If you read last years effort (http://www.plane-mad.com/forums/trip-reports/trips3468-the-big-bang.html)
I know what you are thinking, we caved in and bought seats on 'that' airline - the one we love to hate.
Well actually no - this year we are flying with the airline that so many of the regulars have said they would absolutely, positively, never, ever set foot on one of their aircraft, yes this year folks it's the turn of that airline with the fantastic safety and customer service record - Air France!
As usual the girls had buggered off and left me mid July (they actually flew out on AF
's sibling KLM
), leaving me to wipe my tears on the large list of jobs left to keep me out of mischief until it was my turn to start my journey on 14th August.
Compared to last year, flying non-Emirates meant a saving of at least five hours in the air each way and the wife could tell the difference as she experienced none of the leg aches and pains with KLM
Anyway 14th August dawned bright and sunny with just a few white clouds dotted about. I was flying out on AF
1669 from T3
, a place I've not flown from since 2005 and never internationally. The place was certainly quiet at about 0715 on that Sunday morning meaning bag drop - AF
let you check in online thirty hours before you fly - was done very quickly and soon I was airside and in logging mode. T3
airside is a different world compared to the chavtastic T1 I was unlucky enough to experience last year, nice and clean with plenty of seats but MAN
in my opinion still suffers from rip-off-Britan-itis in that wifi isn't free and there are no water fountains anywhere - meaning after security have taken your water you are forced to pay for it airside unless you go in the bogs and drink from the tap or just do it doggy-style straight from the bowl.
There are though of course loads of opportunities to spend your cash on duty free which can still work out more expensive than buying from your local Sainsbury's.
Plane wise, nothing exciting though I'd never seen Strategic Airlines before so the sight of two of them, one right behind the other going for take-off was nice to see.
Soon enough came boarding, the bus to CDG
was to be A320 F-GFKM, inside looked a bit worn and once sat down the legroom seemed tight to say the least. The tray tables also seemed a bit odd, although the blue colour matched the rest of the cabin the tables themselves were quite thick plastic and added to the already claustrophobic feel.
That said t'was only going to be a quick hop to de Gaulle and with pushback a minute early things were looking good.
Nothing to report on the flight over, just to mention on KLM
the girls got a drink & light snack on MAN
, we just got a drink.
Soon we were descending into a sunny CDG
, the good thing about transferring at CDG
is that both the UK
and Intercontinental flights go from Terminal 2E so not the amount of walking you can sometimes get at other airports, though on this day we docked at 2F which wasn't a big problem as it's only about 10 mins walk to 2E and I got to log some AF
metal on the way. Before you can do this though transit passengers have to go through another security check.
The part of 2E used for intercontinental is really quite smart, the only downside is you have to pay for wifi but they have free PS
3's you can play on, lots of toilets including extra female blocks and drinks fountains, the layout of the seating is good too being at angles from the windows (as opposed to right angles or parallel) giving a good impression of space in what could be a tight area considering the number of wide bodies it needs to cope with.
Not been to CDG
for about ten years so was quite a treat plane wise, along with seeing my first AF
A330's up close and making a load of triples I also pulled a couple of AF
A380's plus a Singapore version, more nice buses in the shape of A330's from China Southern and Eastern but pick of the bunch was not one but two Vietnam B777's which has to be one of the best liveries currently out there.
Boarding came soon enough, ride to KIX
would be on AFR
292 B772 F-GSPS which, once seated made my previous flight seem like flying first class on a machine fresh out of the factory, this plane was a shed to say the least. Crumbs & stuff on the floor, gobs of hair/dust & other stuff on the metal of the seat backs in front and the inner workings of the overhead bins had the biggest dust balls I'd ever seen - had this plane ever met a cleaner I wondered!
Leg room seemed tighter than the A320 and forget what it says on seatguru.com, these aircraft are definitely TEN abreast, similar to EK
's or the Japanese domestic fleet. I'm not the biggest of blokes but this layout really does feel very cramped, therefore I was thankful we would be making up about thirty minutes en route so would be 'just' eleven hours in the air. One thing I would add - and may have something or indeed nothing to do with the layout - is that the crew were almost obsessive in their efforts to get everyone to put their hand luggage in the overhead racks as they wouldn't let anyone it seemed put anything under the seat in front of them, perhaps it was to prevent anyone suing them for getting crap from the floor all over their nice new bag, oh and take off on a triple is much noisier than an A380!
Routing with AF
is over Russia, The B772 has IFE but it's a poor relation to others I've experienced, painfully slow, seems to take an age to load screens, no-where near as much choice, small screens etc.
The flight was pretty uneventful, apart from the fact my special meal wasn't the Asian Vegetarian you get on KLM
i.e. a proper Indian take-away, it was more like the EK
version which is all chick pea based, the normal meal choice was a Thai green curry or Japanese grilled salmon, we also had the usual turbulence over Korea which equates to a couple of minutes of bumping about before all was calm again.
