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Starting in early December, 2019, major transportation strikes in France have severely affected trains, Paris metro and bus service, some flights to and from France and Eurostar networks.
Grinding much traffic to a halt from December 5th onward, it’s been one of the longest-running strikes in French history. On certain days when major demonstrations are planned, public transportation remains severely disrupted in the capital, and in other cities in France.
Now, after some six weeks of strikes– the longest to affect the city since May 1968– they see no signs of abating in January 2020. A march was organized for Thursday, January 16th starting from 1:30 pm in the Montparnasse district, and was set to draw thousands of participants in south Paris.
You may be wondering whether the strikes– which various unions have called for to protest plans by the French government to reform the retirement (pensions) system, will affect you.
Keep reading for details on what to expect, and for tips on coping with potential delays and cancellations.
Trains and Transport Services Affected by 2019-2020 Strikes in France
In late 2019, the Paris public transport authority RATP– which operates the city’s Metro, bus, and tramway lines– called for striking action against French President Emmanuel Macron’s pension reform plans.
Additionally, public transportation workers in cities including Bordeaux, Lyon and Montpelier were on strike, affecting the transport systems there.
National railway company SNCF, which operates trains (including high-speed TGV lines) across France as well as the Parisian commuter-line system RER, later pledged to strike alongside the RATP starting on December 5th.
In addition, Air France’s union called for its workers to join the action, and one air-traffic controller union in France went on strike between December 5th-7th; the ground crew is striking indefinitely. This has reportedly led to hundreds of delayed and/or cancelled flights since the 5th.
While Air France has been operating a full schedule of flights in the New Year, the operator said “[l]ast-minute delays and cancellations cannot be excluded.”
Some road transport workers in France (truck drivers and others) have also taken part in the striking action, leading in certain cases to blocked or severely slowed traffic in and around the capital and elsewhere in the country.
How Long Will the Strikes Last, and How Much Will They Disrupt My Trip?
While the strike was initially only set for December 5th, it has now lasted for over 40 days.
Largely paralyzing public transportation in Paris and other major French cities, the actions have also severely disrupted scheduled trains and some flights around the country.
The strikes are now expected to continue through at least January 20th, 2020. It is unclear whether next rounds of talks will succeed in breaking the deadlock.
In spite of all this, there are signs conditions may be easing in some public transportation networks. Trains on the Paris metro are reportedly functioning a bit more normally than at the beginning of the strike, although serious disruptions continue on certain days (see below for useful links to updated info).
As the situation evolves, I highly recommend you make alternative transportation plans in the case that the striking action does continue into the foreseeable future.
Paris Metro, Bus & RER Network Slowdowns
Since the evening of December 4th, service on both networks have been severely limited on many days. Some lines have shut completely for several days.
However, you should know that lines 1 and 14 of the Paris Metro, which are driverless and automated, are still running during the strike period.
Buses and tramways operated by the RATP are also severely affected, offering greatly reduced service during the strikes.
Trains: SNCF, Eurostar & Thalys
Trains operated by the SNCF– from regional to national, high-speed TGV lines– have also seen severe slowdowns as part of the action. Some are forecasting weeks of greatly reduced service.
And since SNCF is a majority stakeholder in Eurostar and Thalys, these networks are also running fewer trains. Scroll down to find out whether your train may be affected.
Airlines Affected by the Strikes
Several airlines operating in France are reported to have seen severe delays or cancellations during the strikes, including Air France, British Airways, Ryanair and Easyjet.
Irrespective of the carrier you’re flying with, make sure to double-check your flight times for potential delays, and if necessary contact an agent to verify whether your flight/s will be affected by the strikes.
Coping With the Strikes: Useful Sites & Tips
- Taking note of upcoming strike dates can go a long way in helping you to plan ahead and mitigate any delays or cancellations. The current planned strike began at 10:00 pm on December 4th, 2019 and will carry on with intermittent actions through at least January 20th, 2020. Keep checking back with the information sites mentioned below to find out if your train will be affected, or avoid traveling by train on announced strike days.
- To stay informed about current disruptions to the Paris Metro, RER, bus and tramway system, bookmark this page at the RATP site. A current advisory on the site warns travellers to avoid using Paris public transportation in the coming days if possible.
- The SNCF help page is especially useful if your TGV high-speed train or regional train in France has been canceled and you need information on exchanging or refunding tickets. You can find numbers and other contact details for English-speaking agents who can help you to arrange refunds and exchanges. This includes Eurostar tickets with departure points or destinations in France.
- Eurostar and Thalys trains between Paris, London, Amsterdam, Brussels and other international destinations will be running on reduced timetables and are likely to be strongly affected by the strike. Eurostar currently has the following notice on their website: “Due to ongoing nationwide general strike action in France, we are currently running a reduced timetable with some cancellations.” You can check whether your Eurostar train is affected by visiting this page.
- Meanwhile, Thalys is seeing disruptions to its own network as a result of the strike, and has been operating a reduced number of scheduled trains. If you have booked a train with Thalys, please see this page for updated information on delays, cancellations and schedule changes, as well as for individual help.
- Looking for daily updates on the situation? A travel thread at Rick Steves’ forum has been posting helpful updates and advice on the strike.
- And this useful page at the Paris tourist office is also frequently updated with advice on how to get around during the strikes, as well as information on closures or partial closures of popular attractions and monuments in the capital.
What Are The Strikes About This Time, Anyway?
Tens of thousands of public service workers with the RATP and SNCF are striking against President Macron’s proposed reforms to pension benefits, which he says will “transform society” for the better and update a system some consider sclerotic and outdated.
Macron argues that streamlining France’s complex pensions system is necessary to balance the national deficit and stimulate the economy. Unions and other critics contend that these measures would “sacrifice a generation” of workers who had relied on the security of solid pension benefits.
Their concerns are shared by “yellow-vest” protestors who fear increasing precarity and decreased benefits as France aims to slash its deficit and stimulate the economy.
Should You Cancel Your Trip?
This is a highly personal decision. Much may depend on how much you plan to rely on rail and metro travel during your trip. Do be aware that if you did, you may indeed run into much frustration and even some genuine difficulty getting from destination to destination.
You may also wish to avoid traveling with Air France, since workers with the carrier have been involved in striking action, and some have called for additional strike days.
From my perspective, though, canceling your trip entirely isn’t warranted, especially if you’re only visiting Paris and don’t mind relying on walking, taxis and perhaps driving as alternative ways to get around.
As of mid-January, traffic in public transportation has returned to semi-normal conditions outside of “flash” striking days, so if your trip is planned for February and beyond it’s quite possible you won’t be affected very much at all. This is speculative, of course, and I don’t have a magic ball that foresees when the strikes will finally end, but current forecasts expect the transportation situation to ease in the coming weeks.
Heading to France? Be Prepared
Avoid headaches and stress associated with last-minute travel by planning well ahead of time. It’s important, for one thing, to make sure you’ve bought some decent travel insurance before your trip.
Excellent coverage is available for very reasonable rates these days– and while France’s health care charges are relatively inexpensive, even for the uninsured, you don’t want to end up with hundreds or thousands of Euros in hospital bills in case of an accident.
You can also get compensation in many cases for delays or cancellations caused by strike action. You can compare and purchase trusted travel insurance policies here (via World Nomads).
Also make sure to compare deals and packages on flights, hotels and trains well ahead of time. Search for flights and hotels here (via Skyscanner) and book rail tickets and passes here (via Rail Europe).
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