On Flying in the Age of Security, or Trains Are More Fun

As odd this may seem, I hadn’t flown in airplane since before 9/11. Until yesterday. I’m spending a week in York, England, and flew from Grenoble, the airport nearest my home in the French Alps, to Leeds, the airport nearest York. It was a horrendous experience, especially because the airport at Grenoble was incredibly crowded, but also because of all the time wasted when you travel by air.

Beyond the security circus, which makes things take so long in airports, I realized that there is another way. Give the excellent train service in much of Europe, and the amount of time you lose at airports, taking a train can, in many cases, be much more practical.

There are no high-speed trains that go where I live, but there are night trains. I could take a train from my town to Paris, overnight, arrive in Paris at 6 AM, take the Eurostar to London, then get a train to York. While the overnight trip is long, I could sleep through it. This means that the “waking travel time”would be about four hours, plus the time between the stations in Paris. Compare that to the time it took me yesterday. It was three hours to get to the Grenoble airport; two hours waiting online to check bags and security checks; two hours for the flight, plus an hour’s delay; a half hour to get my luggage; and two hours to get from Leeds to York. Granted, if I were going to a city that has an airport, I wouldn’t have needed those two hours at the end of the trip. But the time wasted at the airport is time that could be better spent in other ways. And even if taking a train is a little bit longer, you don’t waste any time with baggage checks, security checks and all the rest of the security circus. And you get to keep your shoes on.

So next time I travel to York — which will be soon — I’m going to try using the rails.

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19 replies
  1. Jeff Porten says:

    Unfortunately, train service is the US is so ridiculously expensive compared to flying, it’s rarely the right choice even when you’re on a convenient city pair. I take bargain buses for East Coast travel, air for everywhere else. In California, where it’s subsidized, trains make a lot more sense.

  2. Stephan says:

    Well, I think you have to look at it on a case-by-case basis. Eg., a quick check showed a train ticket from München to Berlin costs €125,-. The flight will cost you €48,-

    Sources: bahn.de, airberlin.com

    (other costs may apply: taxi, parking)

    • kirk says:

      Yes, but I’m not just talking about cost: I’m also talking about time and comfort. You don’t need to get to a train station two hours before the train leaves. And you don’t need to wait for the baggage to come after you arrive.

      • PierOz says:

        No, the security check, either at Gare du Nord or at St Pancras in London doesn’t take as long as in airports. It is recommended to check-in at least 30mn before departure, which includes the security check.
        Travelling on the Eurostar is easy and enjoyable, however travelling on British trains can be difficult, they’re expensive and not really reliable. Do buy your tickets well in advance as the prices increase a lot close to the date of travel. I once missed a train at St Pancras for Hull, and been asked to pay £200 for the pleasure to get the next one (fortunately the manager ended up authorising me to travel with the ticket I originally bought for the missed train).
        I agree though, train looks like a better way of travelling than plane since you don’t travel between two big cities.
        Can you join a TGV station by taking the Briançon-Marseille train?



        • kirk says:

          For a TGV, I could do Gap-Grenoble. But like that, it’s a long trip; with the night train, I can sleep through the longest part of it.

        • Malfitano says:

          I have to agree with the general sentiments here. I travel regularly from the UK to Europe, most frequently to Germany. Wherever possible I use Eurostar to Brussels plus Thalys or ICE connections. I have had very few problems and I find these days travel by train is far superior to air. St Pancras in particular is a far more pleasant and efficient place than any airport.

          I feel I have to defend British trains. It is certainly not my experience that they are “difficult….and not really reliable”. It’s more difficult to argue that they are not expensive, but this is a direct result of UK government policy.

          Finally, I’m not surprised that Pierre missed his train from St Pancras to Hull. Trains from London to Hull leave from King’s Cross station.

  3. Shaun says:

    Enjoy your stay in York, I love walking around the walls at twilight when the tourists have gone home, it’s a lovely city have a cup of tea and a scone! :)

  4. Mark says:

    No joy at all in air travel. I’ve flown >120K miles a year for about 15 years and the frustration factor clearly increased remarkably over the years. Even for me with a high status level that reduced lineups and often had me upgraded to business class. Ultimately it became too much and I rebelled. I didn’t get on a plane last year – used video, had clients come to me, turned down speaking engagements. I can’t believe how much healthier I am after a year of not being packed in a plane on a regular basis.

  5. Barrie Stephenson says:

    Welcome to York. Great walking and cycling city – been here 26 years. We chose to live just outside the city walls and within walking distance of the railway station. Rarely need the car.
    Enjoy your stay.


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