Covid-19 in France: What impact on travel?
As French President Emmanuel Macron has announced tough measures across the country to reduce the spread of coronavirus Covid-19, we answer questions about travel on flights, trains, and ferries.
In his statement made at 20h last night (Thursday March 12), Mr Macron called the virus “the most serious health crisis that France has known for a century”.
Figures from the latest health update (Thursday March 12) show that 61 people have now died in France, and more than 3,000 cases are now confirmed.
Can people still travel into France?
For the time being, yes.
France has not yet closed its borders, and there are not yet any definite plans to do so. President Macron said: “We must avoid nationalist isolation; this virus does not have a passport.” He added that the future possible closure of borders would need to be decided at “European level”.
The US has banned all travel from Schengen area countries, including France, and including connecting flights through the Schengen area.
The ban originally did not include travel from the UK and Ireland, but was extended on March 15 to include those nations.
Can I change or cancel my flight?
This depends on the airline you have booked with and the destination of your flight (as some destinations such as Italy and Israel have issued travel restrictions).
If the airline has not contacted you about changing or cancelling your journey ahead of time, then this usually means your flight is going ahead as scheduled, and you will be subject to the usual fees for any changes or cancellations.
If the airline itself is forced to cancel, you will normally be entitled to a refund or alternative journey.
Some airlines have announced exceptions:
Air France has said that it will allow fee-free exchanges and refunds for all tickets before March 31 2020.
EasyJet has now said it will waive any flight change fees for bookings from today (Friday March 13).
In a statement, it said: “We will continue to operate a flight schedule that ensures that those customers who still wish to travel can do so, where travel restrictions allow and in line with guidance from health authorities.
“However, we understand there is uncertainty around travel at this time, so if you currently have a booking with us but would prefer not to fly then...you can now change your flight online and we will waive the flight change fee. This applies to all existing and new bookings until further notice.”
For flights that EasyJet has cancelled, customers “will be able to transfer to an alternative flight free of charge or receive a refund”.
The airline is also operating “rescue flights” to help bring people home from restricted destinations such as Italy.
EasyJet has recommended that customers make their changes for free online, as calling its Contact Centre incurs a £5 fee per person per flight.
Ryanair has set up a page with information about Covid-19 here, but has said that if passengers have not received email or SMS notification of a cancellation and given the option to refund or rebook, then their “flight is operating as normal”.
The Irish airline has issued a list of countries to and from which there are flight restrictions that affect its routes - including Italy, Israel and Jordan - and issued advice on how this will affect passenger journeys.
Detailed information is on its countries restriction page here.
On its Covid-19 page, Transavia has said that all flights to and from Italy are cancelled from March 11 to April 22, with customers set to receive an email with “your options”. All flights to or from Israel have been cancelled from March 17 to April 2.
Flights after this date are still scheduled.
Passengers with flights booked to or from Italy before March 18 can rebook a different date or destination for flights to October 24, 2020, without paying a change fee. If the new ticket is more expensive than your original ticket, you will have to pay the difference.
If you wish to cancel your pre-March 18 flight to or from Italy completely, you can do so online and “request a refund for the taxes paid”, Transavia has said.
There are also restrictions to and from Jordan and Lebanon. More details are on the Transavia website.
For other flights, most are continuing to be scheduled normally.
For return flights, if your return flight is cancelled, Transavia will grant you a full refund for the entire journey.
If you missed or chose not to fly on your scheduled outbound flight on a return ticket, you will only be entitled to receive a refund for the remaining return flight.
Is it safe to fly?
Airlines have said that they are doing everything they can to ensure their aircraft are clean and safe.
In its statement this week, EasyJet said: “We want to reassure you with the measures we’re taking to ensure the health and wellbeing of our customers onboard. The air in the cabin is constantly filtered and refreshed every few minutes.
“A study commissioned by the European Aviation Safety Agency found that the cabin air quality is similar or better than what is experienced in normal indoor environments.”
The company added that its aircraft are cleaned to guidelines issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), with the cabin, toilets, seats and tray tables being “thoroughly cleaned each night by professional cleaning teams at all of our airports”, as well as a “regular deep clean by a team of specialist cleaners.”
It also said that soap and hand sanitiser is “made available onboard for all customers and crew to use”.
