From Paris to Vienna: night trains versus planes

To my delight, the Austrian Federal Railways, the ÖBB (Österreichische Bundesbahnen), have reintroduced the night train, known as the “Nightjet” between Paris and December 14, 2021.

I tested it and compared it with the Air France service.

Why test the Paris-Vienna night train?

I’m a fan of night trains!

During all my university studies I worked weekends in sleeping cars. I crisscrossed Europe at a time when many night trains still existed. Since then, I’ve borrowed one every chance I get! I love railway night-time atmospheres. So I was keen to try out the new Paris-Vienna route, especially as Nightjets have an excellent reputation.

Today, the number of night train customers is much reduced compared to before:

  • First, there arethe enthusiasts. Surfing the web, you’ll discover many articles and videos they produce.
  • Then there are the well-off retired baby boomers who experienced this mode of transport in their youth.
  • Finally, today’s young people who are sensitive to ecological arguments and are looking for the cheapest possible transport.

If overnight trains are to become popular again, rail companies will need to attract new customers, particularly among Generation X and Millenials, who are still largely committed to air or car travel.

In this article, I try to understand what they’re missing to make the night train attractive to them.

In the first part I explain how :

Then, step by step, I present my discovery of the Nightjet, the night train between Paris and Vienna:

Then, concerning the return flight from Vienna to Paris, I’m deliberately being less detailed because I’m working on the assumption that, for most of you, you’re much more familiar with airline service than with night train service.

I then go on to compare the prices and fare conditions of the two modes of transport. You’ll be rather surprised by what I have to say!

Finally, I’d like to end this comprehensive article with:

I did the comparative test in 2022 and the conclusions are still valid today.


All texts in color coral indicate an internal or external link.

The conditions of my comparative test

In February 2022, I bought a train ticket from Paris to Vienna and a plane ticket on the return journey to compare the advantages and disadvantages of the two modes of transport.

On the outward journey, I was in a sleeper car in a single cabin, and on the return journey in business class on Air France.

I also carried out fare simulations to analyze the various travel possibilities, putting myself in the shoes of different types of customers, such as the businessman or woman, the romantic couple, Erasmus exchange students, or a family with children going on vacation.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’ve worked on night trains and for airlines. So I have a sharp eye for customer experience issues in the transport sector. It’s this added value that I bring you in this comparative test.

Nightjet at Gare de l'Est

First step: information and reservations

Nowadays, preparing a trip often starts with going online for information and reservations. So that’s what I did, trying to imagine myself as an uninformed traveler wishing to go to Vienna by train.

Getting information on SNCF website is frustrating!

My first instinct was to go to the sncf-connect. com booking site where I buy all my train tickets. SNCF is the French railways company and they partner with the Öbb on Paris Vienna.

I typed in “Paris – Vienna” and the site suggested a multitude of routes with connections. The night train, the flagship service par excellence, is drowned in a jumble of more or less realistic journeys. Unless you already know it, there’s a good chance you won’t find the Nightjet. What’s more, I’m offered fares in 2nd and 1st class that don’t match the Nightjet offer at all.


The night train is supposed to open up to new customers. I’m not sure that the lack of description given is sufficient to attract and reassure about the travel conditions. A little more education is needed. Let’s not forget that only the over-50s have experienced the night train!

This leads me to believe that SNCF still doesn’t believe in night trains. She goes backward to please the French government. When it comes to communication, SNCF does the minimum service. This was something I had already noticed in the 80s when I was working on sleeping cars.

Information on the ÖBB website: attention to detail

If you want a better description of the Nightjet and a more suitable booking interface, go directly to the ÖBB night train website: These include 360° views to give you a good idea of the proposed environment.

On the website, I understand that the Nighjet offer is complex. There are three class types with different configurations:

  • Sleeping cars with compartments that can be converted into one, two or three bunk beds. You can reserve just one bed or an entire compartment. In shared cabins men and women are separated. There are two categories:
    • Luxury with private shower and WC
    • Standard with just one toilet.
  • Couchettes cars with six people compartments. For an additional charge, you can privatize the compartment, whether you’re alone or more than one person. Alternatively, you can buy a berth and share the compartment with up to 3 other passengers (two berths will remain unused). Women can request to be placed in a “ladies only” compartment.
  • Seating cars with 6-seater compartments. The compartment can be privatized for a modest supplement.

