February 22, 2008
Paris Departure – Lots of Bee Watcher Watching
Up early this morning (515am) for our flight out at 1040am from Paris – Charles De Gaulle. Up and going, and by 615 or so, we were ready to roll. We let the Samwich blow off some steam, and went to check out of the hotel (which we would recommend – see the web address on the last post). No problems.
We had pre-arranged a car to pick us up and bring us to the airport (the pickup from the airport was flawless). We had asked for them to come at 7, but there was a mixup, and they ended up not coming (they wanted a confirmation, wanted only to come at 745am, etc) so we just got a cab.
When we get in the cab, the taxi driver asks us in French where we are going, and we tell him the CDG airport. Which Terminal? Terminal 2! You would have thought we were total idiots! He starts ranting (in French), basically saying “Duh Terminal 2, which one? A, B, C, D, E?”. Uh, we have no idea. He mutters in French something unintelligible, and looks it up in some book, after asking us what our destination is. We think we are heading to the right place. CDG is a huge airport though, so ending up on the wrong end would suck.
One thing that struck me getting out of Paris is that there are no freeways, highways, or even any sort of limited access roads through the city (that we saw at least). As far as I could tell, the city itself is a highway free zone. Granted, the traffic wasn’t horrible at 715am, but it took a half an hour to get from the city center, just south of the Seine to the highway outside of town. I’m not saying this is good or bad, but certainly different than any American city, and different than many cities in Europe as well (to take that long to get from the center to the highway).
Also, our cab driver was super into French talk radio – from what I picked up it sounded like political talk radio (they were talking lot about Sarcozy and also Obama). He liked it LOUD. I can just imagine what Rush Limbaugh sounds like to foreign ears. I didn’t dare ask him to turn it off after the whole Terminal-Dumbass incident.
Anyway, we roll into the airport (Terminal 2 E was our destination I guess) (it took about 30 minutes), with just less than three hours left till our flight, and look toward the ubiquitous “Big Board” to see if our flight is in this area. Bingo – AF 40 to Seattle, E 94, Area 5.
Walking in, we see pairs of guards in fatigues with machine guns. Its always spooky when I see this in airports.
The CDG airport uses the checkin method that I’ve seen before at many other airports (except the US) – where there are specific checkin bays for a flight or set of flights. Luckily, bay 5 wasn’t crowded, and after waiting for just a few minutes, we got to the first bee watcher. (See Dr. Suess’s “Did I Ever Tell You How Lucky You Are?”).
Bee Watcher #1’s job was to make sure that you went to the right bay. Now, from watching other people who went up to Mr. Bee Watcher #1, you would have thought there was some sort of advanced calculus exam going on. He spent a minute or two with each, and he turned away at least half of the people.
Our turn, and I’m ready for the Bridge Keeper at the Bridge of Death. Ok, I’m ready, ask me your questions, I’m not afraid!
“What is your destination?”
Huh? How anti-climactic.
On to the line for Bee Watcher Watcher #2 Bee Watcher Watcher #2 wants to see passports, and asks you some security questions about your carry on bags. Are you carrying any weapons or knives? Anything sharp? Note – tweezers – ok in the US, not ok in Europe. We had to move some from carryon to checkin.
Bee Watcher Watcher #2 then sends you to the right line or your flight (each flight, different line within the gate). There are also ten electronic checkin kiosks, about half of which are unused. I asked Ms. Bee Watcher Watcher #2 if those could be used, and she said “Yes, you can use those to checkin, then get in the line to drop off your bags.”
Ok, I’m not sure what this is going to save, but whatever, I’ll try it out. Anh gets in the regular line, I go over to a kiosk and start the checkin process. The kiosk says that it works for both with checked bags, and for carryon only. I start through the process, and by using my passport it finds our record, and we are good to go. As is common with international flights, the info from your passport needs to get entered (number, expiration date, country of issue, country of residence). Northwest rocks at this – when you scan your passport, it gets the info off. However, Air France, not so good. Even though there is a passport scanner at the machine and it recognized my passport, I have to manually enter all the data.
