Which airport do you dread the most?

Written by admin on March 16, 2009 – 8:39 pm -

It feels like sacrilege to be writing this, considering I’m someone who loves and lives in Paris. But that doesn’t mean I have to relish its main international airport Roissy – Charles de Gaulle.

Perhaps it was because I was flying on a Friday the 13th and because Terminal One is (still) being renovated that getting through passport control and security was enough to make most people experience heart palpitations.

Departure passport control madness
There are numerous airports I try to avoid when clearing security or customs is mandatory. London-Heathrow is one of them as is Chicago-O’Hare. Airports in India and some developing countries are no fun either. But Paris? I’d never had such an experience when departing.

Arriving at the airport nearly three hours before take-off should have been more than enough time especially because I was flying business class. (Thank goodness for accumulated miles with which to upgrade.)

Obtaining the boarding pass was a no-brainer and I was given a pass to the Red Carpet lounge where I could relax before boarding. I must admit I was surprised I had to pay a €36 departure tax that previously had been absorbed by the airline. But times are tough. It’s only money and so far, so good.

That’s where the good luck ended. Only one checkpoint was open where passengers were required to show their boarding passes and passports to take the rolling sidewalk up to passport control. I had a deja-vu feeling of arriving in New Delhi, India only to find myself in the midst of hundreds of people pushing to get into the front of the line – as if there were a line – in order to clear customs.

The Aéroports de Paris inspector stopped the hoards of people who were trying to get to their planes and instructed them to wait since there was a back up at passport control. There’s nothing like hearing those words when your flight may be leaving without you, even though you’re supposedly there in plenty of time.

When the impatient crowd was permitted upstairs, there was more than an hour’s wait to have passports stamped to leave France. The four inspectors looked at each and every document as if people were trying to come into the country rather than exiting. The line kept getting longer and longer and people looked increasingly nervous.

By the time I arrived at United’s Red Carpet lounge, there was already an announcement to go to the gate for security clearance. We had to wait again to have our luggage searched and to have our passports and boarding passes inspected yet again for our flight on a U.S. carrier.

The line went on forever and the inspectors were none too swift; there certainly weren’t enough of them to contend with the numbers of people and their carry-on luggage.

Eventually, passengers heading to Dulles were given priority so the flight could take off on time. As it was, people straggled onto the plane until the very last moment and the pilot advised everyone to take their seats immediately or we’d lose our take-off slot.

On-board disappointments
One of the perks of flying business class is being given a drink before take-off. I opted for a Mimosa in order to quench my thirst and hopefully calm my nerves.

When it was time for a drink before lunch, I requested a glass of champagne. Colette, the very French flight attendant who’d been with the airline for more than 15 years, apologized by saying that all United serves in business class is sparkling wine imported from the U.S. and she was humiliated that flights originating in France were no longer serving French wines. “It only stands to reason that French wines are substantially less expensive in France.” Colette kept repeating as a point of national pride.

She went out of her way and highjacked a flute of French champagne from first class. How spoiled I was even though it certainly wasn’t Dom Perignon. Lunch was lunch but certainly not the same as it used to be. Colette explained they did the best they could, but with such massive staff cutbacks only so much was feasible when it came to food service and it certainly wasn’t French.

U.S. customs ease
Going through customs at Washington’s Dulles Airport was the height of organization. Everything went smoothly until an inspector randomly waived me to another exit area where each and every bag was checked for food products. I had none and know better. The extra inspection didn’t take too long.

Perhaps I should just chalk it up to bad luck and plan not to book another flight on Friday the 13th.

Which airports do you dread the most when it comes to going through security and/or passport control? Some are clearly easier than others.

Karen Fawcett is president of BonjourParis.

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