If you’ve never taken a night train before, it’s not easy to find your way around. So I advise you to read my article carefully and then spend some time on the website before making your reservation.

Book on the ÖBB website: it works!

I finally made my reservation on the ÖBB booking site. It’s clearer than But if you’re used to this site, you can also reserve your place on the Nightjet.

It’s February, an off-peak season, and I thought it would be easy to find a sleeper cabin with a shower and toilet. I’m quickly disillusioned, as everything is full for the two weeks I want to go. I’ll understand on my trip why. There are only two sleeper cars, offering a total of 6 luxury cabins with showers and toilets.

So I settle on a standard sleeper cabin with a shared toilet and shower at the end of the corridor. It’s a bit like a youth hostel!

Nightjet departure from Gare de l’Est, Paris

It’s the big day! Living in central Paris, I walk to the Gare de l’Est. It’s a privilege.

Used to the Gare du Nord and the Eurostar, the Gare de l’Est seems almost provincial. Its facade is beautiful. The lobby is pleasant, with plenty of stores.

Gare de l'Est, Paris


The “Grand Voyageur” lounge: an improved waiting room

Being a bit early, I’m off to the SNCF’s Grand Voyageur lounge. I haven’t read anywhere on the internet whether I’m entitled to it or not, but I’m trying anyway. The ticket agent scans my ticket. The green light comes on and he offers me entry. A good point! It’s a pity, however, that SNCF doesn’t say so more explicitly on the Internet.

The living room is designed to resemble a Parisian apartment. It’s pretty cool.

Grand Voyageur lounge at Gare de l'Est in Paris

However, when it comes to services, it’s very minimal. Only hot drinks and water are offered. We’re a long way from airline standards.

Grand Voyageur lounge at Gare de l'Est in Paris

Think of the lounge as a slightly more comfortable waiting room. That’s all there is to it.

Easy boarding is a train privilege

Travelling with the Nightjet offers all the advantages of the train: no security checks and no queues to board. No need to pack liquids and no cabin baggage size or weight restrictions. It’s pretty cool.

Discovering my sleeper aboard the Nightjet

Departure time approaches. I discover the Nightjet in its beautiful midnight blue dress. I’m greeted at my sleeper by a charming steward who offers to take my suitcase to my cabin. It takes me back almost forty years to when I was the one doing the job!

Author in front of the Nightjet

My cabin looks a lot like the sleeping cars of my youth, which was already twenty years old. Apart from air-conditioning, a lockable door with a perforated key, and a communal shower, the environment hasn’t changed much. Yet the cars are recent, dating from the mid-2000s.

The sleeper car comprises 3 deluxe cabins with a private shower and toilet and 9 standard cabins.

Nighjet sleeper diagram

An uncomfortable cabin for three

The cabin is the standard size for sleeper cars. Provided you don’t have a lot of luggage, there’s enough space for one or two travelers. In a small cupboard, I discover a toilet with a washbasin.

Daytime sleeper
Sleeping car toilet

On the other hand, if I’d had to share it with two strangers, it would have seemed uncomfortable.

In 2022, I can’t imagine a businessman or woman agreeing to undress, wash, and sleep in the company of third parties in such a confined space.

Today’s travelers demand far more privacy than our ancestors did.

I take a look at the deluxe cabin, which is exactly the same, but with a private shower and toilet. Which makes a big difference in terms of travel comfort.

Private shower and toilet

Consider having to go to the bathroom during the night. You have to get up, go out into the brightly lit corridor, and remember to take your key to get back into the cabin. So you’ll be wide awake and won’t be able to fall back asleep when you get back into bed!

Sleeping car corridor

Evening aboard the Nightjet

The train leaves at 7:57 pm, so I’m able to enjoy the evening before going to bed. At boarding the cabin is still a daytime version with three seats. Their well-being is average, however, and I get the impression that they’re more like booster seats, not really designed for long hours. It’s a shame.

