Every time I’m called upon to make the hour-long trek out to the airport, I become more and more disgusted with Charles de Gaulle International. I honestly think it’s the worst airport I’ve ever been in – it’s dirty, crowded and horribly disorganized. Why couldn’t Paris have something more like the shiny and clean Schipol airport in Amsterdam, where I once spent five hours on a layover from Seattle relaxing in a near-empty lounge, perusing the Dutch art museum (yes, in the airport) and checking my email at the wifi bar?
I was forced to pay a visit to my least favorite spot in Paris yesterday morning, when I brought my brother Ben, his best gal friend Ali and two extra suitcases full of my clothes (yikes, I’m starting to move out) out to Roissy. At a quarter to nine we were wheeling our four bags out to Place de l’Opéra to catch the RoissyBus – a fantastic transportation option that takes you directly from Opéra to your terminal at CDG for the same price as the smelly RER train. Unfortunately, this is where our misadventures began.
We arrived at the bus stop and joined the rain-soaked queue to pay for our tickets and get on our way. After 10 or so minutes, I climbed aboard with my two bags, paid my eight euro fifty and the driver promptly slammed the door. Uhhh monsieur? I asked him, what about the rest of the people in line? This one was already 20 minutes late, apparently, so they’d just have to wait for the next one. I tried to reason with him, telling him that my little brother and sister were in line and we couldn’t be separated, but he held firm. Vingt minutes de retard, mademoiselle, was his answer to everything. After a bit more pleading in my accented French he sighed and opened the door so B could board – but then shut it again before A could get near the bus. Ma soeur, s’il vous plaît. Elle ne parle pas français… (But my sister please. She doesn’t speak French). He sighed again, as if I was inconveniencing him more than I could ever imagine, and let A board the bus.
Once we’d finally made it to the British Airways check-in counter at Charles de Gaulle, we were informed by multi-lingual signs that anyone flying through or to London Heathrow had to check-in using the automated machines. In fact, there weren’t even any agents staffing the counters – everything was supposed to happen by computer. Unfortunately for both British Airways and all its passengers, the computers weren’t working. When A attempted to check-in, the computer informed her that there was no ticket available for her. When B logged in and tried to check them both in, the computer claimed that the two of them were already checked-in, and simply needed to take their printed boarding passes through passport control and board their plane.
The only problem with this was that there were no paper tickets to be found – anywhere. What there were were crowds of confused British travelers, all totally baffled by the automatic check-in machines and all waiting for help from the, wait for it, two British Airways agents who were milling around. We finally got half of B and A’s tickets, and were told they would receive the other half on the other side of passport control when they checked their baggage. Since I’d forgotten my passport and had no boarding pass anyway, this is where I left them – and where their real adventures began.
While I was sneaking onto the RER train to ride back into Paris center, cleaning my apartment, going out to lunch on Boulevard Saint Germain and nannying, B and A were landing at London Heathrow and finding out that all flights had been cancelled. With the entire United Kingdom on a level “Critical” terror alert (which has since been lowered to “severe”), 108 flights out of Heathrow cancelled, and every hotel in any kind of proximity to the airport booked solid, B and A were completely stranded.
Being only 18 years old and having just spent two weeks away from their families, B and A’s travel delays became the source of much stress on both sides of the Atlantic. With both sets of frantic parents trying to take care of their freshly-graduated teenagers from 4780 miles away, there was bound to be some miscommunication. Should B and A take a cab into London to the only open hotel room that could be found on Expedia, or should they camp out in the airport with the other hundreds of people all trying to get new flights out of Heathrow? Should somebody drive to SeaTac airport and try to find help at the British Airways counter there? What could they eat? Should they be pushy and play up their young ages, or wait in line to be helped?
Finally B and A found a cab to take them to a hotel in London, found by A’s dad, while my mom drove up to SeaTac airport to see what she could do. The British Airways agents actually found them a flight, London-to-Vancouver-to-SeaTac, but in order to be able to board it, B and A had to battle the chaos in London to obtain an FIM (flight interruption manifesto) from the BA ticket agents that would enable them to get their tickets. They made it back to Heathrow early this morning to begin the battle, but weren’t able to find anyone to help them until less than an hour before their flight was scheduled to take off. The FIM situation was aided by the fact that their London-to-Vancouver flight was delayed. Their expected hour-long layover in Vancouver, however, has possibly been obliterated.
Now four harried parents in Tacoma are most likely going to be spending their Fourth of July on a road trip to Canada instead of eating hot dogs and watching fireworks. At least the border crossing should be a piece of cake – I doubt many Americans will be trying to leave the country on Independence Day. Happy Fourth of July everybody – and may all of your airport experiences be smoother than this one.