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Good news on ferries, new air routes: eight France travel updates

We also cover plans for a ‘hotel on wheels’ night train service linking Paris to Venice, Nice and Barcelona and how France is welcoming Ukrainians in stations

We look at some of the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Steve Mann; EQRoy; Spech; VanderWolf Images / Shutterstock

We look at some of the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week.

1. Brittany Ferries confirms full post-Covid reopening

Brittany Ferries has announced that for the summer season 2022 it will be returning with its full fleet and route offering, following two years of Covid-related limitations. 

The company’s Bretagne and Barfleur ships will be coming back into service, and its Roscoff-Plymouth route will be reopening on March 28 with five return journeys per week. 

Brittany Ferries will also use this summer as an opportunity to reinforce its France-Ireland links, with two return trips between Roscoff and Cork each week doubling the current offer. Passengers can also travel between Cherbourg and Rosslare.

“We are delighted to confirm this good news to our staff, customers and port partners,” said Brittany Ferries CEO Christophe Mathieu. 

The summer season also sees the entry into service of the new, more eco-friendly ship Salamanca, which will mainly sail to Bilbao but which will also go between Portsmouth and Cherbourg once a week. 

In addition, Brittany Ferries is offering a ‘fast-craft’ Portsmouth to Cherbourg, Cherbourg to Poole service this year, enabling passengers to get to and from France in three hours. 

Brittany Ferries’ news comes as Irish Ferries reports improved revenues last year, thanks to easing travel restrictions and the launch of its Dover-Calais route.

Irish Ferries parent company Irish Continental Group’s pre-tax losses were €4.1million in 2021, compared to €18million in 2020.

2. New rail company looks to launch Venice and Barcelona night trains

New French start-up rail company Midnight Trains is looking to launch Paris-Venice, Paris-Nice and Paris-Barcelona “hotel on wheels” night train services. 

“These are the destinations that we are working on most, with Nice being put on the backburner as we are prioritising European destinations,” cofounder Adrien Aumont said

The company is hoping to have launched its service by June 1 2024, but is currently working out the logistical considerations of the project. 

It plans to offer a daily Paris-Venice service, which would take 14 hours and would stop at Dijon, Milan, Brescia, Verona, Padua and Mestre. It is not yet known how much tickets would cost.

This route had been served by Trenitalia, but was abandoned at the start of the pandemic.

The Paris-Nice train would stop at Dijon, Marseille, Toulon, Les Arcs, Saint Raphaël, Cannes and Antibes, while the Paris-Barcelona would go via Dijon, Perpignan, Figueres and Girona. 

These two routes are expected to start in December 2024. Passengers would all have private rooms, and would not have to sleep in dormitories with people they did not know.

Midnight Trains is financed by several different French entrepreneurs, including the founder of Free Xavier Niel and the cofounders of the crowdfunding platform KissKissBankBank. 

3. Air France tightens refund terms 

Now that the Covid pandemic and its latest Omicron wave is easing its grip on Europe, airlines including Air France are reviewing their terms and conditions, making it more difficult for passengers to cancel flights. 

Now, if someone decides not to travel when the flight is still running, Air France will not refund the price of the ticket. 

It will instead offer a non-refundable voucher valid for one year, with which the traveller can book another flight.

This will only apply to Light and Standard tariffs, and not to Flex tickets. 

However, passengers will still be able to change the date or time of their flight “whatever the reason,” without paying any admin fees. They should note that if the price of the new ticket is higher than that of their original fare, they will have to pay the difference.

If you are waiting for Covid test results – which are still needed for entry into certain countries – you will be able to change the date or time to 48 hours before or up to four days after your initial booking without seeing the tariffs change, the airline has said.

4. Delta Air Lines resumes Nice-New York route 

Delta Air Lines will be returning with its Nice-New York service at the end of the month. 

From March 27 there will be five weekly flights between the two cities. Delta will be in competition with La Compagnie and United Airlines on this route.

The airline is emphasising its focus on “sustainable development” this year, aiming to reduce plastic use on board its planes and providing eco-friendly toiletry bags and bedding for passengers.

“As demand [for air travel] increases, we are expecting many bookings for the Nice-New York route, as customers rediscover the US and American tourists explore the coastal towns of the Riviera, its beautiful beaches and, of course, its gastronomy,” said Nicolas Ferri, Delta’s vice president in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and India.

5. Ile-de-France transports ticket prices capped at €5

The Ile-de-France region has this week introduced a €5 cap on public transport ticket prices, aiming to establish a single maximum rate for people who do not have a Navigo pass. 

This applies to all trains and RER services managed by Ile-de-France Mobilités, for which people will also be able to buy a book of ten tickets for €40, so benefiting from a €1 discount on each. 

Any tariffs which were already cheaper than the €5 figure will stay that way.

“Around 21 million journeys are made by about two million people each year on tickets costing more than €5,” Ile-de-France Mobilités stated.

This measure will promote equal access to public transport for people from around the Ile-de-France network, who until now would have to pay widely varying rates depending on their area. 

“Our objective is to encourage occasional travellers from the greater Paris region to use public transport more, and to avoid creating area-based inequalities and pricing injustices,” Ile-de-France Mobilités added. 

6. Over €100million invested in Alençon-Le Mans TER line improvements

More than €100million will be spent on improving the TER train line between Alençon (Normandy) and Le Mans (Pays de la Loire). 

The work will be funded by the state through SNCF Réseau, and will begin in 2025. 

“The objective is not, as we all tend to do, to do emergency work to get two, three or four years more service [from the line], but to ensure that these small train lines are protected,” said Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

“The objective is to save the little train lines which have long been neglected.”

Regional authorities are also considering the launch of hydrogen-powered trains on the Caen-Alençon-Le Mans-Tours line, although this project would not be completed before 2025.

7. New Montpellier-Oslo air route to launch this summer

Low-cost Norwegian airline Flyr is set to launch a new Montpellier-Oslo route on June 11. 

Flights will be available until August 13 and will run on Tuesdays and Saturdays. 

This will be Flyr’s fourth French air route, joining Paris, Nice and Grenoble. No other airlines offer the Montpellier-Oslo connection.

8. Paris stations welcome wave of Ukrainian refugees

Hundreds of Ukrainians have been arriving in Paris this week as they travel across Europe away from the conflict in their country. 

Ukrainian refugees are entitled to free tickets for TER, TGV Inoui, Ouigo, Intercités, Lyria, Alleo, Thalys, Elipsos, SVI and Eurostar trains.

Read more: How can I help Ukraine from France: Host, donate, support

SNCF and the Croix Rouge have set up welcome points in Parisian stations for refugees disembarking from trains.

The authorities do not know how many Ukrainian people have come to the city, but SNCF’s Gares et Connexions service stated that “400 people arrived on Wednesday morning (March 9).”

A Croix Rouge spokesperson told Le Monde: “It’s even more than that. We estimate that several thousand people have come through France in the last few days.” 

People are also arriving on coaches at Bercy bus station, where the Croix-Rouge is also setting up a welcome point. 

“Most of these people are only passing through France,” SNCF have said. “The majority will continue on to Spain and Portugal.”

However, with more and more people coming to France, director or Gares et Connexions Marlène Dolveck believes that France’s rail and station network may struggle to accommodate everyone in the coming days. 

The number of refugees is “rising quickly, next week will be more difficult,” she said.

Croix-Rouge is therefore appealing for help from volunteers but also for donations.

Related stories 

Millions of summer train tickets go on sale in France, prices from €10

Toulouse introduces new low-emission zone for vans and trucks

Faster ferries, new air routes and six other France travel updates

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