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

Plus: Eurostar urged to resume stops at Ebbsfleet and Ashford and concerns over the price and frequency of flights this summer

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
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UK passport workers to strike for five weeks

Britons in France and those looking to travel to France in the coming months could be impacted by a five-week UK Passport Office strike this spring.

Read more: What is the best way to renew my British passport from France?

The walkout over jobs, pay and conditions is scheduled to take place from April 3 to May 5 and is likely to involve one-in-four workers (more than 1,000 staff in total) at offices across England, Scotland and Wales, including Durham, Glasgow, Liverpool, London, Newport, Peterborough and Southport.

Those working in Belfast will strike from April 7 to May 5.

The Public and Commercial Services (PCS) union, which is behind the action, warns it will have a "significant impact" on the delivery of passports ahead of the busy summer travel period.

More than one million passport applications could be stuck in a bottleneck during the strike, warns The Independent, adding that simply the announcement of industrial action “will precipitate a surge in applications”.

The HM Passport Office website is still advising people to allow up to 10 weeks for passports to be processed. There are different turnaround times if applying from abroad, it says.

Read more: Plans to increase British overseas passport application fees

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka insisted the government has given members no option but to strike.

"They've had six months to resolve this dispute but for six months have refused to improve their 2% imposed pay rise, and failed to address our members' other issues of concern,” he said.

"It's a national scandal and a stain on this government's reputation that so many of its own workforce are living in poverty."

The union is asking for a 10% pay rise for members, as well as job security, changes to their pensions and protected redundancy terms.

A Home Office spokesperson said: “We are disappointed with the union’s decision to strike after engaging in constructive talks to find a resolution.

“We are working to manage the impact of strike action, whilst ensuring we can continue to deliver vital services to the public, with comprehensive contingency plans in place.”

Ferries and trains disrupted as pension protests continue

Cross-Channel ferry services are disrupted on Friday (March 17) by industrial action in Calais over pension reforms.

P&O Ferries has suspended its sailings until at least 17:00, and DFDS has also said some of its Calais crossing will be affected, adding that passengers will be contacted directly with alternative travel arrangements.

Yesterday (March 16) was a similar story after a complete blockade of traffic at the port of Calais for nearly seven hours.

The motorway exit leading to the port's entrance gate was jammed by heavy goods vehicles, while strikers lit fires.

"I hope the government hears us, because we are not the only branch that will go on unlimited strike and it could become more radical," Sébastien Ternisien, the CGT union’s general secretary of the port of Calais, told France Info.

The protests follow the government’s decision to use article 49.3 to force through its controversial pension reforms without a vote in parliament.

Read more: Fury as French PM forces through pension reforms without a vote

The reforms, which include raising the minimum retirement age from 62 to 64, have dominated the airwaves in France for weeks.

Protests and strikes held over recent months to show opposition to the changes have also caused severe travel disruption to trains and planes, as well as drivers on gridlocked roads.

Those continue to some degree today, with SNCF forecasting that only two TGVs out of three will be running, three-out-of-five Intercity trains, no night trains and one-in-two TERs.

Services will remain disrupted on Saturday (March 18), it says.

In Paris, trains are disrupted today on the RER D but traffic is normal on the metro, bus and tram networks.

Macron wants EU border entry system postponed until after Paris Olympics, claims report

Fears of teething troubles are behind French efforts to reportedly delay the introduction of the forthcoming Entry/Exit System (EES) at EU borders until after the Olympic Games in Paris.

The Telegraph claims the French government has told the airline industry that it is trying to prevent its launch until after August 2024 to avoid chaos at airports as millions of sports fans and some 10,500 participants flock to the country.

Read more: French airports worried about extra waiting due to EU Entry/Exit plan

The EES is a digital system which will track the arrivals and departures of non-EU visitors to the Schengen area.

It will collect data from people’s passports, including date of birth and full name, as well as fingerprints and a photo (on first entry to the EU after its launch), entry and exit dates, and information concerning refusals of entry to the EU and/or orders to leave.

The information, once collected, will be valid for three years and should make entry and exit on future occasions faster for travellers.

Read more: New European Entry/Exit System: 9 key things to know in advance

It will be aimed at people coming for short stays, for example, UK tourists and second-home owners (and others from ‘visa waiver’ countries such as the US) using their entitlement to stay for up to 90 days in any 180-day period.

It will not be required for people who hold visas or a carte de séjour for France.

The rollout has already been hit by a series of delays, however. Originally planned for May 2022, EES was then scheduled for September 2022 and then May 2023.

However, British Ambassador Menna Rawlings recently told The Connexion that it was unlikely to start before the end of the year.

The Telegraph reports that British officials are pressing ahead with preparations on the assumption that the EU sticks to this deadline.

Kent councillors ‘lobbying intensely’ for return of Ashford and Ebbsfleet Eurostar stops

Eurostar has come under renewed pressure to resume stops at Ebbsfleet and Ashford in Kent, amid concerns about the knock-on effect on tourism in the county.

