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Getting to CDG Airport on Time

When mass transport works in Paris, it works like a dream. It’s reasonably priced, safe, comfortable, and relatively user friendly. Except when there’s a strike or a protest that disrupts normal traffic patterns – then, all bets are off. Such was the case yesterday, Thursday, Dec 18 ’09. If you happened to be in town, you wouldn’t have wanted to be enroute to Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG).

Les Cars Air France is one of our favorite means of shuttling to CDG. The #4 line stops at Gare Montparnasse and Gare de Lyon. A one-way ticket costs 15 Euros and a round-trip costs 24 Euros. The shuttle stops at both Terminals 1 and 2 at CDG.

When Things Go Wrong

Normally, we take the shuttle early in the morning (the first shuttle leaves at 7 am). However, yesterday, we waited for a 4 pm shuttle to meet a family member arriving in Paris on a 5:30 pm Air France flight. Normally the door-to door travel time is app 45 minute to an hour. Shuttles arrive at the Montparnasse bus stop every thirty minutes on the hour and half hour.

Yesterday’s traffic was described by one bus driver as ‘infernal’. While helicopters hovered around the Montparnasse tower district and student protesters had been rumored to block traffic in various parts of Paris (as part of a national student protest against the government’s proposed education reforms), it’s hard to determine what exactly was the cause of the huge traffic jams. Whatever the actual causes, a typical one-hour airport trip turned into two hours. From what we observed, the traffic approaching Paris was even worse – at a total standstill.

If arriving on time – or departing on time are major issues, you might want to consider the following:

Check the day in advance about upcoming strikes or demonstrations. If you’re staying at a hotel, the desk clerk or concierge should be able to advise you about such strikes which are normally announced either on television news or in national newspapers such as Le Figaro or Le Parisien.

If traffic is extremely heavy, you also have the option of taking the RER B rapid transit line which has several stops in Paris before whisking you off to CDG airport. (RER is most easily accessed from Terminal 2 rather than Terminal 1).

Arrive on a Sunday morning. Because most businesses are closed on Sundays (except during the Christmas season), Sunday mornings tend to be the best bets for less traffic. (this also gives you a day to rest up before Monday meetings).

Probably the worst option on a heavy traffic day is taking a taxi. On a normal day, taxi fare from Paris to CDG will set you back a minimum of 55 Euros (and even more if you’re traveling at evening rates). Try to arrange your schedule to allow for extra airport transport time – especially if you plan on leaving in the afternoon on a weekday. Needless to say, summers and vacation weeks are less congested if all the Parisians have left town – but if you get caught in the exodus, beware. Most vacation days are traffic coded (for example this upcoming Saturday, Dec 20 ’09) is coded orange for heavy traffic, but Sunday will be ‘fluide’.

Shuttle bus transport may sometimes be disrupted during strikes (which often occur in May or Sept/October. In some cases with Les Cars Air France, we’ve noted that if the Montparnasse line is not running, the Charles de Gaulle Etoile/Porte Maillot line conintues to operate. From there, you can take a taxi to the Left Bank which may still end up being cheaper than cab fare.

Always leave a little more buffer room than you think you will need for trips to the airport. Always expect surprises when it comes to public transportation in France. Sometimes, they can be good surprises. For example, the efficient local trains connecting cities like Lisieux and Caen, the relatively ‘on time’ track record for many of France’s intercity trains, and the sheer speed. France’s public transportation system may not be 100 percent perfect, but it’s light years ahead of many other systems.

Here is a link for actual traffic information sponsored by Le Figaro:
Traffic in Real Time