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

Airlines launch new routes, more US flights restart, counterterror officers to patrol ferries, France’s red travel list is now empty… and more

We look at the travel stories affected journeys to, from and around France this week Pic: Angel DiBilio / jennyt / Boris-B / EQRoy / Shutterstock

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

One new point which all travellers should bear in mind is that France has announced that travellers will now need to have had a booster vaccine dose within nine months of their second in order to maintain their ‘fully vaccinated’ status for entry into the country. 

The booster must be either Moderna or Pfizer.

This is in line with rules to the same effect regarding people travelling between EU member states. 

Read more: Covid booster dose requirement extends to all travellers to France

1. New and returning Paris, Lyon, Nice and Nantes air routes announced  

Air Montenegro and Air France have announced the launch of new routes to and from France. 

Air Montenegro will begin flying from Podgorica to Paris, Lyon and Nantes on April 9. Flights will depart from Paris three – and later, four – times a week, and from Lyon and Nantes once a week.

Air France has also announced that it will be resuming its Paris-Orly - New York and Paris-Charles de Gaulle - Dallas and Denver routes. 

This means that the company will be offering nearly 200 weekly flights to the US over the summer period, 20% more than in 2019. Passengers will be able to fly to 14 different cities from Paris: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Minneapolis, New York, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.

The relaunched routes will run several times a week, if not several times a day.

Between May 13 and October 28, it will also be possible to fly from Nice to Montréal on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays.

On March 27, the Delta Airlines Nice-New York route will resume as well, with five flights scheduled each week. 

2. Armed counterterror police to patrol ferries this summer 

Some 40 armed counterterrorism officers will patrol cross-Channel Dover ferries for the first time this summer. 

Government sources have said that no specific threat has been detected on ferries, but a counterterror officer told The Times that the ships were extremely vulnerable in that they were “completely unguarded. 

“Ferries are the weak link when it comes to policing transport against terror attacks. Moving a handful of CNC [Civil Nuclear Constabulary] officers to ferries makes sense and they will be a visible deterrent,” they said.

Passengers are not currently searched or made to pass through body scanners before they board their ferry.

The introduction of armed officers comes as a result of a maritime security treaty signed last summer by France and the UK, aiming to improve the countries’ joint response to security threats in the Channel. 

The CNC officers have become available following the decommissioning of nuclear power stations, and will begin to patrol ships in July for a trial period.

3. No countries left on France’s red list 

All of the remaining countries on France’s red list for travel have been moved down to orange. 

Last week, there were 12 countries on the red list, meaning that in these places there was a “particularly active circulation of the Covid epidemic or the spread of certain variants posing a higher risk of increased transmissibility or immune escape [resistance to vaccines].” 

These countries were: Afghanistan, Belarus, the US, Georgia, Nigeria, Mauritius, Montenegro, Pakistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Suriname, Tanzania and Turkey.

However, their new orange classification means that there is an “active circulation of the virus is observed in controlled proportions, without spread of any variants of concern.” 

Although most countries in the world are now on the orange list, there are some which are classed as green, because “no active circulation of the virus is observed and no variant of concern is identified.”

This includes all EU member states as well as Andorra, Iceland, Liechtenstein, Monaco, Norway, San Marino, Switzerland and the Vatican. 

Also on the green list are Bahrain, Honduras, Indonesia, Japan, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, New Zealand, Qatar, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, South Korea, Taiwan, UAE, Uruguay and Vanuatu.

Uruguay will, however, be moving to orange on February 6. 

4. Train passengers struggle with SNCF Connect app bugs

One week after it was launched, SNCF’s new Connect app has proved to be problematic for several passengers. 

Read more: We try out SNCF's new app for French train tickets and traffic updates

People have reported being unable to buy a train ticket through the platform, and being forced to go back to traditional station ticket machines. 

Problems include traveller documents being lost, QR codes that will not scan and issues when trying to download tickets to iPhone wallets. 

One passenger was, for example, proposed a Marseille-Nice route which involved 43 minutes of driving.

SNCF have responded to passenger complaints, saying: “Obviously, when you create something bold, there will be bugs and these are things that we will correct as soon as possible.” 

