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Eurostar border fears, new flights, SUV tax: 9 French travel updates

We also explain how an animal charity is suing SNCF after a cat was crushed by a train, hear about strike refund delays and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Hadrian / EricBery / BearFotos / Locomotive74 / Shutterstock

Strikes have, again, dominated this week’s travel news as French port and dock workers yesterday (January 26) started a second round of demonstrations against government plans to reform retirement laws in France.

You can read more about that story here, and find out what to expect from further strike action planned for the transport network on Tuesday (January 31) here.

Eurostar boss warns of ‘big challenge’ of entry/exit system

The boss of Eurostar has said that the introduction of a new system to track the arrivals and departures of non-EU visitors to the Schengen area will need “a lot of investment, anticipation and staff”.

The EU is currently working on a phone app that will allow non-EU visitors to pre-register data for its Entry/Exit System (EES) when the border check comes into force. 

Read more: Plan to ease launch of EU Entry/Exit system with app pre-registration

Chief executive Gwendoline Cazenave told the BBC that the system would work without full “digitisation”, but would require a lot more effort.

Eurostar was “pushing”, she said, for a system that would let passengers register details at home before they travel, which would "not be a bad customer experience".

"We know it's a big deal, we know it's a really big challenge," she added of the EES scheme.

Earlier this week, it was reported how Eurostar trains between the UK and Paris are carrying 30% fewer passengers as a result of post-Brexit border checks causing bottlenecks at stations.

Almost every British passport now has to be stamped (carte de séjour holders should be exempt), even for travellers who can go through electronic gates. 

As a result, some peak-time Eurostar trains are now running with hundreds of seats deliberately left empty because border police cannot process passports fast enough.

The EU has stated that the main aim of the EES is to save time. Yet there are fears it may initially cause long queues and waits at airports, due to the extra information, such as photographs and fingerprints, to be collected.

Read more: French airports worried about extra waiting due to EU Entry/Exit plan

EES was initially due to launch in 2022, then it was pushed back to May but has now been delayed again. 

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

A second, separate scheme, called the European Travel Information and Authorisation System (Etias), is also set to start in November this year.

All non-EU citizens will need an Etias to visit the EU. It will be an online visa-waiver costing €7 for adults aged 18 to 70, and will last three years or until the person’s passport expires.

It will be needed by travellers to any of the 26 Schengen area countries, but there are five EU countries that are not currently in the Etias scheme: Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland and Romania.

Animal charity sues SNCF after cat is crushed under Paris train

The case of a cat which was crushed by a train in Paris earlier this month is back in the news after an animal welfare charity announced its intention to sue rail operator SNCF for “serious abuse and acts of cruelty”.

Neko the cat was killed after escaping from its owners at Montparnasse station and hiding under a train. 

For 20 minutes, its two owners tried to delay the train and call their cat. They also attempted to talk to the driver.

SNCF staff, however, refused to assist, and it is for this reason that the Fondation 30 millions d'amis vowed on Monday (January 23) to hold the organisation accountable.

It claims that as the cat had a ticket to travel, it was legally a SNCF passenger that was deliberately run over.

"You can't do just anything with living things,” said Xavier Bacquet, the association's lawyer, in a statement on its website.

“In this case, staff deliberately took the decision to start a train even though the owners had informed them of the presence of their cat on the tracks.

“This is not an accident but an act of cruelty.”

Today (January 27), France’s interior minister lent his support to the quest for justice.

During a visit to an animal shelter in Essonne, Gérald Darmanin said he was "particularly shocked" by the incident, decrying SNCF’s apparent “lack of consideration”.

"The investigation will tell us who is criminally responsible,” he said.

For its part, SNCF said it regrets the incident but insists staff acted in the interests of safety.

"It is formally forbidden to go down onto the tracks, which would endanger the lives of the two passengers or our agents,” it told the association.

SNCF reportedly offered the owners a free ticket to Bordeaux as compensation.

Read also: Cat euthanised after being infected with bird flu, a first in France

Christmas rail strikes: many passengers still waiting for 200% refunds

In a further blow to SNCF public relations this week, a RTL survey has revealed that a number of rail passengers affected by Christmas strikes have yet to receive the 200% refunds they were promised.

As a result of the industrial action, some 200,000 tickets were cancelled at the last minute over the holiday period.

SNCF promised that those affected would receive compensation amounting to twice the value of their cancelled ticket but RTL has found many are still waiting.

Read more: French Christmas rail strikes: 200% ticket refunds for cancellations

It says it has heard “dozens of testimonies” from frustrated passengers, some of whom received an email with a link to claim their refund which simply does not work.

People who called SNCF customer service to complain, meanwhile, were told the process had to be done online.

When contacted by RTL, SNCF said it did not wish to comment on the subject, but stated that files are being processed and customers have until May 30 to request their compensation online.

Paris SUV tax could help prevent public transport price hikes

Paris’s public transport network could avoid becoming more expensive for passengers by taxing SUV drivers.

The idea has been mooted by the city’s deputy mayor, David Belliard. 

