The low-cost carrier SkyEurope announced yesterday that they are adding Prague as a base of operations to their existing bases of Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw and Vienna/Bratislava. Flights start on April 10 with routes to Amsterdam, Barcelona, Milan Bergamo, Naples (April 13), Nice (April 11), Paris Orly, and Rome Fiumicino. On many of its routes, SkyEurope will be competing with the Prague based low-cost carrier Smart Wings.
The Pendolino has been running again since February 1 (they did fix them all), so Jeff and I decided to try it out and took it to Olomouc on Saturday. We bought tickets at the train station, still with the 20% “we’re sorry” discount that’s been extended through February. Although a first-class ticket cost only 80 CZK more, we opted for second class as we figured we didn’t need the extra services, such as a laptop hookup, audio system or free refreshments. We paid 320 CZK per ticket.
Before I post my report, here’s some basic info about the types of trains I will be referring to (see the Czech train travel page on My Czech Republic regarding the Z-Card and prepaid card):
Express train, 1st class – these are the regular green rychlíks that you can see all over the Czech Republic.
Prague – Olomouc travel time: varies, but typically 2 hrs. 55 min. – 3 hrs. 21 min.
Price: full 441 CZK, Z-Card 273 CZK, prepaid card 265 CZK
InterCity (IC) and EuroCity (EC) trains, 2nd class – higher-standard Czech Republic and international trains where the second-class comfort and amenities are usually better than those in the first class on an express train.
Prague – Olomouc travel time: 2 hrs. 51 min.
Price: full 354 CZK, Z-Card 242 CZK, prepaid card 176 CZK
Pendolino, 2nd class – Czech Republic’s fastest and most modern train. Enough has been written about it in our previous posts. More at scpendolino.cz.
Prague – Olomouc travel time: 2 hrs. 23 min.
Price: full 400 CZK, Z-Card not applicable, prepaid card 376 CZK
The train consisted of seven cars that were clearly marked. The first two cars were first class, the remaining five cars second class. We boarded car 6. The interior was nice and clean, with fully automatic doors, comfortable seats, spacious shelves for coats and bags and a separate area to store larger pieces of luggage. Our seats faced each other and there was a nice size table between them with a fold-out top. An announcement was made in Czech, English and German well in advance before stopping at a station. The ride was smooth, with minimal jerking and no screeching and squealing.
THE NOT SO GOOD
One drawback of the Pendolino is that there are no cars with enclosed or at least partially enclosed compartments. All the cars are open and most of them seat about 50 passengers, so it feels less private and there is no chance to have a whole compartment to yourself, which is what I really like about train travel. Jeff and I agreed there was less legroom than in a first-class compartment on an express.
České dráhy promise above-standard customer service to all Pendolino passengers. This includes a minibar, which means that drinks and snacks can be bought from an attendant who passes through your car with a food cart. A minibar is nothing new and is common on IC/EC and some regular express trains. We didn’t get any service whatsoever on our Pendolino trip. The only time we were paid any attention was when the conductor came to check our tickets, said dobrý den and děkuji, and disappeared. About 40 minutes into the trip, some passengers started wondering about the minibar. They managed to catch the conductor as he was passing by and asked him if they could buy coffee and sandwiches. He said, “sorry, you’ll have to wait, we’re serving first class.” They asked how long it might take for the minibar to make it to our car and he answered that he really couldn’t say. The first-class elite who paid 80 CZK (€2.80/$3.40) more per ticket than us commoners in second class was apparently getting all the attention. Our hungry friends had a talk with the conductor and ended up paying the first-class supplement. Once they did that, they became worthy passengers and the attendant came to take their order. Ten minutes later, he rolled in with his cart and served them sandwiches, juice and coffee. Another ten minutes later, he was back to check on them. Everyone else in our car continued to be ignored. I think I can safely call this the Pendolino Class Discrimination. I may add that whenever I’m on a plain old express that offers a minibar service (and doesn’t brag about it), I’m offered coffee and snacks within 20 minutes after I board.
As luck would have it, we ended up sitting right next to a group of about eight people who were returning to Ostrava from a business trip and who didn’t stop talking for a single minute all the way from Prague to Olomouc. It was impossible not to hear every word as they talked loudly across aisles, complained about their bosses and projects, made sexual jokes, paraded up and down the aisle to show off the outfits they had bought in Prague, at the same time complaining about how bad a city Prague is. You know the feeling you get when you’re stuck with someone who never shuts up and you pray for a minute of silence?
THE RIDE BACK
We took the IC Leoš Janáček back to Prague. It was a pleasure. The interior was nice and similar to the Pendolino. The seats felt equally comfortable and we each had our own tray table. There was a spacious shelf above the seats, the doors were semi-automatic. A minibar attendant came by to offer drinks and snacks soon after the train started moving. The ride was as smooth as the Pendo and very quiet, so we could nap. It cost us 176 CZK per person.
THE PENDOLINO VERDICT
We looked forward to the experience and ended up disappointed. I’m glad we did it because now we know. In the future, I would only take the Pendolino if:
– I was going a longer distance where the saved time would make more of a difference
– I was on business and every minute of my time was precious and/or the fare was paid by my employer
– I wanted to work on my laptop while on the train and didn’t trust the battery to last through the trip (power source available in first class)
– I needed to travel between one of the cities on the route and the Prague airport (the Holešovice station and the airport are connected by a complimentary bus line)