Belfast Telegraph

Euro2016 airlines hike flight costs four-fold as Northern Ireland fans plan to invade France

By Adrian Rutherford

The scramble for flights, tickets and hotels is under way as Northern Ireland fans start planning their Euro 2016 adventure.

But already they are counting the cost after air fares shot up minutes after the draw was made on Saturday evening.

A direct flight to Nice for Northern Ireland's opening game against Poland starts at an eye-watering £415 - more than four times the normal price.

Flights for Lyon and Paris, where Northern Ireland will also play, have also spiralled over the past 36 hours.

The Green and White Army are expected to invade France in record numbers ahead of our first appearance at a major tournament for 30 years.

Michael O'Neill's side have been allocated a daunting group which includes world champions Germany.

Their Euro 2016 schedule involves:

  • An opening game against Poland in Nice on Sunday, June 12;
  • A match against Ukraine in Lyon on Thursday, June 16;
  • And that showdown with the Germans in the final group fixture in Paris on Tuesday, June 21.

The matches will see fans embark on a trek of more than 600 miles through France, spanning nine days.

It begins in Nice, second only to Paris in popularity among tourists.

Then it's a 300-mile journey north to Lyon, before the group stage concludes at the Parc des Princes in the French capital.

However, fans face an almighty scramble to get tickets, hotels and flights.

Supporters seeking a direct flight to Nice for the opening game will have to travel via Dublin.

But it will come at a cost with prices rising fast.

A flight departing on June 12, arriving in Nice four hours before kick-off, and returning the following day starts at £415.

Fans flying out the day before the game and returning on June 13 still face prices starting at £335. A similar journey the previous month costs just £103.

A direct flight from Belfast to Paris for the Germany game will cost more than £500.

Travel expert Simon Calder said fans heading to the Euros on a budget should avoid the airport. "The budget option is to pack your pals into a car and take advantage of cheap Channel crossings from Dover/Folkestone to Calais/Dunkirk," he said.

"The ferry firms have oceans of capacity, and you should find fares under £100 return for a vehicle and up to nine people, even on key dates. P&O Ferries is offering fans a discount if they book Larne-Cairnryan and Dover-Calais ferries on the same reservation."

Once fans have their travel arranged, they face the even trickier prospect of getting their hands on tickets.

The Irish FA has said supporters will be allowed to apply for two tickets to the games.

Fans' loyalty will be rewarded with those who regularly attended matches during the qualifying campaign given priority.

Lyon (59,000) and Paris (48,000) are among the larger grounds.

But the Stade de Nice, the venue for the opening game, is the second-smallest of the 10 stadiums, holding just 36,000.

Northern Ireland were bottom seeds and so were always going to get a tough draw. But having defied the odds to reach Euro 2016, few would bet against them pulling off another surprise or two.

O'Neill admits his side have a mountain to climb if they are to progress to the knockout rounds.

"Germany were the team from pot one that we wanted the least," he said.

"We play them in the next World Cup qualifying campaign as well. But having drawn them, I felt the big thing was to avoid possibly Italy out of pot two, which we managed to do.

"And I think that while it's a tough group, I believe it's a group that we can be competitive in."

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