Paris 10/2008



Flight to Paris

October 3, 2008

LAX-DC United Flight 946, Seat 14H

I know I've said this before, but I hate to travel. I like being other places, but I really dislike the process of getting there. Just driving to the airport fills me with anxiety. So, even though my flight is not scheduled to leave until 8:15, and even though I have only carry on luggage, David takes me to the airport and we are there by 6:15. The day before, I'd managed to score my last flight upgrade to business class for the DC to Paris route, but I still had no assigned seat for that leg, so I checked in at the front desk in Terminal 6 where there is a counter dedicated to United Premium services. Unfortunately, all that was left was a middle seat, and I chose the row at the bulkhead, thinking at least I would not have someone reclining into me and it would be easier if I needed to get up and out.

Because I'm so early, I go to the Red Carpet Room, where I discover that had I not had the international upgrade to Business class, I would not have been admitted with only a Domestic Business class ticket. That would have sucked now, wouldn't it? In the RCC, I'm able to get online (they have free T-mobile wifi cards), send emails and make a free local call. I have a cup of coffee and some little snacks (nothing great). Before going to the plane, I'm able to fit my wool coat into my bag so I don't have to carry it since I'm already wearing my short jacket.

The plane boards about 1/2 an hour early and is full, even in Business Class. Then we sit and wait. The seats are ok; lots of room between my seat and the one in front of me, but they are not the new "lay flat" seats currently being installed on the long haul planes. There is no amenity kit, but there is an offer of a pre-flight drink of water or orange juice (no champagne). There's no lunch menu (should have been a clue to the horror to come) and there are no AC power ports for laptops, just the "em-power" ports which require a special adaptor (the new business classes will have AC power).

In economy class, I hear the announcement that no food will be served other than that for purchase. In business, they give us one of the boxed options they normally sell, the "breakfast box" filled with the same, hard cellophaned pastry in the RCC, a cup of fruit and, honestly, I can't remember what else. It was dismal. I can tell the flight attendants hate it too, because with every meal, they pass out a response card to be sent to United. They ask, "are you happy with the meal?" and inevitably, the reply is "no" and they say, "then fill out the card and say that!" I'm impressed with the little act of employee subversion.

During the flight I read and watch the movie "Then She Found Me" with Helen Hunt and Bette Midler. Fortunately my seat mate is working or sleeping throughout the flight and doesn't see me weeping through the movie. It's a bit of a downer, but ends well.

The flight arrives about 20 min late into DC and I need to walk from the far end of Terminal D to the far end of Terminal C for my next flight. In the process, I make the world's fastest RCC stop to check and send another email and wolf down some cheese and crackers. Then I hear they are boarding my flight and I rush down to my gate where they've already boarded 1st and Business. People start to get into the Business line and the gate agent gets testy telling them to move and they are in the wrong place. Yikes! But he lets me through because I have the "right" ticket. Oddly, no one asks for my passport before I get on the plane.

IAD-CDG United Flight 914, seat 11E

Champagne is offered with the pre-flight drink of water and OJ and I take it after the rush down to the plane, thinking, "I'm going to need this if I am stuck in the middle seat". Same type of seat as the last plane, but there is a little amenity kit with the usual stuff in it (socks, eyeshade, toothbrush, toothpaste, moisturizer).

Who are the people who get on a plane with nothing or just a small purse? Do they not read? Do they not carry a camera or anything of value? Is everything in their checked luggage? Are these the same people who put jewelry and electronics in their checked luggage and then express shock when it goes missing? What if their luggage gets lost? Look, I'm not against checking luggage, though I try to avoid it whenever possible, but how can you get on a plane with nothing?

Behind the bulkhead.
Pros: no one reclining in your lap, might be easier to get out.
Cons:people use it as a through-way, especially when boarding, all bags have be stowed for take-off and landing and there's not a lot of room for them when they are down.

As it turns out, my seat is broken. The leg support won't stay up and therefore I can't really rest comfortably with my feet hanging down. Consequently I get no sleep while the guy on my right snores though the flight and the guy on my left puts his eyeshade on directly after dinner and sleeps the whole way. Speaking of dinner, there's a menu designed by Charlie Trotter to choose from and it sounds much better on paper than it is in practice. I opt for the beef and it has the texture of shoe leather. I've never had another airline meal like the one on Austrian Airlines where there was a private chef (toque and all!) onboard cooking the meal. I have two glasses of red wine in a desperate attempt to sleep and reset my clock, but it's no use.

We land at 6:15, I'm off the plane by 6:30 and I'm on the RER headed into Paris by 7:05. There was no waiting to go through immigration and because I didn't check luggage, no waiting for my bags. I followed the instructions I printed off www.parisbytrain.com and made my way to the RER station where I bought an RER ticket (8.40 euro) and a carnet of 10 metro tickets (11.40 euro).

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