Three times I’ve been to Paris, but I’ve yet to explore the city. On my most recent trip, we ended up sleeping at Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG) on our route from Edinburgh to Cancun, Mexico. Well, it wasn’t just the night, but rather a full 20 hours stuck in Terminal 2E. Don’t worry, it really wasn’t that bad. In fact, Charles de Gaulle airport is where a man spent 18 years living in Terminal 1, which is the true story which Tom Hanks’ The Terminal is based on.
Why We Slept at the Airport
Usually, I’ll spend the night at the airport when I have an extremely early flight and I don’t want to get up at 2 a.m., or because I’d prefer to take public transportation which doesn’t run through the night. So far, I’ve slept in Dublin Airport, Bangkok Airport, Edinburgh Airport, and possibly more that I’ve forgotten about.
With our layover in Paris, it wasn’t an option to leave the airport, as much as I would have loved to explore Paris during our 20 hours there. At the time of our flight, the requirements to enter France were much stricter than our final destination (Mexico) due to the pandemic. As such, we could not pass through immigration and explore the city, and thus were confined to Terminal 2E – the international terminal of the airport.
Sleeping at Charles de Gaulle Airport
Whenever I have to spend the night at an airport, I first head to Sleeping in Airports. This awesome website gives just about everything you would need to know about sleeping in most airports around the world. The important things are whether you’re even allowed to stay overnight at the airport, where the best seats or chairs are for sleeping, safety, and other facilities (showers, food options, etc).
In Terminal 2E of Charles de Gaulle airport, there is the perfect place to spend the night. It’s called the Instant Paris Lounge, located at Gate K and not too far from the entrance to YotelAir. There are four groups of lounge chairs, similar to those you’d find beside a pool. There are two styles of chair-beds. One is nicely padded and flatter. The second isn’t the most comfortable as it has a curved-up back. Many people were curled up at the bottom of these.
There are roughly 100 chair-beds in the Instant Paris Lounge, but they all get filled up if you don’t arrive early enough, or if your first flight arrives too late. If you miss out on a chair-bed, you could either sleep on the carpet (easier if you have a sleeping bag) or head to Gate L where there are several hundred seats, as well as all the places to eat. Unfortunately, Gate L is much brighter and louder, and also located next to the runway.
The disadvantage of the Instant Paris Lounge is you only have a vending machine for food. If you want a proper meal, you’ll have to take the free tram to Gate L and pass through security. Once through, you have two Relay markets and two cafes to choose from. The best is Ekki with their healthier range of meals, but it’s also the most expensive. Relay is the cheapest, but you certainly get what you pay for (the sandwiches have a single slice of ham and cheese). Of course, there are always the vending machines, but the selection there is pretty limited.
Obviously, passing through security can be a hassle, as you can’t bring liquids, and CDG Airport security is particularly strict on anything related to electronics. All cables, adapters and gadgets have to come out of your backpack into a separate tray.
If you do want something a bit more comfortable and secure, you can stay at YotelAir. You’ll need to book far in advance and have quite a large budget. In 2021, rooms started at $182 per night for a single-person capsule.
Tips for Using the Instant Paris Lounge for Sleeping
- If you can, bring snacks and drinks with you before you arrive. It’s a hassle to get through security to the cafes and shops, and you will also be delayed in choosing a bed if you have to get dinner first.
- The airport is open all night, and they stop the PA announcements from about midnight to 4 a.m. Earplugs and an eye mask are also good (a lot of people were using them).
- Try to get to the Instant Paris Lounge as early as possible, as the beds fill up.
- Bring your European adapter if you’re coming in from the US or UK.
- The Instant Paris Lounge is relatively safe. I saw most people leaving their stuff behind as they went to use the toilet or even to go through security for a meal.
- To get to the Instant Paris Lounge, take the free tram from Gate L to Gate K, head up the escalator and make a right. Two of the lounge spaces are located here, and two more are located on the floor above.
What to Do After Sleeping at Charles de Gaulle Airport
(Specifically Terminal 2E)
Thankfully, you won’t be bored with a layover at Charles de Gaulle. Once you make it through security at Gate L, there are plenty of things to keep you busy until your departure.
- You can go window shopping at the French luxury fashion stores – or perhaps pick something up if you have a particularly large budget.
- Play a game at one of the two PlayStation setups.
- Watch the planes land in the spacious lounge at the end of the terminal.
- Release your inner child in one of the two arcades.
- Get a manicure, pedicure, or massage (again, only for those with a large budget).
- Catch up on work with free airport WiFi.
During the pandemic, many of the clothing shops were closed, but everything else on this list was available to help you pass the time before your flight.
Our Flight From Edinburgh to Cancun
It was quite an adventure to fly out of the UK in 2021 during the pandemic. After a year essentially stuck in Scotland (except for a week in Northern Ireland), it was time to get back to my real job – traveling. I had picked up a temporary job working at a health food store in Edinburgh. I wasn’t really interested in working for a corporate company again, and the pay was horrible, but I do enjoy jobs where I can help others, and healthy food aligns with that purpose.
