From the air, Charles De Gaulle Airport’s Terminal 1 resembles an anus.
Charles de Gaulle Airport was designed by architect Paul Andreu whose influences include hamsters (tube tunnels), Stalin (decomposing concrete) and Hitler (suffering).
Andreu also designed Charles De Gaulle Terminal 2 (partially collapsed, 2004) and Dubai Airport Terminal 3 (collapsed, 2004). Presumably he’s working on a collapsing Terminal 4 somewhere.
When the airport opened in 1974 the design was avant garde. Thirty years later that translates to low-budget sci-fi set.
The taxi drop-off lane is prone to traffic because it’s the only taxi drop-off lane, with one entrance and one exit. Be prepared to exit the taxi when someone ahead of you parks. There are no indications for which airline is behind which entrance anyway, so try one and hope your airline is there. It isn’t.
The exterior of Terminal 1 was designed for maximum pigeon-perching capability, as evidenced by the carpet of bird poo at every entranceway. En garde!
Charles de Gaulle Airport was designed to be the first airport to not have passengers. At least, that’s the impression you have when a line of five people and their luggage trolleys create impassable congestion in the narrow hallways.
The lines for the ticketing desk merge lovingly with the lines for the check-in desk, as they are located directly opposite each other.
There are one or two monitors for your convenience which will tell you which Hall you’ll find your airline at. Do not confuse Hall numbers with entranceway numbers which go from 2-32, even-numbers only. Do not confuse Halls with Satellites, though they have similar numbers. Do not confuse Satellite with Terminal. Do not confuse Terminal 1 with Terminal 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 2E (collapsed), 2F or 3.
There are seven satellites numbered in this order: 4, 5, 6, 7, 1, 2, 3.
Free baggage trolleys are provided to all passengers. You are encouraged to leave them wherever you please. At some point an unhappy Algerian will collect them into a long train which he will use to render the hallway wholly impenetrable, thus scoring a small victory for disenfranchised immigrants.
Should you wish to bypass security, simply stand in the elevator. At some point someone on the “inaccessible” levels will summon the elevator and you will conveniently be brought to their off-limits floor.
The elevator can accommodate you, most of your luggage trolley and a bug-eyed boy who seems to be frightened of you. The doors may keep opening on the floor you never left, so be patient.
Amazingly you are no longer allowed to smoke in the airport and must stand outside where, unbeknownst to you, you and your baggage will be coated in gnat-like insects you will discover later. Relax! They don’t bite. They just crawl all over you.
If you have time to remove the 3,000 insects from your skin, clothing and baggage you can purchase bug repellant at the basement-level pharmacy for 11 Euro ($14). The bathrooms are eco-friendly – which means no towels. Be prepared to use 30 pounds of toilet paper.
I go to Paris several times a year. CDG is horrendous in many ways. In May I flew Zoom Airlines and they had old planes and spilled a drink on my new jacket but they landed at and departed from Terminal 3. Although it resembled the Sydney, Nova Scotia airport it worked for me. You’re right, CDG sucks.
Is the diagram of the check-in/ticketing area available as a print suitable for framing? Gorgeous. And frightening.
travelling through France is always a bit of an experience
I Luv when you travel….you have the best satorical comedy I ever read…
Right on. There is no airport I have passed through that is more poorly conceived than CDG. It really does seem as if it were done as a design gambit. Last time we passed through it, there was a bomb scare in our departure terminal. The disturbance was barely noticeable.
Wow, thanks for the memories.
Coming back from Vienna last year, we had less than 20 minutes to get to our second plane. Plenty of time, right? Not when the airport is shaped like a giant ring and your gate is on exactly the opposite side of it (and unmarked, of course).
Loved the comments on CDG!!! The only thing that was missing was how the airport staff so perfectly complement the place. There must be some sort of corporate competition for surliness.
My recollection of CDG is that my plane from Atlanta parked on the tarmac and the passengers were herded onto a bus that took us to one of the terminals. From that terminal, I had to take a bus to another terminal to catch my connecting flight. At that terminal, I was able to find the departure gate for my flight. I walked down the ramp that led to an airplane, but was diverted to a spiral staircase that led to a bus parked below the airplane. That bus then took me to my connecting flight, which was parked somewhere on the tarmac away from the airport.
[ Sounds about right. -B. ]
Thanks for your comments regarding your CDG experience. I will never see Paris because my husband refuses to return to CDG airport – I think his comments were “20 years ago the Gabon airport was more efficient!” Our groups negative and unbelievable experiences are too many to list. My favorite parts though were the invisible and unmarked terminal entrances and the gate numbers with arrows pointing both left and right! Special!
Pucker up Buttercup. A satellite view of France’s largest Anus-like atteaction.
