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Planes, trains, Métro, Covid rules: eight France travel updates

Holiday bookings surge as UK-France travel rules ease, airlines announce new French routes - and the French passport is rated fourth most ‘powerful’ in world

We look at the travel news affecting journeys to, from and around France this week Pic: Mike Fouque / Soos Jozsef / Beautiful landscape / BalkansCat / Shutterstock

The big news this week is that France is, from today (January 14), easing restrictions on UK travellers meaning that vaccinated people will no longer need an essential reason to travel between France and Britain. 

UK arrivals in France will however no longer need to self-isolate but will still need to take a PCR or antigen test in the 24 hours before their journey begins.

Read more: UK-France travel restrictions ease

Read more: Flights, trains, holiday firms gear up for increased UK-France travel

We take a look at the other travel-related stories that have happened around France in the past week.

1. Surge in number of Britons searching for French holidays 

Following the news that France is relaxing its UK travel restrictions, a poll found that 12% of British respondents, when asked about their holiday decisions, said they will now be planning a summer visit to the country.

Of the 2,000 people surveyed, 54% also said that the closure of French borders to tourists had affected their ski holiday plans.

The poll was carried out by research platform Opinium and commissioned by insurance firm Battleface.

However, EasyJet reported a 600% increase in UK bookings for French ski destinations after the rule relaxation was announced, and Jet2 said it had seen a ‘sharp’ rise in reservations.

Read more: ‘Happy and relieved’: French ski resorts prepare for British visitors

Tui, meanwhile, stated that ski holiday bookings had doubled as early as Wednesday when it was reported that the restrictions would be relaxed “in the coming days.”

Jet2 equally reported an increase in reservations with chief executive Steve Heapy saying there had been a "sharp and immediate" spike in bookings for ski flights.

2. France has fourth most powerful passport in the world

French passports are the fourth most powerful in the world, according to the new Henley Passport Index publication based on data provided by the International Air Transport Association. 

The Henley Passport Index claims to be the most accurate travel information database, and updates its passport ranking every year.

This is because holding a French passport enables people to visit 188 countries in the world without requiring a visa. 

First on the list were Japan and Singapore, whose passports permit holders to travel to 192 countries without needing a visa. 

France shares fourth place with Austria, Denmark, the Netherlands and Sweden. Countries including Italy, Germany and Spain occupied second and third place.

The UK was sixth on the podium, along with Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Switzerland and the US, whose passports allow visa-free entry to 186 countries. 

3. Difficult months ahead for SNCF but company is now better prepared for Covid disruption

The CEO of SNCF Voyageurs, Christophe Fanichet, has said that while the company is in a challenging situation faced with the Omicron variant, it is now better equipped to anticipate the effects of new Covid waves. 

With each surge in Covid cases that France has experienced, SNCF has seen a huge drop in passenger demand, followed by a strong resurgence as the situation improved. 

This pattern has allowed the company to plan more effectively for the Omicron wave.

Mr Fanichet said today that: “Since the beginning of the year, passenger numbers have been at 65% on Paris regional trains, 85% on TER trains and 70% on TGVs (50% among people travelling for work)” in comparison to a ‘normal’ year.

“We have observed a drop in reservations of 30% since last week. On average, trains are 50% full today, which is why we have reduced our transport offering.”

Read more: Train services cut across France due to Covid, Eurostar also affected

“February holiday reservations are down 20% (but we are observing few cancellations). We have been seeing the impact of Omicron since the beginning of the year,” he added.

However, “When they can, people in France return to train travel in great numbers and we know how to adapt quickly to these changes. At Christmas, we transported 5.5 million people, that’s a normal amount. 

“The French are no longer waiting to see what happens, they are planning their future journeys. We recorded 750,000 reservations on the day that we opened February break ticket sales.

Read more: SNCF opens train ticket sales for spring holidays around France

“I am confident about train travel in 2022, even though we must be prudent.”

However, Mr Fanichet added that he is “worried” about Eurostar, which has been severely affected by UK-France travel rules. Currently, Eurostar trains are only carrying 500 passengers, as opposed to 25,000 in normal times. 

Today’s restriction relaxation should help the situation, but it remains uncertain.

4. European Commission to maintain rules on take-off and landing slots 

The European Commission has dismissed the idea of reforming airport take-off and landing quota rules which some airlines use to justify running near or completely empty flights. 

Under current EU rules, airlines must use at least 80% of their take-off and landing slots in order to keep them for the following year. This requirement was reduced in January to 50% because of the pandemic, and that proportion was maintained for this winter.

A message written by European Transport Commissioner Adina Valean, which has now been made public by French Green MEP Karima Delli, states that: “The Commission is convinced that the rules [...] are adapted to the objective and allow for the avoidance of pointless climatic and environmental damage.” 

“There is a real responsibility to not allow empty flights into the sky, as they represent a true economic and ecological aberration,” Ms Delli stated.

This came after Lufthansa announced in December that 18,000 of its planes would be flying with only some passengers this winter in order to maintain take-off and landing slots. 

Industry members have called for a complete overhaul of EU regulation on the matter, and France’s Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has said negotiations will begin in the coming weeks on cutting the proportion of required take-off and landing slots for winter 2022 as well.

The proportion for this summer has already been fixed at 64%.

Air France said that: “We have never operated empty flights to retain our slots,” and that the company is “in favour of a reevaluation of the rules.”

5. Transavia unveils new spring routes 

Low-cost airline Transavia has announced several new French routes for the spring and summer season. 

These include two weekly flights from Paris-Orly to Moscow, daily flights between Paris-Orly, Perpignan and Pau, two weekly flights from Lyon to Budapest and the same between Montpellier and Berlin.

The majority of these routes will open in late March or April, although the Budapest link will be available from February 11.

6. Icelandair arrives in Nice 

Icelandic airline Icelandair is launching three new routes including one between Reykjavik and Nice. 

This will allow people travelling from the Côte d’Azur to make trips to Montreal and Vancouver, with a connection in the Icelandic capital. 

Between July 6 and August 27, there will be two flights a week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

7. Two new Métro stations inaugurated in Hauts-de-Seine 

France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex was in Hauts-de-Seine yesterday (January 13) to inaugurate two new Métro stations on the line 4.

The stations are called Barbara – after the singer – and Lucie Aubrac – after the World War Two resistance fighter – and are located in Montrouge and Bagneux.

“Women are in the spotlight this morning,” Mr Castex said. “And what women! What women!”

Barbara and Lucie Aubrac were “extraordinary women who, each in their own way, had a profound impact on the history of our country,” uniting “the values and the common struggles of our Republic.

“I am also happy that these two stations contribute to feminising a transport network which had until now, it must be said, made more room for great men than for our great women.”

8. Man sentenced to prison after violently resisting wearing a mask on a TGV

A 31-year-old man had to be removed from a TGV train after refusing to wear a face mask and reacting violently to requests to follow the hygiene rules in place, La Provence reports. 

During the journey from Marseille to Lyon, the man told the conductor who had asked him to put on a mask: “Tell your family that you won’t see them again.” 

He was then apprehended by railway police at Avignon and made to get off the train. Saying that he had Covid, he then spat in the direction of the conductor, but instead hit a police officer in the eye.

“I’ll kill the railway police with Covid,” he then said.

The man in question already had 21 convictions on his criminal record and was carrying brass knuckles.

His lawyer asked that his psychological state be taken into account, but the individual was given a fine and one year in prison – with six months suspended – as well as being banned from carrying weapons and from staying in Vaucluse department. 

He will be allowed to carry out his sentence at home, under surveillance.

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Covid-19: Rules for travel to and from France

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