I’m a plane guy — it’s as simple as that. Rail travel has never given me that fuzzy excited feeling.
For a trip from London to Paris though, I was basically confronted with a choice to be the thing I hate — an irrationally loyal consumer — or a logical person, and swap planes for trains, perhaps just for the day.
I’m a rail novice so go lightly on me, but I learned a few things which may be of interest to other novices. Basically, I wanted to create a fair comparison of the time, amenities and other features that create intelligent decisions for travel between these two cities.
Key Decision Maker #1: Price
90% of leisure travel consumers (or more) search and book travel based on one key metric: price. If prices are the same between various airlines or hotels, people will dive further, but if there is a noticeable gulf between pricing, price often wins.
On that basis, we’ll start there.
With the myriad issues airlines are faced with, such as retraining flight crew and getting operations back up to full speed; all while enjoying unprecedented air travel demand, prices are soaring.
One way tickets between London and Paris from preferred airports, including a bag, were annoyingly expensive for our June dates. Prices were north of £280 (circa $350) for the one hour flight, per person — in economy.
Airlines also begin charging for children at the age of two. Eurostar, however, does not charge for children under 3 if they’re happy to sit with you. Not even taxes and fees. A Eurostar page suggests the age is actually 4, but booking flow suggests 3 years old.
Eurostar had business class tickets available under £280, and since we wouldn’t need to buy three of them, two seemed like a decent bargain. After all, it was trading a tight economy seat for a spacious business class seat. Not bad — and cheaper.
Key Decision Maker #2: Schedule & Time
Airlines were forced to trim schedules to bare minimums during the last few years, but they’re scaling up as quickly as possible. That doesn’t always mean quickly enough.
Many of the best flights between London and Paris, such as London City to Paris Orly have not come back, and schedules between Heathrow and Paris are more limited on some summer dates than ideal.
For my preferred times, Eurostar was right on the money. Airlines would’ve meant either leaving too early, or arriving too late for my needs. The Eurostar schedule is legit impressive.
Journey Time Considerations
A flight between London and Paris is about an hour. Sometimes you can shave a few minutes, and on congested days you can add a few. A Eurostar between London and Paris is considerably longer. It’s around 2.5 hours.
On the face that’s an annoying trade, but once you unpack the differences it’s a pretty fair fight. Particularly on a business class ticket; which allows late check in as close as 15 minutes prior to departure, you don’t have nearly the amount of wait time.
London City Airport used to solve this problem, allowing fast access from the city and dependably short security waits, with easy gate access. Heathrow on the other hand is a constantly unpredictable mess — and at least a 25-30 minute hike from London.
Add in at least 30 minutes to get to Heathrow, at least an hour left to check bags and clear security, and you start to approach the 2.5 hour mark for the journey easily.
And then there’s the other side. Eurostar puts you into central Paris at Gare Du Nord. Any flight is going to put you at least 30 minutes outside of the city, and realistically it is going to be 45, or more, from CDG.
Key Decision Maker #3: Comfort
This is a pretty binary option. Given the choice between comfort and not comfort, most people will choose comfort.
Based on the current pricing created by surging airline demand and limited resources, Eurostar business class was cheaper than airline economy.The Eurostar seat offers just about endless legroom and decent recline, and that’s a far cry from a short haul airline economy seat.
Eurostar business also includes a meal and lounge access. These aren’t really factors for me, since I hold airline status that typically grants me access anyway, and I don’t really eat on planes or in transit, but it’s worth noting for some.
Eurostar VS Airlines
In a time when flights are cheap, reliability is good and favorable times exist, I’m usually team airline. Neither of those things reflect current airline experience.
This journey forced me to learn about Eurostar kid policies, which may be useful to some readers. It’s also good to mentally compare the realistic time requirements of a journey by air versus train.
Another benefit is that business tickets offer free changes to any other service, so if I do need to change things up, there’s slightly better peace of mind than many airline policies right now.
I never planned on taking Eurostar for this trip, but I try to be as rational a consumer as I can be, and although airline lounges and the joy of looking out an airplane window are always tempting, the practicality of Eurostar for this trip won out.
A short ride from the station to our hotel will definitely be the icing on the cake.