France to lift limit on train seat sales from mid-June

A woman wearing a mask sits on a train. SNCF previously restricted seat sales but this will now be lifted.
SNCF had previously been forced to restrict its seat capacity by the government, but this is now set to be relaxed

French train company SNCF is to operate its trains at 100% capacity, and will no longer restrict ticket sales to just 50% of seats, from mid-June, the French junior minister for transport has confirmed.

Junior minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari announced on Sunday night (May 31) that “100% of SNCF seats will be on sale from mid-June”.

He said: “We will remove the restrictions around selling only half the seats.”

The government had previously required SNCF to operate their trains at half-capacity until June 2, to help enable physical distancing on-board in the early stages of deconfinement.

This had been met with some criticism from the company, who said that similar measures had not been imposed on airlines.

The rule had especially affected TGV services, which must be at 60% capacity or more - and 80% for low-cost TGV service Ouigo - to avoid running at a loss.

Read more: SNCF opens bookings for summer train travel in France

Masks and safety measures

Yet, with fewer people travelling in general, SNCF is not likely to be overrun with passengers, even with 100% of tickets available. Health and safety measures will also continue to apply, such as passengers being required to wear masks.

Read more: France sets €135 fine for no mask on public transport

Mr Djebbari said: “We anticipate that we will probably have 100% of the seats available in mid-June, and 50% of passengers. [And] we will continue with very significant health measures.”

In early May, SNCF boss Jean-Pierre Farandou called for passengers to wear masks when travelling on trains.

He said: “Please, wear a mask when you take the train! I see this as a reciprocal arrangement. SNCF will disinfect all trains at least once a day, and we will be stepping up our cleaning procedures.

“We will put marks on the floor so customers can respect barrier measures. The counterpart of this reciprocal engagement is [the public] wearing a mask.”

He added that it will be possible to buy masks at the station, but “the right thing to do” would be to come into the station wearing a mask already.

Meanwhile, the public has been encouraged to book train tickets for summer holidays in France, with President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe both previously encouraging people to “go on holiday within France...in July and August”.

Currently, SNCF tickets are available to book, with free refunds and exchanges should the health situation and deconfinement rules change between now and your travel date, as the government has not ruled out “reconfinement” or further restrictions if necessary.

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