New UK-France flights, TGV change, tunnel closed: 8 travel updates

Plus France’s domestic flights ban comes into force and a new operator on Paris-Lyon train line

New flights have been announced just as others have been banned and France prepares to say goodbye to a TGV classic.
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1. EasyJet announces new UK-France routes

UK low-cost airline EasyJet has announced two new all-year routes between Birmingham airport and France, starting this winter.

A daily route between Birmingham – Roissy Charles de Gaulle airport will be joined by a service connecting Birmingham to Lyon three times per week (on Mondays, Fridays, and Saturdays), and will launch at the end of October.

On top of the new additions from Birmingham, a once-weekly flight on Sunday between Manchester and Grenoble will also start in December, as well as a route between Roissy Charles de Gaulle and Southend airport.

Flights start from £26.99 via the EasyJet app, and tickets are available up until March 2024.

On top of this, EasyJet Holidays, a tourist operator, will offer package deals for some of the routes in France from the UK airports, starting from £199.

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

2. Cost of flying from France increases by more than 20%

The cost of flying has increased 20.1% on average since last April, and 32.6% since April 2019, according to data from France’s civil aviation authority, the Direction Générale de l’Aviation Civile (DGAC).

The increases were not uniform, however, and vary wildly depending on the destination.

For example, domestic flights within metropolitan France saw only a 13.1% increase, whereas those to overseas French departments and territories shot up by 31.6%.

Prices to the UK and other European destinations saw on average a 26.2% increase, whereas flights to North America saw a 22.4% rise.

Other longer-distance flights, such as to sub-Saharan Africa, saw much lower rises of only 7.9%.

In the four years since April 2019 (the last pre-Covid figures), prices for flights to the UK have increased by 30.6% in the four-year period, although the majority of this rise has come over the last year.

One reason for the drastic rise in prices in the last 12 months is inflation – and in particular the increased cost of kerosene for airline fuel.

Read more: Flight prices from France keep soaring. How can I find the best deals?

3. Classic TGV trains to be retired after 34 years

France’s trademark blue and grey patterned TGV ‘Atlantique’ trains are set to be discontinued after 34 years, says SNCF, the country’s state-owned railway company.

Originally running on most of the high-speed lines in France, the trains had started to be replaced with newer models, such as the double-decker Duplex trains.

These newer models were also coated in the maroon InOui (the new brand name for TGV trains) livery and deployed on most of the network.

Fittingly, lines running west out of Paris still used the single-decker Atlantique, however, but they are now set to be phased out and replaced with newer models.

After the retirement of the original TGV Sud-Est trains in December 2019, it is the second major (and third overall after La Poste TGV trains were cancelled) retirement of trains on the network.

From next year, the new TGV-M models are set to enter service on a number of lines across the country, although they are still currently being tested in the Czech Republic.

The design for the trains has been chosen, but is currently being well-guarded by the SNCF – according to sources, the chosen colours are expected to be “light and clear”.

Read more: Greener, faster, higher capacities: see new French TGV being tested

4. Spanish rail operator to run services on Paris-Lyon line

The Spanish state-owned rail operator RENFE is set to run a service between Paris and Lyon before next year’s Olympics in the French capital.

It comes after a joint Lyon-Barcelona line planned between the SNCF and RENFE was scrapped after the two parties failed to reach an agreement.

The opening up of Europe’s railway networks to outside competition allows companies to offer services either partly or wholly situated in France.

Trenitalia (Italy’s national rail operator) opened a route between Lyon and Paris in December 2021 that saw around a million passengers take a journey between the stations within the first year.

If RENFE adds a line to the route, it means four services (RENFE, Trenitalia, TGV InOui and Ouigo trains) will provide a link between France’s two major economic hubs.

The introduction of the service will bring even more competitive prices to the line – the budget Ouigo currently has tickets from as little as €16, but these services run between Paris’ Marne-la-Vallée station and Lyon’s Saint-Exupéry, on the outskirts of the respective cities.

RENFE is looking to run its service from Lyon’s more central Part-Dieu station.

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

5. France’s short-haul domestic flight ban comes into force

The ban on short-haul domestic flights in France was published in the Journal Officiel on Tuesday, May 23, officially bringing the law into practice.

The law bans flights that could be completed by a train journey of 2.5 hours or less in France and is a “world first… which is fully in line with the Government's policy of encouraging the use of modes of transport that emit less greenhouse gas,” according to France’s transport minister Clément Beaune.

At the time of publishing the law, however, only three routes have been axed – these are flights between Paris-Orly and Nantes, Lyon, and Bordeaux.

