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Planes, trains, ferries, Eurostar: eight France travel updates

P&O sackings are condemned by MPs, new French air routes are announced, PACA TER ticket prices increase and more 

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Erik Tanghe / Glomes en Voyage / TungCheung / muratart / Shutterstock

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

One of the biggest pieces of news is the fact that the UK has now lifted all of its remaining restrictions for international travellers as of today (March 18). This comes nearly two years to the day since lockdown restrictions were first introduced in the country.

Read more: All Covid restrictions to end for France to UK travel on Friday

It means that fully vaccinated people no longer need to fill in a passenger locator form ahead of their departure, and unvaccinated people are no longer required to carry out pre- and post-departure tests.

Aviation minister Robert Courts said: "Everything we have worked for - every jab, every test, and the sacrifices made by the whole country means that finally, nearly two years on, we can all travel without bureaucratic restrictions."

1. New French air routes announced by Ryanair and TUS Airways 

Ryanair has announced several new French air routes, including one linking Cologne-Bonn to Biarritz. Ryanair will be the only airline operating this route, which will become available at the end of the month. 

The low-cost airline will also be flying between Poitiers and Barcelona, Bergerac and Porto, and Perpignan and Valencia from March 27.

Cypriot airline TUS Airways will also be launching a new Cyprus (Larnaca)-Strasbourg route on May 14, with flights every Saturday. 

The airline is also expected to begin flying between Paris and Lyon from April 27 on Wednesdays and Sundays, as well as between Paris and Toulouse from April 28.

2. P&O Ferries sackings met with condemnation from unions and MPs

Yesterday (March 17), P&O Ferries confirmed rumours from earlier in the day by sacking 800 UK crew members across its entire fleet, without giving any notice. 

All services, including Dover to Calais crossings, have been halted for a week to 10 days. 

Read more: P&O sacks 800 UK crew saying action was needed to remain ‘viable’

P&O passengers affected by the decision have reportedly been told to travel as normal to the port, where they would be put on alternative services such as DFDS ferries or Eurotunnel. 

A Eurotunnel spokesperson told The Connexion: “We currently have capacity on our passenger service for anyone who needs to rebook a crossing whilst P&O are out of action and we would be delighted to carry them.” 

A spokesperson for Brittany Ferries said: “We are dreadfully sorry for all those who are affected by yesterday’s (March 17) decisions in Dover and beyond. 

“If there is significant disruption over the days ahead, we may pick up a little freight business through Le Havre and Caen.”

However, passenger services would more likely be replaced by DFDS, Irish Ferries and Eurotunnel crossings as Brittany Ferries departs from Portsmouth, Plymouth and Poole rather than Dover. 

We have also contacted DFDS to inquire as to how they are welcoming P&O passengers, and have asked P&O for further information on whether affected customers should expect to be automatically transferred to another operator or whether they will be refunded. 

Nearly a quarter of the P&O staff affected were told via video message that yesterday was their “final day of employment.”

The company stated that it could only survive by making “swift and significant changes” as it is “not a viable business” in its current model, but the move has been met with condemnation from unions and MPs. 

The UK government has said that it will review its contracts with P&O, with Maritime Minister Robert Courts saying he was “frankly angry at the way workers have been treated” and that the ferry firm’s actions were “wholly unacceptable”.

Labour’s Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh commented: “There are images circulating of what we are told are handcuff-trained security, some wearing balaclavas, marching British crew off their ships. 

“It is beneath contempt. It is the action of thugs.”  

The RMT union said that it was one of the “most shameful acts in the history of British industrial relations.” 

Protests are planned for today in the ports of Dover, Liverpool and Hull. 

Employment lawyer Beth Hale told the BBC’s Today programme that P&O may have breached employment law in sacking the 800 staff members, adding that it should have notified unions, employees and the government that the jobs were at risk. 

Staff were told that they would be given a “generous severance package” but without details of what this would entail. 

3. Bordeaux-Toulouse high-speed rail project signed off by prime minister

Prime Minister Jean Castex approved the funding plan for the high-speed Bordeaux-Toulouse rail line project this Monday (March 14).

This followed the official creation of the Société du Grand Projet du Sud-Ouest (GPSO) on March 2. 

The cost of the new ligne à grande vitesse (LGV) line has been budgeted at €14.3billion, 40% of which is being provided by the government, 20% by the EU on the condition that the project will involve a link to Spain, and 40% by regional authorities. 

