Highlights of KM477

by - 20:12

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Date: Sunday, 19 Jun 11
Aircraft: 9H-AEM, Airbus A319
Seat: 20A
Departure Gate: 10N

Scheduled Departure Time: 2030 LT
Delayed Departure Time: 2200 LT
Boarding Time: 2150 LT
Push Back: 2218 LT
Takeoff: 2224 LT on runway 24

Scheduled Arrival Time: 2305 LT
Touchdown: 0035 LT on runway 31
Actual Arrival Time: 0039 LT
Arrival Stand: 7

Booking

Paris was originally not in our plan as we had wanted to travel from Switzerland to Malta direct. However, the airfares between Geneva and Malta were astronomical and most of the Air Malta flights from GVA would had also included an additional stopover in Zurich en route to Malta. Therefore, we decided to seize the opportunity to experience the legendary TGV from Geneva to Paris and do a very brief stopover in the city as the fares out of Paris were very much cheaper.

Air Malta operates daily flights from both Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Orly (ORY) airports to Malta. The fares for either choice were comparable, and our first choice was to fly out from CDG as the airport bus uses a MAN Lion’s City GL, while the airport bus to Orly airport uses an articulated Scania Omnicity which we were not very keen on. We later chanced upon an irresistible offer on the Air Malta website, where Paris–Malta round trip was significantly cheaper than booking one way for either ORY-MLA or CDG-MLA. Thus, we decided to buy the round trip ticket to enjoy the savings and leave the return sector back to Paris unused as we were carrying on to Rome from Malta. We had also decided to depart from Orly as it allows us to spend more time in the city before heading to the airport for the evening flight to Malta.

Air Malta - A Troubled Airline

Being the national carrier of Malta, the airline has a special place in the heart of many Maltese and it is thus understandable that the Maltese government had taken unprecedented steps over the past year to save the airline. Faced with a string of financial problems and stiff competition from Ryanair and Easyjet, the regional airline had been on the verge of being shut down ever since it was offered a last minute grant by the government when the airline bankrupted again early this year. The airline had proposed a series of tough measures to trim down its operations, which included the retrenchment of half of its workforce. It had also barely missed a potentially crippling strike action by its pilots union on 16 July 2011 before the strike was called off by the union.

Among aviation enthusiasts, Air Malta had been known to be an airline which takes exceptional pride in its branding. The carrier's insignia, the St John's Cross, is imprinted on a wide variety of articles ranging from airsickness bags to plastic wrapping for the cutlery notwithstanding. As such, the airline's memorabilia is highly sought after by many collectors and enthusiasts. It is also worthwhile to note that the airline had an enviable record of zero accidents since it first took to the sky in 1974, apart from a hijacking incident in 1997 where all the crew and passengers were unharmed.

The future of the airline is highly uncertain as it remains to be seen if the carrier is able to pull off a successful and sustainable restructuring plan amidst the turbulent market conditions that it is currently facing. Looking back, we were glad that we had chosen to fly Air Malta instead of a low cost carrier to Malta.

Getting to the Airport

Despite having a comprehensive métro system, it can still be a challenge to get around the city as the bus and métro networks are so tightly integrated together that there is only one feasible option in many cases. There are mainly two ways to getting to Orly Airport from the city centre:-
1) Take the OrlyBus from Denfert-Rochereau métro station to Orly airport for 6.60 Euros.
2) Take the OrlyVal LRT from Antony RER station. However, this option is much costlier and ironically, not a very suitable option for many travellers with luggage as one has to climb a fair amount of stairs when transferring between métro lines! Orly Airport also lies outside of Zones 1-3 thus visitors with the cheaper Paris Visite Pass would need to pay for the ride on the LRT.

Due to a series of cumulative delays, we ended up having to do a mad rush from our hostel in the Montmartre region to connect with the 1834hrs trip of the OrlyBus at Denfert-Rochereau. The only consolation was that there was no need for transfers between metro lines.
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Designed to deter potential fare evaders, the ticket gates with its full height barriers at the Barbès-Rochechouart métro station also test the dexterity and agility of travellers as they attempt to retrieve their ticket in time while ensuring that both themselves and their luggage make it past the barrier to the paid area!
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Amidst much huffing and panting, we barely made the trip and settled in for the 15-minute ride to Orly Airport. Thankfully, it was an older and more interesting Scania N94UA instead of being based on the newer Scania five cylinder series which SBS Transit uses.
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According to the published route, the bus service would call at both Orly Ouest and Orly Sud terminals. However, the bus driver simply stopped on the highway and asked passengers heading to Orly Ouest to walk an additional 600m to the terminal. This incident only served to further sour our impression of Paris as the OrlyBus is essentially a premium service with marked-up fares, but operated with third world standards in a first world developed country.

