The Air France Fiasco – Paris, France

The Air France Fiasco
Paris, France

I don’t know exactly when the rivalry between the Americans and the French began. Perhaps the French don’t like Americans because they dumped a Disney theme park near Paris. Maybe Americans are bitter because they bailed the French out in World War II and still get sneered at when they visit the Louvre. I’m not sure exactly where this started, but all I know is I am from America and I hate France.

Well, that’s not true. I can’t say I hate all of France. I just don’t like Air France.

Est-que-c’est l’avion pour Turin?” I asked the Air France desk attendant in my broken high-school French, as I was waiting in line at Charles De Gaulle airport. I didn’t know if I was in the right line for my transfer flight to Turin, en route to my final destination, Rome. According to my watch, the plane should have boarded already – maybe even taxied out to the runway.

“Oui,” said the desk attendant. “Ze plane will depart in a few minutes.”

This wasn’t comforting because the longer I delayed in Paris, the less time I would have for my connecting Alitalia flight in Turin. I only had about forty-five minutes to begin with. Now it was down to twenty.

This was just the latest mishap I and my traveling companions had with Air France. Our original flight to Paris from New York had been delayed because of weather. When we arrived in Paris, we realized that Air France never switched all of us to a later flight destined for Rome like they said they would. After explaining the situation to Air France, we were individually put on separate standby flights at the last minute to get to our destination. My friends were lucky enough to snag direct flights to Rome, leaving me solo to go via Turin. By “solo”, I mean sans baggage because Air France rerouted them on a different flight altogether.

Parlez-vous anglais?” I asked the flight attendant as we were finally cruising Turin-bound at thirty thousand feet.

“Oui.”

“Am I still going to make my connecting flight to Rome?” I asked her.

I showed her my makeshift handwritten ticket and she saw that I only had the time it takes to microwave a bag of popcorn to get to my connecting flight.

“Non, I don’t think so,” she answered with the smile that all flight attendants are required to have, even when they’re giving you bad news. “I will check with ze cockpit to make sure.”

I was hoping she would come back with good news – like the pilot called Alitalia to tell them there was one more Americain coming on board, to please wait for him even though all Americans are annoying, except for Jerry Lewis and Rudy Giuliani. The flight attendant came back shortly and said (with a smile of course).

“Non, you probably will not make that flight”.

Suddenly, I became one of les misérables. “I have no bags. What if I run”? I asked.

“Maybe. You can try.”

“Do you know the layout of the airport, so I don’t have to waste time finding my way around?”

“I’m sorry. I only know Charles de Gaulle,” she said with a smile. “Would you like some more Coca-Cola?”

“No thanks.”

As the Air France plane landed in Turin just five minutes before my Alitalia flight was scheduled to depart, I positioned myself to be one of the first passengers in coach to get off the plane. I laced my sneakers tight and got ready at the starting line. The door opened, and the race began.

I sprinted passed all the first class passengers and down a blue line in a long hallway that led towards the baggage claim. It was only about four hundred feet long, but it seemed like it went on for miles. Suddenly, I heard the announcement, “Final boarding for Flight 1422”. I ran faster, like Franka Potente in Run Lola Run.

I made it into the baggage room. It was completely deserted. With all its confusing translucent glass walls and lack of exit signs, I ran in corners like a mouse in a maze. There was a map on the wall, but it was in Italian. I had no time to pull out my phrasebook. I ran in circles as the clock continued to tick. Miraculously, I found a translucent glass wall that was actually a translucent glass door.

I quickly spotted the departures sign and I ran up the stairs, where I found the Alitalia desk. I was going to check in, but the monitors were showing that Flight 1422 was leaving at Gate 8. I bypassed the desk and ran towards the gates. Luckily, there was no wait at the X-ray machine. Gate 8 was just a couple of feet away.

About four guys were at the gate desk, already packing up their books, when I arrived, totally out of breath. A man perused my shady-looking, handwritten transfer ticket and then picked up the telephone. Another man began punching numbers in a computer. I was wondering whether or not there was a seat, but in two minutes they gave me a plain card where they handwrote my seat number. I said, merci, but then realized I was in a new country and yelled “grazie,” as I ran down the tube.

A male flight attendant greeted me at the end of the hall. “You missed it,” he said in his Italian accent.

“Huh? Isn’t this the flight to Rome?” I frantically inquired, showing him my ticket. He looked at the ticket for a while and then stood there motionless and stared me down like I was a moron. My heart sank, and I breathed a deep sigh of disappointment, conceding defeat.

Then he smirked. “Just kidding,” he said.

I would have kicked him in the shins if not for him opening the door and allowing me to board.

“You’re the last passenger, but you’re the best passenger.” he said, chuckling in his Italian flight attendant smile. Very funny, smartass.

I made it to Rome and to my friends at our hostel. To make a long story short, our Air France fiasco was made even worse later on that day when they lost our bags. After the whole ordeal, you can imagine how frustrating that was.

Now I have my own personal reason why the Americans hate the French. Not all the French, just the people at Air France. Oh, and that one guy at Alitalia.