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Train ticket boost, airline strikes: nine France travel updates

EasyJet says staff shortage partly down to Brexit, SNCF makes pet travel train cheaper, rail strike disrupts services and more

We look at the news affecting travel to, from and around France this week Pic: Peter Krocka / Leonid Andronov / David Peter Robinson / Soloviova Liudmyla / Shutterstock

[Update June 24 at 15:00 - Three unions representing SNCF workers have also called for a nationwide strike on Wednesday, July 6.]

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

1. SNCF to boost available seats by 500,000 amid ‘record’ demand 

SNCF has said it will increase the number of tickets on offer by 500,000 as it sees “record” demand this summer season. 

Some eight million tickets have already been sold for July and August, “10% more than in 2019,” said the operator’s CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou. 

“We are at our limit, we are adding trains, we are doubling up capacity with two trains at once,” he added. 

SNCF trains are currently booked up for days when many people set off on summer holidays, but “there are still seats,” at other times. 

Asked whether ticket prices will increase with inflation, Mr Farandou said it would be “contradictory to want to increase traffic at the same time as having high prices,” adding that rising energy prices should not impact SNCF too severely this year because it bought its supplies in advance. 

“In 2023, the question will come up,” he said.

Read more: France extends energy price cap measure to the end of 2022

2. Calls for strike action multiply across European airlines

Several Ryanair cabin crew unions have called for strike action in countries including France, Spain, Belgium, Italy and Portugal this weekend (June 24-26).

Staff are calling for improvements to working conditions and pay rises.

In France, disruption is expected on Saturday and Sunday, with staff at Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Orly planning further action on July 2 as they demand a salary increase of €300.

Details of the flights which could be delayed or cancelled as a result of the strike have not been published. 

Read more: French EasyJet pilots warn of ‘unprecedented flight chaos’ this summer

Ryanair has said that while the strikes are taking place, the airline will still be running its 2,500 flights per day, with boss Michael O’Leary claiming: “We think that there will actually be very few strikes, if any, and that they won’t be noticed by anyone.”

He added that the airline had found “an agreement with unions representing more than 90% of pilots and cabin crew,” and that negotiations would continue. 

Spanish EasyJet staff in Barcelona, Málaga and Mallorca have also been called to strike on nine days ranging from July 1 to July 31. 

Their union has said that these employees currently have a baseline salary of €950 per month, “the lowest salary” of all of EasyJet’s European bases. 

Some 700 British Airways employees have also agreed to strike over the summer holidays, with unions saying that a 10% pay cut imposed on staff during the period of Covid restrictions has never been redressed. The strike dates and locations have not yet been confirmed.

3. Airline staff shortages: EasyJet has to turn down 8,000 EU applicants 

EasyJet has had to turn down 8,000 job applications from EU applicants because of post-Brexit rules. 

This comes as the airline has been forced to cancel flights from Gatwick amid staff shortages and caps imposed by the airport. Sometimes, services were cancelled when passengers were already on the plane. 

UK Aviation Minister Robert Courts told the business select committee that it was “not likely” that Brexit had contributed to airlines’ struggle to recruit new staff following the disruption of Covid. 

However, EasyJet’s Chief Executive Johan Lundgren has told The Independent that: “The pool of people is smaller; it’s just maths. 

“We have had to turn down a huge number of EU nationals because of Brexit. Pre-pandemic we would have turned down 2-2.5% because of nationality issues,” Mr Lundgren said. “Now it’s 35-40%.”

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has also said that Brexit was making staffing issues worse. 

“There are hundreds of thousands of jobs in the UK that frankly British workers don’t want to do,” he said. 

“These problems will not be resolved until we start allowing people in to do the jobs.”

4. Rail strike causes disruption in Ile-de-France

French rail unions have called workers to strike today (June 24) and tomorrow, with particular disruption expected in Ile-de-France. 

The strikes were called by Sud-Rail, CGT, Unsa, CFDT, FO and La Base, who are demanding pay rises and “decent working conditions”. 

Today, only one in three trains will be running on average on the J and L lines. There will be three in five running at rush hour on the RER A and one per hour at off-peak times on the Cergy branch. 

