CDG bad

When it was built, Charles de Gaulle Airport‘s Terminal 1, with Paul Andreu‘s concrete-and-tubing reactor core styling (which inspired one of many famous scenes from Apple’s landmark 1984 ad) was an avante garde sensation. Now it’s a dump.

It was already getting old by the time I travelled frequently to it in the mid-90s. Near as I can tell, it has been unimproved since. (Though there is plenty of construction elsewhere at CDG.)

I gave myself the opportunity to visit this challenge when I dumbly thought Flight 0915 was at 9:15am, rather than at noon, as my itinerary would have told me if I had bothered to read it more carefully. Since there’s still some kind of strike on, and I was advised to leave early and avoid traffic, I arrived without incident at 6:30am, just in time to wait another two hours for United to open its counters. I killed that time looking for food and a comfortable place to sit. Turns out the food is in the basement level, where the decor is about as warm and contemporary as a sepulchre. I found a couple places serving petit dejeuner, but I’d had way too many croissants and the like over the last three days, so I opted instead for McDonalds, since I actually kinda like their sausage and egg McMuffins (and even though

The sign at McD’s said the place opened at 6:30. I stood there and waited until it finally oepned around 7:15 I’d guess. After chowing at a tiny table in a hallside dining area, I went upstairs to wait for United to open. The only seats there are these metal chairs with little holes punche in them. Standing and walking around with luggage were both more comfortable.

After inspecting the holes in the walls and the cracked tile on the floor I headed for the elevator and immediatley got stuck in it. Not sure what was broken, other than the electronics of the elevator and its absent floor moulding, which made it possible to see the concrete sides of the shaft. I got in, punched the button for the ground (departures) floor, the door closed and nothing happened. Then I hit the door open symbol, and still nothing happened. Much button pushing finally got some action, and I watched the shaft slide by as the elevator slowly rose to its destination, at which the doors, reluctantly, opened.

Anyway, now I’m in United’s Red Carpet Club here, which is actually much nicer than all the RC clubs in the U.S., other than the one at SFO’s International Terminal, which is still fresh.

Can’t wait to get back, which won’t happen until almost tomorrow, since United cancelled my connecting flight from Dulles to Logan, and I have to take a later one, cooling my heels first at another RC club , surely, at Dulles. See ya there.

Meanwhile, dig a few pictures from .

[4:08p, EST] Arrived at Dulles. There’s a big snowstorm in the Northeast and all the Boston flights are being cancelled. The question with mine is whether A) United can get a plane to make the trip; and B) Logan can keep the runway clear enough. Or so the people behind the counter say.

Ahead of me in one of the lines was a guy who complained mightily to the kind woman behind the counter about how United’s airbus planes flying to Denver are inadequate, overbooked, and so on. He wanted her to write down his complaint to give to her “superiors”. When my turn came, I told her, sincerely, that she had no “superiors”, and that I was sorry she had to endure this jerk.

It’s standard to complain about air travel, but in fact it’s just about freaking miraculous that anybody, much less companies as vast, damaged and bureaucratic as United, can ship people and cargo in metal tubes weighing hundreds or thousands of tons, powered by large tanks of combustible materials, at near-supersonic speeds at altitudes exceeding Everest’s, though many all kinds of weather — and do it constantly all around the world, 24/7/365, and actually make it boring in the process.

11 comments

  1. Darren’s avatar

    +1 for the excellent use (and British/Canadian spelling) of the term ‘sepulchre’.

  2. Airports as Marketing « marketing by blogosis’s avatar

    [...] This piece by Doc Seals on the “experience” of Charles De Gaulle. I have my own fond CDG memories but I want to have time to gather my thoughts and work is actually busy for once. [...]

  3. rjh’s avatar

    You can also consider the Acela up early in the morning (assuming ticket refund hassles are acceptable). Given how thoroughly messed up the flights will be, it may be just as fast even with the 7hr train ride. I did that one time when a transatlantic flight into PHL could not connect due to weather. The next available connecting flight was going to arrive later than the train.

  4. Dave Winer’s avatar

    All good points.

    I think all European airports suck compared to American airports.

    I was glad to get back to the good old USA where they speak my language, and where a dollar actually buys something. :-)

  5. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I hate to say that I’ve been to too few European airports: I’ve been to Madrid, Barcelona, Rome and Nice, but don’t remember any of them worth a damn. The ones I know better are Heathrow, DeGaulle, Munich, Copenhagen and Frankfurt. LHR (Heathrow) Terminal 3 and CDG (Charles DeGaulle) Terminal 1 (where United goes and comes from) are pretty bad, but about on par with JFK, and definitely better than LaGuardia, which is a pit. A lot of people crap on BOS (Logan), but I think it’s okay. No complaints there. But both MUH in Munich and CDG in Copenhagen are quite nice. I may be biassed by the Scandinavian and Lufthansa lounges, which are far better than United’s here in the U.S. But that’s not saying much. United charges $500/year for the privilege of sitting in worn furniture, eating cheap pastries served in vending machine bags, and drinking from the worst cappuccino machines ever made. I only go because my wife got me a lifetime membership waaaay back when that was still possible, and not prohibitively priced.

    Among other U.S. airports, I actually have no problem with any of them, and have a degree of affection for Denver, O’Hare and SFO. I’m not crazy about any of New York’s airports. Or Dulles, for that matter, which is where I am now. But hey, they’re bus stations. United is today’s Greyhound.

    They’ve pushed back the flight to 10:42 now. Oy.

  6. Keith Dick’s avatar

    I don’t have very much experience with European airports, but I’ve been through the one in Amsterdam a few times, and I think it is a very pleasant one. (But don’t make a call from the credit card-operated phones!)

  7. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    CDG is a disaster, and I’m not just referring to its roof collapsing.

  8. Russell Nelson’s avatar

    Oh, and you say that CDG is unimproved since 1999. Not true! They put in a people mover (and I don’t mean CDGVAL, I mean the SK System). What, you say? You didn’t see it? No, they ripped it out, because it was le nonfunctional. So, CDG has been improved and then deimproved, all of which cost tons of money and didn’t accomplish anything other than leaving some interesting concrete artifacts.

    Kinda like the Maginot Line … which didn’t work either.

  9. Doc Searls’s avatar

    I understand that work is going on in the other terminals at CDG. Can’t speak for those, though.

  10. Billy Beck’s avatar

    You know what? The last time I was there, a man could smoke a goddamned cigarette in the building. It struck me as eminently civilized, quite unlike airports in America.

  11. Opinions Libres - Le blog d'Olivier Ezratty’s avatar

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