What is your high(er) speed train vs. airplane threshold, if any?

Let's open another general, no-right-answer, brainstorming style thread. The question, here, is very simple. On YOURtravel plans, what is the travel time threshold that will make you choose a flight over a high(er) speed train or vice-versa?

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

So I'll start. If I'm travelling point-to-point (no in/outbound connecting transcontinental flight), I'll take a high-speed, guaranteed and reserved seat if the total travel time of the train trip is up to 2h30 - 3h longer than the total flight time.

Posted by pat
victoria, Canada
7827 posts

Having done both short haul flights ( less then 2 hours) and longer train rides ( almost 6 hours) plus numerous short train trips( 2-3 hrs) I have decided my threshold is about 5-6 hours on a train.. even with a good picnic etc, I just would rather "be there " then getting there if the getting there is going to be a 1-2 hour flight versus a 5-6 hour train ride. Even with getting to and from airports I think that any train ride longer then 6 hours its faster to fly.

Posted by Philip
London, United Kingdom
1698 posts

The transport planners' assumed threshold for most people is three hours for a business trip and six hours for leisure/holiday, and I think that's about right.

Posted by Ken
Vernon, Canada
17780 posts

Andre L., I normally start looking at budget flights if the rail travel time is 7 hours or longer. I'll even tolerate rail times slightly longer than that, as I've come to detest the usual airport hassles. In contrast, rail travel is usually quite relaxing. There are a few variables that have to be considered as well. Which travel method to use is quite dependent on the specifics of the two points I'm travelling between. If there's no airport close to my destination, there's little use in taking a budget flight and then having to add rail time to reach my destination. Another point is the availability of cheap flights. If the route is not served by a budget carrier, rail travel may be much cheaper. A lot depends on the specifics of each leg of my travel route. Good question!

Posted by Diane
1156 posts

One factor that I consider is the logistics of getting to/from the airports vs. more centrally located train stations. Also the availability of direct routes for both options. I have, once or twice, also considered having excess baggage as a deciding factor. My preference, all factors being equal, is the train for journeys of half-a-day or so. I find it more pleasant overall and more comfortable. Plus I love to watch the scenery go by.

Posted by Randy
Minneapolis, MN, USA
1508 posts

In my opinion, you have to add a full four hours to the flight time for a comparable train trip. Yes, I know you could possibly do the transport to/from the airport + check-in & security in less than that, but it can also be more. Depends on the airport distance from city center, transport options and efficiency. I would even go so far as to add an extra hour or so of buffer for the sake of the simplicity of the train vs the complexity of all the steps involved in flying - any one of which could cause delay. Scenery, luggage and ease of physical movement are also a factor in favor of trains. So I would consider a 2-hour flight and a 7-hour train a "tie".

Posted by Swan
Napa, CA
2858 posts

One of my considerations is: do I want to see the scenery between points A and B? I'll be traveling between Paris and Bayonne and have decided to take the train because it is probably cheaper (with advance fare) and I haven't been on that route before. The time involved for the train is possible a little longer, but by only a couple of hours. I much prefer train stations to airports. For a trip that would best be divided into two days if using the train, I will fly. London (Gatwick) to Venice, for instance. Once I flew Venice to Palermo. The train ride would have been very long. To answer the OP, six hours are about my limit for train travel. For longer trips I will consider flying, if that is an option.

Posted by Douglas
Oak Park, Illinois
2386 posts

I've always had more time traveling than money. Trains were cheaper and I love the scenery. I've taken many, many overnight trains too. But now, I'd seriously consider a flight if the train ride is over 4-5 hours.

Posted by Roberto
Fremont, CA, USA
3342 posts

One must consider all factors not just time: airport availability and distance from final destination, flight availability, non stop travel availability, price difference, and last but not least, beauty of landscape. If the latter is ugly, I'd rather get there the quickest possible way without having to look at it.

Posted by Laura
Virginia, USA
2899 posts

If the train trip is under 6 hours, I usually take the train. If the train is more than 6 hours, I usually fly. My main consideration is "Door to Door" travel time. Even a very short flight will generally take a minimum of 4 hours of travel time when you factor in local transportation and waiting at the airport. I'm willing to spend one to two hours more for train travel because it is generally more comfortable and reliable. I also consider total cost (not just ticket, but local transit, parking, etc.) For hassle factor, trains clearly get the edge. There is more space and you can move around. With a few exceptions, you don't generally need to wait in a security queue. They also are less likely to experience a significant delay or be cancelled. The longest train delay that I have ever experienced was on the Eurostar --- a 6 hour delay because a train ahead of mine derailed. I've had too many long flight delays over the years to even count.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
399 posts

I'd rather take a beatin' than fly these days! We are arriving by cruise ship & I managed to get 2 1st class "saver" tickets back using air miles. Train travel is so much more relaxing than flying - it gives us a nice "pause" on a trip to play cards, write post cards, decide what we will be doing in our next stop, etc. I am also a big fan of night trains - must be the kid in me!