On the RER A Poissy branch, one train in three will be operating for the whole day. Services will be running as normal on the rest of the line. 

RER B and RER D trains will also be disrupted today, as fans travel to the Stade de France to watch the final of the Top 14 rugby union club competition. 

However, SNCF has said that the RER B will be running “almost normally”, with passengers still able to get on at the Gare du Nord. 

There will be one in two RER D trains at rush hour and one in three at off-peak times, and the RER C will be operating at a rate of four in every five trains.

SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou has commented that this is a “difficult period” for passengers and train workers in the Paris region, adding that negotiations were taking place.

5. Summer bus service offers connections from Bergerac Airport

A bus service will be operating from Bergerac Airport this summer to help air passengers get to popular southwestern tourist destinations. 

Buses will run to Pérgueux, Eymet, Marmande, Issigeac and Villeneuve-sur-Lot, with all services going via Bergerac station. 

Tickets cost €2.30 – up from €2 – and seats need to be reserved the day before travel and confirmed over the phone before 17:00. Reservations can be made by calling 0970 870 870.

It should be noted that if you are travelling on Saturday, Sunday or Monday you will need to call before 17:00 on Friday.

You can find out more on the Bergerac Airport website.

The Bergerac-Périgueux can be found here, the Bergerac-Eymet-Marmande here and the Bergerac-Issigeac-Villeneuve-sur-Lot here

6. Charles de Gaulle named best travel hub in Europe 

Paris airport Charles de Gaulle has topped a list of the best travel hubs in Europe in a new study published by travel experts OVO Network. 

The study considered six factors: airport amenities, parking costs, passenger numbers, the availability of accommodation, the distance to the city centre and the number of routes offered. 

Charles de Gaulle ranked in the top 10 for four of the six points examined. 

The airport transports around 69 million passengers each year, making it the second busiest airport in Europe behind London Heathrow, and offers flights to 270 different destinations. 

Amsterdam Schiphol Airport came second in the ranking, Rome’s Leonardo da Vinci Airport came third, Madrid fourth and Istanbul fifth. 

Elsewhere in France, Nice came 24th and Lyon came 39th, making it the worst-ranking airport in the study after Glasgow.

7. SNCF introduces standard rate for pet train tickets 

SNCF has adapted its tariffs to make pet ticket rates simpler and, in general, cheaper for passengers. 

All animals will now be able to travel on trains for €7 no matter the journey duration. This had previously been the price for those weighing less than six kilos and in a carry case only. 

If the animal weighed more than that, the price of the ticket would rise to “50% of a full price second-class ticket”.

This meant that passengers often had to spend dozens of euros to travel with their pet, with one woman tweeting that she had paid €88 for her dog’s round trip train journey from Paris to Avignon. 

The new price applies to TGV Inoui, Intercités and TER trains. On Ouigo trains, pet tickets were recently reduced from €15 to €10.

Pet tickets can now also be stored and displayed on your phone.  

Guide dogs do not need a ticket to travel on a train. 

8. Brittany Ferries to launch hybrid ship service to St Malo 

Brittany Ferries has announced that passengers will soon be able to travel in the largest hybrid ship ever built on trips between Portsmouth and St Malo. 

It has said that the ship will have a battery capacity of 11.5 megawatt hours, “approximately double that typically used for hybrid propulsion in marine vessels”.

The ship will begin sailing in 2024, with a second joining the fleet soon after on the Portsmouth-Caen route. 

They will run on liquefied natural gas and/or battery power. 

9. New technology could prevent Corsica flights from being rerouted in bad weather 

Ajaccio Airport is trialling a satellite guidance system that should enable planes to land there even in bad weather. 

Normally, around 20 times a year, flights have to be diverted to Bastia because they cannot safely land at Ajaccio. Coaches then have to transport the passengers to the right airport.

This should change with the Required Navigation Performance system, which is a first in Europe that has been tested in Switzerland and Austria. 

It enables planes to travel closer to mountains in a safe manner, and so may also be used in places such as Chambéry and Nice in the future. 

This technology would allow flights from France to Ajaccio to cut up to 10 minutes off their journey time, and avoid travelling over the city, which will reduce noise pollution as well as saving up to 12 tonnes of CO2 each year. 

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