"The evolving Francophile..."

My husband Jack has always wanted to live in Paris and learn French. I thought it would be good for him to achieve his life time dream. Hence, we moved to Paris in 2008. My first year was difficult. I started "missives" to relieve some stress and chronicle my life so friends back in the US could read what I am experiencing. I currently write about my food and travel experiences, which is my passion.

It is definitely a challenge to live here, but each year it gets easier, and quite enjoyable, in large part because I value friendships over locale. I have a love/hate relationship with Paris as do most Parisians, mais La vie est belle (but life is good)!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG Paris customer service and beyond…

Going home for the holidays

Typically I write about food, restaurants, and travel. But this time around I wanted to share our experiences lately flying back to the US for the holidays. Because it seems like it’s implausible, but at the same time you can learn from our mistakes when dealing with CDG-Paris employees, regardless of what airline you use.

Where to start, we booked months in advance our flight from Paris to San Francisco through British Airways (BA). The flight was supposed to leave December 1 Paris to London then London to San Francisco. 

On the morning of December 1, as we woke up early to prepare for our flight, I decided to check my email, which I wouldn’t normally do, but something said I should check.  I got an email that said that our BA flight from Paris to London has been cancelled and we can call a not-toll free number or re-book online. So, Just Jack immediately went online to re-book; the BA systems would not allow him to rebook. So, he immediately called the 800#; however, the phones are only answered between 9 am to 2 pm. And, this transpired around 8 am.  So, as soon as 9 am hit, Just Jack immediately called (Note: 800 numbers are not free in most of Europe). So, he had the privilege of holding, and paying for being on hold for 30 minutes. He then found a number to call from Belgium which was free, so he called that number and was on hold for 45-minutes before finally giving up.  So, our friend Steve encouraged us to go to the airport in person to get this straightened out at the BA ticket counter. He came with us for morale support. 
Note 4 agents were free; 1 agent is on the right of the sign texting
Once we arrived at the BA ticket counter we noticed that there were several ticket agents that were free, but only 2 agents helping customers. So, Just Jack went to the available ticket agent and told her our dilemma. She said she couldn’t help us only one agent could rebook (WTF!), and we would need to get in the other line where an agent was already helping two customers.  So, Just Jack got in line, 45-minutes later the woman assisting the two customers got up in the middle of everything and left and was relieved by another agent. Obviously she didn’t want to miss her lunch break, what dedication.  Just Jack tried to tell her that we were to speak to her, but she said the new agent can assist us. So, after an hour the new agent finished with the two men; however, the one other passenger being assisted by the other agent was told to go to this new agent, in essence “cutting” in front of Just Jack, while the other agent and her co-worker left, I assume to go to lunch.  While I’m sitting there I noticed 1 agent was texting, another 2 were gossiping while Jack continued to wait in this one line.  After another 20-minutes or more Just Jack was finally able to speak to the agent.

The agent, pleasant enough told us that we couldn’t make our connecting flight (duh), and that there was no other BA flight today; however, he could book us on American Airlines (AA) for the following day which would fly from Paris to Dallas, and Dallas to Reno.  By European law, if you are stranded they are required to put you up in a hotel and provided compensation for your meals, but we declined since we have a home in Paris. So, heading back to Paris, we realized we had already shut down our apartment, meaning no refrigerator, no food.  We were so exhausted from this event that we did not feel like going out to eat, but I did find a can a soup that we shared.

Our friend Steve volunteered to take us back to the airport the following day. So, happily we went back to the CDG for our AA flight to Dallas. We checked in and everything seemed normal. We boarded our plane and about 45 minutes after the scheduled departure the pilot came on to say there was a problem with a cabin pressurization valve but it had now (finally) been fixed and we will be on our way.  About 10 minutes into our flight we were told there was a problem with the (just fixed) pressurization valve, and now, also, the backup valve was not working.  So since the pressurization cannot be done we would need to fly to London (diversion #1). We were flying at a much lower elevation so the flight took much longer than expected.  As we began our descent and landed, we were accompanied by a slew of fire trucks. Our first thought, are we going to need to evacuate from those chutes, already making us nervous.  But we were later told that since the plane was heavy with fuel it’s customary practice to have fire trucks follow the plane in case the brakes spark and could create a fire. Well that’s comforting to know.

Once we landed we had to remain on the plane. Interestingly AA made it as comfortable as possible for us. They had bags and bags of potato chips and water for us and we had access to the toilets. We were told that the part the plane needed was available in London and we just basically had to wait until it arrived, replaced and tested, which was more than 2-hours later, which meant we would certainly miss our connecting flight to Reno. 

After all is said and done, our pilot announced some more good news, since the crew already flew a certain number of hours, by US aviation laws they could not fly all the way to Dallas since that was beyond their allowed flying time, so we would have to stop in JFK-New York (diversion #2). So, as we flew to NY we all assumed that we would remain on the plane to change crew and we would clear customs in Dallas.  As we neared Dallas, our pilot gave us more good news. We would have to clear customs at JFK since Dallas customs would be closed by the time we would arrive!?!?  We were not happy with the news because in essence it would mean we would have to get all our luggage, clear customs and then recheck our baggage and re-board the plane. 

