Rugby World Cup: Irish fans may grapple with transport alternatives due to French air traffic control strike

Industrial action by French union scheduled for Friday could make it harder and more expensive to get to Nantes for the Tonga match

Strike action by French air traffic controllers later this week could see the plans of thousands of Irish rugby fans hoping to go to Nantes for Saturday’s match against Tonga booted into touch before kick-off.

Another mass walk out orchestrated by France’s largest union for air traffic controllers is scheduled to take place on Friday with Ireland’s second group game scheduled to kick off at 9pm local time on Saturday.

And while Ryanair and Aer Lingus have played down mass cancellations, the impact of the strike on Irish rugby fans is still up in the air.

People who booked flights for the day of the game are likely to be okay – although previous air traffic control strikes in France have tended to impact flights at least to some degree even after they end. The key day will be Friday and those who have planned to make a weekend of it by flying out the day before might find their travel plans in disarray.


The strike action timed to coincide with the World Cup is part of an ongoing series of protests against the French government’s plan to increase the pension age from 62 to 64.

And if previous walkouts are any guide, airports in and around Paris as well as Marseilles, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes and Nice are likely to be worst-hit.

Under EU regulation 261, airlines must offer passengers affected by cancellations a full refund or a rerouting on the next available flight or at a later time that suits the passenger.

However, consumer rights will be of little interest to rugby fans who run the risk of missing the second game if their flights are cancelled.

Aer Lingus has four flights from Dublin to Nantes on Friday, with one flight leaving on Saturday and arriving in plenty of time for the match. There is still some availability although seats will come at a price with little change out of €700 for a return flight that weekend.

Ryanair has two flights heading to the French city on Saturday morning with the cheapest outbound fare coming in at €219. Fast forward a week at the flights cost about €80, reflecting the impact of supply and demand on airline prices.

Nantes is just under 400km from Paris so there will be people flying into the French capital and travelling either by car, bus or train to the match. The high-speed TGV will get people to the city from Paris in about two hours while somewhat slower trains will make it in a still impressive three hours and 15 minutes.

Aer Lingus has four flights to Paris on Friday that could be caught up in industrial action, while Ryanair has two to Beauvais.

“We’re closely monitoring the situation. At this time, we are operating all flights as planned,” an Aer Lingus spokeswoman said. “We will notify customers directly of any changes to their flights.”

For its part, Ryan was optimistic flights to Nantes would be okay.

“We expect significant disruption to our European flight schedules on Friday because French ATC [air traffic control] protect French flights by unfairly cancelling a disproportionate number of overflights,” a spokeswoman said. “We don’t expect much disruption to our French flights [including Nantes] but any affected passengers will receive email notices on Thursday advising them of any cancellations required by French ATC and offering them free flight moves to flights before or after the 15th or full refunds if they so wish.”

She said that Ryanair expected French ATC to “notify us of required flight cancellations on Thursday and we will let passengers know as soon as we know. We are calling on the Irish Government to support our campaign to protect overflights during French ATC strikes (64 days of strikes so far this year) but, as usual, Transport Minister Eamonn Ryan is asleep on the job.”

If your flight is cancelled there are options. Stena Line has a sailing from Rosslare to Cherbourg departing at 5pm on Friday evening and docking in the French port at noon on Saturday. The return journey leaves at 7pm on Sunday night and gets back to Rosslare at noon on Monday.

A return journey for two people with a car and a cabin will set you back €617. An alternative might be to take a one-way journey on the Friday and use public transport to make your way from Chebourg to Nantes and then fly home as normal, a move which would reduce the cost to €366.

The distance from Cherbourg to Nantes is 340km which would take about four hours to drive. While the train from the port to Nantes will take about six hours and cost €50 or so.

Another alternative would be to take the Stena Line ferry from Dublin to Holyhead at a cost of about €400 – a price which covers the return journey for a car with two adults.

The crossing will take about three hours, while the drive from Holyhead to Dover will take you about six hours all going well. The ferry crossing from Dover to Calais will add another 90 minutes to your journey and add about €200 to the price. It is 600km from Calais to Nantes so you’d need to allow a good six hours to get there.

All told, your travel time from Dublin to Nantes comes in at 17 hours – and 17 back. Allow yourself eight hours for sleeping so you’ll probably need to leave on Thursday at the latest if you are to make it on time.

Or you could, you know, watch it on the telly and spend the next few days cursing your luck and the striking air traffic controllers.

Conor Pope

Conor Pope

Conor Pope is Consumer Affairs Correspondent, Pricewatch Editor and cohost of the In the News podcast