Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport: a metaphor of the evolution of France

As a researcher working with an international standard committee, publishing papers and attending international conferences, I travel a lot. I often visit Europe, and, coming from the USA, the Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport is where I take most of my connecting flights. Last, as a french-native, I sometimes come back in the country to visit my family and then, land at this airport.

cdgdropoff
The way to the passenger drop-off. You have big baggages? Be ready for a nice workout and work on your arms!

As a french citizen and having lived in this country for more than 27 years, I am ashamed of this airport. It does not make justice to this country and its capital, which deserve better than that. This airport reproduces everything you can hate about france.

I regularly took this airport since 2008. I tried to provide feedback, I thought that it might help the airport to improve itself. This airport is also rated as one of the worst in Europe (see here on CNN or here on offeurope or here ). So, with this in mind and also with regularly feedback from its users (I hope I was not the same to send feedback), I was hoping progress would have happened over the last years. But after 8 more years, all what I see is just an airport that is a real mess, where passengers get lost, transiting from two gates within the same terminal can take more than 30 minutes and does not even provide basic services such an airport deserves. This is what you want to show to the visitors of the most visited capital in the world? Probably not.

For example, let’s see at some of the reasons the airport is so bad:

  • accessibility between terminals: terminals are a mess and for some terminals, you need to take a bus to move within the terminal. But not for all terminals! It can take up to 30 to 45 minutes to navigate within the same terminal. So, if you have to switch terminals, at least one hour is a reasonable bet
  • accessibility within the airport: stairs and lift are very very narrow and disabled people might have a hard time moving. Like everything in france, everything is narrow and small (french have this tendency to associate “petit” with all the words). Unfortunately, tourists coming for 2 weeks have big baggages. So, using the stairs is just a mess and most of the times, this is just a pain to carry your baggage. Also, when you arrive at some terminal, you have to use stairs and there are only small lift if you have heavy baggage or if you are disabled. Welcome in france, the country where we welcome everybody, especially the people in good health and will not stay too long!
  • accessibility of restrooms: there are very limited, their maintenance is terrible so that you might not even use them. Most of them no longer have soap and dryer are not working. I understand no why my US friends think french people do not clean themselves
  • lack of information of baggage claims: when you exit your flights, signs for baggage claims and information about where to find your baggage are hidden and not available. On my last flight, I found my baggage on a random ramp. Sure, there was a screen to give information but there was nothing on the screen itself. Ah, the pleasure to find your own baggage at 9pm!
  • lack of information at border controls: recently, during a connection, I got stuck in a corridor because of ID control. While I understand the airport has no control on the requirements of french authorities, it could at least provide accurate information to passengers. Instead of waiting 30 minutes while connecting flights in a corridor without giving any information, I would expect to wait in a big hall/room where the ID control takes places (what you have in most US airport) and where people can seat, go to the restroom or have access to water (if there was any water fountain). But as the room dedicated to ID check is as big as the stairs (remember, in france, everything is small), there is no space and so, people wait in line in a corridor and just wondering what is going on. This is probably a way to show to our tourists how dedicated we are to them.
  • wireless: the wireless requires to authenticate, give your name, e-mail, nationality, etc so that they can trace you and send you obnoxious ads. Fine. But you have to authenticate every time you move and your device connects to a new access point. So, you land: you have to authenticate. You try to access again when moving: you have to authenticate again every minute. You arrive at your gate: authenticate again. I think this is a way to promote the Minitel, a french thing that was supposed to beat the internet. Seriously, this shows the incompetence of the airport to provide a reasonably sized and user-friendly wireless network.
  • availability of water fountains: most airports now provide water fountains. This is important for an economic and ecological perspectives: why do you want to buy plastic bottles if you carry your own? And why paying for water, this is not a common good, especially when the Mayor of Paris previously declared the tap water was as good as bottled water? While there are plenty of water fountains in other airports (probably one next to every restroom in the USA), I found one or two in the whole airport. No kidding. I tried to reach out on twitter about this issue, the airport staff told me they can give me a map of the water fountains. So, just to make sure: every tourist that want water would need to contact the airport to find a water fountain! Please do not be too thirsty and take enough time: if you have to go to another gate, it might take more than 30 minutes to fill your bottle and so, more than one hour to come back to your gate. France is definitively a leader in the green economy!
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Taking the terminal E2? This is the bus map with all the drops. Ask an attendant at the airport, some are not aware there is a bus!

