Rail change, UK flights, Covid refunds: Eight France travel updates

Larger ferry aims to increase port turnaround time, two new UK-France air routes launch, the long fight for refunds over cancelled travel and more

We look at the stories affecting travel to, from and around France this week
Published Last updated

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

Ticket stamping machines at train stations to be phased out

One of the defining features of French train travel is coming to an end as SNCF reveals it is getting rid of 3,000 ticket stamping machines from its stations from this year onwards.

Validating your ticket (composter votre billet) ahead of boarding a train used to be a requirement of travel but as ticketing has gradually moved online the distinctive yellow terminals are becoming redundant.

Read more: What are the rules for validating train tickets in France?

Nine out of 10 rail tickets are now paperless, BFM reports, and SNCF can no longer justify the expense of maintaining machines for the remaining 10% of passengers.

Of the 3,000 terminals to disappear, 725 are for TGV and Intercity trains and 2,468 for TER trains.

"More than 99% of TGV-Intercity tickets are now digital. On TER, only 4% of tickets still need to be stamped,” said SNCF.

“In short, depending on the line, 96% to 99% of tickets are now digital.”

In 2021, SNCF stopped issuing full-sized card TGV or Intercity tickets at self-service machines, replacing them with a ‘facturette’ similar to a till receipt, which shows the passenger’s name, seat number and a QR code for scanning by the train conductor.

Read more: How do France’s new non-paper TGV tickets work?

Tickets are now usually valid for a specific date of travel, rather than two months as in the past, which necessitated them being stamped at machines to stop passengers from using them multiple times.

From this month (January), the phasing out of individual stamping machines will be flagged by a stickered message on the machine itself.

"To avoid any misunderstanding or surprise, customers will be informed of the end of ticket stamping,” SNCF said.

“Consumer associations have already been informed of this project.”

Customers who still have a paper ticket will have to present themselves to the conductor when boarding the train to have the ticket validated.

"If the customer does not present themself, the conductor will remind them of the procedure when he or she passes through the passenger's carriage", said the operator.

BA launches new route between London and Montpellier

British Airways will launch a new seasonal route between London and Montpellier this summer, its twelfth destination in France.

From May 27, 2023, the airline will offer three flights a week between its London-Gatwick base and Montpellier-Méditerranée airport, operated by its new subsidiary BA EuroFlyer in an Airbus A320 aircraft with capacity for up to 180 passengers.

Departures are scheduled for Tuesday at 7:20 (arriving at 10:05), Thursday at 7:15 (arriving at 10:00) and Saturday at 13:50 (arriving at 16:35), with return flights leaving France on Tuesday at 12:10 (arriving at 12:55), Thursday at 12:05 (arriving at 12:50) and Saturday at 17:35 (arriving at 18:20)

Read more: UK-France ferries boost, new flights: Eight France travel updates

British Airways will compete with easyJet on this route, with the low cost airline serving Montpellier from Gatwick all year round and from Luton in the high season.

100,000 travellers affected by Navigo pass charging error

Ile-de-France Mobilités has announced it will automatically reimburse customers whose bank accounts were mistakenly debited several times due to a “technical problem”.

The refunds will come within a few days, it states, and those affected – some 100,000 RATP customers – will not have to do anything.

The issue relates to customers who purchased Navigo public transport passes on Tuesday morning (January 3) using the Île-de-France Mobilités, SNCF Connect or Bonjour RATP apps.

Many took to Twitter to complain they had been debited several hundred euros without their pass being activated.

"A technical problem has been identified and our technical teams have restored the service," explained Île-de-France Mobilités to France Info.

“We are sincerely sorry for the inconvenience caused and we thank you for your understanding.”

The monthly Navigo pass has increased by 12% since January to €84.10 per month.

Read more: Paris Navigo public transport monthly pass to rise by 12% in 2023

Passengers still struggling to get flights refunded, three years after Covid cancellations

A French radio show has highlighted extraordinary delays on refunds for flights cancelled at the height of the Covid pandemic.

RMC s'engage pour vous attempts to find solutions to the everyday problems and challenges facing its listeners.

It says it has been receiving almost one email a week on the subject of unpaid airline refunds since the creation of its dedicated email address.

In 2021, meanwhile, the Tourism and Travel Ombudsman recorded more than 13,000 disputes of this type, a 10% increase over one year, reports RMC.

Read more: French flights and Covid cancellations: Know your refund rights

Some airlines have cited computer problems for the delays paying back the money, which amount to several thousand euros in some cases.

