Is Roissy that bad?

The debates on the privatization of ADP have brought back the age-old debate on the fact that Roissy is one of the worst airports in the world. But what is the real story?

The problem with a bad reputation is that it sticks to your soles like chewing gum, whereas a good reputation takes a long time to build. So we’ll be honest: at TravelGuys we won’t say that Roissy Charles de Gaulle is the airport that impressed us the most or the one where we were the happiest to spend time.

But, in fact, do we end up not paying attention to anything after being a hundred times a year there? Is it that by getting used to mediocrity we no longer see progress?

Let’s try to give a little overview with the maximum objectivity.

Terminals 2A, B, C, D: correct but can hardly do better.

The connection between Terminals 2A and C has significantly improved the passenger experience. It has made it possible to concentrate screening/security operations while increasing the space dedicated to shops and living areas on the side of the boarding gates.

On the other side, the same thing is being done between 2C and 2D with, in addition, a greater fluidity of passage between the Schengen and International zones. In addition, there is a greater capacity to accommodate large aircraft.

The connection between terminals 2B and D
© Paris Aéroport

Speaking of terminals 2A, C and D, their “renovations” have been more like cleaning, and 2D is already dated and we are waiting to see the 2B. The real novelty lies in the interconnection buildings where the architects were able to be more creative.

For the rest it is difficult to do better, precisely because of the very structure of the buildings built at a time when security controls were minimal, and the passenger had to go as quickly as possible from the check-in counter to the gate. It is too often forgotten that airports were originally a passage place and not a waiting area, and therefore even less the living space that they should be today.

By building the junctions, Paris Airports has made it possible to recover vital space at gate level by moving the control areas, but the buildings are not infinitely expandable and it is not possible to consider doing better in the future without demolishing everything. Until then, the future will only be cosmetic.

Terminal 2E: clear progress but still not a living space

The 2E terminals are the most recent and logically do not suffer from the design limitations of 2A to D. However, the L-gate area is already being renovated to improve the journey and the commercial offer, as well as the installation of a more efficient baggage sorting system.

In our opinion, another more than significant improvement has been the implementation of connections between terminals 2E and 2F in both directions, even if we regret that in the direction 2F-2E we can only access the M doors by bus!

In the same way, we find the commercial and living areas too small, even if this has improved with the M building. In general, the fact that each area of 2E is “watertight” harms the overall experience, but we understand that there were constraints in the design. However, when you know Dubai, Singapore and so on, you can be disappointed. But I don’t find in this terminal (or anywhere else in Roissy for that matter) spaces where I like to stroll or that make me want to go shopping. Fortunately, I have access to the lounges of the airlines, which means that I spend a minimum of time in the terminals, but despite clear improvements over time, there is still room for progress in comparison with the competition.

I would add that despite the efforts made, the waiting time at immigration is still far too long (even in sky priority), especially at arrivals, and that the baggage delivery time is simply hopeless.

But all this will one day be a bad memory with the scheduled arrival of the future terminal 4 which we will talk about below.

Terminal 2F: undersized!

This is the first thing that comes to mind when we talk about the 2F: it is totally undersized to accommodate the Schengen flights of Air France and its Skyteam partners! People are crowded in the boarding areas, for the commercial areas and for the overall experience I will make the same observation as for the 2E but more severe: it does not encourage to stroll.

And I’m not even talking about the temperature in summer in this building with a glass ceiling: the system that is supposed to darken it is not efficient enough and the air conditioning is just as undersized as the terminal.

The interior of terminal F at Roissy
In fact, Terminal 2F is a greenhouse!
© TravelGuys

Terminal 2G: efficient but not very pleasant

G for…Guantanamo? That’s the first thought that comes to mind when you see this kind of prefabricated building hosting the “regional” flights of Air France (well, Gothenburg and Frankfurt….). It has an advantage: the controls are quickly processed and the boarding is fast. It has a disadvantage: located far from the other terminals it is only accessible by shuttle bus or by car if you go directly there. And globally the experience sucks. It looks like a project done in a hurry to relieve congestion on 2F, but it’s more like a parking lot for animals.

But we won’t blame Paris Airport since the genius behind this construction was at Air France.

Terminal 1: soon a mini hub for Star Alliance?

If there is a terminal that dates back to a time when air transport was not what it is today, it is the historic Terminal 1. When we talk about the lack of space in the departure lounges because we were not supposed to stay there for hours, Terminal 1 is the best example.

