Tuesday, January 20, 2004

Jan 12 - Air France - The horror, the horror

We visit the Zweigart factory for a look-through, have lunch with the directors, then off to Stuttgart airport (an exhilarating motorway trip in the trusty Audi - our host has bucked the Merc fixation) - where the AF horror starts. We had (at CDG pPaaris transfer desk) swapped our flights to earlier ones back to London, to allow us more time at CDG with that dreadful changeover. They (what else) fubar'ed both the original and the replacement flights at that point. Our efficient (German, of course) AF people at the desk sort this out, but it takes about 20 minutes and much dark muttering by three people. We hear the word 'kaput' more than once - never a good sign.
But Paris-bound we are, and duly arrive at CDG, and the inevitable bus.
Just imagine, you build an airport, taxiways, parking bays, runways, terminals, cargo and baggage areas. Each terminal has many gates, each with an airbridge. So far, so standard. But at Paris CDG, you do not let actual planes near the airbridges. In fact, you don't equip many of the gates with actual dockable airbridges, but terminate them in stairs to ground level. Instead, there are three rules of operation:
1 - keep those planes away from the gates by parking them a kilometre or so away
2 - transport everyone everywhere (plane-terminal, terminal to terminal) by bus, one planeload at a time. This guarantees bottlenecks, as there's only one bus allowed per plane, so it has to wait for the last passenger
3 - express incredulity and pained surprise when planes are missed and luggage goes astray
It seems fair to assume that this model of airport operation will not be emulated by other airports which want to have a future. And in our limited experience, it certainly isn't - most others exhibit reasonable standards of efficiency, cleaniness and punctuality. Including Mulhouse, but then it has Swiss and German exits which exert a benign organising influence. So there's the obvious answer to CDG: shift it to Strasbourg and let it imbibe the German attention to detail. With a fast rail link to Paris, it wouldn't even take longer.
We eventually make it to Heathrow and, quelle surprise, Air France has left all our luggage in Paris. They offer to forward it to our hotel. No thanks, we are going to Miami the next day. Monsieur, we can forward it there for you. Ah, but when? Not trusting AF to find its ass with both hands, we arrange to personally pick it up at Heathrow (different terminal from our Miami trip, of course, Sod's law) rather than trust it to AF's by now highly questionable stewardship. A last Picadilly then District tube (costs 3.80 instead of the rip-off Heathrow Express at 25.00) to Victoria and our hotel. What a day. But it's our last night in dear grimy tired London. Sniff.

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