Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Terminal 2E Charles de Gaulle airport, Paris - a traveller's nightmare

I've been meaning to write about this before as a word of warning to anyone who might be unlucky enough to arrive at, or leave from, the main airport in Paris, Roissy-Charles de Gaulle, at Terminal 2E.

But now after a second dose of 2E "Terminalitis" in less than a month, it seemed like the appropriate time to "share".

Quite simply put, the place is a nightmare - still. And it must leave even the most seasoned traveller bewildered.

You might remember that Terminal 2E didn't get off to the best of starts.

Designed by the French architect, Paul Andreu, it opened in 2003 to a hullaballoo and was described as "a stylish triumph of innovative yet practical design".

Just 11 months later of course, part of the terminal collapsed, killing four people and injuring several others.

It has since been rebuilt, and for the past year has been up and running, functioning "properly" or so the Airport authority would have us believe.

The problem is that while the main reconstruction work has been finished, there's still a fair amount of tidying-up that needs to be done.

It's a mess.

At the beginning of March, I had the misfortune of arriving at the crack of dawn at Terminal 2E on a long haul flight from Singapore.

The contrast between the two airports couldn't have been greater.

While order, calm and superb design had made the experience at Changi one to relish, the arrival in Paris brought me right back to earth - with a bump.

After arriving at a far flung gate, passengers were then expected to follow the signs leading to the in-airport train to the main terminal.

There was then a marathon walk to passport control with orange-clad ground staff directing confused passengers past cordoned-off areas (a feature of Terminal 2E) to the inevitable queues as European Union citizens looked for the chance of taking the "fast lane" rather than standing behind those from outside of the 27-nation bloc.

Any advantage gained once through was quickly lost when arriving at baggage reclaim.

The Singapore flight shared the same carousel as earlier 'planes arriving from Montreal and Ouagadougou (the capital of the West African country of Burkina Faso, in case you were wondering).

This wonderful bit of French planning resulted in the reclaim belt being chockablock with luggage from those two other flights as obviously many of the passengers were still stuck, waiting at passport control.

It also meant that the "intelligent" baggage delivery service, which automatically slotted a case onto the carousel whenever a space was available, was unable to function properly because there was simply no space available.

The main conveyor belt was full.

Nor was there any ground staff around to help create gaps by pushing cases closer to one another, or taking them off the belt and putting them to one side.

So the result? It was left to those bleary-eyed passengers to sort out the mess themselves by packing the existing luggage together more tightly on the belt thereby creating some space - which is what they duly did.

Bienvenue to Terminal 2E!

Fast forward to last Thursday and a flight out of Paris to New York's JFK, and ominously the electronic ticketing details listed - you've guessed it - flight boarding at Terminal 2E.

Groan.

"Still at least it would provide proof that departures cannot be as nightmarish as arrivals," I thought.

Wrong.

Air France - along with many other airlines - now offers passengers the chance to check-in on the Internet before arriving at the airport.

In theory it saves times (and personnel) and means you get to choose your seat.

Except of course with Terminal 2E, it doesn't really work the way it should.

Well it wouldn't, would it?

And that's especially true if you have extra luggage that can't be taken as carry-on. A fair bet on a long-distance flight.

Non-US passengers travelling to the States still had to stand in line to have details checked and show they'd completed their Electronic System for Travel Authorisation (ESTA).

Then there was another queue to "deposit" luggage and receive the boarding pass.

Next up was another line for passport control before taking Terminal 2E's very own magical mystery tour.

That of course included more orange-clad ground staff, more cordoned-off areas, that in-airport train, and those impossibly long queues at security as departing passengers did battle with those making connecting flights to see who could struggle through first.

All under the watchful and hapless direction of even more orange-clad ground staff.

Finally after all that, the boarding gate loomed somewhere at the back of beyond, and everyone who made it already looked completely shattered from the experience.

Passengers are advised to turn up at least two hours ahead of time for a transatlantic flight.

Believe me, if you're leaving from Terminal 2E you'll need every minute of that - and then some.

_________________________________________

Postscript.

Sunday evening at New York's JFK sitting at the gate waiting for my return flight and scribbling away in longhand.

Once again the mess that is 2E has been brought home to me by being here.

Plane(sic)-sailing all the way. The Internet check-in (or Web check-in as it's called here) works like a dream.

Passport control was a breeze.

Security is of course rigourous (belt, shoes, jacket, computer etc) but there are no snaking, waiting lines or interminable queues that seem to be a feature of European airports.

And all in all I skedaddled through without any problems.

Just one downside - knowing that I'll be arriving the other end at Terminal 2E.

1 comment:

Liassic said...

Makes you wonder why we even bother travelling!!!

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