If you are following me on Facebook or Twitter then you know last week I was invited on a very special behind-the-scenes tour of Air France and Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.
It was arranged for 40 members of Air France’s section of Flyertalk.com, one of the most popular frequent flyer communities on the internet.
The two-day event was free and the goal of Air France was not only to share a behind-the-scenes look but also to get feedback from some of their most loyal frequent flyers.
This how the two day event went:
THURSDAY 26 APRIL
9:00 AM meet the Flyertalk group at Hyatt Hotel at Paris-CDG airport
-A lot of the FlyerTalkers (FT’s) were from Alsace-Lorraine as was ChrisSXB who was responsible for organizing the event.
-About five of the FT’s came from America and there were also a couple of Americans that now live in Europe attending.
10:00AM Departure to visit the Hub Control Center which included a tour and presentations by Air France Executives.
-CDG has 790 daily flights
-25% transfer bags mishandled every 1,000 passengers (AF is obviously trying to be more efficient)
-We learned how AF does Traffic Flow Management. They showed us their computer program that informed them how much it would cost to wait or leave without late connecting passengers.
-They will wait longer for first and biz class passengers (they look at the cost of the ticket)
-Saw a live example of a flight to Seoul that if it left on time it would leave 5 passengers behind for 24 hours since they just have one flight a day. If they wait 20 minutes everyone would make it and Air France would save a ton of money by not having to put them up in hotels and give them food/transportation vouchers. It was also a no brainer because the flight was scheduled to get in 30 minutes early so it would still be early and no one would miss a connection in Seoul.
-One french worker told me as we passed a couple of female workers that he works there because of all the beautiful women.
-After July Air France and Sky Team connecting passengers won’t have to go thru security again. Just immigration which will save at least 10-minutes and aggravation.
-The A380 has a two hour and 10-minute turn around time
-It’s easier to switch equipment if its the same type of aircraft. If they needed to swap an A320 it usually takes about an hour. A long haul plane takes double.
11:45AM Drive 10-minutes to Servair, Air France’s catering unit for another behind-the-scenes of their facility.
-The group was filled with plane nerds. Every time we got on the bus someone would ask where are the exit rows or first class seating.
-At Servair everyone had to wear white jackets, a protective mask and cap.
-A 747 has 24,000 meal components which would include a toothpick, honey…
-Servair prepares 35,000 meals a day and they have 60 catering facilities on four continents.
-The CDG Servair had 1,500 employees. They supposedly only have 1% staff turnover
-They use handheld computers to record and trace everything so if they ever have a food alert they can find it within 5-minutes. They usually get two alerts a month and only one testing positive a year — it usually happens in summer with red cheese. They get about three allegations of food poisoning per year.
-By law the pilot and co pilot have to have different ingredients in there food and that are not made in the same kitchen as the passengers and flight attendants.
-President of France and other heads of states have their meals made in the first class kitchen. But the president of the United States has his own people make their food.
-Usually the Middle East and Asian carriers have the biggest budgets which in turn means has the best meals.
-Servair makes Japanese, Korean, Indian and French food in there CDG kitchen.
-They make about 300 Air France first class meals made a day in a separate kitchen but they are asssembled on the plane.
-Bread hates the fridge. Best to have an oven on the plane.
-The final holding area is cold. 3 degrees Celsius and they keep the food there for about 6 hours
-We then had lunch in one of Servair’s rooms where they served Air France’s new business class meals created by chef Guy Martin that debut in June. Dishes included: Filet of duckling, fennel and mango confit. Another was Orecchiette pasta with squid an roquette on a bed of tomato scented with coriander seed.
-Air France is known as having the best sorbets and we sampled their blueberry, pistachio, and creme brule flavors.
-Air France’s menu changes every two months.
2:00PM Departure to the Air France Headquarters where their Chairman and CEO, Alexandre de Junia, took our questions for about an hour.
–CDG opened in 1974.
-CEO admitted Air France is in bad financial shape but says it will be in good shape in 2014 and they will be number one in 2016.
-He took questions and seemed genuinely interested in our comments
-In 2013 Air France will roll out new biz class like no one else — says even Singapore Airlines will be inferior.
-New law passed in February that French workers can’t strike without notice. They need two days in advance and Air France can reprogram everything in two days.
