Air Travel in France

Air travel in France is an important transport link not only within France but to the rest of the world. There are 45 Regional Airports in Metropolitan France offering flights to and from most international destinations, see list of regional airports below. Located just to the north-east of Paris is Charles de Gaulle Airport, the largest in France and the second busiest in europe after Heathrow in London, England.

History of air travel in France

Since the 18th Century, air travel in France has played an important part in French history when the discovery of hydrogen gas led to the advent of the hydrogen balloon. The Montgolfier brothers were the first to introduce manned flights in a tethered hot air balloon. The French Government were also known to have used free flying and tethered balloons for military purposes and established Balloon Companies during the French Revolution.

The term aviation is derived from the Latin ‘avis’ meaning bird and was first used in 1863 by French pioneer Guillaume Joseph Gabriel de La Landelle (1812–1886) in “Aviation ou Navigation Aérienne”.

Enthusiasm with air-travel continued to grow with the invention and design of the air-ship and later, fixed wing aircraft, to all of which France has made a considerable contribution.

It was between the two World Wars that the real advancements in aircraft technology were made, but it was not until after the end of the Second World War in 1945 that commercial aviation really took off. Many of the decommissioned super heavy bomber airframes like the B-29 and Lancaster were converted into commercial aircraft. The first commercial jet airliner was the British de Havilland Comet.

One of the best known jet aircraft developed was the supersonic passenger jet, Concorde. It was jointly developed and manufactured by the French state owned company Aérospatiale and the British Aircraft Corporation (BAC) under an Anglo-French treaty. The name ‘Concorde’ meaning ‘harmony’ was given to the jet to promote the co-operation between the two countries. It entered service in 1976 and continued to fly for the next 27 years, flying regular transatlantic flights from London Heathrow and Paris Charles de Gaulle to New York-JFK, Washington Dulles and Barbados travelling at twice the speed of sound.

France’s principal airline is Air France and was founded in 1933 and is now part of the privatised group Air-France-KLM. It serves the major French airports and also many overseas airports. Its home base is Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris with other bases at Nice, Lyon-Saint Exupéry, Marseille, Toulouse and Bordeaux airports. Air France’s fleet consists of 327 aircraft and serves 190 worldwide destinations.

Airports of France

The main French International Airport is Paris Charles-de-Gaulle serviced principally by Air France and the Sky Team Alliance (comprised of Dutch KLM, Aeromexico, Alitalia, Delta Air Lines, Korean Air). There are three terminals at CDG and a free shuttle service is available between them. The TGV service is available from Terminal Two offering connections to several main cities in France as well as Brussels in Belgium.

Domestic air travel in France and some International European flights are serviced from Orly, Paris’ second, smaller international airport.  A local, fast train service (RER) links the two airports of Paris and there is also an Air France operated bus service (free to all Air France passengers) available.

Easyjet, flyBe and Ryanair are the main budget airlines operating from the regional airports across France but be advised that the routes can change frequently and some destinations are not served all year round. Whilst ticket prices can be cheap be aware that surcharges for checked in baggage, priority boarding etc. can increase your final outlay considerably.

The following companies operate domestic flights within France: Air France, Hop!, Air Corsica, Twin Jet, EasyJet Ryanair, Eastern Airways, Hex’Air, Heli Securite and Nice Helicopteres. Visit their websites to find out which airport they operate from and the destinations they fly to.

Direct flights from Metropolitan France to the DOM-TOM (French overseas departments and territories) are offered by the following carriers: Air Austral,Air Caraïbes, Air France, Corsair International and XL Airways. Note that the 5 DOM-TOM (French Guiana, Guadeloupe, Martinique, Mayotte and Réunion) are outside the Schengen Area and the EU VAT Area and apply a different immigration regime to metropolitan France. If flying from Metropolitan France to one of the DOM-TOM then there are only immigration checks on departure. If however, you are returning from a DOM-Tom TO Metropolitan France then there are immigration checks both on departure and arrival, known as ‘double contrôle d’identité’. If you are a EU, EEA or Swiss citizens, then a valid passport or national identity card is sufficient for the immigration checks both in metropolitan France and in the DOM-TOMs.

Air France flies direct to Paris Charles-de-Gaulle (CDG) several times daily from London Heathrow, Dublin and regional airports such as Birmingham and Manchester; its subsidiary Cityjet flies from London City to Paris Orly (ORY). Flights to most other French destinations involve a change at Paris. British Airways has several flights a day to Paris CDG from London Heathrow but its flights from provincial airports to Paris involve a change at London. BA also operates flights from London to Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice and Toulouse. In Ireland, Aer Lingus offers nonstop flights from Dublin and Cork to Paris CDG; from Dublin to Bordeaux, Lyon, Marseille, Nice, Perpignan and Toulouse; and from Cork to Nice.

