Going into this trip, we’d heard some horror stories about connecting through Paris Charles de Gaulle (CDG) airport. While it’s not the world’s most convenient airport to have a connection, it’s really not as bad as people make it out to be. If you have some idea going in of where your arriving flight is going to land and your outbound flight will take off, you can get a pretty clear understanding of what to do and where to go before you even get there. Plus, lack of working French is not a barrier, as the airport employs a great deal of multilingual staff whose job is to point people in the right direction.
Planning a Jet Lagged Connection through CDG
The biggest challenge we ran into when arriving at CDG was not airport-imposed: We were tired. You’ll probably be tired too, as even if you skip dinner on the flight and fall immediately to sleep, you realistically only have about 5 hours to sleep until landing. Even if you manage to do that, the magic of jet lag from an east coast departure will mean you’ll still feel like it’s about 2am EST. With this in mind, I planned a 4 hour layover, and would probably recommend going north of two hours if it’s your first time transiting CDG or even just your first time with a little kid. Our other option was a 90 minute connection and we chose not to risk it, although a quick glance at the clock at our connecting terminal told me we would have made it.
Given the option between 90 minutes and something longer, I’d advise going longer. We were first timers through CDG and would have been able to get on another flight 90 minutes later, but it was nice to not have to worry. It was also nice to be able to sit down, have breakfast and just walk around for a bit after being confined overnight for a number of hours.
Knowing your Route through CDG
It’s no longer necessary to show up at the airport and figure it out on the fly. Entire websites dedicated to easing your CDG transit experience now exist, and one that I found most helpful was EasyCDG. If you tell the connection guide where your flight lands and where your connection departs, it will tell you how to get there using the shuttle system (going in the right direction!), when you’ll encounter passport control, if there is any additional security, and an estimate on how long things will take.
Most flights arriving from the United States will land at Terminal 2E. Our departure to Florence left from 2G, which we’ll talk about in a bit. Using EasyCDG, my route was simple.
Hey Immigration, What About My Stuff?
France is part of the Schengen Area, a treaty zone encompassing most of Western Europe that allows for travel between member states with minimal or no passport control. Since you are arriving in France from the United States, you will enter the Schengen Area in France – meaning you will go through passport control after you land. From there, onward travel to Florence does not involve any additional passport control. You’ll land in Florence like any other domestic flight, much like when arriving in the United States, you would encounter US passport control at Boston or JFK, but not again when you connect and land in Texas.
Your luggage, on the other hand, is checked through and subject to customs at your final destination. Another part of the Schengen treaty specifies the entire Area as being one zone for the purposes of VAT and customs. So while you’ll enter Schengen in France, you won’t clear customs until Florence – very convenient, because it means you do not have to stop, get your luggage, and then re-check it. In other words, just keep going to your departure terminal!
I mentioned it in the previous installment, but if you gate-checked a stroller, you will not receive it back at CDG. It will be checked though to your destination. If you brought a carrier and your child is amenable, now is a good time to strap that on.
CDG Terminal 2G
I’m no expert on CDG, so the scope of what I can tell you about things to do on the outbound layover will be about Terminal 2G. First, despite having the same “number” as the rest of Terminal 2, it’s actually located in an entirely separate building requiring a bus ride to get to. On arrival, you won’t have access to Terminal 2E.
The best description I can give 2G at CDG is that it resembles a fairly nice train terminal. Rather than being like a traditional domestic concourse where you wander down a large pier and wait at your gate, the entire waiting area at 2G – including all retail, food and lounge options – are contained in a single large hall. You only proceed to your gate when boarding is called, and at that point you proceed right to a bus that takes you to the plane. Boarding is called 10-15 minutes prior to departure, so there’s not really any waiting once your flight is called.
Terminal 2G has an Air France lounge, which we visited but I can tell you is not spectacular. It is small, so as you get closer to a bank of departures, it absolutely fills up. There are power outlets, comfortable chairs, some light pastries, drinks and a coffee machine. You won’t get a meal here, and there isn’t a bartender or anything like that. Upon entry, the lounge attendant will give you the details on the wifi, and also inform you that restrooms are located in the terminal outside of the lounge. Unlike most domestic lounges, it is not a place to use a clean restroom or change a diaper, because it lacks that facility.
