I had planned to write this report as I was eager to discover WOW but also share this experience that will take me all the way from France to Africa in Congo and Gabon particularly. However the worst case scenario happened almost at the onset.
As most of you may know already, Dallas will see service from WOW starting next May and Icelandair in June IIRC. So for this trip the cheapest way to reach Europe was via ULCC, so I looked into wow, Icelandair, and norvegian. Wow came on top mainly because I was able to find a connecting city that could connect with a US based carrier while ensuring a decent connection time round trip. Baltimore/Washington DC turned out perfect. Additionally southwest was the perfect partner due to free checked luggage. Here is how it begins:
Week 1 Tuesday/Dallas - Paris
Original itinerary (incomplete)
- DAL-BWI on Southwest
Scheduled Dep 13:45 Arr 17:35
- BWI-KEF-CDG on Wow (did not board due to missing second first name on ticket)
Scheduled Dep 19:05 Arr 10:30+1
Replacement itinerary for BWI-CDG booked on Aer Lingus website
- BWI-LHR on British Airways
Scheduled Dep 21:20 Arr 08:20+1
- LHR-DUB on Aer Lingus
Scheduled Dep 10:50 Arr 12:10
- DUB-CDG on Aer Lingus
Scheduled Dep 13:40 Arr 16:20
As usual I cut it close at Dallas lovefield, I arrived at the airport at 12:59pm, takeoff was 1:45pm. Went to the kiosk immediately it warns me my checked luggage might not make it because I'm now under the 45 mins checking limit. But it still dispensed a bag tag
. In my head I thought hell if the bag doesn't make it, I will forget about it
and move on. The flight is uneventful and we land slight early 5:25p instead of scheduled 5:35p. My connecting flight on Wow schedule takeoff is 7:05p. Walked straight down to claim, and the conveyor belt stopped literally 3 mins after it started and my bag is not among the first out (duh). 5 mins later an announcement comes down that claim 3 is jammed and they rerouting all bags to claim 5 until claim 3 is unjammed. I start panicking a little bit thinking the one time I check bag the belt jams. Classic! More bags come out #5 and after about 5 mins I walked staring up to the bag agents onsite and ask if they could trace whether my bag made it. Without blinking the agent replies we do not trace bags until the entire plane has been cleared. I turned back towards the conveyor and as if the agent had known this my bag pulls up instantly
As I was waiting for my bag i had asked information booth for the fastest route to reach the international terminal from terminal B. Took me a solid 10 mins on a fast pace to reach Wow checking area. There is a very small crowd in line. Two agents and one supervisor appear to be in charge. By the time it is my turn it is already 6:30ish. And the boom! The agent asks me what is my first name I reply with my usual name. And she points out (correctly) that my passport shows two first names. So I start this explanation I have given before that my French passport does not have middle name and having lived in the US for almost 2 decades I always use one on the first name in my airline reservations. But now I start to worry because I remember while booking online that there was a charge for changing names. However the agent tells me to call customer service because agents do not have the authority to make changes. She gives me the number and I stepped aside, by the time someone picked up it was past takeoff time. At that point the counter was almost empty. But as fate had it as I was trying to explain what was going on the call dropped. Another passenger who had the same issue and reached customer service before me told me they won't even help on the phone it is to no avail, find another way to travel.
While I was on hold I was frantically browsing a travel website which showed me an itinerary between BWI to CDG later that night for ~$1600. It was the cheapest option. At that time I figured I would pay probably more if I were to spend the night and try to fly the next day. I eventually booked the Aer Lingus trip by 8pm while seated next to the checking area. Schedule takeoff was 9:20p. The itinerary was now BWI-LHR on British airways, and LHR-DUB-CDG on Aer Lingus.
Turned out the flight to London was on a 787-9 which was a first for me, plus although I was assigned a middle seat I scored an aisle seat with no one right behind me. Very comfortable flight in the end. The connection at Heathrow was a doozie, we boarded the Dublin flight out of Terminal 2.
