Tuesday, 13 April 2021

Forget the plane; catch the train


France has moved to scrap domestic airline flights on any route that can be travelled by direct train in under 2 1/2 hours.

French MPs made the decision as part of a series of environmental measures, The Guardian reported.

After a heated debate in the Assemblée Nationale at the weekend, the ban, a watered-down version of a key recommendation from President Emmanuel Macron’s citizens’ climate convention, was adopted.

It will mean the end of short internal flights from Orly airport, south of Paris, to Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux among others, though connecting flights through Charles de Gaulle/Roissy airport, north of the French capital, will continue.

The climate commission set up by Macron had originally recommended the scrapping of all flights between French destinations where an alternative direct train journey of less than four hours existed.

This was reduced to 2 1/2 hours after strong objections from certain regions and from Air France-KLM, which, like other airlines, has been badly hit by local and international Covid-19 restrictions on travel.

A year ago, the French government agreed a €7bn loan for AF-KLM on the condition that certain internal flights were dropped, but the decree will also stop low-cost airlines from operating the banned domestic routes.

The chief executive of Air France-KLM, Benjamin Smith, has said the airline is committed to reducing the number of its French domestic routes by 40% by the end of this year.

The transport minister, Jean-Baptiste Djebbari, told MPs: “We have chosen 2 1/2 hours because four hours risks isolating landlocked territories including the greater Massif Central, which would be iniquitous.”

Given the speed and efficiency of the French railways system, I have always preferred trains to planes for domestic journeys.

Details of the exact routes that will be halted will be published in the official decree. Flights from Paris to Nice, which takes about six hours by train, and Toulouse, four hours by train, will continue.

France’s new law will be watched closely by other countries. Austria’s coalition conservative-Green government introduced a €30 tax on airline tickets for flights of less than 217 miles (350km) last June and a ban on domestic flights that could be travelled in less than three hours by train.

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