform greets us. In fact, as we move through the exhibit, there seem to be dozens of Air France uniforms all around us, smiling, helpful and very welcoming.

And what, exactly, is the exhibit? Throughout, you see Air France memorabilia: photographs, videos, samples of their beautiful crystal, china, silverware, etc.

AF Model

AF Cards

AF Concorde Dining

There’s also fun, silly stuff to walk through. Even a kids area where they can play and run around while their folks ogle the exhibit.

2014-06-28 13.55.46
AAC CPA attends an exhibit and has fun

But, mostly, as you work your way through, you can sample the various cabin classes on board, which is the real purpose of the exhibit. Air France wants to put butts in seats.

In fact, if you want to try out the seats, go for it!

We start in economy (meh) – looks like lots of seats pushed together.

AF Economy

Premium economy is next – getting better, as there’s a bit more legroom – 6 inches more pitch.

AF Premium Economy

Business? Now we’re getting warmer, the seats are comfortable but, also, angle-flat, not flatbeds – phooey!!

AF Business
See what I mean about “angle-flat”?

And then it happens, you go through a curtain and, suddenly, you’re in first class (a/k/a La Premiere). And you gasp just a little bit and your heart may skip a beat. It’s magic time.

AF - 1st - New Product
La Premiere – Pretty swank, huh?

Wouldn’t you just know? This is the one cabin of the plane where you can’t sit in the seat!! “Make ‘em beg for more, and then DON’T give it to them!” The creeps!

After seeing the first class cabin, there’s nowhere to go but down. Literally, that is, as it’s the end of the exhibit. But on the way out, those cute AF uniforms give you posters and the best ice cream sandwich ever. And both are yummy. So are the uniforms, come to think of it.

Cross cut: While all this is going on, we’re aware that a Broadway bound production of An American in Paris will be playing its out-of-town tryout at the Théâtre du Châtelet – IN PARIS!!!! So, in his ever-so-sweetly passive-aggressive way, AAC CPA just casually suggests “Wouldn’t it be fun if we could see An American in Paris (in Paris)?”

An American In Paris

Yes, gentle readers, AAC CPA knows how to push-my-buttons.

From there, I’m off and running (actually sitting at my laptop):

First thing: When, exactly, is the show playing in Paris? Easy enough to find out, just go to the Châtelet website and – wait for it – OMG: it’s playing over the holidays. Are seats even available? How about 10th row center on Christmas Eve?? Woo-hoo! Hold that thought.

Next: Take a big breath and head over to the Air France website and find out what’s available for a round-trip to Paris over Christmas week. It’s the holidays, so it’s going to be difficult to get seats, right?

What I see stuns me. Based on what we’ve heard, flying on Air France in first class (excusez moi – La Premiere) has been a bucket list fantasy dream for a long time. But we couldn’t possibly – the fares would be over-the-moon-too-expensive-out-of-our-budget-impossible.

But wait, for some unexplained reason, the fares over the holidays have been discounted by something like 70%. And, on top of all that, we’d get to fly on the new A380. Whaaaaat? Do my eyes deceive me? Apparently not. Now, I’m not going to lie and tell you that it wasn’t beaucoup bucks but, on the other hand, who doesn’t want to take advantage of a great deal, at least once?

AF A380
The new double-decker A380

Reminder to myself: How lucky are we that we could even consider such an indulgence?

So, then I call AAC CPA at work (yes, he was still doing THAT), and said: “OK, buster, you planted this seed – how would you like to go to Paris for Christmas and, oh by the way, fly over and back on Air France (traveling in La Premiere!, no less) and, yes, see An American in Paris on Christmas Eve?”

Yes, I called his bluff and what could he say but: “Well, OK, sure.”

And in a couple of mouse-clicks – I had windows open for both Air France and the Châtelet – we locked in our fantasy holiday trip: We were going to be two Americans in Paris, seeing An American in Paris on Christmas eve– IN PARIS!

Seriously, how lucky ARE we??

Next time: the Air France treatment (or, “Is there any way that you can make this flight LONGER?”)

Travel Fantasy: Let’s Fly Around the World

NOTE: If you’re not a travel wonk (and totally obsessed) as I am, you may not enjoy this post at all – or your eyes may glaze over or, worse, get permanently crossed. Proceed AYOR!!

So, how did I not know about this one? It was only a couple of months ago that a good friend (and fellow obsessed traveler) – AB-M – told me that there is this thing called “Round the World Air Fares” that is offered by the 3 airline alliances: One World (American Airlines), Sky Team (Delta) and Star Alliance (United).

It works like this:

You go to a dedicated website, input your itinerary and class of service, choose your flights, and off you go. What’s really interesting is that there don’t seem to be any blackout dates and the round-the-world fare is deeply discounted by comparison to what you might spend if you were purchasing each travel segment separately. You can also choose which class of service in which you want to fly: economy, business or first class – it’s all there for the taking.

There are a few caveats: you must fly in one direction, you must cross both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, and there will be a minimum and maximum number of flight segments you are allowed. There are time rules, also, but they tend to be very liberal.

Cathay Pacific
Leavin’ on a Jet Plane

So how much will this flight of fancy cost us? Very generally speaking:

Economy: About $4,600 per person
Business: About $9,900 per person
First: About $15,300 per person

By way of comparison, let’s suppose you wanted to fly around the world, but paid for each segment individually without choosing the round-the-world fare. How much would it cost you:

Economy: About $13,650 per person
Business: About $27,700 per person
First: About $43,500 per person (whaaaat?)

