To Africa and Back
I must by start this by saying that despite Charles de Gaulle airport being my absolute least favorite airport in existence, I was extremely fortunate to run into some really helpful people without whom I would not have caught my plane.
When I arrived at the airport and parted ways with Jean-Claude, I looked for the AirFrance counter. My bag was supposedly interlined all the way to Port Elizabeth, but I was still a bit nervous. I went to the AirFrance hub (not the counter, just a sort of customer service area) and asked where I would need to check in, explaining that I had been out in the city on a layover for the past 13 hours. The woman at the counter directed me to a counter near the hub.
As I peeked around the corner, my mind went numb: the line was at least thirty people long, snaking this way and that. I was never going to make it. Luckily, I noticed the electronic, do-it-yourself ticket machine and I hurried over to stand in the short two-person line. I gave it my passport, my last name, and it printed me out what appeared to be a ticket. Happily, I followed signs that said “All Gates” (or the French equivalent thereof.)
As I stood in the short line, I noticed that my “ticket” said that I needed to re-check my bag. On closer inspection, my “ticket” didn’t even say my seat or gate number. I panicked. I ran back over to the snaking line, and I could feel my heart race. I was never going to make it. But maybe . . .
I ran back to the customer service hub and acted like I had no idea what the paper said. I told the woman I had checked in and this is what I got. What do I do? I felt bad – it was essentially skipping the line – but maybe she would help me and give me a ticket. The woman stared at the “ticket” and looked out at the line at the counter and then to me.
“I can print out your ticket here,” she answered sweetly. I think she could tell that I was absolutely out of time and was doing me a favor. I am so grateful!
After receiving my ticket, I hurried back to the border police – the line I had been in before – only to find that the line had tripled in size. We waited and waited . . .then waited some more. The strange thing was, no matter how much time passed, I didn’t move in line. Not one inch. As it turned out, all of the border police had taken their break at the same time and there was no one manning the gate.
Not short on guards or the guards were slow.
No one was at the counters. Not a single counter.
One of the airport employees noticed and went to fetch a border policeman – or two – to get the line moving. We waited some more, and then, slowly, one line opened. It was painfully slow. Then another. Oh, the waiting! The employee had taken it upon himself to direct the mass of people in four separate lines to the only two open windows. And just when I was getting close, someone behind me unhooked the rope that forms the line and a flood of people pushed in front of me. Like a stampede.
And nobody did ANYTHING.
I stood in line for at least forty-five minutes while others behind me had bullied their way up front in about ten. I was furious and terrified. How was I ever going to make my plane? Finally, I had to simply pick a line and stick with it for my own sanity. It was the slowest process I’ve ever seen at an airport, but eventually, I made it through.
But not before one of the border police threw a temper tantrum and turned his light off, coming out to shout that he would not help anyone until everyone was behind the yellow line.
Oh, Charles de Gaulle.
Once through the border police (who stamped my passport as having left Paris on 5/4/2012 despite the one before stamping it that I had arrived on 5/5/2012,) I practically ran towards my gate. Luckily for me, at the end of the terminal, I was directed to a bus that would take me to my gate.
I had taken one of these buses before, on my way out of the airport. It was slow-moving, it twisted and turned about the airport grounds so many times I would have thought we were driving through a maze. As I exited the bus, I hurried inside, happy to see my gate. It was already boarding. I sat down and pulled out my tablet, quickly logging in to my email.
“I am fine need to board love u”
I hit send and hurried to the looming and enormous AirFrance jet waiting outside for me.