UK-France flights boost, ferry criticism: 8 French travel updates

Plus a new night train launched in France and railway network in Pays de la Loire opened up to other competitors

A change to a number of train routes will come into force soon in France
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1. British Airways to relaunch flights to Montpellier

British Airways has resumed flights to Montpellier after a four-year absence.

Three flights per week will run between London Gatwick and the southern French city on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with planes running in both directions on these days.

It is run through the airline’s subsidiary BA EuroFlyer, which operates short-haul flights out of Gatwick to European and North African destinations.

Unlike some of BA EuroFlyer’s other routes to France (such as Nice or Grenoble), it is not seasonal and flights will be on offer year-round between the two cities.

EasyJet also offers direct flights between Gatwick and Montpellier.

“Our assets are strong in attracting many British tourists,” said Emmanuel Brehmer, chairman of the airport, who also highlighted the flight would allow direct connections at Gatwick towards a host of other destinations, including to the US.

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

2. New routes and changes for French night trains

France’s state-owned railway operator SNCF has revealed a new night train service between Paris and Aurillac, whilst also announcing a host of other changes to overnight routes.

The new line to Aurillac will open on December 10 and run on Friday and Sunday evenings – however, during Zone C school holidays it will become a daily service.

It will follow the same path as the night train to Rodez, before splitting at Brive-La-Gaillarde and serving Saint-Denis-Près-Martel, Bretenoux-Biars, Laroquebrou, before arriving in Aurillac at 08:20.

On top of this, the night train between Paris-Austerlitz and Hendaye on the French-Spanish border will run every night this summer.

Separately, ‘Le Pyrénéen’ night train, due to track works, will see its route altered for the next eight years and will take a Mediterranean journey to reach its destination of Cerbère.

New stations served on the route will include Nîmes Centre, Montpellier Saint-Roch, Sète, Agde and Béziers before reaching its destination on the Spanish border.

Read More: Reminder: The dates of France's 2023 holidays and days off

3. Ryanair presents anti-strike petition to EU

Low-cost carrier Ryanair has filed its petition to ‘keep French air space open’ to the EU after it racked up more than 1.1 million signatures.

The airline claims Air Traffic Controllers (ATCs) in France were on strike 57 days in the first five months of 2023 – ten times more than in 2022.

It says that not only flights to France but also those that needed to traverse French air space have been affected, with around 10 million passengers seeing delays or cancellations.

Demands of the petition, which was originally launched in March, include:

  • Protecting 100% of overflights (already the law in Greece, Italy and Spain) during national ATC strikes
  • If ATC strikes require cancellations, make sure first that the flights cancelled are domestic or short-haul flights in the affected country
  • Apply binding arbitration for ATC disputes before strike action
  • Require 21 days strike notice
  • Require 72 hours’ notice of employee participation in ATC strikes to minimise disruption to passengers

“It is unacceptable that ATC strikes can lead to the cancellation of thousands of European passenger flights, while France and other EU Member States use minimum service laws to protect their domestic flights. European passengers are fed up,” said Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary.

The French Senate will discuss a proposal on June 15 to force ATCs in France to warn of strike action at least 48 hours in advance, as other transport workers must do.

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

4. How to get paid to take European night trains

Luggage deposit company Radical Storage is looking for people to test European night trains – and pay them in the process.

The company, which provides locations around Europe for backpackers and travellers to deposit their bags when travelling, is looking for dedicated ‘Night Train Testers’ this summer.

Those who are hired will need to write reviews of both the trains they take (including quality of sleep, ease of travel, and helpfulness of the train crew) alongside the company’s own staff and service.

Those selected as Night Train Testers will receive:

  • A one-month Interrail pass to get around Europe (with up to seven journeys included)
  • Tickets paid for five night trains of the traveller's choice in Europe
  • One month of luggage storage with Radical Storage
  • £500 (€581)

Participants will need to have valid travel documents to take trains throughout Europe and be at least 18 years old.

You can find out more on the company’s official site here.

