I climb aboard the inaugural flight of Air France’s new Boeing 787 from Paris to Cairo to take a journey that makes me rethink flying.
“You have time, you have time,” the Air France official cooed as he guided me to the Duty Free shops at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport. I had been thinking of getting some French wine before my flight back to Cairo, but now departure time was nearing and I was growing worried. I looked at the long lines to the boarding gate. I felt the sweat on my neck, and my breath grew faster. My Premium Economy ticket on the Paris-Cairo flight meant I could get into the SkyPriority line, an exclusive service on Air France flights. But even there the line was dangerously long.
And this was no ordinary flight. Air France had just been delivered a new Boeing 787, known as the Dreamliner because of its smooth and comfortable flights, and I was there to experience its inaugural flight on January 9 that would take me from the French capital to Cairo International. Did I really want to risk any slip-ups just to go shopping? I bolted toward the Duty Free, got my wine and carried it – in sweaty hands – back to the boarding gate.
For me, airports and flying don’t always get easier the more I travel. Sometimes, when you’re a frequent flyer, you just have more slip-ups under your belt. The time you missed a flight to Stockholm because it took longer than usual to get through security. The time in Bangkok when you were browsing a guidebook on birds and heard the last boarding call for a flight you thought was in one hour. I had been through plenty and experience has only made me a more worried passenger – the kind that shows up to the airport hours before take-off and obsessively checks the boarding gate numbers.
But in Paris I was slowly learning that travel doesn’t have to be that way.
And yes, I did have plenty of time. Once the SkyPriority line started moving, we went through the doors just as speedily as lines of commuters go through the gates at a metro station.
Once aboard, I slipped into my seat and noted there was none of the usual elbow war with my fellow passengers over who’ll get the armrest. The Premium Economy cabin has seats that are 2.5 cm wider, with a recline of 130 degrees if you want to snooze. There is also plenty of legroom that allowed me to stretch out my legs, sore and aching after a full day of wandering up and downhill in Montmartre.
There is also Wi-Fi available for purchase. I used mine to let family know I was on board and ok.
The safety video came on and showed a chic attendant playfully pointing out that seatbelts help to accentuate your waistline. This nod to French culture and fashion is distinctly Air France, and comes across in the airline’s attention to cuisine as well as its selection of artsy documentaries.
But first, there is take-off. This part always makes me nervous, so I grab my gum and plenty of water and try to breathe steady. I wait. I get distracted by a travel story about Chile in Air France’s inflight magazine. When I look up, the plane is already off the ground and ascending in a smooth, upward line towards the sunny sky. I get a glimpse of Paris from above out the window, which in the Boeing 787 is about 30 percent larger than similar aircraft. I feel far less claustrophobic than usual. I have a glass of champagne and watch a movie.
Landings are also usually stressful, especially when they get turbulent and my ears become so plugged that they hurt. But the Boeing 787 has a lower cabin altitude and enhanced in-flight humidity levels that make for a much smoother ride. It’s so comfortable that all I remember is watching a documentary on the Paris Opera Ballet’s production of Giselle, and then waking up when the plane had already touched ground in Cairo.
I grab my bags and my wine and head towards the baggage claim area, feeling calm, well-rested and relaxed. Normally I’d sleep early on the night after a long flight, but on this night I manage to have dinner, share a few stories with family and unpack.
The perks of the Boeing 787 and the Premium Economy seats can make you rethink flying. But I should have probably started my story earlier. Because if you also associate airports with stressful mazed of gates and exhausting waiting times, then you should really try Charles de Gaulle.
Terminal 2 boasts an art museum that was setting up a Picasso exhibit when I visited (going on until June 15) and an outside smoking area that included walls of vibrant greenery. If you’re in transit for three hours or more, there’s the Instant Paris lounge that consists of 4,500 square meters of homey decor in Hall L of Terminal 2. It has a library with cozy armchairs, a virtual window where you can take a 3D walk through Paris and a children’s area with an adorable Eiffel Tower built out of wooden Kapla blocks.
It was all so fantastic that I nearly forgot to get my wine.
There are 6 weekly flights scheduled for the Boeing 787 to Cairo, operated on Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays.