Air France And CharlesDeGaulle: The Airport Of Doom

Totally rude, arrogant and impolite is how I describe the french today. It is no news to anyone that after living one year in France, along with other incidents, I didn’t particularly liked the French but today I got the full package, which gives me no reason to change my attitude.
To my french friends and family you are what I call the non-french French. You are the exception.
Just this past week end in Atlanta I was talking

with my friends John and Marka about how we shouldn’t generalize, today I say to J & M sorry my friends, the French are the exception 🙂

The whole French outrageous experience started with a headache at the Air France ( AF) check in desk in Atlanta and continued with landing at the Paris Charles-De-Gaulle Airport.

In Atlanta, John dropped me off at the check in and made me promise him that if any long delays I call him to pick me up from the airport. I wish J & M were in France 🙂

Waiting in line to check in, when a lady announces out loud: ” Flight cancelled, sorry for the inconvenience” and everything went into chaos. Suddenly a big black woman grabs my arm and says “follow me”. I asked her what was wrong, but no answer, she seemed like she was walking on the moon.
When she asked me for my reservation number and passport I thought thank God it’s not my flight cancelled. She looked at her monitor and said “sorry I don’t have your name under this reservation #” I said “it’s not possible it’s WAKIM, W_A_K_I_M”. She was like “oh I was looking for RITTA”. I couldn’t believe she just said that. She must have Syrian decent: at Syrian checkpoints, during their occupation days in Lebanon, they used to read our names upside down and insist that they had it right.

Anyway, the whole time she kept babbling “I have a headache, I want to go home, am fed up with all this chaos”. She needed the assistance of 3 colleagues to check me in. She didn’t weight my luggage, AF usually charges for the extra ounce not only pound, I wish I had overweight. Finally 1 hour later, she gave me back my passport, ticket and boarding pass and told me that the flight is delayed 2 hours. I thought: good, 2 less hours on the French territory. I asked her about the 20 hrs ( now 18hrs ) layover, she said she cannot do anything from here, when I land in Paris I go to the transfer desk and they should and will take care of me.
I asked her if she knows whether it is possible to leave the airport in Paris she said “I don’t think so, let me ask” she whispered in her colleague’s ear “can she leave the airport? she has a Lebanese passport”. I think she didn’t realize that her whispering could actually be heard by the whole airport. The guy said “yes she can if she will be there for less than 24hrs she can go out”. She said “but she is Lebanese !!” none of them even cared to ask me if I had a visa so I figured he would know better than me, they probably have new rules for transit passengers.

And by the way I knew what she meant, LEBANESE=TERRORIST. On my way to the states 6 weeks earlier, the plane was delayed 50 min because of two lebanese persons on the plane and I was one of them. At the boarding gate they searched me from head to toes, literally and because of a small bag of peanuts I had they sent me to the other side of the airport to get it scanned along with my backpack. I mean I am not complaining about security measures but let them use it with everyone because any passport holder can be a suspect.

So I landed in Paris.. Waited in 3 different lines at 3 different transfer desks and no one would admit there has been a change to my reservation from the original one where I had only 1hr 30′ layover. “This is your original booking” each one of them said “you made this reservation yourself with the 20 hrs layover so we cannot do anything about it, we can’t help you, we are only processing the reservations that have been modified due to the unfortunate events” I tried to make them come to their senses and listen to me to no avail. It would be unrealistic for me to expect more from the French anyway.

On my way to the last transfer desk, I didn’t see a soul but one police officer. I asked him if he knows where I should go and who I can talk to regarding my situation.
He gave me an aggressive look and said bluntly “well if you have no boarding pass you cannot go anywhere, you just stay here”. By here he meant right there at the gates entrance. I said Here? I can’t spend 18 hrs in this small area with no toilets or anything. He said “it is not my problem, you will have to deal with it”. I said “Oh really? it is not my fault if there are delays and cancellations from the volcano ashes” he said “that is your problem, you deal with it” he turned his face and started walking away and looked back at me as if with disgust. I was like what is his problem!! and he is a POLICE OFFICER. I said ” I don’t think so, how about if you guys deal with it since it is your mess” he said “don’t talk to me like that I am a police officer”, I said “I talk to you the way you talk to me, you respect me I respect you” he said “don’t be aggressive” I said “why? you will take me to the police office? yalla take me, I will go with pleasure, I have some time to kill and there is nothing to do here anyway besides I would like to tell your boss how you respect passengers”. He gave me a very mean look, turned his face and walked away. I really don’t know what was his problem, probably his GF left him this morning. I would feel for her and understand her if she has. I wish I knew his name, they wear no name tags, they must be aware of how they treat people.

After that I was boiling with anger, the flight connections queue was long, dense and wasn’t even moving. I sat on the ground and waited for 2 and half hrs, the line did not move. I decided to walk to the police office and see what I can do. I spent over 15′ arguing with them to no avail. So went back to square zero and stood in line. By then it was around 2100 I had landed at 1730. Talking to a few people I heard that everyone standing in the queue had missed at least one flight connection some have lost two just by standing there waiting for hours. Quite a few of them had arrived with me from Atlanta. An american woman about 80 years old with a walker, she looked worried and tired, I asked her if she needed help she said “I wish you can make these French understand that they need to stop talking to each other and work on our boarding passes because we are all missing our flights. She said: they are so incompetent they know nothing about anything. I arrived from Atlanta at 1730 it is now 2130 I have been sent from terminal to terminal until I ended up here where my flight is supposed to be going from but I have already missed it and the next possible one as well. I have been asking for a wheel chair since I arrived and they say “yes madame right away” and then nothing”. I felt bad I couldn’t do anything for her.

