My fear of Charles De Gaulle airport began some years ago, upon hearing the most down-heartening tales of passenger routing as predictable, tragic and avoidable as a Gallic strike: landing for a short transit to an adjoining flight, our passenger had to re-check in, then hunt his flight. It was in a different terminal building, or so it showed on the screen. So, off he went, resigning himself to the time and distance he would have to cover.
For those that have walked the cavernous Parisian terminals you will know what I mean. That they must be modelled on the wrecks of an historic galley that crashed on rocks, they convey not calm, but the inevtibality of fucking up and delay. It is vast, and all looks the same. Like a desert-stranded legionnaire, searching for the oasis, you hope to see the travelator that might reduce the length of your suffering. You start to think about pretending to have a limp so that the incessantly beeping mobility cart might stop and take pity on you, if it wasn’t careering around like a retarded, maniacal, tone-deaf ice cream van. It goes on. And on.
He found his gate, having left layers of clothing and dumping parts of his hand luggage on the way to reduce the weight and preserve energy. Upon getting there, he was informed that the flight wasn’t there. Not only that, it never had been. The board was wrong, and also the staff that reinforced this conspiracy. They shrugged. So, he turned round, and spent another half an hour returning to the desk that had originally sent him there. He was given a new gate, and off he went. There, he was put on a bus after a ten minute wait in freezing temperatures with the doors open. It taxied, braked and lurched for 15 minutes around the perimeter fencing, only to return to the same sodding gate he had been stood at an hour and several miles previously. Where the plane not only wasn’t supposed to be, but never had been. As a marathon runner upon completing the historic distance, he didn’t know whether to cry, laugh, throw up or howl in pain. Apparently, upon getting to the top of the airplane steps, he presented his boarding pass, smiled through gritted teeth, and uttered just one, withering, universally offensive word. With a strong and pronounced ‘t’ at the end.
Thankfully, for you and I both, I had no such issues. My travelling companion and I found our lounge, found some seats and settled in for the five hours we would have to wait. As we were flying with Air France – British Airways with less service standards, and more arrogance – I was expecting their home stomping ground to be the best they could do. The British Airways lounge at Terminal 5 is impressive. It is a true flagship statement of service, standards, food and comfort. You could almost check in earlier than necessary to take advantage of it. Paris, however, was not such an a ringing endorsement, but an accurate concentration of Air France as a brand and experience.
As we would be there long enough to experience both breakfast and lunch, we were expecting an aeronautical gastronomic delight. Instead we got croissants that you could better at your local Aldi, and two versions of ready salted crisps. Even the coffee looked apologetic as it splashed out of the undersized cups – I want to know which child designed these things, before inspecting their pencil-dimensioned hands. If you could get a finger through the handle hole, then you could have been a great mate to have in the car during the 80’s when your recording of the charts got chewed up, and you needed to return the acetate to it’s cassette housing. Jeremy fucking Beadle’s skeleton couldn’t have got a finger through the hole provided. And no, it wasn’t an espresso-sized cup. It was the unbalanced and off-kilter sizing that if it was full – or overflowing – then to try to pick it up resulted in it tilting over and splashing more. Using a robotic vice would have yielded similar results. The robot would have sworn at it, too.
Lunch was a disappointing packet of crisps. Not that the crisps themselves were disappointing, but as with the croissants, I felt that more effort could have been made. Stereotypically, more effort was made on the wine and champagne front – at least 3 of each genre – but only thirst unquenching sized cans of Heineken were available. After that many packets of salted crisps. It was a shit Catch 22.
No effort or care had been made to think about the passenger/consumer, nothing to make you want to fly with them as an airline again, or drift through this hateful space. What successful retailers and brand builders have always shown over time is that by putting the consumer first, you engage with a view to encourage repeat custom. If that experience/service/product is unpleasant or unsatisfactory, they’re less likely to come back. It’s simple. There are very few times in life when the thought of getting on a plane for 12 hours actually fills you with relief – but well done, Air France, I already had my bag packed and was guessing for a gate before it was even called, outsprinting the cart as I ran.
Part 3 – Shanghai coming soon.