Eurostar Vs Flying

Yesterday I took the Eurostar from London to Paris. For anyone who doesn’t already know, the Eurostar is a train which takes you across the Channel Tunnel, and is currently the main operator that connects people from the UK to mainland Europe by rail. With rail travel being the only real competitor to flying when it comes to speed, I thought it would be useful to document the differences I found on board the Eurostar versus what I generally find on a flight, so that anyone considering travelling on either can get an idea of what to expect, and which is really better.

Speed

The Eurostar takes approximately 2 hours 15 minutes to get from London St Pancras Station to Gare de Nord in Paris. A flight from London to Paris takes approximately 1 hour depending upon which airport you fly from/to. At first it may seem like flying is the winner when it comes to speed here, but it’s important to remember a few factors… First off, the train takes you direct from London city centre, right into Paris city centre. If you are staying anywhere near the centre of Paris, you need to take into consideration it could take you around an hour to get from the airport to where you are staying depending on traffic. Another factor to consider is that with a flight it will usually take you around an hour at the end of your journey to get off the plane, pick up your luggage, and get out of the airport. With a train your bags are just down the aisle, and when the train stops you can get right off. If you are staying somewhere central, and you have luggage with you, then it is actually quicker to go by train by approximately 45 minutes as you don’t have to travel into town, or wait on getting off the plane and collecting your luggage. Equally, if you are staying somewhere closer to the airport, then it may be a little quicker for you to get the plane.

Comfort

For comfort I am basing this on a standard class ticket for both Eurostar and flying on any UK based airline. Eurostar surprised me greatly as far as comfort was concerned. I expected it just to be like a standard train journey in the UK, and for the most part it was, but there was a lot of little added extras which made it a lot better. For a start, something as simple as having seats which curved around a little bit at each side of your head, so instead of having to lean on the cold vibrating window, you had a little bit to lean you head on that was comfortable if you were trying to sleep. There was also a little bin next to each row of seats which made things a lot easier for disposing rubbish, the fold down tables were really big, and there was extra space outside each seating carriage to store your larger cases or backpacks. The lounge where you wait for your train was also quite plush for a train station, with padded leather seats, good heating, free wifi, nice shops, and wooden flooring! There was also nice, clean, spacious (compared to most trains and planes) toilets on board too, as well as a good bar/food carriage.

Most flights I’ve been on the seating is fairly comfortable. Obviously comfort on a flight will vary a little depending upon which carrier you fly with. For instance, British Airways has really comfortable leather seats, but Ryanair or Easy Jet, although not uncomfortable, are not quite the same. One plus flying has is that you can recline your seat, which you can’t do on Eurostar, although personally I found that you didn’t need to recline your seat with Eurostar. Table space was smaller compared to the train, and you usually have to wait on cabin staff to clear your litter resulting in you having to leave your table down longer.

There’s no such as thing as turbulence on a train, so that’s a big plus as far as feeling more comfortable on Eurostar, although that can’t really be helped by the airlines – it’s just something that happens when you fly sometimes. Leg room was probably about the same for both, as was the fact that you can get up and walk about.

I would say when it comes down to it,  going by train to Paris definitely pips flying to the post. As far as the main things are concerned, they both cover them pretty much, but Eurostar had it all in the detail.

Efficiency

This is a hard one. Both Eurostar and pretty much every airline with a base in the UK have come under fire recently during the bad British weather for cancellations, queues, or a lack of communication with passengers. Either the tracks are frozen, jet engines frozen etc etc. Taking this aside however, and judging efficiency as it is most days of the year, I would say this one is probably the hardest to pick between the two.. Certainly during my recent Eurostar journey I found them to be very efficient! It literally took me 5 minutes to check in, go through security, and passport checks! It was literally in and out, the train came on time, and there was a staff member waiting at every carriage to help you with anything as you go on. There have been more security scares in the past in regards to air travel, so I can understand them taking a bit longer with that, but airports are plagued with queues and delays! The amount of times in the past where I’ve been at an airport and it’s been delayed or cancelled is unreal. That being said, train travel in the UK is also usually plagued with delays, so it’s probably unfair to base it just on the short distance Eurostar cover. I think overall however, air travel over the London to Paris route is probably more affected by the weather or susceptible to it than rail travel is on the same itinerary. For that reason I am going to vote train to Paris as being better for efficiency!

Service

I didn’t get a lot of service with Eurostar, but the service I did get was good. Air travel involves more direct contact with airline staff, so I guess you could say there is a more personalised feel there. From my own personal perspective however, I don’t need a lot of people talking to me, I just need things to go smoothly, and be given service when I need it. For instance, because you are taking all your luggage on with you, Eurostar don’t need to have any people at a desk to check you in. You simply swipe the bar code of your ticket at the barrier, and you’ve checked in. Then you move on to baggage x rays. With airlines they need to take your luggage onto the hold, so they have someone at a check in desk to take it, and label it for you.

As far as on board service, air travel probably wins because you have someone who essentially serves you from your seat juice, food, duty free goods etc. On the train you would have to make your way to the carriage with the bar.

Security

Both modes of travel seemed very secure. Metal detectors, luggage x rays, and passport checks. The only difference was that Eurostar seemed to do it much quicker, with less queuing, and no silly regulations that stop you taking liquids on!