Unfortunately we experienced 1h Tarmac delay and landed and I ended missing my connecting flight to CDG. They were nice and rebooked me at no charge on the next flight a little over 4 hours later. I enjoyed a beef and Guinness pot pie and an Irish coffee (see pictures).
When they finally announced hate for Cdg , the same nightmare start again delay 20, 60, and eventually. For a flight supposedly leaving 18:15.
Week 2 Monday/Paris-Brazzaville
CDG-BZV on Air France A330-200 (F-GZCL)
Back on the travel grind, this time a morning flight scheduled at 10:45. I had planned to leave for the airport at 7:30 but due to snow in Paris and surroundings traffic is worse than expected and transportation as well. The G7 taxis are totally overwhelmed so I have no choice to take the "surcharged" Uber. If I did not have a second checked luggage I would have probably taken mass transportation. Anyhow Uber showed up, driver is pretty upbeat and estimated arrival at airport around 8:40. However when we finally make it to CDG, traffic to enter terminal 2E is so backed up he proposed that he goes thru the arrival instead to which I agreed. It was perfect and I just had to hop on the elevator to reach checking zone. Apparently terminal 2E which I believe it is almost exclusively sky team is separated in zones. The first ground agent I asked send me to zone 5. However after trying both my booking and rid number the kiosk rejects me, I know ask an AF rep who sends me all the way to zone 12. While walking I notice with horror how long the boarding lines for the border police are so long, including PARAFE the fast automated system for French passport holders. When I made it to zone 12 it was 8:55, and end of checking was 9:15. I tried to check in at the kiosk again but if failed again. Went up to the gate agent and explained my displeasure because I wanted to avoid to stand in line. She ushered me to what appears a shorter line. I was literally next when the age manning the line asked the destination of the passenger behind me, to which they said Douala (DLA), Shen then told me to step aside because their flight is earlier than mine. 5 mins later I was checked in and proceeded to the dreading boarding line. I was relieved to see the line moved faster than it looks but Man! Past police security checkpoints are as busy. I got to the gate and proceeded to get a fruit snack, and almost concurrently I could see passengers congregating to the gate. Got stuck in line to pay for my snack for a little over 5 mins. The boarding process was automated, passengers could go 3 separate gates scan their boarding pass and proceed to the jet bridge without talking to anyone. Was glad to see the overhead bin above my seat was empty. Frankly I could tell since checking it will not be a full flight.
10:45 all passengers appeared to have boarded.
10:55 pilot apologized for the delay due to an attempt in progress to remove a passenger luggage from the hold. A minute later FA announced gates closed. This flight was definitely empty because I remember I could have snatched a business seat for $786 while checking online but I kept my economy duo seat.
11:15. Stopped at deicing station
11:18. Pilot announced deicing operations, shortly followed FA warning that the noise we were about to hear were normal.
11:34. End of deicing and taxi to runway.
11:40. Takeoff roll
18:45. Pilot announced the imminent landing
A few snaps of sightseeing. One of the great attraction in Brazzaville is the ability to look at Kinshasa across the river, which you can see from this shot
Sitting at a table at Mamiwata the view is even better with the catch of the day:
Week 2 Wednesday/Brazzaville - Pointe-noire
BZV-PNR on Trans Air Congo (TAC) 737-300
Scheduled Dep 19:30 Arr 20:25
Actual Dep 20:56 Arr 21:34
I was a little distracted and forgot to take immediate notes when I boarded. When I boarded and based on my previous experiences I took the first aisle seat on the first available in economy, three rows behind business cabin.
I did witness a business class passenger who boarded late and had the FA ask an other passenger to vacate the seat which appeared his. The other passenger complied with a little resistance, while the FA was a little bit embarrassed to have asked.
As soon as the announcement for the door close came up a passenger seating across from me turned his back and ask the fellow passenger behind whether he could hand over some sort of dossier, the other responded it had been taken away by an FA who at the time was looking for its owner, and it was eventually removed from the aircraft. He became very agitated and swear a bit and I don't know started calling someone on his mobile phone. Eventually he calmed down and later during the flight told the FA who passed by why he had not been informed before his dossier was removed, she looked sorry for the guy and explained they had actually asked but no one raised the hand. She apologized to him anyway and he calmed down.
