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EXPLAINED: How does France’s domestic flight ban really work?

France's decision to ban short-haul domestic flights for environmental reasons was a world first that made headlines around the globe - but how many flights will the new rule actually ban?

EXPLAINED: How does France's domestic flight ban really work?
Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

The French government announced its domestic flight ban back in 2021, but it has been back in the news after the European Commission ruled in France’s favour following a challenge by airport associations.

This clears the way for other European countries to bring in similar rules, as part of climate-based efforts to limit flights and persuade travellers to take green alternatives.

But the French plan sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Some French commentators used the phrase La montagne qui accouche d’une souris (the mountain that gave birth to a mouse) to describe a policy of which much was expected but actually has quite small effects.

What does the new rule say?

The new policy doesn’t ban all domestic flights – only those between destinations that can be reached by train in less than two-and-a-half hours.

So therefore routes like Paris-Nice (six hours by train) or Paris-Marseille (three hours by train) can continue.

It also only affects flights within France – so a flight from Paris to Geneva (three-and-a-quarter hours by train) can continue, even if the train limit changes.

There’s an extra detail too – there must be regular train services between the destinations in question, and they must run throughout the day (including early morning and evening) in order to make them a viable travel alternative.

So how many flights does this ban actually affect?

At present, just three.

  • Paris (Orly) – Bordeaux
  • Paris (Orly) – Nantes
  • Paris (Orly) – Lyon

It is, however, still possible to fly to these three cities from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and that is because of geographical location of the two airports and timetabling quirks it takes (fractionally) longer than two-and-a-half hours to travel by train from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon.

You can also fly from Charles de Gaulle airport to Rennes and Lyon, because the frequency of train services is not judged to be good enough, even though you can get from Paris to Lyon in two hours or to Rennes in an hour-and-a half.

How much difference will this make to France’s carbon footprint?

Research carried out at an EU level suggests that it won’t make a huge difference, with short-haul (less than 500km) flights accounting for just six percent of airplane fuel used within the Bloc.

Long haul-flights (over 4,000km) account for just six percent of flights taken, but 47 percent of fuel burned.

What about private planes?

France’s transport minister Clément Beaune made more headlines when he talked about banning private jet flights.

However, this is not part of the current policy and Beaune then added that he wanted to do this on an EU level. Discussions on some sort of restriction for private jet flights are currently ongoing, but are a long way away from producing any sort of concrete proposal.

This sounds really underwhelming, what’s the point?

Yeah, as things stand it’s not the most effective policy.

But it’s a first step, and the European Commission’s ruling in France’s favour paves the way for more of this type of thing – essentially the Commission decided that although the measure is on the face of it anti-competitive for airlines and airports, member states do have the right to take this type of action when faced with a major threat such as the climate crisis.

This means that we could see more of this type of legislation around the EU, several other EU countries such as Austria have already imposed restrictions on short-haul flights from their state airlines, while others are considering similar moves. 

France could also extend the measures – at present some of the routes mentioned above are ‘on probation’ and could be scrapped if, for example, Paris to Lyon gets a more regular train service.

It’s also possible that the two-and-a-half hour limit could be expanded in subsequent legislation – the original proposal was for a six-hour limit, which would see an almost total domestic flight ban put in place.

Two-and-a-half hours was the compromise eventually reached in order to get the bill through parliament, but subsequent governments could decide to extend this. 

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For members


Train access to French Alps to remain disrupted through ski season

Access to several French ski resorts in the Alps will be limited this season, due to damage caused by a summer landslide.

Train access to French Alps to remain disrupted through ski season

People looking to reach the ski resorts of Valfréjus, Val-Cenis, Aussois and La Norma might experience additional difficulties if travelling by train during winter 2023-2024.

A landslide hit the town of Saint-André in the Haute-Maurienne Vanoise area in August, taking out portions of the train tracks that are needed to get to higher altitude ski towns and resorts. 

READ MORE: From high altitude to family friendly: 15 of the best French ski resorts

It also damaged tracks that would normally connect France to the Italian cities of Turin and Milan.

“Rail traffic between Saint-Michel-Valloire and Modane will be interrupted for an unknown period of time. SNCF Voyageurs is doing everything it can to ensure the best possible service to this area,” French national rail services, SNCF, said at the time of the incident.

As of early December – when SNCF normally opens several stations for their ‘TGV ski’ plan – the tracks had not yet been repaired. 

Consequently, the terminus for the route (both for TGV and TER trains, according to France Bleu) that once ended at the Modane station will now conclude at Saint-Michel-Valloire instead due to the damages.

SNCF Services plan (Source: SNCF Réseau)

SNCF told Le Parisien that bus shuttles would be made available to take travellers to the stations between Saint-Michel-Valloire and Modane.

The buses will be operated by the Auvergne Rhône Alpes regional authorities and the transport group Transdev. 

The head of Transdev Savoie, Nicolas Prouvot, told Le Parisien that they will be “allocating additional human and material resources. Those normally located at Modane will be transferred to Saint-Michel. We are also in the process of recruiting thirty drivers to meet demand.”

If you plan to travel on this line, you can find the schedule for the bus replacement services here.

Concerns about the Saint-Michel-Valloire station

Unions worry that the new terminus station is too small to handle a large influx of travellers, as is anticipated during the February school holidays. 

Nevertheless – SNCF still plans to run approximately 10 trips to and from the station during the school holidays (between February 10th and March 11th), according to reporting by Le Parisien, after consulting an internal company document.

Each of the weekends, aside from that of February 24th were expected to run all planned trips, the French daily reported.

Railway workers, like Julien Troccaz, head of the SUD Rail union, are not so sure this will be achievable. Troccaz told Le Parisien that unlike the Modane station, the Saint-Michel-Valloire one does not have a marshalling yard – a space where a train would be parked for an hour or two while it is cleaned and readied for departure. 

Without this separate area, the driver will have to turn the train around quickly – a maneuver which usually takes time and practice, Troccaz explained.

What about driving?

According to France Bleu, the A43 motorway was quickly reopened following the landslide. As such, car access to ski resorts in the Haute-Muarienne Vanoise area is not expected to be disrupted during winter 2024.

The local tourist office told France Bleu that 88 percent of visitors coming to ski in the area arrived by car in 2023, so most people will not notice any major changes.