It took me five minutes, three clicks and one simple internet payment to book my flight from Vienna to Amsterdam. Cost: less than €60. I checked in using my smartphone, downloaded the boarding pass without a hitch. The free airline app automatically warns me in case anything changes, and phone numbers are included should I need any help. It may be horrible for the planet, but obviously they’ve got this customer service thing nailed.
Again, I knew things weren't going to be that easy for the trains.
The Dutch Railways (NS) sell train tickets across Europe, but primarily to France and Germany. The Austrian railways (ÖBB) and the Germans (DB) go farther. Since Vienna is where I was to change from a DB train to an ÖBB train, and offered me the best itinerary, I tried there. Cost: €260. Hm.
I tried an alternative and rang the excellent folks at Treinreiswinkel, a Dutch booking agent specialised in train travel across the globe. Telling them exactly what trains I wanted for my efficient trip to Bratislava and back to Vienna, I got all my tickets and reservations in the mail. It took 10 minutes, and one phonecall. Cost: €180, payable by bank transfer after I got the invoice via e-mail.
Treinreiswinkel provides a service that is quite unique in the world of trains. And while it's a great step forward compared to what railcompanies offer. But it's quite limited compared to what a passenger may expect in the 21st century. No app, and no real-time notifications of changes in my trip. No customer service phone number, either.
And while my itinerary to Bratislava was included on paper, the schedule from Bratislava back to Vienna airport wasn’t. It took me another hour to find out which train I had to take to catch my flight. In the process, I discovered I should have booked the (much faster and cheaper) coach service instead. Crap. Why wasn’t I told about this alternative? Perhaps partly because I was very exact about what I wanted on the phone with Treinreiswinkel. I'm not sure if they could have offered to book this coach for me.
Because Treinreiswinkel took the hassle of booking away for me, I didn't bother looking for any other organisations offering similar services. If you know any, please leave your experiences with them in the comments below!
This is part 3 of a series:
Even environmentalists compromise (Bratislava, part 2)
Save the world, take a train (Bratislava, part 1)