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The First Day
December 06, 2014 19:01
The first day was primarily travel, and due to long flights and extreme timezone changes, wasn't even a whole day. For that reason, I'm going to consider the first day to end when the plane lands in Paris. Until then, onward!
The day before we spent the whole day packing up (even though we had pretty well packed already) and decided that there was just no way in hell we were going to get EVERYTHING into two carryons and a single larger checked bag (which we had planned to send mostly empty and fill up with stuff while we were in Europe. So we completely filled the checked bag, and brought all 3 bags, plus my briefcase, and a large carryon bag for Gertie (along with her purse), and about 10 hanging garments (including my suit). We also brought the two cats, some of their food and toys, and finally got out of the house about 8 pm.
Upon arriving at my mom's house, we unloaded the cats and decided that the luggage situation was unmanagable as we had planned it. So we unloaded all of our bags, and borrowed two LARGE suitcases from my mom, along with a garment luggage bag. All three bags were quite stuffed and would require checking. Not a big problem, since with our first class tickets, we were allowed 3 checked bags each. How the hell we would haul around SIX large bags, I couldn't begin to speculate. 3 was bad enough.
We had a car pick us up at 5:30am to take us to the airport. Leaving that early, we had no issues with traffic and everything went smoothly. As soon as we walked in the door, we suddenly discovered just how awesome First Class really is. There was no line for the ticket counter. We had a dedicated lane that had no people in it, while other counters all had a line. The second awesome thing was their complete disregard for how heavy our checked bags were. One of them was 17 pounds overweight, and he just told me not to worry about it. Slapped the destination tags on the bags, along with big orange PRIORITY stickers, and on they went. After checking our passports, we got our boarding passes, and off we went to the security line.
And now for the third awesome part. When you're first class, you get to skip the security line. More to the point, we had a separate line which had 4 people in it, opposed to the security line for everyone else, which had about 40. We had given ourselves a couple of hours prior to our flight just to ensure that we had time to deal with things like long security lines. We had no need to worry. Less than 60 seconds later, we were partially undressing and getting fondled, and less than 5 minutes from walking in the door, we were past security and out on the concourse. The feeling of how quick the whole process was, was practially overwhelming.
So we walked about one gate down to get to the Admiral's Club lounge. We don't have a membership to it, but we're allowed daily access since we hold a first class ticket and we have an ongoing international connection. Fourth awesome thing. :) The lounge was very nice. Nice comfy seats, free nonalcoholic drinks (and I think a free alcoholic one, although it was too early in the morning to consider indulging in that. There wasn't a whole lot of free food, mostly just muffins and bagels and a bit of fruit, but it was sufficient for a snack since we'd be eating on the plane in a couple hours. The bathrooms were really nice, and there was also a business center, which was basically a moderate sized office area, full of cubicles with a desk and computer which people could use while they waited for their flights. There was also a master printer anyone could use, and it even allowed printing directly from a cellphone or other mobile device. We had no use for any of that on this trip, but it's nice to know it's available for the future.
30 minutes prior to boarding, and an hour before takeoff, I got a weird feeling and decided we should gather up our stuff and head down to the gate. First off, I knew it was going to be a bit of a walk, since we were about 15 gates away from it from where we were. Never the less, I still felt we should hustle, just in case. Two slightly unnerving things happened on the way to the gate. First off, we get a call from Kiko that she had just had a car wreak. Yeah. Of all the times she could do that, when we're about to get on a plane and be out of touch for the next several hours. The second one was when we got to the gate and NOBODY WAS THERE. We're walking up to the gate attendant and she's issuing a final boarding call for our flight. We're there a good 15 minutes prior to the boarding time. We check in without issue and she tells us that they're closing the door in 8 minutes. Ack! Oh well, we're there, and we still have our seats, so we hike on into the plane and sure enough, it's full of people, and First Class is full except for our two seats in 4E and 4F.
