London-Bordeaux trains, winter flights: Eight France travel updates

Next week’s air traffic control strike is cancelled, a woman fined €290 over SNCF name change confusion, new winter flights announced across France and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week.

Key news this week is that the French air traffic control union has called off its three-day strike planned for September 28-30.

The strike was cancelled after an agreement was reached between the SNCTA union and the Direction générale de l’aviation civile (DGAC).

As a result of this agreement, air traffic controllers will see their annual bonuses increase by 3.5% from January 1, 2023, to match soaring inflation, and will benefit from a new €1,000 profit-sharing bonus.

Read more: French air traffic controllers call off next week’s three-day strike

The DGAC will also focus on recruiting new controllers, as one third of the workforce is expected to retire between 2029 and 2035.

This comes after an initial strike last Friday (September 16) led to 1,000 flights being cancelled in France and 2,400 across Europe.

Read more: French air traffic control strike: 1000 flights, all airports affected

A transport cheque for low-income French households?

The French government is preparing a ‘chèque transport’ designed to help low-income households cope with the rising cost of living and using public transports, according to a Le Parisien report.

The cheque would be worth around €50 and would be targeted at those who need it most, although the criteria for this have not been outlined.

France’s transport ministry has said, however, that it will not make “any comment on the measures announced” by Le Parisien.

This comes after the president of the Ile-de-France region Valérie Pécresse warned recently that public transport fares would likely rise in the capital, and called on the state to reduce VAT from 10% to 5.5% for transports.

However, she said that she “felt a reticence on the part of the government”.

SNCF president Jean-Pierre Farandou has also indicated that ticket prices will rise in the coming months because of the increasing cost of electricity.

Transavia France announces 20 new winter routes

Low-cost airline Transavia France has added 20 new routes to its winter schedule, which will run between October and March.

They are:

Departing from Paris-Orly:

  • Copenhagen (Denmark) - up to four flights a week on Mondays, Thursdays, Fridays and Sundays from October 21
  • Luxor (Egypt) - one flight a week on Saturdays from October 1
  • Sharm el-Sheikh (Egypt) - one flight a week on Saturdays from November 5
  • Lulea (Sweden), giving access to Lapland - one flight a week on Fridays from December 16
  • Istanbul (Turkey) - up to four flights a week on Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from October 30
  • Sétif (Algeria) - up to four times a week
  • Béjaïa (Algeria) - up to one flight a day from October 1

Departing from Lyon:

  • Dakar (Senegal) - up to one flight a week on Saturdays from November 5
  • Hurghada (Egypt) - also up to one flight a week on Saturdays from November 5
  • Istanbul (Turkey) - up to two flights a week on Thursdays and Sundays from October 30
  • Las Palmas (Gran Canaria) - up to one flight a week on Sundays from October 30
  • Tenerife - up to one flight a week on Saturdays from November 5
  • Béjaïa (Algeria) - up to two flights a week on Tuesdays and Fridays from November 1
  • Constantine (Algeria) - up to two flights a week on Mondays and Thursdays

Departing from Nantes:

  • Oran (Algeria) - up to two flights a week on Tuesdays and Fridays from October 12

Departing from Montpellier:

  • Madrid (Spain) - up to two flights a week on Thursdays and Sundays from October 30

Departing from Marseille:

  • Marrakech (Morocco) - up to two flights a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays from November 2
  • Casablanca (Morocco) - up to two flights a week on Thursdays and Sundays from October 30
  • Djerba (Tunisia) - up to one flight a week on Saturdays from November 6

Departing from Nice:

  • Tunis (Tunisia) - up to two flights a week on Wednesdays and Saturdays from November 2

Will Eurostar launch new French destinations in coming years?

Eurostar may be considering the development of new lines transporting passengers to Bordeaux and the Côte d’Azur, the president of Getlink, which operates the Channel Tunnel, has said.

Speaking on Europe 1, Jacques Gounon said: “They are working on a London-Bordeaux [route]. There’s a future plan for a London-Côte d’Azur because it remains an attractive destination for British people.”

He added that these new lines could open within the next five years, but said: “In the world of rail and of Franco-British diplomatic relations, the slightest step forward involves a little technical work, a lot of conviction and months and months…”

The UK government has also said that it is closely following Eurostar’s decisions with regards to the continued suspension of its Ashford International and Ebbsfleet International services, and would like to see them reinstated as soon as is “commercially viable”.

Baroness Charlotte Vere, a member of the House of Lords and Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State in the Department for Transport, said she is keen for Eurostar to reopen the services “once it is reasonably possible and commercially viable to do so.”

Eurostar trains have not stopped at the stations since the Covid pandemic began, and has recently confirmed that it will not return to them until at least next year, and perhaps not until 2025.

It has said that this is because it is focusing its post-Covid recovery on its most-frequented routes.

In a written statement, Baroness Vere said: “Eurostar’s decision to temporarily not stop at Ashford and Ebbsfleet International stations was a commercial decision taken by Eurostar in response to the severe decline in passenger numbers.

“The government engages very regularly with Eurostar and continues to monitor closely the continued impact of COVID-19 on the international rail sector, as well as the decisions taken by companies in response.

“The government is keen to see the reinstatement of services to Ashford and Ebbsfleet once it is reasonably possible and commercially viable to do so.”

Read more: Eurostar to cancel direct London-Disneyland Paris train in June 2023

Normandy council trials free public transport

A local authority in Normandy made public transport free for passengers for a week to encourage people to leave their cars at home when possible.

