Flights chaos, Channel Tunnel capacity boost: 8 French travel updates

We also look at Ryanair’s Rugby World Cup plan, emergency landings at Lyon airport and a black week on Paris’ metro

Trains, planes and wheelchairs: they all feature in this week’s France travel news round-up
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1. Flight cancellations across France amid May 1 strikes

Around 25% to 33% of flights are set to be cancelled at most major airports in France on May 1 due to strike action by air traffic controllers.

The action is part of widespread disruption expected as unions call for a “historic” mobilisation for la fête du Travail, a public holiday that sees people celebrate workers and advancements in protecting their rights. This year it will be used to protest the French government’s controversial pension reforms.

France’s civil aviation authority, the Direction générale de l'aviation civile (DGAC), said cancellations and delays would hit flights between Sunday (April 30) evening and Tuesday (May 2) morning.

A number of airports will be affected by the strikes including all three Parisian airports (Orly, Charles de Gaulle and Beauvais), as well as Nantes, Nice, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux and Lyon.

All of the airports will see between a quarter and a third of flights cancelled.

The DGAC recommends people change their flights if possible as delays are expected on top of the cancellations.

Orly airport will see further disruption due to strike action by Vueling workers.

Around 12,000 passengers are set to be affected, and strike action will also take place by workers next weekend (May 6, 7, and 8) unless successful negotiations are held beforehand.

Read more: Updated: Dates and sectors of upcoming pension strikes in France

2. Capacity boosted on England-France rail tunnel

Work to improve the electrical grid of the Eurotunnel means that an extra 1,000 trains per day can now pass through

The increased capacity will apply to Eurotunnel Shuttle services, freight trains and Eurostar passenger trains.

The work cost around £45 million and means 16 trains can now use the tunnel simultaneously, whereas before the tunnel could only handle eight at a time.

It is part of the project of the Eurostar Group – which runs Eurostar trains through the tunnel – to see 30 million passengers annually use the tunnel by 2030.

The highest annual ridership for the service was in 2018 when 11 million passengers took the Eurostar over the year.

That goal may be harder to reach however, as a number of other train operators such as the Spanish RENFE, have expressed an interest in running their own routes through the tunnel, to improve connections between London and the European mainland

Read more: ‘Easier to make life better for Britons in France with summit success’

3. Two EasyJet flights make emergency landings in Lyon

An Easyjet flight between Paris and Nice was forced to make an emergency landing at Lyon after a technical malfunction - for the second time in less than a month.

The flight on Monday (April 24) evening from Paris-Orly had already been delayed in taking off, and passengers were not told about the reason for the emergency landing until after the plane had rolled onto the tarmac.

Once the flight had landed, the pilots informed passengers the plane had been grounded due to a technical malfunction - the dashboard lights were indicating the plane’s engine was on fire.

As they were unsure whether there was a real fire or the dashboard was malfunctioning, engineers had to check the plane before it was able to move again.

After a two-hour wait, the green light was given to leave for Nice, with passengers arriving around three hours later than scheduled.

Passengers were not allowed to leave their seats during the checks for safety reasons.

On March 31, a flight going in the opposite direction (from Nice to Paris) had to make an emergency landing at the same airport due to smoke coming from the cockpit.

Read more: Easyjet boss says France strikes having ‘unacceptable consequences’

4. Poll reveals French opinion on train network

A recent opinion poll over French attitudes to rail travel highlighted the negative impact ticket costs have on potential travellers - and showed more people want to use the network than are able to.

While the cost of a rail journey across France is comparable to a car journey for one person, for a family the costs of taking the train increase exponentially, particularly during the holiday season.

Four-in-ten people said that taking the train does not help them save money on their travels, and one in five said the train was always too expensive regardless of the season.

Over half of people also said they believed their tickets were becoming more expensive.

It is not just the price that inhibits people from taking the train - one-third of people said they did not have good access to the network in their area, and another four in ten said they do not take the train because they need to take their car to reach the station anyway.

The study did raise some positive news, though - 83% of people see the ecological benefit of taking the train over other transport methods, and eight in ten take the train “at least once in a while.”

The point with the greatest consensus was the introduction of a regional-wide ticket that would include all types of public transport in an area - 84% of people said this was a good idea.

Read more: Orient Express deluxe renovation is project of French national pride

5. Ryanair to increase flight capacity during Rugby World Cup

Low-cost carrier Ryanair will increase its flight capacity to France over the autumn season, to help with the surge in demand during the Rugby World Cup.

Around 40 extra flights – totalling 51,000 seats – will be added to existing routes for the tournament, which is being held in France from September 8 to October 28.

The flights will coincide mostly with Ireland, England and Scotland games, as well as the quarter-finals of the competition, with extra flights scheduled from airports in Dublin, London, Edinburgh and Manchester.

If England, Ireland, Scotland or Wales make it to the semi-finals or final of the tournament - all of these games will be held in Paris - Ryanair is expected to add extra flights to existing routes to deal with late demand.

Read more: Flight prices from France keep soaring. How can I find the best deals?

6. €3.6 billion to upgrade railway system in south-east France

Plans to improve the rail network in the south-east of the country have been unveiled, via a €3.6 billion project set to affect all major lines in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA) region.

It comes after the government announced plans to pump €100 billion into the French railway network.

The area “wants to make the train the backbone of its transport system,” said the region’s vice-president Jean-Pierre Serrus.

“The demand is becoming stronger and stronger, there are new behaviours [from travellers], so we need to accelerate the project,” he added.

The plan includes upgrades to the line between Marseille and Ventimiglia in Italy, to facilitate international travel, as well as services running through Nice to inland destinations.

The line will also be improved west of Marseille in the Côte Bleue region, to the tune of around €135 million.

Stations will be renovated as part of the project - including an €800 million upgrade of Saint-Charles in Marseille.

Read more: France travel news: Flights scrapped, new UK-Paris routes, Orly strike

7. Improved public transport access for wheelchair users ahead of Olympics

A drive to improve access to public transport for wheelchair users was outlined at the sixth national disability conference this week.

The government will spend €1.5 billion over the next five years to fund projects improving accessibility to public transport, particularly on the national rail network.

By the end of the five-year plan, all major train stations will be fully wheelchair accessible.

The government is also looking to work with stakeholders to increase the number of accessible (or partially accessible) metro stations in Paris – particularly older stations – in light of the 2024 Olympic Games set to be held in the city.

They will also increase the number of accessible taxis during the Games.

Read more: ‘French society is built around the economy not the right to dignity’

8. Three people die in one week in Parisian metro accidents

Two people were killed after being hit by a train on Thursday morning in Paris.

The accident happened around 00:45 in the morning at Gaitié station, on line 13 of the network.

The two victims - said to be homeless - voluntarily jumped onto the tracks before being hit by a train entering the station.

The driver and witnesses were taken care of by emergency services, with the driver testing negative for drug and alcohol, according to the RATP network operator, and he was immediately treated by their victim support unit.

An investigation has been opened into the accident

It follows the death of a woman last weekend after her coat got stuck in the doors of a metro train on line 6, dragging her underneath the train and onto the tracks.

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