Holiday traffic, ferry plans, new flights: 9 French travel updates

We also look at a report flagging safety issues at the Eurostar terminal at Gare du Nord, a plea for air traffic control strike action not to affect overflights and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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Queue warnings this weekend as school holidays overlap and strikes start at UK border

Traffic service Bison Futé has issued a red warning for the east of the country tomorrow (February 18) but warns that road journeys could be affected across France this weekend as school holidays overlap.

Expect disruption on the roads from today (February 17), it warns. A yellow alert (corresponding to ‘difficult’ traffic conditions) is in place for departures from urban areas around Paris and in the south-west, as schools in Zone C start their winter break.

Bison Futé advises avoiding the A62 motorway between Toulouse and Agen from 17:00 to 20:00.

Tomorrow, meanwhile, disruption is centred on the east of the country. Bison Futé has classified a large area from the Grand Est to Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes as red in the ‘departure direction’ (towards ski resorts), with "very difficult" traffic.

It advises drivers to leave or cross Ile-de-France before 10:00 and to avoid the A6 motorway between Nemours and Beaune from 07:00 to 13:00.

The A43 between Lyon and Chambéry should also be avoided from 09:00 to 14:00.

Read more: How to save on rising motorway tolls in France

Heading back towards regional cities, traffic conditions have been designated yellow (“difficult”) on the roads of Auvergne Rhône-Alpes. Drivers are advised to avoid the A43 between Chambéry and Lyon from 07:00 to 17:00.

“Major traffic problems are expected all day in both directions on the routes serving mountain resorts, particularly in the Alps,” the traffic service says.

“The A6 motorway is also expected to experience difficulties in the outbound direction from the morning until mid-afternoon.”

Sunday, however, is expected to be much quieter throughout the country. Bison Futé has classified it as green in both directions.

As well as an overlap of French holidays, this weekend also marks the start of holidays in Belgium, the southern part of the Netherlands and the end of the school holidays in Luxembourg.

As such, Bison Futé advises: “Traffic will be heavy between the northern borders and the winter sports resorts of the Alps.”

Holiday travel into the UK is also looking problematic this weekend, as UK Border Force strike action begins today until February 20.

Read more: France-UK ferry travellers told to expect disruption later this month

The strikes will target inbound travel to the UK from the French ports of Calais, Dunkirk and the Channel Tunnel Terminal in Calais, as well as the Port of Dover.

In a press release the UK government advised that “all those who are due to travel into any UK port during the proposed strike action should be prepared to face longer wait times at UK border control and check with their operator before they travel”.

It has promised military personnel, civil servants and volunteers from across government will step in to ease the situation and be present at airports and ports across the UK, not only at the locations directly impacted by strikes.

Ryanair slams French strike disruption

Low-cost carrier Ryanair has called on the EU Commission to do more to protect European passengers from disruption as a result of French air traffic control strikes.

Thursday (February 16) saw air traffic controllers join other transport workers in France in industrial action to protest against President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to raise the retirement age by two years to 64.

Read more: Regional airports impacted by tomorrow's pension strikes in France

It was the first time that many regional airports outside of Paris were involved, although Toulouse's airport was forced to close at 20:00 last Saturday (February 11) because of protests.

Travellers to and from France were affected on Thursday as Easyjet, Ryanair and British Airways were among airlines forced to cancel some flights.

However, Ryanair’s director of operations, Neal McMahon, complained: "Even passengers who are not flying to/from France are impacted because they overfly French airspace, all the while French laws unfairly protect French domestic flights."

He added: “[President of the European Commission] Ursula von der Leyen must immediately step up and preserve the free movement of people by protecting overflights from these needless strikes, as done in Italy and Greece, or step down and let someone who actually will protect its EU citizens from further disruption due to French ATC strikes.”

The next day of strike action in France is planned for March 7.

Read more: French unions unfazed by low protest turnout, all hopes on March 7

SNCF gets tougher on train ticket changes

Rail passengers looking to cancel or exchange their tickets must now do so up to and including six days before travel, rather than three, if they wish to avoid charges.

