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Mexico City to Chicago... via Paris

Mexico City to Chicago... via Paris
24 Hours of Air France La Première
April 2021
It’s been well over a year since my last Air France La Première flight and I’ve been going thru serious La Première withdrawal.  The bottom line is that I need an Air France La Première fix and I’ve been determined to find an itinerary that would work.  This proved to be a major challenge considering that US-only passport holders can’t actually enter France or anywhere else in the EU at the moment.   I tried and booked a couple of times earlier in the year but on both occasions, my plans were disrupted my cancelled flights.  LAX-CDG-IST and then MEX-CDG-HND fell by the wayside as flights were cancelled.
 
The new 3 day PCR test requirement to return to the US makes mileage runs even more difficult since I don't want to test and be stranded overseas by a false positive.  So I looked for a return fast enough that I could use my negative US test for both departure and return. 
 
Fast forward to today and I’m off to Mexico City to fly Air France’s best in the world La Première from Mexico City to Paris, connecting to… Chicago.  Of course. 
 
Although I had my PCR on Tuesday, my first stop this morning was the Clarity Covid test facility at (across from) Terminal 6 to try their PCR testing operation.  Easy online registration, booking and payment.  I took the 7:30a-8:00a window and arrived early at 7:15a.  Once the 7:00am appointments were processed, I was able to join the short queue and had a swab up the nose just before 7:30am.  They promised results in 3-5 hours and indeed, I got my results back in under 4 hours, while I was inflight to Mexico City.  Cost was a reasonable $125. An all around excellent experience with very pleasant and efficient staff.   And even though you don’t get the result in time for a US departure, testing the day of US departure gives you a potential  extra day before returning with having to rely on a test at your destination. 
 

After my test, I walked to T4 and AA PreCheck. 
 

 Then over to the Bradley Terminal to see if the Amex Centurion Lounge had opened. 
 

 Sadly, still not open with absolutely no idea when they would open.  I passed on the "to go" baggie and headed back to T4 and the Admirals Club.
 

Gate lice central at Gate 41.  Let me guess.  JFK of course.

And to the Admirals Club.

AA traffic has clearly improved since my last visit, as AA has opened up the Flagship Lounge as an extension of the Admirals Club.  
 

But not First Dining.  Hopefully some day.

This meant plenty of room and seating for everyone today.

No change in the lame food options.  

Breakfast, Admirals Club style.  

Although buy options are available if you are so inclined.

Los Angeles LAX to Mexico City MEX
American AA 2457
Oasis-ized 737-800
10:00am-2:30pm
April 1, 2021
Seat 3F
 

At 40 minutes before departure I headed downstairs to convenient Gate 40, located just across from the Admirals Club entrance.  They were already boarding Group 7 by the time I arrived.  Full flight today with lots of gate checked bags.

AA's dreadful new cram-em-in Oasis seating.  Flimsy seat with no seat back video.  This is a seat for 90 minutes max, not nearly four hours like today.  Ugh. 

Another gorgeous morning in Southern California.

Every passenger gets an AA baggie of water, Biscoff and sanitizer. 

Open bar and sandwich bag.

Turkey Sandwich and chocolate chip cookie.  Tumbler is from my DIY travel kit for crappy US3 domestic flights.

Turkey sandwich was actually edible.  Much better than what UA or woeful DL offers.

Interesting scenery on descent to MEX.

Wow, there's a lot of people here... over 20 million in the metro area... 

The long, long trek to Immigration. 

Yikes.  This terminal has seen better days.

The foreigner queue wasn't too bad... much better than the mob scene last year in Cabo. 

LOL at these three dudes in full head-to-toe hazmat gear.  Sheesh. 

Since this was my first time at MEX, I had no idea where I was going and just followed the flow.

International departures sounds like a good direction to follow....

Definitely a conveniently location Hilton.

I turned left, followed a few more signs and lo and behold....

With nearly four hours before departure, I had plenty of time to check it out.   Pleasant but meh atmosphere.   Lack of any windows and view to the outside gave the place a bit of a dark, dungeon like feel.

On the other hand, staff was simply superb and attentive.  Drinks are complimentary.

But food was not.  There was a limited menu albeit with very reasonable prices.  My wagyu burger was only 220 MXN or about 10.75 USD.  

After my brief visit to the Centurion Lounge, I headed off to Air France check-in to get my boarding pass.

Once the staff knew that was a La Première passenger and indeed the only one today, amazing LP service kicked in.  Agent checked my PCR test results and introduced me to her La Première colleague.  She escorted me to the front of security and then to the Grand Lounge Elite.  As we entered the lounge, I was greeted by two staffers including my own personal attendant/server, Veronica.  Where do I start about Veronica?  One of the nicest and most attentive servers I've ever had the pleasure of meeting.

Veronica escorted me to one of three private VIP suites. 

A quick look around the rest of the lounge, which is also a Priority Pass member.

OK, safely back in my private oasis.

Where amazing service began.

A full La Première wine list.

And La Première menu.

I really wasn't that hungry but couldn't resist the Tacos de Cochinita.  OMG, they were spectacular.

