Alsace Stories and Tips

The Little Airport with a Big Responsibility

One of the most important things to know about Strasbourg airport is that its code is SXB and not STR. Why do I mention this? Because repeatedly our company travel agent has booked me flights to Stuttgart in response to requests for Strasbourg. The first time I thought it was funny – now I want to reach through my screen, grab the travel agency folk by the throat and shake them. "STRASBOURG you half wits, not bloody Stuttgart, they aren’t even in the same country".

Such are the trials of the busy traveller who occasionally pops into Strasbourg.

For a city that serves as one of the European Union’s hub cities, Strasbourg has an airport that’s surprisingly small and rather poorly served. Flying from the UK to Strasbourg we used to have two options – via Amsterdam with shockingly short ‘grab your bag and run for it’ connection times, or via Paris Charles de Gaulle airport. Despite both being in the same airline ‘grouping’, having two options tended to introduce at least a sense of competition. Then earlier in the year it all went horribly wrong and the Paris option was destroyed. Yes, you can fly to CDG airport but if you want to fly onwards to Strasbourg, you have to transfer to Orly airport for the connection. This can take a considerable time – it’s a bit like landing in Birmingham and connecting out of Manchester but with France’s biggest city and all its traffic in between. Prices have shot up since the Paris option was changed.

Another thing to think of if you plan to fly to Strasbourg is your dates. Unless you have friends and family and a free place to stay, availability of hotel rooms is very poor and prices are very high every time the European Parliament is in sitting. With the exception of August, the parliament is ‘in session’ at least one week every month and sometimes two. Outside those session weeks there are still political groups and committees working at the Parliament but the weeks to really avoid are the ‘in session’ ones when hotels are hard to come by and flights – especially those coming in on Monday and leaving on Thursday evening or Friday morning are rarer than hens’ teeth. My advice is to check the Europarl website to confirm the dates.

Most of the flights into and out of Strasbourg airport are in quite small planes. There are many flights from across France but relatively few international ones. Of the 29 places you can reach with a direct flight, 15 are in France and several more are in French speaking north Africa. This is an airport for French people travelling to France rather than for outsiders. For budget flight seekers, the options are very limited. Ryanair do fly in – I would guess theirs are probably some of the biggest planes – but they go only to London Stansted and Porto.

I would guess many of the senior Eurocrats and travelling in their nifty little private jets, but the options for the rest of us are small scheduled aircraft. There’s a new airline called ‘Hop!’ which now flies the Amsterdam to Strasbourg route and I laugh each time that a French company gave itself a name that starts with a letter no French person can say. "Welcome aboard this Op flight to Strasbourg"

Arriving in Strasbourg is an easy and trouble-free event. The small size of the airport means you’re quickly into the terminal, there are few flights from non-Schengen countries so if you do need to go through passport control it won’t be busy, and the baggage handlers are quick off the mark and deliver the bags to the arrivals hall very quickly. Because of the small size of many of the planes, you may well have to check your luggage but that won’t detain you too much. If you need a taxi, there are plenty outside or there’s a fast train service that runs to the centre of the city for those who are staying centrally.

Flying from Strasbourg is also very easy and it’s not a place you should rush to get to too early. This is one of those airports where you can arrive half an hour before departure without getting stressed but due to the local traffic conditions at peak times, I’d advise to always aim to be there an hour before just in case you get stuck on the way. There are several self-check in machines and a small number of human-operated check in and bag deposit desks. The security area is small and the queues are seldom long since they tend to open up all the lanes and keep things flowing. On one occasion the security officer decided that I was ‘suspicious’ and forced me to go into a side room with a police woman for a semi-strip search. This is something that has never happened to me before despite flying over a hundred flights a year for the past 15 years and no explanation or apology was given and there were no guns or bombs stuffed in my bra.

Once you are through security there is very little to excite the average traveller. There’s a small duty free shop, a rather uninspired snack bar and some rather worn out seating. There is allegedly free Wi-fi for which you need to have a phone number that can receive messages in order to register. I have such a phone but I’ve never succeeded in getting the Wi-fi to work and now I don’t bother to try.

Most aircraft are accessed by bus transfers although undoubtedly Ryanair will make you walk to their planes to save money.

On the plus side, I like Strasbourg airport because it’s small, usually quite quiet, and it runs efficiently. I don’t like the drab surroundings, the lack of anything to do and the lousy Wi-Fi and I hope to goodness to never again be treated like a terrorist by the security staff. My best advice is fly in on a Thursday evening and out on a Monday morning and you’ll always be going against the prevailing flow of politicians and their hangers on.

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