Flight and rail options for traveling in Europe

Mar 13, 2022

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Plane or rail? If you are travelling through Europe, sometimes you need both.

At a time when travelers and governments are warming up to rail travel as an environmentally friendly alternative to flying, several European airlines are teaming up with national rail operators to make sure both modes of transportation complement each other seamlessly.

It helps that parts of the continent boast a high-speed rail network that straddles some of its major airports.

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From Spain to Germany and from France to Austria, travelers are able to purchase combined rail and plane products that allow them to travel with a single ticket to and from cities well beyond the airport.

It’s not just the convenience of consolidating all segments of the journey in a single itinerary, but passengers who opt for this multi-modal travel offering have access to a number of advantages compared to those that purchase the land and air components separately.

We have compiled a list of flight and rail products currently on offer across Europe.

Lufthansa Rail&Fly and Lufthansa Express Rail

Lufthansa and United planes at the gate in Frankfurt airport
Lufthansa planes at the Frankfurt airport. (Photo by Nate Hovee/Shutterstock.com)

As far as combined plane and train programs go, the one run by Lufthansa and Deutsche Bahn is possibly the most far reaching and comprehensive in this list

Passengers can travel to and from any of Germany’s 5,600 train stations and Lufthansa’s hub in Frankfurt (FRA) with a single ticket. What’s more, the ticket allows for air-to-rail connections to be made within 24 hours before and after a flight and it guarantees alternatives in case of missed connections. Other advantages include the possibility of earning Miles & More miles, and for passengers in business class, access to the Deutsche Bahn lounges and the equivalent class on the trains.

It is also possible to use Germany’s comprehensive network of fast intercity rail services, the so-called IC/EC (InterCity, EuroCity) and ICE (InterCity Express) trains.

There is also a service called Lufthansa Express Rail, which links Frankfurt international airport to 23 different cities with 134 daily services, some of them nonstop like those to Munich and Nuremberg.

Express Rail passengers can also use fast lane security, and their luggage gets priority upon arrival.

Related: Why you might want to tour Europe by train, not plane

Air France-KLM

(Photo by AFP/Staff via Getty Images)

As a pioneer of high speed railways in Europe with its famous TGV (Train à Grand Vitesse), it was kind of expected that Air France’s offering on this front would be pretty solid.

The airline’s main hub, Paris Charles de Gaulle Airport (CDG), has long been fitted with a high speed rail station, which makes it possible for Air France to offer onward TGV connections to all corners of French territory as well as Brussels.

Passengers using Air France’s Avion + Train enjoy the peace of mind of having their onward connections guaranteed and they also get Flying Blue miles. If traveling on a premium ticket, they get access to the equivalent class onboard the train.

The service is also available at Paris-Orly, although in this case the train station is not adjacent to the terminal. But that’s not a problem. The taxi ride to the nearby TGV station at Massy, in South Paris, is included.

One can only expect this type of product will become more widely used when France implements its newly approved policy of banning short-haul flights under 2.5 hours for environmental reasons.

A similar service is offered on the Amsterdam-Schiphol to Brussels route by the Dutch arm of the group, KLM, together with the Dutch rail operator Nederlandse Spoorwegen (NS). It helps that Schiphol is right on top of the Netherlands main rail trunk line, which means that the boarding gate is never more than a few minutes away from the train platform.

Swiss Airtrain

Swiss at Zurich Airport. (Photo courtesy of Fabrice Coffrini/AFP via Getty Images)

Few nations have such an enduring love affair with their railways as do the Swiss: they are the basis of a perfectly synchronized multi-modal public transportation system that reaches all the way to the highest and most remote areas of the Alps, as well as keeping Swiss’ main hub at Zurich (ZRH) well fed with passengers from across the country.

Swiss’ Airtrain service, provided in partnership with the Federal Railway Company (SBB-CFF), runs feeder services to Zurich from Basel, Lugano, and Geneva.

These trains have a Swiss flight code and you need to have a Swiss boarding pass to travel on them. Connections are guaranteed and you can collect Miles & More miles as well.

For an extra fee, SBB-CFF also offers Flight Luggage service, through which you can check in your luggage at a number of select train stations in Switzerland.

Related: 6 tips for a family’s first European vacation

Austrian Airlines AIRail

Passengers at Vienna Airport. (Photo credit should read DIETER NAGL/AFP/Getty Images)

Austrian railway operator ÖBB has been working hard to reclaim Vienna’s traditional role as a hub for rail travel in Europe, linking east and west.

In addition to launching the so called “Nightjet” service to several European capitals, ÖBB collaborates with Austrian Airlines.

Users of the AlRail service can travel from Linz, Salzburg and Graz to Vienna international airport [VIE] with a single combined ticket that is linked to the boarding pass.

What’s more, Linz and Salzburg stations also offer luggage check-in, so that upon arrival at the airport you can head straight to your boarding gate unencumbered.

Like other similar services, connections are guaranteed and passengers get Miles & More miles. Additionally, you also get a snack and free Wi-Fi on the train.

Business class passengers, HON Circle members or those holding Senator or Star Alliance Gold cards get lounge access as well as reserved parking facilities at the stations.

Related: The best credit cards for train travel

Iberia Train & Fly

(Photo by Cristina Arias/Cover/Getty Images)

Spanish flag carrier Iberia has its own plane and train product, operated together with the country’s main rail operator, Renfe.

Iberia’s Train & Fly service facilitates the connection between the airline’s network of 90 destinations in Europe, the U.S. and Latin America and 14 different Spanish cities: Saragossa, Seville, Malaga, Cordoba, Valladolid, Valencia, Alicante, León, Palencia, Pamplona, Salamanca, Albacete, Zamora and Ourense.

Many of these cities are located along Spain’s high-speed rail network (the second most extensive in the world after China’s), however there is currently no high-speed train station at Madrid-Barajas airport (MAD), so those using the service will need to take a suburban train to make the connection (at no extra cost) between the airport and the Atocha or Chamartín stations in downtown Madrid. The same combined ticket will be valid through the journey, with passengers having 2.5 hours to complete the transfer.

In addition to the connection guarantee, Iberia claims to offer better prices than if the land and air segments of the trip were booked separately. However, passengers won’t be able to earn or spend Avios on the train journey, and likewise for members of the Más Renfe loyalty programme on the flight segment.

This service complements a similar one called “Bus & Fly ” that, as the name implies, does the same for a number of bus routes operated by bus operators Alsa and Avanza.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy.

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