Europe Echelon: KLM Paris-CDG – Amsterdam Boeing 737-800 Economy Class

You are in Terminal 2F.

Historic French architecture might be grandiose and gigantic, influenced by Greek mythology, the Gothic era and Haussman, but contemporary French works almost as if to subvert the ideals laid out. Architect Paul Andreu, famed for Beijing’s National Theatre and Dubai International Airport attempts to humanize and humble the colossal and Herculean. Such is the concept of the Air France hub at Charles De Gaulle airport. You won’t find columnless caverns stretching into the horizons. You won’t feel a titanic vastness. But therein lies the contradiction – the resulting sense is one of claustrophobia. From flying tin cans, passengers are channeled into the summit of the concourse with a view to everything in its omnipresence, but at the same time, are well aware that they themselves are afforded this privilege from a narrow, low ceiling almost transparent endless hallway leading to the unknown. The terminal’s interior, resplendent in its homogeneous agrarian industrial splendor is spliced with colors – gaudy in their luminosity, resolute in their intensity and cheap in its acrylic form – it evokes a feeling of an oppressed mischievousness, individuality and duality that’s eager to make itself known. This disarray, bold and daring, is most expressive furthest from the core. As one closes in, the dissonance slips into crevices and corners – masquerading as creative pillars to the establishment.

The underbelly of Terminal 2F.

No prizes for guessing the dominant carrier here.

Connecting at the Air France hub turned out to be really simple. Before descending into the Navette (shuttle) station, take a moment to orientate myself: check the flight information display screens for your gate number and most importantly, terminal number. Or alternatively, checking the connecting kiosks, or the manned transfer desks in the vicinity. This is the connecting traveler’s first and only real lifeline. A partial lifeline exists at the Navette platform, where airport staff will tell you which stop to get off. In general, the rule of thumb is to follow the signs to your connecting flight’s terminal. Otherwise, use the alphabet of your alpha-numeric gate number as a guide. Following the signs to “Terminal 2E”, Air France and SkyTeam partner’s terminal for flights within the European Union (except if the “G” gates), I inadvertently pass through immigration and security.

With separate queues for SkyTeam Elite passengers, EEC citizens and non-EEC citizens, immigration and security was pretty quick. Perhaps it was pure coincidence, but I did observe that the immigration officers took issue with people of Middle Eastern descent, as well as these two Republic of China citizens females whose passports were detained and I presumed, brought somewhere more private for questioning. What about the Singapore passport? Well, they had no issue with me, and within two minutes, I was legally allowed to stay in the European Union.

This morning, Terminal 2F was a hive of activity. Flights would come in, unload their passengers and quickly usher in the next batch, and quickly towing out and jetting off. My gate, F29, within a span of two hours, had seen no less than three flights taking passengers from places like Marseilles to Amsterdam.

Airline: KLM
Flight: KL 1224
Registration: PH-BXL
Route: Paris-Charles De Gaulle to Amsterdam-Schiphol
Scheduled Time of Departure: 8.55am
Actual Time of Departure: 9:18am
Scheduled Time of Arrival: 9:50am
Actual Time of Arrival: 10:14am
Duration: 0 hrs 56 mins

At large airports, it’s not uncommon for two narrow body aircraft to share gates, and by 8.15am, the inbound KLM flight from Amsterdam which was to operate the return as KL 1224 had arrived, taking one of two aerobridges of gate F29. The boarding call for these short-haul flights are called half-an-hour before the scheduled departure time, and as is practiced, SkyTeam Elite and Business Class passengers were called to board, and by then, Economy and Comfort Economy passengers started queuing up for this fifty-minute hop… until an innocent Air France Airbus A321 aircraft pulled up at the empty aerobridge of gate F29. There was a moment of confusion on the transparent spotter-friendly aerobridge – passengers near the aircraft were hurried in, while those inside the aerobridge closer to the terminal were backtracked in their footsteps. After the aerobridges were secure and sterilized, the Air France Airbus A321 began unloading its passengers. I surmise that the arriving passengers were requested to hurry, or it didn’t carry many passengers in the first place. Before long, the boarding for KL 1224 resumed.

A Quick Dip

This morning’s short-hop to Amsterdam is operated by a Boeing 737-800, which is a very robust short and medium-haul aircraft. Delivered to the airline on September 27th, 2000, the aircraft is almost 13 years old but the interior, to be honest, looked brand new. Approaching the aircraft, I, as did many of the passengers, noticed a waving motion through the all-glass aerobridge from the cockpit of our aircraft. The silhouette was clearly female, and many on the aerobridge waved back as well – a nice touch, I thought. I couldn’t help but just smile at the gesture. Perhaps I must have looked rude to the others. The quirks continued at the door where two Dutch flight attendants were conversing intently in Dutch, but never forgot to break into jolly greetings whenever passengers stepped in. It might have been true in the past, but today, the French are made up of so many races that’s it’s almost impossible to tell who’s French and who’s not. Cleverly, one greeted me in French, and the other in English – for the fun of it, I suppose, just to see which one I’d respond to.

