FlyerTalk Forums - View Single Post - The French Connection: A rational discussion on CDG
Old Jan 3, 06, 11:16 pm
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Dallas, Texas
Programs: CO OnePass Plat, AF Rouge
Posts: 240
The French Connection: A rational discussion on CDG

I realize I am headed into deep water, but my curisotiy has gotten the better of me. So, here we go.

Just what is it, exactly, that seems to get everyone so stirred up about flying to (or through) Paris-CDG? Every now and then, we see periods on the FT boards where "blame the French" is the scut answer for everything. But my honest-to-goodness feeling is that this is simply not deserved. I think it is merely easy to say that, and it's popular to say that, and it often "feels right" to say it...but I just don't think it's true. I will set out my reasons for saying this below, and I will use only (1) objective fact and (2) personal experience in support of my contentions.

I am truly interested in my FT friends' experiences at CDG in particular (and in France generally, as it applies to flying and traveling) because so many of you have posted such negative feelings and unfavorable comments about it. And yet I just cannot understand why I totally come down on the other side of the equation from most you, despite the fact that I fly in and out of CDG on the CO 10/11 flights at least one roundtrip per month -- sometimes two roundtrips per month -- and have done so for a decade. Thus, from my perspective, I feel like I really have "seen it all, at Charles de Gaulle" (it even rhymes).

And, having made roughly 200 roundtrip flights to/from CDG, I can honestly say that I am baffled by the opinion the majority of you hold. It sort of saddens me that you all have had these (allegedly) terrible experiences there -- and repeatedly, it appears from your posts -- which is sure to color your view and opinion of the entire experience. I so often (almost always, in fact!) agree with the opinions of the seasoned FT travelers, but I just can't get there on this one.

And first, the disclaimers: I am American, not French. I do have extended family in Paris and Lyon, but my parents, siblings, wife, and children are 100% Texan. I am lucky enough to have spoken French and Italian with my grandparents since birth, making me fluent in both those languages, but English is my first language. I am not a French apologist, but neither am I an American imperialist. I am simply an attorney whose practice is based on both sides of the Atlantic, affording me the wonderful blessing and gift of meeting and coming to love wonderful, talented, and welcoming people in both France and the USA, a fact that has blessed me and my children beyond measure (in my opinion anyway). I say that because, obviously, the reader must know the perspective of the writer before deciding what weight to lend the writer's arguments and suppositions. But now that I've fully disclosed, let's get on with it.

For clarity (and a modicum of brevity), I will follow a specific format for the balance of this mini-essay. After presenting a numbered "myth" about CDG in bold, I will then examine whether facts or experience show it to be generally true, or generally false -- realizing that even the most airtight theorums have their exceptions. And frankly, I am NOT talking about exceptions -- I am trying to address the generalities of the overall FT opinion on CDG. (By way of a State-side example: A Parisian friend of mine, who was arriving into IAH to visit my family on AF 36 from CDG - IAH, was re-routed to land in Austin because IAH closed for a few hours due to an ICE STORM, and the A-340 she was on was getting low on fuel after 2 hours of circling. Now, that's an EXCEPTION, certainly, but she now "remembers" IAH as an airport with ice and snow problems, even though that almost NEVER happens.)

1. The ground staff at CDG are rude and uncaring.
Sorry, I do not believe that. I may have encountered a few of them here and there, but I frankly have encountered far MORE of them at EWR, even though I fly through EWR only infrequently. Everytime I have needed to ask a ground staffer a question, or get directions, or inquire about a posted flight problem, the ground staff agent has been helpful, courteous, and quick. But this is not congruent with many FT posts on the issue. I guess I don't understand why it is that I could have used CDG hundreds of times and never walked away feeling like the ground staff are rude or uncaring, when many FT'ers believe that is the standard response there all the time!

2. The CO agents at CDG exhibit less than the customary level of service expected in the USA.
I have never personally seen this occur, but many people have told me it does occur. Thus, I'm sure their perspective is completely valid -- and that is what totally confuses me! Certainly the concept of customer service can vary from country to country, and the USA demands (sometimes unreasonably) a very high level of customer service. Well, that is our right to demand, isn't it! And yet, I have always found the CO CDG staff to be quite charming and warm, always welcoming me with a smile and kind words, and I see them doing this to others, too. By contrast, at IAH, I am greeted with perfunctory (though quick) mechanics of getting the job done. Actually, I may prefer the "quick" and perfunctory style to a "slow" but warm style -- but I find that the CO staff at CDG are generally both warm and quick.

3. The French just don't like Americans
Complete hogwash. The currently-seated French government may not agree with every tenet of American foreigh policy at the moment, but so what, my friends. Neither do we Americans agree with every tenet of Chinese foreign policy at the moment, but we don't "just dislike the Chinese." This whole myth is just absurd. Without any meaningful exception, the individual French people I have been lucky enough to meet and become firends with have all welcomed me with open arms and great kindness. I refuse to believe that I "just happen" by luck, chance, fortune, or astromically bizarre coincidence never to have met one of "the other" types of French people who dislike AMericans "just because" we are American.

