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TRAVEL NEWS

‘Not as bad as I expected’ – What Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is really like this summer

Widespread chaos has been reported at airports around Europe this summer as airlines struggle with staff shortages, strikes and a high volume of passengers - but how bad is the situation at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport, France's busiest air terminal?

'Not as bad as I expected' - What Paris Charles de Gaulle airport is really like this summer
Delays have been reported at Paris' Charels de Gaulle airport. Photo by Ian LANGSDON / POOL / AFP

Paris’ main airport consistently tops polls for dissatisfied passengers even at the best of times and this summer has already seen strike action and a warning from unions about low staffing levels and long waits.

Throughout the summer we have seen news reports of long waits, chaotic scenes and cancelled flights at airports around Europe, so we decided to ask our readers what their experiences of flying have been this summer.

Delays and cancellations

Earlier in the summer, staff at Charles de Gaulle airport walked out in a pay dispute, leaving to approximately 25 percent of flights being cancelled over two one-day strikes, and the inevitable knock-on effects.

A survey from FlightAware showed that between May 26th and July 19th – a time period that includes the two strike days – Charles de Gaulle airport had the third highest rate of delayed flights at 43 percent, just behind Toronto Pearson airport and Frankfurt.  

However, the pay dispute has now been resolved and there is no further strike action planned for the summer (that doesn’t mean other disputes won’t erupt, however).

Among the people who answered our survey, only four percent had their flight cancelled, but 44 percent reported that their flight had been delayed, in most cases for no more than two hours. 

Jack Hoffman, who lives in Turenne, said: “I’ve flown on Air France from CDG to North America for five of the last six years – I skipped 2020 – and this summer seemed normal to me. Maybe I was lucky.

“My flight to Boston arrived about 30 minutes late and the return flight, I believe, arrived at CDG a few minutes early. Lines, wait times, clearing customs, baggage pickup all seemed normal for this time of year.”
 
Fellow regular flyer Julian Elliott, who lives in Tours, said: “I flew on July 18th and back again on July 22nd to CDG as well as many dates before this year. In the main, it’s been fine apart from one disastrous case of my suitcase being sent to Amsterdam when I asked it not to be.”

Nur Acosta, who flew from Nice to Charles de Gaulle for a connecting flight to San Fransisco, said: “The delay was at Nice airport for 1:20 min, but I did had enough time to go through security check at CDG and be on time for my boarding – I even had a time to stop at Duty Free to get some sweets.

“The lines were big at the security, but were going very fast, it seems to me was well maintained staffing. I was expecting the worst with waiting lines at security and we were lucky that we didn’t experience that.”

Lines and wait times

At airlines around Europe this summer the advice had been to arrive early and allow plenty of time to get through check-in, security checks and passport control, and passengers at Charles de Gaulle reported that this was generally necessary.

Charles de Gaulle is a huge airport so at the best of times you need to allow plenty of time, but our survey respondents reported a mixed picture on wait times, with some saying they are no worse than normal while others saying the airport is chaotic.

Obviously much depends on the time of day and the destination of your flight, but none of our survey respondents reported that it took more than three hours to get through all the airport controls and board the aircraft.

Marc Miller, from Hillsborough, North Carolina, USA said: “There were too many places to check in, all with machines not people and too few attendants helping.

“Very long lines at security, glad that The Local advised getting to CDG even earlier than the three hours recommended.”

John Zammit, flying back to Malta, said: “The airport experience was not too bad but for quite some time there was nowhere to sit (Terminal 1) and then we suffered a delay of 45 minutes.”

Nigel Day, of Charente, was flying to Bangkok. He told us: “Terminal 2 was very, very busy but there were no actual delays for me.

“More challenging was the mandatory automated check in and baggage drop for my Air France flight. Fortunately there were staff on hand to help me with this. Going through the border checks was straightforward, but I did have a priority pass so by passed the queues after check in.”

But others were not so lucky in their airport experience. Elizabeth Sanderson, from Boston, said: “It was terrible – understaffed in security and passport control, everyone was missing connecting flights.

“There were two people on passport control with at least 100 people trying to get through to catch flights.

“My return flight from Marseille was delayed in both Marseille and Paris and my bag finally made it home six days later.”

Early mornings seemed to be the quietest time at the airport, with Warden Black of Edinburgh reporting: “I passed through passport control and security checks in 20 minutes in total!

“Taxi arrived at Terminal 2E at 07.10 am and I completed the process to reach the air side by 07.30 am. The staff were amazing, polite, fast and efficient.” 

Lost luggage 

There have also been major issues with lots bags around Europe, again connected to strike action and staff shortages and the general advice to anyone flying this summer is to take hang luggage only, if possible.

Of our survey respondents, only four people were forced to leave the airport without their bags, having to report them lost or delayed. Meanwhile, others said that luggage took longer than usual to arrive at the carousel. 

All survey respondents were eventually reunited with their bags.

One American traveller told us: “After listening to all the news, I was pleasantly surprised that immigration lines were fast moving and luggage was there after about 15 mins of waiting.”

Travel advice

We also asked people who had flown this summer if they had any advice for travellers, and the main themes were;

  • Arrive early (between three and four hours before the flight time was recommended)

  • Bring hand luggage only if possible

  • Be prepared for changes to departure gates/check-in desks 

  • Don’t book connecting flights with short connection times 

Fiona Nunn said: “Ensure you get there 3-4 hours before your flight is due to depart; make sure your luggage meets all the criteria for your airline in terms of size and weight etc.

“Have paper copies of all paperwork as well as electronic versions and make sure you have completed all information online within the appropriate deadlines for visits/returning to EU.

“Check in online even if you still want or need to check in luggage or collect your boarding pass at the desk and allow at least three hours between flights when having to change planes in Paris – especially if you are wheelchair assisted.”

Amanda Beresford, who lives in Normandy, said: “Leave plenty of time – maybe twice as much as usual – for boarding procedures, be prepared for sudden changes of gate/platform and misdirection in the airport and don’t believe everything that’s posted on advice boards.”

Nigel Day added: “Allow plenty, I mean plenty, of time to get through it all.”

Many thanks to everyone who helped with this survey. Throughout the summer we will update our Travelling to France section if there are further delays on airlines, trains, or ferries to or from France.

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For members

TOURISM

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine

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