Week 2 Friday/Pointe-Noire - Brazzaville
PNR-BZV on Trans Air Congo (TAC) 737-500 (TT-DIZ)
Scheduled Dep 11:00 Arr 11:55
Upon boarding I reached my assigned seat row 19. The overhead bin was clear and I stuffed carry-on and backpack.
11:03 pilot announced door closed
11:08 pulled from parking spot by tractor I believe. We used stairs to board the aircraft. FA are really helpful and helping out passengers to load bags in overhead bins. FAs also accommodate passengers wishing to switch seats. Many times people do not really follow their assigned seats including myself on the inbound TAC flight.
11:16 Takeoff roll. I immediately felt my shaky seat slightly reclining during the rotation. Within 2 mins the passenger a behind me a bigger guy tapped my shoulder and kindly if I could try to not recline because of his cramped leg. I told him that the seat actually reclined itself, then I tried to manual pull back the seat since the button did not help much. It did the trick and reclined halfway, he thanked me.
11:27 FA rolled pass to the front with refreshment cart. Service is free onboard, pretty quick and efficient. I opted for a water not missing an opportunity to rehydrate. Actually she served a cup of Coca Cola, and I corrected her on the spot, she quickly poured me a cup, I then joked with her that I understand that coca is a national drink of choice, she laughed it off and replied it's the international drink of choice. Turned out the passenger next to me asked for a coke. She winked and we exchanged a smile. Since I immediately drank up my glass she offered a second poor which I gladly accepted. I also remember this same FA from my previous flights 2 days ago when she dealt with the passenger who had forgotten a dossier on the seat behind him.
11:53 touch down (pretty hard landing).
Parked next to two Ecair 737. One of them is TN-AJI
11:59 engine shutdown
Within 15 minutes after landing I was in a cab heading to the city center where I had an appointment.
Week 2 Saturday/Brazzaville - Libreville
BZV - LBV on Rwandair 737-700 (9XR-WK)
Scheduled Dep 09:00 Arr 10:15
Maya Maya Airport from parking lot
This morning for a finally well deserved rest in Libreville, Gabon. Having fun is the only reason of this final trip after a tiring week in Congo.
I checked in right around 7:40 after roughly 10 mins in line. The checking counter the aircraft is heading to Libreville in Gabon first then onward to Cotonou in Benin. All went well the with ground staff and border police. A custom agent seated right after border police and before security checkpoint hailed me. She looked my passport and asked whether I had any currency to declare I replied with a straight No. She looked at me with a smile and added, you travel without money, then she suggested you have card I said yes. She smiled again and wished me a pleasant trip. Security checkpoint was empty and the police officer there waived me to his lane. I finally boarded while the public announcement for the last passenger on Rwandair were called to the gate asap. The flight look barely full and I sat to my assigned seat on row 7. I pulled my tablet to update this report. While on the Tarmac I could see two grounded Ecair aircraft again (757 and 737). Registration was scratched off on the 757. I never flew Ecair because they were too unreliable for my taste. Being government owned operations were known to be abismal, no surprise Ecair now has 4 aircraft grounded here.
I soon noticed an all white 737 without any logo that just landed and was taxiing next to us. I figured it was Probably from TAC, which was quickly confirmed when I recognized the registration. It was TT-DIZ I flew the day before between PNR and BZV.
Behind the Ecair 737, I could see passengers boarding what I believe is a Q-400 with Air Congo. According to the announcement I heard this flight was heading to Impfondo in the northern part of Congo.
09:02 Pushed from gate and engines were revved within a minute. We stated taxiing to the runway at 9:05. I could now see the other 2 grounded Ecair 737 and a 3rd aircraft with white and blue paint scheme but no other mentions
I also noticed what I believe is a Fokker 28 abandoned to hangars, it must be the one I flew in back in the 80s and early 90s under now defunct Lina Congo. Great memories I have of this aircraft, but IIRC it met his fate in 1997 when a brutal war took place between several political factions. It was hit by ground fire while landing at BZV.