4. CDG is disorganized and is a terrible airport for transiting to connecting flights.
Sorry, I must bust this myth right here. On a percentage basis, I have missed more connecting flights at EWR, AMS, and LGW than I have at CDG. I can count on one hand the numbers of times I have missed a connection at CDG after arriving on a longhaul or trying to depart on a longhaul from CDG. All signage at CDG (airside and landside, before and after Passport control, before and after Customs/douane) are in French, English and often a third language as well, depending on the Terminal. There are multiple ways of changing terminals, so if one method is not feasible (due to technical problems, short connection time, whatever) the traveler always has another valid option. And besides, for those of you fit enough to walk hard (quasi aerobically), you can hoof it from 2A to 2C (for example) in 15 minutes, if you just follow the signs and use the moving walkways. The terminals and halls are wide, clearly marked, easy to use, mapped out well...what more do you want, really? After all, flying from one side of the world to the other does entail some degree of small challenge, occasionally.

5. The departing pax's Passport lines are always interminably long.
Nonsense. Without fail, they are shorter than those at LGW and LHR! Besides, if one line is long, go down to the next Passport control line, use that one (if shorter), then walk back toward your departure gate on the airside area.

6. The CDG arrivals formalities are chaotic, long, and disorganized.
Again, that is just NOT my experience at all at CDG. Generally speaking, I go from the cabin of the just-parked CO 777 through Passport and through Customs/douane and into the Arrivals hall in roughly 15 minutes. 20 minutes would be considered long (by me) at CDG. At LGW, that is never the case for me, at AMS at FRA it invariably takes longer, and at GIG -- you could be there for well over an hour. Yet, the FT'ers never post their complaints about the arrivals wait at LGW/AMS/FRA/GIG, even though they are usually much longer.

7. The taxis from CDG into central Paris try to rip off Americans all the time.
No, they don't. The rates for the trip into Paris are posted on the cab window, and if you don't look at your change after paying for the ride -- then you should look at the change...just as you should in NYC, Houston, or any other big city in the world.

8. The inexpensive (non-Taxi) methods for getting from CDG into central Paris are convoluted and lengthy.
Sorry -- no way. The RER trains depart roughly every 15 minutes from Terminal 2 (got to 2C and head downstairs) and arrive at Chatelet or Gare du Nord in roughly 30 minutes. The taxis can often take longer, and the RER is only ten Euros or so. Again, the signs are clearly marked in French and English, and if you can't read, then follow the little pictograms. After all, if a pax can't figure out how to get to a Paris-bound train by simply following signs with a PICTURE OF A TRAIN and an ARROW toward the word PARIS, then perhaps he shouldn't be traveling alone to begin with.

9. French infrastructure is out of control, ineffective, and nearly non-existent.
No way. I have held French bank accounts for many. many years and their services and products rival the best American banks. The French postal system is a wonder -- even if you wnat to charge it with being inefficient -- when almost ALL intra-France mail is delivered on a one-day basis. My hard-copy mail between Houston and Paris or Paris and Houston is generally delivered on the 4th day after I post it. The French police (federal and local), when I have needed them for my law practice for one reason or another, have been extremely efficient, well-organized, helpful, accurate, and fast. Some have rightly criticized the French response to the recent car-burning episodes across France, saying that this is per se evidence that France is failing as a country. Well, if that is the metric, let's examine the US's response to Katrina and other large-scale embarassments before we cast stones.

And yes, I could go on and on, and on and on again, but perhaps it's better to let you do that, and I am happy to respond to anything (or do any myth-busting you'd like for me to address). And remember, for the context of this discussion, CDG is not meant to be Disneyland. It is a massive airline hub operation, and my opinion after all these years of using it is that it is certainly no worse than -- and is in many respect better than -- other large EU hub airports, such as AMS, FRA, and LGW/LHR.

CDG is not like IAH, nor like EWR, nor should it be. But I must admit that I find connecting at CDG after arriving on a CO longhaul is far easier than connecting at IAH after arriving on a CO longhaul. (Think about it: AFter arriving on CO 11 between 4 - 5pm, just when SO many other ex-EU flights are arriving), then trying to get back to Terminal B for a COEX flight to somewhere? Good luck. Even with the wonderful new Int'l arrivals facilty, that's a stretch to do in 60 - 90 minutes. But at CDG, it's generally a snap. The signage, the people, and the facilities get the job done. (And I am not addressing the "exceptions" of ice storms, or congestion due to expansion construction, etc.)

Perhaps my motivation in wirting this is to truly sound you out about why "blame the French" seems so popular, when we don't ever say "blame the Dutch," or "blame the British" for comparable problems. CO and AF/KLM are in Sky Team to stay, apparently, and there are some great travel and flight opportunities for the CO FT community via CDG. My hope in writing this is that you will not ignore those opportunities or pass up such a chance based on empty accusations that CDG "just doesn't work." It does, very well! And by making more friends and establishing good relationships with colleagues and fellow travelers abroad, your experience there can be even better, I believe.

I know that if I had taken to heart some of the silly and generic "blame the French" posts, I would have missed out on so many terrific things. Sure, I find it very curious that my experience could be so drastically different from many of yours -- but perhaps you can explain that, as I am not qualified to do so. I will simply leave you with the notion that when one really looks at the facts and over-time trends, CDG has come through for both CO and AF -- and therefore, for us FT'ers, too!
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