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The TGV has mandatory seat reservations (unlike, for example, the ICE). There is no equivalent of German Flexpreis where I can take any train, and if I miss my connection I need to get a new ticket issued. Yet on the TGV, there are often small foldable corridor seats, which do not have seat numbers assigned. When travelling on TGV, I've often seen those in use. What is the purpose of those seats? My impression is that in case of disturbances, the mandatory seat reservation is not well enforced, but I don't know if that is at the discretion of the train manager or if there is an established policy.

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The TGV has mandatory seat reservations

That is incorrect, e.g. see https://en.oui.sncf/en/france-europe/on-board-seating-positions (mirror):

When all seats are booked, you will be offered an "no fixed seat booked" seat. In this case, your ticket will have a coach number and be marked "sans place attribuée" (no fixed seat booked).

Rest assured, to ensure we continue to deliver a quality service, the number of "no fixed seat booked" seats is limited. When you board the train, locate the ticket inspector who will help you find a place.

In practice, it might not be practical to locate the ticket inspector. If you have a "no fixed seat booked" seat, you simply enter the train and sit wherever you want as long as 1) nobody has booked your seat and wants to sit there 2) the ticket inspector doesn't ask you to move somewhere else. As a result, you may end up on the corridor seats, and sometime on the floor. But not on the roof.

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    I had a nice laugh when I got to "But not on the roof." – ceejayoz Dec 19 '19 at 21:13
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    It’s worth noting that if the ticket inspector can’t find you a proper seat (not one of the seats near the stairs), you’re supposed to get a voucher in compensation (up to 30 € IIRC). – Stephen Kitt Dec 20 '19 at 16:17
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    Also worth noting is that if there are no more seats in economy class the ticket controller is supposed to offer you a seat in 1st class if any are available. – Denis de Bernardy Dec 21 '19 at 11:34
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When I missed my connection I went to the ticket window, I was accepted on the next train even though, in theory, there were no seats available. I had to report to the train manager. He asked me to sit in one of those extra seats till the train was well underway and then move to any of the empty seats, as they expected other people to miss that train.

I have heard alike stories of other people, some of whom could not find empty seats and stayed in the corridor seats.

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  • Me too, but is this your right, a policy, or is at the discretion of the train manager and you just need to hope they've had a good night's sleep, a pleasant breakfast, and no fights with the spouse? – gerrit Dec 19 '19 at 9:15
  • I got the impression that for each train they allow a given number, based on 'no show' numbers. But when all trains are delayed I think they allow higher numbers. – Willeke Dec 19 '19 at 9:19
  • It is firstly your right to be transported on the next available train if you miss a train due to a fault of the railway. Even though some train managers in France will pretend not to know that. (It is France after all). But there are also categories of tickets that allow you to take another train than the one booked. – Krist van Besien Dec 19 '19 at 12:55
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Note that the rules have recently changed, are still in flux, and of course things may be very different in case of disruption.

Until recently:

  • On TGV seat reservation were mandatory
  • There would be a small number of reservations made without an assigned seat, and no guaranteed seat. This is just plain and simple overbooking. In many cases there will be no-shows and you will find a seat anyway, in others you'll just have to sit on the "strapontins" (foldable seats on the door platforms in non-Duplex TGVs) or "banquettes" (side seats on the top floor of Duplex TGVs). Or standing at the bar.
  • But there was quite a bit of flexibility for some types of tickets and frequent travellers, which meant they could just hop on the train before or after the one they had booked. The rules were complex (depending on your category, it could be only trains before, or only after, it could be any train before or just the one before....). It at least some cases, you were supposed to see the train manager when boarding, and they could accept/refuse you on board.
  • The ones "abusing" this the most were the holders of a "Forfait" (pass) that allows them to travel as much as they want while paying only a nominal amount per trip (I believe it's 1.50 euros or something similar), as long as they reserve, but they could change to earlier/later trains. This meant that even if the train they wanted was full, they booked the train before, and then got on the train they wanted.
  • Some categories of travellers had the "reservation train complet" privilege which allows them to change their reservation onto another train the same day even if full.

So, as you see, there are lots of possible reasons there could be people standing or on the "extra seats" in a TGV. Even with all regular seats occupied, you'll find the bar coach quite full on some trains (even if the bar itself is actually closed for service), especially the "commuter" TGVs (Lille-Paris, Reims-Paris, etc.).

A few weeks ago they changed the rules a bit, and now you supposedly can't just hop onto another train. You have to change your ticket before boarding. However, there are still plenty of people who still have all the same privileges as before, so it probably won't change things much (maybe they'll put a cap on the total of "extra" passengers? I'm not sure what the goal of the change really is).

I haven't had the "opportunity" to exercise any of those privileges since the changes, so I can't really say how in practice this affects things.

Note that beyond a certain number of passengers (but this only happens in cases of disruption), the TGV is not allowed to travel at full speed, so train managers try to avoid getting to that point.

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  • As a data point: During the 2019-2020 French pension referm strike, on 2020-01-04 my TGV from Paris to Frankfurt was cancelled and I took the Paris-Muninch TGV to Karlsruhe instead. Apparently many travellers did so and this was tolerated. We did not get extra tickets issued and we did not see any controller apart from the automated ticket gates at Gare de l'Est. – gerrit Jan 6 at 13:44
  • @gerrit During strikes train managers have a strong tendency to hide as much as they can :-) – jcaron Jan 6 at 13:45
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These seats are also very useful when you simply want to spend some time in the corridor for whatever reason, e.g. to make a phone call, to calm a crying baby, or because you're preparing to get off the train.

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