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Ferry delays, strikes, new flights, train deals: France travel updates

Airlines launch their summer schedules, Gatwick and Heathrow French routes, EU approves Eurostar-Thalys merger, SNCF launches over-60s subscription and more 

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week. Pic: Evan Frank / Hadrian / Angel DiBilio / S. Bonaime / Shutterstock

Yesterday (March 31), saw the UK moved to France’s green list for travel.

This means that unvaccinated people will no longer need to present an essential reason for travel, and that everyone coming from the UK is now exempt from filling in a sworn statement confirming that they are not experiencing Covid symptoms.

Read more: UK is moved to France’s green list for travel

SNCF launches over-60s’ subscription offer for unlimited journeys 

SNCF has this week extended its TGVmax offer to over-60s in France. 

The scheme was initially launched in 2017 for 16 to 27-year-olds, who for €79 per month could catch any TGV Inoui, Intercités or night train service to a French destination. Under the subscription it is also possible to travel to Fribourg-en-Brisgau in Germany and to Luxembourg.

This ‘Max Jeune’ initiative will now be joined by ‘Max Senior’. 

However, people who sign up must fulfil certain conditions. Firstly, the journey must take place on a weekday, outside of school and bank holidays. 

In addition, there is only a limited number of ‘Max’ seats per train.

Passengers can sign up online via the ‘Max Senior’ website. They will then be able to travel as often as they like – within the terms of the subscription – as long as they make a reservation first. 

They can make up to six bookings in one sitting but they must be confirmed at 17:00 the day before the journey at the latest, or they will be cancelled. 

Subscriptions are for a minimum of three months, after which time customers can cancel for €15. After 12 months this cancellation fee is waived. 

EU grants approval to Eurostar-Thalys merger 

A planned merger between train companies Eurostar and Thalys, which was initially proposed in September 2019 but delayed by the pandemic, has now been approved by the European Commission. 

This should enable smoother train links between five European countries and 245 million people.

Both Eurostar and Thalys are majority-owned by SNCF, but while Eurostar operates between London and Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam, Thalys offers routes from Paris to Brussels, Amsterdam, Cologne and Dusseldorf. 

The merger should lead to improved scheduling and ticketing systems for passengers, who will be able to move between Eurostar and Thalys terminals in Brussels for onward journeys to the Netherlands and Germany with greater ease. 

It is hoped that people will eventually be able to travel on through-trains from London to Cologne or Frankfurt in Germany.

The companies’ initial plans were brought to a halt during the Covid crisis, when they both encountered significant financial difficulties linked to the drop in passenger numbers. 

The combined company will operate under the Eurostar name.

British Airways launches short-haul Gatwick routes 

British Airways has this week returned to Gatwick Airport with its new short-haul subsidiary.

There are 35 European routes on offer, including Bordeaux and Nice.

Tom Stoddart, Acting CEO British Airways Euroflyer, said “Today marks a significant milestone for British Airways as we operate our first European services from Gatwick in two years.”

“I am really proud of what we have created at Gatwick, we have an excellent team with lots of new and exciting talent. I am looking forward to seeing our newest subsidiary grow, adding new routes and providing customers with more options to get away on holiday with a premium British Airways service.”

Poor weather and technical issues cause DFDS Ferries delays

DFDS has warned passengers hoping to travel today (April 1) that there are significant delays on all Channel crossings because of the adverse weather conditions affecting the area around northern France. 

Read more: Snow and ice: 22 French departments placed on orange alert

Passengers are being advised not to travel to the port if possible, and are being allowed to swap to a later service for free. 

This may affect people who had initially booked onto P&O Ferries crossings today, as the company’s services are still suspended on the Dover-Calais route following the controversial sacking of 800 crew members on March 17. 

They are not set to begin again before at least next week. 

P&O has updated passengers hoping to sail between Dover and Calais via its Twitter page, stating: “P&O Ferries services are unable to run some of our services for the next few days. We are advising travellers of alternative arrangements. We will update this feed every three hours with the operational situation.”

It also said that Dover-Calais services “remain cancelled. Please arrive as booked, we will get you away on an alternative carrier ASAP.