Beyond that, there is a large restaurant with counter service called Bert’s. It has plenty of seating and friendly service. We had breakfast here before heading to the lounge, and that was a smart move even if it cost a couple of bucks versus a free coffee and croissant in the lounge. There is a bar (the coffee kind) and some duty free shopping including cosmetics, perfume and specialty food products, but we skipped that as we were on our way in, not out. The terminal does have paid wifi, although I didn’t bother to use it.
Dollars to Euros – Use the ATM!
I also make it a habit to get local currency as soon as possible on arrival, and since we were in Euro territory, a 4 hour layover at CDG seemed like a good opportunity to do it. The far end of CDG 2G has an HSBC ATM. You can use your American bank-issued debit card here to withdraw Euros. Be aware that some banks charge foreign ATM fees plus an exchange fee. For that (and other reasons) I recommend Fidelity, who refunds any ATM surcharges – including foreign ones – and imposes none of its own. Fidelity does, in theory, pass on their processor’s 1% foreign exchange charge, but I don’t recall seeing that actually come out of my account. In any case, ATMs – even with a 1% fee – will provide you with the most favorable exchange. I would not recommend visiting the Travelex booth or any other exchange services like that, since you’re going to get ripped off on the exchange rate.
When boarding is called, you basically proceed out through the same doors that brought you in, then turn left. Walk with the crowd down the bridge to the gate, have your boarding pass scanned, get on the bus and board the plane.
As we got off the bus to wait on the tarmac for boarding, it happened again – the Air France flight attendant working the boarding process held the line and insisted we come to the front to board first because we had a child. We thought that might have just been a refinement for long haul flying, but it appears Air France does it across the board – including on CityJet operated flights, as this one was.
When we took our seats in business class, which is essentially an economy row with the middle seat blocked, we were directed to switch with the folks across the aisle. As it happens, the Avro RJ85 only has the additional child provisions like a mask and life vest on the left side of the aircraft. To save any awkwardness, I’d suggest trying to reserve on the left side (Seats A/C, not D/F) if you can. Overall, it wasn’t much of a hassle. Since the row had 3 seats, we had them remove the block in the middle seat and just put our daughter there. Intra-European flights of 1 hour apparently also get a meal on Air France, so if you had a long layover and are ready for lunch, you’ll get a tray in business class. I believe a snack/sandwich are served in Economy as well. I wouldn’t go out of my way to pay money for intra-European business class, but it was part of our award since the long haul segment was in business. The service in either class is going to be a little bit nicer than what we’re used to on a domestic US flight, so enjoy it.
On to Florence
After a very short flight, we landed at FLR, got to the end of the runway and the plane did a 180 to taxi right back the way we came over to the remote stand. A very short bus ride brought us to arrivals – an entrance right next to baggage claim. Even better, FLR has luggage carts just sitting around, completely free of charge. Think Smart Carte, but with brakes and without a $4 fee. A walk through customs, without so much as a question if we had anything to declare, and we were outside.
The taxi stand at FLR is a short distance from arrivals. Just leave the airport and make a right down the sidewalk. Follow it until you see a line of cabs. It’s a flat rate of 20 euro into the historic center, with some increases for nights and holidays. Luggage is 1 euro per bag, up to 5 euro. Every cab I’ve been in has been clean, and drivers are generally very patient if you have a car seat to install. Tipping isn’t customary in Italy, but I usually do tip cab drivers a couple euro (usually rounding up to the next 5) on the basis that they’re losing some time while I fumble with the car seat. You are by no means obligated to do it, and they don’t expect it, but I appreciate the courtesy I’ve received.
This is where I’ll warn you against renting a car in Florence, especially if you’re staying in the city center. Florence has a rather complicated ZTL, Zona a Traffico Limitato, or limited traffic zone. You essentially cannot bring a car into the historic center most hours of the day, with some exceptions if you’re living or staying within the zone and have arranged parking – but it still involves knowing the roads you can and cannot use, and then having someone call ahead to the police for you as there are gates that must physically be lowered for you to enter certain areas. Florence is a really walkable city and a car is absolutely no help. If you plan to visit the countryside, rent a car outside of the ZTL for the day and return it before you get back, or even better, arrange a private driver – by the time you add up the rental car costs including gas and tolls, you may still come out ahead. Plus, drivers may be permitted to enter the ZTL and pick you up outside your door!
The airport to Piazza del Duomo is roughly 15 minutes in light traffic. After that short and uneventful ride, we arrived safely at Granduomo Charming Accommodation, our home away from home for the next nine days.Up Next: Granduomo Charming Accommodation; Day of Arrival Activities