In the meantime, the rail company has increased its customer service team by a third. 

SNCF added that the app “is working well for the vast majority of people,” having attracted 2.5 million visits each day since it was launched. 

5. Gîtes de France February break bookings up on pre-pandemic levels

Gîtes de France, which represents 70,000 holiday rentals in France, has reported a rise in reservations for mountain destinations as the February break approaches. 

So far, 72% of mountain area holiday accommodation on the Gîtes de France database have been booked for February, 2% more than in 2020 and 3% more than in 2019.

The week of February 12 to 19 is currently the most popular among holidaymakers, and the top three destinations are Savoie (where 83% of holiday lets are booked), Haute-Savoie (which is 83.5% booked) and Isère (69% booked).

Read more: Bookings at French ski resorts exceed pre-pandemic levels

6. Local residents and officials oppose closure of a Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport runway

The potential closure of one of the runways at Bordeaux-Mérignac Airport is being met with opposition by a residents’ association and local mayors. 

If the runway did close, it would mean that all air traffic would converge on one runway.

The Association de défense contre les nuisances de l’aéroport met with officials on January 29, when Christine Bost, the mayor of Eysines (Gironde) said: “We support maintaining the intersecting runway because it is a question of sharing out disruption. 

Mayor of Haillan (Gironde) Andréa Kiss said: “There are 80,000 inhabitants in this area. There is perhaps another possible development model which would ensure the airport’s financial security while maintaining the living standards of those living nearby.

“Projections suggest that air traffic will nearly double compared to pre-2019 levels, which were already hardly bearable for our residents. 

“This implies a significant decline [in their quality of life]. We cannot tolerate it.” 

Simon Dreschel, the airport’s director, argued that the intersecting runway is already only used by a minority of planes, adding: “It accounts for 7% of traffic. From a technical point of view, there is not a place for it.” 

He added that the closure of the runway would come as part of a “wider project working to reduce noise disruption around the airport.” 

A further meeting is due to take place on March 1.

7. Local councillor suggests second Rennes station to ease congestion

A Rennes Métropole councillor has suggested that a second train station in the city could help to ease the pressure on the existing station. 

“I understand that this idea may surprise people. But it is up to us, the political leaders [of the city] to have some foresight. No one is fighting against the saturation of the station today. But where will it be in 10 years? We must anticipate,” said Yannick Nadesan (communist party).

Each day at rush hour, thousands of people crowd onto the Rennes station platforms ready to cram themselves into packed trains. 

The Brittany region has invested in new double-decker trains to try to address the situation, but it is impossible to provide more trains because of a lack of platform space. 

There are already 240 TER and 60 TGV trains passing through the station every day.

Mr Nadesan suggested that a new station could be built in the new suburb town of ViaSilva to the east of the city, which would require the current network to be extensively adapted and tracks to be rerouted. 

The Rennes Métropole assembly were surprised by the concept, with the ecological councillor in charge of transport, Matthieu Theurier, saying: “This idea has come from nowhere. I don’t really see the sense in it. We are talking about an investment of tens of millions of euros, which would take 20 years.”

While this solution may not prove to be viable, SNCF Réseau is reported to be working on an initiative which could enable two trains to arrive and leave from the same platform at approximately the same time. 

The project, called 2 TMV, would mean developing a new signalling system, reprogramming a station’s digital controls and installing clearer signage to make sure that passengers do not board the wrong train.

The €12million cost of the initiative would be shared between the government, SNCF, the Brittany region and Rennes Métropole, and it should be ready to begin in September 2023.

8. Travel companies prepare for Morocco border reopening 

Morocco has announced that it will reopen its air borders on February 7, after closing them to all international travellers on November 29 amid the emergence of the Omicron variant.

The reopening has been welcomed by tourists and travel companies alike. Caroline Bauchet-Bouhlal, the deputy director of the Es Saadi Marrakech Resort, said: “We are very happy to have a date from which we will be able to welcome our customers once again. 

“We hope that the borders will remain open throughout 2022 as they are in other countries. The whole tourist industry chain needs to be able to work, reposition itself and restore confidence.” 

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