[ When in Rome… -B. ]
Yeah, well come here to Adelaide in South Australia for an airport experience. We only got covered air-bridges earlier this year and that was 5 months after its official opening in october last year. Additionally if you are travelling intrastate there is a requirment to be some sort of athelete as the gate is some 2kms (that about 1 million feet in imperial) from the entrance gate.
I have a French birth certificate – for the obvious reason – and so have been back many times. One time, because I had premiere status or some such on United, I was assigned a personal escort. A personal escort, who whisked me through the myriad CDG “road” blocks. And I had just smoked outside – something of Lebanese origin. I felt no pain, no anguish. But that experience must constitute an outlier.
i almost got blown up there…Huge bomb scare over unattended lugage…then big bang…
…and CDG has no noticeable air-conditioning. In many ways transfering at CDG feels like going through hell. Unfortunately, it’s not the only airport in the world that sucks.
I await the day you provide color commentary on Amsterdam’s Schiphol…
Thanks for the offer. You have inspired me to spend the extra $200 it will cost to get to Italy without flying through Paris.
If you ever decide to write a book on poorly designed airports, be sure to include Toronto.
We had the misfortune to stop in CDG on our way to Vienna just a few weeks ago. Our flight was a bit late in landing, so we deplaned on the tarmac and were herded onto buses which then meandered their way slowly around the airport, the driver seemingly unsure as to where to stop to allow us to get off. Most of us were trying to reach connecting flights…most of us had to stand in long lines to reschedule our connecting flights. The best part was when we were allowed off the bus and were told to climb the circular stairs with our carryon luggage. We did so, trudging onto the walkway above. Suddenly the long line of passengers came to a halt. We were at the back of the line. We look up…We could see the heads of those in front of us turning around one by one like a well-choreographed chorus line. The door leading into the terminal was locked. We rotated in turn and climbed down the stairs and waited for about 5 minutes while the attendants spoke on their walkie-talkies. Then, like good little sheeple marched back up the stairs and over the walkway again to the now unlocked and open doorway.
Just came through CDG. Never again. I have more French stamps then any of the three countries that I was really visiting. The Bus, stamp, walk a lot, go through security again feature has to go. Not to mention, at one point when i had missed yet another connection, I walked out side of the airport and then walked back in, re-checked in and then went through a metal detector. That took about 30 minutes. Not the 2 hours it takes to connect to a flight. You would think connecting would be easier because you are in a controlled space…clearly at CDG that is just blah.
Sadly, in order to get to and from Italy using my frequent flier miles, I must return through CDG. Fortunately, I have a 4 hour layover, which should (fingers crossed) allow enough time to make my way through the airport to my next flight. From my prior European experiences (ever tried to heave multiple suitcases onto a train and then climb on – inevitably on top of the luggage – before said train begins to move) I plan to take a hiking pack only. I have found that it makes an excellent battering ram when confronted by immovable walls of people.
WHY DON’T YOU STAY WHERE YOU ARE AND NOT TRAVEL THEN
I have a great appreciation for satirical humor but normally take it with a grain of salt because it is frequently exaggerated. In this case, however, I think that you were too kind. We had a four hour layover at CDG and it was barely enough time. We flew into 2F and out of 2E (the next terminal over) and it took 45 minutes to walk between them. My mother walks with a cane and there were no moving sidewalks, no wheelchairs, and no one to ask if she needed assistance. Finally, we arrived and boarded the bus to the plane. The bus ride was so long that not only was the terminal not visible from the plane but I’m not convinced that we flew out of Paris at all. For all I know, it could have been Lyon or Nice. Also, the bus didn’t have seats for the handicapped (apparently there are no handicapped people in France) so my Mom had to hang on with one hand and brace herself with her cane with the other. I think the bus ride may have moved the date for the knee replacement surgery up 6 months.
On a positive note, coach on an Air France plane is better than coach on any domestic plane I’ve ever flown. The seats were almost comfortable, there was decidedly more leg room, and the food was the best airplane food I’ve ever had.
I had two experiences at CDG in the last month, on both legs of a trip to Hanover, Germany from JFK on Air France.
This involved going from the international terminal 2E to the regional terminal 2G. Both coming and going were an absolute nightmare…. Where do I start…
I had just about 50 minutes of scheduled transfer time in each direction. Both legs brought me to CDG on a mid-week late afternoon.
