How not to go from LAX to Paris

So I made reservations for our usual non-stop flight on Air France, about eight months ago.  It was supposed to leave on Sunday, June 21, and we booked early enough that we got the dual seating on the upper deck of an Airbus-330.  Just two people, side by side, so no climbing over people or having people climb over you.

Air France used to be the only operator of a non-stop to CDG, but now Tahiti Nui also has one – but at the time I booked, reviews said Air Tahiti Nui often had cancellations or delays.  Ah ha.  This is now relevant.

At 7 am on the day of departure, Air France texted us that our 3:30 flight would not leave until 4:40 but having made travel arrangements, we decided we would just be early.   We, and about 550 other people, arrived at the gate around 3:00 (15:00).  At 4:30 pm no boarding had started.  Soon there was an announcement that the flight was delayed 30 minutes.  Groans from the people already standing up in the boarding queues.  Then, another announcement that it was delayed 20 minutes.  Then, an announcement that there was a mechanical problem and the delay was another hour.  A man who worked for some airline went and had a long convo with one of the two gate attendants and said they had known about a mechnical problem since early in the morning.  

At 7:00 pm they told us that unless we were cleared to take off by 8:00 they would have to cancel the flight due to restrictions on the flight crew.  We had seen the crew board at 3:30. but several of us had also seen the crew debark by an exit on the tarmack (straight to the ground level) at around 6:00.  People started talking about the likelihood of a new crew.  

By then, people with tight connections in Paris flooded the counter and many were on the phone cancelling their flights and paying a $300 per ticket rebooking fee to try and find something else.  I asked one of the attendants if the flight would be rescheduled and he said of course.  When?  The next day, of course.  

At 8:00 pm they announced they had special clearance from LAX to depart late, but that if the problem wasn’t fixed by 8:30, they would issue vouchers for hotels.  All the old people and crying children were not so cool with this.  We were exhausted.  I went again and asked when the flight would take place – in the morning?  The next afternoon?  Because, living more than 2 hours from LAX, this mattered.  People began wondering whether to go home if they lived closed.  No, there would be no taxi vouchres – even though many Angelenos were getting quotes of $80-120 to travel 35-40 miles.  It was Father’s Day evening, heavy traffic.

No water, no apologies, most people standing up in line.  Some people beginning to make beds on the floor.  

At 8:30. about 8 more gate agents arrived and went into a glassed-in, private area for a conference.  They talked for about 20 minutes, then one of them announced that the vouchers were about to be given.  When they came out, each agent took some questions – there were many different kinds of questions.  They announced that people who lived “close” should go home, but they could give no idea of how long it would be until the flight.  They gave us cards for an 800 number to call.  People were already calling the 800 number of course, reporting wait times of about an hour just to get an agent, all of them trying to rebook – but they couldn’t rebook because they were already checked in for FLight 65 and it wasn’t cancelled, only postponed.  

I asked how long it was going to take to issue the vouchers.  “Not long at all,” said a snippy gate agent.  “there are ten of us!”  This answer was repeated to many of us.  Most people lined up in front of the gate counter, but one woman said she’d been told the vouchers would be given out at the boarding kiosk.  I texted my DH this information (he was at the gate counter) and as soon as this kind oady signalled me that vouchers were being given out at the gate kiosks I texted DH and he managed to be about #30 in that line.

And that was the only line there ever was.  9 agents milled about, occasionally answering questions, 1 agent “gave vouchers.”  But there were no vouchers, they just wrote our names down and told us to go to the Sheraton.  People were losing it.  One woman had a total meltdown, asking why only 1 agent to handle 500 people.  Actually she was yelling.  It grew hard to hear further announcements, what with people yelling back and forth between two areas, not everyone understanding the English announcements, and lots of kids/babies crying.  

We were told to go to the hotel shuttle area and we were one of the first there (many had to go through baggage claim and retrieve luggage.)   I’ve never seen traffic so bad at LAX.  We could see hotel shuttles on approach – after 30 minutes they had inched forward enough that we could tell none were for the SHeraton.  We went to the taxi ranks, where the drivers refused to take us, because “there’s a free shuttle” and “it takes too long just to get out of the airport.”  Back to the hotel shuttle island.  No movement of shuttles, bigger lines.  Back to the taxi ranks, because DH had rememered that it’s illegal for a taxi to refuse a passenger.  We went to the taxi concierge, who had to threaten the taxi driver with expulsion from the airport if he didn’t take us.  We agreed to $20; the meter would later read $9 and we would be refused a receipt. 

