Before I can talk about the great parts of the trip, like spending the night with Brian’s family in Slovakia, watching the Christmas tree lighting in Cesky Krumlov, or finding the best beer ever in Prague, I have to get my whining over with about our flight back.
So this past summer I spend hours researching airfare, trying to pinpoint the flights and planes that would give us the best combination of seats and connections. We finally chose a routing that put us on Air France coming home — mainly because of the 2-4-2 configuration that would allow us to sit together in a two-seat row, and the in-seat TVs that could help us forget for an hour and a half at a time about the hell that is flying coach for nine hours.
Here are five reasons I’ll try never to fly Air France again.
I thought EasyJet had horrible cattlecar boarding, but Air France has no rhyme or reason. Hundreds of passengers clump up around the boarding gate as if they won’t be allowed on the plane if they’re not part of the jostling, irritated crowd pushing as close to the gate as possible. We were to beging boarding at 1:05 for our 1:50 flight. With little explanation, we finally started boarding at 1:45, making the chances of catching our connection in Detroit completely zero. I nearly cried when I quickly checked the schedule on my phone and saw we were on the last flight out of Detroit that night. And I had nine hours ahead of me to dread the hassle of trying to get home and possibility of not even getting back that night.
I had carefully selected our seats online. Row 20 — as close to the front as we could be, to help get off the plane quicker to make our short connection in Detroit — and in a two-seat row. I never even thought to look at the seat numbers on the boarding pass Saturday morning when they printed from the kiosk. Why would it occur to me they would change our seats? We checked in 2 1/2 hours before the first leg. But as we finally boarded the big jet in Paris I realized with the greatest dismay they had shoved us into the middle of a four-seat row back in the 30s. We were wedged between two people that were firmly ensconced, set up with bags and magazines and, while nice, had no sense of the personal zones one should maintain in horribly cramped airplane seats. Again I wanted to cry, and I did say some bad words.
We had ordered vegetarian meals, and naturally Air France lumped that in with vegan meals, so we got a hot steaming dish of red-pepper scented merde. I hate and despise anything that’s so much as been touched by a pepper, so I couldn’t eat it. I saw a lovely wedge of Camembert on another tray nearby so I asked the flight attendant if I might have one. She looked at me as if I had two heads. “non!” was the curt reply. “There is no more!” I’m embarrassed to say I did cry at this point. I was exhausted from the travel-intensive 10 days, we were stuck in the middle for nine hours, weren’t likely going to get home to our dogs and our own bed that night, and now I wouldn’t have anything to eat all the long, long day. Bless the soul of the woman seated next to me. She spoke French, but understood my sniveling to Brian. She snagged the attendant and asked en Francais for more Camembert. Certainement! The attendant immediately brought her a wedge. I stopped sniffling long enough to drink a glass of champagne and a glass of red wine with my wine and cheese.
My resignment to the situation didn’t last long though. Trying to maneuver my plastic knife and fork to saw through the vegan(!) “chocolate cake” in my slice of space, I knocked over my coffee. Of course it soaked my new sweater, and my lap. Brian rang the attendant and asked for a towel. She looked at the tear-stained, weary American doused in cognac-laced coffee and replied “get some in zee bathroom.” I initiated the dance that is getting out of a four-person row, and locked myself in the bathroom to dab at the mess with their tissue-like imitation of paper towels. May as well kill two birds with one stone, so I took care of the necessary business at the same time — and ahh! The door opened and there stood a man, looking equally as mortified as I was. I had thought the door was locked, as the light came one when I slid the lever, but nope. You have to slide it past the point that turns on the light.
I settled in to distract myself with movies, trying to ignore the nice lady next to me whose arms were clear over the armrest into my zone. I felt guilty watching a movie though, as Brian’s tv was broken. He rang at least half a dozen times and got everything from no response to a shrug. He finally, about three or four hours in, got up and tracked down an attendant who got the TV to work for him.
And just as a bonus to these five reasons I hate Air France, our luggage has — 2 1/2 days later — STILL not left Prague.
Sometimes I wish we still lived in the days of ocean travel.