Eventually we were on descent to Kansai (KIX
), not before passing very low over the new Kobe airport which looks like a smaller version of KIX
and gets about one flight a week and like a lot of things in Japan just did not need to be built. However one interesting fact is that the site of the new Kobe airport was one of the possible sites for KIX
& is actually a better location, however probably due to some bent politicians siding up with various construction companies KIX
got built where it is - then some more politicians allying with other construction companies persuaded the government that they needed another new airport constructing 500 yards away from KIX
, this is after they persuaded the government that KIX
needed a second runway! KIX
has now plans for a second terminal and a third runway...Imagine Manchester with five terminals and four runways with Liverpool down the road with three terminals and two runways and you get the idea of what goes on in Japan sometimes.
We landed with a bump and sharp sideways lurch (perhaps the pilot was more used to getting a Super Etendard down in a force ten gale) over thirty minutes early on a lovely sunny day, time 0755 temp 28 degrees. Not as hot as other places like the Med or Dubai but much more humid. First plane logged off the flight was a Vietnam A330, a nice addition to the triples I picked up at de Gaulle.
Compared to last year immigration was super quick as there were only about five 'others' on the flight, the rest being Japanese - now before anyone jumps in and says anything about the little tete a tete I had re the Japanese and travel, my fellow passengers were either retired, young and pre-career or business travellers including ex-pats returning home, there was no-one I saw within family groups or single groups travelling together, this was the point I was trying most unsuccessfully to get across - the Japanese may well spend shed loads more on travel than most other countries but that spend does not come across the broad spectrum of society, if it did then the travel spend would be far far higher - in fact my point was never about the money however important it is to the airlines, simply about the demographic breakdown of the travellers themselves.
However, I strongly believe this will and already has started to change, whilst we are not seeing families travelling, young single people are starting to travel more and giving up the traditional Japanese way of saving loads of their salary and instead spending it on material things. Peach Aviation start later this year into KIX
as do Air Asia X, more leisure airline activity will be mentioned later.
rant over, I said last year that KIX
is my favourite airport, and it still is, the arrivals side puts others to shame, yes it's relatively new and doesn't suffer from bolt-on-itis like say MAN
where the train station was an afterthought so can only be put twelve miles hike from the terminal, KIX
just seems to have been designed by someone with common sense. Baggage collection hall is really efficient, walk down steps or escalator into the hall and get your bag off the belt, right after the belts are loads of customs officers, answer a couple of questions and if they let you through without the case being opened or the lubed glove donned to open up something else, the door to Japan is just a few more steps away.
Once through, another few paces and you are outside, the arrivals hall landside is compact but lovely and clean, baggage storage, lockers, telephones, drinks fountains, vending machines and toilets are all within easy reach - though at the moment the electric hand dryers in the toilets are all turned off, this is a national policy in public places to save electricity due the Tsunami in march.
One floor up is the train station whilst directly across the road is the airport hotel.
Right, first thing to do was put my bag in storage as I was spending a full day on the terrace - lovely jubbly. Second was to phone home, big mistake as the wife said we were going to the Awa Odori festival (more later) so I had to get back by about 3pm, meaning I only had until dinnertime on the terrace - bugger.
After freshening up I was still in time to get the 0900 bus to the Observation Hall. Easy to find this, just go outside and the bus stops are immediately in front of you, go left to the very end - 100 yards or so to stop number 1. Buses are every 20 mins or so and costs just 100 Yen (normally 50p when the rate is 200 Yen to the Â£ but at the moment it's about 117 so works out a little more).
It's only a short journey and the Observation Hall is excellent, you can buy aviation gear as well as food and drink, toilets are there and also arrival screens etc. One thing to look out for in Japan are the excellent aviation mags, of course you wouldn't understand the text but the photos are second to none and worth the asking price alone.
Now admittedly we are spoiled at MAN
, our viewing area allows closer views of the aircraft as they taxi past and we can also take shots from the perimeter without much hassle. At KIX
you could only do this if you had your own boat and KIX
now suffers from the double runway effect, aircraft landing on the new runway are too far away for any decent shots even with a big lens but when they are landing on the runway nearest to you and alongside the Observation Hall some nice shots can be had.
Other negatives for KIX
are numbers of movements, even taking into account that most of the domestic is down the road at Itami KIX
get nothing of the quantity of MAN
for example, in fact if aircraft were the equivalent of 'hair' then by around 1130 the airport would look like Rooney's head before the transplant.
Of course on the plus side KIX
gets stuff we would only dream of back home including a fair bit of cargo, a cargo timetable is available for download via the Kansai website and, by some manipulation of the arrivals page on the same website a full daily timetable can be obtained for passenger flights.
