How Air France Almost Killed Me

Ok. Perhaps I am indulging in a little bit of hyperbole, but this is the story of the journey home and an airborne mishap on Air France.

The day after the Grand Prix, we departed Monaco around noon. We opted to take the scenic route that cuts through the mountains and offers great views of the coast and the sea.

I was told that African Queen in Beaulieu sur Mer had “the best pizza in the south of France.” I especially enjoy the crispy, thin crust pizza variety found along the mediterranean coast, so I was intrigued.

The pizza was rather good, although the service was slow. The staff apologized for their lethargy but did nothing to improve the service. It was a solid meal, but I wouldn’t go so far as to award the title of “best pizza in the south of France.” Well worth a stop in for lunch if you’re traveling along the coast though.

After another afternoon of rose in the sun, we had pre-dinner drinks in the lovely village of Mougins. It’s a village very close to Cannes and looks like a postcard from 1940’s France. Very picturesque.

That evening, there was a group dinner at Le Jade.

The meal was surprisingly expensive for a Vietnamese restaurant. For three courses it was roughly 55 euro a head. This wouldn’t be surprising with alcohol, but maybe four alcoholic drinks were consumed in total by our party. I can’t chalk the expense up to the ambiance either, as the restaurant was a collection of simple tables and wicker chairs akin to what you might find at any neighborhood cafe. Nor do I think the proprietor (a very amusing and snarky older Vietnamese gentleman) was ripping us off, as two of our party are regular customers. Oh well. If you really want Vietnamese food and you’re in Cannes, go to Le Jade, but be warned…Europeans don’t enjoy spice as much as some other peoples, so you really have to drive home the point that you want your dishes to actually be spicy if that is your desire.

Air France Flight 6219 Service from NCE-ORY

AF A320 for NCE-ORY

This is where things get interesting. I arrived late to NCE and like a moron, I hadn’t checked in online at the t+24 hours threshold. As such, there were slim pickings left when it came to seat assignment. I prefer window seats and every window seat on the plane was already assigned. On intra-euro flights, the first seven to 10 rows often have 1-2 extra inches of leg room so that a curtain can be rigged and this part of the plane can be deemed “business class” with the middle seat converting into a table. As such, I always try to assign myself a window seat in the front of the plane. This was not to be…Seat 22C, an aisle all the way in the back of the bus.

As luck would have it, the middle seat was vacant, so my row-mate and I in 22 A-C got veritable business class seating at coach prices. Enhancements?

The flight north was on an Airbus A320. It was fairly bumpy but otherwise uneventful. As we began our approach into ORY, it seemed that something was off. There was some turbulence, but nothing severe. Nothing I would even qualify as moderate turbulence. Despite this, the pilot seemed to be having trouble keeping the wings level and maintaining a normal approach. There may have been wind shear and other elements I am not aware of, but I’m only stating how I saw it from row 22.

We were coming in short of the runway, so a bit before the threshold, the pilot gunned the engines, but this led to us floating. We were coming in way too high and too hot. I remember looking out the window at the position of the wings and the plane relative to the ground and runway and thinking “there’s no way this is going to work, they’re going to have to wave us off and make us go around.”

About a half a second later, the engines spun up to full thrust and the airplane hung in the air teetering on the edge of a stall. This is the frightening moment, when AF could have killed us all. Airplanes often land close to their stall speed, below the stall speed there is not enough lift being generated to keep the plane airborne.

We were in a precarious position, we didn’t have enough runway left to safely land and we were slow and close to our stall speed.

Luckily the plane regained airspeed quickly and the slow mush forwards turned into a steadily increasing climb and we regained altitude after our failed approach.

There are three reasons for failed approaches generally. 1- Extenuating circumstances due to the weather, absolutely horrible conditions that require the pilot to abort and give it another go. 2- ATC error, where another aircraft is on the runway and the pilot needs to break off his approach or risk a collision, 3- Pilot error.

Surprisingly, once we regained altitude, the captain came on the PA and took responsibility for the near miss. He said he tried to cut his final approach too short and had misjudged the winds and botched his attempt.

Many of the other passengers were a bit alarmed. I told the woman next to me it wasn’t a big deal and tried to calm her down.

Then, we very nearly had to abort our second attempt. The plane was again hanging high over the runway and the captain slammed it down so hard I worried the left main landing gear might fail (it was not only a hard landing, but also an uneven one).

We landed a bit hot, but once it became apparent we had ample runway to fully brake I began to breathe a little easier.

A short cab ride later and I was back in my apartment.

Another terrible day in Paris


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