FlixBus is a popular bus service in Europe. After listening to many of the Germans talk about FlixBus at RoboCup 2016, we decided to give it a try for our journey between Frankfurt and Zurich.
We booked our tickets 32 days ahead of time and found prices to be reasonable at €18 per person. This price bested even advanced-purchase train tickets – which go for as little as €39 for the same route – and the price was even more compelling compared to the much more expensive train prices we were seeing a month out.
The big downside of the bus option vs. train option was the difference in time. While the train would take just four hours, the bus journey was scheduled for just under seven hours.
When we checked just 25 minutes prior to departure, the price of our journey was still just €18 each – with nine seats still available.
The morning of our trip, we received an email from FlixBus reminding us of the upcoming trip that day and including a summary of our journey. Links directed us on exactly where the pick-up spot would be and linked us to the mobile app, which we could use to electronically retrieve our tickets.
At Frankfurt Airport, the FlixBus pick-up point is outside of Terminal 2, “sector” E. While there was a small covered waiting area, our bus stopped closer to pillar 29N (Frankfurt Airport’s pick-up area pillars are individually numbered) than the 25N location of the waiting area. Since we were waiting in the drizzle closer to this spot, we should have been one of the first on the bus. However, the bus door quickly became a madhouse of people pushing their way to be first to board.
The bus driver popped the luggage compartment to allow passengers to start loading their own luggage. Then, he headed back to the door to start checking tickets for those that didn’t have luggage – or who had enlisted their traveling partners to deal with the bags. Passengers had a mixture of printed tickets and barcodes displayed on their FlixBus app.
Each passenger is allowed two stored bags and one piece of “hand luggage.” Both of these have stated maximum dimensions. While the bus driver didn’t check to see how many bags each passenger was checking on our bus, he probably would have noticed if someone had an excessive amount of luggage.
Cabin and Seats
Before we get into the details of the bus we were on, it’s important to note that FlixBus has many different types of buses, compiled over years of rapid growth and mergers.
The seats were arranged 2-2 in this cabin — as can be expected on most buses. Seating is completely open with no reservable seats, so boarding early may mean the difference between getting to sit together with your traveling companion or not. This is why there was such a mad rush at boarding.
The seats were firm, especially after sitting in them for a few hours. While the seats weren’t terribly wide, there’s enough space for two people to comfortably fit.
There’s a thin, movable armrest between the seats. When raised fully, the armrest isn’t bothersome at all. So, you can stretch out if you’ve got two seats to yourself. On the aisle seats, there’s also a retractable armrest which disappears under the seat controls when retracted.
There’s a small tray table at each seat, including a hole for storing a small cup. These tray tables are designed for holding snacks or drinks and not for working on a laptop. Due to the shape of the seat, the tray tables aren’t long enough for working on even a small 12.5-inch laptop.
The only exception to this are the seats at the front of the bus and just behind the back door. While the tray table is even smaller, at least you’re able to fully open the screen.
After a few hours of exploring the bus, we finally figured out that the seats adjust from side-to-side. There’s a double-button on the aisle side of the aisle seats. Pushing the back
Power and Connectivity
Good news for those of us looking to stay productive when traveling. FlixBus was set-up to help us stay powered up and connected.
Each pair of seats has a European power plug and a USB power connection. Both of these plugs are underneath the window, so it might be awkward to share if you’re having to share a pair of seats with a stranger. Since we had to share for the first few hours, I used the USB power plug to power up my phone – which it did faster than any other USB plug I’ve ever used – while Katie powered her laptop using the European plug. After the bus cleared out a bit, I was able to use another European plug to juice up my laptop.
Wi-Fi is advertised as being available on-board, but we approached it with skepticism after having rather poor connections on Megabus.
Thankfully, these misgivings were mostly unnecessary. We had an excellent internet connection for much of the trip. However, the connection is highly dependent on the location of the bus. The internet dropped out for a bit around Strasbourg, France and disconnected completely once we were in Switzerland.
Food and Drink
Passengers seem free to bring any sort of food or drink on-board the bus. We snagged lunch and dinner from a grocery store in the Frankfurt Airport to have during the journey.
If you weren’t able to self-cater, there are drinks and snacks available for purchase. Drinks run between €1 and €2.50 – including beer bottles for just €2. Snacks range from €1-2. The only free snacks available on-board are from a “friendly neighbour”.
Since the only company employee on-board is the driver, this is who you’re going to have to pay for the purchase. It didn’t seem clear when it was appropriate to make a purchase. So, I tried to buy a water while we were at a stoplight. The driver didn’t seem to have any issues with it, pointing to the cooler with the drinks while he retrieved a coin purse.
Well, there really wasn’t much service. On our journey, passengers loaded and unloaded their own bags. As noted above, you needed to approach the driver to make food and drink purchases. But, all of this isn’t a problem for a low-cost ride.
One passenger-friendly note: our first driver – who performed the first two-thirds of our journey – made announcements in German, English and French.