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

Plus railway staff offered a bonus to work during Paris Olympics and a boost for Brittany Ferries as bookings rise

Planes, trains, and border delays: Our round-up of the latest French travel news
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Spring and summer flights cancelled over aircraft shortages

A number of flights across spring and summer have been cancelled or postponed due to a lack of aircraft.

Low-cost carrier Transavia (part of the Air France-KLM group) is currently facing a shortage of six planes, leading to flight cancellations and postponements affecting more than 5% of flights.

This will impact at least 50,000 passengers in April and May.

A full fleet should be available by June, however, as the airline has announced 15 new summer routes.

Flights will leave from Paris Orly, Nantes, Lyon, Strasbourg, Marseille and Bastia, and fly to Greece, Morocco, Algeria, Spain, Portugal, Norway, and Italy, among others.

Four routes to Turkey have also been announced, one of the company’s fastest-growing destinations.

Transavia’s competitor Ryanair also announced a reduced schedule for July, as delays to the delivery of ten new Boeing 737s left it short.

“We will certainly have to trim some flights out of the system [but] I don't think there will be route cancellations,” said Ryanair Group CEO Michael O’Leary.

Supply chain issues for aircraft makers such as Airbus and Boeing are causing headaches for a number of airlines, and Mr O’Leary predicted airline capacity could be limited “for the next two, three, or five years.”

Read more: Airbus and Air France cleared over plane crash that killed 228 people

Railway employees offered bonuses to work during Paris Olympics

As ongoing strikes over controversial pension reforms disrupt trains, France’s state-owned railway company, SNCF, is trying to make sure services run a bit smoother during next year’s Paris Olympics.

Some unions and protesters say they will look to disrupt the country when the world’s attention is fixed on the French capital next summer.

The hashtag “#PasderetraitpasdeJO” (No retirement, no Olympic games) became one of the most used slogans on Twitter after France’s highest constitutional authority, le conseil constitutionnel, approved the majority of the new pension reform bill last week.

Fearful of the potential disruption, SNCF has reached out to the four main rail unions in an attempt to ensure the smooth running of rail lines during the event.

They are offering “attendance bonuses” for those who work during the Olympic season - which will run from July 26 to August 11 2024 - in an attempt to quell potential strike action and encourage employees to postpone summer holidays.

Unions have suggested “there are still details missing” in the negotiations, in particular the bonus proposed by SNCF being below their expectations.

They say the bonus offered is less than €450 – the amount offered to transport workers in the Paris region to counter bus driver absenteeism in 2022.

The transport authority for the Paris region, RATP, is set to discuss a similar scheme for their workers at the end of the month.

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

Eurotunnel owner’s revenue up by 126% in first quarter of year

The company that manages the Channel Tunnel released its financial report on Thursday (April 20), showing a huge rise in first-quarter revenue for 2023.

Getlink’s report shows that revenue levels were 126% higher than in the first quarter of 2022.

Almost half of the increase was due to the new ElecLink underwater supply cable, which allows the transmission of electricity between the UK and France and runs alongside the tunnel.

Eurotunnel revenue increased by over a quarter, and passenger numbers increased by 31%, with the Shuttle service bringing in over €154 million in revenue.

Freight traffic increased by 5%, and as part of the post-Covid recovery, the Eurostar train service saw a 121% rise in passenger numbers compared to the same period last year.

Read more: Brexit row after delays of up to 14 hours at Dover ferry port

Three new daily flight routes between UK and Paris

British carrier Eastern Airways has announced three new daily flights to Paris Orly from UK regional airports.

Daily services from East Midlands and Southampton airports began on Friday, April 14, and a service from Cardiff will start on Friday, April 21, as part of a partnership with Air France.

One commercial service per day between the airports will run throughout the year, with prices starting at £69.99 one way.

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

Hopes to re-open Saint-Étienne-Clermont-Ferrand rail line

A campaign to reinstate the rail line between Saint-Étienne and Clermont-Ferrand is gaining traction, with the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region set to make a decision on reopening the service next month.

Rail services between the two cities – the third and fourth biggest in the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region – ended in 2016.

France’s state-owned railway company SNCF still runs trains on parts of the old route but there are no direct connections between the cities.

“It is an exceptional case in France, that two cities so close are not connected by train," said Pierre-Olivier Messner, part of the Collectif du train 634269 campaign fighting to reinstate the line.

The campaign calls for one of three scenarios that would see the towns of Boën and Thiers (where rail routes from the respective cities currently stop) linked by either regular coach services, light rail, or a conventional train providing a direct service.

Whilst the latter would be preferable to campaigners, they say the cost of reinstating the line would be around €35 million.

The collective wants a service to run every two hours between the cities, with the journey itself taking around two hours and 30 minutes.

Last week’s travel wrap by The Connexion included Saint Etienne’s plans to re-open the city’s airport to commercial flights after a six-year absence.

Read more: Tax aviation and roads to fund French rail upgrades, says SNCF boss

Brittany Ferries see sale revenues fall but bookings rise

Brittany Ferries announced a €22 million drop in sales compared to pre-pandemic and pre-Brexit levels, as French shipping group CMA CGM agreed to convert its financial support for the company into a private equity stake.

Passenger numbers were 26% down in 2022 compared to 2019 levels, seeing 1.84 million passengers throughout the year, and 800,000 journey-makers visiting France from the UK and Ireland.

Passenger numbers between the UK and France saw decreases of up to 95% on some routes, but services from Ireland saw an average passenger increase of 48%.

The company’s total 2022 profit was €22.6 million against a total turnover of €444.7 million.

Bookings for 2023 were up by 23% however, “pointing to a recovery towards pre-Covid business volumes”, the company announced.

CMA CGM will gain up to a 12% equity in the company as part of the deal, as Brittany Ferries continues to seek investment as part of its post-Covid recovery.

The shipping group also announced last month they had purchased the La Méridionale, which runs France-Corsica ferry services and has the world’s first zero emission ferry service between Marseille and the island.

Read more: Cruise ship drama as gusts of up to 135km/h cause ferry cancellations

EU’s new digital border set for another delay

The EU’s two new border schemes look to have been delayed again, with the Entry/Exit System (EES) now set to launch in 2024.

Having seen a number of setbacks already, the EES was scheduled to launch at the end of 2023, but the European Commission told The Connexion there were plans to postpone the launch until the following year.

This in turn will push back the rollout of the closely linked visa-waiver Etias system, which will come into force around half a year after the EES.

A revised timetable for the rollout of both the EES and Etias is expected to be confirmed in June.

France is hoping the Etias visa waiver – which is initially expected to cause heavy delays at airports – will be postponed until after next summer’s Olympic games, according to reports, which will see an influx of visitors to the French capital.

Read more: EU confirms plans to delay its new digital border system… again

Strike rocks school holiday plans at Orly

Strike action by workers at low-cost airline Vueling will cancel dozens of flights at Paris Orly airport.

Sixty-six flights will be cancelled on Friday, April 21 and Saturday, April 22, in the first of at least three weekends of planned action.

Read more: Dozens of flights cancelled at French airport as aircrew strike

Industrial action by workers at the company’s Orly hub will take place every weekend until May 8, after which workers may continue to back the action with a renewable strike.

Action corresponds to the final weekend of the Easter holidays for all three school zones in France, leaving many families affected.

Unions say they are striking over low pay and poor work conditions, whilst the airline has urged workers to cancel the strike to minimise disruption and revenue loss.

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