Walking through the front cabin to my seat at 19A, I wondered why anyone might pay for Business Class or Economy Comfort. Europe isn’t a large continent, and with so many flights and so many airports spaced so close together, the consequence of this is that most flights are too short to provide a high-end service at the front end of the aircraft. So, Business Class seats needn’t be large seats or be able to convert into beds, and the food can’t be too elaborate – simply because the passenger simply has no time to enjoy the amenities and perks on flights like these. To create a perceived premium, full-service carriers cut frills at the back. Meals are reduced to mere snacks – if you’re lucky, sandwiches, biscuits or chocolates. On some European full-service carriers, it’s food and drinks for purchase on short-haul flights, but for now, this remains criminal in Asia, where even the low-cost carriers are expected to actually maintain a minimal service standard. Fortunately for me, I’ll still receive some form of service. Another outstanding feature of flying European short-haul are the slimline seats, which some accuse of being uncomfortable. However, I found it most comfortable. The female captain comes up on the PA, welcoming us and apologizing for the delay, citing CDG’s policy of prioritizing arriving passengers, and subsequently never speaks publicly again. Instead, her male co-pilot updates us subsequently, and will most glaringly make four more announcements.

I present to you, the cause of our delay.

We’re quickly pushed back, and we taxi, rather high-speed, as it seems to be the norm in Paris’ Charles De Gaulle to the runway serving Terminal 1 on the other side of the airport. Hearing Darren and other travelers complain about Terminal 1 is one thing, but to see it, even from the outside, was another. It was quite the dump. The terminal looked odd, with the Airbus A380s of Malaysia Airlines, Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways juxtaposed with the comparatively miniscule “regional jets” of United Airlines and the puny crafts of the Lufthansa Group.

In its heyday, Terminal 1 was revolutionary in its design. It was conceived in the romance of the early jet age – well aware that air travel was proliferating to the masses – and it sought to deliver passengers almost directly from the curbside to the gate via a central atrium. However, that fantasy quickly turned into a dump because it ignored two phenomena. Firstly, the terminal was designed for passengers whose origin or destination was Paris. It never occurred that the concept of a hub – this idea that at the very crux of airlines today would be mostly facilitating the transfer of passengers from one point to another through its home terminal. Secondly, for a terminal that championed the future of aviation, the avant-garde design offered no views of the tarmac.

Some legroom.

If there’s one thing I like about narrowbody aircraft, it’s their ferociousness and masculinity at take offs. These little spitfires, like the Boeing 737-800 that was carrying me to KLM, with all its force – the pushing back into the seat and all, that’s when you’re really flying. It’d really kill my love of aviation if everything was as stealth and silent as the A380. We blasted off into the sky, and within a few minutes, we were up above the clouds.

Once stable flight was achieved, the crews got to work. “Business Class” was quickly sealed off in order to make sure the passengers could finish their food, while they began handing out this morning’s snack to Economy Comfort passengers, and subsequently, us regular folk back in Economy Class. It seemed to me that beyond a slightly larger legroom, and an orange-colored headrest, there was virtually no difference in service between Economy Comfort and Economy Class. We were handed the same food and same drinks – nobody had more, nobody had less.

When I finally got handed my snack, and inspected it, I was a little disappointed – it was a foot-long Cheese Sandwich. There was a singularly long slab of cheese, I suppose cheddar encased in a whole-wheat sub, with a drought of béarnaise sauce to seal the deal. It wasn’t what I’d call, tasty, but with 90% of the passengers eating the same sandwich in sync, you kind of just follow the motion and do the same, really, until the ruffling of the plastic bag dissipates. The only solace, I’d say, would be the 125 ml can of Orange Juice, which was more of a lubricant to get the cold and dry sandwich down my throat than an actual thirst quencher actually. The filling meal is a great idea, but in reality, halfway through my sandwich, the nose pointed downwards, and it became a race to see how much you could finish before the flight attendants’ trolley for trash arrived at your seat.

Terrifying, really.

We arrived at Schiphol, a little bloated; frankly, very sleepy, and obviously wayyy after our scheduled time of arrival. The airport didn’t seem very busy, with virtually no plane on the ground moving. And having cleared Schengen immigration in Paris, I arrive, as any domestic or European Union flight would, without security or passport check.

Farewell, MD-11.

We pull up beside a company Airbus A330-200.


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