International Travel: Air France makes it deliciously comfortable at 39,000 feet
WASHINGTON— Planning an international trip to Europe is not the same as flying domestically. There are many details you can control to make your journey an exciting part of your travel experience. International travel can mean a full day or night in the air. If you have a seven-day vacation planned, you will spend a minimum of two days on getting to your destination.
Things you can do to make your international travel part of the adventure.
Before you go:
- International travel turns your smartphone from a convenience to a necessity. Most phone companies offer international travel plans; call your provider.
- As you are making your plans, create a password-protected file on your phone that includes a copy of your driver’s license, passport, and itinerary with all relevant phone numbers.
- Add an “ICE,” in case of emergency, contact to your phone’s contacts.
- To help you get around on the ground. A GPS travel app, like Google Navigation, offers walking, bus or train, and driving directions. In Venice, Waze helped in maneuvering the maze of canals and bridges. In Managua, Nicaragua, it was easy to find addresses in a city that does not use street names. Traveling from Bologna to Venice, Italy, meant accessing the GPS for train travel directions.
Turning your smartphone into a travel tool
Loading some basic local language phrases like “Thank you,” “Where can I find the museum?” and the ubiquitous “Where can I find a toilet” into your smartphone can be very helpful. Thanks to Internet-based translators, there is an app for that.
Search for a “travel translator” in the App Store on your smartphone.
Be aware that few people want a smartphone shoved in their face. Learn the phrases, and then offer the small courtesy of asking.
Once you check into your hotel, take a picture of the hotel, address, and phone number. To be able to say “Ciao, puoi dirmi come trovare questo hotel?” (“Hello, can you tell me how to find this hotel?”) and then showing the picture and address, can be very helpful.
Include a photo of what may be a notable landmark or recognizable corner.
Traveling through international airports and train stations
Traveling through international airports and train stations is not difficult. Being gracious and kind can usually get you the help you need. A smile opens many doors. In addition to your smartphone, patience and having plenty of time are the two best tools you can carry.
The Marco Polo Airport in Venice, named for the Venetian explorer Marco Polo, sits along the Venice Lagoon. The airport is often full of cruise travelers traveling with massive baggage. It can be overwhelming.
Despite the airport chaos and communication barriers, checking in and finding your gate is not difficult; it just takes a deep breath and a bit of patience
The confusion is part of the international travel experience you should embrace.
Traveling 30,000 feet in the air and on the ground
Flying on KLM from Dulles Airport, Virginia, transferring at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol to a flight to Bologna Guglielmo Marconi Airport can take anywhere from eleven to twenty-two hours. That’s a long time to be moving, and it is just the start. Jet-lagged you may find yourself going through customs in order to find your connecting international travel flight.
Flying on a long-haul Airbus jet is vastly different from a domestic flight. When sleep is on your agenda, the 18-inch wide seats feels like an upgrade. Standard amenities include lighting that allows travelers to read, nap, or watch movies on the entertainment consoles. Some flights also offer the ability to connect to cell-phone and Wi-Fi service. You can also track the planes progress on a GPS map.
Check for flight amenities before you book.
One obvious difference is that for international crews the “job” is a career. Pride in a job well done is obvious. As an example, on that overnight KLM flight, the crew helped new parents with an infant get a seat that would allow for use of a very ingenious “cradle” that allowed baby, and parents, to get some rest. A young man, experiencing his first flight, felt the ill effects of air travel. The able crew was quick to assist before other passengers were impacted.
Flights heading East often leave at night. International travelers are smart to prepare for sleeping, book reading or watching movies on your personal monitor. A flight bag with clean socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, night mask, earplugs, and gum or mints can make a huge difference.
What you don’t need to bring is food; you will be fed well.
Choose your flight meal options when you buy your ticket
On the KLM flight to Amsterdam on KLM, you will enjoy a “Tasty Blue” hot dinner meal and breakfast. If you want more, another dessert or beverage, just ask. If you want to upgrade your meal, visit the airline’s website and review its food menu when you book your ticket. The options are vast and will meet almost any dietary requests.
Food service begins with a hot towel to wipe your face and hands. Your dining experience includes an aperitif and nuts, hors-d’oeuvre and meal choices. On longer flights, you can anticipate two meals. Heading east, with an evening departure, there will be dinner and then breakfast before landing.
Between meals, you can ask for snacks, ice cream or a sandwich. All airlines are able to meet most reasonable food requests, including vegetarian and kosher meals.
Standard food alternatives include:
- A low-salt meal, suitable for people suffering from certain heart, kidney or endocrine diseases.
- A meal whose sugar, salt or fat content is suitable for people with diabetes.
- A gluten-free meal.
- A low-calorie meal with no sauce.
- An allergen-free meal.
Continental breakfast will include juice, yogurt, coffee or tea and a pastry.
On Air France/KLM, complimentary wine and champagne are offered to passengers in all cabins during the flights.
Air France offers cuisine rich ala-carte menus in both Economy and Premium Economy. Before you book, check the Air France website for food alternatives and any additional costs.
Dining in flight
On long-haul flights, Air France offers that day’s menu, at no extra charge for all destinations and travel classes. Hot and cold beverages, with or without alcohol, are also available. Far from the dry sandwich in foil paper, meals are hot, fresh and delicious.
