Par Avion

Did I tell you I was going to California for 2 weeks? No? Well, I’m here – in San Francisco to be precise. (Or, to be precise-r, San Rafael – a town across the Golden Gate bridge.)  There will be more than enough opportunities to share the joys of this trip later, this is simply an introduction as to why I’m writing a post about the French national air carrier…

One of the things I love about flying is the ways in which the personalities of countries or regions are expressed on board planes. Last year’s trip to Texas saw my first experience of Delta’s southern charm; Aer Lingus is my airline of choice to Belfast (it has excellent music choices and inoffensive uniforms); and flying BA to Uganda was surreal and hilarious – our return flight included the poshest stewardess in the world.

Somehow, en route to San Francisco, I found myself on board Air France. [I booked through Delta – MH’s airline of choice – and they’re a partner.] Overall this was a good thing. It’s the first flight I’ve been on where I’ve been handed a menu of the flight’s food programme, complete with wine list and vintages (including champagne); it’s certainly the first time I’ve had my choice of French films to watch on board; and the flight attendants are certainly very well dressed.

However, there were disadvantages…

A major one was the fact that, 7 hours after I’d arrived at Heathrow, I found myself flying back over it – having spent the previous hours flying to Paris and then boarding a flight to SF. Slightly frustrating, especially at the point when I realised it would have been quicker to take the train from St Pancras to Paris, and then the Metro to Charles de Gaulle. Ho hum. [There was method to this madness. If you’re doing a long-haul flight that requires a change, do the shortest leg first. I’d have hated to do the 11hr flight to LA and then board another plane to SF.]

On the plus side, this did mean that I found myself with just over an hour to kill in Charles de Gaulle airport. If ever you should find yourself there, note that there are more places at which to buy macarons than there are to buy a nutritious lunch. (Although, who says macarons aren’t a nutritious lunch?) My gate was adjacent to a Laudurée wagon, which says it all really.

7 days of NutellaCDG – where you can also buy ‘weekly’ packs of Nutella. You know, for when a single jar isn’t handy enough…

This adventure also provided me with an excellent opportunity to practice my French. Aboard the flight to Paris, there was a drinks service (the flight was under an hour!) and I asked – in English – for a Diet Coke. The steward did not understand me, so I tried again with “Je voudrais un coke light s’il vous plait” – he obliged and apologised for not speaking good English. I began to wonder how a flight attendant on a route operating out of London could get a job without good English, but then I remembered the French attitude towards their own language and their general belief that it is wonderful – and I vowed to try not to speak English for the rest of the journey.

Initially, this went very well. An “au revoir” to the cabin crew upon landing and a tour-de-force of conversation skills with security while having my hand luggage checked again.
Security: “iPhone?”
Me: “ici” [Pointing to handbag]
Security: [Beckons me through security gate]
Me: “D’accord”
I was impressed with myself…

Things started well aboard the long flight. I understood most of the French announcements – enough to know that the French speakers were getting more information than the English. I ordered my meal in French, chose vin rouge to accompany it and made polite small talk with my French neighbours. Things only began to unravel when I wanted a gin tonic. No one had taught us this at school. Tricolore did not have a spirits section! So I gave up and asked in English. (The bonus was that because the tonic came in 330ml cans, I got two gins…) As my tiredness progressed, the ability to speak even basic French evaded me. The final straw was my US customs form – which proved to be a French translation. If there’s ever a form in which you don’t want to misunderstand the questions, it’s a document issued by US immigration. With zero help from another flight attendant who claimed not to know much English, my neighbour successfully helped me deduce the correct responses.

All in all, I’m pretty relieved that my flight home is via Virgin Atlantic. They may not have menus and champagne, but at least there will be a plentiful supply of films in English and my poor, jet-lagged brain will not be over worked.