New airport tram, Ouigo plan, Heathrow strike: 8 French travel updates

Plus: a new Ryanair route to France, TGV tickets go on sale for September-November travel and traffic warning for the holiday weekend

Trams, trains, traffic and a new Ryanair route all feature in this week’s France travel round-up
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1. Possible disruption as Heathrow workers go on strike

Negotiations have failed between unions and Heathrow over low pay, greenlighting plans for eight days of strike action at the airport.

Up to 1,400 security officers could walk out during three separate waves of action – May 4-6, May 9-10, and May 25-27, with hundreds of flights from London’s largest airport affected by delays.

Workers are striking over wages – the Unite union says there has been a “24% real-terms pay cut” for security workers at the airport since 2017.

Unions rejected an offer of a £1,000 lump-sum payment and a 10% wage increase – inferior to the settlement gained by workers at nearby Gatwick airport.

On strike days, passengers will only be allowed to bring two carry-on items each through security - including handbags and laptop bags - due to the shortages, although checked luggage will not be affected.

Heathrow is recommended passengers flying on strike dates check in advance to see if their flight has been affected, as long queues and delays are expected.

A number of airlines fly direct between France and Heathrow including Air France, British Airways, and Lufthansa.

Read also: Paris Orly airport trials scanners that remove need for liquids bag

2. French low-cost service Ouigo wants to double passenger numbers by 2030

France’s state-owned rail operator SNCF is hoping to more than double the number of passengers using Ouigo trains in the next seven years, bringing the total number up to 50 million.

Ouigo, a low-cost alternative to the TGV Inoui service, runs high-speed trains on most of the same routes but with stripped-back amenities, launched in 2013 and celebrated the tenth anniversary of its first route last month.

The trains run on most of the same high-speed routes as the TGV in France, but also runs services in Spain – and is looking to expand into other European countries.

Plans will also see the number of pink and blue Ouigo trains shoot up from 28 to 50, and upgrading older trains to be more comfortable, including space for bikes, better seating, and plug sockets for all seats – currently an optional extra that passengers must pay for.

The drive is part of overall plans to increase the number of high-speed passengers in France to 230 million (from its current figure of 140 million) by 2030.

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

3. TGV tickets for September and October go on sale

The portal to buy late summer and early autumn TGV Inoui and Ouigo train tickets is now open.

Tickets for trains running between Monday, September 4 and Wednesday, November 8 are now available to be purchased via the SNCFConnect website, after opening on Thursday, May 4.

This period includes one bank holiday (Toussaint, on Wednesday, November 1), as well as the entirety of the Rugby World Cup, held in France over September and October.

Tickets, therefore, are expected to sell quickly due to these events, and early purchasing is encouraged due to the SNCF’s use of a “yield management system” – where those who buy early see the lowest prices.

Last year’s opening day for autumn travel saw over 30 tickets purchased per second, as passengers rushed for the best deals.

TGV Inoui tickets (the main high-speed service run by the SNCF) are fully refundable and exchangeable up to seven days before the date of travel.

Tickets for the low-cost Ouigo service are available up to Saturday, December 9.

Read also: Train ticket prices in France could go up for a second time this year

4. Bordeaux extends its tram network to airport

An extension to line A of Bordeaux’s tram network means there is now a direct connection between the city centre and Bordeaux Mérignac airport.

The €95 million extension added five new stations to the line – that now splits at the Quatre Chemins stop – and sees a frequency of a tram every ten minutes towards the airport from the city centre.

A direct connection between the city centre and the airport will take 35 minutes on the tram, and around 6,500 passengers are expected to use the extension per day.

The line does not connect directly to Bordeaux’s principal train station (Gare Saint-Jean) however, passengers are still required to take a second tram or a bus to reach it from the airport.

Furthermore, trams are not specially adapted for the route, meaning there is no additional cargo space for suitcases or large luggage.

The next extension to the network – to line D – is still unfinished, and its opening date has not yet been revealed.

5. No plans for France to implement a German-style regional travel card

Transport chiefs and economists have dampened calls for the introduction of regional transport cards based on the new German ‘Deutschland-Ticket’, saying the model would not work in France.

The German ticket costs €49 per month and allows unlimited travel on all local and regional trains, as well as all busses, trams, and underground systems in the country - only long-distance and high-speed trains are excluded.

Some in France were quick to call for a similar pass, but the scheme was deemed “impossible” in France by economist Patricia Perennes on TF1.

She said difficulties lay in getting everyone to agree to the scheme, with a myriad of companies and operators overseeing each public transport system in France, especially at the local level.

“It would only favour inhabitants of the big cities,” she added, with those from smaller towns that see fewer services (or who use services less often) not benefitting from an introduction of the ticket.

“There are legal problems [regarding prices]... only the State can intervene,” said Vincent Garel, president of the Occitanie Regional Tourism and Leisure Committee.

In 2022 there were similar calls to adopt monthly transport cards after Germany experimented with €9 summer train tickets, but they were also dismissed by the government.

“[The introduction of a transport pass] is expensive and there is very little transfer from the car to the train,” said France’s transport minister, Clément Beaune, in October.

Read also: ‘France and Germany are like a couple who argue but always make up’

6. Ryanair continues complaints over French air traffic controller strikes

Low-cost carrier Ryanair has once again complained over French air traffic controller strikes after industrial action on May 1 saw up to 33% of flights cancelled at some French airports.

The company says that 220 flights were cancelled over the extended weekend (April 29 - May 1) due to the strikes, affecting 40,000 passengers.

Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary called the strikes “unacceptable”. More than 627,000 passengers have had their flights affected by the strikes, said the airline.

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

Read more: Easyjet boss says France strikes having ‘unacceptable consequences’

This is because strikes affect not only flights leaving or landing in France but also those flying over French airspace, with inter-European flights that cross French airspace particularly affected.

A recent petition from Ryanair calling on the EU to keep French airspace open has been signed by more than 600,000 people.

For their part, Transavia, the low-cost subsidiary of Air France, saw over 130 flights from French airports cancelled between Monday and Wednesday mornings due to strike action, and Air France themselves say three out of ten short- and medium-haul flights were affected.

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

7. Heavy traffic on Friday and Monday for the long weekend

Delays on the road are expected in Paris and the surrounding region today, as families leave for the extended weekend.

With Monday, May 8 a public holiday in France, many are taking advantage of the three-day weekend by leaving the capital.

The weekend also sees the end of the Zone C spring holiday, further increasing traffic levels around the capital.

Government traffic information site Bison Futé is reporting that “heavy traffic” is expected in the Île–de-France region today on roads leaving the region, as well as some traffic on Saturday between 8:00 and 14:00.

Inversely, some traffic is expected on Sunday on roads entering the city, before traffic again reaches “high” levels on Monday, with the majority of holidaymakers returning to the capital.

You can keep up to date with more traffic information on the Bison Futé site - including live travel updates - here.

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

8. New direct flight between Belfast and Paris

Ryanair has begun its new service between Belfast International Airport and Paris-Beauvais.

Flights will run twice weekly - on Fridays and Mondays - with costs starting at €17.59, according to the Ryanair website.

It will not be the only link between the two cities, however, as EasyJet operates a direct service between Belfast and Charles de Gaulle.

Ryanair’s competitor also offers seasonal services between Northern Ireland’s capital and Lyon, Nice, and Bordeaux.

Read also: How do I apply for a French visa if I live in Northern Ireland?

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