Plane vs. Train

WiseWomanGrandkid spent her first week's holiday away from her mom with us in Sweden. She had a ball and didn't want to go home, but I had already booked a flight 2 weeks earlier. I decided to fly to Berlin with her, but take the train back so that I can compare plane vs. train travel for such a long distance.

On Wednesday we started out from Skåne in the afternoon at 1:15 pm after a bit of lunch.  We drove by car to Copenhagen Airport over the magnificant bridge between Sweden and Denmark. There is a special lane at the airport called "Kiss & Fly", no way to park because there are cars coming behind you. You pull up to the front, the fliers get out and give kisses, get their bags and the car is on its way. Really, a sensible way to set about it.

We made our way through security, there was a special counter with a human being for dealing with children, everyone else had to go through the machines that checked the boarding cards. The woman at the security screening couldn't believe that I only had a laptop, didn't I have an iPad for the child? No, I do not. We looked through the duty-free and got some chewing gum for WiseWomanGrandkid, and were at the gate by 3:30 pm. We bought some pastries to eat, and since I noticed that they were being really picky about only having one item each, I stuffed WiseWomanGrandkid's mouse ears backpack into mine, which I had purposly left rather empty. Other than that, we just had her suitcase.

Boarding was not until 4:10 pm and passed without incident for us (others had to pay because they had two things with them). I had splurged paying for chosen seats on EasyJet, so that we could have a window seat. We got seated easily, left the gate at 4:25 pm, and landed on time in Berlin at 5:25 pm. We were picked up by WiseWomanGrandkidMama at 6:00 pm, and I was home by 6:45 pm.

That makes it five and a half hours door to door. The plane was packed, but we had no checked baggage. I paid 40 € per person, and had planned lots of extra time to deal with a child perhaps not wanting to walk fast. It was without stress, the only negative point was not being able to take my own liquids with me and having to leave my pocket knife at home.

On Friday I went back the other way by train. I purposely left the booking to the last minute, and the train I wanted to take in the afternoon was already sold out. As I later saw on Twitter, it was a good thing, since it was full and completely without air conditioning the entire way. As there is construction between Nykøbing and Næstved, the normal route would have extra exchanges, getting off the train, onto a bus, off the bus, and back on a train. So I was taking the other route north, via Fredericia. I settled for a train two hours earlier with changes in Neumünster, Flensburg, Fredericia, and Copenhagen.

I had a good breakfast at home (luckily, as I planned on having lunch on the train) and left for the local train at 9:30 am. The train to Kiel via Neumünster left Südkreuz at 10:24, and was already jam-packed. I chased a woman from my seat (I had also purchased a reserved seat on all the trains possible) and settled in. At least we had Internet, so I got some work done, although the train was overfilled from Hamburg. I do not understand people who travel without making seat reservations this time of year.

In Neumünster at 1:30 pm there was a train change to a local train from the same platform - but the train was jam-packed. People had lots of luggage with them, and children who were screaming. It seemed like an Indian train, every square centimeter occupied, at least there were no goats and chickens along. I manage to snatch a seat, but with my backpack on my lap there was no chance to do anything while the train lumbered along, stopping at every station on the way.

At 2:45 pm we changed trains in Flensburg to a train on the same platform, with people pushing and shoving, trying to get a seat. Again, I chase people from my reserved seat, they end up standing in the aisles with dozens of others. When we cross the border into Denmark, we are told that all the aisle-standers must get off the train for passport control. They are unsure if they will be let back on, so they pull off their luggage as well. They are checked outside, then a policeman comes through the cars. A woman across from me had remarked that she doesn't look like her passport, she had long red hair when the picture was taken, now she has short grey hair. She passed muster, one wonders if this is just done for show.

We were now running 10 minutes late, the conductor announced through the PA system that the standers could get off in Tinglev and get a train 45 minutes later that would go through to Copenhagen. Some did, some didn't, the women sitting at my table were worried if we would make our next connection, as there was only 12 minutes scheduled and 8 tracks to move. I later saw on Twitter that those who changed trains found out that all the empty seats on that train ended up being reserved seats. Apparently, many people had the DSB app and were able to reserve a seat. I used the available internet to check that the next train in Fredericia still had empty seats and I could buy a reserved seat if necessary for it.

There was no chance to move to any sort of dining car, if there was one available, as all the aisles were blocked. Luckily, I had some bananas and cookies with me, and actually get some work done, as the Internet worked. 

The train in Fredericia actually waited for us at 4:26 pm, but the conductor said to everyone: run, run, get on the train as fast as possible. So no one checked which wagon they were entering. It was a fight, as not everyone had reserved a seat and those that had were in the wrong wagon. Luckily, I had a reservation and I checked the wagon before entering, so I made it to my seat, again chasing off squatters. The air conditioning, however, is not working, luckily I have my Spanish fan with me, as it is 29° C and getting hotter.

After the train gets going I manage to climb over people sitting in the aisles and go to the bathroom. Some crew is sitting in the wagon next to the bathroom with some unaccompanied children. The door is locked, and no one is being let through to their proper places in the car behind it, so they are stuck camping out in front of the bathroom. It is absolute madness that we paid good money for this - I spent 120 € for the one-way trip flexible ticket. It would have been only about 80 € if I had booked weeks in advance, but then I would have had to take exactly this train. The whole point of train travel should be flexibility, and the ability to get off and wait for a next train, if one wants to.  Why are there no extra cars on for a Friday afternoon when they know that people have to take this way around to get to Copenhagen?

Did I mention that there was no Internet? 

At 6:00 pm it is 30° C in the compartment, no fresh air, haven't seen a conductor until just now, climbing through with a coffee pot, probably to refresh it. She has been sitting in the children's compartment, which is locked. She obtained two bottles of cold water and climbed back past us, without saying a word to anyone.

We made it to Copenhagen on time, and I now had 45 minutes before the train to Sweden. There were far too many people for the escalator, it took some time to get up to the station. There I got a salad and some cheese and something to drink at Brugsen, and sat at a hot hot hot table in the back of the store eating. Finally, real food!

The train to Sweden arrived on time, although it was not marked at the track board at station level, only on the big billboard and down on the track. Whatever, the air conditioning works, there are plenty of empty seats, and the bathroom is easy to reach. We are on time, and I am home at 8:30 pm. 

I needed 11 hours for this trip, and am rather suffering from people overload and am a bit dizzy with motion sickness, I feel like I am still on the train. I was only able to eat my snacks until I reached Copenhagen, no real lunch, but I was able to take my knife and lots to drink with me, as well as my backpack and a suitcase.

The plane was one third the price and took half the time.

One third of the price in half the time. The plane wins.

I wrote a complaint on Twitter to the DSB, the Danish train system, and was sent back a link where I can lodge a complaint. I did, asking the following questions:

  1. The Danish train system knows that people are avoiding the busses from Nykøbing to Næstved on the Hamburg--Copenhagen line. Why don't they put extra cars on the trains that run via Fredericia? People paid good money to travel and ended up standing or sitting in an aisle.
  2. Why do they put broken cars in service? They should have enough in reserve for such situations.
  3. Why doesn't a conductor care about the people on the train? We could have waited another minute or so in Fredericia and had people sort themselves out on the platform. It would still have been jam-packed, but not so chaotic. It would have been nice to have been welcomed over the PA system, or given some information about the trip, but there was nothing, in any language.
  4. Internet would have at least given people something to do, why don't they get this working? They probably only have to give the router a reboot.  
  5. What on earth would the train system do if even more people decided to take a train because they want to be environmentally sensible? The train system is broken now, they have been "saving money" for ages. How can it cope with more passengers?