Border changes, ferry discount, ghost station: 8 French travel updates

Plus the benefits of a French passport and a US pilot is banned after being caught over the alcohol limit ahead of a flight from Paris

We round up the latest France-related travel stories
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Minimum age for passport eGates lowered to ‘make travelling easier’

Children as young as 10 are now able to use passport eGates at the Eurostar terminals in Paris and Brussels, the UK government has announced.

As of Monday (July 24), the minimum age to use the gates was lowered to speed up border checks over the busy summer holiday period. Previously passengers had to be over 12 to use them.

As well as the Eurostar terminals, the expansion of eGates to younger children will come into effect across 13 airports in the UK – Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted, London City, Luton, Birmingham, Bristol, Cardiff, East Midlands, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester and Newcastle.

Read also: Travellers to face ‘data kiosks’ as France bids to avoid border delays

The gates use facial recognition to compare a passenger’s face with the digital image in their passport, as long as it has a biometric symbol on the cover.

Children aged 10 to 17 years old must be accompanied by an adult to use the gates.

The move to extend the scheme follows successful trials at Gatwick, Stansted and Heathrow airports in the spring.

Passenger volumes are expected to return to – or even exceed – 2019 levels this summer. Border Force says it anticipates over 34 million air arrivals coming through UK passport control over the coming months.

Robert Jenrick, the UK’s immigration minister, said: “Families with children over the age of 10 will be able to benefit from quicker entry into the UK using eGates.

“This national rollout will make travelling easier for passengers and strengthens the security of the UK border.”

Read more: Major delays on France-UK border in 2024, warns new Brexit report

He added that the UK processes more passengers through eGates than any other country.

French passport ranks third among world’s most powerful – ahead of UK and US

French passport holders enjoy visa-free access to more countries than the UK or US, according to the latest rankings.

The Henley Passport Index, which is updated quarterly, places France third on its list of most powerful passports, alongside Japan, Austria, Finland, Luxembourg, South Korea and Sweden.

Topping the list is Singapore, followed by Germany, Italy and Spain in second place.

The UK is in fourth place and the US drops to eighth. In 2014, both countries jointly held first place.

Read more: Is the French visa process set up to put people off?

The Henley Passport Index uses data from the International Air Transport Association to rank the world’s 199 passports. It has been running for 18 years and gives countries a point for every destination they can visit visa-free or where they can get a visa on arrival, a visitor's permit or an electronic travel authority (ETA) when entering the destination.

No points are awarded if a visa is required or the passport holder has to obtain a government-approved e-visa before departure.

Read more: What details will have to be given for EU’s Etias visa waiver scheme?

France scored 189 in the latest ranking – three points behind world leader Singapore.

Afghanistan is the weakest passport in the world, with visa-free access to just 27 destinations – 165 fewer than Singapore.

MP calls for removal of cashback offer on SNCF website

France’s state-owned railway operator SNCF could be forced to remove a cashback link on its website over fears some customers may unwittingly take out expensive monthly subscriptions by clicking on it.

A promotional message on the state rail operator’s site offers a partial refund on train tickets after booking a journey.

Read more: TGVs among 300,000 low-cost train tickets to go on sale soon in France

However, clicking on the link takes users to a third-party service called Webloyalty, where they are asked to subscribe to an €18/month loyalty scheme before earning any cashback rewards.

In many instances, the cost of the subscription to the ‘discounts and reductions’ programme outweighs the money-back benefits promised.

Similar partnerships can be seen on other French shopping sites including Fnac-Darty, Leclerc and Cdiscount. However, SNCF has been singled out by Vendée MP Philippe Latombe because of its state affiliation.

He told RTL: "When we vote budgets to save SNCF, when the government promotes trains and cheap tickets and this kind of message appears systematically, it sends a mixed message and that's not right.

“It's not up to the state to promote this sort of thing. Especially when it affects vulnerable people who are not used to digital technology.

Last week (July 18), Mr Latombe announced on Twitter that he had received a commitment from France’s transport minister Clément Beaune to lobby for an end to the partnership between SNCF and Webloyalty.

A meeting between the Ministry and SNCF has been promised to discuss the matter further.

US pilot was over the alcohol limit ahead of flight from Paris

A United Airlines pilot apprehended at Paris Charles de Gaulle-Roissy (CDG) airport with “glassy eyes and difficulty expressing himself” has been handed a six-month suspended sentence and one-year flight ban for being over the alcohol limit.

The pilot, aged 63, was stopped and screened by air transport police on Sunday (July 23), an hour before he was due to take control of a Boeing 777 bound for Dallas, Texas, with 267 passengers on board.

Read more: Easyjet plane returns abruptly to French airport for technical checks

He appeared before the Bobigny Criminal Court in Paris on Tuesday (July 25) insisting he had drunk "only two glasses of wine the night before at dinner", according to Le Parisien.

The prosecutor described how gendarmes had been alerted to his “glassy eyes”, “pasty mouth” and speech difficulties, as well as the fact he was “staggering slightly”. He subsequently failed two breathalyser tests.

Alongside the temporary flight ban and suspended sentence, the pilot was fined €4,500.

