Charles de Gaulle airport [back]

Each time I travel through Charles de Gaulle airport, I bemoan the need to do so… While the new buildings in Terminal 2 are bright elegant architectural concepts—as long as they do not fall on you, as part of Terminal 2E did on May 23, 2004, half an hour after a bunch of my colleagues left for ISBA 2004 in Valparaiso, a concrete slab killing four persons—, the whole airport is a behemoth and, as such, highly dysfunctional. Both Terminal 1 and 2 are linked to the greater Paris public transportation train system RER B—when the RER is not on strike—but Terminal 1 calls for an extra step using the free CDGVAL shuttle train while Terminal 2 requires a lot of walking to reach one of the subterminals (2A to 2F). Especially when you land in Charles de Gaulle airport, since the moving walkways are at the departure level. If you leave by taxi, it is hardly better as there is no taxi docking station for each subterminal, thus a very slow turnover at each door with hardly any parking space. Because of the longitudinal organisation of Terminal 2—while Terminal 1 is circular—, it is also quite frustrating to discover that you have to walk the whole length of the structure to check in, only to walk back to get to your gate.

Because the airport is saturated, even now that Terminal 2E has reopened, there are queues and delays everywhere! In most cases (especially in Terminal 1, but also in Terminal 2D), the queues to the checking counters are longer than the checking zones and you have to cross irate passenger after irate passenger to join your own queue. Once in the queue, you may also miss last calls because of the noise and confusion. Since, in a typically French fashion, passports are checked by the police when leaving the country, there are also queues at the control booths, with hardly ever a sufficient number of officers there, which means that EU passengers and non-EU passengers are using the same queues. Then the universal mess of the security control, just as about ineffective and painful as everywhere else: ever-changing rule about taking your shoes off—or not, your computer in a separate tray—or not, the way security agents keep having loud conversations as if there were no passenger present. You would think this is it, you are at last ready to board, but no, not yet: a lot of flights require boarding by a bus that may take up to 20 minutes to reach the plane. (I remember taking one plane bound for Edinburgh that was parked so far that both the bus driver and the Air France representative got lost and had to call for directions!) And most often in those cases boarding the plane means climbing stairs at the foot of the plane as in the old days, which is OK when you are in good shape and the weather is tolerable. A positive point for Charles de Gaulle is that, in most cases, the flights leave on time, i.e. there is no waiting queue for planes on the tarmac as often in U.S. airports.

When landing in Charles de Gaulle airport, things are as just equally terribly inefficient. First, taxiing to a gate may take up to 20 minutes, which is why airlines usually give the landing time on their schedules. Second, the gates are not always ready for the plane arrival, as yesterday when we had to do an extra loop for there was yet a plane at our allocated gate. Once out, there may be impromptu passport controls by one or two police officers right out of the plane, meaning that a single passenger with insufficient documentation may block the whole flow. Then the obligatory queue at the police booths (unless you come from a Schengen country). This time, one policeman was demonstrating his skill with a police Segway and thus de facto reducing the number of officers on duty. (Coming back from Memphis where the police is patrolling the airport on bikes made me wonder the need for such a gadget!) And then the final very very long wait for luggages. At any terminal in Charles de Gaulle airport, even with the most recent Terminal 2E and 2F, getting your luggage (or realising that your luggage has been lost) almost inevitably takes much longer than in other airports. In the newest Terminal 2E, an estimated time is now given, obviously with a large variance (not given).

Yesterday, after waiting for the best part of one hour, the luggage delivery room had to be evacuated as someone had forgotten a small backpack. Nothing wrong about this, but the weird thing is that it took maybe fifteen minutes for the police to act from the announcement that someone had forgotten a backpack to the evacuation of the place, using two rude shouting policemen instead of the loudspeakers. And no translation in English, nor a warning that passengers could not leave the zone if they were expecting their luggage, nor any announcement that the room was reopened. One hour later, i.e. almost two hours after landing, the bags came, including mine! All I had to do then was to plod along back to the RER train station, which, fortunately and as opposed to last Saturday, was operational.

5 Responses to “Charles de Gaulle airport [back]”

  1. […] schedule was tight as I had to catch a plane to Paris in New York (JFK) the same evening but taking advantage of the fairly efficient train facilities […]

  2. […] Charles de Gaulle airport, on which I posted my list of complaints a while ago, has been nominated “the most hated airport in the world” by CNN Go. They […]

  3. […] his “short history” of spatial statistics this morning (I typed this in the taxi from Charles de Gaulle airport, after waiting one hour for my bag!), he started with a nice slide about Buffon’s needle (and […]

  4. […] above. There are around 800 accidents per year involving bikes on the beltway. Last time I went to the airport, my taxi got hit several times by a biker who was unhappy with the taxi changing lanes, despite him […]

  5. […] bag and rushed to the gate. Then, in the bus ride to the plane (which lasted for ever, as often in Charles de Gaulle), I got the impression I had left my computer at the security counter! Getting ready to ask the bus […]

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