-Air France owns 25% of Alitalia
-Qatar and Emirates wants world domination
-Average age of Air France fleet is 8.9 years old
-Low cost carriers are not progressing as much as before
-Air France owns part of T1 at JFK which is why they are not moving to Delta’s T4.
-They will keep network basically as it is now.
-In 2014 or 15 when they have recovered they might expand
-They will redo economy class too.
-British Airways operates most profitable route in the world: London to New York.
2:45PM Interactive work sessions at the Crew Training Center held in the cabin simulator and the A380 model for training.
-We discussed passenger comfort, marketing presentations on current topics, their Flying Blue frequent flyer program.
-Air France has 20 million FF members in their Flying Blue program
-One suggestion they loved was blocking the middle seat next to an elite member unless its needed
-Flights between 3.5 and 5 hours they have difficult for a good business class product because its neither short nor long haul.
-Crew avoid soda and drinks with bubbles in it.
-Pilots can’t control humidity.
-pilots use a mask or even an eye mask or scarf to cover their mouth for more humidity
-FAs put warm water in bottles to stay warm and put them around their waists.
-Most diversions are for medical. The pilot we interviewed said he has less than one a year.
-The pilot gets a scared of flying to Africa as they can’t rely on air traffic control
-Less than 50% of air traffic controllers in Argentina speak english
-It’s better to speak English to controllers even when going to Montreal
-Going over The Andes Mountains is worst turbulence in the world.
-Flying east they take the jet stream since it can decrease flight time by an hour and save six tons of fuel but it is more turbulent.
6:00PM We returned to Hyatt Hotel and rested before an incredible French buffet dinner with the FlyerTalk members and Air France executives.
-At dinner they raffled off numerous chances to win a day with maintenance and with a duty station manager.
FRIDAY 27 APRIL 2012
9:00AM Visit of the airport from airside. This was the highlight for me as we were able to watch the ground staff load and get a 777-200 plane ready for an on-time departure to JFK.
11:00AM Exclusive preview of the S4, the soon to be opened largest terminal for AF (no photos were allowed)
-On the bus ride over the Flyer Talkers booed when we passed 2G terminal
-We were the first external visitors to tour S4
-S4 is opening mid July
-The new terminal will have 16 parking stands. Three will be able to accommodate seven A380’s. Those seven air bridges will have three jetways
-When they announced they will serve hot food in the Air France lounge — everyone clapped. The FT’s also loved their will be 10 showers
-Two thirds of hub traffic is before 2p
-S4 will close at 2:30pm
-There will be 17 security checkpoints
-One of the concourses will have four water bubble pieces of art made by a Japanese artist
-International connecting passengers won’t have to go thru a second check like they do now. The airport representative joked passengers can spend those 10-minutes in their new duty free shops
-The shops will have flight information in them
-S4 is a green building – will save 30-40% of energy a year.
-Designers wanted to create a plaza in Paris
-Lots of natural light
-Two-minute automatic people movers are very reliable
-12 wave lights above restaurants. Really cool
-New sanitary blocks since they were so criticized in the past. Passengers will never have to walk more than 120 meters to reach a clean toilet
-Total revenue comes from 17% from Duty Free
-Small 200 square meter museum
-S4 terminal is only for Air France and SkyTeam members. Will be mostly for international connections. Only other Air France terminal is S3
-S4 cost 580 million euro — Biggest work project in France
-Passengers will get free 15-minutes of internet
-One electric plug for every two seats. Passengers will need a european adaptor — 220 watts
-Nice lounge chairs, natural wood walls
-Living plant painting that’s 120,000 euro. Supposed to depict River Seine.
-Not a high building because air traffic controllers need to see over it
-You can see the Eiffel Tower on a clear day
-Optical smoke detectors
12:30PM Return to hotel (and write down all my notes and upload the photos).
-Parisians call Charles DeGaulle Airport “Roissy”. Americans know it as CDG (its three-letter code) or just deGaulle.
-CDG gets 60 million passengers a year
-The Flyertalkers gave Air France and airport executives an earful about the terrible airports signage.
-One FlyerTalker from Amsterdam told me he recently found a deal in to fly AMS to Montreal for just 280 euro roundtrip!
-Here’s Air France’s corporate video of the event
Stories and Photos from Other Attendees:
I loved the behind the scenes story.