Easyjet, flyBe and Ryanair are the main budget airlines operating from the regional airports across France but be advised that the routes can change frequently and some destinations are not served all year round. Whilst ticket prices can be cheap be aware that surcharges for checked in baggage, priority boarding etc. can increase your final outlay considerably.

Flights from the US and Canada are operated by most major airlines, Air France offering the most frequent service. Other airlines offering nonstop services to Paris from a variety of US cities include: American Airlines from New York, Boston, Chicago, Dallas and Miami; Delta from Atlanta and Cincinnati; United from Chicago, Philadelphia and Washington DC and US Airways from Charlotte. Air Canada offers nonstop services to Paris from Montréal and Toronto, while Air Transat offers good-value scheduled and charter flights to Paris from a number of bases and to other destinations from Montréal, Québec or Toronto. . Another option is to fly with a European carrier – such as British Airways, Iberia or Lufthansa – to its European hub and then continue on to Paris or a regional French airport. (This is cut and pasted from ‘rough guide’ website – I am having trouble rewriting in a different format)

Travelling from Australia or New Zealand travellers generally opt to fly via London Heathrow transferring on to their French destination from there. Flights via Asia or the Gulf States are generally cheaper than those routed through the US. Sydney, Perth, Melbourne and Auckland airports all offer France as a destination point.

Whilst people travelling from South Africa are able to fly direct from Johannesburg to Paris with Air France. It is also possible to fly from Cape Town but this involves flying via Johannesburg or Amsterdam and is a more expensive option. British Airways offer flights from Johannesburg and Cape Town via London. South African airlines operate a codeshare with German operator Lufthansa, flying into Munich or Frankfurt with a transfer on to Paris.

List of regional airports in France

Alsace: Strasbourg Entzheim, Mulhouse
Aquitaine: Brodeaux,Pau –Uzein, Périgueux, Biarritz, Agen, Bergerac
Auvergne: Clemont-Ferrand, Aurrillac Tronquiere
Basse Normandie: Caen
Bretagne: Brest, Lorient, Lannion, Rennes, Quimper, St Nazaire Montoir
Centre: Tours
Corse: Ajaccio, Bastia – Corse, Figari Sud Corse, Calvi
Île-de-France: Paris Beauvais, Paris Charles-de-Gaulle, Paris Orly
Languedoc-Roussillon: Montpellier, Perpignan, Béziers
Limousin: Brive Vallée de la Dordgne, Limoges
Lorraine: Metz-Nancy Lorraine
Midi-Pyrénées: Toulouse, Lourdes, Castres Mazamet
Nord-Pas-de-Calais: Lille
Pays de Loire: Nantes
Poitou-Charentes: Poitiers, La Rochelle
Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur: Nice, Marseille, Toulon-Hyéres, Avignon
Rhône-Alpes: Lyon Saint Exupéry, Saint Étienne, Chambéry, Grenoble

Entry requirements

Outside the EU

It is necessary for all foreign nationals entering France to submit statutory documentary evidence for the reasons of their stay, their means of financial support and accommodation arrangements.

Visa requirements for anyone entering France (except those that are exempt – see below) depends on the duration and reason for your stay. A visa can be applied for from the French embassy or consulate of your country of residence before your visit. Note that once your visa has been issued and you have entered the French territory no modification or change of status may be made.

If your planned stay is less than, or does not exceed, 90 days (3 months), you need to apply for a short-stay “Schengen” visa.

If your planned stay is to exceed 90 days (3 months) then you must apply for a long-stay visa. If you have been issued with a long-stay visa then you are required on arrival in France, to register with the French Immigration and Integration Office (OFII) or, in some cases, apply to the relevant prefecture for a residence permit.

If you are coming to France to work then a work permit must be obtained prior to applying for a visa.

Within the EU

France is a member of the Schengen Agreement, which means that there are no immigration controls between the countries that have signed and implemented this treaty. The Schengen Area encompasses most EU States, except for Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Ireland, Romania and the United Kingdom. However, Bulgaria and Romania are currently in the process of joining the Schengen Area. The non EU states of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are also part of the agreement

Because not all EU members have signed the Schengen treaty and not all Schengen members are part of the European Union there may be spot customs checks but no immigration checks (travelling within Schengen but to/from a non-EU country) or you may have to clear immigration but not customs (travelling within the EU but to/from a non-Schengen country).

For further information on the Schengen Agreement

Not all foreign nationals, holding an ordinary passport need to make an application for a visa. Visa exemption depends on the following.

  • Your nationality
  • Possession of a residence permit for France or a Schengen state
  • The duration of your stay
  • Where on French territory you intend to stay

For more information on visa requirements


French airport search map

To help you find an airport in your area of interest, use our map below by entering a town/postcode and a distance area. If your search doesn’t show any results broaden it to the next distance setting.