If you were so-inclined to fly round-the-world, there is a huge savings to book the tickets via one of these airline alliances, right?

Since AAC CPA and I have gold status for life on American Airlines, we tend to go with them for most of our air travel, when we can. Having said that, our gold status gives us basically: NOTHING. And, since we fly mostly on miles, it will be difficult, if not impossible, for us to achieve Platinum or Executive Platinum status. Boo-Hoo!

Anyway, I got it into my head that it would be really cool to fly around the world. So, just for fun, I’ve developed the following itinerary and tried it out on all 3 airline alliances to see how it would shake out.

Here’s my fantasy – and slightly bizarre – itinerary:

New York (JFK) to Hong Kong (HKG)
Hong Kong to Tel Aviv/Jerusalem (TLV)
Tel Aviv to Paris (CDG or ORY)
Paris to London (LHR)
London to New York (JFK)

Why did I choose these particular locales? Well, we’ve never been to Hong Kong and I’ve heard amazing things about flying on Cathay Pacific (which is part of the One World Alliance). Tel Aviv? I haven’t been to Israel since the last millennium and AAC has never been. Plus, I’ve heard rumors that Cathay Pacific may inaugurate nonstop flights from Hong Kong to Tel Aviv next year. (Do I detect a theme here?) Paris and London are no-brainers, as they’re two of our favorite cities and are sort of on the way home. Actually we’ve been to those 2 cities so many times that they almost ARE home.

I started with the One World Explorer website:

One World Alliance

Under Round-the-World fares, choose oneworld Explorer and go from there. The interface is very user-friendly, and it’s and all difficult to play with it.

Warning – here comes the real wonky part:

Starting with JFK – HKG, no problem. Cathay Pacific flies a daily nonstop. 16 hours!! But we’ve heard that it’s a great airline and you’ll be well treated.

Plus – and fellow-wonks, this is IMPORTANT – the Cathay Pacific flight also operates as a codeshare on American Airlines. So if, for instance, you’re in American’s AAdvantage Mileage Program and you can book the flight using the codeshare, you should be entitled to AA miles (in addition to bonus miles if you’re flying in a premium cabin). Woo-Hoo!

Cathay Pacific
Cathay Pacific First Class Suite

Hong Kong
Let’s go to Hong Kong!!

From HKG – TLV, at the present time (until Cathay Pacific initiates nonstop service), the best way to fly is Cathay Pacific to London (LHR), and then onwards to TLV on British Airways. (We’re also enrolled in BA’s Executive Club, so we should pick up some Avios miles on the 2nd segment.) Total travel time here is about 20 hours (ouch!!) whereas, if you can fly from HKG – TLV nonstop, it’s more like 12 hours. For what it’s worth, the HKG – TLV segment on Cathay Pacific is in 1st class, and the LHR – TLV segment is in business class. If Cathay Pacific eventually flies nonstop from HKG – TLV, it’s been rumored that the only premium cabin will be business class.

Tel Aviv
Let’s hit the beach in Tel Aviv!

Jerusalem
Jerusalem by night.

dead-sea
Or a dip in the Dead Sea?

(Are your eyes glazing over yet??)

After our week in the Holy Land, it’s off to chic Paris. In the One World Alliance, this is kind of a stinker itinerary, as you have to fly through LHR on British Airways, change planes and then to Paris. Instead of a 4 – 5 hour nonstop (if it were available), you’re now facing total travel time of 8½ hours. This is one of the compromises of flying within one of these airline alliances and a core lesson to learn: you can’t always get from point “A” to point “B” without making a few stops along the way.

AAC - Paris
AAC CPA in Paris – May, 2015

Paris to London is no biggie – now it’s an easy 80-minute flight from CDG to LHR. After what you’re already been through, this is nothing!

AAC-London
AAC CPA does London – May, 2015

Finally, on the flight back to New York, you have 2 options: either fly on American Airlines, which has 3 nonstops every day (but only 1 with a first class cabin), or British Airways. Again, if you want to collect AAdvantage miles, go with AA. If you want Avios, BA is your man.

When I attempted this itinerary on the Star Alliance (United) and Sky Team (Delta) websites, there were immediate problems. If, for instance, you wanted to fly in first class, almost all of the Star Alliance flight options were downgraded to business class, so it would make sense to choose “business class” as your class option and save thousands of dollars (duh?). Additionally, because of this particular itinerary, in some cases there were as many as 2 changes of plane to get from one city to another. That doesn’t sound like fun.

And, not for nothing, did you realize that – once you’ve completed your circumnavigation of the planet – there’s even a club for you to join:

Circumnavigators Club

Yes, it’s the vrai – a special club for special people!!

So here are the takeaways:

  1. If you want to fly round-the-world, use an airline alliance to book your ticket – the savings will be HUGE and you won’t have to worry about things like blackout periods; and
  2. As you think about your specific itinerary, be aware that each alliance has its pros and cons with respect their favored cities and the ease with which you can get from here to there.

But, in the end, it’s all about the adventure of travel and the idea of making a circumnavigation of our planet makes me kind of tingle.

So what is YOUR favorite itinerary on your round-the-world fantasy adventure?

Bon voyage!!

PS. Here are links to the other airline alliance websites for booking round-the-world fares:

Sky Team Alliance Round-the-World Fares (Delta Airlines)

Star Alliance Round-the-World Fares (United Airlines)