Is there another airport in the world that rivals CDG-Paris in terms of its ability to infuriate passengers through senseless bus journeys from one part of the airport to another? This thought came to my mind as I endured yet another opportunity to get far too close to people I didn’t know in the back of a slow journey past static airliners positioned on the CDG tarmac last Saturday morning en route back from a Heineken Cup fixture between Biarritz and Treviso.
It was the second weekend in a row that I’d had the unique joy of transferring through CDG. As a rule I prefer direct flights, even if they sometimes cost a little more. Direct flights have the great benefit of getting you to your destination fast and with as little hassle as possible, once you’ve gotten through the “please take your belt off” security routine (has anyone ever assaulted a cockpit with a belt?). But unfortunately there aren’t many direct flights from Ireland to France in the winter and the French rugby teams who play in the European cups are not located close to the airports where the direct flights arrive. In short, if you’re not involved in a game with Racing Metro 92 or Stade Francais (both in Paris) or Toulon (easily reachable through Nice), a transit through CDG is probably required.
The problem is that Air France insists that its regional jets arrive at a distant stand well away from the set of linked terminals that make up Aerogare 2. And because CDG is a sprawling airport that spreads itself over 12.5 square miles, distant means “very far away”. So buses are deployed to shuttle passengers between the main terminal and the stand for the regional jets. CityJet (a fully owned subsidiary of Air France) operates the service between Ireland and France. It’s deemed to be a regional service, so its planes arrive and depart from the distant stand.
I can just about tolerate the seven-to-ten minute ride in from CityJet’s stand to Terminal 2E where border controls and luggage reclaim are located. I can even take the subsequent bus transfer to Terminal 2G to link up with regional flights to airports such as Clermont or Toulouse. I guess my tolerance level is higher on the outward leg, but things seem to be so much more disorganized on the return. Here’s what normally happens.
After landing and an interminable taxi around the airport, you enjoy the mercifully short bus journey from plane to Terminal 2G. This is followed by the passage through passport control in a cramped room often in a queue that is too large for the room’s capacity. Then you get to wait in a holding room, again small, for the shuttle to the main terminal that’s supposed to operate on a 10-minute schedule. The shuttle bus starts off by travelling away from the airport to make a loop and retraces its steps back past the pickup point. It then crawls from one part of the airport to another, weaving its way past chariots towing luggage carts, before arriving at its first stop alongside a stairs up into the terminal. Then off we go again back over part of the route to eventually arrive at the second and final stop. The complete transfer through bus ride, security, waiting, and final bus ride takes about 40 minutes and invariably it’s when you’re pressed for time and just want to get to your final destination.
Last Saturday, Air France surpassed themselves by then loading their Dublin-bound passengers for AF2478 on a bus before keeping everyone there – without explanation – for 25 minutes before starting the journey back out to the remote stand that’s located close to Terminal 2G. In short, back to the point where passengers like me had arrived. Has no one in Air France ever figured out the madness of busing people in and out to the main terminal when some can simply stay put to wait for their next flight?
My mood wasn’t improved by being allocated seat 8E. A middle seat is never something to anticipate with joy unless you’re seated because someone you know. A middle seat in the Avro-85 airplanes operated by CityJet is especially onerous because the cabin cannot be described as “airy”, “comfortable”, or anything like a modern regional jet such as the Embraer-190, which is used by other Air France regional subsidiaries. The overhead wing arrangement imposes its own restrictions on the cabin and the tight seats with minimal legroom complete the misery.
Some light seemed to appear when we arrived at the aircraft because no one else turned up to occupy seat 8F. Alas, the light disappeared when the captain told us that a second bus was on the way (what! after a 25-minute wait on our bus?) and that everything was the fault of the security staff who were on strike. Forty minutes later the promised bus appeared and seat 8F was occupied. My black mood descended again and was compounded by a further 20 minutes waiting before take-off on a 105-minute flight to Dublin. My recollection of flights between Paris and Dublin is that this was a long flight. I don’t know if airlines are throttling back to save fuel or if the Avro-85 is just plain slow. In any case, the flight seemed to go on for ever with the only saving grace being that Air France is one of the few remaining companies that serves passengers with some refreshment on short flights.
Apart from the promise of doubtful coffee and fizzy water, why should anyone fly Air France to CDG? The short answer is that transfers from Aerogare 1, where Aer Lingus fly into, are even worse. Ryanair doesn’t fly to CDG and a transfer from Beauvais, which is where the Ryanair atlas believes is somewhat close to Paris, is not practicable, unless you plan to spend a day or so between flights in Paris.
Of course, sometimes there isn’t a good transfer available. For example, this week’s game was in Biarritz and Air France doesn’t fly from CDG to Biarritz (it does from Paris-Orly). We were booked to fly DUB-CDG and then on to Bilbao, which turned out to be the closest airport available from CDG. Sod’s law being in force, Air France cancelled the flight to Bilbao on Thursday nights due to a storm that hit the Atlantic coast so we were forced to take the coach to Orly and stay at the Ibis hotel in the airport. Thankfully Friday morning’s flight to Biarritz was good and the Radisson Blu hotel in the town was excellent and looked after us very well before we had to go to the ground for a 9pm kick-off.
I suspect that Air France and CDG will inflict further bus transfers on me in the future. C’est la vie. It’s just part and parcel of getting around Europe to places where professional rugby teams play in the winter months. But I can at least behave like the grumpy old man that I have become and complain bitterly about what happens, even if no one listens.
PS. If (like me) you’re interested in commercial aviation, take a look at the Plane Finder web site. As the site explains:
Plane Finder works by picking up ADS-B plane feeds used by commercial and private planes to transmit their name, position, callsign, status and lots more. Our servers add additional information such as departure airport, destination and photos for presentation on planefinder.net and in our Plane Finder apps. The ADS-B data comes to us either from our own receivers or from people with receivers who share their data with us over the internet.
It’s just great fun…