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New air routes, Covid rules, port concerns: ten France travel updates

Air France introduces digital vaccine pass checks, Métro stations get a makeover, Italy eases Covid travel restrictions, Dover port boss concerned about post-Brexit checks and more

We take a look at stories relating to travel to, from and around France this week. Pic: Angel DiBilio / DimaBerlin / Alexandros Michailidis / macri roland / Shutterstock

We take a look at stories relating to travel to, from and around France this week.

One big story regarding UK travel rules is that from February 11 fully vaccinated arrivals will no longer have to take a day two test. 

The only measure left in place then for such travellers will be the passenger locator form that must be completed in the 48 hours before they arrive in the UK. 

In addition, unvaccinated travellers will no longer need to take a test on day eight or quarantine on arrival, although they will still be required to carry out a pre-departure and day two test. 

Read more: France-UK travel: Day two tests for vaccinated to end February 11

Air France automates vaccine pass verification 

Air France has introduced an automated vaccine pass verification service aimed at reducing the number of checks passengers must undergo and preventing delays on domestic flights. 

The digital checks will be available a few days before departure, when passengers will receive an email inviting them to upload their passes to an online platform as an alternative to the manual verification system.

If you do not upload your documents in advance, you can also scan your QR code at self-service kiosks which are available at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Montpellier, Mulhouse, Nantes, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse. 

In the coming months the vaccine pass upload option will be integrated into the online check-in process. 

The automated vaccine pass service is part of Air France’s ‘Ready to Fly’ feature, which enables passengers to have their travel documents checked before they arrive at the airport and so avoid repeated checks. 

Read more: US and other non-EU visitors to France: how to get a vaccine pass

Italy eases restrictions on travellers from France and rest of EU 

Vaccinated people travelling from France to Italy will, from February 1, no longer be asked to present a negative test result in order to enter the country. 

Currently such travellers need to take an antigen test in the 24 hours before travel, or a PCR test in the 48 hours before. 

Proof of having received two vaccine doses in the previous 14 to 270 days or of recovery from Covid in the last 21 days to six months will continue to be required.

These records can be presented through France’s TousAntiCovid app.

Unvaccinated people will, in turn, no longer have to quarantine for five days on arrival but will still need to provide a negative test result. 

Once in the country, tourists must observe rules surrounding Italy’s vaccine pass (‘super green pass’), which is still needed for entry into a range of venues including hotels, museums and restaurants. 

All travellers must also fill in a passenger locator form and FFP2 masks are obligatory on flights bound for Italy. This is also necessary in other public transports, as well as cinemas, theatres and other venues. 

Omicron cases “appear to have reached their peak” in Italy, the country’s vaccination campaign coordinator Francesco Paolo Figliuolo has said, prompting the country to ease travel restrictions. 

At the time of writing, several Italian regions remain on a yellow (‘moderate risk’) or amber (‘high risk’) Covid alert but none are on red (‘maximum risk’).

The Italian authorities may carry out random testing at airports, ports and land borders, regardless of vaccination status. Anyone testing positive will be required to self-isolate in a hotel.

Children under six are not subject to any travel restrictions but after this age they must present the negative result of an antigen test taken in the last 24 hours or a PCR taken in the last 48 hours. 

Children travelling with vaccinated parents will not be required to quarantine.

Port of Dover boss warns about ‘unsafe’ biometric checks 

The new facial recognition and fingerprint biometric checks which will be required for people travelling from the UK to the EU from September may not be safe, the Port of Dover’s Chief Executive Doug Bannister has claimed. 

Mr Bannister has called for talks between the EU and the UK on the subject, telling ITV that: “If that process requires people to get out of their vehicles and present themselves one at a time in front of a border authority officer, we don’t have the space to allow people out of their cars, it wouldn’t be safe. 

“We can’t allow that to happen.” 

Dover has already been seeing huge lorry queues this month, with vehicles forming long lines along the A20. 

There are currently no fingerprint or face biometric systems in place in the port, and the new requirements come following the UK’s exit from the EU.

The UK Home Office said in a statement that: “The UK is continuing to engage with our European partners at an operational level and, in particular, where we operate juxtaposed controls, to ensure our respective border arrangements work and interact as well as possible.” 