Trains have not run through Ebbsfleet or Ashford since the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and the service is not expected to return until 2025.

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, Kent county councillor Derek Murphy hopes the success of a recent summit between UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and French President Emmanuel Macron might help efforts to get timetables restored sooner, reports Kent Online.

Read more: ‘Merci, mon ami’: UK-France reset as Sunak meets Macron in Paris

Speaking at Kent County Council's growth, economic development and communities cabinet committee this week (March 14), he said: "I've spoken before about the necessity for the county to have that international link

"We are lobbying very intensely with the British embassy in Paris to take our cause up before us, in conjunction with our colleagues in the northern part of Calais, and in fact Brussels and Holland as well.

"It is a factor that the extra checks at St Pancras are a problem, and like I say, we are lobbying hard with the train operators but all we are getting back at the moment is we are likely to see a resumption of service in 2025.”

He added: "A lot of that depends on European legislation, and hopefully the Rishi Sunak and Macron summit will actually pave the way for better relationships, and maybe we can make some progress on that.

"It's disappointing, but we hope to see some movement in 2025, but who knows, there could be a breakthrough next week."

Eurostar is also suspending its direct train service from London St Pancras to the Disneyland Paris stop of Marne-la-Vallée–Chessy from June 5, 2023.

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

Air France offers pilots weekly bonus to keep summer flight schedule on track

Air France-KLM pilots are being encouraged to give up their summer holidays this year as airlines struggle to recruit experienced people to fly their planes.

A bonus of up to €2,800 a week will be given to those who work in July and August rather than taking annual leave, according to Les Echos.

Air France-KLM also plans to hire nearly 500 new pilots this year.

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

The move comes amid growing pressure on airlines across the globe to find experienced personnel to fly their planes.

Many have already said they are reducing their flight operations this summer as a result, to avoid last-minute flight cancellations.

Read more: Companies offer help to get compensation for French flight delays

Lufthansa has cut 34,000 flights from Frankfurt and Munich, while American Airlines has cut 50,000 flights from its summer schedule, as well as changing the schedules of several thousand others.

According to a study last year by Boeing, Europe will need to train 122,000 new pilots by 2041, reports Les Echos.

Flights likely to cost 25% more in France this year than before Covid

The cost of air travel is continuing to rise, with tickets from France predicted to be, on average, 25% more expensive this summer than before the pandemic.

Fight comparison website this month compared offers for travel between July 8 and September 4.

It found that a return flight from Paris to Pointe-à-Pitre in Guadeloupe, one of its 10 most sought-after destinations, has increased by 41%. The average price of a return ticket there is now €968.

A trip to Montreal, meanwhile, also between these dates and departing from France, will set you back in the region of €672 this summer, another 41% rise.

Tickets have gone up by 22% to Marrakech, which now costs €253 on average.

Overall, industry experts estimate the average increase could be 25% in 2023, compared to 2019, before the health crisis.

Separately, the Air Passenger Price Index (IPTAP) published in February showed airline ticket prices from France went up 22.5% from January 2022 to January 2023.

Read more: Air France, Lufthansa, Ryanair: why discount flight tickets are over

A spokesman told Le Parisien that carriers are still looking to make up for the disruption to services during the Covid pandemic.

"When individuals were able to travel again, they limited the fare increases so as not to compromise the recovery of traffic. Now they are passing on their increased charges," he explained.

An increase in fuel costs, which now represents between 30% and 45% of ticket prices, has also been blamed for the hikes.

Navigo platform is now open for 2022 compensation claims

Regular users of Paris’s public transport network can now claim reimbursement for travel difficulties and poor service at the end of last year.

Some 200,000 compensation claims were made on Tuesday (March 14) alone, the first day the window for reimbursements opened, a spokesperson for Ile-de-France Mobilités told Le Monde.

The money back is to make up for the 25% of scheduled buses that did not run on the RATP network during the last four months of 2022, as well as 10 to 20% of metros. The problems were largely due to driver shortages.

Read more: Holiday travel disruption, border control: 9 French travel updates

Navigo monthly pass holders have until April 14 to make their claim on the Ile-de-France Mobilités website.

It is estimated that 3.4 million people are potentially eligible for compensation.

Shipping firm takes 12% stake in Brittany Ferries

The money lent by container transportation and shipping company CMA CGM to Brittany Ferries during the health crisis is to be converted into shares.

"CMA CGM and Brittany Ferries have finalised an agreement to record a 12% stake in the capital of Brittany Ferries, confirming the desire for a lasting cooperation, by transforming the €25million of financial support into shares in the company," the two French firms told AFP.

At the same time, the companies concluded a "commercial partnership" favouring the use of the freight space available on board Brittany Ferries' ships serving the United Kingdom, Ireland and the Iberian Peninsula.

Brittany Ferries was badly impacted by the Covid crisis, reporting accumulated losses of €220million in 2019-20 and 2020-21.

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

However, its performance since then has been more encouraging, and this month saw the resumption of its Portsmouth-Le Havre ferry service, which had been restricted to freight-only since the pandemic.

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