PARIS, France—Paris’ airports face a double challenge during the Olympics next year—already under huge pressure, they will also be the first impression that many foreign visitors get of the Games.
France’s main international airport, Charles de Gaulle (CDG), and the smaller Orly will be two crucial gateways to the Olympics, which open in around a year on July 26, 2024.
The Parisian airports’ authority ADP believes it can cope with the increased traffic in July and August next year in what is already one of the world’s most visited cities.
What is keeping managers awake at night is the exceptional nature of tens of thousands of the arrivals — and their outsized baggage.
Some 85,000 competitors, coaches and officials will be accredited for the Olympics and the Paralympics, excluding spectators, said Renaud Duplay, the deputy director of CDG.
“In terms of numbers, it’s a drop in the ocean” compared to the approximately 340,000 people who pass through CDG and Orly on peak summer days, he said.
On the other hand, the Olympic arrivals have expectations that are “different from those for which our infrastructure is designed”.
The canoeists, for example, will bring kayaks, there will be crates and crates of bicycles and unwieldy poles for pole vaulters.
“There will be a volume of oversized luggage that is just not the one we usually have,” Jerome Harnois, the top state official in charge of Paris’ airports, said.
Lost or misplaced equipment could mean competitors missing out on Olympic glory, and trigger a storm of negative publicity for the organizers and France as a whole.
Access to the centre of Paris is also a concern.
The upcoming extension of the Metro’s line 14, which will link Orly to the centre of the capital and several key Olympic venues in Seine-Saint-Denis to the north of Paris, should help alleviate some pressure.
On the other hand, a long-planned fast rail link between CDG and Paris will not be ready, leaving the often-derided RER B suburban train line as the alternative.
Coach and bus traffic between the two airports will be strongly regulated “to avoid chaos,” Duplay said. AFP
A question mark also hovers over what passenger numbers can be expected in the summer of 2024, when the post-Covid recovery in tourism will still be being felt.
Past Olympics though have shown that visitor numbers actually decline during the Games because tourists postpone their visits.
During the London Olympics in 2012, for example, traffic only increased by six or seven percent compared to normal, Harnois said.
Each team delegation arriving on a regular flight will benefit from a personalized welcome, with around one thousand volunteers chosen for the task.
“We will pick them up at the exit of the plane and we will accompany them to the bus,” Harnois, the state official, said.
Competitors will follow priority routes in the terminals, and will also be able to collect their official accreditations there.
Queues for passport control should be significantly eased by the installation of new automated gates, which have recently been opened to more nationalities, as well as by increased staff numbers.
The authorities have also promised a crackdown on pickpockets and unofficial clandestine taxis.
In order to spread the load, other airports in the Paris region will be involved.
Le Bourget, to the north of Paris, will handle the arrival of up to 120 heads of state, for example.
Once the Olympic flame is extinguished on August 11, 2024, the airports face another test as competitors and spectators head out of the country.
“The flows before the opening will be spread over two to three weeks. On the other hand, after the closing ceremony, everyone leaves in between 48 and 72 hours,” Harnois said.
To cope with this challenge, ADP will re-develop a disused departure lounge at CDG, where “athletes will have private access” to the runways, Duplay said.
Their luggage will have been checked in beforehand at the Athletes’ Village.
Everyone though knows how much is riding on the Olympics.
“We have a huge stake in ensuring that the summer of 2024 goes well, that we offer the best face of France,” the CEO of national carrier Air France, Anne Rigail, told AFP.