Deciding whether to travel by train or plane can be difficult sometimes, but the main priority that affects those decisions is inevitably the cost. While taking the train can often be the more comfortable choice, they’re frequently a lot more expensive than flying.
Here are 11 reasons why a train can be more expensive than flying:
- Trains frequently offer more comfort and ease than flying.
- Train companies are taxed at a higher rate than airlines.
- You can take more baggage on a train.
- Trains are generally more pet and child-friendly.
- Government subsidies allow airlines to charge less.
- There are more employee overheads on trains.
- You get more legroom on trains.
- Busy train routes must cover the expense of quiet routes.
- Consistent train and track maintenance is very costly.
- The increasing number of airlines means more competition.
- Trains are more flexible with seating and dining choices.
In the rest of this article, I’ll take a closer look at why taking the train is frequently the more expensive choice and what needs to be taken into account when looking at travel fares.
1. Trains Frequently Offer More Comfort and Ease Than Flying
Flying can sometimes be a painful experience. With high-security check-in procedures, uncomfortable seating, and the purgatory of the middle seat, it isn’t always the most comfortable option.
Trains are far more comfortable and accessible than planes. With a wider choice of seats, proximity to town centers, and even usable plug sockets and WiFi, trains are often decidedly the more convenient choice.
Because of this, trains are often more expensive than planes. Since they offer a wider variety of options, the price hike is probably worth it, especially if you’re traveling a long way.
2. Train Companies Are Taxed at a Higher Rate Than Airlines
Across the world, many train companies are taxed at a much higher rate than most airlines. Some reports suggest that in the United Kingdom, in particular, there’s no tax on plane tickets or the fuel to run the planes, even though they emit a huge amount of CO2 into the atmosphere than trains.
According to Time Magazine, the cost of your flight doesn’t reflect the total cost of running an airline. Unfortunately, it doesn’t take into account any of the environmental implications that come from flying a jet from one side of the world to another.
It perhaps goes without saying that the more planes in operation and the more airlines we have, the more we’re damaging the planet. Such a steep increase in flights means that passengers choose to fly over other types of transport, which isn’t doing any good for our earth.
One way to combat this is to raise taxes on airlines and make flight tickets more expensive so that alternative methods of travel such as long-haul trains and shared transport on the ground can become the more popular choice for travelers.
3. You Can Take More Baggage on a Train
As well as the comfort and ease of getting on a train in a town center, you also have a lot more options when it comes to baggage.
Trains are a lot less strict regarding how much baggage you can bring with you on your journey, and some even allow you to bring a bike with you at a slightly higher cost.
In contrast, airlines always have very strict baggage allowances that are sometimes very tedious. For example, American Airlines allows 23 kgs (50.71 lbs) of checked baggage per passenger, and there’s inevitably a hefty fine for going over this limit, even if it’s minimal.
Having the freedom to bring as many bags as you like with you on your trip, with no restrictions on size or weight, comes at a price.
Because of this, train companies are more likely to charge you for convenience.
4. Trains Are Generally More Pet and Child-Friendly
Taking a small child or a baby on a plane is an experience that’s often fraught with stress and anxiety. Keeping your child quiet for an uncomfortable plane journey is sometimes the biggest problem, and making sure your toddler sits in their seat for the entire trip can be a mission all of its own.
Trains are a lot more child-friendly.
There’s more space and fewer restrictions on moving around the carriage, meaning you and your children have more seating options and less stress if you need to get up every once in a while.
Additionally, taking a pet on a plane can be a traumatic experience, especially since the pressurized air and temperature in the cabin can take their toll on sensitive animals. Taking your pet on a train means that being closer to the ground is going to be a lot more comfortable for them.
Trains offer a lot more comfortable for your furry friends, and you don’t need to buy a ticket for them, so naturally, your ticket will take this into account.
5. Government Subsidies Allow Airlines To Charge Less
You may be surprised how much governments shell out for their airlines. For example, in the United Kingdom, airlines get a grand total of £7 billion in yearly payouts for their services.
Since the beginning of COVID-19, this number is only increasing. The United States offered several prominent airlines $25 billion to bail them out of the crisis, which is a payday that Amtrak rarely sees.
These subsidies allow airlines to produce competitive prices for more customers, a privilege that train companies just can’t afford. Most train companies typically have higher costs because government subsidies don’t stretch as far as on-land transport, and their taxes are often much higher.
6. There Are More Employee Overheads on Trains
Passenger trains need a lot of employees, and, as a whole, those employees tend to work fairly long hours. Airline employees work just as hard, but there are fewer employees needed on flights than long haul train journeys, so train companies end up paying far more.
The average flight time for national flights in the United States is often much faster than train journeys. While airline employees get paid very well for their services, they’re effectively paid at a lower rate per mile.
If you consider the cost of running a train and all the personnel that need to be on board for their customers, you’ll likely find that there are many more employees on trains than there are on planes.
According to reports, Amtrak has around 2 employees for every 8 passengers, and with 87,000 passengers per day, that’s about 174,000 employees that need paying every day. The price of this is almost certainly included in your expensive train ticket.
