The perfect airport doesn’t exist, but the new Paris Charles de Gaulle ‘Extime’ upgrade is close
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I spend a lot of my time in airports – probably as much as I do flying, which last year was 302 hours and 6 minutes. And I’ve been to airports all over the world, from mega-hubs like Dubai to a shed at the end of a runway in Costa Rica.
I’ve seen the Jewel at Singapore Changi, which was named best airport in the world eight years running by Skytrax, and I’ve been to Doha Hamad which took the crown last year. But I’ve never seen anything quite like what’s currently happening at Paris Charles de Gaulle.
I admit, Terminal 1 at Paris Charles de Gaulle doesn’t look much:
Before I explain why I’m impressed, let me rewind a second.
Last week, ADP, which stands for Aéroports de Paris invited me to Charles de Gaulle Airport to see their new end-to-end airport concept, which they’re calling Extime.
ADP operates all the Paris airports, including Orly and Le Bourget, as well as 26 international airports. Think of it as Manchester Airports Group but on steroids.
For the last five years, ADP has been thinking about what it can do to ensure better, faster and more connected passenger journeys. During covid, this crystallised around the concept of a more integrated, airport-owned solution which it is calling Extime. It extends from the start of the passenger experience to the end, including retail, dining and passenger amenities.
Airports can be a horrible, confusing mess
Airports are huge, lumbering organisations that tend to be less integrated than you think. In fact, the airport itself tends only to be the connecting thread between tens if not hundreds of companies, from the airlines themselves to baggage handlers, catering companies, lounge operators, duty free companies and retail units.
Most airports do relatively little themselves and instead have a network of contracted companies offering all the services required to get you from A to B.
Almost all of these contracted companies operate in their own little bubbles. They rarely think about the extended journey a passenger takes which usually encompasses multiple interactions with different services.
Each company is only interested in providing a pleasant and profitable experience to the passenger whilst you’re on their turf. Once you’ve been handed off, they forget about you. There’s no continuity of service, and that leads to a lower quality experience and ultimately lower overall revenue for the airport.
Because yes, this is about money. At the end of the day, ADP is a commercial entity just like any other, but they believe that happy passengers = profitable customers. They believe that if they offer you a good experience, you’ll not only spend more, but you’ll also choose Paris over other airports.
(In Paris, of course, ADP doesn’t have any competition as it operates all the major airports. But it does compete with Heathrow, Schiphol and Frankfurt when it comes to transiting passengers, and of course ADP also operates 26 other airports globally.)
Can airports really be better?
The solution, they think, is more vertical integration. ADP is achieving this through a variety of joint ventures with specialists, such as with Lagardère Travel Retail for its duty free offering. Whilst ADP owns the majority stake, the partnership means it can tap into Lagardère vast experience and network of duty free retail.
Duty free is just one example. Lounges, gate areas and more are all being integrated.
ADP is calling the whole project Extime (pronounced the English ex-thyme rather than the French ex-team) which it officially launched last week after a number of trials over the past years.
The name is derived from ‘extra time’, which is the dead time that passengers have following security and immigration when they are waiting for their flight. The PR line is that this is extra and underused time that ADP wants to make more productive and fulfilling.
So …. what is Extime, really?
Paris Charles de Gaulle is the first ADP airport to get the Extime makeover, and on our tour we got to see into a number of different terminals and parts of the Extime experience.
I’ll admit that I was sceptical at first – I’ve read enough press releases with marketing bollocks that my first reaction with such rebrands is cynicism. But I left the tour undeniably impressed.
The first thing to note is that Extime doesn’t mean that every terminal or airport is identical. Instead, Extime is a philosophy that is customised based on the passenger profiles unique to each terminal.
For example, in Paris, ADP categorises each terminal into two: either ‘lifestyle’ (read easyJet) or ‘premium’ (for full-service, mostly long haul flights). The Extime at experience at a terminal such as 2B will be different to the flagship premium Terminal 1, which is the first one to be fully ‘extimised’.
Better shopping and duty free
Retail is particularly important at Paris Charles de Gaulle, which boats the highest spend-per-passenger in the world. France has a legitimacy when it comes to luxury goods thanks to its heritage of both luxury fashion and cheese, wines and spirits. Especially for foreign buyers, being able to say you bought a French designer in Paris, even if it’s just at the airport, carries weight.
But it has also cultivated a reputation for itself, for example by stocking an (I’m told) impressive selection of Cuban cigars. Its customer reach means that it also gets first dibs on stock from Cuba.
It’s similarly the case for wine; in Terminal 1 I saw the wine larder, featuring collectors’ bottles retailing up to €40,000. These bottles aren’t just there for show – they’re there because they get bought, although admittedly not all that often.
Charles de Gaulle Terminal 1 is the only place in Paris where you can find ALL major French luxury designers in one room. No department store in central Paris has this.
