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‘Not as bad as I expected’ – What Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is really like this summer

Widespread chaos has been reported at airports around Europe this summer as airlines struggle with staff shortages, strikes and a high volume of passengers - but how bad is the situation at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, France's busiest air terminal?

'Not as bad as I expected' - What Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is really like this summer
Delays have been reported at Paris' Charels de Gaulle airport. Photo by Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

Paris’ main airport consistently tops polls for dissatisfied passengers even at the best of times and this summer has already seen strike action and a warning from unions about low staffing levels and long waits.

Throughout the summer we have seen news reports of long waits, chaotic scenes and cancelled flights at airports around Europe, so we decided to ask our readers what their experiences of flying have been this summer.

Delays and cancellations

Earlier in the summer, staff at Charles de Gaulle airport walked out in a pay dispute, leaving to approximately 25 percent of flights being cancelled over two one-day strikes, and the inevitable knock-on effects.

A survey from FlightAware showed that between May 26th and July 19th – a time period that includes the two strike days – Charles de Gaulle airport had the third highest rate of delayed flights at 43 percent, just behind Toronto Pearson airport and Frankfurt.  

However, the pay dispute has now been resolved and there is no further strike action planned for the summer (that doesn’t mean other disputes won’t erupt, however).

Among the people who answered our survey, only four percent had their flight cancelled, but 44 percent reported that their flight had been delayed, in most cases for no more than two hours. 

Jack Hoffman, who lives in Turenne, said: “I’ve flown on Air France from CDG to North America for five of the last six years – I skipped 2020 – and this summer seemed normal to me. Maybe I was lucky.

“My flight to Boston arrived about 30 minutes late and the return flight, I believe, arrived at CDG a few minutes early. Lines, wait times, clearing customs, baggage pickup all seemed normal for this time of year.”
Fellow regular flyer Julian Elliott, who lives in Tours, said: “I flew on July 18th and back again on July 22nd to CDG as well as many dates before this year. In the main, it’s been fine apart from one disastrous case of my suitcase being sent to Amsterdam when I asked it not to be.”

Nur Acosta, who flew from Nice to Charles de Gaulle for a connecting flight to San Fransisco, said: “The delay was at Nice airport for 1:20 min, but I did had enough time to go through security check at CDG and be on time for my boarding – I even had a time to stop at Duty Free to get some sweets.

“The lines were big at the security, but were going very fast, it seems to me was well maintained staffing. I was expecting the worst with waiting lines at security and we were lucky that we didn’t experience that.”

Lines and wait times

At airlines around Europe this summer the advice had been to arrive early and allow plenty of time to get through check-in, security checks and passport control, and passengers at Charles de Gaulle reported that this was generally necessary.

Charles de Gaulle is a huge airport so at the best of times you need to allow plenty of time, but our survey respondents reported a mixed picture on wait times, with some saying they are no worse than normal while others saying the airport is chaotic.

Obviously much depends on the time of day and the destination of your flight, but none of our survey respondents reported that it took more than three hours to get through all the airport controls and board the aircraft.

Marc Miller, from Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA said: “There were too many places to check in, all with machines not people and too few attendants helping.

“Very long lines at security, glad that The Local advised getting to CDG even earlier than the three hours recommended.”

John Zammit, flying back to Malta, said: “The airport experience was not too bad but for quite some time there was nowhere to sit (Terminal 1) and then we suffered a delay of 45 minutes.”

Nigel Day, of Charente, was flying to Bangkok. He told us: “Terminal 2 was very, very busy but there were no actual delays for me.

“More challenging was the mandatory automated check in and baggage drop for my Air France flight. Fortunately there were staff on hand to help me with this. Going through the border checks was straightforward, but I did have a priority pass so by passed the queues after check in.”

But others were not so lucky in their airport experience. Elizabeth Sanderson, from Boston, said: “It was terrible – understaffed in security and passport control, everyone was missing connecting flights.

“There were two people on passport control with at least 100 people trying to get through to catch flights.

“My return flight from Marseille was delayed in both Marseille and Paris and my bag finally made it home six days later.”

Early mornings seemed to be the quietest time at the airport, with Warden Black of Edinburgh reporting: “I passed through passport control and security checks in 20 minutes in total!

“Taxi arrived at Terminal 2E at 07.10 am and I completed the process to reach the air side by 07.30 am. The staff were amazing, polite, fast and efficient.” 

Lost luggage 

There have also been major issues with lots bags around Europe, again connected to strike action and staff shortages and the general advice to anyone flying this summer is to take hang luggage only, if possible.

Of our survey respondents, only four people were forced to leave the airport without their bags, having to report them lost or delayed. Meanwhile, others said that luggage took longer than usual to arrive at the carousel. 

All survey respondents were eventually reunited with their bags.

One American traveller told us: “After listening to all the news, I was pleasantly surprised that immigration lines were fast moving and luggage was there after about 15 mins of waiting.”

Travel advice

We also asked people who had flown this summer if they had any advice for travellers, and the main themes were;

  • Arrive early (between three and four hours before the flight time was recommended)

  • Bring hand luggage only if possible

  • Be prepared for changes to departure gates/check-in desks 

  • Don’t book connecting flights with short connection times 

Fiona Nunn said: “Ensure you get there 3-4 hours before your flight is due to depart; make sure your luggage meets all the criteria for your airline in terms of size and weight etc.

“Have paper copies of all paperwork as well as electronic versions and make sure you have completed all information online within the appropriate deadlines for visits/returning to EU.

“Check in online even if you still want or need to check in luggage or collect your boarding pass at the desk and allow at least three hours between flights when having to change planes in Paris – especially if you are wheelchair assisted.”

Amanda Beresford, who lives in Normandy, said: “Leave plenty of time – maybe twice as much as usual – for boarding procedures, be prepared for sudden changes of gate/platform and misdirection in the airport and don’t believe everything that’s posted on advice boards.”

Nigel Day added: “Allow plenty, I mean plenty, of time to get through it all.”

Many thanks to everyone who helped with this survey. Throughout the summer we will update our Travelling to France section if there are further delays on airlines, trains, or ferries to or from France.

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Paris police warn tourists about ‘petition’ scam

Paris police have issued a warning to tourists to beware of scams targeting visitors that involve false petitions and donation drives.

Paris police warn tourists about 'petition' scam

The police préfecture in Paris has released an announcement warning tourists about a scam that might be used to target them especially. 

The scam involves young boys and girls asking people to sign their petitions and requesting that they give a donation. In reality, many people – especially tourists or those unfamiliar with the local area – find themselves giving their money away to a false organisation.

In other cases, the petition acts as a distraction while pickpockets target the visitors.

Frequently, these scams involve the young people feigning deafness or the inability to speak, and pretending to collect funds on behalf of NGO for the hard of hearing. 

The scam is just one of a number that criminals use to prey on tourists, and visitors return to Paris after a two-year break, police are warning people to be vigilant – especially in tourist hotspots such as Montmartre and the Eiffel Tower area or in transport interchanges such as Gare du Nord.

READ MORE: Warning: 6 of the most common scams in France to watch out for

For more advice on how to stay safe in Paris as a tourist, you can read the police “Guide for Staying Safe in Paris