We stow our bags, and that's when I notice the 5th awesome thing. The plane is already full of people, as is our section. However, when previously flying in economy, the overhead compartments are usually filled to capacity, and the last few people on the plane are usually struggling to find a place to stash their bags. Since we checked most of our luggage, we didn't really have much in the way of carry-ons anyway, but we did have the large bag of Gertie's, so I move to put it in the overhead bin and realize that the thing is practically empty. There's one other bag up there, so a full 2/3 of the compartment is available for our stuff. Thinking about it afterwards, the fact that there are only 4 seats per row instead of the 5 or 6 back in economy, and the fact that there's about a compartment's worth of space between rows, means that pretty much every 2 seats in First Class gets its own compartment. I had started to fold up my coat to stuff it up there too, when the flight attendant asks if I'd like for her to hang it up. Well, of course I would. :)
Of course, I'm sure I don't have to express that the First Class seats themselves are much nicer than economy's. They're wider. My knees are a full several inches from the seat in front of me, and I can fully stretch out my legs without standing up. When I recline, I actually RECLINE. Not completely flat, but more than enough to rest comfortably. The trays aren't on the seat in front of me, but actually fold out from the console between the seats, which is wide enough that it has its own drink tray, which can be used instead of pulling out the whole meal tray. Below that are power ports. This flight was on an MD-80, which is an older jet, and as such, it has DC cigarette lighter ports instead of the AC power ports on the newer planes, but I had anticipated this, and brought the appropriate chargers. No real surprises here.
As I was saying, they rushed us onto the plane, but we ended up sitting for a while as there were some weather issues. I learned later that the whole rush to load the plane and take off had to do with the fact that while the weather in DFW was great, the weather in Newark was pretty bad or was getting bad, and the pilots were trying to get airborne before they started issuing delays. Apparently their initial push to get out early didn't pan out, and a couple more people made it on the plane even after the 8 minute "we're closing the doors" point had passed. However, they still shut the door a few minutes before departure time, sealed the cockpit door, fired up the engines..... and then shut them back down. A minute later, the pilot announces that they just got told to wait an hour, so we were going to have to sit on the plane for another hour before takeoff. This is awesome thing #6. Upon announcing that, most of the plane (particularly those more than a few seats behind us) collectively groan. It's already a 4 hour flight, and crammed back in economy, adding another hour to that would suck. However, in First Class.... not really much of a problem. In fact, they went ahead and served us our warm nuts and a round of drinks while we waited, something they normally don't do until after takeoff. It also gave Gertie enough time to communicate with Kiko about the nature and severity of the car accident and we finally got the news that everybody was ok and the car was still drivable, so nothing too horrible. At least we wouldn't have to fret about that for the next several hours.
At some point they have to pull away from the gate, so everyone has to get belted up, and we finally take off, about an hour late, just as they said. We weren't concerned about our connection as we had a 4 hour layover in Newark. That's when I noticed that while they probably enforce the no-electronics, no-cellphones rule in the back of the plane, up in First Class, they seem to turn a blind eye to it. One guy was on his phone right up until we started speeding up on the runway, when he finally said that he was going to have to hang up now. Nobody bothered him at all. Also, maybe 10 minutes after takeoff, but long before they shut off the seatbelt sign, people in First started getting up to use the bathroom. Nobody said a word. Must be nice. Well, it IS nice. :)
Only problem I had with the MD-80, and it's less a problem with the plane, but more about me, is the fact that despite all the extra space, the tray table was still a tight fit. I'm just too huge, in every respect. It therefore didn't come down ALL the way, but it was close enough to hold the meal tray. The food was GREAT, especially by airline standards. Certainly better than a small bag of pretzels and half a can of soda. And speaking of drinks, they were bottomless. The glass (which was made of glass, not plastic) was getting low, they refilled it. The alcohol was free too, although they were limited in what they could provide. No pina coladas for me, but Gertie got a bloody mary. I just stuck with Coke. After lunch, I leaned back a bit and took a nice nap. Might as well.
Getting closer to Newark, the pilot had to go through one holding pattern, which took about 10 minutes and then we were scheduled to land. The seatbelt sign came on, and a few minutes before we landed, the flight attendant handed us our coats. The landing was pretty smooth, but getting closer to the airport, the weather got progressively worse, and it was raining pretty good when we landed. No real issues with the landing, but there was a good brake skid nearing the end of the runway. The taxi to the gate was uneventful.
