As part of our recent trip to the UK we took a three day excursion to Paris to let the kids experience something a little different, and see a new country. It is also a city I love having spent a year living there back in the 1990s.
For various reasons, it worked out simpler for us to fly into Paris from Gatwick on Easyjet, but on the return we had a choice of flying back or taking the high speed Eurostar train. Given that the kids have not experienced high speed rail before, I opted for the train. The timing was also a little better for the kids, getting them home before their normal bedtime, even with the train ride from St Pancras across London and down to East Grinstead, the nearest train station to where we were staying.
When comparing, I am not only going to look at the services themselves, but also the additional elements for the door-to-door trip. That includes taxis, trains and other rides we took.
London to Paris:
- Early morning taxi to London Gatwick
- Easyjet flight direct to Paris, Charles de Gaulle airport
- RER to Gare du Nord
- Walk to the hotel
Paris to London:
- Bus to Gare du Nord
- Eurostar to London, St. Pancras
- Thameslink direct to East Grinstead
- Car ride back home
For our group of four (two adults, two young children), Eurostar was much cheaper than Easyjet. The train was an average of $65/person and the plane $116/person. The train rides from Charles de Gaulle into Paris and the ride from St Pancras back to East Grinstead worked out to be similar because of different child discount policies.
Our flight out was early, and since we’re traveling with kids and it was August (peak holiday season in Europe), we arrived at the airport nice and early. First stop was the bag check; we had paid for a single checked luggage. The hand luggage size on Easyjet is listed as 56 x 45 x 25 cm (which is roughly 22″ x 17.5″ x 9.75″), including wheels and handles. Rather than deal with that, we took small backpacks that we’d need in Paris and checked the one bag for the four of us.
After handing over the large luggage, we headed through security. The family line was packed and only had a few automatic gates, but it did have some regular gates too. That proved useful when the cameras in the automatic gates couldn’t see our youngest and would not let her through. After that, hand luggage scanning and checks went slowly but smoothly.
Just enough time to get some breakfast from Starbucks (long lines for this) and head to the gate. We were on board within 90 minutes of arrival at Gatwick, and the flight left on time.
Gare du Nord
The return journey started at Gare du Nord, which is a massive and somewhat complicated train station to navigate, but the Eurostar departure area was well sign posted. After picking up some food for the trip, we went up to the ticket check and customs areas.
Ticket checks were very simple – scan the ticket’s barcode and walk through. Even our youngest had no problems with this gate. The next step was a passport check (slightly complicated signage here, made a little more complicated by one of our group using an EU passport the rest on US passports). Once through that, and French customs, we then walked through into the UK passport check and customs (both the departure from France and the entry into the UK are handled at Gare du Nord).
After all of that, there is a small departure area with very limited seating and some shops for last minute souvenirs. Not long after getting there we walked out and down to the platform to board our train. Total time at the train station before boarding was under an hour, and, like our flight out, the train left Paris on time.
Unlike previous times I’ve used Easyjet, this time we had assigned seat numbers. After a wait in the gate area, we were soon on board the plane and ready for the short hop to Paris. The seat pitch (quoted as 29″) seemed quite comfortable even for me. The seats themselves are very thin now and there was very little in the seat back pocket.
As expected, drinks and food were extra. We had refilled our water bottles at the airport after security and brought our own food, so no need for that. The flight was uneventful, and short. The arrival at Charles de Gaulle also on time.
There is no on board entertainment or Wi-Fi, but the flight to Paris is so short it would not really make sense anyway. Perhaps on longer flights, although these days pretty much everybody has a mobile device they could bring content on for the flight if they didn’t just want to read a book.
We had selected seats with a table for the Eurostar trip, giving us plenty of legroom. Unlike the plane, the train was also not that busy so we had plenty of empty seats around us to spread out into. The seats themselves are comfortable though nothing special. The tables are small by default, with pull up & out sections to extend them when needed.
Having our luggage in the same car (in a luggage rack at the end of the car) was useful too as we could go there for anything we needed during the journey. Also meant no waiting for luggage when we got off in London.
The train did offer free Wi-Fi onboard, although we had trouble connecting to it and even once connected it was often dropping (it is using the cellular network and is subject to coverage issues in that network). There were also some games and streaming content available from the train over the Wi-Fi.
Easyjet at Charles de Gaulle
Easyjet arrives at the newer terminal in CDG (and, in fact, departed from the newer terminal at Gatwick as well). The wait for our checked luggage was a little longer than usual, but once we had it, getting to the trains in the new terminal is much simpler than from the old one (where there was a shuttle bus ride to get to the RER previously).
It did take a while to buy tickets for the train to Paris – there was a long line snaking away from the bank of ticket machines and it made slow progress as people try to work out what tickets they need. The process itself, once we reached a machine, was relatively simple and the RER service into central Paris is frequent enough that it does not matter that much.
Eurostar at St. Pancras
Arriving at St. Pancras, we just had to get our luggage from the end of the carriage and step down onto the platform. A short walk, through another customs hall where it seemed some people were being selected for further screening and bag checking (odd since we’d done that already in Paris, including a bag X-ray). Then we were out in the main station area.
Our Thameslink train home was almost an hour after we arrived, from the same station (very convenient as hauling luggage around London on the underground at peak time would not have been much fun). While there were other options that included a train change at East Croydon, we needed dinner, so grabbing food at one of the many eateries inside St. Pancras and then taking the direct train seemed like a good choice.
The Thameslink home, was surprisingly cheap (just £30 for the four of us, though our youngest was free and the older one just £2 because of a special family package deal). Amusingly, the train from St Pancras to East Grinstead took almost as long as the one from Paris to London, but it was stopping in many more places and, obviously, not running at 200mph!
Overall, I would opt for the Eurostar over the plane in most cases. While it has become less relaxed with the various customs and passport checks in Gare du Nord, it it still less stressful than dealing with the airport checks. On board, the experience is better too with more freedom to walk around, and it travels directly between the city centers.
For traveling around Europe, my preference in the past has been to use trains if I have the time. The Eurostar service makes getting between London and other European capitals. That said, if the schedule works better to fly, Easyjet is a great choice.