By a sheer stroke of (bad) luck, my flight to Germany a few weeks ago was booked via China Southern Airlines and had THE WORST layover times: 9 hours in Guangzhou, and 9 hours in Paris Charles de Gaulle. This turned what could normally be a 21-hour trip into a 36-hour nightmare that seemed never-ending.
I guess it wouldn’t have been so bad to be stuck at CdG had I not had to go through the 9-hour layover in Guangzhou before boarding a 12-hour flight to Paris. Free wifi at the airport but stuck behind the Great Firewall meant it was a huge ordeal trying to browse the internet or even blog, which was what I had planned to do. No Google, no Facebook, no Flickr… I ended up subscribing to a VPN service just to Facetime my family back home in Manila.
The flight to Paris was uneventful: I was knocked out even before take-off in a great window seat that had tons of leg room. We landed around 7am Paris time and my onward flight to Munich was scheduled for around 4pm.
While you might think that’s a decent amount of time to get to the city center and maybe see the Eiffel Tower or the Arc du Triomphe, I had these things to consider…
Charles de Gaulle is a labyrinth of an airport to navigate. There are three different terminals as well as different wings to these terminals, and when I saw that the left luggage counter was a good 30-minute walk away from my gate in Terminal 2F, I kind of lost my eagerness to venture outside the airport. Security checks are pretty thorough, so expect some time in the queue there as well. All told I estimated around 90 minutes of my 9 hours would be eaten up just by this.
The train from CdG to Gare du Nord is 10 Euro per way, after which you’ll need to get on Bus 42 to head to the Eiffel Tower (which is actually the only thing I wanted to see anyway). While information I found online is pretty thorough about where to catch the train from the terminals, putting instructions into practice can be a different thing altogether. With the train ride 35 minutes long plus the bus ride approximately 38 minutes long (19 stops!) I was looking at more than an hour’s travel time one-way.
On Bus 42 you can get off at the Champs Elysee and from there hoof it to the Eiffel Tower — a 25-minute walk. You can see the Grand Palais and Petit Palais en route, and people-watch as well as hang out on a bridge over the River Seine.The Arc du Triomphe is also only a 32-minute walk away from the Eiffel Tower. I’d estimate about three or four hours just sightseeing and maybe grabbing a bite to eat. From the Arc du Triomphe, I can walk to a stop to take a bus or two trains heading back to CdG Terminal 2.
So that’s six and a half hours of travel and sightseeing time, but it doesn’t include waiting times for buses and trains. Missing a bus or train is a big fear of mine especially since some modes of transport only leave hourly. Also, signs are in French, which is a recipe for getting lost. Lastly, I didn’t have any data access on my mobile which meant I couldn’t Google for map directions and transport schedules on the fly.
I would need to be at my gate 45 minutes before departure and was just not confident enough in my ability to navigate Paris on my own to risk missing my flight.
So that’s how I ended up having to waste 9 hours inside Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Here’s how I did it.
How to Waste 9 Hours at Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport
Buy the “Wifi Stronger” 24-hour internet access. Yes, the airport provides free wifi, but you need to re-login every 15 minutes. When I attempted to use the free wifi it didn’t work for me!
For 9.90 Euro I had a speedy connection (up to 10x the speed of the free version), no automatic disconnection, no ads, and could connect up to five devices. This was perfect because I had a laptop, a smartphone, and a tablet. Each was a different way to pass the time.
Check out the shops. I remained in my terminal wing the entire time because of said labyrinthine structure of the airport, and stayed airside since I was too lazy to attempt to pass through security again. While the shopping was not as diverse as, say, Singapore’s Changi airport, looking at Longchamp bags, Paris souvenirs, and Laduree macarons broke up the hours into more manageable bits.
Grab a bite. Most of the airside restaurants are just coffee and sandwich shops, so I decided to go for something uniquely French. Yes that’s right, I went for a croissant and a pain au chocolat (I’m such a tourist!).
I would have wanted a more substantial meal, but I was saving my euros and figured if I could tide myself over until the afternoon flight I could take advantage of the in-flight meal.
Hunt down a water fountain. Well, this was an exercise in futility because the only water fountain I found at one of the gates on a lower floor didn’t even work. I wasn’t far enough into my trip to start trusting water from the tap yet, so I just had a latte.
(I did say this was how to waste time, right?)
Charge your gadgets. Aside from the numerous outlets at the gate seating areas, there are also special charging stations for smartphones. This is all for free, so you never have to worry about running out of juice. Just find the charger end that’s compatible, plug in, lock up, and go wander.
My problem was that I’d packed my multi-adaptor in the check-in luggage, so I used my laptop sparingly.
And lastly, the biggest time-waster…
Have a flight delay. The hours passed quite quickly and soon enough it was an hour before my expected departure. I headed dutifully to my gate and took a seat. I wondered why the big screen didn’t have my flight information, so I went to an info kiosk and input my flight number. There I saw that our flight had been delayed an hour and had a gate change.
That hour stretched into 90 minutes before they started letting people board, and the queue was quite long so it was another 20 minutes before I was finally seated in the plane.
Then the pilot announced that because someone had missed boarding, they needed to offload his bags. Another delay.
And finally, as we moved away from our gate and taxied onto the runway, some guy up front had a heart attack! After attempts at CPR we went back to our gate to offload him, his partner, and their bags.
In retrospect the earlier flight delay probably saved his life. If we had been in the air we would have had to touch down somewhere and wait for paramedics. At CdG the paramedics were there tout suite as soon as the forward cabin door opened.
We finally had wheels up almost two hours after the initial departure time, during which the Air France attendants served me this, our “in-flight meal”:
And so, folks, that’s how to waste 9 (actually nearly 11) hours at Charles de Gaulle. I wouldn’t recommend it. If I had that day to do over again I would probably have planned better for an adventure on the streets of Paris. I should have trusted in my travel skills and enabled data roaming and thus had a good time of it.
The only time I did see the Eiffel Tower was during my flight back home: