I hadn’t taken a Eurostar journey in years and decided to change that recently. I needed to get from London to Paris and with flights in chaos and disarray, I thought Eurostar would provide a safe and steady option.
That is, of course, until the UK announced rail strikes and I had to scramble to leave a day early. Not Eurostar’s fault, just saying!
What I found surprised me in some ways, delighted me in others, and left me thinking that Eurostar certainly knows their core customers in one way, but that it doesn’t fit for everyone. If you are pondering a future trip, here are a few thoughts to consider.
Eurostar vs Flying: Journey Time
A Eurostar from London to Paris takes about 2h 30m, whereas a flight takes circa one hour. That’s a pretty zoomed out view, and details matter here in terms of overall time and approach.
Eurostar requests non-business class passengers arrive circa 1 hour before departure and clear the gates at least half an hour before. It can get crowded and queues can get long, so this is advisable. Business class is given a bit more leeway.
Pro tip: Eurostar passengers complete French immigration in London, before the journey which means although you need to arrive a bit earlier than you might hope, there’s absolutely no queue or formalities to attend to on arrival. Plus, you arrive in the city, rather than the airport well outside.
Flying, mosts passengers would need to arrive at the airport with more than 60 minutes to spare, unless they’re departing from a super convenient airport like London City.
Which Is Faster: Eurostar or Flying?
The flight is significantly shorter than the Eurostar journey, at less than half the transit time, but on arrival you’ve got immigration and a ride into the city to contend with. All in, I’d say they actually average out to be similar journey times.
Hour arrival before flight, hour in the air, hour to get through immigration and into the city of Paris for a total of three hours. Give or take 30 minutes on either side.
Hour before train, 2h 30m on the train and then that’s pretty much it, with Eurostar.
Bags & Fees Make A Big Difference
If you ask me, the Eurostar customer is the business centric crowd, and people on short, or day leisure trips. The experience is very good if you’re not bringing full sized bags. If you are, it gets a bit disjointed.
Fun fact: Eurostar doesn’t charge for kids under four (it says three at booking), which gives families “free” tickets a year longer than flying, when children start being charged from the age of two.
Unlike when you fly, your bags stay with you on a Eurostar journey. After you clear security and immigration, you still need to bring them with you into the waiting area or lounge, and wheel them onto the train. You also need to carry them up the train steps.
It’s a non-detail for people traveling without bags, but if you do need bags for any reason, I found it to be a significant annoyance. I love dropping bags off at check in for a flight and not worrying about them until the other side.
If you’ve got bags…
Lugging bags around, and then through the mad crowd rush to get to the train was just not fun, and then having to find space for them on the train was a pain too. Sans bags, the train is a treat.
If you’re checking bags and traveling heavy for any reason, you may prefer the plane. I complained to my poor partner at least a few times about lugging them around.
The only remaining question at that point, is whether you’d need to pay extra to bring bags on the flight, as opposed to free on Eurostar.
The Better Seat?
Without question, Eurostar provides a more comfortable journey experience on board. With trips taking more than twice the time in transit, it should — and it does.
Seats are flexible for different needs and an economy premier ticket on Eurostar gets access to what’s effectively the business class experience, just without the lounge and food.
The table of four in Business Premier allowed our small group to face each other and stretch out comfortably. For any families or working groups, these are great offerings.
If you’re really hampered by airline seats, Eurostar comfort is definitely a bit nicer, but personally I can stomach most seats for an hour, and even this comfy seat got a bit old after more than two.
Food, Drinks and Service
With a longer travel time, service feels friendlier and less rushed on Eurostar than on an airline. Of course, that’s only in business class. European airlines have ditched any real economy service, other than buy on board offerings, or a modest water.
Similarly, Eurostar customers in basic economy can purchase their own snacks — and economy premier gets a light meal. Business Premier gets a nice “multi course” meal, which is a fancy way of saying a tray with a few different things on it.
The food was decidedly nice on Eurostar, but I’ve had many comparable meals in British Airways Club Europe, particularly with the newer catering arrangements. That serves pretty much to say: don’t let food or beverage sway you, unless you’re bringing your own.
If you are bringing your own, Eurostar is a massive advantage, since you can bring liquids with you and you’re welcome to toast yourself with whatever you like. Flying, you of course would hit the 100ml liquid restriction at airport security.
I do think, apples to apples, Eurostar was serving slightly better wine than most airlines serve in European business class. To me, it’s a non starter in decision terms though. A glass is just a “glass” in either experience. Nothing remarkable.
Gare Du Nord Still Sucks
The French love to talk about how much better the area around Paris Gare Du Nord Train Station is now, but I wouldn’t put too much stock into it.
It’s better than it was, but it’s still just a sea of scammers and opportunists trying to charge 3X the rates Uber charges for rides, with pickpockets on every corner. Walk a few blocks away from the station and hail a ride there for the easiest journey.
I figured this was worth mentioning, because it still left us with a 15-20 minute journey into the Vendôme area and that somewhat offsets the gripe about landing at outside of the city at an airport circa 45 mins away. At least it’s orderly!
Which Is Better: Eurostar Or Flying?
With no bags and no airline elite status to speed your way through the airport, Eurostar is a very solid choice for economy passengers. For businesspeople traveling on day trips sans luggage, it’s also a fantastic option.
If you have bags, I think flying is tough to beat. If you have elite status with an airline that entitles you to lounge access and security fast tracks, I think I’d still pick flying over Eurostar too.
If I can cut it fine on departure before a flight, arriving without bags just 60 minutes prior to departure — or about 40 minutes in my case — I can make it to Paris quickly. I like the views from the sky and I enjoy the orderly process of boarding, compared to the Eurostar free for all.
It all depends on the timing needs and journey specifics of your trip. Eurostar may fit your schedule better. Leaving from a city location may save you time, depending on where you live.
Both are great options, and if you factor these features in, you’ll make the right choice.