It provides a high standard of service and, as you would expect, excellent in-flight cuisine. Smoking is banned on French domestic flights and on Air France international flights of less than two hours.
All major international airlines provide scheduled services to Paris, and many also fly to other main French cities such as Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Toulouse. Air France shares many international routes with just one foreign carrier and is thus able to charge high fares. The lack of competition means that international and domestic flights are among the world’s most expensive.
However, some opposition is starting to appear and high fares on some transatlantic flights have been reduced in recent years by travel agents such as Nouvelles Frontières and no-frills airlines such as BMIbaby, EasyJet, Flybe and Ryanair. British visitors are especially well served by cheap flights, particularly from London Stansted airport, to many regional French airports, although routes change with disturbing frequency and advertised prices aren’t always obtainable.
France’s second airline, Air Littoral, was rescued from the receivers and offers flights to European destinations from its hubs in Montpellier and Nice, but a ‘low cost’ airline, Flyeco, launched in June 2004, has already ‘crashed’.
Sadly, most of France’s regional airlines have been swallowed by Air France (08 20 82 08 20 for bookings, www.airfrance.fr), which now dominates the domestic flight market, although there are still a few regional services, e.g. the Compagnie Aérienne Corse Mediterranée and Corsair, which operate flights to Corsica, and Air Outre-Mer, which offers daily flights to Réunion.
Air France operates domestic services between major cities such as Paris, Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Mulhouse/Basel, Nice, Strasbourg and Toulouse. Many domestic flights are timed to connect with international arrivals in Paris.
Competition on major domestic routes from TGVs, e.g. Paris-Lyon and Paris-Marseille (which has attracted twice as many passengers as the corresponding air route), has helped reduce air fares and flying is sometimes cheaper than travelling by train and quicker on most routes. Any destination in mainland France or Corsica can be reached in less than 100 minutes by air, although stricter security now means that check-in times can be up to 45 minutes before departure.
Air France offers cut-price tickets (called Tempo), which must be booked at least two weeks in advance, for periods including a Saturday and Coups de Coeur discounts on certain flights, bookable only on Wednesdays via the internet (www.airfrance.fr).
Children between 4 and 12 years old may travel alone provided the airline is informed at the time of booking. Special offers for frequent fliers are provided by most European and international airlines, including Air France, which is nevertheless one of the most expensive airlines for intercontinental flights to France.
All airline passengers buying tickets in France must now pay a surcharge (euphemistically called a taxe de solidarité (depending on the destination and seat class), which is supposed to go to an international fund, Unitaid, designed to combat disease in the developing world – a charge which many believe to be illegal – and there is talk of the possible introduction of ‘environmental’ surcharges.
After London, Paris is one of the cheapest European destinations from North America. Apart from special offers, the cheapest way to get to Paris from North America is with an apex fare, which must usually be booked 21 days in advance, travelling midweek and staying at least seven days. Thanks to the strong link between France and Quebec, there are frequent air services between France and Canada, mostly from Paris to Toronto or Montreal.
From other countries, it’s worthwhile comparing the cost of a direct flight to Paris with a flight via another European city. If you’re planning to fly out of France during school holidays, book well in advance, particularly if you’re heading for a popular destination such as London or New York.
The main French airports handling intercontinental flights are Paris Roissy-Charles de Gaulle (CDG) and Paris Orly (see below), Lyon-Saint-Exupéry (formerly Satolas), Nice-Côte-d’Azur and Marseille-Provence. Many of France’s regional airports have flights to a number of European destinations, particularly London Stansted. Flights to North African countries are also common from regional airports, mainly to cater for migrant workers. Nice is France’s busiest provincial airport with direct scheduled flights to around 80 cities worldwide, closely followed by Marseille, which serves around 70 international destinations.
Among the many other French airports served by international flights are Beauvais (sometimes called Paris/Beauvais, although it’s around 80km/50mi north of the city), Bergerac, Biarritz, Bordeaux, Brest, Brive-la-Gaillarde, Caen, Carcassonne, Chambéry, Cherbourg, Clermont-Ferrand, Dijon, Dinard, Grenoble, Hyères/Toulon, La Rochelle, Le Havre, Lille, Limoges, Lourdes, Montpellier, Mulhouse/Basel, Nancy/Metz, Nantes, Nîmes, Pau, Perpignan, Quimper, Reims, Rennes, Rodez, Strasbourg, Toulouse and Tours/Poitiers. There are also international flights to Ajaccio, Bastia, Calvi and Figari in Corsica. Depending on your destination, it’s sometimes cheaper or quicker to fly to an international airport outside France, such as Luxembourg for north-eastern France and Geneva for eastern France.
Long and short-term parking is available at major airports, including reserved parking for the disabled, and car hire is also available at Paris and principal provincial airports. Details of all French airports and their services can be found online (www.aeroport.fr).
Paris is served by direct flights from almost every major capital city in the world and there are also direct flights from over 30 US and Canadian cities operated by around 12 airlines. Most local taxis outside Paris have special rates for passengers going to either of the two airports, and you can often arrange with your local taxi service to pick you up at the airport on your return.
For those who drive to the airport, there are car parks at both CDG and Orly, which charge around €2.75 per hour up to around €22 for 24 hours, although CDG has a long-term car park where you can leave your car for 24 hours for just €12.
Even for short periods, this can be cheaper than taking a taxi from your home to the airport and saves you the inconvenience of having to carry heavy luggage on buses or trains. The Aéroports de Paris website (www.adp.fr) has information on both CDG and Orly, including access maps (and even pre-ordering from the airport duty-free shops!).
Roissy-Charles de Gaulle: Charles de Gaulle or Roissy (as it’s usually called) is 23km (14mi) north-east of the centre of Paris. There are two terminals ( aérogare): terminal 2 serves Air France plus Air Inter, Air Bremen, Air Madagascar, Air Seychelles, Alitalia, Austrian Airlines, Brymon Airways, Canadian Airlines, Crossair, CSA, Interflug, LOT, Luxair, MALEV and Tyrolean Airways; terminal 1 serves all other foreign airlines. The terminals are linked by a free bus service, and there’s a bus service to Orly, costing €16. For Roissy airport information 01 48 62 22 80.
A high-speed link from Roissy to the centre of Paris is planned but won’t be a reality before 2012; until then, the quickest way to travel between central Paris and Roissy airport is to take the RER line B, which takes 35 minutes. A free shuttle bus operates from the RER station at Châtelet Les Halles and from Roissy railway station to the terminals. There are also a variety of bus services to and from central Paris operated by Air France, RATP and private operators, e.g. hotels. Most services operate from around 05.00 until 23.00 and run every 15 or 30 minutes, taking around 50 minutes. Single fares are around €8.50.
Orly : Orly airport is 14km south of central Paris and has two terminals: Sud serving mainly international flights and Ouest (recently refurbished) serving mainly domestic flights. The quickest way to get to Orly from central Paris is to take RER line B in the direction of St. Rémy-les-Chevreuses and change at Antony for the Orlyval train. There are also trains every 15 minutes on RER line C from the Gare d’Austerlitz to Orly SNCF station. Bus services from central Paris are similar to those for Roissy-Charles de Gaulle. Orly airport information is available on 01 49 75 15 15.
This article is an extract from Living and working in France. Click here to get a copy now.