Comfort sleeper

On a long, narrow table, I find a paper bag, not very glamorous, with comfort items that will prove very useful during the journey. The ÖBB have provided slippers, an eye mask, and ear plugs, among other things.

Car-bed comfort bag
Contents car-bed comfort bag

To get through the evening, it’s best to bring a book or download a film onto your computer or tablet in advance, as there’s no wifi on board the Nightjet. However, electrical outlets are available for recharging the batteries of your various electronic devices.

Time to eat!

Just after departure, the steward returns with a small bottle of Prosecco by way of welcome. A rather nice gesture of welcome, especially as it’s a good one.

Unfortunately, there is no dining car as there used to be on the most famous night trains. I particularly remember the “Palatino” a train between Paris and Rome which ran every day. The food was prepared on board by an Italian chef and was delicious.

On board the Nighjet, we have to make do with industrial catering reheated by the steward in his galley microwave.

The menu is short, but inexpensive. It’s in French but also in English, Italian and of course German.

Nightjet dinner menu

I choose the vegetable curry followed by a plum Kaiserschmarrn, a typical Austrian dessert. It’s a kind of pancake cut into coarse pieces and mixed with a fruit compote.

The dinner is correct for the price paid. The fact that it’s served on a porcelain plate with metal cutlery and real glass makes for a rather pleasant experience.

I end my evening with a small vodka. Outside, it’s dark and the train is running at full speed.

Vegetarian curry on Nightjet
Austrian dessert on Nightjet

Night aboard the Nightjet

At around 11 pm, just before arriving at Metz station, I call the steward and asked him to convert my cabin to the night version.

I take the opportunity to take a shower at the end of the corridor. This one’s nice and it’s a comfort feature that didn’t exist when I was working in the sleeping cars.

Yet, to my surprise, I’m the only one to use it on the whole trip. The steward confirms that customers are put off by the collective use of such equipment and its location in the same area as the toilets.

Sleeping car in night version
Nightjet collective shower

It’s with great pleasure that I slip under the comforter. The mattress, by Germanic standards, is firm, but I like that. You can also adjust the cabin temperature by a few degrees to suit your personal comfort. It’s not so easy if you have the misfortune of sharing your cabin with other travelers!

The curtains provide a good blackout, and the soundproofing provides adequate protection from the noise of the train. I measured between 48 and 58 decibels, which is very reasonable and much lower than in an airplane.

Getting used to sleeping on a train

The bed is both narrower and shorter than a normal bed. For my average height and build, it’s perfect.

On the other hand, I imagine that people over 1m80 tall, or overweight, will be less at ease in this rather small space. Finally, the pillows are of very poor quality and I strongly suggest that ÖBB replace them quickly.

Sleeping on a train for the first time, even in a good bed, can be quite confusing. You have to get used to the noise of the train’s rolling, braking, and acceleration punctuated by stops at stations in the middle of the night. But you soon get used to it.

Personally, the train’s movements are sensations that I love and that lull me to sleep!

Waking up in Germany

It’s around 7 a.m., just before the German-Austrian border, that I naturally wake up.

I raise the curtain and lie back under my comforter, watching the German countryside unfold before my eyes.

It’s a magical moment!

Waking up in the Nightjet

I’ve always loved that feeling of still being a little asleep and discovering a whole new landscape after long hours on the train that I haven’t seen pass me by in my sleep.

View of the Nightjet in Germany

 An emotional moment

Many memories of my old night train journeys are running through my head. I’m a little moved. One of the most memorable was when, in the early hours of the morning, the “Train Bleu” ran along the sunny Estérel coast between Saint-Raphaël and Cannes, whereas the day before we had left the capital under a wintry drizzle. Magic, I tell you!

Neither the plane, nor the car, nor the TGV allow you to experience such a sensation. Just for that, I invite you to take the night trains! You’ll truly understand the art of travel.


After a quick rinse at my private washbasin, the steward transforms my cabin into a daytime version and brings me my breakfast. This is included in the price of my ticket and is perfectly acceptable. The day before, I had ticked off 6 items of my choice from a long list.

