Plane vs train: Travel experts pit an Air France flight against a 199mph TGV in a race


It’s a long-standing rivalry for short-haul travellers – hop on a speedy plane or relax on a train? 

And while most people have their preferences, in France, the rules have been changed to force the hand of those who prefer jet-setting to rail travel.

In May 2023 the French government banned any internal flight routes where an existing competing train route under two and a half hours is available, to reduce France’s aircraft emissions. The move irked airline officials and left Paris to Marseille one of the few remaining routes serviced by Air France  and high-speed TGV trains.

This new rule – which quashed flight routes between Paris and Nantes, Lyon and Bordeaux – attracted the attention of the team at The Points Guy (TPG), which frequently stages high-speed races pitting a train against a plane to the same destination, to compare comfort, cost, and speed.

TPG decided to compare and contrast the experience of traversing Paris to Marseille by plane or by TGV – with the resulting video a fun look at the long-standing competition between flights and trains. The frantic 481-mile journey started on foot, with the two competitors departing from the famed Louvre Pyramid in Paris before wending their separate ways to Marseille’s Old Port. Read on to see 

THE TRAIN 

France has banned most short-haul internal flights where a competing train route under two and a half hours is available. So travel experts from The Points Guy decided to compare one of the few remaining internal competition routes - Paris to Marseille

France has banned most short-haul internal flights where a competing train route under two and a half hours is available. So travel experts from The Points Guy decided to compare one of the few remaining internal competition routes – Paris to Marseille 

TPG Editor at Large Nicky Kelvin (above) paid £151 for a business-premiere seat from Paris Gare de Lyon to Marseille

TPG Editor at Large Nicky Kelvin (above) paid £151 for a business-premiere seat from Paris Gare de Lyon to Marseille

Travelling on the TGV InOui was Nicky Kelvin, Editor at Large for TPG, who paid £151 for a business-premiere seat from Paris Gare de Lyon to Marseille (penny-pinching travellers could opt for a less expensive economy ticket, of course).

The TGV high-speed train network has been operating for four decades and promises to punt you from Paris to Marseille at speeds of up to 199mph (320kph). The duration? A zippy three hours and 18 minutes.

So what were the upsides of his TGV experience?

Nicky told MailOnline Travel: ‘The train station was very convenient for departing from central Paris and as it was a domestic train there were no security or immigration procedures so the boarding process couldn’t have been easier.’

The TGV high-speed train network has been operating for four decades

The TGV high-speed train network has been operating for four decades

During the journey Nicky took himself to the dining carriage and treated himself to a train picnic: a croque monsieur, yoghurt, cookie and coffee, which came to approximately £15. But he had expected better hospitality for the price of his ticket

During the journey Nicky took himself to the dining carriage and treated himself to a train picnic: a croque monsieur, yoghurt, cookie and coffee, which came to approximately £15. But he had expected better hospitality for the price of his ticket

TGVs between Paris and Marseille reach speeds of up to 199mph (320kph). Nicky's train is pictured above

TGVs between Paris and Marseille reach speeds of up to 199mph (320kph). Nicky’s train is pictured above

‘The train itself was very comfortable. It was smooth and quiet with plenty of space to rest and work.’

Any downsides?

Nicky said: ‘The Metro in Paris was operating slowly on the morning I travelled. For those relying purely on public transport you may want or need to leave yourself with plenty of time, even though the departure train station is centrally located.’

During the journey Nicky took himself to the dining carriage and treated himself to a lavish train picnic: a croque monsieur, yoghurt, cookie and coffee, which came to approximately £15. But he had expected better hospitality.

He added: ‘For the price of a first-class ticket you might have expected a full complimentary food and beverage service.’

THE PLANE 

Racing for 'team plane' was TPG Senior Marketing Manager Liam Spencer. The aeronautical aficionado managed to catch his Air France flight from Paris Orly despite heading to the airport a mere hour before the plane was scheduled to depart

Racing for ‘team plane’ was TPG Senior Marketing Manager Liam Spencer. The aeronautical aficionado managed to catch his Air France flight from Paris Orly despite heading to the airport a mere hour before the plane was scheduled to depart 

Flying start: Liam was delighted upon boarding to discover the seat beside him was unoccupied

Flying start: Liam was delighted upon boarding to discover the seat beside him was unoccupied

‘Team plane’ for this venture was TPG Senior Marketing Manager Liam Spencer, with his economy ticket from Paris Orly Airport to Marseille Provence Airport setting him back £138.

He left his journey to Orly to the last minute, not setting off until an hour before his scheduled flight time.

An affirmed jet-setter who would always rather be up in the air than in a train carriage, Liam found multiple positives about his journey.

Liam told MailOnline Travel: ‘As this was a domestic flight, I didn’t have to go through passport security at either end of my journey.

‘This made the airport experience a lot smoother and meant I was able to make it from plane to taxi in just five minutes.

Liam's flight cost him £138, with the added bonus that he didn't have to go through passport control

Liam’s flight cost him £138, with the added bonus that he didn’t have to go through passport control 

Liam was impressed to be offered a small snack despite his air-time from Paris to Marseille only being one hour

Liam was impressed to be offered a small snack despite his air-time from Paris to Marseille only being one hour

‘I wasn’t anticipating any kind of food and drink service on this one-hour flight, but after take-off I was given a complimentary cup of coffee and a biscuit.

‘This, along with the free seat next to me, meant it was a very pleasant short-haul experience.’

However, he came a cropper in the race, ultimately losing to Nicky by 20 minutes.

He pinpointed the following downsides: ‘My flight ended up taking off 30 minutes after the scheduled departure time. For such a short flight this was a disappointing delay, and ultimately meant I ended up losing the race.

‘The taxi from Marseille Airport to the Old Port felt expensive at £50. Public transport would have been significantly cheaper, but I was aiming for speed over price on this occasion.’

For more from The Points Guy visit thepointsguy.com/uk-travel. To see the original video visit here.





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