Cost

Prices for both the Eurostar and flying to Paris vary greatly depending upon a number of factors, such as how far in advance you book, whether you are flying during peak periods, what airline (if any) you are travelling with, time of day you are travelling, and also just the fluctuations in price by UK airlines and Eurostar due to supply and demand. In previous months, when I’ve tried to book a Eurstar ticket 2 or 3 weeks in advance I’ve been quoted around £150 single, but on average I’ve been quoted around £50 – £60 as the lowest prices available. I somehow managed to get a ticket from Edinburgh to Paris (via London) for £59 total. I checked just before, and the cheapest I could get from Edinburgh to London for the dates I was travelling was £40, so effectively I’ve got the London to Paris part of the journey for £19! Although I must point out this is not the usual price of the Eurostar, and in the past I have avoided travelling on it because I’ve been offered cheaper alternatives into mainland Europe!

Prices for flights vary also. The cheapest for that route I’ve ever came across is with EasyJet for around £85 including taxes and fees. My recent Eurostar journey beats this, but as I said previously, I have never previously came across a Eurostar journey for this cheap before (which was why I jumped at it!) However, I have to base it on the lowest prices I have found, and therefore Eurostar comes out on top when it comes to price.

– For me the train won it hands down when going to Paris. It was quicker in the long run, less stressful, less time consuming security procedures, and it was also cheaper (for that particular journey). If you want to guaruntee cheap tickets however, or the cheapest price, I’d always advise checking both first before booking. Also, be sure to look for budget hotels too, to save you some more money.

9 Responses to “Eurostar Vs Flying”

  1. Karen says:

    I completely agree with you about taking Eurostar rather than flying. As you described, all in (including getting to Heathrow), each route probably takes about the same amount of time. But it’s much easier to spend that time sitting on the Eurostar than to spend that time making your way to Heathrow, through the airport, then through immigration at Charles de Gaulle, and in to Paris.

    However, I was surprised to see you didn’t take cost in to account as one of your primary factors. You got an amazing deal at £19. I just booked a seat on the Eurostar a week in advance, and the cheapest fare available was £64.50, for the 6:50am train (any later would have been much more expensive), and another £44.50 for the ride back. EasyJet, on the other hand, could have done the same trip for £39 and £36, a total of £85 with taxes + fees. For many travelers, a £24 difference is reason enough to fly rather than take Eurostar.

  2. Christine says:

    I would absolutely go Eurostar over flying–mostly for ease, comfort and cost. I also recommend the train from Paris to Nice instead of flying for many of the same reasons: http://www.cestchristine.com/2010/07/logistics-the-rails-between-paris-and-nice/

    In response to the comment above, you have to factor in costs of getting TO the airport as well. I think it gets more expensive when you realize how far out of the city both the Paris and London airports are–particularly when time is money! Even public transportation isn’t too cheap to CDG or Heathrow, Gatwick, Stansted. It’s generally much easier and cheaper to get to Gare du Nord or King’s Cross.

    Great post!

  3. Rhona says:

    I have to say, that I enjoy and prefer train travel more than air anyday. While I travelled, I used train all the time but once (flight from Germany to Barcelona and back). I have never used a budget airline but I opted for train travel bc I really like it. I love relaxing for a few hours. Also, I find it safe and comfortable. I have yet to take Eurostar but am really looking forward to it one day.

  4. Liz says:

    We use the train wherever possible….including Beijing to Moscow…..sadly we couldn’t complete the journey home from Moscow by train due to time constraints. We have taken the Eurostar to Paris before but have also flown. I’d take the train anytime because you are freer to move about and obviously you see more. The time isn’t such an issue as it is for some journeys – we are doing Athens to Istanbul by train this summer – an overnighter compared with a short flight. Cost? Many European and British trains are too expensive compared with the low cost airlines.

  5. Train every time but I would say that! One big plus is that your carbon emissions on the Eurostar are about 90% less than flying.

  6. Trains win hands down for me every time. I feel as if its a nicer environment. People on trains were more willing to chat and you can get up and walk about without getting in the way of anybody like you would on a plane.

  7. I’ll be going to Europe hopefully sometime in 2012, I’ve done a little bit of studying on rail in Europe such as the Duestch Bahn ICE trains, I understand it is possible to select a variety of trains not just Eurostar depending on where you are going as the rail system is quite extensive allowing multiple train companies to use the same tracks/stations.

    I also understand its possible to get wifi on SOME trains (just like airplanes) one thing I seem to notice about European trains, is they aren’t double decked like many US Amtrak trains are, I can’t tell you how I dislike that type of train it makes it difficult to go up and down the stairs while the train is moving as you have to change levels to get to the snack bar under the observation lounge in the observation car.

    • jane says:

      Hi Shannon, there are a lot of train companies in Europe operating various parts of the lines as there are a lot of different countries in the continent, each with their own rail companies. This partiuclar post however was talking more specifically about the line that goes under the channel tunnel, between London and Paris, which Eurostar currently operate on.

  8. Anila says:

    It’s a wonder anyone at all bothers flying these days. I love the Eurostar and can’t wait for there to be even more direct routes out onto the continent. I wrote a guide to all things Eurostar which I hope will be useful to readers of the Runaway Jane blog:

    http://loco2.com/blog/2012/11/london-paris-trains-eurostar-explained/

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