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Trains, new Gatwick routes and road jams: Eight France travel updates

Busy roads ahead of the Christmas getaway rush, new French routes from London, how dogs can now take public transport in Lyon and more…

We look at the travel news for journeys around France this week Pic: Markus Mainka / S-F / Marsan / ddisq / Shutterstock

The most significant France-related travel rule this week has been the announcement of tightened restrictions for UK-France travel from tomorrow December 18.

Read more: New UK-France restrictions: No tourist visits and quarantine announced

Read more: Update: France to UK travel also needs essential reason from Saturday

This means that from 0:00 tomorrow only people who have an essential reason for travel will be able to enter France. French nationals and residents of all nationalities are allowed but not people travelling for tourism, family visits or work trips. 

Read more: What counts as 'essential reasons' for UK-France travel from Saturday?

However, the combination of Christmas and Covid is creating many other travel stories affecting journeys to, from and around France. 

1. Orange alert for traffic jams 

Government traffic forecasting service Bison Futé has placed Ile-de-France under an orange alert for “difficult conditions” this weekend, as people begin travelling to Christmas holidays. 

Bison Futé recommends that drivers leave the Paris region before 14:00 today (December 17) to avoid the worst of the traffic. In the rest of France conditions should be normal. 

The traffic service also predicts that many people will be trying to leave the capital on Thursday, December 23, with circulation becoming difficult at the end of the morning, especially in the direction of the A6 and A10.

These conditions will last through Christmas Eve, when people are advised to try and get away from the city region by 10:00. 

On Boxing Day, Ile-de-France will be on orange alert for traffic leaving the region, especially in the direction of the Alps and of the A6 and A10 motorways.

However, on the weekend of December 31-January 2, traffic is expected to be lighter than usual. 

TGV trains heading southeast from the capital will also be affected by strike action this weekend. SNCF has said that only one in every two trains will be running today, but on Saturday and Sunday services should be “almost normal”. 

Read more: TGV train strike to hit first weekend of France’s Christmas holidays

Only trains travelling southeast, serving cities such as Dijon, Lyon and Marseille, are affected by the strike. 

2. British Airways announced France routes for new low-cost subsidiary 

British Airways has revealed the initial destinations for its new Gatwick-based low-cost subsidiary, which will launch in March 2022 under the BA banner. 

Tickets are now available for flights to 35 short-haul destinations, including Nice and Bordeaux, as well as cities in Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia and Germany. 

BA suspended short-haul flights from London in the spring of 2020, due to the Covid crisis. Several routes were also moved to Heathrow over the course of the pandemic, where they will remain, while also being offered at Gatwick in the future. 

Sean Doyle, British Airways’ Chairman and CEO, said: “Today is a landmark moment. The creation of a new British Airways short-haul organisation means Gatwick customers will benefit from access to a premium service from the UK’s flag carrier at competitive prices.”

3. French government plans further night train services 

The French government has announced plans to increase night train services between 2026 and 2030.

Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari has said that “I hope we will have around ten national night train lines by 2030.” 

These services would take passengers from Paris to destinations including Briançon, Rodez, Albi, Latour de Carol, Bayonne and San Sebastian (Spain), as well as Metz to Geneva, Nice to Barcelona and then Bordeaux and Bordeaux to Nice. 

“I want there to be more European night trains,” Mr Djebbari said. “My ambition is to have night trains linking Paris with the European capitals of Madrid, Rome, Copenhagen, maybe even Stockholm.”

Three night train services – Paris-Nice, Paris-Vienna and Paris-Tarbes-Lourdes – have already been relaunched this year, and Paris-Aurillac will be coming soon, Prime Minister Jean Castex has said. 

A Paris-Berlin line is expected at the end of 2023, with Mr Castex adding that: “We also have a project for a line linking Strasbourg and Luxembourg to Barcelona, passing through Metz, Nancy, Montpellier and Perpignan.”

4. Aviation industry criticises Omicron restrictions as flight numbers plummet 

The number of flights transporting passengers around Europe dropped considerably last week due to the new restrictions introduced to control the spread of Omicron, figures from air traffic management organisation Eurocontrol show.

