Bienvenue à Paris

Cranky is on vacation, but I’ve lined up some excellent guest bloggers for you while I’m gone. Today I have Frances Colleen Barton-Wolf. As far as I can tell, she’s not a blogger at all nor is she an airline dork (just married to one). I chose her post because it’s always good to get some perspective from regular travelers. Besides, her husband’s name is Stephen Wolf. I’m guessing there’s no relation. The other Stephen Wolf probably wouldn’t have “settled” for a business class seat.

I know how much readers like travel logs with a message. Here goes . . . .

We had had a splendid holiday to the Northern Neck of Virginia. For our trip home, we decided to upgrade to Business class on our Air France return flight to Paris (CDG) from Dulles (IAD). It was our little wedding anniversary treat to one another. We took full advantage of all the lovely business perks of the trade, including the separate queue for security checks, which can otherwise be rather trying, the Business class check-in, and of course the best perk of them all is . . . spending our pre-boarding time in Air France’s luxurious Business lounge, where all food, drink and reading material are at hand, comfortable seating, pleasant staff at our service, and all with a smile. There were even Japanese heated toilet seats in the cloakrooms! It was all first rate. In fact, it was probably one of the best executive lounges that I’ve set foot in.

The food and service on board the flight were superb, as one would expect in Air France business class. It was all linen napkins, and white table cloths; excellent wine, the full “silver service” from the moment we entered the plane, and were handed a glass of Champers, until the final minutes when the stewards handed out our coats before landing. A pity it all didn’t last, because the moment we touched down at Paris-CDG, “It all went to a ball of chalk!”

After landing on-time, we spent a good twenty minutes or more taxing around, (taking the “scenic” sightseeing route around the entire CDG airport grounds,) until we finally came to a halt . . . but not at a terminal! We then all had to wait in the plane whilst the portable steps were attached, which took another 15 or more minutes of trial and error (the ground staff were having difficulty with the attachment mechanism, due to the early hour I suspect). We then had to walk out of the plane, down the stairs, cross the tarmac, and board a bus. (This was an Air France Triple 7 plane, and they didn’t have an air bridge for one of their trans-Atlantic flights at CDG. Amazing?!)

We ended up in the new Air France Terminal 2E, built specially for the A380. Eventually arriving at Passport Control around 6:30 am, and what did we find? A massive, massive queue of people waiting (see the picture). UNBELIEVABLY . . . THE PASSPORT CONTROL WASN’T OPEN! NO STAFF were in sight. (Goodness knows how long some passengers had been waiting before our flight arrived. I should have asked the woman in front of me.) Just what you need after a long flight. Slow hand claps and jibes started to gain momentum. By the time the immigration staff did turn up for work, the restless passengers were literally ready to storm the doors. It was close to 8:00 am by then, and the entire Passport Control and beyond was full of thousands of passengers, from several more flight arrivals after us. NOT a representative from the airport or Air France turned up to inform us of the problem . . . no one apologized or even announced the reason for the delay. NOT a sausage. “Bienvenue à Paris!”

Paris-CDG Terminal 2E chaos at Passport Control

When we did finally get moving, some French tried their best to queue jump, but met their match from a number of disgruntled passengers, us included. And, they were firmly, but politely, put in their place. At passport control, not a word of apology was uttered to us. We felt like saying something, but figured there was no point, they weren’t worth our breath. They must have known these flights were arriving early! But we did enjoy hearing a French traveller giving them what for . . . . Most importantly for us, we ended up losing almost an hour and a half there at the passport control. Our baggage was found by dead reckoning and some luck, since our flight had dropped off the airport computer. The worst thing about all these delays (after an on-time arrival I have to say), was they put us squarely in the Paris rush-hour for our taxi ride home. And yes, it took us over four hours (instead of 90 minutes) from touchdown to setting foot in our flat, close to the then-blocked (sans fluide) Paris Periferique. Ah, the joys of international travel.

And yes, the message of this log . . . . If you are travelling to Paris-CDG don’t arrive before 8:00am, the French are not early risers. And after October, the A380s begin arriving at this very terminal. Can the French cope?


Frances Colleen Barton-Wolf is the long-suffering wife of the wind-tunnel expert, aviation enthusiast extraordinaire, and photographer Dr. Stephen Wolf (nickname “Spitfire”). We have lived on four continents, and travelled worldwide. In my spare time, I dance “dance classique”.

14 Responses to Bienvenue à Paris

  1. The Traveling Optimist says:

    From my own travels Arrivals:
    Fastest Immigrations – Zurich and Frankfurt.
    Friendliest Immigrations – Auckland
    Slowest Immigrations – Hong Kong. VERY deliberate and thorough.
    Most Confusing – Cairo.
    Rudest Immigrations – SYD and BNE.
    Most Laid Back – HNL. Cowabunga, dude!

    On the departure side don’t let Auckland’s small airport size fool you. You can be a good 45 minutes processing through security and immigrations trying to catch your flight. And God help you if you forgot to buy the departure tax first!

    I’ve seen quite a few departing tourists get the “Yes, we’re still friendly but you’re dumb as toast, mate” routine.

  2. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Almost forgot –

    Strictest – Tel Aviv. Don’t even think of acting up here.