Flights from Deauville to Sicily and Sardinia to begin

From this spring, it will be possible to fly from Deauville (Normandy) to Palermo in Sicily and Olbia in Sardinia with Spanish airline Volotea. 

Sicily flights will begin on April 15 and Sardinia flights on May 10. Both routes will run once a week.

Ticket sales are now open, joining Volotea’s existing Deauville-Palma de Mallorca service. 

Air France union calls strike over vaccine pass 

The Syndicat des Navigants du groupe Air France (SNGAF) union has called for strike action over the government’s decision to transform the health pass into a vaccine pass. 

Under vaccine pass rules, passengers must present proof of vaccination or of recent recovery from Covid in order to board domestic flights, but not on international flights (unless the destination country requires it). 

Staff who work in venues where vaccine passes are used are also required to have one, and so domestic flight crews are effectively obliged to get vaccinated in order to continue working.

The SNGAF has claimed that this creates a “breakdown of equity” between staff members, and also argues that under the new rules, a fully vaccinated person who has contracted the virus could potentially continue to work while an unvaccinated person who does not have Covid cannot.

The union is therefore demanding an alternative system which would enable unvaccinated staff members to keep working, citing a need for “freedom of choice”.

Up to 30% of Air France staff are represented by SNGAF. No date has yet been set for the start or end of the strike. 

Transavia opens new Paris routes to French and Russian destinations 

Low-cost airline Transavia is set to open three new routes from Paris-Orly to Pau, Perpignan and Moscow. 

French flights will begin on March 27, with passengers being able to choose from 12 different Pau services and 14 Perpignan services. 

Moscow flights will start on March 28 and run on Mondays and Fridays. 

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté to open TER train services up to competition

Bourgogne-Franche-Comté’s regional authority has voted in favour of opening its TER train services up to competition by 2026.

Some 55 elected officials voted for the change yesterday evening (January 27), with 27 voting against and 17 abstaining. 

SNCF already lost its monopoly on TGV trains in 2020, when regions were first required to open the local rail network up to alternative service offers. From December 2023, EU regulation will require them to do the same with all TER services. 

Read more: Marseille-Nice becomes first French TER line to leave SNCF control

Bourgogne-France-Comté’s decision to open up all regional routes to competition, which was made in the name of “applying the law”, is a first in France.

The region’s Communist group leader Muriel Ternant had argued that: “We know already that multiplying operators and opening to competition will bring with it a decline in service quality. 

“It will be necessary to manage the complexities, to manage the interfaces.”

Even as the region’s TER train services are opened out to SNCF’s competitors, it could well be France’s national rail provider which continues to run the trains, if it manages to present the most attractive offer. Other companies which may seek to obtain the contracts are Keolis, Transdev and RATP Dev, or even foreign firms.

Michel Neugnot, vice president of the region’s transport department, said: “Our territory is organised in such a way that it is not in our interests to break the monopoly. It is SNCF Réseau which manages our very dense rail network. They are essential to our organisation.”

Mr Neugnot also stated that: “Tariffs will remain the same across the network.”

New France-Saudi Arabia air route launched 

Saudi Arabian airline Saudia is launching a new route between Paris and Al-’Ula, in the north west of the country. 

Between January 30 and March 27, passengers will be able to travel every Sunday. Saudi is the only airline offering this route, which joins services for Jeddah and Riyadh. 

Al-’Ula is the capital of the ancient Lihyanite Kingdom, and is not far from the UNESCO World Heritage archaeological site of Hegra. 

SNCF signs ‘performance contract’ to improve Hauts-de-France services

SNCF Réseau has signed a ‘performance contract’ with the Hauts-de-France region, which suspended its payments to the national rail operator three months ago in protest over the delays, cancellations and general disruption which regularly occur on its services. 

This contract will require SNCF to limit rail disruption to 2.2% of services by 2024, as opposed to 2.5% currently.

France’s transport ministry did argue that 67% of delays were due to weather conditions, suspicious packages and accidents, but SNCF has also promised to better manage the effect of these external factors. 

Three Métro stations painted black for Paris Fashion Week 

Three stations on Paris’ Métro network – Concorde, Franklin Roosevelt and Opéra – have been entirely repainted black to mark Paris Fashion Week. 

The stations were redecorated for the fashion brand Ami, whose catwalk show was based on a ‘Métro theme’, RATP said. 

Videos of the show were also shown on the stations’ screens. 

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