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De Mess at de Gaulle

[Monday] Upon entering the lower level of the terminal where we we need to secure our boarding passes, we find a large crowd of unhappy people who have been standing for two hours in the non-air-conditioned entryway while French security cleared the terminal because of an unattended piece of luggage. Babies and children are restless and fussy; to take a bathroom break means losing one’s place in the order of those waiting to enter the terminal upstairs. Travelers are packed into a concrete staircase leading to the ticket counters and customs area. No one seems to know what is going on, just that we need to get up the stairs or risk missing our flight at 1:30 p.m. for Boston. We wait shoulder-to-shoulder and nose-to-nape, inching our way up the stairwell as sweaty people atop it either are admitted to the terminal after clearing the imagined security barrier, or simply crowd closer together, leaving faux room below for others. Speculation runs rampant, and a rude police officer occasionally stops by to update the crowd in French (“Not now,” one replies sternly at a request to repeat the news in English) with news that rarely is informative. One agitated European raises his fist in the air and shouts something like “Follow me to Gate 15!” and leads his army of half a dozen up the stairway, even though there is no room for them. Not wanting to start another French Revolution, we squeeze aside to let the insurgents through, hoping they’ll get their just reward somewhere down the tarmac. Ninety minutes into this scene, we deduce from talking others that we need a boarding pass to clear security. So we surrender our hard-earned concrete turf to find someone below who can help, and return to the end of the line/crowd to begin another assault on the stairway. In all, it takes three hours to reach our gate from the time we entered the terminal, where we discover the flight is delayed anyway. The French make lovely fries, cuffs, linens and vanilla ice cream. But they could use some lessons in running an international airport (Boston’s Logan Airport, in contrast, has a customs area that is nearly surgical in its operation and efficiency.) All travelers appreciate the thoroughness of today’s security standards, but a smile and an apology for inconveniences would go a long way in situations such as this one.