The Flight that Almost Wasn’t

Originally published on 4 February 2013.

So there we were, Bianca and I. We awoke at 5:00 am as planned, but little did we know we should have woken up at 4:00! We packed our few belongings, squeezed into the tiny elevator for the last time, checked out, and set out for the train station!

We left around 5:40, giving us a solid three hours to make our 8:40 am flight, even allowing time for a couple of wrong turns along the way. It took us an hour to get to the hotel from the airport, so we figured it should take only an hour to return. This was not the case.

We found our way to the train station with minimal difficulty, but when we arrived and tried to buy our ticket, we discovered the machine was out of order. The sign posted on the screen said to go across the bridge and buy a ticket from the metro station. OK, merely a hiccup in the plan. We still had plenty of time. So across the bridge we walked, found the ticket counter, and were repeatedly belittled by the attendant. Even with Bianca speaking French, the attendant gave us only information that didn’t help us. Eventually, she directed us to a kiosk and told us to get the ticket ourselves, although we were still a bit confused about which kind of ticket to buy and whether the ticket we got would be valid across the street at the train station.

Anyway, we got the ticket we thought we needed and walked back over the bridge to the train station again. We walked down the only stairs we saw (or I saw, at least), and I put my ticket in and went through. Then Bianca pointed out we needed to make sure we were on the right side first… there’s no way to get from one side of the tracks to the other once you’re in. Oh well. We figured out (by asking someone) we needed to be on the opposite platform, of course, so I went out, we walked up and around the outside, I crawled under, and we waited 10 minutes for the next train because we’d missed the first one by about 30 seconds.

Onward! We knew we needed to switch at St. Michel/Notre-Dame station, but when we got there, we couldn’t tell which train to take! We asked a couple of people, and they told us a couple of different things, neither of which was right. There was a big board showing all the train stations, but none of the trains appeared to be going to the airport! One person told us to go to another station that’s busier, where we might have have more luck getting the train to the airport. At that station, we encountered people with red jackets and name tags who looked like employees. Surely they would know!

The guy we talked to said we’d need to take a train to a station several stops away and take a shuttle to the airport from there. By now we’d used up nearly two hours of our time, and we were getting nervous! So we got on the train, fretted about the fact we had NO idea how long the train or the shuttle would take, and got off at the end of the line with everyone else—apparently the other travelers were in the same boat as us and just as uncertain of where to go or what to do!

Thank heavens for my smart phone! I was able to get to my check-in e-mail with the flight info in it—boarding time, flight number, terminal, etc. We squeezed into the shuttle with what seemed like 200 other people and all their luggage. The shuttle took about 20 minutes, but the driver was so very slow! An Air France stewardess was also on the shuttle, and she was also late for her flight. We asked her if she could tell us the fastest way to get to terminal 2G, where we knew our flight was taking off. When we told her what flight we were on and what time it would leave, she got this stricken look on her face and said, “Oh. I think you miss your flight.”

So helpful, right?

She also said we needed to take a bus, then a train, then a shuttle to the terminal. WHAT?! We were at the airport already, waiting to get off the shuttle, and we needed to take three more modes of transportation? I thought Europe was supposed to be efficient! Apparently not at the Charles De Gaulle airport!

When the bus driver FINALLY opened the doors to let us off the shuttle (at 8:20–remember, our flight leaves at 8:40!), Bianca and I sprinted into the building and tried as we might to find the next step in our journey. Bianca’s small rolling suitcase was slowing her down, and at one point we were both holding it and running together, but that didn’t last long! We decided if I could run ahead and hold things up for her, that would be best.

So I ran ahead. I think we asked someone where to go, and the pointed us toward the shuttle to Terminal 2G, and somewhere in there we asked the lady at the information desk if she could call our gate and tell them we were there and enroute to the plane. Of course she said that was “not possible,” which is what we expected, but it still got on our nerves! We kept running to the shuttle, Bianca told him we were about to miss our flight, but he didn’t seem to notice we’d said anything, much less hurry to the terminal.

So, we finally got to Terminal 2G. We made it! Now we needed to check in and go through security. Fortunately, the attendant helping people check in was the kindest person we’d encountered all day! We tried to use the barcode on my phone to check in, but it wouldn’t work, so she let us through anyway! At the security check, they let us go through the priority checkpoint, again, letting us go through even though the barcode for our flight wasn’t scanning properly. The security woman was obviously not happy about it, but thankfully she gave into peer pressure from the others who took pity on us poor, frenzied girls!

I got through the metal detector fine, but needed to be reminded to take off my scarf and coat you don’t have to take off your shoes for all flights in Europe. Bianca set off the alarm with her shoes, so she had to come back through and put those on the conveyor belt. My bag had to be screened and searched because I forgot to take out my liquids (which you don’t always have to do, but here I should have!), so that slowed us down as well.

When Bianca and I FINALLY made it through, we sprinted again in the direction people were pointing. We found out from a nice person who works for Air France that we needed to go to gate 21. So off we went! Bianca hollered for me to run ahead again and hold the plane. I hollered back that I’d do my best!

Running, running, running. Turn the corner into another hallway. Running, running, running on the moving walkway. “Pardon!” I exclaimed in my best French accent. Running, running, running on another moving walkway. Running, running, running. Too many people; running beside the moving walkway. Turn the corner. Down another hallway? Running, running, running. Another hallway! Running, running, sweating, running. I saw people coming up a hallway that I was running down, and I thought surely they were coming directly from this fabled gate that was supposed to appear any moment now. But as I spied yet another hallway, I couldn’t stop the exasperated, loud, frustrated sigh!

Running, running, running! Must keep going! Must stop the plane!

At long last, I made it to Gate 21! Forget the escalator, I flew down those stairs! Upon arriving quite winded at Gate 21, the gate attendants calmly told me not to worry. Not to worry? Breathless, I looked up behind me and saw Bianca hurrying down the stairs. We’d made it! The attendant tried to scan our tickets using my phone, but again, it wasn’t working! I don’t think we ever actually showed a valid ticket, but they let us through anyway! Whoo-hoo!

When Bianca and I finally sat on the plane, we looked at the time—8:34. Six minutes to spare! Woohoo! We laughed in relief and disbelief. We made it!

What an adventurous end to a fun-filled Parisian adventure! Lesson learned: Pay double the price of the train and take the direct shuttle from your hotel to the airport. Never trust the French train system!

3 responses to “The Flight that Almost Wasn’t”

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  2. […] my first trip to Paris, my friend Bianca and I almost missed our flight at Charles De Gaulle airport due to a series of unfortunate events. Even with Bianca speaking fluent French, we encountered […]

  3. […] my first trip to Paris, my friend Bianca and I almost missed our flight at Charles De Gaulle airport due to a series of unfortunate events. Even with Bianca speaking fluent French, we encountered […]

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