On the incoming leg my flight was about 15 minutes late (not uncommon from JFK…). We waited for 10 minutes in our birth before the jetway driver showed up to open the plane… Once I had exited, I tried to get directions from Air France personnel who vaguely waived me towards one end of the terminal. After rushing at a break-neck power-walking pace on people movers for 10 minutes I got to the center of the terminal, found another airport rep, and they pointed me to a shuttle bus!!! After a further 5 minutes of finding the right poorly marked exit and asking various bus drivers to clarify their poorly marked bus routes, I got on a shuttle, waited another 5 minutes for it to depart, and ***ten minutes later*** was delivered to terminal 2E where I ran in and was promptly informed that my flight had already departed. I want to clarify that I am a very fit New Yorker, accustomed to walking very, very fast, and with a combination of this walking + people movers + jogging + no passport control wait (one bright spot on this leg, I guess) it took me about 55 minutes to negotiate the 2E -> 2G transfer… I had to wait 2 hours for another flight, which then had mechanical problems requiring a new aircraft to be swapped in meaning I was over three hours late to my destination, leaving my girlfriend twiddling her thumbs at Hanover…
On my return flight I was prepared. Although filled with apprehension, I boarded my plane in Hanover and arrived at CDG ten minutes early! Wow! Ok… Great, I thought. I know the drill… Out I ran to the shuttle bus, having deciphered the cryptic terminal destinations on the bus route signs on my previous visit…. 15 minutes later I was at the shuttle stand at Terminal E….. Uh. I’m at E69. Where do I go? There were no markings on the several entrances in different directions available at the shuttle stand. I entered the closest one, and proceeded to wander through Terminal E in the vague direction of gates higher than 30… I found an airport rep, who gestured me up an escalator. I found another rep who gestured me toward a security check-in… What? I already got controlled on my incoming flight… Ok…. So, after my boarding pass was checked I was motioned to a specific line. I went through the cue for a while, and as I approached the security que I noticed a sign (not visible from the entrance to the que) that said that my gate was not behind that security control… Ahhhh! I backtracked to the beginning of the que line, flagged down another rep., and they pointed me down another corridor… I had just gotten all the metallic objects back in to my pockets (while speeding down the corridor), when I ran in to another security control checkpoint… This security checkpoint was the most invasive one I have ever experienced. They made me take everything with a wire out of my bag (I’m a computer tech/gadget freak… *lots of wires and shiny things…..*. I had to boot my laptop, take *everything* out of my pockets for a patdown (even though they didn’t wand me), etc… I thought they were going to cavity search me… Mind you, this was *after* I had already been controlled at my originating airport. I have never had such a poor security experience, even at JFK or LGA.
After more than a ten minute delay at security (despite no line), I was aimed down a kilometer long hallway, at the end of which was….. not my gate. I had to go back to near the cecurity point and go the opposite direction. I was beginning to think that the airport personnel were deliberately misleading me. After about a kilometer and a half of walking I rounded a turn and found an Air France staffer yelling “New York!!?” I nodded, and she radioed the gate, I got there along with two other out-of-breath people. Then, in one last insult, a security officer *again* asked me to open and boot my laptop *at the gate*.
This is the most miserable air-travel experience I’ve ever had. The signs, personnel and security at CDG are abominable, redundant and ineffective. The layout of the outlying terminals is very poorly managed and the whole place has a “wandering in the wilderness” feel.
***** A V O I D T H I S A I R P O R T A T A L L C O S T *****
Sine there haven’t been any comments in some time I thought I make it clear that CDG is still the worst airport in the world.
I have 90min for a transfer. It took me 86 minutes to get from one plane coming from Oslo to one going to Seattle. Horrendous.
Thank you for a good laugh. And I’m french :)
I haven’t had the chance to go via CDG for over 20 years now, but I hear pretty much the same from everybody who goes there… yes, this airport did look great 20 years ago.
Good news for the yanks though: a US / France line is being opened through Orly. It might improve things a bit. Let’s just hope the rest of the airport collapses soon !
I live in Dubai. Skype is blocked here. I unblock it with vpnmaster.
I’m sorry, but CDG International Airport isn’t so crappy… I travel a lot, and trust me, I get from one place to another at a frantic pace, it’s very effective. The aiport may not be the best one in the world, but may I say the airport is the 5th busiest airport in the world. So I think it is normal that not everything will work as it should. If you compare CDG to Laguardia, or JFK (which almost is a lightshow because there is way too much light, it’s horrible), it’s really good. If CDG was as crappy as you say it is, it wouldn’t be the 5th busiest airport in the world on grounds of passengers, cargo and logistics. Terminal 2, and 1 are very cleverly designed, I can’t say a lot about terminal 3 cuz I’ve been there only once or twice. When I went to Boston for example, I arrived at the Airport, checked in and sat in the plane 30 minutes later. Didn’t have any trouble at all. Of course, the French personnel isn’t the nicest you can have, but they do help you. And I think that the “hamster tubes” as someone said are a very effective (and fun) way to go to the Tax free areas. I think CDG isn’t the best one in the world, for example Bangkok Airport is better, or even O’hare in Chicago, but you should not mix your “anti-France” feelings (which I’m sure some of you have for some unknown reason) with opinions about the airport. Anyway, that’s how I think of it.