The change came into force earlier this month (February 7) after SNCF announced it was tightening up the more generous terms and conditions it put in place during the pandemic.

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

If you want to modify your booking less than six days before departure, the exchange or refund fee has increased from €15 to €19 for domestic and international Inoui TGVs (excluding TGV LYRIA) and from €12 to €15 maximum for Intercity trains with compulsory reservation (Bordeaux-Toulouse-Marseille, Paris-Orléans-Limoges-Toulouse, Paris-Clermont-Ferrand).

There is no change for Ouigo trains, however, which still have a €10 exchange fee and do not let passengers cancel.

Similarly, there is no change for Business Première ticket holders, who can still benefit from total flexibility.

Read more: Railway station ticket-stamping machines to be phased out in France

SNCF says the new measures aim to limit the practice of booking several tickets at different dates or times to get the best prices, and then cancelling them at the last moment. It should also free up seats on trains that were showing as full when they were not.

Jersey-Rennes and Brest-Biarritz flights return for summer

Summer flights between Jersey and Rennes will resume from June, following their successful launch by regional operator Blue Islands last year.

The airline has promised more direct flights between the two destinations this summer, with up to three departures a week.

From June 23 until September 11 flights are scheduled on Fridays and Mondays, with additional flights on Wednesdays between July 26 and August 30.

Airline chief executive Rob Veron said: “Our focus is keeping Jersey connected, and we are excited to be providing direct links to France again this year with more flights added for greater choice and convenience as we look to sustainably build on last year’s programme.

Jersey’s economic development minister, Kirsten Morel, has said he would like to see the service become available all year round to boost tourism.

In related news, the seasonal Air France flight between Brest and Biarritz, which launched in July last year, will start again from July 8 until August 26.

Read more: Why Americans are choosing Air France flights over US airlines

There will be one direct service per week on Saturdays, lasting one hour 20 minutes.

Fire on the Eurostar footbridge among risks identified in Gare du Nord safety report

A damning report warning of “major risks to human lives” at Paris’s Gare du Nord railway station has been filed in court.

Among dangers flagged in the report was a potential fire on the Eurostar footbridge because of electrical networks in the non-regulated wooden false floor.

It also warned of a structural weakness that could cause concrete blocks to fall on Eurostar tracks, and faulty support posts above the underground tracks of RER lines B and D.

According to Le Parisien, the safety audit was commissioned by a company called StatioNord in the context of a legal dispute between it and rail operator SNCF.

StatioNord had been chosen by the rail group to lead a vast renovation of the station, but SNCF changed its mind shortly before work was due to start in September 2021, terminated the contract and decided to carry out the redevelopment itself. StatioNord is seeking damages.

Le Parisien says the report includes photographs revealing the fragility of a building overlooking the Eurostar tracks – and claims SNCF confirmed these weaknesses last summer but has yet to act on them.

The report "recommends that all safety-related issues discovered during the project be examined with the utmost attention".

It adds: “They are of a nature to compromise the safety of goods and persons.”

For its part SNCF said: "The Gare du Nord is subject to regular audits and controls.

"The one-off incidents in question date back to 2021, and have been dealt with appropriately and immediately.”

It contests the method and conclusions of the report, which it believes is being used in a “malicious manner”.

Bordeaux-Lyon rail service due to launch next summer – but it will be a slow start

The rail cooperative promising to revive a Lyon-Bordeaux link via Limoges is now eyeing a summer 2024 launch, a spokeswoman has said.

Railcoop was due to start running the service, which state rail company SNCF shut in 2014, late last year, but had to delay after struggling to get sufficient funding.

Read more: Rail co-op uses disused SNCF train lines to reconnect French cities

It is now promising a scaled back launch – what it calls a "début frugal" – next summer, with an outbound trip one day followed by a return trip the next.

The details are still be ratified by the members at an extraordinary general meeting next week (February 22)

Railcoop, based in Figeac (Lot), hopes ultimately to offer a twice-daily service costing around €37-€40 for a journey of seven hours and 30 minutes, travelling via the Massif Central, Limoges and Montluçon.

