Sailing away on a SeaFrance ferry the other day, I was surprised to find not a single daily newspaper on board. It was a morning departure, so I expected to see piles of them.
Thinking this must be a temporary blip, I asked the lady behind the desk what the problem was.
She said that they stopped selling newspapers some time ago. Why, I asked? She shrugged her shoulders and said she didn’t know.
Apart from an English-language weekly published in France, it was a newspaper-free zone. Lots of passengers were bowling up to buy a paper but were disappointed. Departing holidaymakers like to take a paper with them, returning holidaymakers look forward to buying one on their return.
A few people in the lounge had bought a paper with them and fellow passengers were looking over shoulders to take a sneak read. I was sitting next to a couple who were engrossed in the newspaper crossword. The business and sports supplements were left unopened. “You are welcome to look at them,” they said kindly, recognising perhaps that a newspaper addict was desperate for a morning fix.
Now I know SeaFrance is going through choppy financial waters. It has gone into administration, is laying off some 700 staff and is apparently up for sale. But surely none of this should affect whether or not it sells newspapers on board.
My colleague and I decided to call Robin Wilkins, general manager of SeaFrance in Dover. His exasperated reply suggested that he had nothing to do with it. He did not say so, but it looks like a decision made in France.
I wondered whether other cross-Channel ferry operators were doing the same. So I rang Chris Laming, communications director at P&O. He was surprised to hear about the SeaFrance decision. “We supply newspapers free of charge in Club Lounge and sell newspapers from the shop,” he said. “We have no plans to change.” That’s good to hear.
So the moral of the story is - if you want a newspaper on a cross-Channel ferry, you won’t find one if you sail with SeaFrance. If you do, and I accept that there may be other reasons why you choose one operator over another, then buy one before you embark. Otherwise, you face a news-free voyage.
It’s a shame, because in all other respects, SeaFrance provides a good service, with improvements, including a culinary makeover, in the offing.