The good news is that satellites 1, 2 and 3 are being reunited to form a single boarding lounge offering more space and being able to accommodate more passengers in better conditions.

Roissy Terminal 1
The current Terminal 1
©Paris Aéroport
The future Terminal 1 at Roissy
The future terminal 1
©Paris Aéroport

It is a pity that this new building, which emerges around the existing terminal, does not include all the satellites, so Terminal 1 could have inherited the nickname of “Donut”.

Anyway, given the strong presence of Star Alliance airlines at this terminal, it looks like a mini-hub andif they were smart enoughto sell codeshare with connections in Paris, there is a potential to develop.

Personally I like this terminal a lot with its empty “heart”, the escalators in glass tubes that cross each other in height…. and much less the cramped conditions of its satellites. A project that should give it a real second life.

Terminal 3: you wanted low cost, you got it

A terminal which is dear to me since when it was still called T9 I took my first “solo” long-haul flights there at a time when my finances reduced me to low-cost flights.

What can I say but…it’s a low-cost and charter terminal. Meanwhile in terms of experience when you are willing to put up with what some of the airlines that use it put their customers through you are not too legitimate to complain about the terminal experience.

It will be destroyed as part of the construction of the future Terminal 4.

The Terminal 4 of all expectations

Initially planned for 2024, it will not see the light of day before 2028 and should accommodate the flights of Air France and its partners in a logic of growth of the airport’s capacity.

At this stage we don’t know more, but let’s hope that best practices are adopted in the organization of the spaces so that Roissy finally becomes a reference in terms of passenger experience.

Roissy ? Not so bad but not yet at the top

In the last few days, in the context of the debate on the privatization of ADP, I have seen an Airhelp ranking that made it one of the worst airports in the world. I think of this type of ranking exactly the same as for airline rankings. When the business of a business is not to make rankings this kind of document is only a marketing productthat allows to buy notoriety.

More reliable is the Skytrax ranking (although I have never met a Skytrax inspector in my life) which is still a reference in the industry. And what does Skytrax tell us? That Roissy went from 93rd in 2014 to 30th today. This seems to me to be much more consistent with reality.

No, its reputation as the worst airport in the world is not deserved and it is time to stop the “CDG Bashing” and see the progress made. From my own experience there really are worse airports than CDG today and you have to be in bad faith or walk through the airport without looking around to not admit it. The 3 billion euros invested in the period 2016-2020 did not evaporate and this amount will be doubled for the period 2021-2025.

After that there are still dark areas. Queues are still too long at 2E for example, either at the departure or at the arrival. Terminals 2A to D that can hardly do better in the future. The 2G and T3 are what they are and may correspond to a need, but as in aviation “you are never better than your worst product”. In other words: the passenger who now goes to 2D, T3, 2G or one of the T1 satellites doesn’t care if the experience is much better at 2E!

It is thus much better but we remain far from Singapore, Hong-Kong, Bangkok and I forget some. I deliberately forget Dubai in the list because the experience is very uneven depending on the terminal. Take Air France’s Dubai-Paris flight in the late evening, and what you’ll see looks more like the court of miracles than a quality experience.

In short,it’s good but far below the best. The question is whether CDG can do better.

As we have seen, there are “historical” constraints that limit the capacity for improvement due to the very structure of the buildings. Of course, there is still room for improvement, but I don’t see a big leap forward that would put Roissy in the top 10 except for the opening of an exceptional Terminal 4. In the meantime, the top 20 would already be good.

The biggest issue in Roissy is…

Today, the most destructive aspect of the passenger experience at Roissy is… the RER B! Not only is it hell for the passenger departing from Paris, but imagine that it is also the tourist’s first contact with “the real world” when leaving the airport! Add to that a congested highway that makes the RER the most convenient choice even at the cost of a detestable experience and you understand the nature of the problem.

When I hear the president of the Ile de France region questioning the CDG Express project, I am stunned because this wart that is the RER B (as much as the court of miracles that is the Gare du Nord) destroy the passenger experiencer and, consequently, destroy value for ADP, for the airlines that operate there, but also for tourism and the economy of the Ile de France.

And what if it was simply the RER B that was the tree that hid the forest and by halo effect prevented us from seeing the progress made elsewhere?

Photo : Roissy CDG by EQRoy via Shutterstock

Bertrand Duperrin
Bertrand Duperrin
Compulsive traveler, present in the French #avgeek community since the late 2000s and passionate about (long) travel since his youth, Bertrand Duperrin co-founded Travel Guys with Olivier Delestre in March 2015.

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