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How France’s Transit Strike Is Affecting Travelers in Paris

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A majority of Paris’s Métro lines will be closed this Thursday—and potentially even longer.

Photo by Sorbis / Shutterstock

A majority of Paris’s Métro lines will be closed this Thursday—and potentially even longer.

On Thursday, the Eiffel Tower and 11 of the 16 Métro lines in Paris were completely shut. Here’s what else travelers need to know.

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France is no stranger to strikes. But anyone who is currently traveling in Paris and the rest of France is facing the country’s most extensive transit strike in years. On December 5, 2019, trade union members, including Paris public transport staff, railway workers, truck drivers, and other civil servants, went on strike and demonstrated against the government’s pension overhaul plan. Currently, travel around the country has been brought to a standstill. It is unclear when the strike will end.

That means that the Paris public transportation system (including airport buses and trains), the national rail system, and even flights in and out of France could be disrupted through at least December 10, 2019—and potentially even until Christmas. On December 5, 2019, the Yellow Vest Movement showed its support for the strike and joined the trade unions demonstrations across France. In sporadic instances, violent protestors burned cars and threw projectiles at police near the Place de la République in Paris. Police responded with tear gas, but overall the protests across France on December 5, 2019, remained peaceful.

If you have an upcoming trip to France planned, you will need to be prepared for major transportation delays—including potential flight and train cancellations. Here’s everything you need to know about visiting Paris and other parts of France during the general strike in December 2019.

Why is France striking?

French president Emmanuel Macron is attempting to overhaul France’s pension system from 42 separate ones into a single system to reduce the deficit at which it is currently operating. That proposed system would incorporate a points-based scheme for retirement, which essentially would push the current retirement age of 62 to 64 in order to receive full benefits.

When is the general strike happening? 

The strike technically began on Thursday, December 5, 2019, but the SNCF train walkout started as early as 7 p.m. Wednesday, December 4, 2019, according to its website. It is unclear exactly when the strike will end, but some transportation companies are warning passengers to consider postponing travel through December 10, 2019.

Only 10 percent of trains in France are expected to operate on Thursday, December 5, 2019.

What trains will the strike affect?

Because both the RATP and SNCF unions are involved, virtually all train travel in France came to a standstill on Thursday, December 5. 

The RATP is the Paris public transportation operator, so expect limited or no service on Métro and RER trains, as well as the airport trains and OrlyBus and RoissyBus service on December 5, 2019, and beyond. Each day at 5 p.m., the RATP website will be updated with the following day’s status about which train lines will be operating or not.

On Thursday, December 5, 11 of Paris’s 16 Métro lines are completely shut down. Paris’s 1 and 14 Métro lines—which run through the center of the city and to popular sites including the Louvre, Tuileries, and the Arc de Triomphe—are operating normally on December 5 (but expect crowds). The 4, 7, and 9 Métro lines are operating on limited schedules. The Métro lines that are completely shut down on December 5 include the 2, 3, 3bis, 5, 6, 7bis, 8, 10, 11, 12, and 13. You can download a Paris Métro map to see which areas this affects.

SNCF controls the national rail system, including the high-speed TGV and Thalys trains, the Intercités lines throughout France, commuter Transilien lines in Paris, and the Eurostar train between Paris, London, Lille, and Brussels. SNCF’s website recommends that travelers delay their trips because 90 percent of service will be cancelled during the strike and check back via Twitter or the SNCF app at 5 p.m. each day for information about next-day trains. It is also possible to request a refund via the train operator you booked with if you choose to use another form of transportation during the strike.

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If you have Eurostar tickets, you may be able to get into or out of Paris. According to the Eurostar 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, it is cancelling many of its trains—but not all of them—from December 5 through December 10, 2019. To see if your train has been affected, check the relevant date tabs at eurostar.com.

Thalys operates trains between cities in France, as well as to destinations in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands. Thalys is advising passengers who plan to travel to or from Paris on December 5 and 6, 2019, to postpone their train trip. “Travelers affected by the strike can exchange their tickets free of charge or get a refund via our Thalys Contact Center or the original point of sale,” its website reads.

For more information on the France train and Paris Métro disruptions, or to get a refund, visit the following websites:

In addition to the Air France ground crew, air traffic controllers are also expected to strike.

What airlines will the strike affect?

In November, the English-language news site thelocal.fr reported that the union representing the Air France ground crew also called on its members to join the walkout, which will cause delays and cancellations at airports throughout France. In addition to ground crews, one air traffic controller union has given notice of striking from Thursday, December 5, to Sunday, December 8, which could cause further delays.

However, the head of the Aéroport de Paris group says that 80 percent of flights at Paris’s airports are expected to be unaffected by the strike, according to the French news site, the Connexion. The 20 percent that will be cancelled are likely to be shorter flights, as authorities said that long-haul flights should not be affected. 

