Eurostar -- the high speed railway between London and Paris -- has launched a new guarantee for business travellers that they can depart earlier or later than their booked time and still be assured a seat on the train.
Passengers travelling in Eurostar's "Business Premier" class can snare a seat on any train, as long as they check in at the station 10 minutes before a train departs. Even if the train is full, another passenger will be bumped off to make room.
The boarding guarantee is available both for people who finish a meeting early and want to get home sooner, and people who miss their train and need to take a later one.
The railway says while leisure travellers have been making good use of the train, business travellers are less aware of the option.
Richard Leonard, Manager Australasia for Rail Europe, points out that the train takes 2h 15m from city centre to city centre, a total travel time that cannot be matched flying the route, taking into account airport transfers, minimum check-in windows and security screening delays.
The in-train service offers a dedicated carriage, full three-course meal service with a menu by French 3 star Michelin chef Alain Roux and fine champagne and wines.
There's also no restrictive one-bag baggage allowance as is becoming more commonplace with airlines -- you can bring two bags onto the train with you, and there's no need to check it -- you can keep it with you in your carriage in the stowage compartments at both end of the carriage, or within the passenger area if you're not comfortable leaving your baggage unattended.
The check-in process including passport control and security clearance occurs as you are travelling through the tunnel. The standard check in time is 30 mins but is just 10 minutes for Business Premier passengers.
There are luxurious business lounges on par with airline business lounges for passengers who do have some time to spare before their departure.
Despite these advantages over flying, the Eurostar is also substantially less expensive, says International Sales Regional Manager Céline Chambalu-Ciucci.
"With the recent tax structure for flights out of London Heathrow, it is now possible for Australians to travel to Paris from London for less than the cost of the taxes alone!"
Australian Business Traveller checked pricing and found a typical London-Paris fare in Business Premier class with Eurostar is $427, while in comparison, the cheapest business class airfare was $530 with Air France.
If you're booking through a corporate travel manager, you may need to ask them to look at Eurostar as part of your itinerary, as the fares are not yet sold through the "Global Distribution System" (GDS) used by travel agents to find travel services.
Wi-Fi still to come?
One service missing from the Eurostar Business Premier carriage is Wi-Fi -- one of the advantages one would expect trains to have over aircraft.
Chambalu-Ciucci explained to Australian Business Traveller that Eurostar trains did have high-speed 3G connections previously, rebroadcasted to passengers as Wi-Fi, but the company had to discontinue it because customers found it frustrating that coverage dropped out in tunnels.
Eurostar is working on reintroducing it before the London 2012 Olympics.