These are just some issues I recurrently experienced as a user of the airport. I am ashamed to know that tourists arrive to this country by such a airport. It should be a convenient, pleasant and useful place that welcomes and helps you when you arrive. It should be easy to use and navigate and go to the city (and I did not even talk about transportation to the city which is also a real shame). Not the actual mess we see every day and that people actually hates.

I do not understand why the company that manages the airport made this mess. The airport is not too old and I do not understand why there are so many accessibility issues (people using the terminal 2F can probably testify about the restroom accessibility). This is the hub of the most visited capital, so, having a good airport is a strategic investment. Other European cities develop very nice airports (particularly Amsterdam with Schiphol, very convenient), which proves making a big HUB with a lot of tourist transits is possible.

What astonished me is that the evolution of this airport sounds exactly as the evolution of this country. We changed the appearance, it looks nice from the outside (there are a lot of fancy shop in the airport, you can buy all the bullshit stuff that makes france famous) but they did not invest in the fundamentals: moving, getting around, services, connecting and having information. This is also the general feeling I have when I see this country: a strong focus on trying to work on the unnecessary cosmetics details whereas the fundamentals are still being neglected. Beyond these issues is the denial of the people: when you tell people that the airport have issues, they reply to you that there are no issue and that you are doing things wrong. They are telling you that the airport is not the problem and that you are the problem. Unfortunately and currently, facts and numbers showed the reality: the airport is considered as one of the worst in the world and it seems that france is definitively a sinking ship people are trying to escape.

Sad.

Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport: a metaphor of the evolution of France

Killing Treadmill boredom with TED talks

cheese
Shopping and tasting cheese in Toulouse

With the cold weather and travels, it is difficult to go always outside. It might be possible but definitively inefficient: if I have 30 minutes, this is way better to hit the gym rather than spending 10 minutes to look at the area on google maps, see where to go, ask for a map at the reception, etc. For short workouts, it is more convenient and efficient to hit the gym.

 

On the downside, such places are packed with gym rats and the view is not as entertaining as trails. Also, watching TV becomes boring very quickly. Plus, netflix or pandora are either blocked or too slow (depending on the country and hotel policy for using the wireless network). So, I took advantage of the TED android application: you can download video to watch later. So, you can browse all the talks, choose carefully some talks and find good one while you actually work out.

I tried to make a short list of good TED talks – if you are planning to hit the gym or looking for some stuff to watch at home, there is a list. I hope it might be useful to some of you.

  • The Price of Happiness by Benjamin Wallace – expensive stuff will not make you happy, this talk explains why. I always believe the most important value is in things that cannot have a price.
  • Can we eat to starve cancer? by William Li – inspiring talk that presents a new way to treat and potentially kill cancer. While we focus on invasive solution, I truly believe a long-term, proactive approach that focuses on what we eat everyday is more efficient than the actual solution that are invasive, aggressive and intrusive.
  • This is what happens when you reply to spam by James Veitch – epic and funny talk, very refreshing
  • Why the building of the future will be shaped by … you by Marc Kushner – amazing talk about the value and important of architecture: how it shapes and impacts our life. Small changes have a big impact for years. Definitively a topic to think about and can apply to many other domains (who said software or computer architecture?)
  • What’s wrong with school lunches by Ann Cooper – a simple (but smart) talk about actual issues with food provided in schools. Valuable talk by somebody that actually works in this domain.

 

 

Killing Treadmill boredom with TED talks

Bonjour Toulouse

After some days in the country side, it is now time to head to Toulouse to give a tutorial during the formal method day at the LAAS lab and present one research paper at ERTS 2016. I had a last run in Normandy this morning.

Road in Normandy in the Morning
Road in Normandy in the Morning

My right leg is definitively destroyed. The repeated long runs on pavement in Prague had a cost I am paying right now. After reaching my weekly goal of 60 miles, I might take some time off: too painful to run, it feels it might eventually hide more serious damages.

In the meantime, Francois d’Haene won HK100. No kidding.

D'Haene finishing strong HK100 (photo irunfar)
D’Haene finishing strong HK100 (photo irunfar)

Congratulations dude!

Bonjour Toulouse

Back to my roots

I came back home for few days in my hometown in france.

Went for a run, exploring the trails around.

Should finally run my 60 miles-week.

Back to my roots. For some days.

And it feels good.