AFAR's own deputy editor, Jenn Flowers, was supposed to fly to Paris from Nice on December 5. Even though Air France rebooked her on an earlier flight once her original flight was cancelled due to the strike, she decided to drive to Milan and fly back to New York from there to avoid getting stranded in Paris.

It is unclear whether other airlines beyond Air France will take part in this, but travelers should check the status of flights directly with the airline they are flying and allow plenty of time to get to the airport. 

So, can you just take a car to the airport? 

Even if your flight isn’t cancelled, it might be difficult to drive to the airport. According to Travel Weekly UK, truck drivers are planning to demonstrate on December 7 by blocking major roads with their vehicles, causing major delays outside of cities too, and potentially prohibiting cars from getting to airports.

Bike sharing is one alternative to the Métro while it is closed in Paris.

What transportation alternatives are there in Paris? 

Without trains, walking is your best bet during this time, and if you’re staying in the city center, you can see most sites on foot. However, if you need to go a longer distance, Paris has many ride-sharing, bike-sharing, moped-sharing, and electric scooter–sharing options. Keep in mind that although RATP partnered with many of these companies to give locals and tourists increased access and discounts during the strike, this move has angered the unions that are striking.

Ride-sharing

Uber does operate in Paris, along with other ride-share companies, including Kapten, Marcel, and Heetch. Massive traffic jams are expected within cities and especially on the way to airports because the airport buses and trains will be down. Your best bet is to share a ride with fellow travelers to reduce traffic.

Bike-sharing

Velib is Paris’s main bike-sharing program, with more than 16,500 electrical and mechanical bikes at nearly 1,400 docks in the metropolitan area. You can also try bikes from Jump by Uber and Zoov, which can be found free-floating in the city instead of at docks.

Moped-sharing

If you’d like to zip around a bit faster, Cityscoot allows you to book free-floating electric scooters in Paris and several towns in the city’s suburbs. You can download the Cityscoot app on your phone, but you can also book Cityscoot e-mopeds directly through the Uber app as of November 2019.

Electric scooter–sharing

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While scooters are much maligned in Paris for cluttering sidewalks, there are multiple electric scooter–sharing programs you can try out. Lime is the most recognizable brand for Americans, but you can also try Dott, Voi, Circ, and Jump by Uber.

What else is closed in Paris?

In Paris, the December 5 demonstration route ran from Gare de l'Est down Boulevard de Magenta, through the Place de la République, and along Boulevard Voltaire to the Place de la Nation. Shops, restaurants, and other businesses along this route were closed during the demonstration. 

Similarly, many tourist attractions in the center of town, including the Eiffel Tower, were closed due to the protests. Before you visit any museums or tourist attractions, it's best to check on the venue's website or Twitter account to see if it will actually be open. For example, the Orsay museum was closed on December 5 and its website says it is uncertain if it will open on Friday, December 6. The Louvre remained open on December 5, but closed off certain rooms due to the strike. Its website says it, "may open later and some exhibition rooms may remain closed," on December 6.

However, other than most Métros being closed, it's business as usual in other neighborhoods. AFAR's editor-in-chief, Julia Cosgrove, is currently in Paris with her family and reported that restaurants and grocery stores were open in the St. Germain neighborhood, as well as galleries, boutiques, and big brand chains.  

Is the U.S. State Department warning against travel to France?

The U.S. State Department has not changed its France Travel Advisory from a Level 2 since April 1, 2019. The Level 2 warning indicates that travelers should exercise increased caution, citing terrorism and civil unrest as the reasons.

However, the U.S. Embassy in Paris did release a demonstration alert on November 29, 2019, to notify U.S. citizens about the general strike on December 5, 2019. 

“There will be significant disruptions to rail, air, and local transportation services,” the alert reads. “This strike could continue beyond December 5, and many trains and flights have already been cancelled.”

What should you do if you’re traveling to France?

The U.S. State Department recommends that anyone traveling to Paris or other parts of France this weekend review their travel plans for December 5 to 9, 2019, and prepare for alternate lodging or transportation in the event their itinerary is interrupted. 

In light of the demonstrations taking place across the country in conjunction with the strike, the State Department also advises U.S. citizens to avoid those areas and exercise caution if they end up in the vicinity of large gatherings or protests.

If you enroll in the State Department’s Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP), you can receive security updates throughout the strike. (You can also follow them on Twitter and Facebook for up-to-date information.)

In general, it’s best to keep a low profile and be aware of your surroundings while traveling during any period of civil unrest, and always notify your friends and family members of your safety if the situation turns violent.

Lastly, monitor local news stations for updates. The following English-language websites cover local French news.

For additional assistance, contact the U.S. Embassy in Paris at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfo@state.gov. Those traveling in the south of France can contact the U.S. Consulate General in Marseille at +33 (1) 43 12 22 22 or CitizenInfoMarseille@state.gov.

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