Ryanair said it “is working closely with relevant authorities and is following all guidelines provided by WHO and EASA to ensure the health and wellbeing of our staff and our customers”.
Transavia said it “works together with KLM Health Services (KHS). KHS receives daily the latest information from the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control, the Dutch National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, the World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention”.
It added: “The air in our cabin is constantly refreshed with fresh air, and our hospital-grade HEPA filters trap 99.99% of pathogens, including COVID-19.
“In addition, we have extra gloves to collect waste and disinfectant wipes in the aircraft. We also keep a close eye on the soap stock on board and all our aircraft have corona kits. A corona kit contains mouth masks that we can hand out if we fear someone in the aircraft is infected.”
Can I claim on my insurance for changes or cancellations?
It very much depends on your policy and insurer.
Some insurance policies - especially those with “Travel Disruption” cover - may be able to refund any affected travel or costs, but insurance companies will normally require you to attempt to get a refund from the airline, tour operator (if applicable) or credit card company first.
What about trains and TGVs?
French train company SNCF has said that it is allowing free exchanges and refunds on tickets due to coronavirus Covid-19, including for TGVs.
In a statement, SNCF has confirmed: “For journeys until April 20, 2020, SNCF has decided to waive fees for exchanges and refunds on TGV InOui, Ouigo and Intercités tickets.”
The move also applies to connecting TERs.
SNCF said it was aiming to help passengers “during this difficult period linked to the spread of Covid-19, which is causing a feeling of uncertainty when it comes to travel among French people and foreign tourists”, and “allows everyone to calmly prepare their movements, with the reassurance of knowing they can postpone or cancel their journeys without fees”.
SNCF also said that all TGV and Intercités trains now receive “a meticulous, deep daily clean to remove the risks of contamination as much as possible”.
SNCF has announced generous measures in response to Covid-19 (Photo: Global Railway Review / @GlobalRailway / Twitter)
Can I still take a ferry?
Ferries to and from France are still operating, except for French school groups.
Bookings are still being taken.
In a statement on its website, Brittany Ferries said: “[So far] there are no specific recommendations for ferry companies operating exclusively in Europe.” It added that its Chief Medical Officer and Senior Directors were monitoring “developments closely”.
Yet, passengers are advised to be alert.
It said it is operating a “Coronavirus Protocol”, and supplying hand sanitiser to all customers and staff aboard its ships. It has also placed posters on good hygiene habits and handwashing in bathrooms and other relevant areas.
It also said that all of its ships are ventilated with fresh air, rather than recirculated air, including in cabins.
Sailings are happening as scheduled, unless you are notified otherwise.
On its Covid-19 information page, the company said it is following "robust procedures for avoiding the spread of the virus through increased cleaning and disinfecting on board. We will continue giving advice to our passengers on how to avoid spreading the virus through hygiene measures and keeping a safe distance from other people".
Sailings are operating as normal, unless passengers are advised otherwise. You can also see regular updates on whether services are running on time at this Twitter page.
The company is focusing on ensuring good hygiene practices on board, including sanitising areas such as door handles and light switches.
It has said it will ensure hand sanitiser and soap is available, as well as 100% fresh air "where possible".
It has also changed it policies so that "no unwrapped food items, e.g. sugar cubes, will be available", and is issuing hygiene advice to all passengers and staff.
Can I change or cancel my ferry booking?
This depends on the policy of the specific company.
Depending on the date of travel, changes or cancellations may be free, or subject to a fee of £25 for journeys before April 21.
Holiday packages are subject to restrictions and regulations of the destination countries involved.
Customers with bookings before April 30 have the option to change their booking to a credit voucher to be used at a later date, up to 24 hours before departure.
Further detailed information on specific safety, cancellation, rebooking, and country-specific information is on the DFS Ferries Covid-19 page.
On its booking page, P&O Ferries has said: "To give you greater flexibility and peace of mind during the uncertainty caused by Coronavirus (COVID 19), our customers will be able to amend their travel dates without incurring an amendment fee."
It said that passengers wishing to amend their travel dates free of charge should call its Contact Centre on 0800 130 0030. This is applicable to both new and existing bookings.
Further information and safety advice is available on its Covid-19 page.
This article was updated on March 16, following the extension of the US travel ban to include the UK and Ireland.
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