I was hired on a temporary contract to help with the massive backlog of orders caused by Brexit. Initally, I planned to help until May, but we were able to catch up on the orders quicker than expected. When they told me halfway through March that I had successfully completed the work needed, it was great news.
I went home and immediately booked our flights to Mexico for the end of the month. We spent the next two weeks packing our possessions and putting them into storage, turning over the apartment, and browsing through way too many possible Airbnbs to stay at in Mexico. We were vacillating between Tulum, Playa del Carmen, Puerto Morelos, Cancun, Merida and Puerto Escondito. In the end, we found that Tulum was far too expensive, Playa del Carmen and Cancun were too busy, and Puerto Escondito and Merida were67r7t too far from Cancun (where our flight was to). That left Puerto Morelos, which immediately turned out to be a perfect choice after we arrived.
Home to the Airport
Going to the airport, there was some trepidation whether we would be stopped due to the travel ban in Scotland. Technically, I was flying for work which was a valid reason to travel. I also had an urgent matter to take care of in the US, but my girlfriend couldn’t fly directly there, so we chose Mexico as a way-stop. The other reason to choose Mexico was the lack of restrictions and quarantine in the country. Covid tests weren’t even required. As far as I know, it was probably the most open country in March 2021.
Our worries were unfounded. We weren’t challenged once, and the wonderful tram driver in Edinburgh even told us to get on without paying. If that’s not a sign, I don’t know what is! We were two of the ony passengers on the tram. At the airport, it was a breeze to check our bags and go through security. We were asked for our PCR tests, but when we pointed out they were only needed if we wanted to enter France and not at our final destination, the lady (after a short search on the computer) happily checked us in without any further questions.
The security line was just as smooth, mostly because there were barely a dozen people going through. Only two of the eight security lines were open, and all sanitary measures were in place. We went right through without a hitch, and within a couple minutes, we were waiting for our flight. It was a long wait as we arrived a couple hours earlier than needed just in case anything came up.
Edinburgh to Paris
Our flight to Paris was on a small plane (an Embraer 190) and every seat was full. From what I could tell, most of the passengers had France as their final destination. As the flight was only four hours, We didn’t get any meals or snacks. There also wasn’t an entertainment system, so it was just e-books and a couple TV shows I downloaded onto my phone.
In Paris, it was smooth sailing as well. We had a little trouble locating the Instant Paris Lounge. It’s outside security but inside the immigration border. We ended up taking all our stuff with us through security to grab dinner, going back out to the lounge to sleep, finding all the beds were taken so sleeping on the carpet, and then having to go through security again in the morning for breakfast. As mentioned above, their security was one of the tightest I’ve ever experienced, and our bags were thoroughly searched with all the computer cables and gadgets inside.
Paris to Cancun
The flight to Cancun was on a Boeing 777-300ER. The aircraft has 468 seats, and I’m pretty sure every one of them was full. The flight staff was nice, but that was probably the only good thing about the flight. In fact, it was probably the worst flight I’ve ever taken.
First of all, the plane was dated, dirty, and horribly cramped. The seats were so narrow, they pinched my legs, and my shoulders pushed into my girlfriend and the passenger on the other side of me through the whole 11-hour flight. My knees were also mashed against the seat in front of me, which wasn’t good for my recent knee injury.
The entertainment system was a joke. The ancient, 6-inch screen only had less than a dozen old movies in English, and few more in French, none of which were new releases or interesting. Even worse was the lack of any USB charging port. I had neglected to top off my devices at the airport in Paris, and I spent the last few hours of the flight struggling through the pitiful movie selection on the plane. I should also point out that you can only use the headphones provided as they are the only ones that will fit into the jack.
The food was passible. Lunch was a dish of mushroom chicken and rice, a small wedge of camembert, a small bun with butter, a small cup of quinoa salad, , a dry cookie, and a tiny bottle of yogurt. Dinner was smaller. Thankfully, there was an “open bar” between mealtimes when we could get snacks and non-alcoholic drinks, but the snacks were nothing like the ones described on the airline’s website, and they ran out before the end of the flight.
Finally, the other passengers were quite rowdy. It was a blessing that our flight was during the day, as we would never have been able to sleep. Many of the passengers were sitting on the ground in the emergency exit rows, getting drunk and giving the flight attendants a really hard time. The captain had to repeatedly announce over the intercom that passengers had to keep their masks on. Oh, and masks had to be disposable and changed every 4 hours on the flight.
Arriving in Cancun
As you can imagine, the immigration line in Cancun was quite long due to how many passengers were entering the country. We had heard the Mexican government touting that the average time for a traveler to get through immigration was 2 minutes, and we were curious to see if this was true.
We had filled out our paperwork on the flight but missed a small section. After filling that in, the border guard asked us if we were traveling for business or pleasure (I said business and my girlfriend said pleasure), and we had to show our Airbnb booking confirmation. And that was it! We got our 6-month visa-less entry stamp in our passports and we were in Mexico! Altogether, except for the horrible flight, it was a pretty smooth journey. And now we’re relaxing on the beaches in Mexico (when I’m not sitting in the Airbnb furiously working) and loving it. I’ll be getting a lot more posts out in the near future on what it’s like to live in Mexico.
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