20% ferry discount for travellers whose flights have been cancelled

P&O Ferries is positioning itself as a holiday rescue service by offering 20% off its Dover-Calais service for passengers impacted by flight cancellations.

Using the hashtag #KeepYourHolidayAfloat, the ferry company has taken to social media to tell users about the discount.

Those eligible for the offer are instructed to enter their flight number on a designated P&O web page to benefit.

The promotion comes as a new report criticised the punctuality of air and rail services in France.

L'Autorité de la qualité de service dans les transports published a 90-page dossier on Tuesday (July 25) looking at transport delays, as well as flights or rail services that were cancelled within three days of their scheduled departure.

It found that for medium-haul flights, the delay rate was 28.1% in 2022, up from 15.4% in 2021. The average delay was 46 minutes in 2022, up from 40 minutes in 2021.

Routes to North Africa and other European destinations “generally reach the most worrying levels of delay”, said the authority.

Read more: French train delays last year ‘among the worst seen in a decade’

Jo Harvey, P&O’s customer and marketing director said: “Summer holidays are a time of year that everyone looks forward to. With cancellations being announced by airlines we didn’t want people to lose out on their holidays.

“We wanted to provide people with an opportunity to try a new way of holidaying to keep their summer breaks alive.”

Read more: France-bound travellers warned of two-and-half-hour delays at Dover

Search called off for missing Channel Island ferry passenger

The search of an extensive area of the English Channel between the Isle of Wight and Guernsey has failed to locate a passenger who went missing from a ferry on Saturday (July 22).

Concerns were raised after the passenger failed to disembark from Condor Ferries’ Commodore Clipper in Jersey. They are believed to have gone overboard somewhere between Portsmouth and Guernsey.

Read more: Jersey lets French day-trippers use ID cards in bid to boost visitors

A rescue operation was led by HM Coastguard in the UK and supported by the Jersey and Guernsey coastguards.

The passenger has been named as Ebla Yusuf, a 48-year-old woman from Switzerland.

In other Channel Island ferry news, Condor Ferries’ new ship Condor Islander is due to sail to St Peter Port, Guernsey on July 31 for mooring trials and crew training.

The ferry will then move on to St Helier, Saint-Malo and Cherbourg for similar trials, before heading to the UK to complete its refit.

It is expected to enter commercial service across the islands, the UK and France in October.

Read more: Five French Channel Islands you may never have heard of

New charter launched to protect English Channel workers

A charter which aims to improve welfare and employment protection for seafarers in the English Channel was launched on Monday (July 24).

Both the UK and France have been working to prevent a repeat of the P&O Ferries scandal, which saw 800 staff fired and replaced with cheaper agency staff in 2022.

The Seafarers’ Charter, a voluntary agreement of standards for maritime operators, was announced by the UK’s Maritime Minister, Charlotte Vere, during a visit to Paris with her French counterpart, Secretary of State for the Sea Hervè Berville.

Operators can evidence their commitment to seafarer welfare by applying for, or working towards, verified Seafarers’ Charter status.

It will require employers to pay seafarers for overtime at a rate of a least 1.25 times the basic hourly rate; ensure adequate training and development; provide employees with a full, indefinite contract; allow seafarers to receive social security benefits; adopt roster patterns considering fatigue, mental health and safety; provide adequate rest periods between shifts; and carry out regular drug and alcohol testing.

The charter has so far been backed by DFDS Ferries, Condor Ferries, Brittany Ferries and Stena.

Baroness Vere said: “Fair pay and protection against unlawful discrimination are the basic rights of any employee. Our seafarers deserve nothing less.

“I therefore expect companies across the maritime sector to sign up to this Charter, letting their staff know they’re serious about protecting their rights and welfare.”

Earlier this year both French and UK MPs voted to give cross-Channel ferry workers a minimum wage.

Read more: French MPs vote to give cross-Channel ferry workers a minimum wage

Disney turns Paris ‘ghost station’ into haunted house

We may still be a few months from Halloween but Paris metro passengers can enjoy an early fright fest in one of the underground network’s remaining ‘ghost stations’ until August 2.

‘Ghost stations’ are so-called because they have been closed to the public and are no longer in commercial service.

Saint-Martin station, which opened in 1931, is one such place. It was shut temporarily in 1939 when France entered World War Two, and definitively in 1968 due to its proximity (less than 100 metres) to neighbouring Strasbourg-Saint-Denis station.

However, from July 20 it has been given a new lease of life to promote Disney film The Haunted Mansion, a horror comedy starring Owen Wilson, Danny DeVito and Jamie Lee Curtis.

Until Wednesday, eagle-eyed passengers on Line 9 between République and Strasbourg-Saint Denis (towards Pont de Sèvres) can see it decked out in a spooky 75m-long canvas from the inside of their carriage as they whizz past.

The scene reproduces the Haunted Mansion corridor, with its main characters in portrait form, as well as a ghostly bride.

One media outlet was left unimpressed by the effort, however. Actu Paris complained it was “a long way” from the immersive experience Disney boasted about on social media.

It added: “As the train is lit up while the platform is dark, you really have to keep your eyes peeled to spot the promotional operation.”

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