Next I recognized the maintenance hangar of defunct Air Afrique (RK). I have many memories of Air Afrique from 80s (flying on their 727) and 90s (flying A300 B4). To my big regret I never flew on their DC10-30, neither I did on another airline.
09:12 takeoff roll
Interestingly while Rolling through the runway I noticed several people on the other side with sports gear actual working out specifically push-ups. Most likely Air Force cadets in training
09:24 refreshment cart just rolled through. They were serving breakfast
10:02 pilots announced our imminent descent to Libreville and confirming nice weather with 29c on the ground. Estimated landing at 10:26 and a layover of 45 mins before it continued to Cotonou, Benin.
In final approach the stadium building for FIFA’s African Nation Cup is clearly seen
Landing and taxiing was a quick affair, but after I showed my vaccination card and moved on to the first border police officer he asked the purpose of my visit to which I responded family visit, he ordered to step aside and to sit on a nearby bench. Within 2 minutes another passenger who apparently was connecting to Asky in the afternoon joined me on the bench. 5 mins later the officer waived us to follow him, and had us sit on another bench and took away our passports. I was detained in All for almost half hour until my host was allowed in the secured area to vouch for me. Essentially giving the authorities is personal information.
A couple pics of Libreville:
Week 3 Monday/Libreville - Paris
LBV-CDG Air France 777-200
Scheduled Dep 22:20 Arr 06:30 +1
Showed up at Leon Mba airport in Libreville around 20:30. Upon showing my passport and my boarding pass to the first agent, he sent me to an opened checking counter, actually Sky priority. It took less than 5 minutes to complete the process including checking two bags. I went upstairs and had an adult drink with a relative. At 21:10 I decided it was the right time to proceed for boarding. The border police checkpoint was very slow, first with only two officers and a 3rd one came in almost 10 minutes later. Of course the last people to line up were first to go to the new line. I believe I waited a little over 20 mins. It took the officer roughly 3 mins to process me. However I spent almost 5 mins at the security check point after they told me they noticed something they thought was a lighter. Knowing that my portable usb power charger device has a cylindrical form I told them it must be it. They still went ahead and had me emptied my carry on and send it back through the x-ray. They cleared me and I went on to the gate where there was no line. I boarded and quickly noticed the aircraft was quite empty just like I noticed during the online checking process. Online I could have upgraded to premium Eco for $393, or Business for $950 if I wanted to.
I reached my seat row 24, no one actually sat next to me or even shared the overhead bin with my carry on. I liked that except the fact I have no window. At about 5 mins before scheduled departure the crew announced we will be on our way soon. What I like with AF, they announce the languages spoken by various members of the crew to assist passengers. Besides French of course, the languages included Portuguese, Italian, English and Russian.
22:33 started taxi to runway
22:38 takeoff roll
23:03 dinner cart rolled up and I was served within 2 mins
23:06 leveled altitude at 11582m/38000ft/499kts
To my great surprise they offered wet towel
I quickly went sound asleep shortly after dinner and even forgot the decaf tea I had ordered. When I woke back up it was already 05:20 local time. Breakfast was served up almost 5 later. I noticed we had climbed up to 40000ft.
The captain announced our descent at 7 to 6 while I was in the bathroom, and reminding of the ground conditions with 5c in Paris. Estimated landing at 06:15. He was almost spot on when we touched down.
And as promised by the captain we parked at 06:30, although on a very remote stand as it is often the case at CDG. We exited via stairs case and were shuttled to terminal E. Luckily lines for EEE passengers are more palatable, I arrived at the designated baggage claim at 06:53. The screen monitor estimated bag delivery at 07:08.