Pang #1. I’m entering my data, and it asks if I’m a man or a woman. I pause, and try to think about why it’s asking. These days, this question requires context for me. Ah, to match my passport. On my passport I’m “M”, so I have to enter that. I know I know, I’ve said about a billion times that I don’t care. I cared. I didn’t want to hit the blue button, but I had to.
I finish up with the passport data entry, and I expect it to ask me if I want to check bags (which I do – two of em). No such luck. It spits out three boarding passes. I’m expecting to see Mr. Megan Wallent on mine, but at least they don’t print salutations.
At this point, Anh is almost first in the Bee Watcher Watcher #3 line (this person at least has a real task – to check the bags). We go up to the counter, give her the boarding passes, and say we want to checkin two bags. We have to show the passports, again, and she takes a look at each of us to make sure they match.
We get the bags tagged, and they are off. I’m super curious, but do not ask – what on earth are the kiosks for? You HAVE to stand in the line, even if you have no bags to check. Those kiosks are like Bee Watcher Watcher # 2 and a half at least.
Ok, we are off to security, or so we think. Nope, exit passport control. This is one thing I love about the US – no exit passport control. You want to leave, go for it!
Here we get to first see Bee Watcher Watcher #4, who makes sure that we have boarding passes and tickets, then lets us get in the line. She didn’t even check to make sure they matched – they just needed to exist.
Now, on to Bee Watcher Watcher #5 – again perhaps a real Bee Watcher – who is National Police, and checks our passports, checks our faces, and stamps our passports saying we left. Oddly, they never stamped our passports saying we entered. Odd.
We are not yet to security, but I can taste it. Again, there’s another Bee Watcher – #6 – again with the passports and the boarding passes, and insuring that we have same. He directs us to an appropriate line, which as soon as we get into it closes. We move next door – and it closes. Oh for Two. Line three – success! We can be security screened by the security Bee Watcher Watchers (#7 – although there were at least five of them).
With the baby, we have extra liquid, which means pulling out his bottle, plus out toiletry bags, and making sure it’s all separate.
We get through, repack, and are on to our “Gate”. Turns out that Terminal #2 E is under construction, so there are temporary structures for the gates – no jet bridges, and you get picked up by bus and brought to the plane when the flight is called.
We get there about 45 minutes before boarding, let the Samwich run around a little to burn off more energy pre-10 hours of confinement, and hang out. On time, our flight gets called, and we get to pre-board.
The boarding process required two more Bee Watcher Watchers, #8 and #9. #8 checks our passports and tickets (again!), and #9, an actual Bee Watcher, scans our tickets. Woo Hoo, we can get on the bus! After the bus is full, it waits a good 10 minutes to make sure its really full, and then goes on to the plane at 1kph. Literally. Walking would have been faster.
Anyway, we get to the plane, and there are of course boarding stairs, which need to get climbed. The complexity here is that we have our carry on stuff (backpack, my bag, Samwich’s small backpack), plus him (Mr. Wiggly at this point), plus his carseat. Stairs suck.
We get to the top of the stairs, and get on the plane. The purser asks where we are sitting, and I tell her, and then we try to get on – no such luck. She wants to see the boarding passes. Bee Watcher Watcher #10. At this point, in one arm I have Samwich, the other his carseat, and need to produce the boarding passes which are in my back pocket.
I smile and say “Sorry, I’ll get them. It may take a sec, ok?”
She smiles, and waits patiently while we get our passes, which we dutifully do, and we find our seats and stow our stuff.
As we are sitting waiting for the Bees to fly us to Seattle, I have Pang #2. In three months this hasn’t happened to me.
I miss Michael.
I start to get a little teary, but I don’t think anyone except for me noticed. I’m not saying that I wish I didn’t go through with my transition. I know it was the right thing for me. It is who I am.
Maybe it was the passport craziness. Maybe it was that instead of one of the Bee Watcher Watchers giving us two US Customs declarations forms and not one. Maybe it was the omni-present French choice of Madame v. Monsieur? Maybe it was that it’s not as “easy”.
For all of those reasons, and maybe more, I did and do.