Somehow I’ve developed a bias against bus travel and in favor of taking taking a train.  The source of the bias is a bit of a mystery, but I always think of using the train frist. Arriving at 07:00 at Milano, Italy’s Malpensa Airport I was all set to take the train from the airport to the city center.  Walking through Terminal 1, however, I saw a booth with information about bus service to central Milano.  Hmm.

The agent explained the schedule, price, and route.  Sold!  Even though I still had some negative thoughts about a bus ride, I decided to give it a shot.  The experience convinced  me that henceforth I’ll be using an airport bus a lot.

The airport bus stop near Door 4 at Malpensa Airport Terminal 1.

An Airport Bus Beats An Airport Train

  1. The bus is more comfortable.   Three points here:  (a) you are guaranteed a seat on the bus while getting a seat on a train is hit or miss; (b) seats on airport trains are usually non padded and have no recline; and (c) there is a good chance of sitting next to an empty seat on an airport bus.  That extra space is ideal for a backpack or just stretching out.

    Decent legroom for a one-hour bus trip and an empty seat beside to boot.
  2. Dealing with luggage is easier on a bus.  The driver stows luggage in the baggage compartment under the bus.  On a train you must keep luggage with you or put it in a place where you can keep an eye on it because everyone getting on or off the train also has access to it.  Using a bus avoids having to schlep your luggage through crowded train stations and small turnstyles.  (In this case the extendable handle on my carry-on bag was broken as it has been for awhile.  I travel so much those handles never last more than a year.  I’ve had it with replacing perfectly good suitcases just because the handle is broken.  Now I pack carefully with regard to weight as well as space, and actually carrying the carry on supplies some exercise.)
  3. A bus is less complicated.   Train tickets are almost always sold from a machine.  Figuring out the machine for the first or second time can be difficult especially with others waiting impatiently for their turn.  You almost always buy bus tickets from a person.  I think that is easier.  Trains usually stop several times between the airport and the central station.  If you are new to a city, intermediate stops can be a source of anxiety.  Furthermore, navigating a large, crowded train station with luggage and picking the correct exit to use can be difficult.
    Bus seats with good padding and a little recline, too.
  4. You can see where you are going on a bus.   On a bus you always have a view of your surroundings.  Even if you are unfamiliar with a city, seeing the route and possibly identifying landmarks can be helpful later.  Trains operate mostly underground in major cities.  Often when exiting a train station you have no idea where you are or how you got there.

    The bus stops at Piazza Quattro Novembre right next to Milano Centrale Stazione.
  5. Communication is easier on a bus.  Although there are some airport trains with WiFi (Hong Kong for example), staying online and using the phone is easier on a bus.

    Milano Centrale is a large train station that can be confusing to first-time users.
  6. Price.  A bus is often cheaper.  The one-way train fare from Milan airport was 13 Euro.  The one way bus fare was eight Euro.  Roundtrip bus fare was 14 Euro.

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    The ticket says the round-trip price was 16 Euros but I think I paid 14 Euros.

Trains have some advantages though.  The most important are that trains are usually faster, avoid rush-hour traffic, have more reliable schedules, and usually operate more frequently.  Rush hour adds time to a bus trip, and traffic accidents can cause major unanticipated delays for a bus.  On the other hand, being in an unfamiliar city on a crowded train with luggage during rush hour is no fun. If travelling by bus at rush hour just allow extra time and let the driver handle the traffic.

Final Thoughts

I think everyone would like to have an expense account to which we could charge the cost of an airport limousine.  In the absence of such a convenience, taking the bus from/to Malpensa Airport convinced me to always explore this option for future travel.  Everything about the experience with the bus was easy from buying the ticket, to handling luggage, to figuring out where I was when I got off.  Moreover, the comfort level on the bus was greater than any airport train I’ve been on.  Last but not least, the price was reasonable.

When you use public transportation to/from the airport do you ordinarily take a train or  bus?  Did this post provide good reasons to use the bus more?