Charles De Gaulle used to send shivers down our spine. The thought of transiting through the airport meant getting lost, missing connections or surly staff seemingly specifically employed to disrupt a passengers day. This reason alone meant we had avoided Paris as a connection airport for many years, however we’ve been totally bowled over by the airport’s transformation. In December Air France invited us exclusively to visit Paris CDG once again and experience the ease of transiting through Europe’s largest hub.
The airport is Europe’s largest airport in terms of connecting flights with 25,000 connecting flights each week, dwarfing Frankfurt’s 14,000 connecting flights and London Heathrow that features just 7,000 connecting flights – which highlights Heathrow’s current restrictions created by the two runways available compared to CDG’s four. Paris CDG’s capacity is fairly substantial, helped by the fact the airport has a footprint a 1/3rd the size of Paris’ metro area.
The CDG airport is split into two main passenger terminals, CDG 1 which houses Gates A-D and plays home to non SkyTeam airlines such as Emirates and British Airways, while CDG 2 features an impressive 7 ‘terminals’. The 100,000 daily passengers flying within CDG 2 can enjoy a surprisingly short 20 minute connection time promoted by Air France, although, through walking alone, we would suggest a little bit more than that.
Connecting is at the heart of Air France’s product – with a staggering 50-60% of their passengers transiting through CDG airport. Most passengers will be connecting between short haul and long haul flights, and Air France has designed a wave system to bring aircraft in and out 6 times a day. Three waves of flights in the morning, and three waves in the afternoon, meaning connection times are kept to a minimum. For those looking for help, the airport is now flooded with staff designed to help passengers get from one gate to another, advising of the shortest possible route – Air France alone employs 7,000 ground staff in CDG.
For passengers wanting to make their own way through the 5km long airport can take comfort in the fact that the signage has been vastly improved within CDG, with simpler gate signs (similar to those found in Frankfurt or Amsterdam) guiding passengers quickly to their next flight. Our helpful tip is that WiFi is free in the airport too, meaning checking your flight status is now easy on your mobile too, with Air France’s powerful smartphone App also acting as an invaluable resource.
Air France has also put a large emphasis on their premium passengers, who enjoy a premium check in experience as well as a host of lounges including a First Class lounge and Business Class lounges in their terminals, with the crowning glory found in the best of all the terminal buildings the new ‘M gates’ – created exclusively for long haul flights to their most prestigious destinations. It’s baffling that the M Gates close at 2pm, considering the building houses some of the most luxurious shops, such as Chanel, Burberry and Dior, in an ‘avenue’ of fully designed boutiques rather than the traditional Duty Free outlets the world is used to.
Passengers travelling in First Class are catered to by 125 staff dedicated to them, that speak 3 languages as a minimum, the entire staff can speak over 16 languages. Once in the First Class lounge, with food by Alain Ducasse, passengers can relax in supreme comfort, with only a handful of First Class passengers in the lounge at any one time. Then from the lounge, just a moment’s walk from the ‘La Premiere’ check in area, a fleet of 28 BMW and Mercedes limousines whisk the airline’s most valuable customers directly to the aircraft without the need to walk through the vast airport terminals.
Behind the facade of shops sits ‘The Park’ a designer lounge for Air France that will be the blueprint for further lounges around the airport. Costing 13 million Euros, the new lounge has a feeling of nature running through the space, with trees, leave prints and natural materials filling the space, which is separated into several smaller spaces to offer increased intimacy. Naturally being an Air France lounge, there is also a Clarins spa which offers a variety of treatments before the flight. For those not travelling in a premium cabin can also enjoy a beautiful lounge space, an even a brand new Museum with a collection of historical paintings and sculptures that changes every 6-8 months.
Air France and CDG has proven to us that the airport can not only handle the shortest of connections, but also entertain us during a longer connection between flights. Considering Air France has now invested into both airport and aircraft, the carrier is well positioned to take Europe by storm, with swathes of Parisienne Chic.
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