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Strikes, prices and services – what you need to know about Christmas travel to France

For the past two Christmases strict Covid rules prevented many people from travelling - this year that isn't an issue, but there are strikes, service reductions and high ticket prices to contend with.

Strikes, prices and services - what you need to know about Christmas travel to France
Photo by DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP

Whether you’re a foreigner in France planning a trip to see friends or relatives over the festive season, a second-home owner or you’re planning a Christmas or New Year trip to France, here’s what you need to know. 

Strikes

Let’s start with something particularly French – strikes.

At present there are no strikes confirmed for the holiday season. However, Cabin crew on several airlines have threatened strike action in a series of increasingly bitter pay disputes.

Train services in France could also be impacted by industrial action during the Christmas (December 23rd through 26th) and New Year’s (December 30th to January 2nd) periods, with unions representing conductors and ticket collectors threatening to strike during those days. Previous strikes in December by conductors and ticket collectors were highly disruptive, causing 60 percent of high-speed and intercity trains to be cancelled during the first day of a three-day strike.

Even though strikes have yet to be confirmed for the Christmas period, they can always be called nearer to the time, you can find all the latest information on our strike page HERE.

But just because a strike is called, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t be able to travel – we take a look here at how to interpret French strike threats, and whether you should cancel your trip.

If you’re taking a trip to the UK, be aware that rail workers are currently engaged in a protracted battle to secure pay increases that will help them cope with the soaring cost of living, and several rail strikes are planned over the holiday season. Strikes have been called on the Eurostar over the Christmas period and on UK domestic rail services. 

If you’re going to Italy there are widespread air and rail strikes in November that could continue into December, while Germany has also seen airline strikes. Low-cost airlines in Spain are also staging strike action that is currently scheduled to last until after Christmas.

You can find the latest in Italy here, Spain here and Germany here.

Services

After two years of limited services as passenger numbers crashed during the pandemic there is now a lot more choice – but some services are still restricted compared to 2019. 

French trains are back to pre-pandemic levels and in fact many lines have increased services as more and more people opt to take the train for environmental reasons. This includes international services like the Lyria to Switzerland, Thalys to the Benelux and Renfe to Spain but not the Eurostar (see below).

READ ALSO How to save money on French train tickets

Airlines have largely resumed their pre-pandemic timetables between big cities such as the Paris-New York flights, but several regional French airports still have fewer services than before. New rules on domestic French flights mean that some routes within France such as Paris to Nantes have been stopped altogether. 

Services between France and the UK have also seen some post-Brexit effects with both the Eurotunnel and ferry companies running fewer services – although the Eurotunnel is planning to offer services every half hour over the Christmas period. People taking the ferry from the UK are advised to allow 90 minutes for pre-boarding checks at busy times. 

Travel to France: What has changed since Brexit?

The Eurostar is running around one third fewer services in order to avoid massive queues due to the post-Brexit passport check rules, and passengers are now advised to allow 90 minutes for pre-boarding checks. Financial troubles at the company have also seen ticket prices rise.

If you’re planning a ski holiday, there is now a direct train from London to a selection of French ski resorts, although the Travelski Express can only be booked as part of a package holiday.

Prices

But for many people, the prices have ruled out travel over the holiday season – with many American readers telling us that they have either decided not to travel, or have travelled at a different time of year to see friends and relatives.

Prices for long-haul flights have seen big increases, almost doubling on some routes, while short-haul flights seem to be less affected.

If you’re planning to take the Eurostar, it too has raised its prices in response to financial troubles at the parent company.

Prices on French trains have not seen a significant increase – although one is planned for 2023 to cope with rising utility prices – while other operators have seen smaller price rises, keeping in mind that Christmas and New Year is always an expensive time to travel. 

You can find the latest travel news in our travel section HERE, and we will update this article with any new developments ahead of the festive season.

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STRIKES

French unions vow to fight pension reform, with ‘mobilisation beginning in January’

France's eight biggest unions have issued a joint statement promising massive, co-ordinated strikes and demonstrations in January if the government goes ahead with planned pension reforms.

French unions vow to fight pension reform, with 'mobilisation beginning in January'

“We will decide on a first date of a united mobilisation with strikes and demonstrations in January, if the government remains stubborn on its pension reform project,” reads the statement issued on Monday by the eight largest and most influential unions – CFDT, CGT, FO, CFE-CGC, CFTC, Unsa, Solidaires and FSU.

All eight are strongly opposed to the reforms to the pension system being introduced by Emmanuel Macron’s government and are promising a repeat of the 2019 pension protests, which saw two months of widespread transport strikes that brought railways and Paris public transport to a halt.

Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne is due to present the detailed plan for pension reform on December 15th, including raising the French pension age.

Macron’s government already introduced pension reform back in 2019 – leading to two months of strikes – which streamlined and simplified the state pension system. The reforms scrapped many of the ‘special regimes’ that allowed certain professions to retire early, but left the overall pension age at 62.

READ ALSO What you need to know about French pension reforms

The reforms were due to be implemented in 2020, but as a result of the pandemic they were never brought into effect. During the 2022 presidential election campaign, Macron included in his manifesto a promise to introduce these reforms and to go further – raising the pension age from 62 to 65.

Unions are implacably opposed to this, and were joined in their statement by several student and high school pupils unions, who stated: “The youth, already strongly affected by precarious work situations and low pay, would be strongly impacted by this reform.”

The strikes in 2019 saw two months of extremely limited service on the national railways, and weeks of virtual shutdown of public transport in Paris. It was the longest continuous transport strike since 1968. There were also periodic strikes from a wide range of employees including teachers, lawyers, waste collectors and even ballet dancers.

Speaking on Monday evening, Yvan Ricordeau, national secretary of the CFDT union, said: “We are united tonight in opposition to 65-year pension age, if the government confirms that.

“There will necessarily be a first date [for strikes] at the time of the official announcement of the reform, in January. And then there will be other dates, designed to ensure that employees oppose the 65-year limit and that these provisions are withdrawn from the pension reform bill.”

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