We’re always looking to introduce new voices on The Milelion, and we’ve got an aspiring guestwriter in Sam. Over the next few days and weeks, we’ll be publishing Sam’s flight reviews and adventures bit by bit. Please let us know what you think in the comments, especially if you’d like to read more!
Singapore to South, East and West Africa: Trip Planning
Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class SIN-JNB
South African Airways Baobab Lounge JNB
South African Airways A320-200 Business Class JNB-EBB
Air France A330 Business Class ACC-CDG
Air France La Premiere Lounge CDG
Air France 777W First Class (La Premiere) CDG-SIN
My AF experience had humble beginnings in a second-tier Ghanaian city waiting for my flight to Accra. I was sat with a plate of chicken and chips, contemplating my luck that my Africa World Airlines ticket had actually been real and I was allowed to fly. When I booked, it looked like the site had been hacked as the first click on any link opened a popup to gambling sites. Undeterred I happily put in a credit card details because a) it was a work one and b) there really aren’t many options to fly between Kumasi and Accra. It’s a short hop on an Embraer E145 and far preferable to driving. Despite the slightly unnerving website, AWA run a pretty tight ship – flights are usually on time and crew are pleasant (in my experience) so it’s no hardship.
Unfortunately, Ghana Airports Company has a strict no photography policy, which is actively enforced, so I wasn’t able to take pics of the airport, aside from one on the runway before I found out that the policy even extends to when on board (there was a uniformed person shouting at people who filmed themselves boarding).
I had a few hours in Accra before the AF flight to CDG, so I went to one of the nearby airport hotels for a shower. Accra traffic can be a bit of a wildcard, but Google showed the inbound flight was running about an hour late (full route is CDG-OAU-ACC-CDG, stopping in Ouagadogou, Mali on the inbound) so I was ready to roll the dice and it all went smoothly.
Accra airport is every stereotype about old, African airports rolled into one. There’s security to get into the building, meaning there are hordes of people with hundreds of suitcases fumbling for their passports while trying to take their belts off etc. Once inside there was more chaos. It was 2 hours before the scheduled departure time there was no visible check in desk for AF, and a sea of people in snaking lines to the various other airline check in desks. Once I had eventually located the AF check in (the screens said it was for KLM, but the actual KLM check in was on the other side of the building, also with KLM signs) there was another document check. Surprisingly (or perhaps not) there was no Sky Priority ground service – no separate Business Class check in and no indication that there was any alternative but to wait. After a while a second line was opened to a desk with a person sitting at it, and I was motioned over only to be told that she wasn’t doing check in, but that I should still wait in that line. Eventually, I beat the odds and managed to get a boarding pass.
Then came the final hurdle. Ghana is still a fan of the emigration form, which generates an unending stream of chaos for departures. Once you have a boarding pass, you have to clear emigration, but you need to fill in a form (same form as immigration) to do so. It’s like watching lemmings run over a cliff – some people don’t have pens, others keep hopping in and out of the queue to go and fill in the form or find relatives, so as you get close to the front, a group of 5 who were in the queue but left to fill in forms cut in front of you. Others get to the front of the queue without a form and try and fill it in standing next to the desk, so you can’t tell if a desk is open or not, so some immigration officials shout to try and get people to come up to the desk. Six Sigma it is not.
In any other airport, that might be a cause for frustration but in Accra, there really is nothing to rush through security for. I had about $15 worth of local currency in cash that I wanted to use before I left, and it was a massive undertaking to anything worth buying in any shop.
Unfortunately, the no photo policy extended to the lounge which, in fairness, was pleasant. Catering was a little light but there was adequate seating, food and drink and it was fairly quiet..
We ended up boarding about an hour late and through a bus gate (all gates are bus gates in ACC). I should be clear from the outset, there is little that is aspirational about the AF A330. My plan for this flight was to sleep the whole way and, bar a coffee before descent, skip catering. The odds were always going to be stacked against this flight – delayed and on a technical stop from another airport, so the crew had their work cut out for them. Accounting for all this, I was still disappointed by the experience.
Upon boarding, it appeared that my seat hadn’t been cleaned or prepped since its last occupant left it (or someone slept in it while waiting for us to board). The headphones were still plugged in (I wasn’t offered a sealed pair at any point) there were bits of rubbish around the seat and the IFE controller was detached from its holder and on the seat. The pillow and blanket, though sealed were haphazardly placed and there was a coat hanger at a random angle on the seat. These are minor details, but combined, they did not exude an aura of luxury or premium service. It felt a little like a bus, but not a pristine Singapore type bus, a gritty London-esuqe one.
The seat itself is also deeply underwhelming. It’s a recliner in 2-2-2 formation, and it has not aged well.
The screen is also comically small and has the older LCD tech where the picture looks washed out even on maximum contrast settings.
The rest of the seat tech was similarly dated. Time has not been kind to this product.
My dim view of the seat was not helped by the lack of individual air vents, but at least AF had the decency to make the cabin cool enough not to need them (are you taking notes SQ, CX?) The crew seemed a bit flustered, and it felt very much as if they were going through the motions as quickly as possible, so service was quite clinical. I passed on a PDB and amenity kit. The rest of the flight was entirely unremarkable, I reclined as soon as the seat belt lights were off and woke up as we were beginning our descent
With just enough time for a coffee.
All in all, I went into this flight with low expectations, but still felt a bit disappointed with it as we taxied to our remote stand at CDG. Things were improved immeasurably when, on disembarkation one of the crew told me that a La Premiere colleague of his would be waiting for me at the bottom of the stairs.
Sure enough, there was a lady with an iPad Mini with name on it. She whisked me past the bus that everyone else was trudging off to, to a BMW 7 Series with “La Premiere” emblazoned on the side. Things were looking up.
Cover photo: Enrique Perrella