Simon Calder, also known as The Man Who Pays His Way, has been writing about travel for The Independent since 1994. In his weekly opinion column, he explores a travel issue. important – and what it means to you.
The beginning of July marks the beginning of a month-long holiday for juilletistes, holidaymakers in France who love to receive their big vacancies this month. When they go to the coast or the countryside, the void they create in cities is traditionally filled by tourists.
France is the most popular country on Earth in terms of international arrivals, with around 200 million arrivals per year. One in 12 tourists come from the UK, with July and August being the most popular months for British tourists to cross the English Channel.
How popular? On Sunday, one ferry company alone, DFDS, made 10 trips from Dover to Calais and another 7 to Dunkirk. From Gatwick, easyJet has 35 departures to airports in France. And from London St Pancras International to Paris Gare du Nord, Eurostar has dozens of sold-out trains with only a few seats left (for a challenging £218 one way).
Some of the tens of thousands of passengers preparing to depart may be rethinking. France has seen five days of severe social unrest with no sign of abating. The State Department warned: “Many people have become violent. Shops, public buildings and parked cars have been targeted.”
The shocking murder of a teenager by French police on June 27 was the cause of the violence, exposing the deep-seated anger of people living in poorer suburbs of major cities.
The average tourist would not visit such locations, and most of the unrest is taking place far from the city centre. But closing public transport in Paris and other major cities at night will cause significant problems for many tourists.
Most of the unrest has taken place far from tourist areas, with isolated incidents in the city centre. But buses, trams and the Paris Metro close early. As I wrote late Saturday afternoon, Eurostar warned: “Public transport will be heavily restricted from 9pm tonight to 5am tomorrow.”
There is also the risk that road blockades could begin, as we saw with the gilets jaunes protesters five years ago.
What options are available to travelers feeling “buyer regret” about choosing a July trip to France? Any easyJet customer flying to France this weekend can contact the customer service team on 0330 551 5151 and switch to an alternative flight without the usual £49 per person, for each flight change fee.
Eurostar is offering flexibility to those who don’t want to go to a French city where all public transport has stopped working. But most other transport operators say it is normal business and the usual cancellation and change conditions apply.
Since the State Department does not warn against travel, travelers will not be able to claim travel insurance if they decide not to continue their trip to France or return home early. Even if a state of emergency is declared in France, I don’t think the FCDO will warn against traveling across the Channel.
I am booked to travel to Paris on Monday. Right now, I don’t mind going to the French capital or anywhere else. But I realize that not everyone has such (possibly misplaced) confidence.
If you’re worried enough about your upcoming trip to consider canceling, it helps if you’re booked into a package holiday that’s right – including transportation and accommodation.
Package travel regulations 2018 may be on your side. They say: “Travellers have the right to terminate a package tour contract without a termination fee if unusual and unavoidable circumstances occur at the destination or in the vicinity that significantly affect the effectiveness of the package tour. package capacity”. That language is pretty loose: closing the Metro at night probably won’t count. But if you’re on a cultural tour and some important museums are closed because of the unrest, you can get a full refund.
What happens with air traffic controllers across Europe facing “high overload” and strikers preparing to step out of Italian airports and on Italian trains? England, the summer of 2023 will not be easy for everyone. But I predict that the vast majority of us, whether on holiday in July in France or elsewhere, will return unscathed and rich.