France travel round-up: Strike disruption, rail scam and tomato dig

We also look at P&O’s ferry problem and why getting rid of motorway toll booths is not as popular as you might think

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The big travel story of the week was confirmation from the European Commission (EC) that the EU’s new Etias visa-waiver system has been delayed again.

Read more: EU’s online visa-waiver system Etias delayed to 2024

First proposed in 2016, the €7 online application for permission to enter the EU has been beset by holdups and is now not expected until 2024.

The EC says the latest delays are a knock-on effect from issues with the Entry/Exit System (EES), a new digital border tracking programme for non-EU citizens visiting the Schengen area for short stays.

You can read more about the story here.

Trains and planes among services impacted by Tuesday’s strike

Travellers are reminded that next week’s strike against pension reforms is likely to have a far-reaching effect on transport networks in France.

The country's main trade unions, including all four of the biggest rail ones, are calling for France to "come to a standstill" on Tuesday (March 7) as they protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to raise the age of retirement by two years to 64.

The extent of the strike will only be known 48 hours in advance, but passengers can expect disruption to SNCF train services across the country, while in Ile-de-France difficulties are expected on the RATP public transport network including the metro, RER, buses and trams.

Meanwhile, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) is asking airlines to reduce their flight schedules by 20% at Charles-de-Gaulle airport and by 30% at Orly, Beauvais, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Marseille, Montpellier, Nice and Toulouse on March 7 and 8.

"Despite these preventive measures, disruptions and delays are nevertheless to be expected," the DGAC said in a statement.

You can read more about the strike in our news story here.

P&O Ferries plays down the fact it cannot charge new boats in Dover or Calais

P&O Ferries, which last month (February 28) took delivery of the first of two brand new hybrid boats for its Dover-Calais route, insists they remain environmentally friendly even though they cannot currently be charged in port.

P&O Pioneer is the world’s largest double-ended ferry, and carries one of the biggest battery installations ever fitted to a ship.

P&O Ferries estimates that in service it will use 40% less fuel than its existing cross-Channel boats, through a combination of fuel and battery propulsion.

However, the Telegraph reported on Sunday (February 26) that the company risks being left red-faced after spending £230m on it and sister-ship P&O Liberté, because they cannot be plugged into the electricity grid in Dover or Calais.

The newspaper claims P&O did not consult with port authorities over charging facilities before ordering the boats, although the company insists those reports are false.

Read also: French MPs push law to protect Channel ferry workers after P&O layoffs

A P&O Ferries spokesman told KentOnline that it has “a longstanding and regular dialogue with the ports at both Dover and Calais about how our new ships can play their part in making the English Channel one of the most sustainable shipping lanes in the world”.

He added that the lack of current charging facilities would not impact the boats’ carbon credentials.

“In sea trials the new ship is on course to exceed its 40% fuel saving target. This is a direct consequence of the fact that the double-ended design means we do not have to turn the vessel around in port and therefore we can sail more slowly while still sailing to schedule.

“We are of course aware that neither port presently has charging facilities but this is not required for the battery to operate effectively and drive emissions savings.”

The batteries, which have a capacity of up to 8.8 megawatt hours, can instead be recharged by the ferry’s four diesel engines during passage.

When contacted by The Connexion today (March 3), Doug Bannister, CEO of Port of Dover, said: “While it has long been known that charging infrastructure is still some way into the future, the new vessels will already deliver a positive step and we have been planning for their arrival for over a year.

He added: “We continue to work together with our consortium of ferry operators, including P&O Ferries, academic and energy industry partners to support the transition to zero-emission vessels and our ambition of a green shipping corridor between the UK and France.”

The new ferry is expected to enter service ahead of the summer season.

Train tickets for summer holidays to go on sale

SNCF will next week (March 8) open bookings for train tickets during the busy summer holiday period.

Normally, you can buy tickets four months in advance for TGV and Intercity trains. For the Christmas, winter, spring and summer holiday periods, however, SNCF operates a fixed date system for sales.

Read more: Reminder: The dates of France's 2023 holidays and days off

In this case, TGV and Intercity train tickets for the period from July 8 to September 3 will be available to buy from March 8 at 06:00.

From this date it will also be possible to purchase Ouigo tickets until December 9.

Read more: Which French TGV trains are affected by ticket price rises this year?

SNCF advises that, due to modernisation work, train services between Paris (Montparnasse and Massy TGV stations) and Brittany, Centre Val de Loire, Pays de la Loire, Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitanie regions will be disrupted this summer on certain dates in July and August.

Consequently some trains in July (17-20) and August (7-10) will not be available for sale on March 8, but will be available shortly afterwards. It suggests subscribing to a booking alert by email.

Offer of annual rail pass for €1.95 is a scam

Facebook and Instagram posts offering unlimited train travel for a year for just €1.95 are scams, SNCF has confirmed.