 

home
Good Morning from Le Neubourg, France

 

And of course, my family got everything I like. It seems they understand now that my heart is definitively not in this part of the world.

 

pb

Back to my roots

Last night the wifi (and google maps) saved my life

Two days ago, during a trip in Prague, decided to go out for a run. My hotel was kind of far from the city (about 4 miles), so, I looked at a map in order to figure out where are the big sightseeing points, where to go and how to come back. I took my phone for the music and was already on my way. After about 30 minutes of running, I faced all the old beautiful buildings. And lost track of where I was going. Who cares? The architecture is beautiful and after being seating my ass for 10 hours in a conference room, it did not matter if I was lost or not: at least, I was outside.

googlegod

After 1 hour going around the city, it was time to come back but heck, I did not know where to go. I was looking for a map but did not see any. Plus, my hotel was so far from the city center that it was not on the city center maps. And it was cold, about -7 Celsius and all I had on me was two t-shirts.

What do to?

Try to speak Polish to find my way?

Stay in the cold and turn into a snowman?

This is when I was hoping I had cell service and could find my way with god google.

But he heard me. Suddenly, I heard the sound of a message notification in my earphones: unexpectedly, my phone got wifi service. The signal of an unencrypted wireless network, in the middle of the city, reached my phone and sent me on my way to the hotel.

Miracles exist and after that night, I became a strong believer.

Thanks google.

Last night the wifi (and google maps) saved my life

I love you Prague

I tried to maintain a weekly mileage around 60 miles and I almost failed last week. My love for programming came back recently and I spent some (probably too much) time prototyping new tools. I finally met the weekly goal before taking of for Prague. The weather in Pittsburgh was still cold but I still used running to commute. I even attend the fundraiser event of a friend that will run across Haiti, team Tassy (special kudos for this project to support the community of Haiti, you can also contribute)

rogertassy
Supporting Team Tassy at Franktuary

 

Traveling had always been a good reason to explore new cities. And running is an efficient way to explore many places when you have a limited time, especially when you are in a conference all day. And that time, even with icy sidewalks, I enjoyed running in Prague. For sure, there is not so much elevation, but who cares?

pragueoutlook
At the top of the city

Eastern Europe is definitively underrated while countries like France are insanely overrated and have a really poor service. This is my second time in Prague and I am surprised and astonished by the culture, the service and the respect I got from the residents in this country. And the food is also excellent! Way better than what I get in European countries that usually attract tourists. If you want to visit Europe, it might be worth to have a look at the East part of Europe.

I presented a my new research project today at the MILS workshop collocated with the HiPEAC 2016 conference. It is very exciting to present this new work and get feedback from the research community. After the talk, somebody came to ask me a question: “I noticed you are wearing Hoka shoes, are you an ultra-runner? I am one and will be running UTMB this year!”. I assume my running profile is more appealing than my research profile!

The next stop will be in Toulouse to present past research results at the ERTS 2016 conference and discuss with the AADL standardization committee. And also give a talk in the Formal Methods Forum. And probably to say hi to some french folks.

eglise
Notre Dame in Paris? No, this shot has been taken in Prague.

There are a lot of projects in the pipeline and I can’t wait to work on these. In a nutshell, the main goal is to facilitate the production of verified secure systems. Something that might be important when designing critical systems, such as a car, train or a plane. You might want to make sure the car you drive or the plane you are taking are secure. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. I am planning to complete the project by the end of this year.

Ah, and apart that, with some luck, I should be able to come back into a regular training cycle sometime in March and get ready for the two 50k I am doing in April. I am slowly starting to be exciting to run the triple crown this year. I might need few more weeks of rest and sleep inside my warm bed in order to be fully rest and ready for it.

I love you Prague

Looking for sun? Go to St John!

stjohn

Looking for a good trail race with some sun? There is a new race that might interest you: St John Trail Race. Perfect training: 13.6 miles, 2700+ ft of elevation, less than $30: it sounds the right event to train for the coming races and relax in a nice sunny environment.

 

I am signed up for now but not sure if I will definitively go there. It will mostly depend on other coming trips and vacation plans. I am really excited because this is the inaugural year and I might have the chance to do great for this first event (what about finishing in the top three in my age group)? I am not doing it this year, I make another edition for sure! No matter what, if you are looking for a nice trail race with some sunny weather you have no excuse, sign up for this race!

Looking for sun? Go to St John!