On June 1st Arianespace placed two satellites into orbit on an Ariane 5 rocket from its Kourou, French Guiana facility. I was invited by satellite operator Eutelsat to join the launch event (ViaSat-2 was the other satellite launched on the rocket). Not being one to turn down amazing opportunities to do what I love I naturally accepted. And it was an incredible experience. My travel and lodging expenses from Miami to the launch and back were covered by the host companies.
Getting to and from Kourou is easier if you start in Paris than in New York City. As a département d’outre-mer French Guiana maintains nonstop flight service from Paris but none from the United States. With the large roster of attendees it was necessary for the companies to solve that problem. Turns out that a charter flight on Miami Air’s executive configuration 737-800 serves that need quite nicely. The plane offers 70ish plush recliner seats in a 2-2 layout, including many set up facing each other around a table to facilitate eating and socializing.
And there was plenty of socializing to be had. With 50ish folks on board, all in a celebratory (albeit working) mood, more than a few bottles of champagne, wine, beer and otherwise were consumed as we made the 5 hour flight to South America.
As a charter operation the flight was completely customized, from the menus to the headrest covers.
Shortly after departure from Miami we settled in for lunch service. A selection of canapés was offered to everyone before the salad and main course. I chose the surf-and-turf and was very pleased with that selection.
Dessert was a tart or cheese plate (or both if you want; not much in the way of limits for food selections on board).
One mild bit of irony is that the flight, carrying a group focused on inflight connectivity, did not have any service over the water, though the plane does have Gogo‘s ATG-4 hardware installed for service in North America. No IFE, either. But with the cabin layout we managed to keep ourselves well entertained throughout the trip, engaging with each other and making new friends rather than watching movies the whole time. Of course, that’s easier on a plane with such a low seating density.
Following the successful launch of the satellite we were back at Cayenne’s airport to meet with the same crew and plane to bring us back to Miami. There was a chance we’d stay an extra day in French Guiana if the launch was delayed. I asked the crew about that and they noted they packed for a 10-day trip, despite the plan being only 3 or 4 days. Apparently adjustments like that are typical in the BizAv industry.
Much like the first flight, the catering was premium and top notch. The large slab of foie gras was delicious, as was the lobster tail. Slightly bizarre to me to have French fine dining coming out of a jungle destination in South America, but I know that’s my problem, not reality.
And perhaps either the non-stop excitement of the few days or the rose caught up with me; I scored a quick nap before we descended into Miami again.
This was my first time on a 737 configured for private jet service, but not my first all-premium narowbody; I’ve also flown Privatair and, just a couple weeks later, the BA A318 to London City. Miami Air International doesn’t offer flat beds but we certainly didn’t need them for this trip.
More from this trip:
- The glory of a rocket launch: Arianespace’s VA237 takes flight
- Flying Private: A Miami Air charter To French Guiana
- Exploring Kourou: The ESA/Arianespace Tour in French Guiana
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