Getting off the plane was the seventh awesome part of this trip. I always remember deplaning being a complicated, congested mess of people waiting for 20+ minutes to file off the thing. Not so in First Class. They hit the gate, the door opens immediately, and you immediately walk off. The seat belt signs turn off, and 90 seconds later, you're out in the gate, fighting to get through the huge crowd of people who apparently want to board that hour-late plane you just got off of. So we're in Newark now.
Keep in mind, we could have gotten a later initial flight, but we wanted a longer layover for a couple reasons. First off, you never know what could delay a flight, as we were. We now had a 3 hour layover instead of a 4 hour, but that would probably be far more nervewracking if we only had 1 hour at this point. We had to change terminals now, and that would mean going through security again. Research had told us that this was likely to take an hour, however that wasn't taking in First Class perks into account. As we had no security line to deal with, we just took the tram over, walked through security, and 15 minutes after landing, we're sitting in the British Airways lounge.
And if we thought that the Admirals Club was nice, this was a few steps up from that. First off, open bar. Second, a full deli of snacks, sandwiches, desserts, lots of bags of chips, etc. Third, at 4:30 or 5:00, can't remember, they opened their lounge restaurant which had a cafeteria style display of food, and custom stirfry, all of which was complimentary for us with the tickets we held. I had to try a bit of everything since everything looked so good, so I was stuffed. I was also unsure about what meals we were getting on the plane, and prior reports had indicated that meals served there would be light, and therefore I was filling up in the lounge before takeoff. As it turns out, this wasn't a concern, we got two full meals on the flight, but at the time, I didn't know that for sure.
After eating, we sat back down for another hour before it was time to walk down to the gate for boarding. British Airways only had a handful of gates at this airport and only half a dozen or so flights on the board at any one time, so they would announce each flight when it was time to head down to the gate for boarding. We had priority boarding rights, but since we had plenty of time, we spent a few minutes in one of the shops before heading over to the gate. Not a problem, walked right on the plane as soon as we got to the gate.
The BizBed seats on the OpenSkies jet were awesome. Sitting down, I could extend my legs fully, straight out, and not hit the seat in front. I had my own reading light, and several trays. We got a glass of champagne as soon as we walked on board, and each seat got an amenities kit, a blanket, a pair of pajamas, and possibly a few other things I've forgotten about. We got to listen to the safety announcement in both English and French, and then we took off. Shortly after takeoff, we were served dinner, and it was a nice full sized dinner. I needent have worried, but I was too full to eat much of anything, so I just had dessert. The pilots apparently got nervous about turbulance, because everytime things got bumpy, the seatbelt sign came on, and unlike the American Airlines flight, they actively enforced it on this plane. No matter.
About half an hour into our flight, we got our in-flight entertainment systems, which were iPads that had their own dedicated mount, and a set of noise cancelling headphones, which pretty much cut out all of the noise from the plane. It had about a dozen movies, the most current episodes from many of the more popular TV shows, and about 20 albums of music. I really wished they had more music, or at least more music that would have been nice to sleep to. Didn't matter, I still got a good 5-6 hours of sleep. Sleep was pretty easy to come by, considering the seat reclined the whole way down and became a bed. They offered to fix up the bed, complete with a thin mattress, but I was comfortable enough as is.
Gertie woke me up when they started serving breakfast. It was advertised as a "light" breakfast, but it was more than enough to fill me up again. About 15 minutes before landing, they collected all the trays, iPads, and we got ourselves belted back in for landing. About this time, we were able to see the lights of Paris and the surrounding area. We finally land about 7 am. We didn't taxi to a gate, but instead they parked it in what appeared to be a large plane parking lot, and rolled stairs up to the door. We walked down the stairs and boarded a bus. While walking to the bus, I turned around and snapped a quick picture of the plane, and was promptly yelled at by a contingent of airline employees, police, and soldiers that were standing nearby. I put my camera away until long after we had left the airport. After all of us had boarded the bus, they drove us over to the airport building and we walked straight into customs. Customs in France was pretty non-exciting. The guy looked at my passport, looked at me, stamped the passport, handed it back to me, and that was it. So now we're in Paris. It's about 8 am at this point, and we're both well rested and ready to start the day.