All homes situated less than an hour away from the new line will also be required to pay a taxe spéciale d’équipement (TSE). 

The new line will enable passengers to reach Bordeaux from Toulouse in one hour, allowing them to then connect to a further two-hour-long Paris-bound service. 

The project will see new rail infrastructure constructed in the north of Toulouse between Saint-Jory and Saint Alban, and Lacourtensourt and Route-de-Launaguet. Other existing stations will also be modernised.

Work will begin in 2024 and will last until 2032 at the earliest. 

4. Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur TER ticket prices to rise in April

Regional TER train tickets in Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur will increase in price on April 1. 

Passengers will see single ticket prices rise by 2.82% and 4.57% for season tickets for a single route. 

The increases were decided by the PACA regional council, which stated: “The last tariff increase for regional transports was on January 1, 2018, and involved a 3.5% rise on TER, LER and Chemins de fer de Provence trains.

“Considering the upward trend of transport prices, as well as the costs and charges shouldered by the region to keep services going, the financial burden is making it difficult for the region to maintain its offering.” 

“The direct contributions of passengers remains very limited in comparison to the region’s expenses.” 

The price increases should generate €2-2.5million for the region this year.

Consumer group ‘Sauvons nos TER Paca’ has also expressed concerns that the Carte Zou ! discounted travel pass may eventually be removed by the regional authorities. 

5. Trenitalia to introduce extra Paris-Lyon services 

Italian train operator Trenitalia has announced that it will be adding new services to its Paris-Lyon line from April. 

Passengers will be able to choose between five return journeys each day rather than the current two.

Trenitalia has said that since it launched its existing services last year they have been more than 80% booked up.

6. SNCF reduces Paris-Normandy services 

SNCF has announced that it will be reducing the number of services it runs between Paris and Normandy in response to a drop in demand. 

The number of trains operating each day will fall from 120 to 100 on the Paris-Rouen-Le Havre, Paris-Caen-Cherbourg and Paris-Deauville lines.

Most of these cancelled trains currently run at off-peak times. 

“The health crisis led to a significant drop in passenger numbers, which were down 24% at the end of 2021 and are estimated to be 10% lower in 2022 than in 2019,” Normandy’s regional council said in a statement. 

Trains travelling to Paris are 46% full on average, well below the 60% needed to make services viable.

The region added that if demand increases again, it will make adjustments to its offering to accommodate passengers. 

It will also introduce new offers aiming to attract tourists and new passengers to the lines. 

7. Eurostar to accommodate thousands of rugby fans this weekend 

Eurostar is expected to carry thousands of British rugby fans to Paris this weekend as they travel to see England play against France at Stade de France in the final fixture of the Six Nations.

Some 20,000 people are set to travel on the trains, equating to a 12% increase in normal traffic and the busiest weekend of the year so far for Eurostar.

The operator has even added an additional Sunday service to bring fans back to the UK.

François Le Doze, chief commercial officer at Eurostar, said: “With the anticipation of the final game our French and British colleagues are united in cheering on both sides.

“We all very much look forward to welcoming England fans onboard Eurostar this weekend.

“With the UK’s removal of all testing requirements and the passenger locator form from this Friday, fans will be able to enjoy a seamless city-centre to city-centre travel experience.”

8. A positive winter for French mountain tourism

Tourism-related businesses in France have reported a promising winter in terms of visitor numbers, according to a new study. 

Tourism federation ADN Tourisme used survey responses from around 160 of its members to determine how the season had performed for industry professionals. 

Some 68% of respondents believed that visitor numbers had increased in comparison to last year, a figure which rose to 95% among mountainous resorts, where some professionals made reference to a “historic” winter season. 

However, some rural or urban industry professionals may not have seen a rise in tourist numbers this year, as they suffer from the mass return to ski resorts after a year of closures in 2021. Some 54% of respondents in coastal destinations, for example, reported that tourist numbers had fallen or stayed the same this year.

In general the winter season has been “as expected” for 56% of participants, while for 26% it was “better than expected.” 

A study carried out by Flux Vision Tourisme, Orange and ADN Tourisme has shown that the number of visitors to French winter holiday destinations was – predictably – up 21% this year in comparison to 2021, and was even 7% higher than in 2020.

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