With Premium Economy reservations tickets and our tickets in hand I thought the check in at Orly for our overnite flite to Johannesburg would be a piece of cake – but no, there was a queue and it took ages to get through.
Sometime after 11.30pm, it was announced that passengers on the lower deck could board and we remained seated, waiting our turn. It seemed there was something amiss, and eventually we were told there was a problem with the seats in the upper carriage, but we would board shortly – well over an hour later.
Eventually our turn came and the seats, in the second row behind the business class division were certainly a lot more comfortable than the miserable economy seats a dozen rows further back where we had sat on our way to Paris. We prepared for take-off, and there was a problem in the middle of the row in front of us, where 15 or 16 month old twin baby girls were crying away miserably and the parents seemed incapable of soothing them. They’ll shut up when we get up in the sky, I thought. The emergency exits I noted were conveniently directly in front of us. I settled back as best one can in an upright seat, closed my eyes and braced myself for takeoff.
Suddenly, there was an unearthly ear shattering noise which seemed to be coming from the emergency door to our left. At that moment there seemed to be a definite shudder, and I thought to myself, this is what happens when a plane goes down. I thought this was IT and in my mind it occurred to me that when this happens people die from the sheer fright of it all, never mind the ensuing crash. From all directions flight attendants came running and laughingly they pointed at that door! And we were still flying, not even having reached our cruising level. There was no possibility of a communication to the passengers as this sound continued for 7 or 8 minutes and lo and behold there were two men in pilot uniforms emerging from the Business Class section, and they too were smiling, and they walked up the aisle talking to each passenger and assuring them that everything was fine and the noise would go away. He added, unfortunately it might recur during our descent to Johannesburg, but the plane was perfectly safe to fly!
My immediate thought after he had spoken to us, was they had lied to us about the delay of over an hour, and it was not the seats in the upper deck causing the problem but that door! I was half expecting to see it fly open and with it all the flight personnel standing around!
It was way past midnite and we sat absolutely still, except for the two babies whose wails could be heard right through the plane, and still the parents did nothing! They were too big for the hanging cribs that were suspended on the dividing wall in front of the row, and I really felt for the guy who had the third of the middle seats alongside the parents. Without so much as a drink to steady nerves, dinner was served – and boy was that lousy! The worst airplane food I have ever had, having opted for the whole grain rice risotto with sun dried tomatoes! It was the most awful slop, and the accompanying wine, far too late in the nite to be enjoyed.
In response to my letter of complaint to Air France, when I wrote to ask if that plane was even declared safe to fly, they wrote, the only thing reported wrong with the plane and the cause of delayed departure at Orly, was a problem with seating on the upper deck – NO apology whatsoever. And that, as they say is the joy of flying. You’re lucky to get where you want to go on time and of the four Air France flight we took, three involved delays,Jhbg - Paris, Paris to Ldn, Barcelona to Paris and Paris Jhbg, two of over an hour. But what do they care! The new planes are so vast and the possibility of flying being a treat, simply are not part of the experience for the majority of passengers. And babies should be banned in Premium Economy!