In an interview with 20 Minutes this week (January 23), he said the cost of a Navigo pass, which already increased 12% to €84.10 in January, “will end up at €120” unless new revenue streams are found.

Read more: Paris Navigo public transport monthly pass to rise by 12% in 2023

He said it was vital to "diversify modes of financing, in particular around ecological and redistributive taxation”.

This might include a tax on SUVs, “particularly in cities where they have no use and are very polluting."

Public transport funding currently comes mainly from three groups: public- and private-sector employers via so-called versement mobilité contributions, local authorities such as the Mairie de Paris, which contributes €430million, and users themselves. 

Nantes and Nîmes among new Ryanair summer flight routes

Low-cost airline Ryanair is expanding its summer routes from French airports, adding new services between Nantes and Brussels (Belgium), and Nimes and Porto (Portugal).

The latter launches on March 26, with two flights a week (Sundays and Thursdays) until October. Prices start from €44.99.

From April, you will also be able to fly Ryanair between Porto and Strasbourg twice weekly.

Read more: Dover border control boost, new UK, US flights: France travel update

Ryanair's Dara Brady said: "We are delighted to bring even more choice and value to our customers in France with the addition of these new routes to Porto, giving our customers in Nîmes and Strasbourg even more choice when planning their long-awaited summer holiday."

Meanwhile, from Nantes you can reach Charleroi-Brussels South in twice-weekly services on Sundays and Thursdays from May 4 until the end of August. 

This route was initially scheduled to start in March 2020 before being delayed by the Covid pandemic.

Finally, Ryanair is offering two new services to Romania from Paris Beauvais this summer. The flights will serve Cluj and Iasi airports.

Paris metro: ‘We’ll explain delays more transparently,’ promises transport boss

The head of Paris’s RATP transport operator, Jean Castex, has vowed that metro passengers will soon know exactly why their trains are late or cancelled instead of being brushed off with vague excuses.

Mr Castex, who previously served as prime minister before taking on the transport job, said information for metro users should be more transparent in future. 

Read more: Ex-French PM to be named Paris transport boss

During his New Year's address on Tuesday (January 24) 2023, and on France 3 the following day, he conceded: “We can do better.”

"When you're on the platform and you're told that there are ‘operational difficulties’, I feel like saying: ‘We had noticed.’

Instead of ‘operational difficulties’ (difficultés d’exploitation), passengers might be told if the issue relates to a stuck door, people on the tracks, an alarm on board a train or a track problem.

‘Passenger incidents’ (incidents voyageurs) will be similarly qualified. 

"If users are informed, if they are told what is happening as precisely as possible, [they may]...  accept the situation a little better,” Mr Castex said.

Read more: French you don’t learn at school: When jargon goes round the houses

Brittany Ferries reports 20% upturn in bookings this month 

Some 125,000 more passengers have used Brittany Ferries’s cross-Channel services this month compared to the same period last year.

The rise represents a 20% increase in bookings for the routes – five of which are between the UK and France, and two between the UK and Spain.

Sales and marketing director Paul Acheson said: “It’s early days, but we are delighted with how things are looking this year.

“We have emerged from the Covid era with more people choosing the pace, space and convenience of travelling by sea.”

Read more: Brittany Ferries reports better year after 'ghastly' Covid period

The company serves five destinations in northern France (Le Havre, Caen, Cherbourg, Saint-Malo and Roscoff) and two in Spain (Bilbao and Santander).

Air France gets on WhatsApp to improve customer communications

Passengers with Air France can now get in touch with the airline via WhatsApp, as well as receiving journey notifications in this way.

The service, which is available in four languages (French, English, Italian, Brazilian/Portuguese), promises answers to common questions and, if customers opt in, updates on everything from changes to their flight schedule or boarding gate to the baggage delivery belt on arrival.

Personalised promotions will also let customers upgrade their travel experience, with the option of selecting more spacious seats or paying for access to the Air France lounge at the airport.

SNCF competitor eyes 2025 launch for high-speed rail service 

Le Train, the first private French railway operator to offer a high-speed service dedicated to regional and inter-regional travel, will start building its new trains within the next few months.

The firm, based in Gironde, promises to serve 11 destinations from 2025, linking several cities in the Grand-Ouest region including Bordeaux, Rennes and Nantes.

Read more: French TGV train tickets for spring holidays now on sale

On Monday (January 23), it signed an agreement with the Spanish company Talgo for the construction of its trains, which will begin in the first half of this year.

"With this large-scale agreement, we are confirming our ambition to offer daily high-speed travel to the millions of inhabitants of Nouvelle-Aquitaine, Brittany, Pays de la Loire and Centre-Val de Loire regions," said managing director Alain Getraud.

It promises Bordeaux-Angoulême in 34 minutes (34 minutes is currently also the shortest journey time with SNCF), Bordeaux-Rennes in 3h30 (4h13 with SNCF) and Bordeaux-Nantes in three hours (4h12 with SNCF).

The company hopes to offer 50 daily trains for more than three million passengers per year.

Related articles

Dover border control boost, new UK, US flights: France travel update

Passports, Etias, EES: Changes to European border control in 2023

Central France department is latest to return to 90km/h speed limit

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