Paris. Who doesn’t love Paris? I know I do.
CDG (Charles de Goulle Paris International Airport) may not be the most convenient airport in the Paris region, but it’s the preferred airport over Orly, IMHO.
My main eye-catcher is the tubular design of the airport terminals, especially the cluster of buildings that is Terminal 2. It may be a group of metallic tubes of glass and aluminum on the outside, but on the inside is an airport experience like no other, with a faux wood ceiling and wall lining, red carpet as far as the eye can see, and glass fixtures all over the place. There are tranclucent glass lavatory spaces with futuristic-looking amenities, everything expressed in symbols versus French-only or multilingual writing, and lounge furniture which look as if they were taken from a post-modern art exhibit at a modern art museum.
There are lounge chairs everywhere, wood tables with fiberglass chairs, restaurants with biodegradable plastic utensils and furniture, and complimentary newspapers for all travelers for reading during flight. There are outlets for plugging up laptops, complimentary Wi-Fi for connecting those laptops, USB charging ports for phones, iPhones, iPods and iPads, fiberglass and pleather lounge chairs throughout the terminal, and video game consoles for entertainment for all ages. Everything you wish for at an American airport, at least for the general public. The snack and food choices are plenty, and the concourses are large enough to handle large crowds as well as allow as much natural light in as possible. Which also makes it excellent for plane watching.
Getting to the airport? The best way is via the RER, the suburban railway for the the Ile-de-France. The RER B Line from the airport runs every 15 minutes and goes directly to the city center and beyond, with connections to other RER lines and other branches of the B line. The RER lines have several branches which thus provides very frequent service within the trunk portion of the lines. Even though many of the rail cars date back to the 1970s and 1980s (and they look it too!), the system is fairly easy to use, even for non-French speakers, and it runs often enough that taking a taxi or driving from the airport isn’t necessary. Most of the RER system is within the zone limits of the RATP, the transit system of Paris and surrounding towns, so a ride of up to three zones on the RER is equivalent to the same amount of zones on the Metro and buses. Thus, if your trip requires a short-distance Metro ride and a long-distance RER ride, you can seamlessly transfer between the two modes without an extra ticket. You can ride an RER train from CDG to another suburb or take the Metro from the city center to another part of Paris. Chatelet-Les Halles, Saint Michel-Notre Dame, Denfert-Rochereau, Gare du Nord, and La Defense are some popular transfer points between Metro and RER.
Another option, if you don’t really like the old-school RER trains, there’s always RATP’s Roissy CDG service from Gare du Nord and other points of interest in the city centre. The #350 runs every 15-30 minutes during most of the day and is roughly the cost of a three-zone RER ride. The difference is that the RoissyBus goes to a few destinations in Paris that the RER doesn’t go and places accessible via a transfer from RER to Metro that may be too time-consuming.
What’s great about CDG is, even if you aren’t going to Paris proper, it’s still convenient to get to other places as well, whether within France our in neighboring countries. The RER station at Terminal 2 is also a stop on several long-distance train services, most notably the TGV high-speed system operated by the French National Railway (SNCF). The TGV Thalys provides service from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam, and Cologne, while the TGV Est route operates to Lille and points east. Most European airlines offer service from outside of continental Europe to CDG and book the final leg of passengers’ journeys to Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne (and other German cities via connections to Deutsche Bahn’s ICE high-speed service), and even London via Eurostar. If you booked direct flights, then you can travel via TGV services from neighboring countries to CDG and fly trans-Atlantic to North America or within continental Europe to places such as Glasgow, Rome, Moscow, and Helsinki not easily reachable by rail. Convenience is the name of the game in Europe, a place where gas and diesel are so expensive, one would be a fool not to take public transportation anywhere to and within Paris.
Airports in the United States have some of the features of CDG and similar airports but not all of the pieces to make it a preferred airport to fly for people who do not want to drive or take taxi services. JFK has rail service to the subway and multiple terminals to segregate the airlines by traffic volume, but no direct service to Manhattan nor are all the terminals modernized as of yet. DEN has the direct service to Downtown Denver, but until the commuter rail opens in 2016, it’s only an RTD motorcoach bus ride. Other airports, such as PHL, have SEPTA Regional Rail access and is a hub for US Airways, but its airport terminal doesn’t have the “wow” factor like DEN or even SFO. When will the U.S. catch up? And who will be the trailblazer in that regard? Only time will tell.