Read more: Why you need to remain vigilant about Crit’Air fine texts in France

Posted on the Facebook page and Instagram account ‘Proposition de voyage’ last month, the advertisement claims: "SNCF has decided to offer everyone a travel card for just €1.95. With this card, you can travel for free for exactly one year!

“We advise you to hurry up and apply and wait for the person in charge to call you because the number of cards is limited!"

Those interested are encouraged to fill in some personal information in a form, including their bank details, to claim their carte SNCF MAX Actif +.

A Max Actif card does actually exist on the SNCF website. It is aimed at people who travel several times a week on the same route all year round – but it costs considerably more on an annual subscription basis, which can be paid monthly by direct debit.

Free-flow motorway causing confusion among motorists

A first attempt to remove toll booths from motorways in France and instead use overhead recording equipment to keep tabs on payment has led to complaints from motorists that the new system is not clear enough.

It has been implemented on a busy 88km stretch of the A79 motorway in central France since the end of last year to avoid traffic slowdown.

Read more: Car plate recognition replacing France’s ‘slow’ motorway toll barriers

Tolls are still due but payment is taken by direct debit for télépéage badge drivers or for those registered on the Fulli website (the new name for the electronic toll system), or made in advance or within three days at

There are also payment terminals at motorway services. Late payment incurs a fine of €90, rising to €375 after 60 days.

Consumer association Que Choisir, however, reports it has received numerous complaints about the system.

Some drivers say it is not immediately obvious that they have entered the freeflow zone due to lack of signage, and warn you have to "be very vigilant to understand that you will have to pay later".

Other negative feedback has concerned the lack of advance warning about turning off the motorway to avoid the toll section.

Payment collection has also been singled out for criticism. One driver, identified only as Geneviève, claims she was notified that she had "committed an offence punishable by a fine of up to €90" if she did not pay.

The letter did not specify the amount to be paid but invited her to log on to operator Aliae’s website, where she says she was unable to pay the 30 cents due for her journey. She finally resolved the matter by calling customer services and sending a cheque.

For its part, Aliae says removing toll booths makes the motorway safer, allows for better traffic flow and saves drivers time. It also claims a reduction of CO2 emissions because drivers do not have to stop and start at payment terminals.

One Que Choisir source, however, noted that many of these benefits are negated if you have to pull into a service station on the motorway to use the payment terminals.

Brittany Ferries christens two new boats in Cherbourg

Brittany’s Ferries’ first LNG-powered (liquefied natural gas) boat has been officially christened in Cherbourg.

As is tradition, a bottle of champagne was smashed against Salamanca’s hull as part of the ceremony last month (February 22), while another recent arrival to the firm’s fleet, the 215m-long Galicia, was also christened.

Brittany Ferries says the move to LNG promises greener sailings.

Read more: Brittany Ferries to restart France route with new ‘eco’ ship

“This is a fuel which emits virtually no sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide or particulate emissions, following combustion. In addition, because LNG burns more efficiently than diesel, there is a reduction in carbon dioxide output of around 25%,” it says on its website.

“In addition to cleaner fuel, like Galicia, [Salamanca] has been designed with the environment and efficiency in mind. Her hull has been crafted to reduce drag and improve efficiency and her size means we can take more people and freight while burning less fuel.

Both ships are already in service, making one round trip per week between Cherbourg and Portsmouth and also operating in Spain. They will be followed in a few weeks by a third ship, Santonia.

Eurostar tomato campaign delights social media

Eurostar is offering France-bound passengers tips on where to buy tomatoes, in a light-hearted dig at shortages currently facing British shoppers.

Last month it was revealed that some of the UK's biggest supermarkets are limiting sales of tomatoes and other salad items, with the government claiming the scarcity has been caused by poor weather in Spain and North Africa where they are produced.

However, with European shops apparently escaping the crisis, many have been quick to lay the blame on Brexit instead.

Now Eurostar has waded into the debate – by promising passengers that crew members are happy to advise on the best places to stock up on tomatoes in Paris.

Video footage shared on Twitter by a Eurostar train manager called Justin showed an onboard information screen with the tongue-in-cheek public service announcement.

Social media users were quick to voice their appreciation, with one joking that earning points while shopping for groceries should be included in the Club Eurostar loyalty programme.

EasyJet takes over Lyon-La Rochelle route, but the flight will no longer stop in Poitiers

Low-cost carrier EasyJet will take on an air route between Lyon and La Rochelle which is being dropped by its current operator, the regional airline Chalair, next week (March 10).

The service will continue from April 17 without its usual stopover in Poitiers, however, which EasyJet said was financially unviable.

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

The group that manages Poitiers-Biard airport has vowed to find another carrier to provide a Lyon-Poitiers link by November. The route is poorly served by rail and road.

The La Rochelle-Lyon flight will now last just one hour and 10 minutes without the Poitiers stopover (previously it was two hours and 10 minutes), and a return ticket will cost between €150 and €160.

There will be three return flights a week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday), and two in summer (Monday and Friday).

EasyJet is aiming for 19,000 passengers over seven months – twice as many as Chalair over the whole of 2022.

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