Dover border control boost, new UK, US flights: France travel update

We also look at renewed interest in a direct London-to-Bordeaux Eurostar ‘wine train’, how the French air industry aims to fight short-haul flight bans and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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The biggest travel news of the week is, of course, yesterday's (January 19) strikes across France with 46.3% of SNCF workers participating, according to union officials, and disruption to flights, ferries, metro and Eurostar services too.

You can read more about how the day unfolded here, as well as news that further strike action is planned later this month.

Read more: Age, new minimum amount: What does France’s pension reform involve?

Port of Dover: Upgraded border checks promised after £45million funding boost

Kent County Council has been awarded £45million to improve the flow of traffic from the UK to the EU, with more border control points and a new exit route to help the Port of Dover operate better and cut congestion.

The port’s chief executive, Doug Bannister, welcomed the “significant funding”, adding that it was a "great day for the port and for Dover".

He said: “This will be a transformational project, delivering the next evolution of Britain’s busiest ferry terminal with a reconfigured layout and enhanced border control points to help secure traffic flow and capacity for the long term.”

Council leader Roger Gough added that the investment, which comes from the UK government’s Levelling Up fund, showed “a real attempt to deal with the disruption and difficulties that we all know well when problems arise at the border”.

He said: “It is very much concerned with issues in and around the Port of Dover to try to improve the fluidity of traffic with security checks more logically arranged, a buffer zone so you can get a lot more queuing traffic off the roads, a doubling of the border control posts and a new exit route.”

Port and Eurotunnel passengers faced major queues in Dover last summer, with British officials blaming a lack of French border staff for the delays.

France, however, rejected claims it was responsible for the gridlock, insisting that extra checks post-Brexit and a lack of capacity at the port were the real cause.

Read more: French minister’s reaction to Dover: Don’t blame us for Brexit

Mr Gough said yesterday (January 19): “I can’t promise on the back of this that that will never happen again, and no one thing is a silver bullet for this issue, but this can be seen as a major step forward.

“Given the new border arrangements for the European Union, the so-called Entry Exit System or EES, which may well be coming in later this year, it is doubly important that we focus on this issue.”

Earlier this week we reported that the introduction of the EES, a digital system for registering non-EU travellers’ entry into and exit from the Schengen area, has likely been postponed again.

Read more: Is the May launch of the EU’s new Entry/Exit System delayed?

Originally planned for May 2022, it was then scheduled for September 2022 and then May 2023.

Sources, including the UK’s House of Commons Library, have now stated that the May date has also been put off, although official confirmation has yet to be given by the EU.

EasyJet unveils Manchester to Paris Orly service amid takeover rumours

Low-cost airline easyJet has announced a raft of new flights from France this summer, of which a connection between Manchester Airport and Paris Orly is probably of most interest to our readers.

Flights will operate five days a week from Monday to Friday.

Chris Woodroofe, managing director at Manchester Airport, said: “We are thrilled that easyJet will be launching a service to Paris Orly airport, which is currently unserved from Manchester.”

Direct flights from Manchester to Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris already exist, but the new route will give customers a more convenient route to the south side of the capital, according to the airline.

The flights will launch on March 27 and tickets are already available for purchase starting at €28.

Read more: New flights, UK border force strike off: Eight France travel updates

EasyJet has also unveiled routes between Nice and Bari (Italy), Toulouse and Faro (Portugal), and Calvi (Corsica) and London Gatwick.

The route between Nice and Bari starts on June 26 while Toulouse to Faro takes off on June 30.

UK passengers will be able to fly to Calvi from Gatwick from June 28 on Wednesdays and Sundays.

The new services come as rumours of a possible easyJet takeover build.

The boss of its low-cost competitor Ryanair said in a press conference on Tuesday (January 17) that Covid will likely be responsible for a wave of consolidation in the airline industry.

Michael O’Leary predicted: “EasyJet is going to finish up being bought by either British Airways or Air France or both jointly and then Lufthansa will buy Wizz.”

London-to-Bordeaux ‘wine train’ could start in 2026

A direct Eurostar train from London to Bordeaux could start as soon as 2026 although rail officials admit the deadline is “tight”.

The service is still in the planning stages but if it goes ahead it would see journey times between the two cities cut to under five hours by bypassing Paris and taking advantage of a new high-speed rail line linking Tours with Bordeaux, where trains can reach speeds of over 320km/h.

It marks an improvement on the current itinerary, which involves changing at Paris Gare du Nord and catching a connecting TGV service from Paris Montparnasse to Bordeaux, which takes five hours and 25 minutes from London and six hours and 26 minutes from Bordeaux to London due to security controls post-Brexit.

Read more: Ski holidays in France: why British tourists shun the train

Speaking to The Drinks Business, a spokesperson for HS1, which operates the UK leg of the Channel Tunnel railway line, said there was “clear demand for travel between the UK and Bordeaux”.

Talk of this service is not new – it was last mooted alongside a potential Riviera service last year.

Read more: Eurostar hopes to start London - Bordeaux route 'in five years'

However, plans to get the so-called ‘wine train’ into action will be complicated, and discussions with French authorities are still ongoing.

Bordeaux-Saint-Jean railway station would need to be developed to facilitate international departures, and departure slots and train paths finalised.