He dropped us off at the back of the hotel, which was under construction, and we schlepped around to the lobby where we were about 15th in line.  THe Sheraton immediately got more agents to the front and the manager asked me when I thought we’d be needing shuttles back.  By then, we’d been emailed by Air France that our flight was rescheduled for 11:30 a.m., Monday morning.  Manager said Monday mornings are very busy at LAX and he’d try to get more shuttles.  We decided on an early arrival.  Air France agents had kept announcing that the counter would not open until 9:00, that we should use our current boarding passes and that we would keep our same seats.

We went directly to the restaurant and used the AF voucher for $20 to eat a quick meal and decided to get on an early shuttle.  Most people were saying they’d arrive at 8:30 or 9:00, we arrived at 7:30 and sat down until 6 other people were in line in front of a closed AF ticket counter, all of us having tried to use the self-service kiosks and been told our flight had left the day before by the computer.

By7:45, there were about 50 people in line, including a young couple who was there only because AF had misplaced one of their 4 large bags the night before.  They had rebooked on a different flight.  They had been on the 800 number until 2:00 a.m. and were in the midst of rebooking when the agent said that 2:00 a.m. was when the phones closed and abruptly hung up on them.  They dialed in at 5:00 a.m., when the lines reopened and were immediately told that AF 065 was entirely cancelled  

They urged me to dial the 800 number immediately, but I had just done that and had been told that I was checked in and that I would lose priority at rebooking  if I un–checked in and that the flight wasn’t cancelled.  

A few guys came out and made a line maze and we all got in it in an orderly way.  One of the guys said quietly to those of us near the front, “That plane is cancelled, it’s not going”   At that point, two of us whipped out our phones and dialed the 800 number.  Others asked more questions.  I got an operator in about ten minutes.  She was extremely helpful .  It took her about another 10 minutes to offer us 2 seats on a Delta flight to Detroit, from which we could catch a Delta flight to CDG.  I said yes, she held the seats for us.

DH looked up where Delta terminals were, about half a mile away, and we began run-walking.  He carried nearly all the luggage because of my back.  Delta was a freakin zoo.  I begged the operator to stay on the line until we had boarding passes.  She said to go to the self-serve kiosk (lines there too) but we were rejected.  She said to get into an agent line (people were waiting for an hour or more already).  Our flight was supposed to leave for Detroit at 9:20, it was 8:40 and still the TSA.

Delta/Air france operator did something and finally, we could get the self serve boarding passes.  Now we really ran.   TSA let us into the priority line (no taking out of 3-1-1 bag and no taking off of shoes).  But my bag got tagged for secondary inspection.  

DH ran on to the gate, but forgot his personal item.  I saw them holding it up, but I was in a holding area with my bag.  I was just about to yell to claim his bag when he came back.  Now his bag was tagged for secondary inspection because it was an “abandoned” bag.  

At 9:10 we finally raced to the gate where, fortunately, the flight was delayed due to so many Air France passengers.  Naturally, our boarding passes didn’t work and we had to go to the counter, where a very nice lady gave us the last two adjoining seats in the last row of that plane.  A bunch of other AF people behind us had to split up.

There was major weather (worst turbulence I’ve ever been in) around Detroit so of course our plane was late with tight connections to the next flight.  Delta held that one until all of us had arrived.  Delta was so informative and helpful.  We already knew before boarding the first flight how to navigate Detroit’s Terminal A and that we wouldn’t have to go through security again.  

Finally, we arrived a day late at CDG.  Dh didn’t get his special meal and we didn’t bring enough snacks that fit his diet.  My back hurts from the trotting.  We took a taxi into Paris.  It was rush hour and our driver was inept (kept getting off on off ramps and speeding to get onto an onramp and then ending up even further behind the buses and trucks he kept staying behind.  It  cost 81Eu,, the most we’ve ever paid for a taxi from CDG.But we made it to our concert at Notre Dame, for which we’d had tickets for ages (Gregorian chant, amazing).  And then we went to dinner at a favorite restaurant.  Uncrowded.  Every place has been uncrowded.  And, ah, the Seine at sunset this time of year.  Blue and silver toward the west, and the Conciergerie gleaming.   We walked past Heloise and Abelard’s house (her uncle’s house, really). no crowds at all outside well-lit Notre Dame, so could see amazing details.  

In just a few hours, we are in love again with Paris and though a bit banged up by the travel, so happy to be here.  Not a single petition girl, only a few (good) street buskers (well, most were good) and we can see Notre Dame from our apartment window.  

TTL;DR:  Do not trust Air France’s text messages.  We saw our plane being towed away as we were leaving on Delta.  If AF hadn’t pretend to reschedule (again and again), they would have had to pay refunds.  Be your own travel agent and rebook if this happens to you.  Do not use tight connections!!

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