We look at the news affecting travel to, from and around France this week.
- Grenoble is worst French airport for delays, new study reveals
The 10 worst French airports for flight delays have been outlined in a new survey with Grenoble topping the list with more than a third (38%) of flights disrupted in the first quarter of this year.
Analysis of the percentage of flights delayed in each airport between January 1 and April 30, 2022, was carried out by AirHelp, a company which specialises in air passenger rights.
The list was as follows:
- Grenoble (38.8% of flights disrupted)
- Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (22.27%)
- Tours (21.85%)
- Metz (20.54%)
- Carcassonne (20.34%)
- Castres (19.67%)
- Nice (18.28%)
- Beauvais (17.88%)
- Strasbourg (17.08%)
- Montpellier (16.85%)
When the same study was carried out in 2019, Charles-de-Gaulle topped the list while Marseille, Nice and Orly came second, third and fourth respectively.
It should be noted that it is often not the airport that is the root cause of a flight delay but rather the weather, strikes or technical problems.
Larger airports generally have more issues because they have “a larger number of flights than other smaller airports,” making “coordination” more difficult, said AirHelp’s Rosa Garcia, although this is not the case with Grenoble.
2. Ryanair warns of rise in fares, staff warn of possible strikes
Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary has said that he expects ticket prices to increase by a “high single-digit per cent” this summer, as the conflict in Ukraine drives up fuel costs.
He told the BBC that prices should remain low up to June but then begin to rise, basing his prediction on around half of current rates.
"It seems to us that there will be higher prices into that peak summer period because there's so much demand for the beaches of Europe and those price rises are going to continue," he told the BBC's Today programme.
He predicted that prices would decline in winter but added that “it’s too early to say.”
Ryanair reported an annual loss of €355m (£302m) this week (annual accounts up to March 31, 2022) – caused largely by Covid restrictions and the Ukraine war – although Mr O’Leary said that he hoped the airline would regain “reasonable profitability” this year.
Meanwhile, several unions have warned of the possibility of strikes amongst Ryanair staff this summer.
The head of Belgian workers union La Centrale nationale des employés (CNE) told Sud Info that “sporadic or coordinated actions could take place across Europe from June onwards”.
Cabin crew from five countries - Belgium, France, Italy, Portugal and Spain - are frustrated by a lack of “fair and transparent” dialogue with the airline’s management on matters including payment errors, promotion possibilities, staff transfers, etc.
No date has been set for a strike and all flights are currently scheduled to go ahead as planned.
3. British Airways cancels more UK-France flights
British Airways has cancelled 100 more flights, including to some French destinations, departing from Heathrow.
Passengers travelling from the London airport to Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Paris Charles-de-Gaulle and Toulouse over the coming weeks may be affected.
BA has said that it has been forced to cancel these flights because of staff shortages, but that all impacted passengers have been informed in advance.
Several airlines have been affected in recent months by both rising customer demand and a shortage of staff coming out of long periods of travel restrictions during which workers were laid off and found other jobs.
4. Air France and SNCF see tourism traffic boost, business passengers stay away
French travel operators Air France and SNCF have seen a marked increase in the number of passengers travelling for tourism as Covid restrictions slowly disappear across Europe.
“The recovery [from Covid] is becoming visible. There is a real acceleration in travel for leisure, with Christmas, February and Easter holiday [traffic] at similar levels to before the crisis,” said SNCF Voyageurs CEO Christophe Fanichet. “We are feeling a real desire to move about!”
Air France has said that it is expecting a “great summer”, with 85-90% of pre-pandemic capacity filled.
Its low-cost subsidiary Transavia, meanwhile, is predicting “more than 100%” of 2019 traffic this summer.
However, business passengers – who bring the most money into travel operators – have not returned in such great numbers.
SNCF is still seeing a 20% drop in the number of people travelling on its trains for work, and Air France is “clearly not at 2019 levels” even though the situation is improving, according to director general Anne Rigail.
The recovery of French transport companies has also been assisted by state funding. SNCF received €4billion and Air France received €3billion in recovery packages, which they have now been able to begin paying back.
5. Are SNCF prices going up or down?
France’s national statistics bureau Insee has put out a report that shows that rail ticket prices in France have increased by 15.3% over the past three months.
This is not necessarily just down to the summer travel period coming up. The price in April this year is 14.6% up on the same month in 2020. This year’s March prices were also 13.8% higher than in 2020.
The method of calculation involves scraping websites that offer train tickets to simulate prices for different journeys, with Insee saying it analyses 10,000 possible journeys a day.
“Every day, an automated bot collects ticket prices with four purchase dates (two days, 10 days, 30 days and 60 days before the departure of the train), according to two consumer profiles (with or without a discount card) for a sample of 250 journeys (one way), which corresponds to more than 10,000 requests,” Insee states.
