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Trains, planes, ferries, Covid rules: Nine France travel updates

Increased health pass checks on TGVs, contactless airport check-in and Eurostar’s new fast-track service, changes to France’s scarlet travel list and more... 

We look at the news affecting journeys to, from and around France Pic: EQRoy / rarrarorro / Vivida Photo PC / Vytautas Kielaitis / Shutterstock

This week France’s fifth Covid wave has continued to affect travel, although demand for Christmas breaks is still high. We look at the news affecting journeys to, from and around the country.

SNCF to step up health pass checks on TGV trains 

SNCF has announced that it will be increasing the number of health pass checks carried out on its long distance trains, as France battles its fifth Covid wave. 

“From next week, one in three trains will be subject to inspections, compared to one in four at the moment,” said Christophe Fanichet, CEO of SNCF Voyageurs. 

Some 5,000 inspection staff wearing blue jackets have already been deployed in 20 of France’s largest stations, but their numbers will be boosted under the latest inspection plans.

Health passes are only required on TGV, Inoui, Ouigo and Intercités trains, and according to SNCF, previous checks have suggested that only 1% of people travel without the correct documentation.

Read more: France’s health pass: the rules for TGVs and other train journeys

Passengers are also encouraged to use the “Prêt à Voyager” service, which enables them to connect their health pass to their ticket. 

Trenitalia launches Milan-Paris route 

Italian train operator Trenitalia will be launching its Milan-Turin-Lyon-Paris route on December 18, in direct competition with SNCF’s TGVs.

The train will be split into four classes, “for all tastes and comfort levels,” and will initially carry out two return journeys per day, travelling between Paris Gare de Lyon and Milan Centrale via Lyon Part-Dieu, Chambéry, Modane and Turin. 

“The Italian leg will be made at high speed, then we will connect to the French TGV line,” said Trenitalia CEO Luigi Corradi. 

The Frecciarossa train, which can carry 460 passengers, can reach speeds of 300km/h in four minutes. The journey from Milan to Paris is estimated to take between six and seven hours. 

Later, Trenitalia plans to add three daily Paris-Lyon services to its French offering.

Nice Airport introduces contactless check-in machines

Nice Côte d’Azur Airport is offering passengers a new contactless check-in service using machines that connect to their smartphone. 

Self check-in stations have long been a feature of many airports, but with the fifth Covid wave growing in intensity this new hands-free feature helps travellers to reduce their contact with other people and surfaces. 

The 16 machines, located in the airport’s Terminal 2, can be controlled through a mobile phone by scanning the QR code displayed on the screen.

The check-in process is then translated onto the phone, which uses the machine’s WiFi connection to complete the required steps.

This contactless check-in option will be trialled initially for two months but it is expected that demand will be high.

Nice Airport’s hands-free initiative comes at the same time as that of Eurostar, which has this week launched a fast-track service at London St Pancras. 

This service allows business travellers and loyalty card holders to complete border checks on their phone before departure and then pass through gates using “face biometric technology,” without having to show their documents to staff.

UK Transport Minister Grant Shapps described this system as “the future of border control, of smoother, more seamless and convenient journeys.”

New Orient Express trains to debut on French and Italian rails

International hotel group Accor is bringing six 1970s Orient Express trains back to the rails to offer passengers a greater range of routes. 

Around 12 different journeys ranging from one night to three are being planned, including a route between Paris and Rome. Other services will go to Split and Istanbul.

The first two trains, named ‘Orient Express La Dolce Vita’ will enter into circulation in spring 2023, and reservations will open next summer. 

The new Orient Express trains will be limited to 62 passengers, who will pay on average €2,000 per person per night for a service which Accor describes as ‘five star’. 

“Our ambition is to make the Orient Express into a gem of travel and hospitality,” said Accor CEO Sébastien Bazin.

Currently, the only such train running is the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express, which travels between Paris and Istanbul, Paris and Venice and Venice and Amsterdam. This service is run by the Belmond hotel group.

Eurotunnel accuses DFDS and P&O Ferries of unfair competition

Eurotunnel owner Getlink has accused DFDS and P&O of creating unfair competition regarding freight transport on the Dover-Calais route. 

The French and British competition authorities are already looking into the capacity sharing deal struck in May between the two ferry operators, which looks to allow freight drivers to board the next available sailing, whether it is with DFDS or P&O. 

The French authorities raised objections with regards to the arrangement, but the British Competition and Markets Authority has not yet revealed its judgement.

DFDS CEO Torben Carlsen rejected Eurotunnel’s accusations of unfair competition, saying : “Eurotunnel has complained over the deal, but I merely see that as a confirmation that what we’ve done is the right thing commercially. 

“By improving our service, our product becomes a threat, because the time aspect is crucial to a part of Eurotunnel’s customers,” he told Shipping Watch.

EasyJet launches a Rennes-Porto route 

EasyJet has begun flying from Rennes-Bretagne to Porto-Francisco Sa Carneiro. 

Passengers can choose between three weekly flights currently running throughout the year. 

EasyJet already flies from Rennes to Geneva, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse. 

Record number of train tickets sold for Christmas break services

SNCF has so far sold 3.2 million tickets to people wishing to travel to their Christmas holiday destinations by train. 

This number is a record and 50% higher than this time last year despite higher prices during the festive period. 

A TGV ticket for a journey from Paris to Marseille on December 22 will cost passengers around €100, compared to approximately €30-60 at other times. 

Many trains for the Christmas season are already fully booked, but SNCF has promised to add extra services if possible.

Morocco extends international flight suspension 

The Moroccan government has prolonged the suspension of international flights until December 31 at the earliest in response to the recent widespread surge in Covid cases. 

Morocco closed its border to people coming from France on November 25, deciding to close its air traffic borders completely four days later.

Royal Air Maroc stated that “special flights that are already scheduled for December 10-13 from Morocco to Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Mauritania will still run.”

Any passengers affected by the continued closure will be able to exchange their tickets or obtain a voucher for the cost of their flight. 

Mauritius is taken off the scarlet list 

Mauritius has been taken off the French government’s scarlet list for travel, and moved back down to red. 

“In view of the health data [available], Mauritius will move from scarlet to red this Wednesday (December 8) for travel to and from metropolitan France. 

“This allows vaccinated people to go there once again, whatever their reason for travel,” the French Minister for European and Foreign Affairs Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne tweeted this week. 

Anyone wishing to enter a scarlet-list country must have an essential reason, whether they are vaccinated or not, and they will normally have to undergo Covid tests before and after travelling back to France. Quarantine requirements also apply.

However, to visit a red-list country fully vaccinated people need not present this essential reason. Unvaccinated people are subject to stricter rules.

The scarlet list was created following the emergence of the Omicron variant, and currently comprises South Africa, Lesotho, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Namibia, Eswatini, Malawi and Zambia. 

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