I didn't order anything else but that didn't stop Veronica.  She brought an order of the Flam Cremoso de Cajeta.  Wonderful.

She had previously brought me a cappuccino which I hadn't ordered.  I paid no attention and it wasn't until later that I noticed my cappuccino.  I guess she had googled me and pulled a old photo and used it to add to the foam.  Wow.

What amazing and over the top service.  I was happy to add my praise to the comments book that she asked me to sign.  

Since I had requested to board first, yet another La Première Personal Assistant stopped by at T-50 for the long golf cart ride to opposite end of the terminal and Gate 34.

Mexico City MEX to Paris CDG
Air France AF 179
777-300ER
6:40pm-1:30pm +1
April 1, 2021
Suite 1A

 

After checking on board to make sure that the crew was ready, my PA preboarded me. 

 I was greeted at the door by three of the cabin crew including my wonderful La Première flight attendant Anne, who escorted me to my suite. 

And so began 11 hours of amazing and flawless service.

Today's menu...

Lovely amenity kit with some nice Cariita products.

The new Air France safety video is really cool, featuring iconic Paris and France landmarks. 

And the finale, zooming back from the Eiiffel Tour...

... to the breathtaking top of the hour light show. Bravo.

Gorgeous sunset as we depart Mexico City.

After take-off, Anne began setting up my three seat suite...

With even the curtain on the opposite aisle closed for more privacy.

Showtime, La Première style...

Tonight's lovely amuse bouche medley.  Creole-style marinated grouper, apricot, foie gras and amaranth skewer, sautéed chicken with Tequilla and pineapple chutney. 

Followed by the wonderful Cream of Tomato soup with tortilla chips.

Outstanding. 

Next up, a lovely Sauternes...

... to go with my Duck foie gras, papaya and mint condiment...

Poached lobster, mango and apricot chutney.  

And after sampling all of the starters, the main plat...

... Fillet of beef with chipotle pepper sauce, potato Napoleon, green aspargus, pumpkin, roasted cherry tomatoes...

Delicious!

A little cheese sampler.

OMG, then the most amazing dessert platter...

The Chocolate and hazelnut Rocher cake was out of this world.

After dinner, I watched a movie, then checked and returned emails.  Wifi is free for La Première passengers.

While a went to loo, Anne made my bed across the aisle.  I slept for a solid 4 hours.

About 90 minutes from Paris, I moved back to 1A for a liittle breakfast.

Sad line-up of Covid-idled Air France planes parked in perfect formation. 

After a pleasantly short taxi by CDG standards, we pulled into our gate at 1:35pm.

This was a flight for the ages, with personable, professional and flawless service by one of Air France's finest.  Merci to my amazing flight attendant, Anne, for a memorable flight.

La Première Lounge (temporary) at CDG

As door 1L opened, I bid adieu to the wonderful Anne and was met by my PA for the next 90 minutes.  We walked down the stairs from the jetbridge to our waltiing BMW 7 series....

And pulled into the lower level of Terminal 2E some five minutes later.

Sadly, there is no private La Première security during Covid and although my PA cut to the front on the line, we got the line seemingly staffed with incompetent blood relatives of Inspector Clouseau.  It took 10 minutes for my backback and laptop to finally make it thru the conveyor as these clowns disappeared, then returned, removed bags, rescanned them ahead of mine, disappeared the returned, all the while having trouble getting the conveyor moving again.   After this, it was a short walk to current temporary La Première Lounge, located on the mezzanine level of the Business Class Lounge.  The mezzanine has its own secret door which and the La Première Lounge agent was waiting for us at the door as we arrived.  Not nearly as nice as the regular La Première Lounge, but it worked today for my all too short visit. 

Ahh.  That's more like it.

Today's Alain Ducasse menu, somewhat abbreviated from the main menu.  But still will all the classics.

Oh yeah.

I started with the decadent Pate en croute dde volaille et foie gras de canard.  OMG, this was wonderful.

And naturally, my all time fave, Coquillettes jambon/truffe noir aka Mac and cheese Alain Ducasse style.  Fabulous as always.  With another glass of Champagne.

My PA had given me a 2:45pm departure time which seemed a little rushed considering there were only 44 passengers on the entire flight.  Much to her chagrin, I wanted a shower and did convince her that I would be very fast. So we headed downstairs to the Business Class part of the lounge where I rushed and was in and out and dressed in 7 minutes.  And off to the races.

Paris CDG to Chicago ORD
Air France AF 136
777-300ER
1:30pm-5:20pm
April 2, 2021
Suite 1L
 

From the lounge, it was a short walk and elevator ride down to ground level and our awaiting BMW.

For the long, drive to... a bus gate?  And where no one had yet boarded.  Yeah, so glad we rushed lunch.  Really?  The good news is that I good some up close pics of our 77W.

A tale of two classes.  La Première arrives by limo, everyone else by bus.  

After introductions to the cabin crew, I was escorted to my 1L as 1A was apparently defective.

A peek into Business Class since no one had yet boarded.  So glad I rushed lunch for this.  I guess, I've already whined about that.  

