France travel wrap: New Ryanair route, ferry boost, free rail pass

Plus: Petition to bring Eurostar back to Kent, France strikes fallout and why flights to Heathrow may be disrupted over Easter

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France strikes continue to disrupt travel

The big transport story of the week has once again been travel disruption caused by ongoing strike action in France.

Read more: French pension protests intensify as Bordeaux city hall set ablaze

Problems continue today (March 24) and into the weekend. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGAC) has asked airlines to cancel 30% of their flights at Paris-Orly on Friday and 15% on Saturday.

Some regional airports are also affected, with 20% of flights at Marseille-Provence, Bordeaux-Mérignac and Lyon-Saint-Exupéry expected to be cancelled on both days.

"Despite these preventive measures, disruptions and delays are nevertheless to be expected," the DGAC warned.

Regarding trains, SNCF says that despite some improvements rail travel is expected to remain disrupted over the weekend.

“We invite you to check the traffic of your trains on your usual information channels the day before from 17:00,” it advises on its website.

Eurostar cancelled one train this morning but was not expecting any further changes to its timetable today.

The transport authority for the Paris region (RATP) said metro, bus and tram services had returned to normal in the French capital on Friday, after major disruption the day before.

Additional trains are planned to serve the Stade de France ahead of France’s Euro 2024 qualifying match against the Netherlands on Friday evening.

On the roads, meanwhile, several departments in the south of France have introduced limits on how much petrol can be bought, amid fears of shortages as protesters continue to block refineries.

Unions have announced fresh national strikes and protests for next Tuesday (March 28).

Read more: Trains, planes, fuel: Dates and sectors of upcoming strikes in France

Airlines advised to carry extra fuel if flying to Paris

All flights to Paris have been told to carry as much fuel as possible as kerosene supplies to airports continue to be hit by blockades at France’s refineries.

Read more: Nearly one-in-five French petrol stations suffering fuel shortages

On Thursday (March 23) the government said supplies had become a “critical” problem and issued a requisition order to striking workers at a refinery in Normandy in a bid to solve the issue.

The strikes are part of opposition to the government’s controversial pension reforms, which raise the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64.

In a message sent on March 17, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation said: "The paraffin stocks at Paris Charles-de-Gaulle are currently under strain. To avoid any operational problems, all flights to Paris-CDG are asked to take on as much fuel as possible from their airport of origin, within the limits of the aircraft's operational capacity.”

An almost identical message recommending the same measures was published the next day for Paris-Orly.

Patrice Geoffron, director of the Centre for Geopolitics of Energy and Raw Materials (CGEMP), told BFM the situation could cause real difficulties: "A plane coming from another part of Europe or crossing the Atlantic and not finding supplies at Roissy or Orly would find itself blocked at these airports. So we can clearly see the logistical problems that can arise.”

Petition to bring Eurostar back to Kent has almost 13,000 signatures

A campaigner is challenging Eurostar’s suspension of services in Ebbsfleet and Ashford by asking fellow disgruntled travellers to sign a petition.

International trains have not stopped at the Kent stations since the beginning of the Covid pandemic in March 2020 and the service is not expected to return until 2025.

The Eurostar website instead urges travellers from Ebbsfleet and Ashford to travel from London St Pancras.

Eurostar has cited debt incurred during the health crisis, uncertainty surrounding international travel due to high inflation, and border control issues due to Brexit as among the reasons for concentrating “on the core inter-capital routes before considering any new commercial offerings”.

Read more: Eurostar: Calais to remain shut after Brexit/Covid

However, the decision has infuriated Keith Hillier-Palmer, who has started an online petition to bring back the services. It has so far been signed nearly 13,000 times.

The petition states: “Strange to say there are people who live in the UK between London and the rest of Europe, people who are now condemned to travel to London (with its attendant emissions) only to go back through Ashford to reach Paris or Brussels and even beyond.

“These include not only holidaymakers but also business people who have to meet their continental counterparts.

“It is quite absurd that tourists and commuters have to go in the opposite direction just to get across the Channel.”

Mr Hillier-Palmer adds: “This comfortable journey over to mainland Europe worked well for many years only to be cruelly snatched away. Continuing to call these stations ‘International’ is totally misleading.”

