This is the first of its kind of MBA in India, and I, along with 66 others, are part of the first batch of students. Aviation is close to my heart, and hence I opted for the course. Airbus is supporting the programme to develop and nurture local (Indian) talent in the field of aerospace.
The first year involves an optional, one week immersion program at Toulouse. Visiting Toulouse was always my dream, and here was no better chance. The one week immersion is a 5-day program arranged by TBS, which involves lectures, experience and knowledge shares by people in the industry, and two visits: To the Airbus Final Assembly Line (FAL) and the ATR FAL.
Below is the one week program schedule that we had:
1. Planning for the trip – and mistakes to avoid
Months before the mid-September trip, many of us started planning for it. We initially thought of booking together to avail a group booking discount, but it was a failure. Many students are airline pilots or airline employees, and that made them utilize the airfare discounts they were entitled to. Others wanted to spends a few extra days traveling to, and exploring Paris. Group travel was clearly out of the picture.
For the mid September trip, I booked tickets on June 23rd – nearly 90 days in advance. Early bookings always help with getting the best fares, and I booked directly from the Air France website. The best fare I got (not in terms of price, but a balance of price & convenience in terms of total travel time) was for INR 59,722.
I booked, on a single PNR, Bengaluru to Toulouse, with a stop at Paris. My journey involved me changing airports in Paris, and little did I realize then that moving from one airport to another, in Paris, is a nightmare considering the usually bad traffic in the French capital.
Upon asking my friends in France, after booking the ticket, I was made aware of the poor connection choice.
Lesson : Never opt for a transfer between Paris Charles De Gaulle (CDG) airport and Paris Orly (ORY). Not only will you have to collect your luggage and check in at the other airport, you may not be able to make it to the other airport in time. Opt for flights that land into, and fly out of the same airport – Paris CDG, in this case.
I had to buy myself the Air France shuttle ticket (it is not a complimentary service) for the transfer, which amounted to EUR 35.50. You needn’t worry about this if you are flying into CDG ans your connecting is from the same airport.
The Shengen Visa process took just 2 days, but for some may take upto a week (7 days). Arranging for the documentation may take a week. In all, the entire Visa process – from personal preparation to processing, takes a maximum of 2 weeks. I went through a travel agent, as I was too hard pressed for time to run around myself.
A requirement for the issue of the visa is details of the accommodation. A batchmate of mine (who works for ISRO and worked on the recently launched Astrosat satellite), and I decided to relive our college days by sharing a room. We booked one room with twin beds at Hotel B&B Toulouse Centre for 8days/7nights, and paid a total of EUR 369.40. The location of the hotel was excellent – the TBS campus was just one kilometer (10 minutes by walk) away.
Since we were sure of walking, I decided to visually familiarize myself with the route. Using Google Maps’ streetview, I walked the route from the hotel to the campus. I also did ‘explore’ other places.
Toulouse isn’t cold in September – it is very much like Bengaluru in weather, perhaps just a little cooler. There is no need of any heavy warm wear – light jackets and coats will do. It also does rain, so carrying an umbrella around is helpful.
Taxis are expensive in France, and public transportation is both reliable and affordable. To familiarize myself with the airport shuttle, bus, tram and metro lines, I downloaded the transportation system’s network maps (PDF) from the Tisséo website, and stored these in my electronic tab and phones. Tisséo is the Toulouse metropolitan transport system, and the network includes 2 metro lines, 2 tram lines, 84 bus services, 9 on-demand services. The interactive map on the site is very, very helpful. The site is available in English. One of the stops of the Airport Shuttle (The shuttle is known as the Navette Aéroport, depicted as a yellow-orange bus line, and the name of stop is Pont du Béarnais) is a one minute walk from the hotel.
The automated ticket dispensing machines work with cards or coins. It is very important to carry a sufficient number of coins when traveling. In the buses however, the driver helps you with change and issues the ticket.
Coming to how much cash one must carry, we have determined the approximate expenses as EUR XX per day (as determined in September 2015), under certain conditions – all explained under the heading Expense Report & Budgeting.