Back in 1L, my first of two La Première flight attendant, Georges, served a glass of champagne.  Unlike the wonderful Anne on MEX-CDG, this was the B team.  Little details like not opening and plating the box of cashews and cranberries.  And forgetting to close the galley curtain later on in flight.  Lots of yapping in the galley. 

 And no tray or chocolates like Anne had prepared even prior to my arriving at my seat on MEX-CDG...

My rushed lunch was even more annoying as the rest of the passengers didn't even board until our 3:30pm departure.  Some 35 minutes laterm at 4:05pm, we pushed.

The combination of my decadent eating and drinking from the night before and my rushed lunch... and my tummy was not happy.  I decided to sleep for the first two hours and then have lunch about three hours into our flight.  By that point, Georges had disappeared and another flight attendant took my lunch order and served.

Showtime.

The cream of artichoke soup was delicious. 

The lobster and green aspargus salad was a little bland.

On the other hand, the duet of shrimp and squid was excellent.

... especially with camargue red rice and tasty taragon lobster sauce.

For dessert, Michael Roth's Empress Rice pudding with candied fruit in a chocolate dome.

Wow, this was sensational.

Georges had made my bed next door and I moved over to sleep for a solid three hours, awaking about 90 minutes out.  As I was still full, I decided not to test my tummy despite lusting after the Tender beef and pan fried foie gras pastry puff on the Light Menu.  In a another service failure, I was never even asked if I wanted some more to eat.  Yeah, that was the B team.

Nice views of Lake Michigan and northern shoreline.

 

Since this was the first Air France arrival in ORD this year, I'll cut them some slack that the only door used was 2L.  To her credit, another flight attendant escorted me to the door ahead of other passengers.  When the door open, PA Michelle was waiting to escort me thru CBP immigration/customs which was pretty empty.

... and then to the exit to the third world experience that is ORD Terminal 5.

Despite the B team cabin crew, it was still another enjoyable Air France flight and a great 24 hour experience. 

Back to Reality and United... from Chicago to John Wayne/Orange County

My wonderful 24 hours of seemless, pampered travel ended abruptly as I bid adieu to Michelle and walked from one extreme to the other... from La Première to the third world s***hole that is Chicago O'Hare.  Gone is the convenient inter-terminal train, no doubt a victim of Chicago graft, corruption and politics.   In its place is a horrific bus shuttle service where there is no schedule and no one knows anything. 

 After 10 minutes where the only bus to come by was a Lot G parking bus, I gave up and did what I should have done right away... Uber.

 

Much, much better...

A few minutes later, Terminal 1 departures.

As I had already checked in on the UA app, I headed directly to PreCheck where amazingly I was the only passenger.

Into the B concourse, looking for the United Club.

Et voila.

Even though I was crediting this Lufthansa Miles & More, an friendly and helpful UC agent processed my TAP Star Alliance Gold card for entry and welcomed me.

Upstairs in the lounge, bright and spacious with lots of attractive seating and working areas.

Cool pics of vintage United planes.

And a much better than Admirals Club selection of serve yourself snack options.

At T-50, I headed out for the long trek to the C concourse.

The shuttered Polaris Lounge, nice when it is open.

 
Chicago ORD to John Wayne-Orange County SNA
United UA 2192
737-700 (pre merger CO)
7:40pm-9:45pm
April 2, 2021
Seat 1A

Boarding began at 7pm with the usual handicapped, families, GS and 1K.  Agent forgot Group 1 and started with the rear of the plane.  I decided to join the rear of the plane gang and asked "can Group 1 board?".   Obviously yes as other Group 1s had already boarded.

On board, my 1B seat mate provided the initial entertainent by settling into my 1A as I arrived.  "Isn't this 1B?"  LOL. Nice try or just clueless?  I would get my answer once we were inflight and I heard her order her beverage.

The AB side of the bulkhead has extra leg room cut-out.

Unlike the EF side.  Thanks expertflyer.com.

Once in the air, our flight attendant came around for drink orders.  I ordered a Diet Coke.  Then she asks my seat mate....

1B: I'll have a Pellegrino, please
FA: We don't have Pellegrino
1B. Do you have Perrier?  
FA: No but we have Dasani.
 
And so it was a Dasani mini bottle for the lady in 1B.  Food options were the infamously bad Blue Label bag sandwiches or what our FA claimed was "our new Snackbox".

Which turned out to be nothing more than one of the old Snackboxes with a new box design.  Carbs anyone?

We arrive 10 minutes early at John Wayne and I figured a quick Uber and I'd be home by 10:20pm at the latest.  Wrong.  It was only then that I discovered the problem with a 10pm Uber pick-up.  OK, like 6 other flights just landed and dozens of us wanted Uber.  The app was straight forward... cars supposedly available at $32-$36.  But no driver would confirm.  Then surge pricing kicked in and the price jumped to $80-$100.  Sheesh.  Twenty minutes later and after two confirmations where drivers just disappeared, I connected witth a Lyft driver at a reasonable-ish $47, and got home in South County just before 11pm.

The United leg notwithstanding, what a memorable trip and a wonderful 24 hours with Air France La Première. Thanks for following along.