Posted by Kelly
St Petersburg Florida
948 posts

I have made sure my body goes to Europe for the past 8 consecutive years. My first trip, I took the longest train ride of my life; Valencia to granada. I swore it took 10+ hours (maybe not that long, but man,was that the longest train ride, or what). Fast forward to where the hubby and I left our B&B in Budapest at 4:30am, to catch the 5:30 Train to Prague, for 8 hours. Now I am leaving for Spain in 2 weeks. Granada to Barcelona. I thought long and hard about how I tackle this long distance beast.......going by flight. I really just don't have the patience anymore. And I don't want to spend my chill time on a train. As I get older, time is valuable. I am scared to fly intra-Europe, just like I'm scared to drive intra- Europe (I have a European stick shift too, go figure), but I will do what ever to maximize my time overseas these days. So my cut off time might be anything above 6-8 hours.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

I'll elaborate a bit more on my answer. I might consider a bit longer train journeys if they are high-speed, don't make many intermediate stops, have Wi-Fi and power sockets and come with reserved seats. That way, I can immerse myself on my computer, do whatever can be done online, and thus I might accept an up to 2h longer train ride than flying (always considering total travel time). However, if trains are lower tech, or stop every 15 min or so, I'm less inclined to rely on them.

Posted by Monte
Genesee, ID
1376 posts

We have had two very long train rides that could have only been replaced with bus rides. One was fifteen and a half hours from Istanbul to Stara Zagora, Bulgaria. The other was a little over ninteen hours from Chernivtsi to Odessa, Ukraine. The latter has to go around the top of Moldova. Both were night trains. Both these trains had no dining facilities so you have to take your own provisions. The train from Istanbul had squat toilets, no paper, no water.

Posted by Kia
Toronto, ON, Canada
112 posts

I'd rather take the train over a plane for any train trip that's 7 or 8 hours or less - it would take a lot to get me to go through airport security and travel back and forth to the airport if I don't need to.

Posted by Christi
Whitsett, TX, United States
399 posts

"The train from Istanbul had squat toilets, no paper, no water." OK - That would be a deal breaker! :O

Posted by Elaine
Columbia, SC
746 posts

I'm with Nigel. I can't think of one circumstance where I would fly intra-Europe. I'm one of the few travellers here who thinks that getting from Pt A to Pt B is still part of the vacation and I don't consider a day on a train to be a waste of time. Not being raised in the US, I became an experienced train traveller as a child. and I really enjoy train travel and have no problem sleeping on trains either.

Posted by Beatrix
1974 posts

It's not just a question of time but can also be one of being able to get a good package deal. If I can get a flight from Munich to Greece for $1000/pp that includes hotel accommodation for 2 weeks with breakfasts and dinners included I won't waste a second on considering the train as an alternative. DB has some great package deals, too, but those are usually limited within Germany (plus a small number of other European destinations). There are also certain routes where the train really adds a lot of time compared to a flight. That often includes crossing the Alps or the Balkan regions. And then again, some areas aren't accessible by flight so you're still better of taking the train even if it takes 12 hours. I've done my share of looong train rides from Germany to Normandy and Brittany but you just can't get a flight connection.

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

I don't rule out flying intra-Europe, have done it a few times. When I would seriously consider an intra-Europe flight is if I had to be at a place quickly for important, compelling reasons. The other reason would be distance, say from London to Helsinki and I had no time for the ferry from Germany. If not that, assuming I'm not pressed for time, then I'll choose the ICE or TGV train, be it 3 hrs or 11+ hrs. total, day or night, direct or with just one transfer on express trains. In some cases the route is more important than to me than saving time by taking the most direct route. Of course, the EC or CNL night train had better have the armchair (Ruhesessel) as a sleeping option, (much more preferable than sitting in a 6 person compartment all night,) the farther back in the coach the better,.. no problems sleeping on a Ruhesessel. When I flew intra-Europe, esp. Hannover-Lagenhagen to Berlin-Tegel (one of the air corridors to W.Berlin) in the '80s, I recall the amount of time wasted sitting at the airport or at the Hbf waiting for the airport bus. It also depended on how frequent the flights were.

Posted by Beatrix
1974 posts

Fred, that route from Hannover to Berlin is definitely not one you want to fly these days. The ICE does it in 1:37 hrs. However, during the Cold War flying was the only option to get to Berlin for people who were black-listed by the GDR government, e.g. refuges who fled to the West. They would have been arrested if they had chosen the train ...

Posted by Fred
San Francisco
2696 posts

True, nowadays Hannover to Berlin is easily done by the ICE train and absolutely no need to fly. I flew that Hannover-Berlin route ever since '71; as an American I didn't want to deal with a slow train, the Reichsbahn, and put up with East German red tape and their train personnel, which I had heard about from other American backpacker tourists then. Besides, my Eurail Pass was not valid inside the DDR.

Posted by Andre L.
Tilburg, Netherlands
2176 posts

Incidental comment: that the German government was able to, without violence, virtually wipe off from the face of the Earth any significant remembrance, entities and symbols of the evil SDR government, including hundreds of statues, the whole state bureaucracy, most ideological-charged buildings etc. is one of the greatest achievements of European history.