Simon Calder's Holiday Helpdesk: Why is culture capital Marseille not easier to reach?

 

Q. In the year when Marseille is European Capital of Culture, can you understand why the Eurostar direct service was not extended there exceptionally and indeed why British Airways chose to abandon its service from Gatwick?

Danielle Marson

A. Excellent question. As you know, Eurostar is currently trialling a direct train from London St Pancras to Aix-en-Provence, on Saturdays only up to 29 June. Given that Marseille St-Charles station is only about 15 minutes' travel further, I agree that it's an odd choice to terminate at an out-of-town station rather than making it all the way to the Med. I imagine that the decision was based on the availability (or otherwise) of train paths and/or station platforms.

The British Airways aspect is easier to answer. Marseille has tried more energetically than any other airport in France to attract low-cost airlines, even creating a large, no-frills shed known as the MP2 terminal that has attracted both easyJet and Ryanair. For several years, BA competed head-to-head with easyJet on the Gatwick-Marseille route. BA decided that it would fare better from Heathrow, and moved its service around the M25. It did exactly the same with its former Gatwick-Toulouse link, which also switched to Heathrow. Operating costs and fares are much higher, but BA reckons that it will make more money without direct competition from easyJet.

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