Nightjet breakfast

Nightjet breakfast

I still have two hours before arriving in Vienna, so I take the opportunity to visit the other classes on the Nightjet : the berths and the seats.

Nightjet berths

The Nightjet features compartments that can be fitted with 4 or 6 berths. Toilets and washbasins are located at the end of each car. The bunk is made of velvet, and passengers are provided with a blanket, pillow, and sheet.

It’s better than I remember from my childhood, when the bunks were made of cheap faux leather and the bedding was limited to an uncomfortable sheet bag and a not-so-clean SNCF blanket!

If you’re traveling in a couchette, do the same as for a long-haul airliner. Dress comfortably in loose-fitting clothes, like jogging pants, that you can sleep in, as it’s not easy to change for the night. All the more so if you’re traveling alone with strangers in your compartment. Privacy is fairly limited.

Daytime bunks
Daytime bunks

The ideal solution for a family or small group of friends

As it is possible to privatize the compartments, the berths are ideal for families or small groups of friends. In fact, Nightjet promotes it. (© ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger)

Nightjet bunks - Photo credit OBB

For dinner, the menu is the same as in the sleeper cars. However, there is no table. So I suggest you bring your own sandwich, which will be easier to eat. In the morning, coffee and bread are offered free of charge on waking.

The compartment can be locked from the inside. It’s an important part of feeling safe.

Couchette cars are older than sleeping cars. As a result, they are noisier and more rustic.

Nightjet seats

The Nightjet also offers seated travel in compartments of up to 6 people. It’s the low-cost formula!

During my visit, I tried out the armchairs, and to say the least,they’re not comfortable due to poor sleeping ergonomics.

An uncomfortable journey

If you’re in a full compartment, expect a very uncomfortable journey, even for young people! The face-to-face layout means you’ll have to wrestle with your neighbor’s legs. The OBB publicity photo below (© ÖBB/Harald Eisenberger) speaks for itself.

Nighjet seating (photo OBB)

The other disadvantage is that you can’t close the compartment from the inside. As the train stops at stations along the way, you’re not safe from unwanted visitors while you sleep.

If you’re lucky enough to have a maximum of three people, you can recline the armchairs so that you sleep in an almost reclining position. Make sure you bring a good sweater, though, as there’s no blanket on offer.

Stretch seating

Seating on the Nightjet left me very skeptical.

Why not take inspiration from the air?

I don’t understand why don’t the railways take more inspiration from what the airlines are doing? A reconfiguration of the seating cars with a single large cabin without compartments and lie-flat seatslike the seat Andromeda by Avio Interiors which would provide greater comfort without sacrificing density and therefore cost per seat.

Lie-flat andromeda seat

Arrival at Vienna Central Station: Wien Hauptbahnhof

10:10 am. Our Nightjet pulls into Vienna Central Station. Perfectly on time after a 14-hour journey!

The station is brand new, dating from 2015. Sure, it’s very functional, but it has no charm . Yet it is possible to create a beautiful, modern station, as the successful example of Rotterdam station demonstrates.

It’s hard to imagine what it was like to get off the Orient Express when it stopped in the former Austro-Hungarian capital on its way from Paris to Istanbul. So much for the dream dimension of the night train!

Vienna Central Station
Main concourse, Vienna Central Station

An ÖBB lounge that outshines the SNCF lounge

I take this opportunity to visit the ÖBB lounge, which is open to sleeping car customers before and after their trip. The look and feel are modern, with a very Germanic design. Its strong point compared with SNCF lounges is that it offers a genuine light catering service. Nothing mind-blowing, but at least it exists.

OBB lounge in Vienna
OBB buffet lounge in Vienna

The station district is not Vienna!

The area around the station is just as modern and cold. You’ll need to walk half an hour to the Ring to feel the atmosphere of Imperial Vienna. As the Michelin guide says, it’s a magnificent city and well worth the trip!

Here are a few snapshots just to whet your appetite.

