AutoMatters & More: Paris – ‘The City of Light’ (special report pt. 3)

Welcome back to the final part of this special report on my recent trip to Paris!

No doubt you’ve heard about and perhaps experienced the hours-long waits in our airports for security screening, but if you are considering a trip to Paris, prepare at home to avoid this costly surprise at Charles de Gaulle Airport.

It concerns critical differences between aircraft carry-on regulations on U.S. carriers and on others in foreign countries – Air France in this case. As with the rampant pickpocketing at the tourist sites in Paris, this too may separate unsuspecting tourists from their money.

I have been travelling by air with the same rugged carry-on suitcase for years. It is used to carry things that I will need during my air travel, as well as for my particularly fragile and expensive possessions, including a professional camera and its accessories. This sturdy case protected my belongings on many trips by air within the U.S. and also to Canada.

At 22x14x9 inches, it was the maximum size permissible for domestic carry-on luggage on Delta, American and United Airlines. Your carry-on may well be this standard size too. Furthermore, with very few exceptions, these airlines have no maximum weight restriction.

However that is not a European standard. According to the Air France website, their maximum permissible carry-on suitcase size is only 21x13x9 inches, and there is a maximum combined weight of that and your personal item of only 26 pounds for Economy Class passengers and 39 pounds for all others.

Air France does not enforce these restrictions consistently. When I arrived in Los Angeles (LAX) for my flight to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport (CDG) aboard an Air France Airbus A380, I had my carry-on suitcase with me. At LAX Air France accepted it as a carry-on without any comments, and there was plenty of room for it in the overhead bins of the A380.

However when I was trying to depart CDG on an Air France A380 bound for the return to LAX, the hammer came down. In their departures area in the terminal, Air France has a well-staffed, large and enclosed area where they measure and weigh their departing passengers’ carry-on luggage. They line up rows of passengers in front of several metal frames that are just large enough to contain a carry-on suitcase that meets their specifications. Atop each frame is a large digital display to show carry-on luggage weight. In addition to measuring and weighing carry-on suitcases, Air France adds the weight of each passenger’s additional personal item.

I had not known it before leaving home but my trusty carry-on bag did not meet the Air France standard, and my stuff exceeded the maximum combined weight too – thanks to the large bottles of water and apples that I was going to discard before going through airport security. I tried to explain that latter point to the Air France representative but he said he did not understand English. Instead, he slapped a large, red Air France sticker on my carry-on and ordered me to return to the Air France departures counter area. Having already waited though several lines, I was becoming pressed for time to make my flight, but I complied.

There I was told to check my carry-on suitcase as excess baggage and pay an unexpected, exorbitant fee of 85 euros to transport the same suitcase that they had allowed as a carry-on on board their A380 flight to Paris.

Faced with no other viable options, I foolishly chose to dump the contents of that suitcase into my backpack and another bag that I had, carry my two large pieces of camera gear, and leave my carry-on suitcase as a symbol of protest with the agent at the Air France departures counter. I rushed away and barely made my flight to LAX. Ironically I was accepted for boarding without comment, despite having too many carry-ons per Air France’s own regulations.

At LAX I was told that lost luggage will be held for five days, so for the next week I repeatedly tried to contact Air France and even the airport online, by phone and by email, but to no avail.

Rumor has it that a new “universal” standard is being considered for international travel, but that proposed standard is smaller than the domestic U.S. standard. Millions of travelers would need new carry-on luggage.

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Copyright © 2016 by Jan Wagner – AutoMatters & More #437