Last week we reported how Kent councillors have also been “lobbying intensely” for a return of Ashford and Ebbsfleet Eurostar stops.

Read more: Passport delay fears, P&O hit by strikes and other France travel news

Brittany Ferries’ Cork-Roscoff route reopens with increased bookings

Brittany Ferries’ seasonal service between Roscoff and Cork began again this week (March 22) carrying 330 holidaymakers abroad.

The ferry will operate every Wednesday between now and November and will be joined on the same route on Saturdays from April 1 by Brittany Ferries’ 2,400-passenger flagship Pont-Aven.

Brittany Ferries says it has seen a 29% increase in the number of passengers travelling between France and Ireland compared to the same period last year, almost half of which are French natives visiting Ireland.

Read more: Brittany Ferries reports better year after 'ghastly' Covid period

Hugh Bruton, general manager of Ireland with Brittany Ferries told “We are delighted to once again mark the start of a new season. The growing passenger booking numbers show us that 2023 is going to be a boom year for travel both into and out of Ireland.”

Heathrow calls on airlines to stop selling tickets during Easter strike

People travelling between the UK and France over Easter could be affected by planned strike action at Heathrow airport.

The transport hub is asking airlines to stop selling tickets for travel over the 10 days of industrial action from March 31 to April 9.

The strike will see more than 1,400 security staff at Terminal 5 walk out in a dispute over pay.

Heathrow told The Telegraph: "We are taking action to minimise the impact on those who have already booked, including asking airlines to open flexible booking policies and to put a hold on the sale of new tickets on strike days.”

The airport said that passengers who have already booked tickets to fly to or from Heathrow during this period would be offered alternative dates to travel.

Among those worst affected are likely to be British Airways passengers, which is exclusively served by Terminal 5. However, there could be disruption at other terminals too as staff are moved to fill the roles of those on strike.

Ryanair to start new route from Paris to Belfast

Low-cost carrier Ryanair has announced the launch of a seasonal route between Paris-Beauvais airport and Belfast this summer – although the exact dates have yet to be confirmed.

Read more: Ryanair: Let other air traffic staff replace French during strikes

The service was revealed alongside three other new Ryanair destinations taking off from Beauvais this summer – Lanzarote and the Romanian cities of Iasi and Cluj.

It brings the total number of Ryanair routes from Beauvais airport to 63.

Just a few days left for 18-year-olds to win Europe rail pass

Young people living in France have until Wednesday (March 29) to enter a draw to win a Europe-wide rail pass paid for by the European Commission.

There are 35,000 free rail passes up for grabs as part of the DiscoverEU scheme, which is only open to those aged 18.

Entry is via the European Youth Portal, where there will be five quiz questions and one tiebreaker to answer.

Applicants must be born between July 1, 2004, and June 30, 2005, and resident of the European Union or one of the third countries associated with the Erasmus+ Programme such as Iceland, Liechtenstein, North Macedonia, Norway, Serbia and Turkey.

If successful, they will be able to travel in Europe for up to 30 days between June 15, 2023, and September 30, 2024.

Read more: 60,000 free train tickets for young to go between France and Germany

Organisers say the aim of the scheme, which launched in 2018, is to help young people discover Europe’s landscapes and its variety of cities and towns, learn about its cultural heritage and history, and “connect with people from all over the continent”.

The website adds: “DiscoverEU enables you, as a young person, to develop life skills of value to your future, such as independence, confidence, and openness to other cultures.”

Participants with disabilities or health issues will receive support on their journeys.

Toulouse airport connection to stop for three years

A tram service linking the centre of Toulouse to Blagnac airport will shut this summer for three years as part of improvement works.

The T2 line will be converted to an ‘airport express’, using infrastructures on the current tramway to shuttle passengers to and from the airport in less than seven minutes (32 minutes currently).

The frequency of services will also be increased – stops will be served every five minutes, compared to 15 minutes at present.

The last service is due to be on June 5, reopening in 2026. Replacement buses will be in operation while work is ongoing.

Read more: Toulouse opens brand new €82million cable car service

The project is part of a wider project to enhance Toulouse’s public transport network, including the creation of the third metro line.

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