Tramway in Vienna
Café Central in Vienna
Military History Museum in Vienna
Hundertwasser village
Vienna Library
Downtown Vienna

Return flight from Vienna to Paris on Air France

Air France operates three daily medium-haul Airbus flights to Vienna from Paris CDG airport. Flying time is around 1 hour 30 to 1 hour 45. Austrian Airlines offers a service very similar to that of Air France on the same frequency.

I’m deliberately not going into as much detail here, because I’m assuming that most of you are much more familiar with airline service than with night train service.

I have therefore focused on highlighting the main differences between the two modes of transport.

Information and booking on efficient!

For my return journey, I go to the Air France website, which is simple and functional.

Reservations can be made from the home page. The display of availability, fares, and their constraints is easy to find.

The pages presenting the services offered are succinct and not very descriptive. They are above all suggestive, and can therefore lead to disappointment when the time comes to make the trip. If I’d never flown Air France, I wouldn’t know what to expect.

Getting to the airport

In Paris, the CDG airport is accessible by RER, but rather uncomfortably, or by bus or cab on a very congested freeway. Until the CDG Express arrives, maybe in 2027, accessibility to Paris airport is a bad point for air travel.

In Vienna, the airport is closer to the city. There’s a good rail service (ÖBB again!) that takes you to the center in around 20 minutes.

Vienna airport train

Services that compensate for the inconvenience of flying on the ground

At the station, night trains have major advantages over airport flights: they are accessible right up to the last minute, without having to undergo the numerous security checks imposed at airports.

Yet airlines have managed to turn airport constraints into competitive advantages.

They have created “fast-track” services that enable loyal customers or those paying the highest fares to reduce waiting times at security filters or boarding.

At Air France, this is the “SkyPriority” service used by all SkyTeam alliance airlines.

SkyPriority in Vienna

As I was traveling in business class, I was able to take advantage of it. It saved me several dozen minutes at Vienna airport, and I was able to settle in comfortably before everyone else on board. Appreciable when the plane is full!

Airlines give their best customers access to lounges offering a high level of comfort and service. This is an important element in customer expectations.

At Vienna airport, Air France invites you to the SKY Lounge. For lack of time, I didn’t visit it personally. So I encourage you to find out what it looks like in GBen’s flight report (in French) on

The lounge, although quite ordinary, offers far superior services to those of ÖBB and SNCF. There’s a decent restaurant and even showers for passengers.

The new Air France lounge at CDG Terminal 2F

If you’re traveling in the opposite direction and have access to the lounge thanks to your frequent flyer status, or if you’re traveling in business class, don’t hesitate to visit it!

The new Air France lounge in terminal 2F at CDG is remarkable.

I had the opportunity to explore it on my return trip from Vienna, as I was in transit to another destination.

The living room’s design is the first thing you notice when you enter. It’s modern, bright and luxurious all at once. The view of the runways and planes is fabulous. It’s the “wahooh” effect!

There are plenty of places to rest, sleep, work, have a drink, eat, or even shower. You can even receive a Clarins treatment! Enough to make you want to arrive well in advance of your flight.

There’s a wide and generous range of food and beverage options, including unlimited champagne and grand crus.

The Air France medium-haul lounge at CDG is of the highest standard. At no time during my Nightjet journey did I find such a luxurious positioning. The customer guest book is the best testimony.

The lounge is a significant competitive advantage when choosing Air France flights to Paris-Vienna.

Air France lounge grand staircase
Air France lounge catering area
Air France lounge wines
Clarins lounge Air France
Guestbook Air France lounge
Air France lounge menu
Upper floor, Air France lounge
Air France lounge relaxation area
Entrance to Air France lounge

In-flight service on board Air France

In Business class, a light cold meal is served with a choice of beverages including champagne and wine. The one I was served was tasty and the hostess’s service was attentive. I feel privileged.

Air France business class meals

Air France Business Class

In economy class, I would have had just received a complimentary sandwich and drink. But the flight from Paris to Vienna is very short. So it’s not a problem. Even less so if you were lucky enough to be able to eat beforehand at the lounge.

Wifi is available in both cabins for a fee, and electronic equipment can be recharged via a USB socket.

However, it is difficult to compare services between the two modes of transport, given the different journey times.

