The French paradox

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Reviewed on 11/17/2011 | 1 Review


Charles-de-Gaulle is the world's most hated airport

Have you ever heard about the French paradox? It’s not about drinking red wine and being in perfect health. It’s even more contradictory. It’s the fact that Paris is the number one tourist destination, but has the most hated airport.

Photo: Bertrand Langlois, © AFP

We’ve always known: Charles-de-Gaulle airport is a nightmare. Remember our little survival guide with the title ““Help! Its Charles-de-Gaulle”? It’s an airport not made for travellers. It’s just as simple as that. Our judgment and most of our tips were based on numerous and painful flights to and from Charles-de-Gaulle. Now our experience has been officially confirmed by a CNNGo study, the travel website of CNN: Paris, Charles-de-Gaulle is the world’s most hated airport.

Have you ever arrived at CdG on a Sunday morning after a transatlantic flight? Than you know what we are talking about. There was probably just one single customs officer checking all the passengers from a Boeing 777 through, in other words: one single guy for 500 tired people.

Welcome to chaos

Now don’t get me wrong. We are not talking about the worst airport. There are probably airports worse than Charles-de-Gaulle, those with no running water at all or those in the middle of the desert with runways that look like mogul fields. But the CNN study was not about destinations the majority of us have little need to pin on a map or pronounce properly.

Number one tourist destination

We’re talking about Paris, the number one tourist destination with more than 30 million tourists a year. We are talking about its main airport, the second most important transfer platform in Europe with 60 million passengers every year. I mean: SIXTY MILLION, exactly as much as France has inhabitants!

The CNN list is “admittedly unscientific”. The guys just “canvassed travel websites, blogs and message boards” – and called on memories of their “own travel nightmares”. So it’s about users here (and a lot of them), it’s about subjective yet relevant impressions of human beings. And that’s why CdG deserves the first place of the ranking list: everybody hates it. After its undisputed position comes Los Angeles on the second and London Heathrow on the third place. Congratulations!

Dismissive staff

Now do you want to have details? Here we go: “The baffling circular layout is worsened by warrens of tunnel-like structures”, says the author of the study, “dismissive staff and seething travelers waiting forever in the wrong queue.”

Grimy washrooms with missing toilet seats don’t really help. Nor do broken scanning machines and an overall lack of signage and gate information screens. Do you want to know what the food is like at the airport of the world’s gastronomic capital? You probably don’t.

The aura of indifference

But here comes the distressing truth: “The worst part may be this airport’s aura of indifference to it all”, notes the study and goes on quoting a commuter: “Waiting for a connection here is like being in custody.”

Today the Figaro dedicated a whole page to the not so glorious award and quoted a spokesman from Aéroports de Paris, the company running the airport, saying the study was just “table talk” and adding: “It has become a fad to criticize Charles-de-Gaulle and treat it like the ugly duckling.”

The ugly duckling

Self-criticism? No, I’m sorry, that doesn’t exist. Not here in France. It’s also part of the French paradox, believing you’re always the best, when actually everybody else thinks you’re a pain in the ass.

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The French paradox , 3.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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  1. Machelle 17 November 2011 Reply

    I’ve traveled to CDG several times, and it is not a good place to layover for any amount of time…..I’ve never been in “custody”, but I can imagine it feels like this! Trying to find the insuficient elevators for the CDGVAL is like a scavenger hunt. The staff there are pretty dismissive (and I speak French BTW!), the food choices are pretty bleak, the toliets, a bit icky at times (the one by the gare is disguisting). As far as it’s a fad to criticize CDG, seriously, this airport is in dire need of improvements! In Sept 2011, I was waiting for a conncection, forced to sit in an outer area by a drink machine, and a homeless lady, pushing a baggage cart INSIDE the airport, asked me for the pastry (from Paul) and the drink I was drinking. It was at this moment I feined ignorance of the beautiful French language! I’ve never had the experience anywhere! Love you France…lots of us give you our money by traveling, now use it and improve CDG!

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