The Security-Crazed Naked
Paris:- Friday, 5. December 2003:- I'm generally a patient person, but when it comes to air travel I have had about as much as I can take.
Charles de Gaulle Airport, from which I departed for my flight to the United States, could not be more user-unfriendly if it tried. I arrived via the RER line 'B,' which is a relatively quick, efficient and inexpensive way to get to and from the airport. But once you're there you're on your own.
You come up in a part of the airport devoid of any useful signs or information kiosks, where you have a choice of taking the elevator to levels one through five. However, there is not one sign to indicate where your particular airline is located or how you would get there even if you knew where it was.This is a great RER plan to get you straight to 'Ed's' place.
It turns out you have to take a shuttle bus from the RER station to your terminal, but to get to Terminal 2 you don't take the bus called line 2, you take line 3. Does it take a rocket scientist to figure out that it would be less confusing for people to take a bus called 'Terminal 2' if they want to get to terminal two? Or do the French just enjoy watching clueless foreigners wander hopelessly around the airport trying to find their airline?
Air travel between France and the U.S. used to be a piece of cake. You showed up at the airport with time enough to deposit your luggage and meander leisurely to your departure gate, and six or seven hours later you would be on the opposite side of the ocean.
These days it's like preparing for the Tour de France.
Before I even leave my apartment I make sure I'm not wearing anything metallic which may trigger the metal detectors, which are set so high that the fillings in your teeth make it go off. I then make sure that I have no suspiciously sharp objects in my carry-on luggage, and thus prepared, set off for the airport.It came flying with me once we got off the ground.
My recent preparations, however, have been sorely lacking according to the Airline Transportation Safety Board. The area just past the metal detectors is like a locker room, full of people trying to pull on their shoes, coats, scarves, etc. - in time to be able to catch their flight. I've never had to remove so many clothes since I was in seventh grade gym class. I half expected Miss Johnson to be lurking around the corner, ready to jump out and order us to drop to the floor and do ten squat-thrusts.
One of the most ridiculous things about going through security is that I need to be cautious of what underwear I've got on. Apparently, the underwire in my bra sets off the metal detectors. Maybe they want me to remove that too? Look out! That bra may be a danger to my fellow passengers! Why don't we all just walk through the metal detectors naked from now on?
I've really had it up to here with being asked to remove my shoes. I mean really... do I look like a terrorist? Oh my God! I said the 'T' word! Heaven forbid anyone utters that word within ten miles of any airport. If they did they would be hauled off to some dark prison facility, never to be seen or heard from again.
Do they really think a terrorist - there's that word again!!! - would actually say such a thing in an airport? Of course NOT! And besides, you have more chance of being struck by lightning than being killed by a terrorist. I don't know about you, but not a lot of people I know have been struck by lightning lately.
I realize the need for security precautions and am happy to go along with them if they are reasonable. But come on, do they really think the little old lady with the walker or the three-year-old who sorely needs his diaper changed is a threat to national security?
Now they have instituted a rule where they hand-inspect all checked baggage as well as carry-ons and it feels like an immense invasion of privacy when I open my luggage upon arrival to find a little note stating that some stranger has been rummaging through my underclothes to be sure I haven't stowed anything dangerous in my luggage.One of the alternatives to the RER for getting to the airport.
It especially annoys me when they actually remove items from my luggage that they deem undesirable - which I will never see again - and with no ability to have them returned to me.
To catch my return flight to France I had to wait standing on a 45-minute security line, half undressed, where I then had the privilege of racing barefoot through the terminal, shoes, coat and scarf piled haphazardly in my arms, in order to make it to the gate in time to catch my flight. I just barely made it, just as the doors were closing.
I settled breathlessly into my seat and opened my newly-purchased copy of 'Dude, Where's My Country?' As I slowly drifted off to sleep, I imagined a future time when I won't be considered a criminal in my own country. I love America, but it's good to be back in France.
Text & photos, Laurel Avery © 2003
Ed's Note - Many if not all regular flights between France the United States arrive and leave from Charles-de-Gaulle's Terminal 2. Only Terminal 1 has 'levels one through five.'
On departure, if you use the RER line 'B,' ride to the Terminal 2 stop after passing the Terminal 1 stop. After an upward climb out of the RER commuter train station, you will be welcomed to Terminal 2's sections A, B, C, D, E and F. The last two are fairly new, and are in the opposite direction from sections A, B, C and D. Allow for sufficient extra time at Terminal 2 to walk the extra distance to sections E or F.
On arriving from the US, look for direction signs indicating 'Train Station' while ignoring the letters 'TGV' - to find the RER station, which is not specifically signposted as 'RER.'
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