Trip Reports

Zurich to Paris on Air France’s Airbus A320

A disappointing Western European hop

After a half a week in Bern, my family and I were to head to Paris for two nights, and I took the opportunity to book myself with Air France out of Zurich a few months in advance, as it was one of the last A318 routes on the AF network. That was until the flight was cancelled and the equipment changed to the A320, so I modified my booking to go via Amsterdam with KLM for an extra €30. Things went awry again when I went to check-in, but I’ll get to that later.

Flight Details
AirlineAir France
Aircraft TypeAirbus A320-200
RouteZürich Kloten to Paris Charles de Gaulle
Flight NumberAF1815

After an early start, we checked out of our hotel and walked to Bern railway station, where I was booked on SBB train IC8 to Zürich Airport station, via Zürich Hbf.

Bahnhof Bern

The train, an SBB IC2000 double-decker, push-pull set, hauled by a Re 460 class electric locomotive, pulled into the platform on time, however it was absolutely packed. After politely shoving my way up the staircase as the train pulled away, I found my pre-booked window seat occupied, so sat in the nearest empty seat for the hour long ride through the Swiss countryside to Zürich Airport.

Zürich Hauptbahnhof

Following an on-time arrival at the airport station, I made my way up into the check-in area and followed the signs to the Terminal B Observation Deck. I had originally hoped to take one of ZRH’s famed airside bus tours, however none were operating the day I flew out. Access to the Observation Deck is free for passengers with a valid boarding pass, and even though I hadn’t yet checked in, the lovely reception staff gave me a ticket anyways, and I headed through to the security check. After being yelled at in German, French, and finally English, and having my camera very thoroughly inspected, I made my way out to the stunning view.

To describe Zürich Airport as spotter friendly would be an understatement, the observation deck was absolutely incredible, with views right across the tarmac, and aircraft taxiing past so close I needed to change lenses! During my visit, the distant runway 14 was being used for arrivals, and 28 for smaller aircraft departures, runway 16, which passes right in front of the observation deck was utilised for most heavy departures, allowing some excellent rotation views. I’ve included some of my favourite spots from the morning below.

Despite the near zero temperatures and overcast skies, I had an absolute blast, and was pretty pleased to have spotted my first, and to this date only, Airbus A310, and A321-100, along with all the other A220s and A340s. I headed back into the terminal to check-in for what I thought would be my KLM flights to Paris, just under two hours before departure. To my surprise, however, the self check-in immediately spat out the below message, so I headed to the help desk, where I was informed I had been bumped off the ZRH-AMS leg.

I only option I was offered was to be moved onto the evening Air France flight, direct to Paris, what the airline had originally moved me onto after the disappointment of my A318 flight cancellation a few months earlier. With no other options, I accepted, and was plonked into a rather frustrating middle seat on a boring old A320 in 6 hours. I later found out my family’s TGV service to Paris had been cancelled due to SNCF strikes, which probably explained the fully booked flight. I was unaware that overbooking was a practice that existed outside the US, so I was even more disappointed to find out that I wasn’t eligible to claim compensation under EU law, as my replacement flight was within the reasonable window by 20 minutes.

The interior of the ‘Airside Centre’ at Zürich Airport

Absolutely gutted that I’d now not only lost my chance to fly on an A318, but now my first 737-900 flight, and some spotting at Schiphol, I decided to head through into the terminal to try some warmer, indoor spotting. After passing through security (though not passport control, as this was a flight within the Schengen Area), I grabbed some lunch and settled down in the ‘Airside Centre’.

PH-EZL, the KLM Cityhopper Embraer E190 I was supposed to fly on to Amsterdam

After some wandering up and down the piers and around the terminals, I discovered that photography once airside, is only really possible from Terminal E, the non Schengen Area part of the airport.

F-HEPH at Zürich Airport

I spent the next five hours wandering around the terminal and going through photos, before my gate opened an hour before scheduled departure, despite the delayed arrival of my aircraft.

The gate was pretty packed, but boarding was unexpectedly orderly, with automated gates that only allowed passengers through if their boarding group had been called. An announcement was also made, asking passengers to check-in their carryon, as the flight was fully booked.

Boarding AF1815 to Paris CDG

Painted in Air France’s newest scheme, with blue winglets and larger titles, my unexpected ride to Paris was nearly 10 year old Airbus A320-200, F-HEPH. My seat, 17B, wasn’t too uncomfortable, even squeezed between to tall guys and I believe the seats are the same model as fitted to Virgin Australia’s older 737s.

The cabin of Air France Airbus A320-200 F-HEPH

The crew were very professional, and somehow glamourous in a casual way (although that may be just because they’re French), and after whizzing through the safety demo in French and thickly-accented English, we pushed back and taxied out.

Meal service on AF1815 to Paris CDG

The climb out was pretty smooth, and the crew began the meal service shortly before we reached cruising altitude, with a sandwich, hot drink, and water offered in economy class. The sandwich was pretty good, similar to what you’d expect on a similar leg on Qantas in Australia.

F-HEPH after arriving at Paris CDG

Just as rubbish was being collected by the crew, we began our very bumpy descent into Paris Charles de Gaulle. After landing we had a particularly long taxi into terminal 2F, but as I had no checked baggage I was through to the taxi rank not long after disembarking.

Air France Concorde F-BVFF at Paris CDG

My taxi into the city ended up taking nearly an hour, but I did get a quick view of Air France Concorde 201, F-BVFF, plinthed alongside the Autoroute. Although the flight itself was a bit of a downgrade from what I had planned, I still had a fantastic time spotting at Zürich, and it was an interesting experience to fly a European airline for the first time!

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