Caux-Seine-Agglomération (Seine-Maritime) is looking to fight against ‘l’autosolisme’ a term used to describe a motorist who travels alone in their car, normally from home to work.

A Vinci report published in April suggests that eight in 10 drivers travel alone for their everyday journeys.

To tackle this, local authorities can focus on developing bike lanes and encouraging practices such as cycling and car sharing, but also on making taking public transport a more attractive prospect.

Caux-Seine-Agglomération, which is made up of 50 different communes, made its buses and coaches free for everyone between September 16 and 22.

The agglomeration’s president Virginie Carolo-Lutrot said: “[Making transport] free for a week means discovering the bus network. It’s quite new because we have had urban networks for years but only since this year have we had interurban networks in place in the region.

“We really hope that we can promote ‘light’ [eco-friendly] and collective mobility.”

The agglomeration may consider making the bus network completely free at some point in the future, but as it is still being developed, the focus is currently on providing a good service to customers.

In France, there are 37 towns in which transport is totally free for passengers, including Bernay in Eure. There are also towns in which transport is free for some; in Strasbourg and Montpellier, under-18s do not have to pay, and in Rouen it is free on Saturdays.

In Le Havre and again in Rouen, bus and tram services drop their charges when air pollution is high.

Thinking about making transport completely free would involve the question of how the local authority can fund the network.

However, this may not be as difficult a task as it appears, considering that revenues from ticket fares often only make up around 20% of the real cost of running the network. Making tickets free would also mean savings in terms of the cost of inspections and barriers, for example.

Shortage of drivers causes public transport disruption

France’s public transport operators all say they are struggling to recruit new drivers, which is causing cancellations and delays for passengers.

For example, Keolis, which operates buses in Transports Bordeaux Métropole and Lyon, Rennes and Lille’s public transport systems, currently has 1,029 driver posts to fill.

“This recruitment problem in transports is both structural and cyclical,” Marie-Ange Debon, president of the Union des transports urbains et ferroviaires and CEO of Keolis told Franceinfo.

“It is cyclical because the return to school is always a period of tension. It is structural because we have had numerous people retire, with an age pyramid which has been working against us for several months.

She added that she is “trying to attract new [driver] profiles: young people and women, who are only present in small numbers in this industry.”

Transdev, which operates transports in Ile-de-France, Brittany, Pays de la Loire, Hérault, Bouches-du-Rhône and Montpellier, for example, is also looking for 659 new drivers.

Ile-de-France’s transport operator RATP has 800 bus driver vacancies, and is trying to attract new recruits with financial incentives in some cases.

RATP has had to reduce the frequency of buses on some lines because of this driver shortage.

‘Be more sensible’ about plane use, Paris airports boss says

Passengers travelling through Paris’ airports have been encouraged to be “more sensible” with regards to their use of plane transport by the CEO of Aéroports de Paris.

Augustin de Romanet told BFM Business: “I think we must be as sensible as possible in our behaviour during this period of [ecological] transition which will last 20 or 30 years.

“Before we have planes powered either by electricity or by hydrogen or by sustainable fuels made from green electricity – which will be the case in 30 years,” people must exercise moderation, he added.

“If air traffic began declining tomorrow, it would not be an existential tragedy for us,” he said, suggesting that Aéroports de Paris is more focused on providing a good quality service to passengers.

“In the long term, it will be air transport which is the least polluting in terms of CO2,” he claimed, because there is no need for the construction of railways, for example, which can be bad for the environment.

Mr de Romanet predicted a “continuation in the extraordinary demand for [air] travel in developing countries,” but “in countries which have already benefited from the strong growth in air traffic, ‘privileged’ countries like ours, it is not unrealistic to accept a certain moderation.”

Read also: ‘PSG football club’s arguments for flying Paris-Nantes do not hold’

A €290 fine because of SNCF Connect complexities

SNCF passengers have been issued with fines of up to €290 because they were not able to change the names on their tickets through the SNCF Connect app.

One such passenger was Fabienne, who told RMC radio that she had wanted to buy a Rennes-Paris ticket for her daughter, but had been unable to add a different name to her own to the booking.

Seeing that there were only four seats left on the train, she bought the ticket anyway, but it was inspected on the train and she received a €290 fine for identity theft.

SNCF said that Fabienne could have cancelled her reservation and re-bought a ticket in her daughter’s name, but that she did not do this.

“What is hard is hearing that you are a bad citizen and that we have done wrong,” Fabienne said.

SNCF has offered her the option of paying €50 of the fine now and the remaining €240 in a month.

On SNCF Connect, changing a passenger name can be done, but is not straightforward. One must go to the saved customer profile, delete it and add a new one.

Jean Lenoir, vice president of the Fédération nationale des associations d’usagers des transports said: “We need an app – like we need a website – which works perfectly and simplifies a passenger’s journey.

“When they changed the functionalities, there were some that weren’t included and they needed to be changed to achieve greater simplicity.”

Read more: We try out SNCF's new app for French train tickets and traffic updates

Eurotunnel creates freight emissions calculator

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Freight has launched a new online emissions calculator, which is designed to help companies reduce their carbon footprint.

The operator has said that using the Le Shuttle service will mean that a lorry will emit 12 times less in greenhouse gases than if it travelled by ferry.

Once they have used the calculator, companies will be able to publish their results online, showing how many tonnes of CO2 customers will emit and/or save by using their services.

Eurotunnel Le Shuttle Freight aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050, and reduced its emissions by 33% between 2012 and 2019.

It has also introduced electric trains run by 100% low-carbon electricity.

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