Rail strike hits half-term, UK ferry resumes: 7 French travel updates

We also look at what to expect from this weekend’s holiday traffic and a new fee for low-cost flight hand luggage

Clockwise from top-left: SNCF ticket inspectors strike, Transavia hand luggage fees, busy holiday traffic and new Brittany Ferries link
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This week in travel news we have covered Eurostar’s appeal for more flexibility on the biometric Entry/Exit border, the updated prices of French taxis in 2024 and Paris’ plan to ban noisy scooters and motorbikes at night.

Below we look at other changes related to travel and France.

Rail travel updates:

Train strike to impact half-term holiday travel

SNCF ticket inspectors are to go on strike from Thursday, February 15 at 20:00 to Monday February 19 at 08:01.

The national strike will coincide with the first weekend of half-term in the ‘zone A’ holiday region (French holiday dates differ from region to region), which includes Bordeaux, Limoges, Clermont-Ferrand, Lyon, Grenoble, Dijon, Besançon and Poitiers.

Some trains will still operate as a number of ticket inspectors will continue to work. However the SUB-Rail nation rail workers union says that it expects the strike to be “very significant”, with up to 80% of ticket inspectors on strike in the Paca region.

In addition to checking tickets, inspectors fulfil a variety of roles on board trains. During their previous major strike in December 2022, the SNCF told actu.fr that “it is impossible for a train to operate without inspectors, who need to be there to ensure customers’ security”.

The strike planned by SUD-Rail is related to the renegotiation of bonus pay and wage increases for inspectors, which were less than the 4.6% promised by the SNCF in 2022.

That year, a strike by the SUD-Rail union over Christmas disrupted the travel plans of around 200,000 people.

SNCF introducing digital signal boxes to eliminate delays

The signal problems that cause so many delays to train travel might become a thing of the past as the French rail network upgrades to a digital system.

France’s vast network of 1,500 signal boxes can cause delays to rail traffic when signals fail due to local power cuts, blown fuses or communications problems. Some of the boxes date back more than 80 years.

"We have boxes from the 1930s or 1940s with giant levers,” SNCF CEO Jean-Pierre Farandou told Capital in May 2023. "It’s the wild west! [...] we can’t keep it like this."

Over the course of 2024, the SNCF will start to roll out a digital system at a cost of €300m, which will rise to over a billion euros over 15 years.

The new system, called ARGOS, will provide real-time traffic information, easier maintenance and lower operating costs.

Passengers pay more as SNCF changes its price calculation

Train tickets purchased with a Carte avantage railcard have increased in price due to the SNCF’s new method of calculating the discount.

The SNCF had announced that prices would only increase by 2.5% in 2024, but passengers with railcards have found that they have risen by 35% on some routes.

The Carte avantage gives a 30% discount and prices capped according to a train’s travel time. These capped prices are:

  • €49 for journeys of one hour 30 minutes
  • €69 for journeys between one hour 30 minutes and three hours
  • €89 for journeys longer than three hours

Previously, these journey times were based on the speed of the fastest train available for the route, and would apply even if the real travel time was longer.

However, since January 31, the SNCF calculates the Carte avantage price cap based on the average time for all trains on the route.

As a result, Carte avantage tickets from Paris to Rennes, for instance, which previously cost €49, now cost €69 - even if the train in question completes the trip in less than one hour 30 minutes.

Ferry travel updates:

Brittany Ferries resumes the Roscoff to Plymouth route earlier in 2024

The Roscoff (Finistère) to Plymouth ferry will resume on February 9 rather than in spring this year, Brittany Ferries has announced.

Its Armorique ferry will sail between Brittany and the UK five times a week.

From March, Brittany Ferries will add another ferry to the route, the Pont-Aven which will sail twice a week. This ferry will also sail between Cork and Roscoff and Plymouth and Santander.

Air travel updates:

Transavia to charge for hand luggage

The low-cost French airline Transavia will start charging €15 for hand luggage weighing less than 10kg from April 3.

Transavia’s new rules are more restrictive than those of rivals Ryanair and Easyjet, which both allow one free piece of hand luggage under 10kg per passenger.

However, the airline may have to backtrack on the prices in coming months.

In October 2023, the European Parliament voted in favour of a motion to standardise rules on hand luggage prices, following a European Court of Justice ruling that “hand luggage is essential for travellers” and as such “cannot be subject to additional fees”.

Ryanair fined by French court

Visitors to the Ryanair website will notice a Communiqué Judiciaire, or court statement, displayed at the top of the page.

This relates to a fine of €150,000 imposed on the low-cost airline by the Aix-en-Provence (Bouches-du-Rhône) commercial court due to the company’s failure to reimburse passengers for late and cancelled flights between April 2016 and July 2019.

The ruling, which dates from December 12, 2023, relates to a case brought against Ryanair by consumer rights magazine UFC-Que Choisir and 87 passengers, who were awarded €250 in damages each due to “Ryanair’s abusive resistance with respect to its passenger obligations”.

Ryanair has the right to appeal the decision.

Read more: France’s tourism mediator can help with travel disputes (for free)

Road travel updates:

Half-term traffic expected on February 10

Travellers should anticipate heavy traffic on Friday evening and on Saturday as millions of people start their half-term holidays.

The half-term holidays start at different times in the various regions of France, with people in Occitanie and Paris starting on Saturday. Many will be heading to the mountain resorts.

On Friday evening: Access roads to Montpellier, Toulouse and Paris will be congested, as will the A7 and A43 towards the Alps.

Travellers should expect congestion in the areas marked in yellow Pic: Bison Futé / The Connexion

On Saturday: Traffic will be particularly dense around Montpellier, Toulouse and Paris, and even more so on the A6 and A42 towards the mountain resorts.

Travellers are advised to check road conditions on the government’s official traffic website Bison Futé before setting out.