Once we arrived at JFK we disembarked, went through immigration and had to get our luggage to clear customs. The JFK employees must’ve been taking service lessons from the CDG, they were abrupt, rude and not helpful at all.  Once we cleared customs, we were told since everyone’s luggage and boarding passes were tagged with Paris to Dallas, all luggage and boarding passes would need to be retagged in order for them to depart New York for Dallas.  So, a long line started forming. Fortunately, we were not too far from the front and were able to get our new tickets and new luggage tags. We headed to security and after about 2-3 hours re-boarded our plane.

It was certainly a different crew and we flew to Dallas after an hour on the tarmac queuing to take off.  Once in flight we flew without incident.  We were told that once we arrived in Dallas we would have a packet with our hotel vouchers and new airline tickets for our destination for those whose final destination was not Dallas.  We were given our hotel voucher and a reservation confirmation (not boarding pass/ticket) for the morning flight to Reno.  After saying goodbye to our new friends on the plane, after all we had a common bond, it was almost like college hazing that brought us closer together, we headed to get our luggage.  Once at the luggage area, we were told that those of us with connecting flights, our luggage would stay at the airport for easy facilitation the following day, which meant we had no change of clothes.  Fortunately, I always carry extra medication that I need in my carry-on. It was already midnight and we all started getting into another line to get on the shuttles that would take us to our hotel, the Marriot, which I must say was very nice.

Once we got off the shuttle bus, another long line was created to get our room tickets. There was a departing and arrival board close to our line. Just Jack decided to check our flight scheduled for the following morning and discovered is was cancelled.  More good news.  So, we decided to get our room ticket and call AA once in our room.  Just Jack immediately called customer service and after much research they were able to get us on a flight that following evening.  So, Just Jack asked if we could have our luggage delivered to our hotel so we could get a change of clothes.  They said they would deliver it the following morning.  We slept like a log being so exhausted from all the adventures we had.  

The following morning, no luggage. So, Just Jack decided to just tell them DO NOT deliver it to the hotel, since we would be checking out in an a few hours. It appears he later discovered they had no idea where our luggage was. So, Just Jack went to the tiny store in the hotel. They had two t-shirts a 100% cotton shirt that was an extra large (too big for Just Jack) and the other was a blend. He got the 100% cotton shirt that says, “I love Texas”. I refused to buy one at this point, so I remained very European and wore the same clothes.

Finally, evening came we checked in and the ticket agent was incredibly nice. He checked to see where our luggage was, but could not find them, but was pretty certain it’d be on our flight. So we headed to security and they had one of those radiation rooms that I refused to go through, since I believe they are not healthy for you. So, I was literally patted-down all over. That was the only excitement of my trip.  We boarded our flight to Reno and fortunately a friend picked us up and we got to our cabin after 3-days of adventures.  And our luggage arrived with us!

Flying is definitely not what it use to be. Here are a few tips and tricks and things you should know when flying from Europe:

  • Always check your email, phone messages or phone texts to see if you received a message informing you that either your flight has been cancelled our delayed.
  • Unlike in the US where we have 24-hour free toll free numbers for customer service, you will pay for most 800 #’s in Europe. So, check and see if there are alternative numbers that you can call without being charged.  And, always check their operating hours.
  • Online re-booking for some airlines are either not working or did not reprogram that you can re-book your flights. Therefore, it might be better for you to just go to the airport.
  • If you are connecting on a flight and will miss that flight, check for alternate ways to get there. For example, had we started earlier, we could’ve taken the Eurostar from Paris to London and made our connecting flight.
  • Always have your passport readily available with your airline ticket. They checked you at every “check-point.”
  • By European law, if the airline makes you miss a flight and therefore you need a place to stay the airlines are required to provide you with accommodation and reasonable compensation for your meals.

In summary, we fault BA. Their systems failed, their customer service failed.  I wrote them a letter of our experiences on December 4 and have yet to hear a response.  On the other hand, I do not fault AA at all. They did all they could to accommodate us and make us feel comfortable when our flight was either diverted our delayed. So, kudos to them.

As most of us who live in Paris know, CDG can be a very, very challenging airport. There is a reason why CDG is consistently voted as one of the worst airports in the world.  In fairness, they are making an effort to remodel the airport and some areas have greatly improved. Now if they can just improve their customer service, CDG would be a winner.  So, be patient, it does not help to escalate a problem or yelling and screaming, although at one point I wanted to strangle the ticket agent…., take a xanax or go have a drink. And, most of all Bonne Chance!!!


  1. What a horrific trip! Maybe try United or Air France for the voyage back.
    Jack wears the I <3 Texas T-shirt well. ;)
    Matt and I will be in Paris in March. Hope to see everyone.

  2. I visit your blog but never left a message.
    Yes traveling is not what it used to be and there are airlines I will never fly. BA is one of them. Virgin is wonderful. On long haul flight, I will pay extra for a direct route. Always call the airline to confirm your flight 2 days in advance.
    I am sorry this happened to you, particularly during this already busy season. Hope you have/had a wonderful time in San Francisco and your flight home is without problems.

  3. Sounds like you needed a drink after you got here. Hope you enjoy your visit though and just maybe if I do become an actor like I plan to i will visit Paris one day.

  4. Though you might find this latest rating interesting. All I can say is that CDG earned it!