I am sitting right now in the Thalys to Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris. The way this works, as you might remember, is that you can check in the luggage for your flight directly at the Air France / KLM counter in Brussels Midi station, take the train to the airport, go to your terminal and then directly to your gate. Done. It should be easy. It should be a great experience.
But it’s not.
First and foremost, it’s no secret that I think that the Thalys (and related: the TGV) are really uncomfortable, ugly, shitty trains. They might be more reliable than the German ICEs. They might always be on time. But, hell, they look and feel like they are from the 70s and the interior design looks like someone took Duplo Lego bricks and tried to craft a seat or a door or a luggage rack with his eyes closed.
I don’t know really why, but it’s like I feel insulted when I have to use one of these trains. This is not even the main issue, because I am sort of used to this by now and it’s only a 1 1/2 hours train ride. It’s not that big of a deal to suck it up and patiently wait until that thing has arrived at CDG.
What pissed me off in August already when I took that train the last time, however, and which was even worse today was something seemingly simple: once on the platform, which train do I have to board? When you come to the platform there are two long trains waiting. There is no sign and no explanation which train you have to take for which destination, however. So, with the experience from my last trip, I smartly asked at the Air France counter how I’ll know which train of the two that will wait on the platform will be the correct one. They told me that I just have to check what car number is on my ticket and based on that I can pick the right train. The cars of the two trains have unique numbers and this is how you know.
Not a great answer, to be honest. I mean, how difficult can it be that they put signs on the platform which tell you where to go? Like: “this one is the airport train”.
And yes, I know what you think. Even simpler, they could put it on the electronic overhead destination boards. In fact, I believe they can’t, because there are not enough of these boards to sufficiently discern information for two different trains just due to the positions of these boards. And I anyhow doubt they could display two different train details for one platform on different boards.
But no worries, mate: I knew I could check for by car number and the Air France lady also told me, the train I was supposed to take would go to Montpellier. Alrighty. Annoying, but not a big deal.
The train leaves at 4:17 pm and I was on the platform shortly before 4 pm. As expected, there were two trains waiting and ready for boarding. I checked on my ticket for the car number, but… there was none printed on it. Oh, and all destination boards on the platform said: Perpignan.
You got to be…!
So that was not that helpful.
But then I thought: okay! How hard can it be? I was wondering that maybe the seat information would be unique enough? Unlikely I know (so stop rolling your eyes, you smug bastards), but look and behold: I was standing in front of a car where I could see signs with matching seat information inside the car. Okay, what the heck – I boarded the car and also checked the information on the electronic destination board on the inside. And it said this train goes to Charles de Gaulle airport and its final destination is: Montpellier. There! Weird, but easy enough.
So I stayed in that car, found a seat with a matching number and (because I am paranoid) carefully listened to the announcements. All of them confirmed that this was the right train and apparently the right car. Good.
At 4:12 pm, there was suddenly commotion up front. People jumped off their seats because somebody had indicated that this was, in fact, the wrong train. A conductor passed by and confirmed with an annoying attitude of stating the obvious that the correct car would be – of course – on the other train. What?! I stepped outside and saw indeed the staff from the Air France check-in counter all huddled around the first car on the other train, helping to load the luggage. It was 4:15 pm. And 10+ people rushed from one train to the other.
I snapped at the Air France staff that they should do a better job in helping people getting on the right f#$&!%* train.
Air France staff: I am sorry, Sir, but that’s the station.
Really?! So why would I give two fucks about whether the station is capable of proper signage or not? For me, this is a transport organized by Air France and it clearly does not work well. If it wasn’t for me wanting to buy Macarons in Paris for Lamia at La Durée as a thank you for taking care of the kids while I was gone, I would have actually chosen a different itinerary (i.e. not involving a Belgian train connection, because there potentially is this element of incompetence and unnecessary stress – I did not expect that it would happen again, but here I was).
I am sitting now in this…hrm… “train” and I should reach the airport shortly. Everything in here annoys me. The design. The missing announcements. Even the fact that nobody is checking tickets (though there was someone just after the train had left the station who confirmed with everybody in the car that they wanted to go to Charles de Gaulle).
I guess more annoyance will await me at the airport, because the check-in desk at Midi station did not check in all my luggage. They accepted the two regular suitcases, but told me I would have to take the box with Oskar’s new car seat to the check-in at the airport terminal because it was oversize. Also annoying, but i expected problems with this one.
Let’s see whether this will go any better.
Edit November 19:
I take it back. Everything in Charles de Gaulle airport was fantastic. No issues checking in the box. Super fast and friendly handling of everything. And I had even access to the lounge, which was exceptional, too. I get the feeling CDG is getting better every time I pass through…