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”.

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