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Travel to France: Will there be French border delays this summer?

The Local France
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Travel to France: Will there be French border delays this summer?
Photo by Ian LANGSDON / EPA POOL / AFP

Amid strikes and fears of a shortage of French border control agents, plus infrastructure problems at UK ports, we take a look at travel into France this summer.

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Delays at passport control at Paris' Charles De Gaulle airport have hit the headlines amid fears of problems at the French border during the peak summer travel season.

Problems experienced so far have not been major - they only affected Terminal 1 of the airport, lasted for a couple of hours during one morning and queues were about 60 minutes for arrivals and departures.

But it’s caused concern because we're not yet in the peak travel period so there are worries about how systems will cope during the much busier summer season.

Hear the team at The Local talk about the summer travel forecast in the Talking France podcast. Download it here or listen on the link below

 

Border control agents

Aéroports de Paris - which runs Paris' Orly and Charles de Gaulle airports - blamed a shortage of French border control agents for the problems in May.

Passengers seemed to back that up, with several tweeting pics of just 2 border guards dealing with all arrivals.

 

The border agents are under the control of the French Police aux Frontieres, and they admit that since last year they have had about 300 unfilled vacancies.

This is a nationwide problem, so it potentially affects all French airports, as well as land border crossing points, ports including Dover and Folkestone and rail terminals including London St Pancras.

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They are, however, having a pretty major recruitment drive - both to be ready for this summer peak tourist season and for the Paris Olympics next year, when around 10 million visitors are expected for the Games.

Police aux Frontières say they plan to recruit 255 additional agents for the Paris airports by June and 500 before the end of 2024. For the whole country, the PAF wants to recruit 1,200 staff by the summer of 2024.

PAF director Fabrice Gardon, said that it was important to ensure security, but added: "It is the whole image of the country that is at stake, all the more so in the run-up to the Rugby World Cup and the Paris Olympics."

So what can we expect for summer 2023?

French airports 

French airports say they have now largely resolved the staffing problems that they struggled with when travel reopened after the pandemic - although this does not include the border control agents.

At Charles de Gaulle airport a new space has recently opened up in Terminal 1, which passengers are reporting is more spacious and less chaotic.

On border control, as well as those extra border guards, the airport is installing 17 new Parafe automated passport gates.

Several French airports are also testing new systems such as allowing certain groups of non-EU passengers to use the automated passport gates, in order to speed processing times.

In addition to what is expected to be a busy summer for tourism, the rugby World Cup take place in France in September and October, and travel bosses will be using the high passenger numbers as a test for several systems that they hope to use during the Paris Olympics next year. 

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British ports

Travel to France from the UK has an extra complication since the end of the Brexit transition period.

A shortage of French border control agents was also blamed for long tailbacks in the UK Port of Dover at the start of the 2022 holiday period, although subsequent further tailbacks would suggest that the problem is more complicated.

Long waits to get through passport control for people leaving the UK by ferry are more to do with infrastructure and Brexit.

Since Brexit, passport controls to enter France are stricter and therefore take longer, and the infrastructure of the Port itself means that it is difficult to expand the passport control area. The Le Touquet agreement means that both British and French passport checks for passengers departing the UK take place in the Port of Dover, while checks for passengers coming the other way take place in Calais.

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There were reported problems at the start of the summer holidays last year when several French border guards were late for work, but since then there have been repeated bottle-necks at peak times such as the start of the UK school holidays.

The beginning of the Easter holidays saw long waits for coach passengers.

Although port managers are working on making things run smoothly at peak times, they are hampered by a lack of space.

New EU checks

The EU's enhanced passport checks - known as the Entry & Exit System or EES - were due to come into effect this year, and many travel experts had sounded the alarm that the more complicated checking process would lead to longer waits.

The EU has now announced that the introduction has been postponed until 2024, with France lobbying hard to make this in the autumn or winter - after the Paris Olympics.

Strikes? 

One thing that can never be ruled out in France is strikes, and the summer holidays are usually peak times for airline or air traffic control strikes, as unions take advantage of their opportunity to cause havoc and push their claims over pay and conditions. 

The nationwide strikes over pension reform have largely ended, but a one-day action on June 6th saw around 20 percent of flights in and out of France cancelled. There are currently no further pension strikes scheduled, but it's not impossible that unions will call for further action.

You can find all the latest strike announcements and calendars in our strike section HERE

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