Week 3 Tuesday/Paris - Reykjavik
CDG-KEF on WOW A330-300 (TF-WOW)
Scheduled Dep 12:35 Arr 14:10 (KEF is 2 hrs behind Paris)
Delayed Dep 14:00 Arr 15:20
WOW operates off Terminal 1 Hall 5 (lower floor) at CDG. They have a priority line for bag drop for passengers checked in online. I thought that will be all passengers but somehow the regular line is very long so I do not know how those passengers booked their tickets.
Anyhow as I'm second to next to be served I received an email from WOW stating this flight is delayed to 14:00. I quickly completed the checking process, and as soon as I walked out the checking area I noticed that the seat assignments don't match my selections during the booking process. I returned in line, thankfully short, the agent was able to reverse the second leg back to my selection but said she cannot do the same for the first flight and explained to probably a change of aircraft. I proceeded to the gate and sat nearby for a sandwich and coffee.
The long walk under taxiway
Our aircraft finally landed, and I observed it was an Airbus 330 which meant no plane change as I clearly remember they layout when I purchased the seats.
I went back this time to the gate agent and explained the situation. She said my original seat was still opened but could not reissue a new boarding pas, so she manually corrected the BP. Went from row 36 to 15.
As soon as as I boarded row 15 was actually the first when entering by the second door. FA in attendance gave me my orders for the emergency exit and I took position. It was a great location because I could see lots of interaction between ground and flight crews. For example a ground agent confirmed the FA we had 317 sob. I also saw one passenger who boarded with a toddler probably a little over year, she later came back and asked if she could stepped for a little walk on the jet bridge. It was kindly declined.
14:01 ground crew gives thumbs up door is closed.
14:20 takeoff roll
As soon as seat belt signs went off a couple passengers engaged in musical chair games.
About 15 minutes later the cart with food for purchased roll through. 50cl bottled water is $3.00. A salad sandwich $10.00.
Is it me or the A330 is a pretty loud aircraft? Having flown the type on both AF and WW on this trip I have a suspicion. Anyhow the biggest of my concern was whether or not I will make my connecting flight. We finally landed at 15:20 local time which is technically 15 minutes before my next take off. And apparently I was not alone trying to make the Baltimore flight.
Week 3 Tuesday/Reykjavik - Baltimore
KEF-BWI on WOW A321 (TF-JOY)
Scheduled Dep 15:35 Arr 17:20
Delayed Dep 16:22 Arr 18:10
While waiting for the shuttle to take us to our plane
Of course this leg started with a run. Thankfully at KEF they have automated kiosk to process International traveler, which took a minute. The only miss thus far is to enjoy KEF airport. As I make the final beeline to the gate I fall right into a waiting line. Apparently we are being bussed out to the plane. Anxiety immediately came down to zero. I see a couple I met on the Paris flight and we are glad to have made it.
I made it to my assigned seat I fought so much for, and as planned it is on the exit row. The extra space is actually precious on a narrow body plane. The only issue with those exit is the tiny window each time. I think the captain pointed out our attention to the glaciers when we reached cruise altitude, but I did not bother.
I entertained myself with one movie and a comedy show downloaded on my iPad from Netflix. iPad were also offered for a fee onboard. I purchased a ham and cheese sandwich and a coffee for roughly $16. Seated on exit row 11 was great though with the legroom and a private place to stand up and exercise my legs.
Week 3 Tuesday/Baltimore - Dallas
BWI-DAL on Southwest 737-800
Scheduled Dep 20:25 Arr 22:50
Of course I got the full monte treatment at customs and went through the secondary search which I passed with flying colors. Next I migrated from Terminal E to C which took nearly 10 minutes. Checked my only bag and was off to precheck line. Got me a sandwich at Potbelly and headed to the gate which slightly changed from 12 to 13. Enough to rattle someone who has now been almost 24 hours straight in travel mode.
To add insult to injury I had forgotten to check in 24h ahead, and I feared to found myself on an middle seat with boarding position at C7. I had enough time to knock down my sandwich before C group was invited to board. Luckily I found an aisle seat at row 13 and jumped on it.
20:45 started taxi to runway
20:50 takeoff roll