Competition, infrastructure… Why is the plane sometimes cheaper than the train?

Margaux Fodere
modified to

06:25, March 03, 2023

On certain destinations and on certain dates, flying is sometimes more economical than opting for the train. A difference in price which is explained in particular by the cost of infrastructure, which is higher on the rail side, and the opening up to competition in the air sector.

The plane retains a beautiful coast in the eyes of the French. In January and February, searches for flights departing from France jumped 40% compared to 2022 on the Liligo flight comparator site. And for good reason, the plane, despite its environmental impact, is sometimes cheaper than the train, on certain routes and on certain dates. This is the case for a Paris-Marseille, on May 26, which costs 75 euros for a trip with the SNCF without a reduction card, against 51 euros with Air France. This difference can be explained by several factors.

More infrastructure costs on the train side

Contrary to popular belief, the difference in fares between the plane and the train does not result from the number of taxes paid by the companies. If this were the case, the plane would indeed be more expensive than the train, recalls Guillaume Rostand, the spokesperson for Lilligo. “There are more taxation mechanisms on airline tickets such as the environmental safety tax, the civil aviation tax which would indeed tend to weigh more heavily on the final price sold to the consumer. But we must not forget that the SNCF also has to bear a lot more infrastructure costs to operate its trains. This may explain why a train ticket is more expensive than a plane ticket.”

Opening up to competition and low cost airlines

Moreover, the opening up to competition has mechanically led to a drop in air prices. A trend on which the railway sector could not surf. “For the train, there is definitely a fundamental issue: there is only one operator. Afterwards, on the air market, the appearance of low-cost companies has really brought down the average price tickets that previously looked like train tickets.”

On train journeys now provided by Ouigo, the low-cost range of the SNCF, the first prices are lower. Count 10 euros for a Paris-Laval against 15 euros for a TGV Inoui.