Monday's are the quietest day for cargo but a nice extra was a CLX
B744 which the locals loved, as soon as it appeared in range they were snapping away like giddy kids whereas they couldn't care less about JEX
B737's & ANA
is now getting busier (still doesn't warrant two runways let alone three), two Air China's in the morning plus as previously mentioned the leisure sector is increasing, Jeju Air come in with B737's, Jetstar Asia come in with A320's and Hawaiian send in a B767 in the afternoons with Jetstar Oz coming in after dark. Compared to MAN
's Asian longhauls KIX
doesn't do too bad with the Euro's as KLM
all put wides into Osaka. The Arab boys fly in too, along with EK
also make an appearance.
Good variety at KIX
too, when it first opened all the Cathay, Korean, Asiana for example were A330's but now it's a real pick and mix and can vary from day to day, now all three send anything in apart from B747's and Korean A300's are regular which are great to see.
Pick of the day for me was probably the Jeju but it was very nice to pick up a Vietnam A321 to add to the others I'd already collected along with my first Singapore A330.
Had to start making my way just after the EVA
A330 which comes in at midday and get the bus to meet up with the family.
Pics from the terrace;
Singapore and Asiana going for take off
What a loverly pair!
Jeju Air from South Korea
Starflyer, Japanese lo-cost airline
China Airlines also send in B737's
Not really my bag but here's something a little different
You see plenty of Korean stuff
Let's not forget the home teams, the B737 you'll see later under different conditions
Eva time, you can set your watch with this everyday
Hadn't seen the girls for about a month, always a wrench when they go so obviously great to see them again.
Met up at our usual place and went straight to the festival. It's an absolutely buzzing experience, I suppose it's the Japanese equivalent of the Rio Carnival, the 260k local population can double at anytime over the four days as over one million visit, streets are closed off, national telly is there and broadcasts are live every night, loads of great food to be had and the beer flows but this is Japan and 99.9% of people get home safely without any trouble.
You can read more here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Awa_Dance_Festival
Some pics from this year;
Now, my main reason to go out there is to assist father with the rice harvest. Normally if you are British and overseas and the thermometer is over 30 degrees you are probably wearing very little in the way of clothing and lying beside a pool somewhere with a glass of cold liquid in one hand and say a book in the other. You won't be wearing jeans, t-shirt, long sleeved collared shirt, hat, gloves and Doc Martens, manhandling 35 kilo bags of rice straight off the combine. Even though we use a lot of mechanisation there's still plenty of manual work to do, the benefit of it all afterwards is something called Asahi Super Dry...I'm not a big drinker by any stretch but beer never tasted as good.
The harvest almost didn't get done as we had a lot of rain this year, we rarely see a drop in July and August normally but this year the weather front was over Japan rather being a hundred miles to the south over the sea. This brought a secondary problem - loads of mozzies, the wife loves it when I arrive as my western body and its higher temperature keeps them away from all the slightly cooler asian bodies in the house. I'm normally carrying around seven or eight bites but the extra water on the ground meaning more chance to breed meant I was now carrying on average twenty or so bites at any one time.
Attack of the Japanese Ninja Mosquito's
Harvest in full swing
Didn't get chance to do much else this year even though there's loads to see and do, we did to the pub and meet up with some old friends who flew down from Tokyo, he was a top exec at the local Japanese factory over here and is now a top exec at one of Japan's largest banks and the Japanese bank with the largest presence in the City of London - he's typical of the old style Japanese I mentioned earlier as in the two years since he came back from the UK
he hasn't been abroad once and the only time he has ever been out of Japan is on business, anyway whilst walking to the pub he asked who I flew with and after I told him he burst out laughing as he said 'why did you fly with them...", haha seems that AF
's reputation is worldwide!
I also cycled up to the local military base which houses a couple of heli's, difficult to photo them as they do surveillance of course at different times so when they were up I headed the ten minutes or so to the base to try and bag a shot;
Whilst there I tried my hand unsuccessfully at birding!
1st September and our journey home came around all too soon, since we have all our gear out there we tend to travel light outbound, for example the girls came out with 10 kilos and 5 kilos of luggage - mainly gifts. Going back is always different. I had just the standard allowance of one case at 23 kilos, the girls were on visit family fares so each had two allowable bags at 23 kilos meaning 115 kilos of luggage allowance - and yes we used every kilo.
Regarding the weather, TV had been tracking a typhoon heading in our direction from the Philippines, it was due to hit us hard on 2nd but on the 1st the effects were beginning to be felt, literally just after we arrived at Kansai the heavens opened and stayed open! Up to date this typhoon has caused widespread damage in Japan with around 50 deaths.
As with last year KIX
now tends to open check-in early which is great as we arrived about 3.5 hours before departure.
