Friday, August 11, 2006

Adventures in Charles de Gualle

Quoted from Wikipedia: Charles de Gaulle International Airport...is one of Europe's principal aviation centres, as well as France's main international airport. In 2004, Charles de Gaulle Airport ranked second in Europe in terms of passenger traffic with 51,260,363 passengers [1], behind London Heathrow Airport (67,344,054), and just above Frankfurt International Airport (51,098,271). In terms of plane movements, Charles de Gaulle Airport was number one in Europe with 525,660 planes [2], above Frankfurt International Airport (477,475) and Heathrow (475,999). In terms of cargo traffic, Charles de Gaulle Airport was also number one in Europe in 2004 with 1,876,900 metric tonnes (2,068,928 US tons) [3], above Frankfurt (1,838,894 metric tonnes) and Heathrow (1,412,033 metric tonnes)...Charles de Gaulle Airport extends over 32.38 km² (12.5 sq. miles) of land.

I don't have any way to prove this as I can't find the numbers for here, but I'm certain that 12 square miles is more than the entire city that I'm living in right now. As I certainly don't have to prove to anybody who's ever had to transit through there, CDG airport is definitely among one of the outer rings of hell (the only reason it wasn't among the inner rings was because it wasn't actively raining/snowing/sleeting/hailing/hot/humid/blazing sun/windy but was rather one of the more comfortable overcast days), but thanks to the grace of God and probably a few very well-trained guardian angels, I survived the process and made my flight the next morning. Barely. And my experience was about as boring as one could get - no delayed or cancelled flights, no bomb scares, random security alerts, no terminals collapsing in on themselves - none of the things that could ordinarily really screw up your day in CDG.
Before I arrived I was pretty much emotionally and physically exhausted, so by the time I got on the plane to Paris in Detroit about all I was ready to do was sleep. So I was pretty mcuh numb for the arrival at CDG. Arriving and getting to my hotel was time-consuming, but relatively painless. The whole customs thing is exponentially easier for France than the US (or Madagascar for that matter) - they barely glanced at my passport and then they don't even bother to look at your bags when you leave the airport. After you wander around the terminal a bit until you get spit outside and wait on the curb for a really long time until the airport shuttle for the hotel arrives to take you away. I managed to find the right shuttle on my first try, got myself over there, hauled all my bags inside, requested my room in French, asked about the shuttle in the morning, got upstairs, looked outside to see that it was just beginning to rain so I decided to follow my instincts and go to sleep. I know, I know, jet lag and all, but hey, if I was paying that much for a room for one night then you'd better believe I was going ot get my money's worth out of the bed.
So I slept all afternoon and got up to eat dinner (this really was the créme de la créme of budget hotels - the hotel restaurant had a huge selection of TV dinners to choose from - and then they'd dump it on a real plate and pop it in the microwave for you and then bring it out to you steaming hot) then fell back asleep. Dragged myself out of bed at 6 the next morning to eat breakfast and then step outside of my comfort zone yet again.
The one good thing I have to say about this entire experience is that every time I addressed somebody in French they responded in French and not in English. So either that means that my basic French phrases now sound natural enough that people assume I speak enough French that they don't have to patronize me by speaking in English or (and more likely), that they can't recognize the accent that I'm speaking with and while it's bad, they assume that French is a second language as an alternative to another language that they have absolutely no chance of addressing me in (like Greek or Japanese or something), so they're willing to put up with my poor attempt at their language.
But that wasn't much comfort in the end. I was fed and checked out and waiting on the sidewalk for a shuttle with about 50 other people (and the shuttle capacity is 23) when it began to dawn on me that this process of just getting to the airport was going to take a lot longer than I'd bargained on. I had to let 2 shuttleloads go by before I got onto one - but then that driver decided it was time for his morning coffee break. Then I also began to get nervous because the terminal I needed to go to wasn't printed on my ticket - at first I thought I'd just look for the Air France terminal. Then we ended up driving in a lot of circles to a lot of random places before we even got to the main terminals anyway. And when we finally did get there, I asked the shuttle driver if that was the Air France terminal and he said they all were - it just depended on your destination. Fortunately he had this handy little book with him that told him the letter terminal that all flights going to a specific destination left from. And by the grace of God, the first terminal that we stopped at, terminal 2C, was the right one.
So I grabbed my bags and dashed inside (well, as much as you can dash with two 60 lb bags), only to find the ticket check-in lines backed up practically out the door. So I joined one, hoping and praying that it was the right one for Madagascar.
Thankfully, it was a lucky guess. A man was doing precheck-in at the end of the line, and he didn't flinch when I said my destination, but he couldn't find my name on the passenger manifest to precheck me. So, I spent the next hour watching the minutes to boarding time tick away while I was was weaving my way through the line closer and closer to the counter worrying about why my name wasn't on the manifest. Finally, I got to the desk just as boarding for my flight was about to begin. Thankfully the girl behind the counter didn't seem to be concerned about my ticket, but she did seem confused as to why I didn't have MORE luggage than the two huge bags I threw up on the scale. So confused in fact that she had to go get her supervisor to check it out. More time ticked off the clock.
Finally I had my boarding pass, and she pointed to the time for boarding that was already 10 minutes past and told me to hurry. I did - but when I got to the security check I encountered yet another line stretching outside the door. The woman in charge was helping another couple - and I couldn't help but notice that their destination was also Madagascar. She told them to go to the other security check in as it would take too long at our current location. So the three of us took off down the concourse looking for another way in to the gate.
So we got to the other security line, got through it, and I dashed down the way to the gate still carrying my belt that I'd had to remove for the sake of the metal detectors. Thank the Lord, not only had I managed to choose the right terminal to get off the shuttle in, the right line to check in at, but also that that line for check in was as close to the gate as possible. Too bad the security screeners were almost at the opposite end of the hall. But I made it to the gate only 20 minutes late for boarding.
To bad I could see my gate, but between all of the pavilions, massage stands, kiosks and other advertising signs - I couldn't figure out how to get through to it!
I finally found the path, wove through the maze of human line control ribbons, handed them my boarding pass and with only a few seconds of worry that I was getting on the wrong plan, proceeded down the gangplank...
...and onto the tarmac.
No plane. Good one.
But, don't forget, this is CDG. The airport where they like to put you on a bus first.
So, I jumped onto yet another bus (again, hoping it was going to take me to my preferred destination, or at least one reasonably close), and spent 15 more minutes driving across the tarmac until we pulled up in front of a plane.
Well, for better or worse, I got on it, found my seat, settled in and woke up 8 hours later to find myself in Ivato International Airport in Antananarivo, Madagascar. So something went right. And I will no longer begrudge the Malagasy air system their disorganization. At least I know where it comes from.

1 comment:

Elisabeth said...

I'm glad you made it safely....I'm not sure I would have had the patience especially in another country. The worst I've had to do was run through Ohare with Connor at 2 weeks of age in his car seat while Ryan ran up ahead with our luggage. That was scary enough for me. I know I live a very sheltered life :)