Consider this a public service announcement: When it comes to stopovers, Charles DeGaulle International Airport is one of the worst. On my return trip from Prague, with roughly 50 minutes between landing in Paris and boarding the plane to Dulles International Airport in Virginia, the scene is nothing short of bedlam. Passengers have only signs to let them know vaguely in what direction is Terminal 2E. There is no one to direct you or to let you know you have to walk seemingly half a mile; that you must wait in a nondescript holding pen with other travelers packed-in like sardines, or on the nonworking escalator (a good thing too since people would have fallen on top of each other) with no air circulating and a rising temperature from all the body heat and heavy breathing—not to mention the fetid odors. Desperate passengers start forming their own lines, which leads to cutting and arguments and one American (already late for his plane to Atlanta) exclaiming, “And you wonder why we hate the French!”
Eventually we make our way through a door and find two customs officers casually stamping passports. One takes a break and the other continues at a leisurely pace. Planes are being boarded at this very moment. Once through customs, we wait to board a convoy of shuttle buses. Then we wait inside the bus until it is filled to capacity and proceed around the airport to eventually get to Terminal 2E but not before we come to a complete stop behind a construction vehicle with its hazards on. Arriving at the terminal, travelers race their way up more stairs and escalators and wait in another massive line to get through security. At this point tempers are flaring. Some are yelling at the screeners who have decided to prevent some individuals from entering the metal detector zone for no apparent reason—the security monitors are just standing around while passengers stare back at them and no one is getting through unless the screener lets you through in his infinite mercy. (And it doesn’t help that some travelers wait until the last minute to check their pockets, remove laptops, untie shoes, and drink bottles of water.) Finally through, it is a marathon past the duty free corridors and to the gates.
Needless to say the passengers boarding my flight had tense expressions. Inevitably this also led to a screaming match between two individuals—a woman telling a man not to touch her bags and the man defiantly moving them aside to make room for his own luggage. The woman’s husband gets involved and now these men are in a standoff, their noses mere centimeters away. Kudos to one of the flight attendants on Air France flight 26 who defused the conflict, urging them that “we’re going to have a happy flight,” and “now shake hands” so we can get a move on.
And move on we did, with only the occasional annoyance from the row in front of me: a Czech family brawl in which the teenage boy pushed around his sister until his mother started slapping him around.
In short, always go for the direct flight.
31 minutes ago