Read more: P&O Dover-Calais services remains suspended, row over pay continues

“Once at port please head to the DFDS (Dover) or P&O (Calais) check-in booths. We apologise for the inconvenience this may cause.”  

DFDS has previously said that: “"So far, we have been able to manage the additional demand” created by the P&O sackings. 

"We’ve done this in a number of ways, including optimising capacity management to maximise freight and passenger loads, increasing passenger capacity in line with relaxing Covid restrictions, and adding some extra sailing at weekends.

"Further to this, we have finished with all of the dry-docking of our vessels, so we have a full fleet in service.”

Toulouse Airport launches 17 new routes 

Toulouse-Blagnac Airport has today (April 1) opened or reopened 17 routes, returning to its full, pre-pandemic offering.

New routes include: 

  • Larnaca (Cyprus) and Tel-Aviv (Israel) with TUS Airways

  • Algiers and Oran (Algeria) with Air France

  • Bergamo, Rome and Venice with Ryanair

  • Agadir (Morocco) also with Ryanair

  • Madrid with Volotea 

  • Faro with Volotea 

  • Ibiza with Iberia Air Nostrum 

  • Marseille with TwinJet 

Toulouse will also be reopening services to Montreal – with four flights a week – Valencia, Tangier (Morocco), Geneva, Bristol and Algiers and Oran with Air Algérie.

Passengers can travel to 79 different destinations from the airport this spring and summer, and the number of plane seats offered by the airport has risen by 78% in comparison to last year.

French Ryanair staff to strike on April 16

Pilots at Ryanair’s bases in Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Beauvais have been called to strike on Saturday, April 16 by the Malta Air branch of the Syndicat National des Pilotes de Ligne (SNPL).

The union has stated that the action has been made necessary by the “refusal of the direction of Malta Air – subsidiary of the Ryanair group which is responsible for the bases – to enter into discussions with the pilots’ representatives for the past four months.”

SNPL is demanding reforms to holiday allowances and overtime pay for the pilots, adding that they “have been very cooperative during the pandemic.” 

Air France increases Indian routes and brings back first class on Brazil flights

Air France’s summer offering includes 196 routes and is at 90% of its pre-pandemic activity levels. Its summer schedule includes a Nice-London Heathrow route, which will open on July 9.

Air France-KLM is also boosting its Europe-India offering from 20 flights a week in April to 30 in May. 

Air France flies to Bangalore, Chennai, Delhi and Mumbai from Paris-Charles de Gaulle, and KLM goes to Delhi and Mumbai from Amsterdam.

This comes as Air France also announces the reopening of its Première – first class – Cabin on flights to Brazil in May.

Passengers will be able to book first class tickets for flights between Paris-Charles de Gaulle and São Paulo three times a week from May 9. 

From July 4, the Première Cabin will be available daily.

La Première only has four seats and is only offered on 19 Air France planes, making it the airline’s most exclusive service.

Each seat can be turned into a bed more than two metres long, and passengers can sample food from menus created by Michelin-star chefs. They may also watch their in-flight entertainment on a 24-inch HD screen. 

In Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille and Nice, La Première passengers can be driven to the airport by a personal chauffeur, and are then offered access to the first class lounge.

Manuel Flahault, Managing Director of the Air France-KLM Group in South America, said: "This is a completely unique and personalised service, which is naturally suited to the needs of discerning customers to ensure comfort and fluidity throughout the journey.”

Pays de la Loire signs new TER contract with SNCF, with new perks for passengers

Pays de la Loire has signed a new 10-year contract with SNCF, ensuring the company’s continued management of the region’s TER trains.

This will bring certain benefits for TER passengers, who will now be automatically reimbursed when a train is cancelled. Until now, only annual season ticket-holders would be automatically refunded. 

From now on, all passengers will be reimbursed “on presentation of receipts.” 

Between now and 2023, the number of TER trains running in Pays de la Loire will increase by 11%. 

The region has also agreed with SNCF that no ticket offices will be allowed to close or reduce their hours with permission from the local authorities until the contract ends in 2031.

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