In early December, 2019, major transportation strikes in France are severely affecting trains, Paris metro and bus service, some flights to and from France and Eurostar networks. Grinding much traffic to a halt on December 5th and beyond, it’s causing serious concern for the hundreds of thousands of tourists who visit during the holiday season.
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.
Since the striking action may extend well beyond early December, I strongly advise that you stay informed to avoid unnecessary stress and disappointment.
Trains and Transport Services Affected by December 2019 Strikes in France
Earlier this year, 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 are expected to 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 has 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.
Road transport workers in France (truck drivers and others) are also planning to take part, with some threatening to block roads.
How Long Will the Strikes Last, and How Much Will They Disrupt My Trip?
While the strike was initially only set for December 5th (starting on the evening of December 4th), it is now expected to continue through at least Monday, December 9th. Many fear that it could continue for several days– or weeks–depending on whether unions are able to reach an agreement with the government.
Some even predict the strikes could paralyze transportation until Christmas Day (December 25th). Needless to say, this has not soothed the nerves of travelers planning to visit Paris in December for the holiday season, needless to say.
As the situation evolves, we highly recommend you make alternative transportation plans in the case that the action does continue for days or weeks in December.
Paris Metro, Bus & RER Network Slowdowns
Unions have warned of “zero metro and zero RER” service in Paris, and others have referred to the planned action as an “unlimited” strike. Since the evening of December 4th, service on both networks have been severely limited, with most lines completely shut down.
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.
In addition, “yellow vest” protestors have vowed to block traffic in Paris, potentially further disrupting road traffic.
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 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.
Closures of Popular Tourist Sites & Attractions
Several popular tourist sites and monuments closed on December 5th in tandem with the strike. Make sure to check their official websites to call ahead to verify that they are open before attempting to visit as the strike continues.
Attractions, museums and monuments that were entirely or partly closed on December 5th include the following:
- Musée du Louvre
- Eiffel Tower
- Musée d’Orsay
- Musée de l’Orangerie
- Musée de l’Armée
- Musée Picasso
- Arc de Triomphe
- Sainte Chapelle
- Grand Palais
- Centre Georges Pompidou
- Chateau de Versailles
- Musée Cluny
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 extend through at least Monday, December 9th. 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 disruptions to the Paris Metro, RER, bus and tramway system, bookmark this page at the RATP site.
- 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: “The strike action will impact our ability to deliver the usual timetable as we expect disruption to signalling along all routes. As a result, we will now run a reduced timetable till the 12th December.” You can check whether your Eurostar train is affected by visiting this page.
- Meanwhile, Thalys is currently advising passengers not to travel to or from France via its network if at all possible between the 5th and 9th of December. If you have booked a train on the Thalys network, please see this page for information and help.
- Air France may also see workers strike, which may give travelers cause to avoid using the carrier in December (or to refund their tickets). See this page for more information, or contact Air France directly to learn more about potential delays and disruptions to your booked flights.
- Looking for daily updates on the situation? A travel thread at Rick Steves’ forum has been posting helpful updates and advice on the strike.
What Are The Strikes About This Time, Anyway?
Following other dramatic strikes in 2018, 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 argue 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 are likely to be involved in striking action.
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 in case the strikes persist well into December. This could, of course, significantly raise travel costs. Determine whether your budget can accommodate unexpected extra expenses for getting around as part of your decision.
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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