Departures are also very civilised, loads of toilets, water fountains and free wifi. After doing some shopping - we needed to ensure we maxed out our 12 kilos of hand baggage allowance too - we headed to the gate. Air France depart from the South gates meaning a short monorail ride. When we got there I left the girls to it and went for a wander, the rain was really bucketing down but I still managed to log a few, another Singapore A330 was nice along with another couple of Vietnamese A330/A321.
Boarding was nice and efficient, being with a six year old meant priority boarding onto flight AFR
291 F-GSPT, the slightly younger sister of 'PS
' I came out on so of course would be cleaner - er..actually no, 'PT
' was having some serious personal hygiene problems herself. We occupied the same row as I flew out on and since I was with family we could raise the arm rests and stretch out a bit more but it was still very tight.
As we taxied out I tried to get what I could on cargo, saw my first ABX
B767 (actually 'seen' loads if you count the number of frames of theirs I've seen by previous owners) but missed the Air Hong Kong - needn't to worry I'd get it soon...
Lining up and ready to go, we then started moving...off the runway, I informed the wife we could be heading back to the terminal, the captain came over the PA
to inform us the runway had just closed and we had to go over to the other one, great stuff I thought, now where's that Air Hong Kong!
It didn't delay us by much and we were soon away, more turbulence over Korea but other than that uneventful, once again routing via Russia, the flight time to Paris would also be reduced by about thirty minutes so just a pleasant twelve hours on board this ten abreast heap of $h..e. Even the non-slamming toilet seats slammed (if you saw the making of the B777 documentary on C4 years ago you'll remember that Boeing in response to its customers developed a damper on the toilet seat which meant it wouldn't slam down).
The only plus point was my meal, I had a lovely Chinese on the way home including a hefty number of spring rolls - very nice.
it may be backlit and not level but give the photographer a break, she's only six!
Shot through glass JA
looking a bit damp, the red 'T' under the One World logo is the logo for the Japanese Post Office as it carries mail.
On board and getter wetter
Look carefully and you can see the shape of the wing on the tarmac as it keeps the area underneath 'smooth' whilst outside this large 'umbrella' the rain pounding the ground looked like it was boiling.
On board as mentioned it's not that clean
Primitive looking IFE with an odd outline style font, crap on the seat behind the table and yes that's felt tip on the table
Arrival into CDG
was slightly early with not so much as a bump but a bang, lurch, bang, lurch, bump, and actually substantially more of an 'event' than last years effort by Emirates, amateurs!, (pilot must have also been ex Air Force), seriously though, it brought out a few worried expressions from fellow passengers including the wife.
A short taxi and we were on stand at Terminal 2E, the same terminal we would depart from back to MAN
and right next to a JAL
B773 - cue looks of 'wish we'd flown on that' . After we had gone through security again we discovered that our gate for AFR
1168 back to MAN
was actually directly opposite the one we arrived at and if we were allowed to go the opposite way after disembarking we could have got to the new gate in about 20 seconds.
Anyway, this part of 2E held Euro/UK
flights and was a stark difference to the longhaul side - it seemed the longhaul side had stolen all our facilities like toilets and water fountains as there were absolutely none in the vicinity - very odd.
Views though were actually better than on the other side as we were on an upper level, aircraft were using the runway in front of us and a steady stream of mostly AF
narrows were landing, the only breaks in this were an Air China Cargo B744F and a Euro Atlantic B777 which taxied past, though there was an Aeroflot A321 at one of the gates in our terminal. Flight to MAN
was on F-GFKH and on time, and noneventful though we did have a choice of snack - hooray! Either salty biscuits or sweet biscuits!
Back at MAN
on a glorious evening we had to queue through immigration, only two people handling the Euro passports and one staff doing the 'others'. With only about two 'others' on the flight one being the wife she made it through miles before us for a change as me and the daughter had to wait a bit. We play the 'game' with the daughter, when the wife takes her over she uses her local passport so doesn't have to faff about with the 'other' queue at Kansai. Coming back here out pops her UK
passport and dad takes her through to make things quicker - obviously didn't work out this time!
No problems with our bags though, most of them were already on the belt - however we now had a slight problem, I never knew you now had to have a coin for a trolley - unbelievable! Since we had no coins we (meaning me) had to man handle it all across to the train station, oh what fun I had!
And that's it! To sum up, would I fly AFR
again - well I'd prefer KLM
by a country mile but after all the moaning I'd still fly AFR
anyday over say EK
and the looonnng way round.
One last bit of info, after we got home the mother in-law called seemingly quite worried, apparently something fell off one of the aircraft (bit of undercarriage) leaving Kansai that morning & was on the local news, all aircraft were being informed by controllers, if the outside of our plane was as unkempt as the inside it had to be us!
Final shot, the usual picture from the window at altitude
That's it - sorry for the length, thanks very much for reading.