A far more advantageous frequent flyer program

An important factor in deciding whether to take the train or the plane is membership in a loyalty program.

If you are a Flying Blue member with Gold or Platinum status, you have access to SkyPriority and the lounge even if you are traveling in economy class. What’s more, you can earn miles or spend them on award tickets for your Paris-Vienna trip.

Conversely, being a member of the SNCF “Grand Voyageur” loyalty program, which is much less generous than “Flying Blue”, won’t give you any advantages on your Paris-Vienna trip.

This is a product feature that rail companies could easily improve to become more competitive with air travel.

Price comparison between Nightjet and Air France

As you might expect, Nightjet’s pricing structure is as complex as its offering.

Trying to compare it with Air France fares, which vary greatly with income management, is a real challenge. So I’ve spent a lot of time trying to guide you towards the most appropriate mode of transport for your situation.

Nighjet’s strict cancellation policy

ÖBB offers two types of fares on the Nighjet, regardless of the class chosen:

  • The “Sparchiene” promotional rate is non-refundable and non-changeable. What’s more, it’s available in limited quantities and doesn’t give you access to the privatization of your compartment.
  • The standard rate can only be canceled up to 2 weeks before departure. After that, the ÖBB will impose a 50% penalty until the day before departure. If you have any unforeseen circumstances on the day of departure, you will not be entitled to any refund.

Air France fares are much more flexible:

  • The “light” and “standard” promotional rates are changeable but non-refundable.
  • The standard “flex” fare can be changed and refunded up to the day of departure.

Clearly, if you’re a woman or a businessman, you’ll want to keep flying. Flexibility is an essential expectation for these customers when they travel again.

Even for a leisure trip, you may be put off by ÖBB’s strict cancellation policy. Although insurance is offered, it only covers unlikely cases such as loss of employment, serious illness, or requisition by the army!

Sleeper cars are on a par with Air France business class fares

Let’s take the case of a couple who, in March 2022, want to plan a romantic weekend in Vienna in mid-June.

A simulation on the ÖBB website gives me a rate of €960 for a return trip for two in a deluxe sleeper cabin with a private shower and WC.

Nightjet rates for a couple in a sleeper car

On Air France, I found a round-trip fare for two people in business class at €715.

The difference with the Nightjet fare of €245 enables our couple to afford a night’s accommodation in a 4-star hotel in Vienna’s historic center.

Air France business class fare

Unless you agree to travel with one or two strangers in your compartment, my simulations for a single person give results that are even more advantageous to air travel.

The great argument of night train advocates that you’ll save a night’s stay in a hotel is therefore inadmissible.

Couchettes cars are ideal for small groups

Another example: a family with two children aged 10 and 14. They will pay for the return trip, in a private berths compartment, for a total of €580.

For this family, Air France offers a total fare of €650, to which must be added the cost of a cab to and from the airports and the price of an extra night’s accommodation at the destination.

The Nightjet is a competitive choice for a family or small group of friends.

If you’re on your own and agree to share your compartment with up to 3 strangers, it will cost you €300 for the round trip.

On Air France, you can get a fare of €185 in economy class, provided you don’t have to check in any hold baggage. The price difference with Nightjet allows you to pay for an Airbnb in Vienna or a simple hotel.

Seats’ not all it’s cracked up to be!

A round trip in a seated compartment costs between €60 and €100, provided you book a “Sparchiene” fare well in advance. For a booking closer to departure, you’ll need to pay €220 return. It’s not that cheap for an uncomfortable ride.

A simulation with Ryanair in March (3 flights a week – identical frequency to Nightjet) gives a fare of €94, provided you only have one carry-on bag, to which you must add €31 for transfers between Paris and Beauvais airport.

Unless our young travelers have a very strong ecological conscience, I fear that many will continue to take the plane, given the superior comfort for an equivalent price. Their final decision will also depend on flight times. If they’re ill-suited, Nightjet can save them a night or two at a hotel in Vienna.

The best choice: Nightjet or Air France?

As I said at the beginning of this article, I love night trains. Although I’ve worked in air transport for over 30 years, whenever I have the choice, I prefer this mode of transport. However, in Paris-Vienna, the night train cannot yet replace the airplane.

