Sunday, July 17, 2011

Bisous to Air France

French customer service takes a lot of knocks. There's just not the same cultural imperative for it in France as exists in the U.S. Air France has suffered its share of slings and arrows from the blogosphere, especially during strikes, winter storms and volcano delays.

People often don't bother to give credit for good service. I want to give credit to all the Air France personnel connected with Flight AF80, Paris-CDG to San Francisco -- cabin, gate, flight deck and those I'm not even aware of -- on Quatorze Juillet, Bastille day, who made the extra effort to unite Sister with me for the flight home.

Sister and I had traveled together on Air France from San Francisco to Paris to Marseille for the lavender ladies' photo tour. At the end of that tour on July 5, our itineraries diverged. She flew off to Brussels to meet Brother-in-Law. They visited friends and toured in Belgium and Holland, then returned their Morgan (car) to its garage near London.

Meanwhile, I stayed in Provence for French lessons. At the end of our trip, we would both take Air France connector flights to Paris on the morning of July 14, Sister from Heathrow-London, me from Marseille. She was scheduled to leave about 20 minutes after me for a 1¼ hour flight. My 1½ hour flight was due into Paris at 12:20 and Sister's five minutes later for our 1:40 PM flight to San Francisco. The transfer from the domestic to international terminal is tight but doable if . . .  .

*  *  *  *  *

Once we started for our respective departure airports, we had no way of contacting one another until Sister arrived in France. (It's a phone thing.) On my end, I was sweating uncertainties on cab availability and traffic on the holiday. I had no way of knowing how things were going with Sister. The perfect cab driver arrived a few minutes early at my Bed and Breakfast and whisked me to the airport in plenty of time for my flight.

There is a large contingent of these yellow aircraft
in Marseille, which appear to be fire fighters.

Never mind that my departure gate was changed without announcement. Luckily, I went to check on why so many people were lining up at the gate across the waiting area -- and then I followed them, although I panicked when I thought the pilot's welcome said we were headed to Orly, the other Paris airport.

My boarding pass said Gate 43. 
So how's come everyone's lining up at Gate 44?

Flew over a layer of clouds with big bumps swelling up.

We were two minutes late departing Marseille and two minutes early arriving at CDG. I began the trek from Terminal 2F-Arrivals to Terminal 2E-Departures and walked and walked and walked. I tried to call Sister as I walked to see whether she'd arrived yet, but no connection was available. I went through passport control and walked some more. I began to think I wouldn't have to go through security screening again when I came upon the hugely crowded screening area. Rats! I'd already spent an awfully long time walking, with a brief restroom stop.

But personnel were busily rerouting lines to cut down on waiting, so that went quickly. Even at that, our outgoing flight AF80 was loading when I arrived at the gate. I tried sister again and she answered quickly, having turned on her phone a wee bit early. They had just landed. I told her I'd better go ahead and board.

When I got to check-in, I told the agent that my sister's flight from London had just landed and we were flying out of here together. She checked her computer. She tried to sound optimistic. "Well, if she hurries, she might make it."

I told the flight attendant who greeted us at the door . . . she said she'd watch for Sister. When I was staggering down the aisle with my carry-on bag that I couldn't roll, a smiling male flight attendant grabbed it and marched it way to the back of the plane and stowed it in the overhead for me. I told him that the seat beside me was for Sister.

My phone rang at about 1:20. Sister was out of the plane and had no idea where to go. I'd had a little confusion myself, even having been in the airport many times and speaking some French, neither of which she had. I gave her the gate number and instructions to follow signs to 2E and pretty much ignore the distractions of other destinations. And walk fast!

Back in the plane, flight attendants were closing overhead bins and checking on their passengers. Departure time was drawing closer. I was thinking that surely there would be a number of people making the same connection, so Air France surely must be planning to wait for them.

Waiting at CDG

An announcement came over the PA. "Will Mr. and Mrs. (Somebody) and Mrs. (Sister) please report to the gate agent." I waved my hand, catching the attention of the smiling flight attendant, telling him that that was Sister who'd been paged. I could hear the sounds of changes in the aircraft. Systems checks? A few minutes later he came back to ask me to try to call Sister and find out her progress. It was now scheduled departure time.

Breathlessly, she answered. "I'm checking in right now," she said. I transmitted that to the flight attendant. He went forward and moments later he came dashing back carrying her bag, with her close behind him. He stowed the bag and offered her a glass of water. He brought one for each of us. All the aircraft noises started up in earnest.

I was astounded she had gotten there as fast as she had. "I got a bus," she told me. "Luckily, it was quicker." (Somehow I'd missed the turn to the bus.) Gate check-in had closed but they knew she was coming and opened to let her in. Flight attendants she passed on her way in expected her and knew where she was to go.

On the other hand, security screeners had made her take everything out of her carry-on bag and purse, the same bag that had gone through screening in London only a short time earlier, the same configuration of items she'd taken through screening for years. Cameras, chargers and cords for phones and computer, every little thing had to come out, screeners demanding things in rapid French while she replied in English.

She'd been almost in tears. She had no Plan B if she missed the flight. Brother-in-Law was already en route back to San Francisco on a different airline from Heathrow. Not sure what Air France would have done for her, although I believe they have procedures.

Her connector plane from London had itself been loaded and ready to go on time, but it had somehow lost its place for take off and departed 39 minutes late. It also lost position for arrival at a gate in Paris, arriving 55 minutes late. The easy transfer had turned into a near impossibility. Only later it occurs to me that there probably weren't all that many, if any other, transfers on that particular route. After all, how often is it logical to take a flight on Air France from London to Paris to San Francisco?

What about AF 80? Well, we got off 13 minutes late, but arrived seven minutes early in San Francisco. Sister's checked bag hadn't made the connection but the routing paperwork had already been prepared when she reported it, and the bag was delivered the following evening.

Thank you, Air France. 

See you tomorrow.


1 comment:

  1. It's nice to hear good things about airlines these days! However, all of the transfers sounded complicated. I'm glad everyone is home and safe.