SNCF disputes the claim that ticket prices are rising, saying that since June 2021 the [average] cost has fallen by 7%.
The reason for the discrepancy could be down to how Insee and SNCF calculate the costs.
SNCF uses data that includes the final price paid by a customer, so that could include discounts that come from loyalty cards or other deals.
Insee, while it does take into account periods of time where tickets are generally sold at cheaper rates (several weeks in advance), does not have access to this information.
But it is still difficult to know if SNCF’s estimation is accurate and the company is unwilling to reveal the average price of its tickets for “competitive reasons”.
Nicole Duranton, a senator for the department of Eure, questioned the government in February on this issue.
"The different evaluation methods used by SNCF and Insee do not really allow us to understand the reality of the fares applied,” she said.
“In short, depending on the period, the timetable, the route, the type of train and the method of calculation, SNCF fares can appear to be more or less expensive.”
6. Seven tips for saving money on French train tickets
If you are looking to save money on travel for your summer holidays in France, there are several things you can try.
- Buy an SNCF carte Avantage, which will take up to 30% off the price of your tickets and guarantee fares of no more than €39 on journeys of less than an hour and a half, €59 for those lasting up to three hours and €79 beyond that. The cards are normally €49 unless there is a special offer in place
- Book your seat as soon as ticket sales open. SNCF notifies the public every time it opens ticket sales for the next section of the year, and it is best to reserve at that very moment if you want the best price. Subscribing to the SNCF newsletter can help you keep up to date with this.
- Travel on a Ouigo classique. On certain routes, you can take a slower, cheaper TGV train. This is possible between Paris and Lyon and Paris and Nantes, for example, and tickets are generally €10-€30.
- Take a TER instead. Regional TER trains are generally much slower than their TGV equivalent, but offer a fixed price no matter when you book, plus flexibility with regards to the time that you travel. Although you will normally have to change, some routes – including Paris-Lille, Paris-Le Mans and Paris-Lyon – are direct, and regional advantage cards can help you make a saving of up to 60%.
- Get a Max card. People aged between 16 and 27 and over 60s can obtain one of these cards for €79 per month. They allow for unlimited travel on TGV and Inoui trains with a reservation, Monday to Friday outside of peak times.
- Reserve through the national website. If you are travelling beyond France, it is best to reserve your tickets through the website of the service you are using, such as Deutsche Bahn or Renfe.
- Use SNCF Connect’s price calendar. SNCF’s ticket booking app has a new feature that allows you to see how ticket prices fluctuate over a month, so you can find the cheapest option.
7. DFDS bookings soar amid P&O chaos
Danish ferry company DFDS has seen passenger numbers surge on its Dover-Calais and Dover-Dunkirk routes since rival operator P&O Ferries sacked 800 UK crew members and suspended crossings on March 17.
The company’s chief executive Torben Carlsen made reference to “double-digit growth rates” in an interview with Shipping Watch.
P&O has now resumed Dover-Calais sailings, so DFDS’ booking surge may now begin to decline, but in the long term, the operator may also benefit from the UK government’s recent announcement that it will soon require ferry firms docking in the country’s ports to pay UK minimum wage.
DFDS does not use the same low-cost model as P&O and Irish Ferries, which have ships registered abroad and can therefore currently avoid paying UK minimum wage.
Mr Carlsen has previously said that requiring other Dover-Calais operators to increase employee salaries would “level the playing field” as it would prevent DFDS from having to compete with unsustainably low ticket prices.
8. Nice taxi drivers call off protests and threats to disrupt Monaco Grand Prix
Taxi drivers in Nice have called off a strike between next Thursday and Sunday (May 26-29), the days leading up to the Monaco Grand Prix on May 29.
The strike originated because taxi drivers in France claim that they have significant difficulty working in Monaco.
Operators had even threatened to block the major roads travelling into the principality during this crucial tourism period.
“We have to declare ourselves when we go into Monegasque territory. We have to pay to go into Monegasque territory, we have to have quotas, and now there is a seasonality to our stickers, so there are lots of things that are unacceptable,” Fabrice Cavallera, president of the Syndicat des taxis niçois, told France 3 on May 13.
French taxi drivers must have a specific sticker in order to work in Monaco, while Monegasque operators [to work in France] do not, a fact which has led the former to accuse the principality of “contempt” for “French professionals”.
“We would just like to have reciprocity. When Monegasque taxis pick up clients in France, they don't send an email to Mr Macron” Mr Cavallera added.
After a few days of deliberation, the Monegasque government decided to appease the situation and distribute 210 stickers, 180 to VTC’s (véhicule de tourisme avec chauffeur) and 30 to regular taxis. This is much higher than the two previous years, with a total of 120 and 130 stickers allocated respectively.
Following this decision, the strike was called off. Talks are expected to restart in September in order to maintain and improve the existing work relationship.