“Since 2020, nothing has been done,” said one aggrieved customer, identified only as Achille, waiting for a refund from Air France.

“We feel like we're being taken for a fool because we're talking to a robot, we're going in circles", says Achille, who has been waiting more than two-and-a-half years for a refund from Air France.

"We're at a dead end, we don't know what to do anymore," said another called Jacky, who bought tickets from TAP Air Portugal.

“We're missing almost €2,100, we haven't had the service and I think it's normal to be reimbursed," he said.

Legally, cancellations of flights from an EU country, whatever the airline, have to be reimbursed within seven days.

Read more: 16 airlines agree to refund cancelled flights within seven days

After Covid, the European Commission added the possibility of offering a credit note instead, if the customer agrees.

This can, in any case, be refunded after 12 months if it has not been used.

The unpaid refunds affect a range of operators. The 60 or so complaints monitored by RMC s'engage pour vous implicated Air France, Air Caraïbes, Spain’s Iberia and Vueling, Portugal’s TAP, as well as Ryanair and Easyjet.

Online travel agencies included Edreams, Opodo, Go Voyage and Expedia.

The Ministry of Tourism told RMC that the companies have been regularly called to order by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation over the last three years, and that a system of fines exists in the event of proven breaches.

We would like to hear from any Connexion readers who have been experiencing problems getting a refund on flights. Contact news@connexionfrance.com. Thank you!

Wizz Air launches Nice - London route

Low-cost airline Wizz Air is to launch a new daily route between Nice and London Gatwick from March 26.

It says the aircraft used for the route, an Airbus A321neo, has the lowest fuel consumption per seat-kilometre of its class, making it “the most sustainable aircraft available on the market”.

Evelin Jeckel, network manager at Wizz Air, said: "This new route is ideal for visiting friends and family, doing business in one of the world's most important financial centres, or enjoying a weekend exploring the sights of London.

“From Nice, we already serve 12 major European cities, offering better connectivity, affordable fares and even more choice to our customers on the French Riviera.”

Wizz Air claims to have the lowest CO2 emissions per passenger kilometre in Europe and is committed to further reducing its CO2 emissions by 25% by 2030.

Ferry updates

Brittany Ferries had good reason to celebrate the New Year as it took delivery of a new boat to be based in Portsmouth – and marked 50 years since its first voyage between Plymouth and France.

On January 2, a special anniversary celebration was held in Plymouth to mark the occasion.

Twinning committees representing towns, villages and communes from across Brittany were invited to travel to Plymouth on the company’s flagship Pont-Aven. The vessel was specially re-routed for the voyage.

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

Meanwhile, Brittany Ferries’ newest boat, called Santoña, was delivered two months ahead of schedule on December 22, and is the third designed especially for Brittany Ferries’ Portsmouth to Spain routes.

The firm recently announced that it will reopen Portsmouth-Le Havre crossings for car and foot passengers from March 1, 2023, for the first time since the Covid crisis began.

In related news, delivery of the world’s largest double-ended ferry, P&O Pioneer, is expected to take place in the coming weeks.

The 230m long vessel, which should enter P&O Ferries’ Dover-Calais service during spring 2023, 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.

Free public transport for all in Montpellier

Montpellier is set to become the largest city in France to offer free public transport for everyone under an ambitious scheme spearheaded by its mayor.

Public transport is already free in the city under certain conditions for residents.

From the end of this year, however, it will be free for everyone, reports Franceinfo.

In France, 38 towns and cities already make buses and trams available to their inhabitants free of charge, including in Nantes, Dunkirk and Calais. Montpellier would be the largest place to offer it.

It has been a gradual process, beginning in September 2020 when trams and buses were made free at weekends for the city's residents.

From the end of 2021, minors and over-65s have been able to take advantage of free travel all week.

At the moment, residents can apply for their free pass via the M'Ticket app with an identity card and proof of address. Minors must also have parental authorisation.

Read more: Macron announces RER commuter train project for 10 French cities

An additional 235km of cycle paths are also set to be built in the city between now and 2026 to promote greener travel.

Work on Line 11 of the Paris metro to cause disruptions

The entire Line 11 of the Paris metro is currently closed on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday evenings until September 23.

The line is shut from 22:00 onwards on these days as part of work to extend it to Seine-Saint-Denis.

The closures took effect on December 20, 2022.

They will allow new trains to be tested on the existing line in preparation for the extension, explains RATP.

Read more: Paris metro and tram seats transformed into slippers

It is encouraging users to switch to connecting metro, bus, RER and tramway lines.

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