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Let’s Burn Some Miles: Trip Report to Lyon, France in Northwest Airlines World Business Class and Air France L’espace Premier

April 21, 2009

Part One: Background and “Now Serving NWA”
Air France A318
This airplane features an all-coach class layout and several rows of foldable armrests!

Sensing the inevitable devaulation of the 200,000 frequent flier miles I accumulated over the years flying Northwest, I decided to shed most of my miles. The first (successful) attempt was in November, when I traveled for a week to Costa Rica. When new policies were announced and implemented in December and January (including close-in ticketing fees and other fun “enhancements”), I realized that it was time to clear out as much of my account as possible, while leaving a buffer for a last-minute domestic ticket for an emergency.

It was time to decide where the heck I’d be going, and for what reasons. It turns out that one of my good CISV friends from France would be celebrating his 21st birthday in January. As a joke, he invited me to attend his party. I’ve done strange things in the name of travel (flying to Norway for dinner is a prime example), so flying out for a birthday party would just add to the unique experiences I’ve had in my life. I booked a ticket on what was supposed to be the following itinerary:

Grand Forks-Minneapolis on Northwest Airlink (Canadair Regional Jet, featuring “every seat is first class!” seating)
Minneapolis-Amsterdam on Northwest (Airbus A330)
Amsterdam-Lyon on Air France Regional (Fokker 100)
and the return:
Lyon-Amsterdam on Air France (Airbus A320-series)
Amsterdam-Minneapolis on Northwest (Airbus A330)
Minneapolis to Grand Forks on Northwest (Douglas DC-9)

Fast forward to the day before I was set to depart for France, which ended up being a rather pleasant (by North Dakota standards) day. It was warm enough that day to melt some of the snow accumulation in the Red River Valley. While the break from the stupidly cold temperatures was nice, the warm snap ended up being a curse for my journey across the pond. I awoke the next morning for my flight to this frustratingly beautiful scene:

Grand Forks in Fog

Grand Forks in Fog
Imagine if this were an airplane wing. Fun!

Freezing fog enveloped the city, and by the time I was on the shuttle to the airport, my CRJ out of Grand Forks was delayed. An even worse sign awaited as the shuttle made its way up the road to the terminal: the 8AM DC-9 departure was sitting at the end of the runway at 9:45AM. From that point on I knew I’d likely be stuck in that helpless place whose feeling is indescribable unless you’ve been there: delay hell. With my carry-on rollaboard bag in tow, I made my way through the doors into the terminal, only to be surprised by a large, blue monstrosity at the check-in counter:

New Signage at GFK
I’m not sure what “Now Serving NWA” means, but I don’t like the sound of it.

I checked in at the kiosk, swiped my passport, showed everything to my friends at the now-Deltafied counter, and made my way to Crosswinds, the airport restaurant to grab a bite to eat and wait out the now-30-minute delayed flight. As I ate, I was joined by an airline-employee friend who waited out the delay with me. As we checked on the status of the flight on Northwest’s website, it magically changed from “delayed” to “canceled.” After the mutual sharing of four letter words that likely shouldn’t be said here, he went to the ticket counter to begin fixing my itinerary and I paid for my meal. I was successfully rebooked onto the following itinerary out of Grand Forks, arriving into Lyon only two hours later than my planned arrival:
GFK-MSP on Northwest Airlink (Saab 340)
MSP-AMS on Northwest (Airbus A330)
AMS-LYS on Air France (Airbus A319)

Only after getting my new documents and spending the rest of the delay BSing with the agents at the counter and being careful not to interfere with their work did the irony of flying on the smallest airplane in NW’s fleet followed by one of the largest really hit me…

Photographic details and more personal insights from my flight across the pond can be found in the next post.

According to my FlightMemory page, I have flown on the Saab 340 seven times, which accounts for my slight hearing loss. While I believe it’s more comfortable than the CRJ-200, it’s still a fairly loud turboprop. I staked out a seat in the best row of the airplane (Row 1) and spent the rest of the flight exchanging pleasantries with my seat-mate and the flight attendant. We landed a few minutes late into Minneapolis no worse for wear.

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