The introduction of the EU’s automated, biometric entry/exit system for travellers from countries crossing in or out of the EU could also slow things down.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

Nevertheless, the HS1 spokesperson said that “although a 2026 delivery timeline was “tight”, it “wouldn’t be impossible”.

Speaking to The Sunday Times this month, the chief executive of HS1, Dyan Crowther, said they were looking at other new routes from 2026 too, in a bid to offer passengers greener alternatives to short haul flights.

Ms Crowther said these could include a service to Geneva and a business shuttle to Frankfurt.

Read more: Paris-London and London-Lille included in France’s train ticket promo

Airlines use freedom of movement argument to challenge short-haul flight ban

The ban on domestic flights in France when the journey can take less than two-and-a-half hours by train could infringe the EU’s freedom of movement rights, argue airlines.

Read more: Which routes will be affected by French short domestic flight ban?

The ban was approved by the European Commission In December for environmental reasons and means, for example, that flights between Paris-Orly and Nantes, Lyon or Bordeaux will no longer be allowed to run when the new measure comes into force in the next few months.

While a formal legal challenge from disgruntled airlines is unlikely, they could invoke freedom of movement rights enshrined in European law when informal reviews of the law take place. These are expected to happen twice a year.

They also intend to lobby the government.

"We have the principle established by the EU of an open, liberalised market with the freedom to provide air services for any European airlines between any point within Europe," a senior industry official told the news agency.

"And that's basically to support the freedom of movement, people and citizens across Europe."

Airlines also say the bans will have no real impact on curbing emissions; the routes currently affected represent only 0.23% of France's air transport emissions, according to the Union of French Airports.

Read more: Climate change: ‘We need greener fuels, not jet bans, in France’

Willie Walsh, director general of the International Air Transport Association, told Reuters: "We'll embarrass people with the data.

"If we banned all flights of less than 500km in Europe... it would be less than 4% of the CO2 in Europe. I think there's a perception that it would be 80%. It's not a solution.”

Environmental campaigners, meanwhile, are continuing to push for wider restrictions. Their original proposal was to ban flights on routes with travel times of less than six hours.

Nice welcomes return of A380 superjumbo

Emirates airline is expanding its Airbus A380 offering in France with daily flights between Nice and Dubai on them from June.

The iconic double-deckers are the world’s largest passenger aircraft and Emirates is the airline with the most in service – over 80.

It began A380 flights to Nice in 2017 but currently only serves the airport with one daily Boeing B777 flight. This will be replaced with the A380 from June 1.

By the end of the summer, Emirates’ A380s will serve nearly 50 destinations, representing almost 90% of the airline's pre-pandemic A380 network.

Read more: Cooking oil mix powers French superjumbo Airbus A380 for three hours

Meanwhile, Nice is growing its US flight options this year, with the start of a daily service to Atlanta from May and a Nice-Miami route also on the cards.

The Delta Airlines flight to Atlanta will run until September 29.

The airport already has direct flights to New York with Delta Airlines, United and the French company La Compagnie.

Read more: New UK-France air routes launched from Nice and Montpellier

Plans for a Miami link are still in the early stages. If approval is given, the flights would not launch for another 12 to 18 months.

Nice celebrates the 60th anniversary of its twinning with Miami this year.

Paris CDG among top three Europeans airports for bad punctuality

Paris Charles de Gaulle had among the lowest rates of on-time departure among Europe’s biggest airports last year, a report has found.

According to data released by European air traffic management body Eurocontrol, only Lisbon and Frankfurt airports were worse.

Just over half (54%) of flights left Lisbon punctually and 56% from Frankfurt.

Paris CDG, which was affected by strikes last summer, saw 56.8% of flights depart on time.

Read more: French air traffic control strike: 1000 flights, all airports affected

London Gatwick, London Heathrow and Amsterdam Schiphol rounded out the bottom six.

France also accounted for over a fifth (21%) of all air traffic control delays in Europe last year, second only to Germany (30%).

Eurocontrol attributed half (48%) of European air traffic control delays to staffing, 25% to bad weather and 22% “to system implementations”, principally at Reims in France.

Only two-thirds (66%) of all European flights departed on time in 2022 – a decrease on the 2019 average of 73%.

Eurocontrol said: “The situation deteriorated markedly over the summer, with departure punctuality dipping below 50% at the beginning of July and between 50%-60% for most of the summer.”

Aircraft reroutings because of the war in Ukraine and closure of Russian airspace were cited among reasons for airport disruptions last year.

Corsica Ferries throws weight behind wind-powered shipping

A project to bring back cargo ships under sail has received a boost from Corsica Ferries.

The firm has taken a stake in the start-up Neoline, which hopes to revive trade routes for sailing boats between France and the US.

Read more: New cars will cross the Atlantic by sailing ships

It will help co-finance the first cargo ship powered mainly by wind – a 136-metre vessel that promises to save more than 80% of fuel compared to a conventional cargo ship.

Read more: Sailing firm offers greener Channel crossing by catamaran

It will carry up to 5,000 tons of goods including 400 cars or 265 containers.

Unlike sailing ships built at the end of the 19th century, the new ship’s masts and sails are set on the sides of the boat and boast automated furling systems and winches.

The first voyage, planned for 2024, will connect St Nazaire to the US east coast.

Other backers include Renault, Manitou, Beneteau Group, Michelin Group and Clarins.

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