Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Air France? No Thanks! Part Deux

So I left off previously when I had actually made it on to my flight from Cairo. Paris-bound, I prayed that the "massive snow storm" would subside slightly to prevent any further delays. The flight itself wasn't too bad, many happy faces around the plane obviously glad to finally be en-route.

Arriving in Paris, I was expected to see mountains of snow. I didn't. There was some snow on the ground, granted, but NOTHING in comparison to what they had been complaining of. Delaying that many flights, I had expected to at least see snow on the run-way!

I disembark from my flight - incidentally having been put on Egypt Air instead of Air France -, and head into the dreaded Charles de-Gaulle airport. Having already been through this airport previously, I can say without a doubt that it ranks up there as one of my least favourite airports.

While in Cairo, I hadn't been printed a boarding pass for my Air France flight to the U.S. I had a three hour layover, I figured plenty of time to get my boarding pass printed. Goodness was I wrong.

There's a waiting hall when you come through the arrivals area in the airport. Here, there were hundreds of people milling around the 5 working Air France desks. The remnants of the people who had been stuck either in France, or elsewhere, because Air France grounded so many flights. While travelling to the connections area, I ran into a gentleman who, like me, had been stuck since Cairo. We decided to try and take on the crowd together, at least have someone to talk to while waiting!

The closest Air France agent tells us that to get the boarding pass for the flight to DC, that "yes," we would have to wait in that line. (As I think to myself, God save me now!) She suggested we could try the check-in machine, but "no promises," because the system was "faulty." Big surprise. It didn't work. Enter queuing. The Gentleman I had met was in Business, so we were able to wait in a "shorter" line, which would only take a "few hours."  

My flight to DC was set to leave at 16-20. On the board however, it just continuously said "delayed." As it was nearing 17-30, I was starting to panic. The queue just wasn't moving fast enough, and all I needed was a boarding pass! Air France, in all of their competency, decided against opening a desk JUST for people to get their boarding passes. Instead, everyone, flight cancellations, delays, etc, had to wait in the same area. See, it wasn't just Cairo airport, it was Air France! :p

I cornered another Air France employee, to see if it would be possible to get our boarding passes somehow! He suggested I leave the terminal, and check-in from upstairs, because there was "less traffic." So I decided to take my chance, bid farewell to my new-found friends, and braved the airport alone. I didn't make it far, arriving at the security to get through to the outside, to get UP to the check-in desk, I was promptly asked for a boarding pass. "But that's why I'm trying to get through there." No ma'am, you will have to go back DOWN to the desk area you were at, through ANOTHER security point, and wait there. "Come again? You're kidding right?" At this point, I was convinced that incompetance and a complete lack of communication were the primary hiring skills for Air France. NOBODY knew what was going on. One person would tell you go upstairs, the next tell you downstairs, the third tell you outside! I mean come on. Uch. Shouldn't airports be equipped to deal with these kinds of travel crises? Particularly right before the holidays? I hear in Heathrow they were at least handing out "foil blankets," lol. Although another disgruntled passenger I met who had just come through Heathrow, said that when water was brought out for the passengers it was absolute mayhem, with people descending on the crates of water as though doomsday was approaching and it may be the last drop of water they are ever able to consume.

I digress. :P back to Air France.

So I wait through this security downstairs, to get back into the same area I began in. Uch. Fortunately, my new found friends were still in the same queue, so I jumped back in with them and end up at the desk for Air France about 20 minutes later. Thank God I did, because suddenly, my flight to DC was "ready to board" in the hour. Having waited in the business queue, I was put in business class, and was able to wait in the business lounge. Not too shabby. A few glasses of wine later, and the stress melted away (particularly when that wine is Free. booya.)

When I finally get ON to the flight, two hours AFTER they said it was ready to board, I figured "ok, we're ready. let's get this show on the road."

We pull out from the gate, and I turn to the passenger next to me, and say "Thank God, we're finally leaving." He replies "until we've taken off, we haven't left." I turn back to my book, chuckling to myself, thinking wtf could happen? We've gone already, there's no turning back now. I WISH I had paid attention, you CANNOT make this stuff up.

About 5 minutes later, a stewardess gets on the announcement system, asking "Monsieur et. Madame, is there a doctor on board?" Huh? A doctor? Doesn't this only happen in the movies???

Turns out, a woman in the back had collapsed, probably a result of stress and exhaustion. The stewards all run around to the back of the plane with their medical equipment to asses the situation. Apparently she decided she felt ok, because the plane began to move towards the runway again. Not for long however, less than 2 minutes later, the stewards were running back to her, and announcing to the remaining passengers that we would have to return to the gate to drop off a "very sick passenger." Oh goodness. That shouldn't take long right?

We drop off the ill woman, and you could feel the tension in the plane as the passengers were thinking "ok, now we're leaving yeah?" Wrong again!

The Pilot decided that were he to fly now, he would exceed his recommended daily hours, and therefore was unable to pilot the aircraft. We would have to wait for a new pilot to come, who was in Paris, over an hour away. OMFG. YOU ARE JOKING RIGHT? YOU WERE JUST ON THE RUNWAY 30 MINUTES AGO! Bear in mind this was an 8 hour flight, wtf difference would 30 minutes make? Would he have waited until we were over London Heathrow, then decide his time was up and we'd have to land? UCH.

Anyhow, many many hours later, and quite a few glasses of champagne (Thank YOU business class!) we finally depart. The flight to DC, all things considered, was relatively uneventful. We all made it safely, and have quite the story to tell people. Which I'm sure, were you not there, you will only believe that I am embellishing these facts. And I can assure you, I am not ;)

Moral of the story: Never fly Air France.

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