Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Air France, je t'aime

We're back home. We actually got home on Sunday morning, but although adjusting to the jet lag has proved easier for everyone in the family in this direction (Le Petit naps! And sleeps in in the morning!) , I have been exhausted. I took a bit of a nap with le Petit this afternoon (read: pried myself off the floor next to the crib after he'd been sleeping for thirty minutes) and feel energetic enough to write a blog entry.

Or actually more of a love letter to Air France.

Everyone has noticed that air travel is getting progressively more unpleasant. We arrive hours and hours before our flights, wait in line multiple times, remove shoes and belts and shuffle in our socks through security check-points with our pants falling down. We can't even bring a bottle of wine in our carry-ons anymore, and instead have to bury it in the suitcase and hope it arrives intact without staining all our spare trousers a shade of burgundy. The seats are smaller, the meals are less appealing, and you have to pay for everything.

And I find myself living half a world away from my family that I so dearly miss, with no option but to board a plane to go see them, now with a toddler in tow.

Thank heavens for Air France and their direct flight between Paris and Seattle. Our flight back from Seattle this weekend showed me once again why I love this airline.

We arrived with two giant suitcases and a case of wine to check. One suitcase was seven pounds over the bag weight limit, the other was two, and I was prepared to unpack, unload and rebalance in the middle of the check-in line and if necessary throw together another carry-on of books just to avoid paying a fee. "Don't worry," my husband said, "This is Air France. They're usually cool." Sure enough, they let it pass.

On our way to the gate, I was struggling up a non-functioning escalator with my carseat/backpack/rolling cart contraption and my husband, with le Petit on his back and his own carry-on, was unable to help when an Air France gate agent came to my rescue. "Tenez, madame!" he said and lifted the whole heavy thing out of my arms.

On the plane, a flight attendant came by during the meal to ask "Is everything going well?" like she meant it, and she stayed to hear our thoughts on toddler meals and le Petit's refusal to eat his chicken nuggets. Meanwhile, he gobbled up our adult meals instead.

Which brings me to food. Air France food is good! Not gastronomy, but probably the best cuisine you'll be offered anywhere in the skies why flying coach, and certainly better than many a tourist trap restaurant in the heart of Paris. Plus there's real bread and free wine and champagne.

But when I wanted to hug the entire plane crew, and when I knew just how to entitle this post, was when an exhausted le Petit started screaming in the middle of the flight. We knew he needed to nap but couldn't for the life of us figure out how to convince him; I was doing all I could to avoid noticing any dirty looks from the passengers around us. Then, two flight attendants appeared, not to scold us, but to offer their support.

"It's okay if he needs to express himself, but maybe he'd be happier walking around with us in back?"

We were dragged from our embarrassed-toddler-parent paralysis, my husband unsnapped le Petit from his car seat and off they went. While I sobbed silently into my arm rest -- the flight was long and I was at my breaking point -- I saw le Petit out of the corner of my eye trotting up and down the aisles, followed closely by my husband. Twenty minutes later they came back to our seats. Le Petit had been showered with Air France freebie toys, at least three times the normal "ration," and was proudly clutching a new set of colored plastic keys.

They'd been searching for the exit, my husband explained, and once le Petit understood that there was no way to get off the plane before we arrived, he agreed to try and take a nap. He climbed back into his car seat, my husband read him a story, and he quietly fell asleep and slept the remaining three and a half hours until we landed.

So it was that in an age when flying is generally classed alongside dentist visits as necessary, self-inflicted torture, a flight across an ocean and a continent with a very active toddler turned out to be a positive -- if not always easy or pleasant -- experience. Who says France is the land of bad customer service?

Air France, je t'aime!


T. said...

I couldn't agree more. I was so floored by the in-flight meal on our last trip that I actually took a picture of it!

The experience on Air France is so CIVILIZED compared to American carriers!

Now, my question is...why aren't people in the service and safety industries on the GROUND quite as supportive and friendly as the flight attendants on Air France?

Makes one wonder...

caramama said...

That is so great to hear! A good airline in this day and age! When we can afford to take a real vacation again, I will look into Air France. They fly to Italy, right?

TTT said...

Believe me: I lived in France for 7 years (before moving to the US), and I don't miss the actual lack of customer service. My theory is that there are only two businesses in France that work: Air France and 5-à-sec (for those of you who know).

I fly to Europe quite often and I always try to fly AF. They fly everywhere, you just have to accept a couple of hours of layover in Paris. But I don't mind at all... I prefer awesome crews, free champagne, pretty good food and a 2-hr layover to a miserable trip on an American carrier!

Arty said...

Nice to read this. I've only flown with them once from CDG to NY but it was a pleasant, civilised experience. American carriers seem to have a terribly abusive attitude to their customers, despite their highly welcoming adverts.

Inki said...

That's awesome! I love that you were able to explain to Le Petit that he couldn't get off the plane and would have to nap there!

Parisienne Mais Presque said...

@T - I've actually had good experiences with the ground staff recently. In Paris, I've always been ushered to the front of the line when traveling with a toddler, for example, and the folks in Seattle were really friendly and helpful. However, I have heard a lot of mixed reviews. Don't blame the glacial pace of the baggage claim at CDG on Air France, though -- I think it's more of a general problem for the entire airport!

@Caramama - They do fly to Italy, as a matter of fact!

@TTT - You know, I was surprised on this trip back at the BAD or just apathetic customer service we got in the US. I think that customer service may be improving here (except at the grand magasins, of course, or at La Poste) and getting worse over there. Or maybe my random sampling is flawed.

@Arty - I think that a lot of the American carriers have been doing so poorly for so long that they are suffering from disfunctional corporate culture: no one cares, and it shows. There's even one carrier I've sworn I'll never fly again, due to a combination of poor customer service and scary in-flight technical problems we've experienced.

@Inki - I know! It seems like there are a lot of complex things that le Petit's just beginning to understand. The second year was fun, but I think I'm going to enjoy the third even more (even if we are square in the middle of the "no" period right now)