When I finally got to the Transit desk it was 2230. My prayers must have been heard by then because that last person finally listened. Listened as in ” didn’t call the next person in line within 2 seconds of me opening my mouth to speak”. I told him my situation, he checked his monitor and came back with ” sorry can’t help you, you have made the reservation yourself, it is not rescheduled so I can’t issue you a visa”. I was like what? I didn’t do this reservation, with my original reservation I would have left to beirut this morning at 1030. Your office booked me on a different flight from Atlanta and gave me this connection without even asking me if I had a visa. he said sorry the system here doesn’t show me what you are saying. It says your reservation is the original. I said “listen I received an email from AF yesterday morning about the modification of my reservation…” he wouldn’t listen he kept saying ” Madame je vous dis j’ai votre reservation devant moi sur l’ecran et c’est l’originale” (meaning the system is showing him the reservation is the original and has not been modified ). I wanted to scream and pull him by his big ears, shake his head and tell him to listen to me. But of course I contained myself, instead I said “listen when I make a reservation myself trust me I wouldn’t make it with 20 hrs waiting in the Paris airport and especially with no visa”. After 30′ of arguing with him he finally looked at the email I had and said “so you came from Atlanta when? and you are leaving to beirut when? and do you have any luggage?” turned out he had no trace of me being on the Atlanta flight to Paris, he doesn’t have me on the next day to Beirut either and to top all this he has no trace of my luggage. No tag numbers on my ticket from Atlanta, apparently the lady’s headache caused quite a mess. Can you imagine had I actually been a Lebanese terrorist like they think we are? Flying without a trace would be a dream.

So back to my savior. He said how did you get to Paris? I said on the 1730 flight, ( May be he thought I look fit so I must have run and swim to Paris from Atlanta !! ) he said “do you have your boarding pass?” I said “YESSS” with excitement, thinking thank God I didn’t throw it because at this point my boarding pass is the only proof to make him take what I am telling him into consideration. He called his boss to the desk straight away, explained to him the odd situation, his boss first reaction was : ” Don’t worry about the visa I will issue her one but find me the suitcases before anything else”.
I hate flying AF, the only time I do is when I have no other choice and in that case I make sure I have a luggage insurance because I am 99% sure my luggage will not make it back on time or in worst cases won’t make it back at all. But no matter what the compensation is from the insurance it can never replace my personal stuff. So I am actually praying I get my luggage back.

Isn’t that funny they searched my little bag of peanuts and delayed a plane 50′ on my way out making almost every passenger miss a connection in Atlanta including me whereas now they have no trace of me getting on the plane or having any luggage. Ha!!

From 2230 to midnight I am standing at the desk with my savior still trying to figure out my situation. Everyone had left. All employees, all passengers finished their transactions. He made phone calls to every single person at the airport that he thought could help. Suddenly a woman he had called calls him back and says she has a number for him, he doesn’t know where she got it from, even his boss couldn’t believe it. I had 2 suitcases so we still have one missing number. She came back a few minutes later with another tag number. My savior insisted that the lady cannot nor he can confirm that these are the numbers of my suitcases, he said I really don’t think you will get your suitcases in Beirut. I said ok but please write me down these two tag numbers because I want to have 2 items to exchange at the AF lost luggage desk in Beirut, I don’t want them to ignore me and call me ” without a trace again”. With the suitcases mystery solved, or kind of, he then started working on confirming me on a flight for the next day as all the flights are full. 15′ later I had a seat on the morning flight and then he proceeded with the visa.

I sat on the floor opened my laptop and started writing this blog, I was waiting along with 10 others from different nationalities.

Around 1am I was freezing so I started doing my exercises there at the gates, I didn’t care about the police nor the security officers.
130 am an AF staff comes and calls some names for visas issued and I was among them, I said ” that’s ok it’s 130 am, I have to be back here at 5am, it’s not worth it to go to a hotel anymore” she said ” I am sorry, now you have a visa, you are not allowed to stay here, you have to leave the airport”. I was laughing, just because I didn’t want to tell her what I was thinking. And I just wanted to get on that morning flight and leave this doomed airport!!!

It felt good actually to have had the possibility to take a shower and rest even for just 1hour before heading back to the boarding gates and face more French chaos.

No delays this time, plane took off on time, it was a smooth flight, the landing was horrifying, the pilot hit the ground hard the plane bounced we felt like he lost control of the machine but straightened within seconds.

Baggage claim in Beirut, I waited with not much hope, just doing my job to wait before I go to the complaints and insurance desk when I suddenly saw 1 of my suitcases, I couldn’t believe it, a few minutes later the second suitcase showed up. I don’t know how they made their way on the right plane without me having a reservation but I don’t really care to know… I am so glad this whole mess had a happy ending.

P.S. Never flying AF again..