I hadn’t taken a Eurostar journey in years and recently decided to change that. I had to get from London to Paris and with flights in chaos and disorder I figured Eurostar would offer a safe and stable option.
This was of course until the UK announced rail strikes and I had to struggle to leave a day early. Not Eurostars fault, just saying!
What I found surprised me in one way, pleased me in another, and made me think that while Eurostar certainly knows its core customers in a way, it’s not for everyone. If you’re thinking about a future trip, here are a few thoughts to keep in mind.
Eurostar vs. Flying: Trip time
A Eurostar from London to Paris takes around 2h 30m, while a flight takes around an hour. That’s quite a reduced view, and details matter here in terms of overall time and approach.
Eurostar requires non-business class passengers to arrive approximately 1 hour before departure and exit the gates at least half an hour before. It can get busy and queues can be long so this is advisable. Business Class is given a little more leeway.
Pro tip: Eurostar passengers clear French immigration in London before the journey, which means that while you may need to arrive a little sooner than you might hope, there is absolutely no queue or formalities to deal with on arrival. In addition, you arrive in the city and not at the airport far outside.
When flying, most passengers would need more than 60 minutes to arrive at the airport unless they are flying out of a super convenient airport like London City.
Which is faster: Eurostar or flying?
The flight is significantly shorter than the Eurostar journey, with less than half the transit time, but on arrival you’ll have to deal with immigration and a drive into the city. All in all I would say that on average they do indeed have similar travel times.
One hour arrival before the flight, one hour in the air, one hour to get through passport control and into the city of Paris, three hours in total. Give or take 30 minutes on each side.
An hour before the train, 2h 30m on the train and that’s it, with Eurostar.
Pockets and fees make a big difference
If you ask me, the Eurostar customer is the business oriented crowd and people on short or day trips. The experience is very good if you don’t bring big bags. If so, it gets a bit disjointed.
Fun fact: Eurostar does not charge children under four (three are specified when booking), giving families ‘free’ tickets one year longer than flying when children over the age of two pay fees.
Unlike flying, your luggage stays with you on a Eurostar journey. After going through security and passport control, you still have to take them to the waiting area or lounge and push them onto the train. You also have to carry them up the rebound stages.
It’s a minor detail for people traveling without bags, but if you need bags for whatever reason, I found it to be a significant annoyance. I love dropping bags off at check-in for a flight and only taking care of them on the other side.
If you have bags…
Hauling bags around and then rushing through the insane crowd to get to the train just wasn’t fun, and then finding room for them on the train was a hassle too. With no bags, the train is a treat.
If for some reason you are checking baggage and traveling with heavy luggage, you may prefer the plane. I’ve complained to my poor partner at least a few times about lugging them around.
The only remaining question at this point is whether you have to pay extra to bring luggage onto the flight as opposed to free on Eurostar.
The better seat?
Without question, Eurostar ensures a more comfortable travel experience on board. On trips that take more than twice as long, it should – and it does.
Seats are flexible to suit different needs, and a Eurostar Economy Premium ticket gets access to what’s practically the business class experience, minus the lounge and food.
The table for four in the Business Premier allowed our small group to face each other and stretch out comfortably. For any family or work group, these are great deals.
If you’re really hampered by flight seats, the Eurostar comfort is definitely a bit nicer, but personally I can put up with most seats for an hour, and even this comfy seat was getting a bit old after more than two.
Food, drinks and service
With a longer travel time, Eurostar service feels friendlier and less rushed than an airline. Only in business class, of course. European airlines have abandoned all real economy services, with the exception of offers to buy on board or a modest water.
Similarly, Eurostar customers in Basic Economy can buy their own snacks – and Economy Premier gets a light meal. Business Premier gets a nice “multi-course” menu, which is a fancy way of saying a tray with a few different things on it.
The food on the Eurostar was exceptionally good but I have had many similar meals at British Airways Club Europe, particularly with the newer catering arrangements. That pretty much says: don’t be swayed by food or drink unless you bring your own.
If you bring your own Eurostar is a great advantage as you can bring liquids and feel free to toast with whatever you like. Of course, when flying, you would encounter the 100ml liquid limit at airport security.
I think apples to apples, Eurostar served slightly better wine than most airlines in European business class. For me, however, it’s a non-starter in terms of choices. In both cases, a glass is just a “glass”. Nothing remarkable.
Gare du Nord still sucks
The French love to talk about how much better the Paris Gare du Nord area is now, but I wouldn’t put too much stock in it.
It’s better than it was, but it’s still just a sea of scammers and opportunists trying to charge triple the prices Uber charges for rides, with pickpockets around every corner. Walk a few blocks from the train station and call a ride there for the easiest ride.
I thought that was worth mentioning because we still had a 15-20 minute drive into the Vendôme area and it somewhat offsets the hassle of landing out of town at an airport about 45 minutes away. At least order!
Which is better: Eurostar or flying?
With no baggage and no elite status of an airline to get you through the airport, Eurostar is a very solid choice for economy passengers. It’s also a fantastic option for business people who want to take day trips without luggage.
If you have bags I think flying is hard to beat. If you have elite status with an airline that gives you access to lounges and quick security checkpoints, I would also choose to fly with Eurostar.
If I can do a good job of departing before a flight and arrive with no luggage just 60 minutes before departure – or about 40 minutes in my case – I can make it to Paris quickly. I like the view from the air and enjoy the orderly boarding process compared to the Eurostar which is free for everyone.
It all depends on the time requirements and travel specifics of your trip. Eurostar may suit your schedule better. Departing from somewhere in the city can save you time depending on where you live.
Both are great options, and if you consider these features, you’re making the right choice.