Read more: New TGV will allow travel from Paris to Berlin in seven hours

5. First direct TGV service between Lausanne and Marseille to launch in July

The Franco-Swiss high-speed TGV Lyria service is set to launch its summer routes, including a daily Lausanne – Marseille train.

It is the first time a service will connect the two cities directly.

The train – which will also stop at Avignon and Aix-en-Provence on the way – will run once per day for three weeks (July 1 to July 23) between the cities, taking around four and a half hours.

A once-daily service between France’s second-largest city and Geneva will run between July 1 and August 27, with prices as low as €29 leaving from the Swiss city.

The seasonal routes will be offered alongside the year-long service between Paris and Geneva, which connects the cities with eight trains running in each direction per day.

Read more: American in Paris protest over undeclared Swiss bank account

6. Japan-Paris flight forced to land after striking a bird

An AirFrance flight between Osaka and Paris was forced to turn around soon after take-off when it hit a bird, damaging the plane’s nose.

The damage caused by the strike was not originally noticed until around 35 minutes after leaving Osaka, but it was enough for an emergency to be declared and force the plane to turn back and land again in Osaka.

The plane spent almost an hour on the tarmac being inspected for further damage, causing minor delays for a number of other flights.

No injuries were reported to any passengers or crew members.

Although the damage was only minor, it caused a malfunction relating to the plane’s weather radar and speedometer.

It has remained out of service since the incident.

Read more: Photos: Japan wins patisserie World Cup in Lyon, France second

7. Pays de la Loire opens railway lines up to competition

The Pays de la Loire region in western France has put out a call for tenders for its rail routes, allowing competitors to challenge the SNCF’s hegemony.

Currently, all regional rail routes in the region are run by the state-owned SNCF, but open market laws from the EU mean other railway operators can bid on open tenders to provide services.

The RATP, Transdev, and the Deutsche Bahn (Germany's state-run railway operator) are all said to be interested in running services in the region, which sees a high volume of trains thanks to a large railway hub in the city of Nantes.

Opening up the railway lines is expected to bring an improved service, with more trains at lower prices thanks to the competition to entice would-be passengers.

“It's not a privatisation, it's still a public service run by the region, by an operator,” said Christelle Morançais, president of the region.

Despite the potential for change, however, the first open contract was won by the SNCF at the end of May.

Read more: Is France really respecting the ban on short domestic flights?

8. Brittany Ferries calls out rivals’ employment practices

Roscoff-based Brittany Ferries has signed an open letter in Le Marin magazine denouncing the practice of “social dumping” by its rivals – the phenomenon where European workers are laid off in lieu of cheaper alternatives from elsewhere.

The article, written by the company’s supervisory board chairman Jean-Marc Roué, said rival companies were using a “legal loophole” to get around EU laws.

Rivals are “laying off French and English sailors,” to be replaced with cheaper workers from elsewhere, added general director of the company Christophe Mathieu

“They use non-European sailors, whom they pay very little and make work for very long,” said Mr Roué.

“Their employees work tirelessly… up to seventeen weeks at sea, seven days a week, these sailors have no social protection, no pension rights, no paid holidays and no adequate recuperation time,” added the chairman.

The legal loophole stems from the ability for companies to hire non-EU sailors through Malta and Cyprus, effectively bypassing worker’s rights legislation.

Aside from moral concerns, the company’s criticism also targets how the practice makes competition on popular UK-France ferry routes unfair.

With two cross-Channel ferry companies picking up the practice in the last year, the company says if their third competitor “follows the same model… Brittany Ferries will find ourselves completely on the sidelines with production costs that are too high,” said Mr Mathieu.

“Brittany Ferries is genetically and viscerally committed to providing jobs for the people of Brittany… relocating jobs is out of the question,” he added, discussing whether the company will employ the same practices.

“But at the same time, if the public authorities don't stop the offshoring of ferry jobs, which results in a huge two-cost difference, we've got a problem,” he concluded.

Read more: ‘Enormous impact’: Readers on how EU rule has hit their France visits

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