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Check-In

After making it to the terminal, we raced through the length of Orly-Ouest where the check-in desks for our flight were. Finding the correct desk can be a frustrating elimination game as the flight information display boards do not clearly indicate the location of the check-in desks but often only display the flights which are handled in the particular hall.

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Upon reaching Hall 1 at the opposite end of the terminal, we noted that our flight had been delayed. This would also mean that we had rushed in vain as the check-in desks are not due to close for at least another hour.

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A total of three check-in desks were open to process the passengers for the evening departure to Malta. In another bizzare encounter, we spent 15 mins in a queue only to discover that the particular check-in desk was not able to accept check-in baggage as the baggage conveyor system for the desk was spoilt. It would definitely be a very kind gesture if this particular piece of information was displayed on the overhead screen so that passengers could choose if they wish to continue to queue at the counter, or use it as an express lane for passengers without check-in baggage. Nevertheless, the check-in staff was polite and apologetic about the situation and assigned us our seats and boarding passes before directing us to another counter to check-in our luggage. We were also disappointed that the boarding passes were printed on blank standard boarding pass cards instead of one which has the Air Malta logo on it.

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Following which, it was a further 20mins of queuing in another queue just to check-in our baggage. Some of us swore not to return to Paris in the future.

I decided to enquire about the reason for the delay and was told by the check-in staff that the original aircraft had AOG-ed (Aircraft On Ground) in Malta and another aircraft was despatched to operate the flight instead. The new departure time would also be at 2200hrs instead of 2030hrs. Although she clearly had a lot of trouble speaking in English, I was appreciative of the fact that she took the effort to explain the situation to me instead of a curt "I don't know" which one often receive from the check-in staff back home at Singapore Changi Airport.
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Relieved of our luggage and with our boarding passes in hand, we decided to head to a café beside the check-in area which affords a good view of the taxiway and runway 06/24 through large, single layered untinted glass. Paris is well known for the quality of its pastries and the selection that we had from the café certainly lived up to its high expectations. Meanwhile, some of us were also kept busy with their cameras as a steady stream of aircraft movements taxied past the window.
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It might sound far-fetched, but our troubles were far from over. One of us was given a boarding pass with the wrong name on it and it was surprising that two separate check-in staff had missed out on that despite checking against (or appeared to) our passports in both instances. It was resolved without much issue as a new boarding pass was issued with the correct name and the baggage being retagged as well.

Spotting at Paris-Orly

It was rather productive spotting aircraft taxiing past towards runway 24 for departure as a single departure runway was in use at the time of our visit. In addition, the overcast conditions had also worked in our favour as it would otherwise be backlit and increase the amount of reflections on the glass panes. It can be said that the spotting session was an accidental upside to our flight delay!

British Airways A319 G-EUPU
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Air Algerie B737-800 7T-VKI
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Tunis Air A320 TS-IMG
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Air Europa ERJ-195LR EC-KYO
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Air France CRJ100LR F-GRJG operated by BritAir
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Another thin 'pencil-liner', Air France CRJ1000 F-HMLF which is also operated by BritAir. Love the stylish curves on the engine cowlings which help to spice up an otherwise boring 'Eurowhite' livery! One of her sistership would later also make an appearance at the Singapore Airshow 2012 on behalf of the manufacturer.
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Corsairfly operates a number of summer charter flights throughout the day from Paris-Orly. Here, one of the carrier's distinctive B747-400 F-HSEA taxies out for departure with a load of sun-seekers.
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The Flight

We stayed at the café in the public area until we were eventually requested to take our leave as it was closing for the day. The entrance to the restricted zone of the terminal could best be described as being hidden in plain sight – it is simply a gap in the middle of a long row of check-in desks. One can imagine that the airport planners had designed the layout of the terminal only to have realized that they had overlooked the need to cater to an entrance to the restricted zone!

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There were 3 lines at the security counter and the security check was carried out efficiently and professionally. However, the security staff was not updated on the current flight status as they had thought that our flight had departed when they had scanned our boarding passes to check for its authenticity. It seemed that the bulk of the passengers for our flight had decided to proceed into the restricted area as soon as they had obtained their boarding passes!

