Geneva’s Cointrin airport
First things first: luggage carts, a map of the airport and cash on arrival. The luggage carts or trolleys were for years free at the airport but earlier in 2008 the airport began to use pay ones, to make sure they remain easy to find in various areas around the airport and parking lots. You need a token (jeton in French) or CHF2 or €2 coin. The tokens can be bought with a credit card from a machine near the door to customs.
Customs: no meat products are allowed from outside the European Union and since 1 July 2008 there’s been a crackdown on illegally importing pirated goods such as DVDs and watches, even for private use. For an overview of customs allowances, read our GenevaLunch guide on making it happily through Swiss customs.
Several money exchange centres are located in the upper and lower levels of the airport, including automatic teller machines that deal in Swiss francs, euros, dollars and pounds. If you purchased your airplane ticket through a traditional travel agency or tour operator you may qualify for an Avantage cheque book, which provides good discounts for check-in luggage, parking, valet parking, airport shops, hotels at or near the airport and even vouchers for several types of transport to neighbouring France.
Airport transportation options: Geneva and neighbouring France
From the airport: Taxis are available at the airport with fares starting at about CHF40 for a 6 km ride to the city centre plus a surcharge for each piece of luggage. During rush hour, traffic can be difficult, but taxis and buses share a fast lane. Several taxi companies serve the city but one central number connects you with the taxi closest to you. Service is never further than 10 minutes away.
To the airport: It is relatively easy in the city centre to hail a cab on the street, but it is not the same in other parts of town, so keep the central number handy. The lowest fare for a taxi ride is about CHF20. Tipping, generally about 10%, is optional, and it is not expected.
Geneva’s Cointrin Airport has a small section that sits in France and is called the “French sector.” Several car rental companies are located at the airport, but some operate on Swiss territory and others on French: check ahead to see where your pickup is if you’ve reserved a car. If it’s in the French sector pick up your luggage and return to the departures area on the second floor. Go through French customs and immigration, then head to the corresponding rental desk.
Be especially mindful when dropping your car back at the airport, as drop-off instructions can be complicated.
Parking might be the ultimate challenge in Geneva, but a park-and-ride service can ease your visit to the city centre. Five of the city’s main parking lots have an agreement with the public transport system that lets your parking ticket double for 90 minutes as a bus or tram ticket.
Prices vary depending on a number of factors such as car model and size or whether you schedule trips outside the city. One-way fares for private limousine services to nearby towns begin at around CHF380 but they can quickly mount higher. A web search lists some of the most popular limo services in Geneva, to other towns in Switzerland and neighbouring France. Count on CHF800-1,200 to rent a limo for the day, depending on the size and type, from sedan to van, and calculate extra for mileage if you’re planning to drive more than about 200 km during the day.
Driving your own car to the airport
The airport offers, in English, an online overview of parking options, opening hours for parking and where to park different types of vehicles, current rates and a quick online calculator. A valet service for quick arrivals and departures costs CHF32 a day and goes down to CHF23 a day for 10 days.
Follow signs for the P51 long-term parking lot for the cheapest alternative, but allow 10 minutes to walk to the airport and keep in mind that it is not as secure as the main airport underground parking lot. The underground lot was redone in mid-2008 and it is both brighter and better marked, providing greater security.
Remember where on the floor your car is by noticing one of the new pictures on the pillars, and take a red ticket by the elevator to remember what floor you’re parked on.
Also see The cheerful traveler: To and from Lausanne and the Lake Geneva region.
When time is of the essence, and money is not a consideration, private air transport might be the way to go.
Geneva has a private terminal with 4,600 m2 of VIP lounges, its own underground parking and separate access to Swiss and French customs and immigration authorities. Four private aviation companies share the terminal: PrivatAir, TAG Aviation, Jet Aviation, and Club Airways. You can charter a plane or join a group sharing programme. Or you can buy your own plane.
The rugged Swiss terrain can, at times, make helicopter transfer services a better alternative, especially during the ski season. Several companies provide the service, such as Geneva-Helicopter and Meribel Helicopter, which specializes in flying people to the big French ski resorts.
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