Do not forget to activate international roaming. Most places in Toulouse have WiFi, but roaming will be helpful when there is a sudden need for a data connection, such as for maps when unsure of one’s location.
Day 0 – The day before the flight
Air France 191 (BLR-CDG) is operated by an Airbus A330-200, which is fitted with just 208 seats (out of a maximum possible 406 seats), of which 42 are business, 21 Premium Economy, and 145 economy.
The incoming flight, AF 192 was to have been operated by F-GZCG. The aircraft however went technical, and after 5 hour delay, its sister F-GZCL operated the flight.
While the delay was lamentable, it turned out good news for me. Because of the delay, the airline offered me an appropriately timed connecting flight to Toulouse from CDG, instead of ORY airport. That saved me the trouble of moving between two airports, on the onward journey.
Day 1 : Sept 13th – the day of the journey
Due to the delay, many passengers were transferred to other flights, which essentially freed up the economy cabin. We effectively were able to choose our seats after boarding. We departed Bengaluru at 06:50 instead of the scheduled time of 01:45.
The cabin crew were friendly, and 10 minutes into the flight handed out the breakfast menu. One hour into the flight, meals were served. Post the meal service, all window blinds were shut, to darken the cabin. Everyone was free to walk into the galley help ourselves.
10 hours later, we touched down on a wet runway at Paris CDG, with the thrust reversers kicking up quite a spray.
We exited the airplane 15 minutes later.
We had nearly 2:00hrs to make it to the gate of our connecting flight, something which didn’t seem much of a problem at first. However, the rush at the airport, not too intuitive signboards, the language barrier, and the lack of helpfulness of the Parisians make it a bit hard to find way to another terminal.
Between terminals is the ‘Border Police’ – the immigration officers, where the passport is finally stamped. One hour after reaching the terminal of our connecting flight, we were ready to board AF 7522 to Toulouse.
We landed at Toulouse 1:20hrs later, at 17:10 local time. Landing at Toulouse’s Blagnac airport is a treat to an aviation enthusiast. On one side of the runway is the terminal. On the other are the Airbus assembly lines, with painted airplanes waiting outside the delivery centers. The Airbus Beluga, A350, and the A380 – iconic airplanes, are all visible.
Tououse has a charm of its own – exiting the airport building, turning right, and walking a very short distance brought me – and fellow travelers and course mates – to the Navette Aéroport bus stand. The shuttle goes from Toulouse-Blagnac Airport to Toulouse Matabiau station every 20 minutes, and costs EUR 8.00 for one trip. This is far cheaper than taxis which take EUR 30.00 per person. The ticket allows 3 changes on 4 different lines (including the underground, tram and bus network) during the first 1:30hr after the ticket is first validated.
The journey from the airport to the hotel stop lasted just 12 minutes. You must be visually aware of your stop, as most drivers do not speak English and cannot help much. This is when Google Maps, Google Streetview, and international roaming come in handy. Alternately, writing down the name of the stop on a piece of paper, or showing the driver your stop on the maps downloaded from the Tisséo site can be very, very helpful to both you and the driver.
Checking into the hotel was a breeze, but the size of rooms at Toulouse will surprise you – they are small. Also, drinking water from the taps is very safe (almost everyone drinks from the tap), but will need some psychological getting used to. I drank the tap water for a week and was healthier than ever!
After freshening up, my roommate, another batchmate and I decided to step out for dinner. Sundays are free days, and most shops remain close on Sundays. On other days, shops close at 19:30hrs, while the sun sets at 20:15. To find a place to pick up anything – right from a box of cigarettes (for the smokers) is a tremendous challenge. We walked along Boulevard Lascrosses and Boulevard d’Arcole to the famous Jean-Jaures, at the city centre – a distance of 2.5 km. However, no shops were open, not even the “mono p’ ” or Carrefour supermarkets.
On the way back we walked into the street, Rue de Bayard, where we found a few Arabic restaurants open. We grabbed a shwarma with peta bread and humus. Right next door was a small shop “Bazar 1-2-3 Euro” run by persons from Bangaldesh, which was, both surprisingly and unsurprisingly open. There wasn’t much there, but we got to pick a few stuff.