Monday, September 12, 2011

Arrival Logistics

The pressure is off. I’ve written and posted my initial entry from Paris and now that it’s done, I find it’s so much easier to write more. The details of our arrival might be interesting to some, so I’ll go ahead and relate a few logistical specifics.

We had never before flown Icelandair to Europe, but their prices were significantly cheaper than those of other carriers for our itinerary – perhaps because they have low one-way fares ($468 each, Dulles to Charles de Gaulle via Reykjavik). Two of our four pieces of checked luggage (the two large rolling duffels) were about 20 pounds each over the 50-pound limit, so we had $170 in excess baggage weight fees. We were expecting to pay about this much, so the charges weren't as painful as they might have been had we been caught unaware. Even if we add the $85 each to our fares, they're still cheaper than those of all other airlines. We had been warned that Icelandair was rather authoritarian about allowing only one piece of small carry-on luggage, but thank goodness, this wasn’t the case for our flight. We each boarded with a sizeable backpack, stuffed to the gills, as well as an oversized golf umbrella and a large fanny pack. We made it onto the plane with all our gear intact. The first big hurdle had been crossed.

Our flight was unlike any other we’d ever taken to Europe. First, the aircraft was a Boeing 757, a narrow-body jet with a three seat by three seat with one aisle down the middle configuration. Every other time I’ve flown overseas, it’s been in a wide-body 747 or similar jumbo jet, with two- by five- by two-seats. When Joe and I have traveled together, such planes are perfect, since we get a set of two seats together and don't have to worry about anyone else. We were lucky on this trip and the third seat in our row remained empty for both legs of the flight; in fact, the entire plane was only about three-quarters full. There is a lot of hustle bustle associated with most international flights as wine and dinner and then more drinks are served. And before you know it, the lights go on and it’s time for coffee and breakfast. On our 8:40pm Icelandic flight, soft drinks were offered and there was food available for purchase, but there were very few takers. We had eaten a very late lunch near the airport with Caroline and her boyfriend, Andrew, so we had no need for dinner on the plane. The significantly lower level of flight attendant activity allowed us to sleep fairly easily for a few hours on the 5-1/2 hour leg to Iceland. We sailed through passport control in Reykjavik, no questions asked, had just enough time to explore the terminal a bit, and then re-boarded the same airplane for the relatively brief 2-1/2 hour flight to Paris.

Charles de Gaulle
For the first time since I’d flown into this same airport as a student 33 years ago, we arrived at the original CDG Terminal 1. While not completely refreshed, we were in pretty good shape as we were ushered onto the moving walkway of the inclined clear plastic tubes in the center of the terminal. Unlike my arrival in 1978 when I was sincerely and naively amazed to hear French spoken all around me, I savored being surrounded by the sounds of this beautiful language. Our many pounds of bags arrived with little delay and we dutifully looked for the customs and passport windows. We were actually looking forward to answering, when asked by passport control, “we’ll both be here for a year.” But before we knew it, we were whisked outside onto the sidewalk and joined the taxi queue, no passport check needed! The cursory glance at our documents taken by the official in Reykjavik got us into Europe for a year. Once outside in the fresh French air, we looked at each other in amazement. Why, after all, had we gone through all we did to get our long-stay/long séjour visas? We felt as if we’d pulled all-nighters studying for an exam that never happened! We had truly looked forward to proudly flashing our visas that would grant us a year's stay in Europe. Could we have skipped all the hassle and simply walked on into France with no documentation? Apparently, yes!

Our flight arrived at about 1pm and after getting a taxi with a down-to-earth driver not just willing but eager to help with our two-ton bags (why is it they say the French are rude?), we reached the hotel at just after 2. On all previous trips to France, we arrived in the city center in the early morning and had to spend hours wandering the streets or nursing coffee in a cafe in a sleep-deprived fog until our room was ready. This time, our room was waiting for us and our luggage and within an hour, we were fast asleep.

I have to mention that I believe Joe slept particularly well on arrival day because the three of us (he, I and our bags) had made it to Paris and into our hotel room with little difficulty. Because his strength (and certainly not mine) is needed to move our luggage in any fashion other than rolling, he feels primarily responsible for the transportation of our “stuff.” His fears about the transition from home to France came down to these basic issues:  Will the luggage fit in Caroline’s car for the drive to Dulles? Will we be able to roll it to the check-in counter with the muscle-power of just the two of us? Will the airline allow us to bring such heavy bags on board? Will the luggage make it safely across the ocean, seeing that it’s so heavy? Will we find a taxi into which the bags will fit? Will there be space in our hotel room for all our bags? Thank goodness for Joe's concerns and my sanity the answer to all the above was a resounding yes. But despite my assurance that our bags will get lighter as we move along (we have promised each other not to buy anything new; as we read the few printed books we brought along, we’ll leave them behind for other readers; and, as we make our way to each new destination, we’ll no longer need the travel literature for the previous location), Joe still fears that our rental car won't be large enough and that now that we've unpacked, we won't be able to fit everything back into our bags. Is there a name for the fear of unmanageable luggage?

All in all, our arrival in Paris has been a success fantastique and our Icelandair flight a major contributing factor. While I find flying west over the Atlantic a breeze, flying east through the night is always difficult. But this time it was less uncomfortable than usual – a fitting start to our year.


  1. Hi Marianne,
    I enjoyed reading these details, thank you. I can only wonder as you move along on your trip, you'll be taking the luggage along the way, yes? While I believe you when you say it will get lighter as you move along, I fear you'll want to just chuck it all somewhere along the way.

    I hope the main pieces will be able to stay put somewhere as you backpack around....maybe that's part of the plan?

    Are you feeling at peace and joyful? I hope you'll post pictures...must have pictures!


  2. SO happy your arrival went off with out any issues! To think you had so much trouble getting those Visas to only be accepted 100% into France!

    I'm excited to read more!