In the week up to December 11, the only airline seemingly unaffected was Ryanair, which increased its flight numbers by 5% on the same period in 2019, with 2,097 services. 

No other company managed more than 1,000 flights, with Air France carrying out 770 (down 28% on 2019 figures) and EasyJet and British Airways running 41% and 48% less than two years earlier respectively.

This situation is worrying members of the aviation industry, whose activity had just been picking up after months of Covid restrictions. 

“We know a lot about this virus and the inability of travel restrictions to control its spread,” commented Willie Walsh, managing director of IATA. 

“However, the discovery of the Omicron variant has provoked an instantaneous amnesia among governments who have put in place instinctive restrictions in a complete violation of World Health Organisation advice.”

The WHO states that travel restrictions “will not prevent the international spread [of Covid], and will place a huge burden on lives and livelihoods. In addition, they could have a negative impact on global health efforts during the pandemic, by dissuading countries from declaring and sharing their epidemiological data.” 

5. Transavia France adds new Greek destinations 

Low-cost airline Transavia has added two Paris-Orly-Kefalonia and Montpellier-Mykonos routes to its offering. 

These routes will be available from April 23, 2022 and tickets start at €54 one-way.

Transavia will be offering a total of 26 routes to Greece next summer, the biggest of any French operator. Destinations include Athens, Santorini, Skiathos and Rhodes. 

6. SNCF staff can now stop and search people in Alpes-Maritimes stations

SNCF security staff now have the right to stop and search passengers in certain Alpes-Maritimes stations.

This is due to a decree signed by the department’s prefect Bernard Gonzalez, in the hope of reducing the risk of “terrorist attacks in public transport.”

Searches can only be carried out “in certain circumstances linked to the existence of serious public security threats” and must be done by an officer “of the same sex as the person in question and with their consent.”

The decree will remain in effect until January 2 in Antibes, Cannes, Cagnes-sur-Mer, Menton and the three stations in the city of Nice. 

7. Large and medium-sized dogs allowed on Lyon’s public transport

Passengers on Lyon’s TCL network trains, buses and trams will now permanently be allowed to travel with their large or medium-sized dogs. 

The admittance of larger dogs has been trialled for five months in the city region but the change is to be maintained from now on. 

Previously only guide dogs, police dogs and smaller breeds were allowed.

“The experience feedback shared between passengers, TCL network staff and other associations is very positive and expresses a collective desire to continue with the measure,” said Bruno Bernard, president of the Syndicat mixte des transports pour le Rhône et l’agglomération lyonnaise (SYTRAL). 

People who wish to travel with a larger dog must buy a ‘Waf’ ticket, which costs €1 for the day, €5 for the week or €10 for the month.

Some 1,300 ‘Waf’ tickets have been used since the start of the experiment and there have been no incidents on the network, Mr Bernard said. 

8. Air France turns to ‘eco-piloting’ to save energy and reduce emissions

Air France is engaging with ‘eco-piloting’ techniques in a bid to reduce its emissions and retain the custom of passengers who are conscious of their carbon footprint.

A study carried out by statistics firm Berger found that even when the Covid pandemic ends,  the number of flights could fall by 20% because of passengers’ environmental concerns.

Air France is therefore looking for ways to reduce its fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. 

“Eco as in ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’, which often go together in the aviation industry,” Laurent Lafontan, Air France’s development manager, said. 

“When we save fuel, we also reduce CO2 emissions,” he added. With this in mind, Air France has introduced tools which allow pilots to track their fuel consumption and choose to cut it down by opting for more energy-efficient trajectories during take-off and landing. 

“At Air France we are managing to save up to 3-4% of our annual fuel consumption, bearing in mind that 1% is 45,000 tonnes,” Mr Laurent said. 

The use of electronic tablets for ‘eco-piloting’ has also enabled the airline to save on 20 million sheets of paper, which in turn serves to make planes lighter. 

Of course, in order to make a truly tangible difference to its CO2 emissions, the aviation industry will eventually need to develop new forms of fuel for flights. 

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