Euro 2016: Planes, trains and automobiles for NI fans en route to Paris

Northern Ireland fans leave earlier this month for the group stages of Euro 2016
Northern Ireland fans leave earlier this month for the group stages of Euro 2016

The Green and White Army of Northern Ireland fans have joined the jet set in a frantic bid to make Paris in time for the historic Euro 2016 match against Wales.

As soon as the last 16 clash was confirmed on Wednesday night, a scramble for both flights and tickets began.

The unprecedented demand led to soaring prices and by Thursday morning the few remaining return flights to Paris from Belfast were costing up to £1,000.

Almost all of the obvious alternatives – via hubs in England and other French cities – had also sold out by Thursday afternoon.

Uefa put the tickets for the game on general release and many of the fans who bought flights earlier were then unable to secure a seat in the stands.

Others who had match tickets booked in advance of the group stage games were unable to find affordable travel arrangements at short notice.

One of the more exotic, but increasingly attractive, options available was private plane hire.

Ian Morrow of Jet Assist based at Belfast International said the private jet had become surprisingly competitive due to the soaring cost of alternatives, and could be the only option left for many who have exhausted all other possibilities.

There are 30 seats available of each of the two jets at Ian’s disposal but it was unclear what the deadline for having all passengers booked on would be to ensure the day return trip can go ahead at 9am on Saturday.

The Jet Assist chief executive said that the total hire cost from Belfast International to the business jet Le Bourget airport near the centre of Paris was £22,700 – or £750 per head.

One fan from Portadown, Glen Jameson, attempted to charter a 180-seat passenger plane for £70,000 (or £385 per head).

Late on Thursday he said the plan had to be called off due to a “perfect storm” of events, including French strikes and a sudden surge in demand for aircraft from mainstream airlines.

An alternative for fans travelling to Paris this weekend is the ferry. However, the only available direct sailing departed at 8.30pm on Thursday from Rosslare arriving in Cherbourg at 4.30pm on Friday.

The price was €319 single for car plus driver with additional passengers costing €38 each per adult.

Another option is the Stena Line’s Landbridge from Dublin, Rosslare, and Belfast sailing to Britain with onward travel in the ticket price. Routes include via Dover to Calais/Dunkirk with single lead in fare costing £119 or €148 for car plus driver.

Other options include going via Eurotunnel (Folkestone to Calais) with a single fare costing £150.50 or €183 for car plus driver, and travelling via Brittany Ferries sailing to Roscoff, Cherbourg, Caen, and St Malo with a single lead in fare at £218 or €273 for car plus driver.

For committed fans that don’t mind long and complicated journeys there are several options for flights to Paris. For example, using a combination of easyJet and British Airways leaving Belfast at 11.15am on Friday fans could be in the French capital by shortly after 9pm – but would have to spend eight hours stopping off in Liverpool and Barcelona. The single price for the journey was £264 on Thursday morning but is likely to have risen sharply as fans exhaust all other options and demand increased.

Gary McAllister, chairman of the Amalgamation of Official NI Supporters Clubs, urged caution for those who were tempted to travel without tickets – saying ticket touts would probably change exorbitant rates for such an important game – and said there were still travel options available for those willing to city hop.

“They could fly into neighbouring countries, or other cities in France, and the make a connection by rail if they have the time,” Mr McAllister said.

“We have also been given advice to be wary of counterfeit tickets, so my advice is to be very careful about who you would buy tickets from.”

Mr McAllister said the association had worked hard to ensure the arrival of around 25,000 Northern Ireland fans in France went as smooth as possible.

“The AONISC has been working with the IFA, PSNI, the Foreign Office and Football Supporters’ Europe to provide the Northern Ireland Fans’ Embassy, which is a voluntary project organised by fans, for fans. The Fan Embassy project is recognised by Uefa and has been funded by DCAL and the IFA.

It assists with various issues such as lost passports and helps to put fans in contact with police and consular support.”

Mr McAllister added: “We visited the three host cities in which Northern Ireland played their group games earlier this year to look at match day arrangements. It’s an entirely voluntary project and our 50 ambassadors paid their own travel and other costs at Euro 2016, like all other fans.

“We have a Facebook page (TheAmalgamation), Twitter (@AoNISC_Travel) and our 24/7 helpline number is +447943 542 100.”