Air France service offers better value for money

Today, after having tested Nightjet and Air France, I would recommend flying for the businessman or woman.

The Nightjet sleeper offer, though not luxurious, is still too expensive. For the same price, it’s possible to fly business class on Air France, access its superb CDG lounge, and spend a night in a good hotel in the center of Vienna.

The berths are perfect for families or groups of friends of between 3 and 6 people. They are not suited to individual customers or couples who want a certain amount of privacy for overnight travel.

Seating cars are too uncomfortable to recommend to anyone.

Nightjet’s timetables are better adapted, but the frequencies are to the advantage of air travel.

Leaving with the Nighjet around 8:00 pm and arriving at 10:00 am is an ideal time if you’ve had a good night’s rest. That leaves a good day’s work at your destination. For the time being, however, there are only three weekly frequencies, and these are quickly sold out in sleeper cars.

Air France offers three daily flights. In the Paris CDG Vienne direction at 9.20 am, 3 pm and 8.55 pm. Return departures are at 6:05 a.m., 12:15 p.m. and 5:50 p.m. Journey time from downtown to downtown is 5 hrs. It’s much shorter than the Nightjet’s 14 hours, but it’s useful time that you lose, unlike the night train.

CO2 balance in the Nightjet’s favor

I used the ADEME CO2 emissions simulator from the French Government. Unsurprisingly, trains outperform planes.

Paris-Vienna CO2 emissions comparison

However, I think we need to be cautious in interpreting the results.

For example, it does not take into account the passenger load factor. On the outward journey, my train was full in sleeping cars but almost empty in berths and seats. On the return trip, the Air France flight was fully booked.

But I won’t go any further because I’m not competent to draw any serious conclusions.

My advice!

Today, the Nightjet vs. Air France match-up is in favor of the airline, which offers better value for money and a better customer experience.

In both cases, I had to deal with a warm and attentive flight attendant. This is an essential aspect of the customer experience for which Nighjet and Air France are on par. So much the better!

Airbus 321 Air France
Nightjet engine

The night train is still in its renaissance phase

But that could change in the future. Night trains have the means to win back new customers in Europe.

Since 2023, a promising new fleet of Nighjets

The ÖBB has ordered a new fleet of night trains, which have been phased in from 2023.

Passengers’ privacy are much better preserved than at present

The new trains feature individual berths, akin to the famous Japanese capsule hotels.

Nightjet of the future

All sleeper cabins have private showers and toilets. PriestmanGoode ‘s design is a success.

Nightjet of the future - Sleeping car

For the time being they only operate from Hamburg to Vienna and Innsbruck.

Redeveloping night trains will require creativity

In recent years, politicians have become passionate about night trains for ecological reasons.

So much the better, but let’s not be naïve, because the major rail companies, such as the French SNCF or the German DB, don’t believe in it and are doing nothing to seriously develop this segment.

They simply ask for subsidies, like the SNCF, which, at the government’s request, has reopened the Paris-Nice service in 2021, using old sleeper cars hastily renovated at public expense.

Developing night trains in Europe will require creativity, as this is an economically difficult segment:

  • New train layouts need to be devised to meet both economic requirements and customer expectations.
  • The overall service offering needs to be better thought out and the pricing policy reviewed.

But I don’t think it’s an impossible challenge to meet, provided the rail operators are willing.

Support the ÖBB Nighjets!

It took Austria’s small national railway company, the ÖBB, to demonstrate that night trains could do business in Europe. It seems to be profitable. I invite you to read Frédéric de Kemmeter’s excellent economic analysis of the Nighjet on his Mediarail blog.

For that reason alone, Despite all my reservations, I urge you to encourage them and to travel, at least in one direction, by Nightjet between Paris and Vienna! Especially if you’re going away for a romantic weekend with just the two of you, it would be a shame not to experience the magic of the night train.

Other night train projects, such as the new “Midnight Trainsrail company, are in the pipeline. Let’s hope they can surprise us in the right way to make the night train the best way to travel in Europe again!

Nightjet in Vienna



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