Last week we reported that Railcoop’s efforts to revive the rail link had received a boost after Lyon invested €80,000 in it. It follows the city’s €20,000 contribution to Railcoop in December.

The cooperative already runs a freight service between Viviez-Decazeville (Aveyron) and Saint-Jory (Haute-Garonne).

Report: P&O looks to share some ferry operations with rival DFDS

A proposal to share operations with DFDS on less profitable routes to keep them running is among restructuring changes being eyed by P&O Ferries, according to reports.

The Financial Times says it has heard from two people briefed on ongoing P&O plans, which may include moving seafarers and resources to services on busier European routes.

P&O Ferries made headlines last year when it sacked 800 ferry staff without warning and replaced them with low-paid crew.

Read more: France urged to follow as UK launches ferry fair pay law after P&O row

“We’ve made changes to the business so that we can flex our service in line with market demand. The cuts to services have now been made and from here we’re focused on growth,” one person briefed on the matter told the newspaper.

The proposed deal with DFDS depends on regulatory approval, given concerns about weaker competition, one of the sources said. Both P&O and DFDS declined to comment.

The companies already have an agreement in place permitting freight drivers at the ports of Dover and Calais to turn up and travel on the next available ferry, regardless of which operator runs it.

Meanwhile, delivery of P&O’s newest boat, P&O Pioneer, is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The 230m long ‘double-ended’ vessel, which should enter Dover-Calais service this spring, has been designed to improve turnaround times by removing the requirement to turn in port.

It will become the largest ferry ever to serve the Dover-Calais route and will be joined by sister ship P&O Liberté later in the year.

185km of roads around Paris set to have ‘Olympic lanes’ next summer

Details of how next summer’s Olympic Games in Paris will impact roads in and around the city have been unveiled, including the provision of a lane reserved for accredited drivers only on three-quarters of the Boulevard Périphérique.

In total, some 185km of roads will become "voies olympiques" from the beginning of July 2024, and only be accessible to athletes or those accredited to the sporting event, as well as emergency services, taxis and buses.

A first glimpse of impacted roads has been unveiled by the Ministry of Ecological Transition, which stresses the reserved lanes represent less than 1% of the Ile-de-France road network.

The aim is to limit traffic on the roads and motorways in the Paris region during the Olympic and Paralympic period.

Read more: Tickets open for Paris 2024 Olympic Games: Here is how it works

On the Boulevard Périphérique, one lane will be reserved in both directions between Porte de Vanves and Porte de Bercy.

Other roads affected include Rue de Rivoli, Place de la Concorde, Avenue du Président Wilson, Rue Louis Armand and Pont des Invalides in Paris itself.

To enter and leave Paris, the A1 between Porte de la Chapelle and Roissy-Charles de Gaulle airport in both directions has been earmarked, as well as the A13 between Boulogne and Porte d'Auteuil in both directions, the N13 between Pont de Neuilly and Porte Maillot and the A4 between Paris Porte de Bercy and Champigny-sur-Marne.

Access roads to the Stade de France via the A86 and access to the athletes' village via various departmental roads are also in the plan.

Access to these roads will be restricted from July 1, 2024 until September 15 and the measures will apply from 06:00 until midnight.

As well as the reserved lanes, there will be safety perimeters and traffic restrictions around Olympic venues during peak hours.

New flights to Morocco from Lille and Montpellier

Air Arabia is offering a new service between Lille airport and Oudja in Morocco this summer.

The flights, which launch on June 21, will take off every Wednesday between the two cities.

Oudja, in the north-east of Morocco near its border with Algeria, will also be served by Air Arabia flights from Montpellier Méditerranée Airport from June 22.

These will be scheduled every Thursday and Sunday.

The airline is expanding its presence in Montpellier (it already has flights from here to Casablanca, Fez and Nador) with a weekly return flight on Fridays to Tangiers too from June 23.

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