Traffic, a melting runway and Philly flights: 8 France travel updates

We also look at criticism of the UK’s payout to P&O Ferries and a new discount train offer in the South-West

Direct flights from Nice to Philadelphia will start in May 2024
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1. Traffic jams expected

For anyone familiar with French travel rituals, it will come as no surprise that the weekend following August 15 will be a busy one on the motorways.

Traffic jams are expected in many areas from this afternoon (August 18) until Monday evening as millions of holidaymakers travel north to return from their holidays, while others take their turn to merrily head south.

The French traffic information service, Bison Futé, has warned drivers to particularly expect delays along the Mediterranean coast on the A10 and on the A6 Autoroute du soleil towards Lyon and Paris. Traffic is expected to be ‘saturated’ at several points between Orange and Lyon. Similarly, the N205 route to Italy will also be highly congested at the Mont Blanc tunnel.

Since extreme heat has been forecast during this same period, drivers should also take care to:

· Avoid driving at the hottest time of the day

· Be attentive to vulnerable passengers (children, elderly people)

· Drink plenty of water

· Consider fitting tint film to their windows

· Not leave people or animals in the car at service stations.

Travel will be difficult in both directions on Saturday, with a tendency to be worse from midday through to the evening. However, the inverse is also true, and anyone wishing to avoid the traffic this weekend should leave, and arrive, before noon.

For up-to-date travel information, including traffic maps, consult Bison Futé and see our graphic below.

2. Occitanie pilots new discount prices for trains

A new system to propose lower prices and reward regular rail users for their fidelity is being rolled out in Occitanie in south-west France.

This new system called ‘+ = Flex’ costs a flat fee of €90 per month, with no obligation, allowing users to benefit from 20% to 90% discounted prices on liO routes, depending on the number of trips taken in the month. Should users renew the offer for a second month, the discounts continue to improve.

It is available to people aged 27 to 59.

The offer is intended to attract a new clientele of train users who do not necessarily travel to work everyday on the train – for such people there is the SNCF Carte nationale Liberté. Indeed, those who travel sparingly can be surprised by the wide disparity in prices, with some routes in Occitanie costing as little as €1 while others can cost €20 per ticket despite being for shorter distances.

It should be noted that the + = Flex offer, as with other SNCF discount offers, does not apply to TGV travel unless explicitly stated.

For more information, visit the SNCF website.

3. Brittany Ferries condemns P&O and expresses surprise at £230m UK government payout

Last year P&O Ferries fired 800 of its employees without giving them prior notice and replaced them with agency workers on lower pay.

At the time, the UK government criticised this move, with then transport minister Grant Shapps describing P&O’s actions as those of “pirates of the high sea”.

However, last month Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s shadow secretary of state for transport, issued a request for information concerning payouts made by governmental departments to P&O and its parent company DP World from 2021.

The response? A tidy £230m. Much of this money has gone towards the redevelopment of the ports of Dakar, Sokhna and Berbera, but it also includes close to a million pounds in freight transport and business travel costs for the Ministry of Defence.

Christophe Mattieu, CEO of Brittany Ferries, told ITV that rival operator P&O treats its workers like “galley slaves”, describing the payout as “morally wrong”.

Read more: Channel ferry crews to be better protected by new French and UK laws

4. High speed daily train link to Spain from September 1

Since July, Spanish national train operator Renfe has been running two routes in France: from Lyon to Barcelona and from Marseille to Madrid. These low-cost, high-speed trains, or AVEs as they are called in Spain, also stop at local stations in France. This means that travellers can pay as little as €9 to travel between local stations, or €29 to travel to Spain.

Read also: Talks ongoing over Eurostar rival as Spain's TGVs expand into France

The Spanish operator has now announced that, following a successful start, it will begin daily operations on the Lyon line on September 1 and on the Marseille line on October 1.

5. Dordogne airport closed due to heat melting runway

The Aéroport Périgueux-Bassillac in the Dordogne near Bassillac remains closed due to its runway melting under the summer heat.

For three months now, no flights have landed on the runway, which was apparently treated with the wrong mix of bitumen. This sticky situation was compounded by the sweltering heatwave, with the runway now being “like chewing gum”, said Aerodrome Flight Information Service (AFIS) agent Sylvie Bôle-Besancon.

Typically, two routes, to Paris and to Bergerac, operate from the small airport, with 15,000 passenger trips each year.

Discussions between the airport and the company that applied the bitumen are underway, with hopes that an “amicable settlement” can be reached, which may include repairing the sticky runway.

6. Rent an electric bike from €20 a month:

Electric bikes and electric assist bikes are available to rent from a growing list of municipalities and companies for as little as €20 a month.

In Paris, Lyon, Nantes, Strasbourg & Toulouse, people can rent e-bikes and electric assist bikes (which require some pedalling) from companies such as Veligo for as little as €20, while on a national level, sports chain Decathlon offers rental from €55 a month.

In tourist locations, such as Aigues-Mortes in the Camargue, e-bikes represent a convenient way to visit the surrounding area. Visitors can typically rent an e-bike for the day or a few hours.

The increasing availability of electric bikes comes as part of President Macron’s plan velo to further develop cycling culture in France.

Read also: Key points from France’s new €2 billion plan to encourage cycling

7. Gatwick ground handlers suspend strike plan

Ground handlers at Gatwick airport have decided not to proceed with their planned strike after a “significantly improved” pay offer.

They were expected to go on strike for four days from August 18 – 22, however, having received the improved pay offer late in the evening on August 16, their union (Unite) called off the strike as a measure of good faith while members put the new offer to ballot.

Domonic Rothwell from Unite said: “Unite has been consistent from the outset, we believed that Red Handling [the company that employs ground handlers at Gatwick airport] could afford to make an improved offer and that proved to be the case.

“Our members will now decide whether the deal on the table meets their expectations.”

However, should ground handlers reject the new offer, a strike could still be on the cards, which would run from August 25 to August 28.

8. American Airlines to launch direct Philadelphia - Nice flights

From May 2024 American Airlines will operate daily direct flights from Philadelphia to Nice. The Mayor of Nice, Christian Estrosi, welcomed the decision with a tweet saying, “this new destination proves that our attempts to make Nice more welcoming are working”.

Nice is already accessible to Americans though Delta Airlines, who operate direct flights from New York and Atlanta. Of course, indirect flights, which require changing planes at least once, are also available but this new direct line should prove a boon to the south of France city.

In addition, it is expected that there will soon be a direct Nice-Miami route, connecting Nice to the largest hub for air traffic in the south-eastern United States.

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