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EXPLAINED: How does France’s domestic flight ban really work?

France's decision to ban short-haul domestic flights for environmental reasons was a world first that made headlines around the globe - but how many flights will the new rule actually ban?

EXPLAINED: How does France's domestic flight ban really work?
Photo by Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP

The French government announced its domestic flight ban back in 2021, but it has been back in the news after the European Commission ruled in France’s favour following a challenge by airport associations.

This clears the way for other European countries to bring in similar rules, as part of climate-based efforts to limit flights and persuade travellers to take green alternatives.

But the French plan sounds more dramatic than it actually is. Some French commentators used the phrase La montagne qui accouche d’une souris (the mountain that gave birth to a mouse) to describe a policy of which much was expected but actually has quite small effects.

What does the new rule say?

The new policy doesn’t ban all domestic flights – only those between destinations that can be reached by train in less than two-and-a-half hours.

So therefore routes like Paris-Nice (six hours by train) or Paris-Marseille (three hours by train) can continue.

It also only affects flights within France – so a flight from Paris to Geneva (three-and-a-quarter hours by train) can continue, even if the train limit changes.

There’s an extra detail too – there must be regular train services between the destinations in question, and they must run throughout the day (including early morning and evening) in order to make them a viable travel alternative.

So how many flights does this ban actually affect?

At present, just three.

  • Paris (Orly) – Bordeaux
  • Paris (Orly) – Nantes
  • Paris (Orly) – Lyon

It is, however, still possible to fly to these three cities from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport, and that is because of geographical location of the two airports and timetabling quirks it takes (fractionally) longer than two-and-a-half hours to travel by train from Paris Charles de Gaulle to Bordeaux, Nantes and Lyon.

You can also fly from Charles de Gaulle airport to Rennes and Lyon, because the frequency of train services is not judged to be good enough, even though you can get from Paris to Lyon in two hours or to Rennes in an hour-and-a half.

How much difference will this make to France’s carbon footprint?

Research carried out at an EU level suggests that it won’t make a huge difference, with short-haul (less than 500km) flights accounting for just six percent of airplane fuel used within the Bloc.

Long haul-flights (over 4,000km) account for just six percent of flights taken, but 47 percent of fuel burned.

What about private planes?

France’s transport minister Clément Beaune made more headlines when he talked about banning private jet flights.

However, this is not part of the current policy and Beaune then added that he wanted to do this on an EU level. Discussions on some sort of restriction for private jet flights are currently ongoing, but are a long way away from producing any sort of concrete proposal.

This sounds really underwhelming, what’s the point?

Yeah, as things stand it’s not the most effective policy.

But it’s a first step, and the European Commission’s ruling in France’s favour paves the way for more of this type of thing – essentially the Commission decided that although the measure is on the face of it anti-competitive for airlines and airports, member states do have the right to take this type of action when faced with a major threat such as the climate crisis.

This means that we could see more of this type of legislation around the EU, several other EU countries such as Austria have already imposed restrictions on short-haul flights from their state airlines, while others are considering similar moves. 

France could also extend the measures – at present some of the routes mentioned above are ‘on probation’ and could be scrapped if, for example, Paris to Lyon gets a more regular train service.

It’s also possible that the two-and-a-half hour limit could be expanded in subsequent legislation – the original proposal was for a six-hour limit, which would see an almost total domestic flight ban put in place.

Two-and-a-half hours was the compromise eventually reached in order to get the bill through parliament, but subsequent governments could decide to extend this. 

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France’s Macron urges end to plastic pollution at global talks

French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday warned that global plastics pollution was a "time bomb", as diplomats began five days of talks in Paris to make progress on a treaty to end plastic waste.

France's Macron urges end to plastic pollution at global talks

Representatives of 175 nations with divergent ambitions met at UNESCO headquarters for the second of five sessions with the aim of inking an historic agreement covering the entire plastics life cycle.

Macron urged nations negotiating a world treaty against plastic pollution to put an end to today’s “globalised and unsustainable” production model.

“Plastic pollution is a time-bomb and at the same time already a scourge today,” he said in a video message, in which he called for an end to a system where richer countries export plastic waste to poorer ones.

He added that the first priorities of the negotiations should be to reduce production of fossil-fuel-based plastics and to ban “as soon as possible” the most polluting products like single-use plastics.   

NGOs – as well as representatives of plastics companies and lobbyists, much to the chagrin of environmentalists – will also take part in the negotiations.

READ ALSO: Top court orders French govt to take more climate steps

In February 2022, nations agreed in principle on the need for a legally binding UN treaty to end plastic pollution around the world, setting an ambitious 2024 deadline.

Host country France organised a ministerial summit on Saturday with 60 countries to kick-start the talks.

“If we don’t act now, by 2050 there will be more plastic than fish in the oceans”, said French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna.


“Combatting plastic pollution will make our lives easier, both in terms of fighting climate change and in terms of preserving our oceans and biodiversity”, noted Christophe Bechu, France’s Minister for Ecological Transition.

The stakes are high, given that annual plastics production has more than doubled in 20 years to 460 million tonnes, and is on track to triple within four decades.

Two-thirds of this output is discarded after being used once or a few times, and winds up as waste. More than a fifth is dumped or burned illegally, and less than 10 percent is recycled.

But scaling up recycling is not a silver bullet, the head of the UN Environment Programme told AFP.

“It is one of many keys that we will need to make this work,” Inger Andersen said before the talks opened. “We can’t recycle our way out of this mess.”

Policy actions to be debated during the talks include a global ban on single-use plastic items, “polluter pays” schemes, and a tax on new plastic production.

Environmental groups are encouraged global plastics pollution is finally being tackled, but are concerned the treaty may not include targets to reduce overall plastic production.

“There is a consensus on the issues at stake and the will to act”, Diane Beaumenay-Joannet, an advocate at the Surfrider Foundation, told AFP. But “the precise content of the obligations is going to be complicated, particularly as regards reducing production.”