I hadn’t traveled on Eurostar for 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 stable option.
That is, of course, until the UK announced rail strikes and I had to scramble to leave a day early. It’s not Eurostar’s fault, I’m just saying!
What I found surprised me in some ways, delighted me in others and made me think that Eurostar certainly knows its key customers in some way, but that doesn’t fit all the world. If you’re planning a future trip, here are some things to consider.
Eurostar against theft: Journey Time
A Eurostar from London to Paris takes about 2.5 hours, while a flight takes about an hour. It’s a pretty zoomed out view, and the details matter here in terms of overall time and approach.
Eurostar asks non-business class passengers to arrive approximately 1 hour before departure and clear the gates at least half an hour before. It can get crowded and the queues can be long, so it’s advisable. Business class has a bit more leeway.
Pro Tip: Eurostar passengers complete French immigration in London, prior to travel, which means that even if you need to arrive a little earlier than expected, there are absolutely no queues or formalities to go through at the arrival. Also, you arrive in town, rather than at the airport far outside.
By plane, most passengers would need to arrive at the airport more than 60 minutes early, unless they are departing from a super convenient airport like London City.
Which is faster: the Eurostar or the plane?
The flight is significantly shorter than the Eurostar journey, with less than half the transit time, but on arrival you have to deal with immigration and a ride into town. Overall I would say they have similar average travel times.
One hour of arrival before the flight, one hour in the air, one hour to clear immigration and enter the city of Paris for a total of three hours. Give or take 30 minutes on each side.
One hour before the train, 2h30 by train and then that’s about it, with the Eurostar.
Baggage and fees make a big difference
If you ask me, the Eurostar customer is the business centric crowd and people on short or day trips for leisure. The experience is very good if you don’t bring large bags. If you are, it gets a bit disjointed.
Fun fact: Eurostar does not charge children under four (three is stated on booking), giving families ‘free’ tickets a year older than flying, when children start being charged from the age of two.
Unlike flying, your luggage stays with you when traveling by Eurostar. After clearing security and immigration, you still need to take them with you to the waiting room or lounge, and put them on the train. You also need to carry them on the steps of the train.
This is not a detail for people traveling without a bag, but if you 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 it until the other side.
If you have bags…
Dragging bags and then walking through the mad crowd to get to the train just wasn’t fun, then having to find space for them on the train was also a pain. Without bags, the train is a treat.
If you are checking in baggage and traveling heavy for some reason, you may prefer to fly. I complained to my poor partner at least a few times about lugging them around.
The only question left at this point is whether you will have to pay extra to bring luggage on the flight, as opposed to free on the Eurostar.
The best seat?
Undoubtedly, Eurostar offers a more comfortable travel experience on board. With journeys taking more than twice as long in transit, it should be – and it is.
Seating is flexible for different needs and a Premier economy ticket on Eurostar grants access to what is 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 lie down comfortably. For all families or work groups, these are excellent offers.
If you’re really bothered by airline seats, the comfort of the Eurostar is definitely a little nicer, but personally I can handle most seats for an hour, and even that comfy seat got a bit aged after more of two.
Food, drinks and service
With a longer journey time, service is friendlier and less rushed on Eurostar than on an airline. Of course, that’s business class only. European airlines have dropped all real-economy service, other than buy-on-board offers or modest water.
Likewise, Eurostar customers in basic economy class can buy their own snacks – and premier economy class gets a light meal. Business Premier gets a ‘multi-course’ meal voucher, which is a fancy way of saying a tray with a few different things on it.
The food was decidedly good on the Eurostar, but I’ve had many comparable meals at the British Airways Club Europe, especially with the new catering arrangements. It pretty much serves to say: don’t let food or drink influence you, unless you bring your own.
If you bring your own, the Eurostar is a huge plus as you can bring liquids with you and you can toast with whatever you want. While flying, you will of course run into the 100ml liquid restriction at airport security.
I think, apples to apples, Eurostar served slightly better wine than most European business class airlines. For me, it’s a non-starter in terms of decision. A drink is just a “drink” in either experience. Nothing remarkable.
The Gare du Nord still sucks
The French love to talk about how much better the area around Paris Gare Du Nord station is now, but I wouldn’t put too much emphasis on that.
It’s better than it was, but it’s still just a sea of scammers and opportunists trying to charge 3 times the fares Uber charges for rides, with pickpockets at every corner of street. Walk a few blocks from the train station and hail a ride there for the easiest trip.
Thought it was worth mentioning as it still left us with a 15-20 minute ride in the Vendome area and somewhat offsets the gripe of landing out of town at an airport about 45 mins. At least it’s ordered!
Which is better: the Eurostar or the plane?
With no luggage and no airline elite status to speed your way through the airport, Eurostar is a very solid choice for economy class passengers. For business people traveling for the day without luggage, this is also a fantastic option.
If you have bags, I think flying is hard to beat. If you have elite status with an airline that entitles you to lounge access and security fast lanes, I think I would still choose to fly over the Eurostar as well.
If I can cut it well departing before a flight, arriving without luggage just 60 minutes before departure – or around 40 minutes in my case – I can get to Paris quickly. I love the views from the sky and appreciate the orderly boarding process, compared to the free-for-all Eurostar.
It all depends on the timing needs and the specifics of your trip. Eurostar can better suit your schedule. Departing from a city can save you time, depending on where you live.
Both are great options, and if you consider these features, you’ll make the right choice.