7. You Get More Legroom on Trains
Train rides are frequently much more comfortable than flights, primarily because of the legroom. On the average train, you have around 39” (99.06 cm) of legroom, compared to 30” (76.2 cm) on a plane.
Additionally, trains usually have set seats of 2 at a time, so you don’t have to worry about being squashed awkwardly between two strangers, which some might say that’s a luxury in itself.
Having more legroom certainly makes traveling a lot more enjoyable, so, naturally, the price of your train ticket is going to reflect that. If you want a more comfortable journey, you’ll have to pay the fee.
8. Busy Train Routes Must Cover the Expense of Quiet Routes
Busy train routes, such as the route between New York and Washington DC, are the bastion of Amtrak’s current system. Unsurprisingly, it’s such a popular route that it pays for the more unpopular routes.
Planes are much more flexible when it comes to choosing destinations, and they generally have the freedom to decide to close down a route when it’s no longer profitable.
However, train companies don’t have the same freedoms. Trains need to cover unpopular destinations since they have obligations to make their services available, which inevitably means keeping expensive routes open that don’t turn a profit.
To make up for this, many of the busier routes have much more expensive ticket prices, which enables companies like Amtrak to keep journeys open even if they aren’t packed to the brim every time they travel.
Keeping customer fares down is hard when many journeys aren’t profitable, but thankfully, they have the popular routes that keep them going.
9. Consistent Train and Track Maintenance Is Very Costly
Maintaining train cars and keeping the tracks in good shape can, perhaps unsurprisingly, be a costly endeavor. Although it does indeed cost a lot to keep planes running, average costs over long periods of time tend to be higher on trains due to the nature of the tracks.
Some reports suggest that light rail work in some areas of the United States has risen to a whopping $204 million per mile of track. Of course, the more popular routes need more work to maintain, and the unpopular routes are less traveled, so they don’t cost quite as much.
Maintaining the upkeep of trains includes:
- Employee salaries.
- Updating tracks.
- Tightening various switches.
- Fixing the cars.
- Adjusting many of the components that, in some areas of the world, are very old and need unique parts to replace.
- Keeping the locomotives working well.
For example, in Europe, many of the tracks upon which the trains run are incredibly old, running all the way back to the 1800s. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that the price associated with maintenance can get very expensive.
The price of your ticket needs to reflect the maintenance of the train and the track and contribute towards the payment of the engineers and other employees who make this possible.
10. The Increasing Number of Airlines Means More Competition
As the old adage goes, more competition is never a bad thing. The number of airlines available to passengers is steadily increasing with time, and the competition between these burgeoning airlines means the ticket prices are very competitive.
In contrast, the only train company in the United States with the capacity to run in several states is Amtrak. But there isn’t another company that could compete. Supply and demand go hand in hand and the more planes there are, the more passengers there’ll be, and the lower the plane ticket cost.
On the other hand, the fewer train companies that operate, the more passengers will decide to drive or fly because of the high price, and the cost of a train ticket goes up even more. Since Amtrak is the only company operating throughout the United States, its price will inevitably reflect that.
11. Trains Are More Flexible With Seating and Dining Choices
If you choose to take the train, you’ll likely find that your choice of seat and dining options will be a lot more than if you took the plane. And if you book a trip on a cross-country train, chances are that you’ll be able to get space in a sleeping car.
Let’s be honest: plane food is nothing to shout home about. Meals are prepared before flights leave the ground and have been known to have strange textures that come with pre-frozen food.
However, if you’re on a train, you can bring your own food with you, which is something you’d never be allowed to do on a plane. You may even be able to eat in a carriage designed explicitly for dining, especially if you’re taking a cross-country train.
Additionally, you can bring as many liquids as you want onboard the train, and nobody is going to tell you to drain it or throw it away before you board. This has annoyed all flight passengers at least once.
Your choice of seat is also often much more flexible. You frequently have the option to choose your own seat when booking your ticket, or you can move around the train as much as you desire once you’re on it.
You can sit on a chair, lean on your luggage, or stand by the doors, and nobody is going to tell you to do otherwise.
- American Airlines: Checked Bag Policy
- Live About: How Much do Rail Transit Projects Cost to Build and Operate
- St Matthews Animal Clinic: What Really Happens to Pets on a Plane
- New York Times: Crippled Airline Industry to Get $25 Billion Payout
- Business Insider: Amtrak Has Lost Money Every Year Since 1971. Here’s Why Train Tickets Are so Expensive
- Time Magazine: The Real Reason Why Airplane Food Tastes so Bad
- Transport Environment: Taxing Airlines Could Raise €3.7 billion a Year & Help Prevent Return to Pollution Growth
- The Eco Experts: Why Are Trains More Expensive Than Flights
- Simple Flying: Flying vs Rail Travel
- The Points Guy: When You Should Book a Train Ticket Instead of Flying or Driving
- Debt Consolidation Questions: Why is Amtrak More Expensive Than Flying
- Rail Europe: 15 Reasons Trains are Better Than Planes
- New York Times: Trains vs Planes
- Adam Smith: Planes are Significantly Cheaper than Trains
- Pocket Sense: Trains vs Planes: Which Costs Less?