What Are Air-Rail Tickets And Which Airlines Offer Them?

Have you ever booked a flight with one or more connections and later realized that part of your journey is on a train or bus? There are only a handful of these routes in the world, so if you’ve never encountered one, here’s what you need to know!

Air France’s convenient diagram outlining the basics of a Rail + Plane itinerary. Photo: Air France

Airlines offering the service

At the moment here’s what we can find for airlines offering air-rail (and bus) journeys:

  • KLM: The airline has an extensive list of connections to its Amsterdam Schiphol hub. These include domestic connections from Dutch cities like Maastricht, Nijmegen, Eindhoven, and more. In the larger region, the airline has rail connections to/from Brussels as well. Furthermore, the airline will replace one of its daily services between Brussels and Amsterdam Airport aboard the Thalys high-speed train next March. A more interesting connection is on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean in Canada, where a KLM branded bus connects the Canadian cities of Montreal and Ottawa.
  • Air France: The French flag carrier connects a long list of cities to its main hub at Paris Charles De Gaulle as well as Paris Orly. A few example cities include Avignon TGV, Le Man, Lille Europe, Lyon Part-Dieu, Nantes, Nîmes, and Strasbourg.
  • SWISS: Takes you to the Zurich Airport from Basel SBB and Lugano using its airtrain service. Passengers with valid tickets can take any rail connection between Zurich Airport and Basel, as well as 14 connections between Zurich Airport and Lugano.
  • Lufthansa: Synchronized with Lufthansa flights, Lufthansa Express Rail “facilitates an optimal connection with short transfer times” between Frankfurt Main airport and select cities throughout south and central Germany.
Lufthansa’s map of rail connections to Frankfurt Airport. Photo: Lufthansa

 

Benefits for the airline and passengers

Intermodal transport involving trains and planes remains a complex and challenging business. Speed is key, not only in terms of the train itself, but also the transfer process at the airport. We aim to make maximum progress in both areas.
-KLM President & CEO Pieter Elbers

Sure, it might feel a little less glamorous than boarding a plane and having a great view of the landscape below. However, there are certainly some good reasons why airlines should be doing this – and how passengers benefit:

  1. Slot restrictions at airports: KLM, among other airlines, is faced with slot restrictions at its hub airport. By replacing short-haul flights with rail services, scarce slots can instead be used for services to long-haul destinations.
  2. Lower cost to the airline: Rather than paying for an airport slot, additional aircraft, and the staff to operate it, the airline can instead lower its costs. The airline effectively offers more destinations and connections without much infrastructure investment. Hopefully, the savings transfers through to the customer… although it doesn’t always happen.
  3. Environmental impact: For shorter journeys – especially low-volume routes, a bus or train certainly has a lighter carbon footprint than air travel.
  4. Frequent Flyer Credit: One benefit given out by these airlines is flight credit for these ground journeys thereby building frequent flyer status. It’s a nice benefit for being stuck on the ground.

“By expanding these Flugzug services, we can provide our customers all over Switzerland with the best possible rail connections to and from our global route network [at Zurich].” -Swiss CEO Thomas Klühr

Challenges

KLM has a coach bus as part of its connection between Montreal and Ottawa. Photo: Chris Loh/Simple Flying

One of the biggest challenges is making it a seamless experience going from the train station to the airport. In some cases the train station is at the airport – you can see this with Paris Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam Schiphol.

However, the challenge is that passengers will not have the traditional transfer experience of perhaps moving from one terminal to the other within the same airport. In a conventional scenario, there are usually a wealth of resources to assist passengers to make the connection. This includes sufficient signage and airport information services.

In the case of a bus or train connection, this may not be as evident. Furthermore, baggage transfer is not always as seamless as it would be with a connecting flight.

France Domestic Flights
A group of French politicians is investigating banning domestic flights in France. Photos: HOP! (top) | SNCF (bottom)

Conclusion

What do you think of this setup? Is it creative or deceitful? There are certainly benefits but are there any disadvantages that I may have missed? Share your opinion by leaving a comment! Please also let us know if we missed an airline that also offers similar services!

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