When Your Plane Is A Train: Taking a Flight With Lufthansa’s AIRail Service

01 Oct

You’ve been invited to a meeting. The venue is abroad and the most convenient flights leave from an airport over 150 kilometres away. What do you do? Do you drive to the airport and risk the motorway? Perhaps you consider the train but are put off by the connections and hassle of that added booking? Perhaps in the past you’ve even declined to attend the meeting?

But wait. What if the airport had a high speed railway station? What if an airline and a railway company had got together to offer a through service to your local station? Would that make you reconsider?


Lufthansa knows that it’s impossible to serve everywhere from every airport. Large international airport hubs are more economical when offering wider destinations, and landing slots are not always free at smaller, more regional airports. With that in mind what if the solution also offered the benefit of bringing the departure gate a lot closer to town, whilst still capturing the market in those cities without an International hub? In fact, what if Lufthansa could dispense with the need for an airport completely, but still offer their travelers a “flight”, one that had the added bonus of leaving from the city centre itself? How would that work?

I recently flew with Lufthansa from Cologne to Dublin, with a connection in Frankfurt. The first leg of my journey was taken on Lufthansa’s AIRail service and this is how it works.

First, the services leave from Cologne’s main railway station right in the heart of the city –

Inside the station on the concourse is your check-in desk. This works just like the check-in desk at the airport and you’ll be presented with your boarding passes and have the ability to check luggage. For the train element of the journey you’ll be presented with a separate boarding pass (which doubles as your train ticket);

The AIRail services are interwoven into the railway’s operations. Your flight number is used consistently throughout the railway station’s timetables, departure screens and announcements as you can see below;

If you’ve checked in luggage a baggage handler is available to assist you, and will transport the heavy cases to the “Flight”.

And here’s the arrival of Lufthansa Flight LH3613, operated by one of Deutsche Bahn’s high speed ICE trains.

Blending the customer experience of the airlines with the service provision of the railways, both economy and business standard seats are allocated, and passengers are seated in a single coach of the train which is designated for use by Lufthansa.

180km and 55 minutes later we arrive at Frankfurt Airport railway station, which is in itself a great example of modern and efficient design. In the background you’ll also be able to make out further, yellow vested, baggage handlers.

You’ll find another Check-in desk at Frankfurt Airport railway station. Here you can check in your bags if you haven’t done so already, without the need to carry them into the airport terminal itself (which can be a 5-10 minute walk). If you do take this service but start the rail segment at Frankfurt you’ll also collect your luggage here, NOT at the luggage carousel in the airport terminal. It’s not communicated too clearly as I found on my return journey, but the service does work.

Again in the departure screens at the airport the services that are operated by a train are interwoven into the passenger messaging, and treated in the same way (the last entry on the screen is the AIRail service to Stuttgart).

You then pass through security as you would normally and enjoy the rest of your journey.

Features and Benefits?

For the passenger, the co-operation of an airline and a railway operator provides a more integrated and seamless travel experience. For the complete journey only a single booking process is needed. This removes the hassle of booking a flight then trying to work out how much time to leave between the train arriving at the airport station and checking-in for your flight when making the train booking, as all these details are incorporated into the flight booking.

For the airline and railway companies this co-operation provides a great way of extending the reach of the service for both parties. Lufthansa benefit from being able to pick up passengers and business in locations much more local to the traveler than an airport may be. This greatly enhances the convenience perspective. Similarly, through their Star Alliance program, all partner airlines can also use this service. This means travelers from places as far away as Bangkok, Sydney and Los Angeles can make a single booking straight through to Cologne.

The benefits for Deutsche Bahn are that this puts more ‘bums on seats’. Rather than compete with the airline, DB provides Lufthansa with a way of efficiently and effectively delivering their passengers to the airport in a more convenient and seamless way, which at the same time capitalizes on the ‘downtown’ accessibility of a railway station.

The existence of the High Speed Railway Line between Frankfurt and Cologne, offers a route for both service providers to take advantage. This premise would enable this concept to be repeated wherever high speed railway lines exist between major conurbations and international hub airports. As I touched on in a previous post, this is also why I believe any new high speed railway line in the UK must incorporate London Heathrow into it’s network.

If you’d like to try out buying a ticket using Lufthansa’s AIRail service, check out www.lufthansa.com . Cologne Railway station can be reached by entering in the airport code QKL.

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3 Responses to “When Your Plane Is A Train: Taking a Flight With Lufthansa’s AIRail Service”

  1. Michael Podgers November 12, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    It should be noted that German Wings, the low-cost extension of Lufthansa, also includes options to purchase a variety of rail tickets as part of the booking process for flights. This includes (if I remember correctly) options for trains associated with a specific flight and open bookings, which are helpful upon arrival at a certain destination. Thanks for publishing this too: it might be one of the best arguments for more economical alternatives to building more airports around US cities and supplement long-haul flights with transfers to more environmentally friendly modes of transit versus transfers to short-haul flights to nearby destinations (i.e. Frankfurt to Köln or in the US Chicago to Madison, WI for example).

  2. Jill Burns May 10, 2017 at 10:34 pm #

    What a great coordinated service!!! Looking forward to our visit with our daughter and son in law in Cologne!!!

  3. Sue June 24, 2017 at 9:35 pm #

    If checking in heavy luggage at Cologne Train Station would the Porter come up with a trolley to assist? I have seen the Check in desk at the Station and enquired about the service. I was informed a Porter would assist, but I know the check in is on the lower floor. I will be doing this in September with three cases and will not manage once dropped off by taxi.

    I do have time for my business colleagues to obtain a telephone number but thought I would ask here first. I am not concerned once the train arrives at Frankfurt as I know there are trolleys where the trains arrive. Also I am sure the Porter in the dedicated carriage will help. And no, the contents are not clothes for a lady!!! All business related

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