And it is impressive. This isn’t your average duty-free maze: it is an astoundingly high-end shop that tricks you into thinking you are in a luxury department store and not an airport. I’ve never seen anything quite like it, with genuine marble features and a stunning art-deco design facilitated by the vast high ceilings:
Crucially, however, is that this is all part of ADP’s Extime joint venture with retailers. Rather than individual brands doing their own thing, ADP has strung them all together. That enables the airport to offer a holistic experience. If you’re looking for a particular item but can’t find it in, say, the Hermes shop, the staff can walk you next door to Chanel. Or Gucci. Or Bulgari.
There’s no sense of competition or of trapping you in a particular shop to try and make a sale. Staff have the freedom to bring you between brands, in the same vein as in a department store, because ultimately all of the shops are part of the same joint venture. That leads to higher passenger satisfaction – you find what you’re looking for – and, for the brands, higher sales.
There are other details too, such as the totally free barbering service where, they believe, just by spending some time in this luxury environment you’re more likely to buy something. (Unfortunately I did not have time to test this service out despite desperately needing a hair cut!)
Even when you are not spending hundreds (or thousands), you still get a good deal. Sign up to Extime Rewards and you get the duty free pricing, even when travelling within Schengen, thanks to a discount that is applied.
The scale and connectivity of the whole thing is shocking. It simply does not feel like you are at an airport.
Of course, once you’ve finished shopping you probably want to sit down and relax before boarding your flight, and this is something else Extime hopes to improve through Extime-branded lounges.
There are currently two Extime lounges in operation – one in Terminal 1 and the other in Terminal 2B, which is happily where British Airways is flying from and the lounge it is now using.
There is a level of fit and finish to these lounges that I have not seen at any other airport or independent lounge operator – it is really quite astonishing. A full review of the Terminal 2B Extime lounge, used by British Airways passengers, will follow.
Better gate areas and passenger amenities
Here’s the thing that really impresses me about the Extime project, however. It benefits everyone, not just those with spending five-figures at the airport or with lounge access.
Even the passenger facilities at the gates are beyond anything I’ve ever seen at airports, even supposedly award-winning ones such as in Singapore and Doha.
Instead of anonymous rows of identical airport seating, ADP has crafted lounge-like seating areas in a stunning art-deco style:
To be perfectly honest, the seating here is of a higher spec and better design than what I see at 99% of lounges or even top luxury hotels. All of it – yes all – is real marble, solid wood and brass fittings. The money that has been spent must be absurd.
It is well lit and, crucially, there charging sockets at every single seat – both mains, USB-A and USB-C:
There are better facilities for families, too, including a centrally located baby change room:
Now, I don’t have kids, but this looks a lot nicer than the average in-toilet baby change facilities you normally see!
…. and coming soon, a new rewards app
Tying the whole Extime experience together will be a new rewards app launching soon. As you expect, it will let you earn and burn Extime points, but it’ll also let you book services such as fast track security and eventually offer a full marketplace for everything available in the airport, including duty free and fashion.
What can you redeem your points for? In addition to money off purchases, ADP wants to offer redemptions including fast track and lounge passes, as well as money-can’t-buy experiences such as tours of the air traffic control towers and other restricted areas of the airport. We will have to wait and see how it works.
And, as mentioned above, anyone with the Rewards app will also get a discount equivalent to VAT even when flying in Schengen.
By now, you’re probably wondering what kool-aid I’ve been drinking and whether you can have some, and I can understand the scepticism.
It’s hard to convey just how impressive Extime is. This is not the article I thought I’d be writing, but here I am. I spent six hours at an airport that didn’t feel like an airport at all. Instead, it felt like a luxury five-star hotel crossed with one of the nicest department stores I’ve ever seen.
Even more impressive is the fact that Extime will benefit all travellers, not just those with deep pockets. Even if you don’t spend a penny in duty free, you can still enjoy the world-leading gate seating areas, the baby room and other terminal improvements.
Now, Paris Charles de Gaulle isn’t perfect – no airport is – and the absurd nomenclature of the terminals (why are there seven Terminal 2s?!) is ridiculous. It also needs to get the basics right; on my flight home, security was a bit of a palava and there’s no date on the horizon for when it will fit next-generation 3D scanners where you can keep liquids and laptops in bags.
But despite all that, Extime is a huge step forward – and one I wasn’t expecting when I stepped foot in Charles de Gaulle for my tour.
For now, Terminal 1 is the first terminal to feature the Extime concept end to end; 2B (easyJet and BA, amongst others) is partially there as is 2G, the Schengen terminal. Terminals 2A and 2C are closed for 18 months to convert to Extime.
Thanks to Jerome and his team at CdG for the tour.
PS. Did you know that 3,000 cheeses are sold per week at Paris CDG (it was 8,000 before covid!)?