Two key points in the legislation prevent a number of other flights that could be eligible from being scrapped.

Firstly, if the airport and train station are not in the same city, then the train journey time faces being longer.

For example, Paris-Orly is within the French capital’s boundaries, meaning the train journey time is calculated from the city centre.

But Roissy Charles-de-Gaulle, on the outskirts, is not. That might mean the journey is longer with some destinations necessitating a trip into central Paris first before getting another train to go elsewhere in the country.

The second rule is that train travellers must be able to spend at least eight hours in the destination city between arriving and returning, further limiting the number of places where the rule could apply. For example, in French cities where there is little service early or late in the day.

Furthermore, their efficacy has been questioned by airline officials.

“The ban on these flights will not be very effective in reducing carbon emissions," said Thomas Juin, president of the Union of French Airports.

“We challenge this idea that reducing carbon emissions from the aviation sector could involve banning air routes in the coming years… the routes concerned represent 0.24% of air transport emissions in France,” he added, before pointing to the important social link of some of the flights compared to other routes which see fewer passengers but more emissions.

The ban “underestimates the impact and the social and economic usefulness of an air link, with, for example, 600,000 passengers per year for the Bordeaux-Orly route,” he concluded.

Read more: Which routes will be affected by French short domestic flight ban?

6. SNCF will compensate TGV ticket holders affected by strikes

SNCF will offer an exceptional discount of up to 50% for passengers who have subscriptions for TGV routes after strike action impacted travel numerous times over the beginning of 2023.

The state-owned rail operator sent out an email to all subscribers of the MaxActif, MaxActif+, and those who are LGV Pass holders, offering the discounts.

MaxActif and MaxActif+ subscribers will see a 50% reduction on their June ticket, no matter the route, and those with an LGV pass will be offered between 15% – 20% off the price of their package depending on the number of months affected by strike action.

If three months of their pass had been disrupted, a 50% discount will be applied.

Those who receive the email will have to apply for the compensation themselves between June 1 and June 30.

Earlier this month, the government announced travellers with an Intercités subscription would see a 50% reimbursement for the months of January, February, March, and April.

The next day of strike action against the pension reform bill is set to be on Tuesday, June 6, and the transport sector is expected to be heavily impacted on this day.

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

7. Mont Blanc tunnel closed to drivers for four months in autumn

The Mont Blanc tunnel connecting Italy and France will be closed to drivers for four months, between September 4 and December 18, to allow for reconstruction works.

It is the first time there has been a long-term closure of the tunnel since major renovations after a 1999 incident saw a truck catch fire and combust in the middle of the tunnel, killing 39 people.

The tunnel was reopened in 2002.

Previously, the tunnel has been shut for short periods to allow for one-off repairs, but this is no longer sufficient, say executives.

“We decided to carry out more extensive, more substantial work to give the tunnel a new lease of life", said Grégory Schwarshaupt, deputy director of the Autoroutes et Tunnel du Mont-Blanc.

The “long-term survival” of the tunnel is at stake, he added.

It is the first stage of the project which will see the tunnel closed down for a similar amount of time in 2024, although no exact dates have been given yet.

Whilst the tunnel is closed, drivers can use alternative routes such as the Fréjus tunnel (if travelling towards Lyon) or the Grand Saint Bernard tunnel in Switzerland (if the main road is closed due to weather conditions).

These do come with a toll (like the Mont Blanc tunnel), however, but the free alternatives are usually closed during winter seasons because of intense weather, leaving drivers no alternatives.

Read more: Three ski deaths in France including an American and a British tourist

8. Did you know Monaco train station has free WIFI-enabled work booths?

Monaco’s Monte-Carlo train station is the site of a unique piece of railway infrastructure – soundproof work booths fitted with WiFI.

Travellers flooding into Monaco for this weekend’s Formula 1 grand prix might spot these four booths on platform C, and from afar their use does not seem immediately apparent.

Once inside the booths, however, users can plug in phones and laptops (via USB and traditional plug sockets), allowing them to either work or take phone calls.

Considering the lack of signal inside the city-state’s only train station, it can come as a blessing for those needing to make a quick call or send off an important email before jumping on a train to reach somewhere further down the French Riviera.

Although similar structures exist in some stations in Japan, you must pay to use them (around €1.85 for 15 minutes), whereas in Monaco the booths are free, and around 300 people use them per day.

Despite being installed in September 2020, users (who do not need to book in advance) have taken good care of the installation, and “there has never been any damage,” said the station’s president Fabrice Morenon.

Read more: Monaco trials free bus services - here's what you need to know