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Strikes and mass flight cancellations: Eight French travel updates

We also look at how SNCF is expecting a record summer for train travel and a new obligation to reserve a seat on Normandy-Paris rail trips

We look at SNCF’s busy summer, Transavia strikes, Eurotunnel cancellations and Gatwick flight limits Pic: Olrat, NYC Russ, pio3, ChristopherGeorge / Shutterstock

The story of this summer will undoubtedly be disruption to air travel with airlines and airports affected by a shortage of staff and increased travel demand. 

EasyJet pilots have already warned of a “chaotic summer” ahead and now airports in the UK and France are announcing flight schedule limitations and strikes. 

Read more: French EasyJet pilots warn of ‘unprecedented flight chaos’ this summer

But it is not bad news for everyone, with SNCF expecting a record-breaking summer this year as travellers turn to trains for ecological as well as practical reasons. 

Here are eight travel updates affecting France:

1.  Gatwick to cap summer flights as airlines struggle

Gatwick Airport has announced today (June 17) that it will limit the number of flights it allows during peak summer travel season to manage staff shortages and cut down on last-minute cancellations. 

The decision could mean as many as 4,000 flights are cancelled over the summer. The airport plans to cap the number of daily flights at 825 in July and 850 in August. Normally the airport can operate over 900 flights per day during busy periods. 

Gatwick has direct flights to 12 French destinations, including Bordeaux, Lyon, Nice and Toulouse. It is not yet known which flights will be affected by the limits or which airlines. 

Travel group TUI AG, which uses Gatwick frequently for its package holidays, has said it plans to maintain all its planned flights from the airport this summer, Bloomberg reported

Meanwhile, a spokesperson for easyJet told The Guardian

“We are aware of the capacity cap announced by Gatwick and are now reviewing the details to assess what this means for easyJet’s Gatwick operation.

“We recognise the need for Gatwick to do this, as airports across Europe have visibility across all airlines and are well placed to decide what capacity is realistic in the current challenging operating environment, so all airlines can provide reliable services for their customers.

“Given the high frequencies of our services to and from Gatwick, we expect to be able to re-accommodate the majority of customers whose flights are affected by the cap.”

Gatwick’s announcement comes after chaotic scenes at UK airports in recent weeks with airlines attempting to deal with high summer demand and staff shortages linked to the Covid pandemic. 

Stewart Wingate, Gatwick's chief executive, said of the decision to cap flights:

“We have put a heck of a lot of effort into getting ready for the summer period… [But] the rebound is happening faster at Gatwick than any other European airport.

"It is clear that during the Jubilee week a number of companies operating at the airport struggled, in particular because of staff shortages.”

Read more: France so far escapes worst of EasyJet’s 200 Gatwick cancellations

Read more: European airports predict delays as post-Covid demand causes issues

2. Eurostar cancels 41 trains due to UK strikes

Eurostar has cancelled 41 trains between next Tuesday June 21 and Saturday June 25 due to strike action called for by UK train unions. 

Trains between London, Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam will be affected. 

You can see a full list of the affected trains at this link.

A Eurostar spokesperson told the Daily Mirror: 

“During the UK national rail strike, Eurostar is cancelling a number of trains to reflect the reduced opening hours of the UK high-speed line.

"Customers travelling on affected services between June 21 and 25 are being contacted with the option of a free exchange or cancellation of their journey."

3. Reservations now mandatory for Normandy to Paris trains

It will no longer be possible to travel by train between Paris and Normandy on Krono and Krono+ trains without booking in advance from July 1, SNCF has announced. 

This is a first for regional trains (TER). 

The decision will affect the following routes:

Krono+ 

  • Paris – Rouen – Le Havre
  • Paris – Caen- Cherbourg
  • Paris – Caen
  • Paris – Trouville-Deauville

Krono

  • Paris – Argentan – Granville
  • Paris – Dieppe

SNCF said the reason was due to a “high demand from travellers wishing to have a seated place during each journey”. 

It added that the decision would not lead to an increase in ticket prices. 

Local train union the UDUPC has contested this, describing it as a “disguised price hike”. 

It will mean the end of the “Tempo” ticket, which allows travel on any train of the day without a seat and was sold cheaper than tickets with reservations when booked late. 