  3. David says:

    On the passport control thing…. while the officials at the desks stamping passports will not have said a word of apology to you (it’s the French pride thing), there will almost certainly have been somebody in authority (e.g. running the airport) making a lot of noise privately about why there were no immigration officials available at a peak time of long-haul arrivals.

  4. A says:

    I’ve seen lines (queue) like that at LHR but have always been impressed at how fast they process everyone. Also big props to the US passport control at the Canadian airports. Very fast and efficient compared to driving across the border. I was one of the first people through the new terminal and passport control at KEF which is a very nice facility, but not high volume. PLM took some time as I traveled down there from an EU country and was the only person without an EU passport, which is a separate line. After everyone else was checked through they came over to help me. Favorite time ever was at MSP after arriving from London. Everyone was waiting for their bags but since I had only carry on I walked right up to the customs & immigration agent. He asked why I was there since the luggage hadn’t arrived yet. Told him I only had carry on. He replied, “good man” and stamped me in immediately, no other questions.

  5. Ryan says:

    Très bien écrit, Mme. Barton-Wolf. When did you take this trip? When I traveled from JFK to Paris two years ago, I had similar difficulties at the passport control. Our flight (a B777-300) landed at around 7:30 (late) and was also deplaned with airstairs only to reach a disgruntled queue of unhappy passengers from A330′s out of Detroit and Atlanta and a B747-400 out of Boston. It was my first time traveling alone abroad, and I was all set to use my fledgling French skills to ask what line I needed to get on, but I never had the chance! The only people in the entire area were Americans! On me dit que ce n’est néanmoins pas la faute d’Air France; la famille chez qui j’ai passé deux semaines m’a expliqué qu’Air France ne contrôle ni le doine ni l’immigration! Who can ya blame???

  6. Tony says:

    By the time you made your way to the front of the line of Customs/Immigrations in CDG, you could have already been home in Paris had you flown into ORY.

  7. Cregg says:

    Of the travails of CDG Airport. I could publich a book.

    However, a few things to consider:
    The aircraft most likely parked at a remote stand because all non-Schengen gates at the terminal (“hard” stands) were occupied. It can happen.

    Also, Terminal 2E is one of CDG’s heightened security terminals due to the fact that all Air France USA flights arrive and depart from it. Immigration and Customs most likely was in a security/intelligence briefing prior to deployment.

  8. The Traveling Optimist says:

    Cregg brings up a valid point. Frankfurt regularly uses remote stands for all carriers, including Lufthansa’s 747s. While understandable since that facility is flat out of room to grow like it needs to, the logistics of 400 passengers walking up two flights of stairs to get to the plane is always a challenge.

    Does anyone know the status of Rhein-Main, the US Airbase across the field from the civil terminal? It’s supposed to have been closed but seems to remain active for a handfull of operations. Seems perfect to be bull-dozed and converted to an all Lufthansa/Star complex over there.

  9. Vidiot says:

    I’m just glad you went to the Northern Neck — I hope you enjoyed your stay in one of my favorite places!

  10. John M. says:

    “..they were firmly, but politely, put in their place”. This seems like the kind of thing that the French would do superbly.

  11. Dan Webb says:

    Agree on 2E passport control. Arrived in there at about 6 AM a year ago on a 747. For a good part of the time only one agent was processing people. Not good.

  12. Yo says:

    I’ve connected 4 times in CDG, it is an awful, soul raping place. I remember that no matter where I looked, I could never find what flights were leaving from the other terminals, you just schlep over there and hope. Another time, non reving on the hated Air France, I was in a dire hurry, after waiting in an immovable line, I asked a curt AF employee if there was a non rev line, she barked at me that I was indeed in the wrong line, and frogmarched me to another endless line. I finally made it up to the front, and the girl at the counter decided to call her friend and have a nice long chat. My ticket was to LAX, but I knew the plane was overbooked, could I go to BOS? I was assured by the nasty line lady it would be ok. When Babbette the counter girl finally finished her personal call, I again asked if the ticket (ID100) could be switched to BOS, and was given a very rude NO!, then I was told, that I was in fact, in the wrong line, I need to get back in my original line from hell. Like a moe, I schlep back there. Time is running out…They call for pax for both the LAX and BOS flight to cut in line. I get to the other counter woman, who excoriates me for trying for the empty BOS flight, instead of being stranded from the overbooked LAX flight. After much tut-tutting and huffing and puffing, she allows me to the BOS flight, and hand writes BOS on my ticket. I run like hell to the BOS gate, they are about to close! I get there, they open the door and tell me..I must go to the LAX flight.

    Exasperated, I finally get him to realize that the gate agent wrote LAX on the ticket, I am scolded, and let on the plane.

    Sadly, that was the nicest treatment I ever got by Air France.

  13. Ron says:

    Does anybody know why Terminal 2E is split in two, with a train and security between the two parts? Were they running out of letters? Is there some superstition that prevented them from giving the eastern concourse the next logical name, 2H?

  14. Pingback: Flight Story: Air France, Alitalia, and Jet Blue « Y Class: From Aerosvit to Zanair, AER to ZRH, and Everything In-between

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