EES app in pilot stage, deal cuts ferry wait: 6 France travel updates

We also look at new flights to the US, a one-day train strike around Paris, problems with booking foreign rail travel and more

Four way split image of Air France plane, Non-schengen arrivals sign, Eurostar train and ferries arriving at the port of Dover
Clockwise from top left: More Air France flights to US, EES app ‘in pilot stage’, more Eurostar trains, ferry deal to cut waiting time in Dover

In travel news this week we have looked at how to avoid traffic jams over the busy Pentecost weekend, Ryanair’s withdrawal from Bordeaux airport and the suspended jail sentence for the TGV conductor whose ‘negligence’ caused a fatal accident in 2015.

Here are six more travel stories affecting France.

Ferry updates

Ferry companies reach agreement to cut waiting time at Dover

P&O Ferries and Irish Ferries say they have reached an agreement to cut passenger waiting times at Dover by allowing people to board the next available ferry if they have a ticket for either company.

The agreement, announced on May 14, will initially serve freight only, but will be extended to foot and vehicle passengers at a later date. It should work for passengers by this summer, giving them more flexibility, particularly during peak periods.

The spectre of long wait times has loomed over Dover due to the prospective rollout of the new Entry/Exit border checks (EES), which are due to start in autumn. 

Read more: 7 reader questions on new France/UK border checks answered 

In addition, Irish Ferries announced on May 16 that it is to add a new ferry, the Spirit of Britain, to the Dover to Calais route from June.

Air updates

Air France expands US flights in 2024/25 winter programme

Air France will expand two of its existing routes to the US this winter and add three new routes from Paris Charles de Gaulle as part of its winter programme.

The US routes are:

  • Denver, Colorado - previously only available in summer

  • Phoenix, Arizona - starting on May 23 and continuing through the year

Air France is also starting three new routes to:

  • Salvador de Bahia, Brazil - from October 28

  • Malé, Maldives - from December 20 to January 5

  • Kiruna, Sweden - from December 21

EES update

New Entry/Exit System app in pilot stage

Frontex, the European border and coast guard agency, is running an ‘industry day’ for web developers of its future Entry/Exit System app on May 29. Among other points it is looking for input on software that can help to manage queues and allow travel documents to be securely scanned.

The prospective app will likely be used by millions of people from autumn, when the new EES border checks are brought in at entry ports to the EU for non-EU travellers. 

Individual countries need to agree to allow use of this app and to date France has not announced that it will.

Read more: New UK/France border checks: visas, residency cards and which queues?

The agency says that a pilot version of the app is currently being tested, however it is interested in hearing developers’ proposals to improve: 

  • facial image capture technology

  • mobile self-service fingerprinting

  • solutions scanning travel documents 

  • queue management software 

  • biometric data capture 

The EES is widely expected to start with a progressive ‘soft launch’ from October 6.

Rail updates

Eurostar to order up to 50 new trains by 2030

Eurostar says it will order up to 50 new trains by 2030 after a record breaking 2023 that saw it make €2billion in profit and transport 19 million passengers.

Eurostar has 51 trains at present, but plans to increase annual passenger numbers to 30 million per year in 2030.

The company has made no announcement as to what effect the new trains will have on prices, however the increased capacity should help reduce them. 

In addition, Getlink (formerly Eurotunnel), which manages the tunnel and runs LeShuttle, announced in May that it planned to increase its own passenger capacity.

“When we analyse tunnel traffic, it is clear that there is potential that is not being fully exploited today, in particular for direct links between London and other European capitals,” said Getlink CEO Yann Leriche.

Read more: Channel Tunnel is 30 years old today 

SNCF digital reservations to stop working for international trains

The SNCF’S digital platform, SNCF Connect, will not allow passengers to book trips across the border that use foreign rail companies from May 23.

This will concern rail tickets booked on SNCF Connect after May 23. Tickets should work up to that date.

The SNCF Connect mobile app and website allows passengers to reserve and purchase tickets and download a digital copy to be scanned by SNCF personnel. 

However, the system has a chequered history: It has long been subject to payment glitches, does not systematically offer passengers the lowest available price or take SNCF buses into account and requires exhaustive passenger information - more than when buying in a station.

Indeed, the system’s average rating on customer review website Trustpilot is only one star out of five - the lowest possible score.

Nonetheless, the system’s new problem - of not working with foreign companies - is reportedly by design: the SNCF says it is upgrading its booking technology.

They have not specified how long this upgrade will take.

Alternative booking platforms for digital tickets still work, including the Trainline, Rail Europe and Kombo. 

Passengers can also book their onward travel directly with the foreign operators (Renfe, CFF, SNCB etc).

Paris train strike on May 21 to cause ‘black day’

A major strike by two unions will affect rail transport around the outskirts of Paris on Tuesday, May 21.

The RER transport network will be heavily impacted by the strike planned by the Sud-Rail and CGT-Cheminots unions who are demanding a “black day” for transport.

The unions hope to pressure operator Transilien SNCF Voyageurs into paying out higher bonuses for their increased workload during the Paris Olympics. 

Transilien SNCF Voyageurs is expected to announce which lines are to be affected by the movement on Sunday (May 19).