Update on large airport rankings

I recently blogged on the world’s top performing airports.  Today, news came that, at the opposite end of the spectrum, Charles de Gaulle (Paris) Airport, better known as CDG airport with popular variants such as Roissy and Roissy CDG, ranked among the worst international airports according to yet another ranking website “The Guide to Sleeping in Airports“.

Oh, “le grand Charles” would not be pleased at all about this news item if he were still around! He would surely use some of his famous public statements in an attempt to correct CDG Airport’s faltering image, such as: « Vive l’aéroport CDG libre de tout défaut ! » or « Passagers de tous pays, oui, je vous ai compris ! ».  Hmmm… need I translate posthumous statements of such historical significance?  😉 

However, there is no need for alarm here, I believe, regarding CDG airport because what that website says really is that Paris, as a major world destination and the prestigious capital of France, deserves a higher level of service at its main international airport.

The “Guide to Sleeping in Airports” website is by no means scientific. It basically goes along with user reviews.

Whether or not French people are getting a bang for their tax-dollar (keeping in mind that the Aéroports de Paris management group has been privatised in 2005), and airline passengers for the airport user fee, might warrant deeper public debate or study.

It does seem that CDG airport authorities, Aéroports de Paris, might take notice of issues raised in the passenger reviews in order to make significant and yet inexpensive improvements for the benefit of CDG airport users. 

There are cultural factors involved here that are worth mentioning, some of which I have observed myself over the years. I have travelled through France on numerous occasions, sometimes using major airports, mostly driving through by car. I have had very few unpleasant encounters outside Paris. On the contrary, I was consistently charmed by French hospitality in the countryside and smaller cities.

Paris, is another story, with all due respect for “la Ville-Lumière”.  I’ve had minor mishaps with local folks in hotels, restaurants, banks, on the streets and in airports in Paris. Nevertheless, I would go back there anytime, given the right opportunity. Parisians are great people. However, there is a significant proportion of employees – whether from Paris or not – unhappy with their jobs, so it would seem, and they perhaps take it out on travellers and tourists. Some mishaps turned up to be quite funny, and as a visitor’s reward is to go back home with a delightful yarn to spin about a short stay in Paris. 

Not all passenger reviews about CDG Airport will take local culture into account. In other words, there are ways in which Parisians do their job that, say, adds colour to experiencing Paris.

Sticking to civil aviation topics, in 1985, I missed my Orly to Montreal (Mirabel) flight because my return ticket showed my airplane leaving at 7:30.  I took it to mean 7:00 pm, not 7:00 am. When I showed up at the airline check-in counter (the now defunct Nationair charter company), the company rep just laughed saying out loud how stupid a mistake I made and pointed out that my return ticket was now void. No other information was provided; this person had to close her check-in counter right there and then.

Well, I can think of kinder ways of dealing with ‘stupid’ passengers such as myself. I felt briefly both shocked and stranded. My well-wishers had already gone back home by car hundreds of kilometres away. Not a pleasant experience, although three days later I was back home in Canada thanks to a very pleasant Air France flight out of CDG booked by a helpful and compassionate travel agent at a rock-bottom fare.

I have crossed the North Atlantic dozens of times and up until then, and never had a Canada-bound airliner leave that early in the morning. But Nationair was a charter airline. Gate slot assignments are different for charter airlines. Was I supposed to know that fact? Maybe so, given the nature of my profession.

Meanwhile back in Ottawa, my employer at the time, Transport Canada – Civil Aviation, thought I had quit my job because I failed to return to my desk on the due date. When you are on holidays abroad, the last think that comes to mind are government rules on deemed abandonment of position in the federal Public Service. Another lesson learned.

Well, now I can laugh about the whole experience. I did not lose my job but had some explaining to do. What I am not laughing about so much is the fact that more than 20 years later, many Parisians employed to serve tourists and passengers are just as bold with foreigners as ever before. Yesterday, the “Le Monde” newspaper ran an article noting that fewer and fewer recent French high-school graduates are able to converse in English.

Public education, local culture, airport service levels… it all ties in together. Where does one start fixing the problem? Or, is the problem that serious? It could very well be that only airport users with negative experiences make their voices heard. Happy airport users simply go unnoticed.

Do you know where the sweetest airport P.A. voice originated from? Orly airport, in Paris. People call it “la voix d’Orly”. It’s charming and relaxing, and makes going through airports so much more pleasant and conceivably allays the fear of flying for some.

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