My customer in France said he needed some on site help and the project manager approved the budget, so I had another opportunity to visit Paris. This time, I opted to go down there a day early for a day of sightseeing. Eurostar is a fantastic way to travel between London and Paris – it’s better than any F domestic US flight.
Eurostar.com (and eurostar.co.uk) are very easy to navigate. The ticket purchase process is very seamless, offering three classes of service, Standard, Leisure Select and Business Select. Depending on availability, fully refundable, semi-flexible and non-flexible tickets are offered. I made my purchase on Friday for travel on Sunday and I was surprised to see that the outbound Leisure ticket was about $60 cheaper than Standard, so I booked that.
In London, Eurostar uses King’s Cross/St. Pancras station. I arrived at about 7:45 for the 8:26 departure. Operating the same as airport check in, there are kiosks available for printing your boarding passes. Note that you must use the same exact credit card in the machine when getting the tickets. One big exception – there’s no checked luggage. You must carry your own stuff, but the plus is that there’s no weight limit like on aircraft.
Four check-in lines were operating for the Leisure and Standard passengers and it took about 20 minutes to have luggage x-rayed and for everyone to pass through the magnetometer. It seemed pretty casual, compared to US standards. Shoes and coats did not have to be removed and I didn’t notice any bag checks. I don’t know what they were looking for, but they weren’t finding it.
French immigration is in London and I got a new stamp in my passport. There is no UK exit agent.
Boarding is called 20 minutes before departure and there’s a pretty strong gate rush. I waited it out and had a coffee rather than fight the crowd. With ten minutes to go, I headed up the slidewalk/escalator to the rail level and boarded carriage 12. For Leisure select, the seating is 2 on one side (or 2×2 facing each other at a table) and 1 on one side (again, sharing a table). The seats don’t recline, but they are quite wide and very comfortable. Higher quality than CO or US first class, but these trains are newer than most of their fleets.
Shortly after departure (a nice smooth acceleration), I jumped across from the single seat to one of the unused doubles, which is apparently standard behavior. Menus were passed out before we made a quick stop at Ebbsfleet International, about 20 minutes south of London. Once those few passengers were boarded and seated, we accelerated to what looked like 150 mph. UK and EU power outlets at every row.
Breakfast was a choice of two (though specials were available at ticket purchase, including lowfat, low salt, kosher, vegetarian, etc). A cheese omelette with chicken and herb sausage and sauteed potatoes, or an organic breakfast fruit load with air dried ham, cheddar and grapes. Both were accompanied with yogurt, bread and pastries, and a container of Tropicana orange juice. A stewardess (flight attendant?) came by with coffee service, which was refilled twice.
The Channel Tunnel is a magnificent engineering feat, but is nothing special when you ride through it. 20 or so minutes of darkness and a little more noise. When we came out, the overhead announcements were in French, then in English.
We arrived in Paris at Gare Du Nord station right on time and I was able to find my way to the Metro easily.
For the return on Tuesday, I was traveling with the customer so we were in the Standard carriage. Security was the same experience, and there are both French and UK border agents stamping passports. As a non-EU, I was one of the few who had to fill out a UK immigration card, but I did see a few other US passports in hand.
My customer has lounge access, which was jam packed for the 18:13 departure. We still managed to find a seat. Salty snacks were available as well as a self-serve liquor station. I noticed Johnny Walker Black and some other spirits, but I grabbed a 1664 and a Ch’ti instead. Boarding was announced and we made our way to the trains.
I visited the lav, which was about the size of the larger lav on a 767. Plenty of room to lay out my suitcase and change into a more travel-appropriate outfit. Otherwise, it was the same experience. Smooth ride, though no food service in the “back of the train” but there are food cars and a bar somewhere. I did not see any power outlets at the seats in Standard. We arrived into London right on time.
Total Trip Cost: £ 237.00 (about $358)
Actual Airfare: £ 234.00
Actual Miles Flown: 426
Yield: £ 0.549 per mile
Taxes & Fees: £ 3.00, 1.27% of ticket price. (£3 credit card fee)
Overview: Eurostar is a great way to travel between London and Paris. Heathrow/Gatwick and Charles de Gaulle are all quite far from the city centers, compared to St. Pancras and Gare du Nord. You don’t have to deal with a long commute and both have easy Underground/Metro access. The ride is very comfortable even when the trains are packed. 1/10th of the noise compared to a jet and cell service through most of the journey. Avoid the “rush hours” and you’ll have no problems switching seats or having a table to yourself. Food was good, service was excellent. I’d have to give Eurostar an A. Well done, très bien.