Friday, August 20, 2010
My boyfriend is an aviation expert. He’s one of those people that can look into the sky, see a speck of a plane, and know exactly what kind it is, what airline it belongs to, and what the best seat in each cabin class is.
When Airbus released its new double-decker A380 a few years ago, I thought I was lucky to spot the plane flying over the Golden Gate Bridge as part of Fleet Week in San Francisco. When I told my boyfriend about it, he said that he had already driven to SFO early one morning just to see it.
Despite having caught a glimpse of it when it first took to the skies, the A380 has proven elusive in our travels. None of the airlines we fly regularly have one in its fleet. The airlines that do have A380s usually reserve them for long-haul routes to destinations that we don’t often go.
But this summer Air France is flying positioning flights between London and Paris on the A380, and my boyfriend couldn’t pass up such a convenient chance. Lucky for me, he didn’t want to travel alone. He booked two tickets to Paris on the A380 for Monday afternoon, and two tickets back to London on a BA flight on Tuesday morning. Basically, we were traveling to Paris for dinner.
On Monday we took the tube to Heathrow to fly to Paris. After a short stint in the Champagne-less Star Alliance lounge in Terminal 4, we boarded the behemoth of a plane. The A380 is so large that they board the upstairs and the downstairs from different jet bridges. Even after we boarded we waited for almost an hour before everyone was seated.
During that time we amused ourselves by joining many of our fellow passengers in taking photos of the Business class cabin. The seats were large and comfortable, and there was a small lounge area in the front by the stairwell. As I peered down the steps, I saw others peering up in hopes of getting a glimpse of the premium cabins. We were all curious about this big jet plane.
The flight itself was nothing special. There was no pre-flight Champagne, and 45 minutes of air time wasn’t enough to test out the lie-flat beds (although my boyfriend did so anyway before we took off). The meal was a plastic tray of small bites covered in Saran wrap, and I barely had time to read the in-flight magazine before we landed.
The only really memorable part of the flight on the A380 was during take-off, when the plane felt so heavy that I worried it wouldn’t make it off the ground. Once we were airborne, though, the flight was smooth and relaxing. The whole experience made me wish that we were flying overseas so that I could see what Air France could do on a proper long-haul flight.
When we arrived in Paris it was pouring rain. We took an Air France bus from Charles de Gaulle to the Gare Montparnasse, which conveniently let us off right across the street from our hotel, Le Meridien. It was the same hotel I had stayed in with my mother two weeks prior, and I had a sense of deja vu upon checking in.
We didn’t take much time to settle into our room before dinner. I quickly changed into one of the dresses my mother bought me at Antoine et Lili on our last trip to Paris and we headed off to the right bank. With an hour to kill before our dinner reservation, we explored the region to the south and west of the Arc de Triomphe. Despite having lived near there when I worked in Paris, I had never spent any time in the area.
It turned out to be a beautiful neighborhood. It was deathly quiet, as expected for Paris in August, but the buildings were classic Parisian and the parks and gardens as well-manicured as any in the city.
Dinner was at La Table de Joel Robuchon, one of the few Michelin-starred restaurants in Paris to keep its doors open on a Monday in mid-August. In exchange for my boyfriend flying me to Paris, I had promised him a nice meal. Having been to L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon on a prior trip to Paris, we were excited to try the more formal restaurant.
It was a good choice. Plates of crab ravioli were followed by some of the best John Dory I’ve ever had. The mashed potatoes that we enjoyed so much at L’Atelier once again made their appearance, but this time I didn’t wheedle our server into admitting that they were made with goose fat. The meal ended with a deliciously light passion fruit souffle, and we floated out of the restaurant feeling full and happy.
From the restaurant we headed down to the Place Vendome for a cocktail at the Hotel Costes. In contrast to the crowded Saturday night we spent there last winter in Paris, the place was far less busy this time. It was nice to be able to hear each other talk while enjoying a drink in the swanky lounge.
We got back to the hotel late, and were up early to catch our BA flight back to London. The Air France bus left Montparnasse at 8am, and by noon we were back at Heathrow. The trip home wasn’t nearly as exciting as the one there, but not every flight can be as thrilling as flying on the A380.