The restricted area was crammed and was basic with a few shops and amenities available for passengers – definitely not the place to be to sit through a long delay!
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In addition, it was impossible to obtain good photos of aircraft in the restricted area as the full length windows were covered with a tight mesh of white opaque dots. However, there were comfortable couches for other passengers who were satisfied by simply admiring the aircraft movements that pass in front of them.
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A boarding announcement was made at 2115hrs that boarding for our flight would commence in 10 minutes. However, the aircraft had not arrived at the gate from Malta thus we were doubtful that the aircraft would be turned around in time for the retimed departure at 2200hrs. Afterall, this is France and not Japan or Korea where short turnarounds are the norm! A long queue nevertheless started to form in front of the assigned gate for our flight.
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Boarding eventually commenced at 2150hrs and crowd control was enforced at the aerobridge as there was a jam since passengers were not boarded by zone to speed up the boarding process. Meanwhile, I took the opportunity to grab a quick photo of our aircraft and was relieved that an A319 would be operating our flight as it was originally scheduled. 9H-AEM was delivered new to the airline in Feb 2005 and is one of the 5 A319s in the fleet. It was also to be my first flight on an A319, thus adding another new aircraft type to my flight log.
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We were greeted by an elderly flight steward at the entrance to the aircraft, and I noticed that he was shaking his head in despair at the jam in the aisle as passengers struggled to stow their hand carry baggage in the overhead compartments.

"Too much baggage eh?"

"Yes, I don't understand the need for so much baggage. When I travel I only bring my Giordanos, my Dunhill and a lighter"
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An Alitalia A320 parked at gate 10P beside our aircraft.
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Air Malta's A319 are configured with 2 rows of business class seats at the front and followed by 21 rows of standard dark blue vinyl economy seats. I was pleased to discover that despite complains of the terrible seat pitch on Air Malta's aircraft, I found the seat pitch to be adequate and comparable to many other airlines.
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Boarding was completed at 2215hrs and soon after pushing back, the aircraft made a quick taxi to the end of runway 24 and commenced its take-off roll. The aircraft then commenced a series of left banks to head southeast towards Malta.
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Inflight announcements were in French, Maltese and English and the captain apologised for the delay of the flight due to a technical delay. Shortly after, the in-flight purser announced that the complimentary beverage service would be extended to include spirits as well as a token of appreciation for putting up with the delay.

The catering service commenced half an hour after take-off, with 2 elderly stewards manning the food cart and a third female cabin crew manning the drinks trolley. There were no choice of dishes, and dinner comprised of macaroni with chicken slices with bread and an almond slice for dessert. The portions for the hot dish were decent but the taste was unfortunately mediocre and the chicken slices were a tad dry. In addition, the pre-packaged almond slice required a drink to swallow it down. Plastic cutlery was used but the airline's distinctive logo was stamped on virtually every item on the tray as a means of branding. One could definitely not complain as many European airlines had long since stopped serving hot meals on regional flights!
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For the drinks service, we decided to try Kinnie, Malta's unique national soft drink which is derived from bitter oranges and a number of aromatic herbs. Unfortunately, we made the mistake of forgetting to order ice to go along with it as the original Kinnie tastes similar to a mixture of Coca Cola, coffee and cough syrup when it is unchilled.
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In-flight entertainment was basic with a drop down screen which showed documentaries about Malta and the airline but no headphones were provided. In addition, the Airshow channel was also displayed when the documentaries were not screened. After an uneventful flight, we commenced our descent into Malta while overflying the island of Sicily to the south of Italy.

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Following a smooth landing on runway 31, we taxiied to a stop at one of the remote stands in front of the terminal building at Malta Luqa airport. Malta Luqa airport has no aerobridges and the authorities are generally very tolerant of passengers taking photos of their aircraft on the ramp - perfect for aviation enthusiasts!

The cabin crew from the flight was photographed disembarking from the aircraft.
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Ryanair B737-800 EI-DYT parked at the adjacent remote stand. The white floodlights at the apron also meant that there were no issues with the camera's white balance.
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The passengers and crew were split into two apron buses for the short ride to the terminal building. We were again very impressed as the driver patiently waited for us to get a photo of the bus before moving off.
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Baggage claim was fast and efficient and our bags were already on the carousel when we stepped into the baggage reclaim area. As this is a Schengen flight within the European Union, there are no immigration formalities required upon departure and arrival.
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We had pre-booked our hotel transfer prior to our arrival as the public bus service to the capital city of Valletta only operates until 2030hrs from the airport. The driver, however, was clearly tired and bored after waiting for nearly 2 hours as a result of our flight delay!
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For some of us, the Skoda ride was one of the scariest (or exhilarating depending on how one looks at it) ride that we had ever taken in a car. It had a powerful acceleration and was very smooth, much like the Volkswagen model that it was based on. The driver also consistently skipped the second gear and travelled at about 100km/h through the dark and empty roads when the signs that flashed past us showed that the legal limit was only half the speed!
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Historic Paris - Day 9

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