Sunday, July 28, 2019

Premiere Class

After 24 hours of blighted air travel punctuated by a cancelled flight from Paris to Newark and a three- hour ground delay in Minneapolis we are back in Taos worse for wear but ready for our next adventure. That’s 24 hours of no sleep followed by a three hour snooze in Pueblo and the short jaunt home Tuesday morning. We celebrated our survival with dinner at Common Fire after which I fell into a deep sleep on my back on a propped-up pillow. You know I was cooked since I’ve never been able to sleep on my back. Never Ever.

The flights back to the US of A were Air France from De Gaulle to Minneapolis and United from the Twin Cities to Denver. It was a study in contrasts. While the 2-1/2 hour UA flight was functional the 8-1/2-hour Paris to Minneapolis flight was almost elegant. Even in the 48th row, the last one next to the latrine. We were served two hot meals and complementary wine and beer by a stylish French flight attendant who was the epitome of warmth and grace. How, we wondered, could the Gallic air carrier achieve such a level of excellence, a whole different standard of service than its American counterparts? Part of it, I suggest, is understanding what excellence is and not settling for mere functionality. I further submit that the pursuit of excellence of this magnitude starts at the top and has to permeate the corporate culture. I knew that the airline was nationalized after World War Two and that the French government had set out to make the operation a symbol of French style and class. It said as much in a short film I watched during the flight that connected the emergence of Air France with the golden age of cinema from the 1945 into the mid-sixties. At first, I surmised that Air France was still owned or subsidized by the government and was not held to the profitmaking standard of an American airline. After the war the French government remade the rustic, moribund pre-war carrier into a flying demonstration of French savoir faire. But that rationale was dashed when I found that Air France is owned by a Franco-Dutch holding company which has to make its numbers like any other for-profit endeavor. So, I have to chalk Air France’s lofty performance to having higher service standards and a total commitment achieving them.

Which brings to mind the amazing Pullman Hotel at Charles de Gaulle where we spent our last night. First, we were met by a delightful host, much more than a desk clerk, who removed us from a crush of United Arab Emirates flight crews checking in and took us to a freestanding podium with three terminals. She quickly found our reservation and after checking us in told us about the hotel’s amenities and gave us a walking tour to the bar, the restaurant, the elevator to fitness center and elevator to our fifth-floor room. We had to consciously disengage with Celeste or I think she would have led us upstairs and unpacked our bags. I’m a card-carrying service guy, a product of forty years and fifty new restaurants in my career, and I was dumbstruck by the level of attention we received in mid-priced chain hotel. I might have expected this standard of service at the Four Seasons, but this was a 150-euro hotel next to an airport. All this for the price of a Hampton Inn in Fresno.

Dinner was a fine dining affair and after a sketchy few minutes trying to get served, we settled down for a fine meal well that included my smoky Octopus entrée and Peggy's rare Ahi Tuna sautéed in olive oil. I’ve eaten a lot of squid, I do love it grilled, but this was my first octopus. It was surprisingly meaty and sweet. At my age I don’t get say “my first” of anything. So, it that was a treat on all kinds of levels.

But the coup de grace at the Pullman was the breakfast buffet the next morning. The spread was epic and compared favorably to a $60 a person Sunday buffet in Manhattan. And, by the way, it was included in the 150 Euro price. There was fresh squeezed OJ and mango juice and you could squeeze your own from selection of other fruits. There was a breathtaking array of meats and cheese, so very French, half a dozen hot entrees, the usual bouquet of scrumptious pastries and a cook to order egg station. I know I’m forgetting half of the Pullman’s earthly delights, but you get the idea. The breakfast was monumental.

As we checked out, we received a text message that our flight to Newark was cancelled and that we needed to go to the United Airlines counter in terminal 2E to reschedule. I told the woman who checked us out at the Pullman, half joking and half hoping, that we might be back for another night. It was that good and certainly the best $200 stay we’ve ever had.

Next week after I’ve reviewed the 3,000 images I have from Brittany and Normandie I’ll pony up a travelogue from our two weeks in Northern France. I am seriously hooked.

1 comment:

Blacks Crossing said...

Tuckered or not, your photographs from the Pullman and your ability to express those feelings about service and elegance definitely did not fail you here, Steve. A great blog, leaving us hungry (literally) for more next week. Glad you are home en Taos safely, and you are in the planning stages for your next adventure!