According to chef Ghislaine Van Branteghem, Air France’s catering products, onboard dining is part of their brand identity.
“For the creation of the economy class trays, we privilege the ‘French touch’ and the nutritional aspect of the meals,” Ms. Van Branteghem says. “We make sure to offer our passengers healthy French-style meals (starter, main dish, cheese, and dessert). We work mainly on the freshness for the starters, which are generally raw vegetables. The vinaigrette can be fruity or slightly pronounced (curry).
“For the main dish, we want to offer our passengers greedy and easily identifiable meals. Considering the number of passengers and our international customers, our meal choices (starter, main dish, cheese, and dessert) must please the greatest number of them. Also, our customers can spoil themselves by purchasing our ‘Menu à la carte’ on Air France’s website.”
Chef Jean Imbert
Le Marche de Jean Imbert plates are part of the a la carte options. Designed by Chef Jean Imbert, a rising star in French cuisine and the 2012 winner of the French TV show “Top Chef,” these plates are a chance to dine with a certain Je ne sais quoi.
For those that enjoy food, this means the ability enjoy a new dining experience while treating your time while in transit as a part of your international travel experience.
Dining at 39,000 feet with Michelin-starred chef Daniel Boulud
French chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud with restaurants from New York City to Singapore, is just one the chefs creating the dining and snack plates for Air France Business and Premier travelers.
Best known for Daniel, his eponymous, Michelin 2-star restaurant in New York City, Boulud is the creator of numerous award-winning dining concepts, from the overall restaurant design to creating innovative plates, around the globe.
Complimenting Chef Boulud’s Air France meals are French production wines chosen by Paolo Basso complement the meals. Mr. Basso was named the 2013 Best Sommelier of the World (Meilleur Sollelier Du Monde 2013).
The snack and dinner plates are surprisingly fresh and delicious as though they came from his award-winning kitchen, not the galley of an airplane cruising at 39,000 feet, leading to a conversation with Mr. Boulud, speaking from his restaurant Boulud Sud.
Is there one Air France menu you have created that has stood out as a favorite?
I love the chicken dish we have on the menu at Boulud Sud, so when it came to doing a chicken dish on board, we thought a tagine would be a great combination of something soulful and spicy that is delicate and powerful at the same time. A well-seasoned meal is always more satisfying on board than a tasteless, uninspired dish.
You are creating plates that will be served more than seven miles in the air and that taste fresh and just made hours later. What do you look for in your recipes to keep them fresh throughout the flight?
The process was first to understand, from the catering companies, how they make the dishes and what is possible in the air. It begins with a long list of ideas and edit down to what is possible, keeping in mind the process for preparing and packaging the food, and how to maintain freshness and brightness in the dishes. We discussed the accessibility of high-quality ingredients and the challenges of cooking in the air.
Then we toured their facilities to see what goes into the creation and preparation of on-board dishes and taste what they are already doing. For our dish with zucchini, we had thought it was going to be easier to roast it, but we saw the caterers grilling vegetables and having a lot of success with that technique, which they had already perfected. We realized that they had already mastered this technique, so we modified our recipe to take advantage, and are using grilled zucchini.
For all the dishes we developed, I was very careful to choose recipes that would retain their integrity and flavor when prepared at altitude. The idea is not to take a dish from my restaurant and make it on the plane; the goal is to apply my expertise in cooking in the best way possible to the constraints at hand.
How are you able to create delicious meals that have such a unique delivery method?
The experience designing onboard meals has made me think more and examine more closely the other food I have had in-flight since we began developing menus with Air France. I have seen dishes served on board and think, for instance, “It was a mistake for the chef to choose this because it doesn’t hold up under reheating.” This attention to detail also helped me pick the right dishes for Air France.
To achieve excellence on board we have to simplify, but not compromise on quality. A dish doesn’t have to be overly complicated to work. The cleaner and more defined it is, the more satisfying it can be.
We worked with the Air France caterers closely to teach their chef teams how we wanted our dishes to be executed. In my restaurants, a dish will be prepared from start to finish to order. Here, certain steps have to be completed ahead, and (the foods) reheated.
Each of the entree dishes is a complex layering of herbs and proteins. What is your inspiration for the hot dishes?
I have always loved to travel, and I believe Air France passengers share that passion with me, so for the dishes I created, I took inspiration from my travels around the globe, which you can see in dishes such as Provençal lamb; or Moroccan chicken tagine with lemon and cauliflower; or Atlantic lobster tail with curried coconut sauce, black rice and bok choy.
This is also how I create the menus in my restaurants. Of course, I am French so there is always a thread of French cuisine carried throughout the menus in all my restaurants, but at Boulud Sud we also highlight Mediterranean dishes, with many grilled proteins and vegetables, and seasonings common to North Africa, southern Europe, Turkey, Greece, the Middle East, etc.; whereas, at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, located in Washington, DC, which is known for our selection of burgers, bangers, and craft beers, we have dishes inspired also by my travels, including the Thai Dog that is a pork sausage made with ginger, lemongrass, curry, kaffir lime, and red chili, which a trip to Thailand inspired.
And at Café Boulud, we have always had a section on the menu called Le Voyage, which explores and celebrates global cuisines.
Editors Note: None of the flights this writer enjoyed were complimentary, though Air France offered a space-available upgrade to Business Class for the return flight.