CDG Airport – Europe’s Second Worst Airport?

In a recent IHT article “Congestion and Other Terminal Illnesses – Europe’s Worst Airports” (Jan 13), sky warriors including writer Elisabeth Rosenthal awarded 2nd place for Europe’s worst airport to Paris’s international airport, Charles de Gaulle aka CDG.

Given the number of times I’ve bad-mouthed this airport in the past, I suddenly found myself wanting to defend this warhorse airport’s honor. Please, don’t ask me why, but it’s gotten to be something of an old friend. I know CDG Airport needs some major overhauling – but when you look at CDG in comparison to JFK, for example, who can point fingers?

One interviewee described going through CDG “like being in an Escher print,” which had me trying to guess if the passenger was referring to Terminal 1 which is circular or Terminal 2 where the A-F buildings are set out like alphabetic parts of a 1960s era Japanese tricycle set.

Once you accept the fact that B doesn’t always necessarily follow A, especially at drop off points for the Air France shuttle service, you should be able to handle CDG just fine.
CDG is EASY – if you don’t believe it, all you have to do is check out the webiste

2nd Worst Rating Unwarranted

Contrary to those interviewed for the NY Times story, I have never had an airline employee direct me to the wrong gate, give me ‘bad advice, or seemed disinterested in helping. In fact in the last couple years I’ve had some pleasant chats with security agents who always seem to be on hand when I’m looking a little lost (which is my normal look). We’ve had some discussions about the pluses and minuses of living in Paris as opposed to Delhi (Delhi, according to one agent is definitely more lively – and more fun than Paris).


I admit I’ve heard some stories about people missing connections because of security check snafus. We’ve NEVER made a connecting flights through CDG on the same day for one simple reason. Why would you bother to fly through Paris without stopping off in the city for a few days? If only to recover from jetlag – if for no other reason. Therefore I wouldn’t recommend doing connecting flights through CDG. Stay overnight in Paris. Leave the following day.

Is Schipol Airport really better than CDG?

I noticed that Amsterdam’s Schipfol airport received Skytrax’s No. 7 spot in its top European airports list.
This is the only European airport where we didn’t get our luggage transferred in time (twice) coming and going for a connecting flight to Iceland. And believe me, if you don’t get your hiking boots on Day 1 when you land in Iceland, you’re not a happy camper. The next flight comes in the following day. Moral of this story is: Whatever the airlines says is a ‘legal’ connection time at Schiphol – don’t settle for anything less than an hour.

For the return flight, the baggage handling department at CDG was very helpful. They told us when the next Amsterdam to Paris flight would be arriving – and our luggage did arrive within the next two hours.

CDG has its imperfections – 1970s styles tubes that might be nostalgic if you had all day to ride around the people mover belts, leaving peace and love adhesive flowers along the way, but the airport gains high marks from me in two respects.

1. Next to Geneva, the customs arrival procedure has to be one of the most painless and non-invasive in the entire world. Especially if you arrive with your precious cat or dog. For example we arrived with all our papers carefully set in order for Sheba, our neurotic Persian cat. She received a glance and a nod – and that was it.

2. How about this? We flew in from Seoul, Korea via Frankfurt – and never ONCE went through a formal passport check – the Korean women ahead of us looked perplexed as it was clear we were just going out into the main lobby of the airport. She had just flown from Seoul to Paris without once having to show her passport in the European Union.

3. If a number of planes arrive all at the same time, you can expect to wait in line for the passport control, but rarely is it as long and laborious process of as waiting at Heathrow. (We had one exception to this case where the wait was extremely lengthy. You can avoid this by not checking bags).

In general I found the CDG airport staff to be helpful. And believe me, if you’ve tried to ask for help at the Moscow airport, you will know the difference between helpful and NOT. If there’s room for improvement it would be in the cleanliness department. CDG airport bathrooms definitely need to be upgraded and cleaned on a regular basis. Compare them to Japanese bathrooms and you’ll see what I mean. After all, wasn’t this the country where the bidet was invented? How did the bidet appear in Narita and NOT Paris?

Free Wifi – wouldn’t that be a ‘Welcome to Paris’ public relations coup? And, for any of us stranded travelers, let us be able to stretch out on the airport chairs. Those metallic mesh chairs are about as comfortable as a parking lot link fence. Okay, CDG won’t get any gold stars anytime soon, but neither does it deserve a bottom of the pile ranking. I’m still not quite sure why so much money has been pumped into Orly before working on cleaning the CDG bathrooms, but let’s give the airport planners the benefit of the doubt. Meanwhile, I’m waiting with baited breath for the FREE Wifi, comfortable waiting area chairs and a really good wine bar. The whole idea is to make Paris’s airport so inviting, you’ll wonder why you’d ever consider flying elsewhere. Aeroports de Paris? Do you copy?

4 thoughts on “CDG Airport – Europe’s Second Worst Airport?

  • Andras

    Arriving two days ago to Budapest from Paris CDG, unfortunately I cannot confirm your views. I also cannot understand why Heathrow – which I used four times in the last 2 years with no problems – should be worse than this shameful bordel of Paris.
    I arrived at the due terminal (2B) one and a half hours before my flight was scheduled and still I missed it. That is because I was not allowed through the passport control before checking in. The police officer who (after about 20-30 minutes waiting) checked my ticket kept on sending me to the other end of the terminal for pass control, and to check in. At the other end they each time advised me to go back to where this police officer was. But no matter how much I insisted he did not let me thrugh, he apparently could not comprehend that my flight is a joint MALEV-Air France flight, so the ticket was issued by MALEV but the plane was of Air France. The TV screens were of no help: they showed the gate number of embarkment and not the gate number of check in (nor where I should go through pass control in the first place). When I finally was allowed in, the check in was closed.
    After much running around the airline personel clarified the issue with the police, and I was granted a place to the next flight (that was due almost six hours later) The policeman refused to identify himself or to call any of his principals (or to say sorry at least). I filed a complaint against CDG airport. But I was advised by my friends not to have high expectations…

    This time (unlike in some other instances) initially I was completely on time and relaxed. This is the first time I have ever missed a plane.

    (Wifi by the way cost me 10 euros/hour)

  • Parisgirl Post author

    It sounds like your experience was just the kind of nightmare visitors dread. There’s nothing worse than missing your plane and not even an ‘I’m sorry’. Hope anybody at CDG reading this post takes note.

  • Andras

    The whole thing – it now seems – is because of changes made there due to “Schengen”. That is why there are now two pass control gates at CDG 2B leading to different check in gates. And that is why police and CDG officials make these mistakes frequently, as I learned later. (Or maybe also to make travellers understand Kafka better.)

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