Tempo tickets will still be available for journeys within Normandy. 

4. SNCF expecting record-breaking summer

Train company SNCF is expecting a record-breaking summer of travel this year. 

Train routes to Brittany, the Mediterranean coast and the southwest are expected to be particularly busy, notably on the weekend after July 14 and at the beginning of August. 

SNCF has already sold 50% more tickets in total compared to last year. 

Christophe Fanichet, head of SNCF Voyageurs, said that there is a real enthusiasm for holidays in France. 

People in France are starting to plan their holidays again, whereas in the last two years they tended to decide at the last minute,” he said. 

He noted in particular that people had “a desire to travel by train”. 

“We are really starting to see a growth in the number of travellers and those planning a trip,” he said, adding he expects SNCF to beat the 2019 record for number of travellers. 

5. Union calls on Transavia pilots to strike

A union representing pilots from Air France and low-cost subsidiary airline Transavia has submitted a strike notice for Saturday, June 25, criticising the company for making pilots work while tired. 

Like many airlines in Europe currently, Air France and Transavia are dealing with an uptake in passenger numbers following the relaxation of Covid-linked travel rules and a shortage in staff - also linked to the pandemic. 

Pilots’ union Alter says this has meant pilots and staff having to fly while exhausted, also criticising a lack of communication between Transavia’s management and its crew members. 

“The fatigue we are talking about becomes a danger for us, as it is for you [the management], when profitability comes before reason,” the union wrote in a statement. 

“Transavia…does not want to hear about our pilots’ fatigue. It punishes tired pilots who refuse to fly," it added. 

Air France has stated that it is aware of the strike notice but does not expect its schedule to be affected. 

It also said that since mid-2021 the company has been recruiting new pilots in anticipation of higher demand and that the “company now has enough trained staff to support the resumption of traffic".

Transavia, based in France and the Netherlands, serves around 100 European destinations. 

Read more: Widespread low-cost airline strikes loom, says French union

6. Brittany Ferries staff protest in France

Onshore employees of Brittany Ferries went on strike earlier this week (June 13), demanding a pay rise and more recognition. 

Around 60 people mobilised in Roscoff (Finistère), where the company is headquartered. 

The strikers criticised worsening working conditions and asked for a wage increase of €50 net per month. 

On the same day, a walkout also took place in Cherbourg in Normandy by employees of the freight reservation service.

Brittany Ferries’ management indicated at the end of May that it was not “closing the door to discussions” and that it would meet again in autumn to discuss the demands. 

7. New strike planned at Charles de Gaulle Airport 

A new strike is planned at Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport on Friday, July 1, with unions demanding a €300-per-month salary increase for all staff, without conditions. 

It follows from an initial strike that took place on June 9, during which around 100 flights were cancelled in the morning - roughly a quarter of all flights scheduled - while other flights were delayed for between 30 to 45 mins. 

The planned strike will be held one week before the start of France’s summer holiday period, usually a busy time for airports. 

Read more: French airport strike primarily affects EasyJet and Air France

8. Ouigo to launch waiting list for fully booked trains

SNCF will from the end of June offer travellers wishing to get a seat on a fully booked Ouigo train the chance to go on a waiting list and potentially land a spot if another passenger drops out. 

The train company is set to operate the service in partnership with the startup Fairlyne. 

“We have a lot of trains that are full, especially in the summer – almost 40%, but we know that we have additional customers who would like to travel with us,” said Florian Etchanchu, head of strategy at Ouigo.

Ouigo tickets are non-refundable and cannot be cancelled however around 10% of Ouigo customers do not use their ticket, Mr Etchanchu said. 

From the end of June, customers with Ouigo tickets will be able to list their ticket on the company’s phone application and if they find a taker they can receive back 80% of the ticket price. 

In parallel, those wishing to take a Ouigo train that is fully booked can put their name on a waiting list in the hope of securing a seat. 

They will pay “normal price” for the tickets, which is usually more expensive on an almost-fully booked train, Mr Etchanchu said. 

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TGV project in west France, new air routes: Eight travel updates

France fears holiday bottleneck as transport system almost overwhelmed

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