What You Never Knew about European Trains — Secrets from a Ticket Inspector

by  Philippe Laiza
LAST UPDATED ON  2023-10-20
PUBLISHED ON  2018-08-20

I wear a fancy Swiss uniform and go up and down the aisles to check your tickets.

My sexy German job name is Personnenzugbegleiter. Basically, a ticket inspector, controller, or checker, depending on your flavor of English.

A ticket inspector is a strange little animal. We hop on and off of trains, ensure passengers’ security, sell onboard tickets, dole out expensive fines, chat with passengers … and — often — just stare out the window, hoping our day will go by faster.

Sometimes there are conflicts. A passenger runs towards me with a rusty ax — or, more likely, runs towards me with a rusty ax and posts it on Twitter. More realistically, the problems to handle are delays and train cancellations.

And on a regular day, I might check 2,000 passengers but be unable to remember a single face in the end.

That’s my job though. And I’m loving it! And you should know, we can be of huge help to travellers facing the byzantine, screwy world of European train travel.

So here’s a quick guide to what I wish you all train passengers would know from “the other side”. I’ll cover the knowledge you can glean from us, the fun you can have with us, and — since it’s what so many of you ask about — the cat-and-mouse games people play to avoid us.

We ticket inspectors have some very specific, useful knowledge

Most of us simply love trains. Any questions about the model of train you’re riding on can usually be answered at great length.

The same applies for the route you’re using, and that can get interesting. I can give all kinds of detail on the region we’re riding through that you’d never read in Lonely Planet.

And if we’re passing through my own region, I can tell you where to find a cool, local bar with cheap drinks (oh yeah, we’re all very good at this). And I can tell you at what time you’ll want to be back at the station for your last train.

We also know the best offers for cheap tickets. We can point out some solutions you never thought of, or weren’t told about because we’re not here to make a profit. For example, we might point you towards a local train on the other side of the station that can also get you to the airport, takes just five minutes more than the sleek, modern express train, and costs 40-50% less. Voilà.

Ticket inspectors are bored and lonely

We European ticket inspectors mostly love our jobs, and depending on the country, pull in a pretty good salary given the workload. But we also tend to get a bit bored riding around.

So, MAKE OUR DAY! Smile, ask questions, chat, joke around, share experiences, bitch about whatever, and admire the landscape!

If you stand out of the herd of passengers, we (definitely I) will be thankful!

I can recall some great experiences with passengers I’ve met on trains. Depending on the situation (sometimes dramatic), I have even taken some passengers home, saving them a night in a pricey Swiss hotel. I’ve given rides in my own car to others, or just gone for a beer after work, lent my phone, shared cigarettes, and many other things. All this just because they made me happy.

Ticket inspectors must be the boss. Period.

Yes, we can be friendly and fun (and that’s what makes our days more enjoyable), but don’t forget that we’ve got the power to get you into some real big trouble.

You have to admit, that’s a pretty cool feeling. Most ticket inspectors I know don’t give a darn who you are, what your story is, how big your boobies are (well, usually…), where you come from, where you’re going, or why the heck you’re sitting in first class with a second-class ticket.

You’re breaking the law, and you’ll soon come into a world pain for that.

What if you just can’t seem to find that ticket of yours?

How in the world will you manage not to get hit by a big fine?

The answer is simple. Ape simple. An act of submission.

A ticket inspector may very well have his ego flattered by a submissive reaction from his catch. This doesn’t mean we will absolve you, necessarily. But tell us the truth. Tell us that you screwed up. Totally. Be sorry. (But not too much though; I HATE it when girls think that crying is the ultimate solution. It reminds me of my mum. Is there a shrink here?) Keep your cool, admit what happened, and submit. That’s step one.

Once this is done, reach for our sympathy. It’s not always easy as some ticket inspectors can be racist, mean, fascist, power-loving, hormonal, in a bad mood, or simply professional. Maybe all the above. (If so, running fast could be a solution; we have been taught never to run after a fleeing passenger).

Tell us how helpless you were in trying to understand the complicated ticket automat, or how tired or drunk you are, or how it didn’t accept foreign credit cards. Do NOT compare how things work in your country, or tell us how you would handle the problem.

Tell us how happy you would be to get back in the right path. Get your wallet out (with a sad look on your hard-earned money), hand out your ID if you’re asked to, and move to the edge of your seat. Give us that sweetest facial expression you’ve got. Be a good boy/girl.

How do you avoid a ticket inspector?

If for some reason, you feel like trying to avoid a ticket inspector, remember that it’s very risky. If I see someone trying to do this, I immediately switch modes from Tom Cruise to Val Kilmer in Top Gun. Feelings are turned off, and I start working. Hard.

But you asked, so I’ll try to answer. You should know that ticket inspectors mostly run their check of the train going from one end to the other. So the idea is to get them pass you without checking you. Sitting in the toilets is a classic. So is: “Oh, but you already checked me five minutes ago”. Simply walking past ticket inspectors could also be an option. Some people step outside of the train at a station, walk a few wagons up or down, and step in back again.

Remember though, we know all of these tricks, and they will only work if ticket inspectors aren’t alert. If we are, the fines you could (most probably, will) get are going to be even higher than the “regular” fines. Remember: Val Kilmer.

How you can snag little extras: more leg room, a free drink, permission to extend your journey, a ride in first class…

You can certainly ask, for heaven’s sake! We don’t always bite.

Remember that we can get bored, and try to turn on some of the charm I mentioned earlier. Smile, tell us how nice the train is, how professional we are, how much better everything is compared to another European country, etc.

If the train is full, tell the ticket inspector you are scared of those young jerks drinking vodka, that your luggage might be stolen, or simply that you are afraid you’ll miss your stop.

If you have a few extra euros, why not politely ask if you could buy an upgrade for first class? You might get it for free. Girls do have a slight advantage. (I know that sucks guys, I find it so unfair too, but that’s the way it sometimes goes).

How ticket inspectors can help if your train has been delayed or canceled, or you risk missing a connection

We’re here to help for this. Just ask, and don’t complain too much (or at all).

We hold a few aces up our sleeves. We have secret offices and sometimes the possibility to have your next train wait for you. We can offer drink and food vouchers, and sometimes vouchers for tickets, hotels and taxis (these are almost never given out, but hey, who knows?).

Moreover, we know the situations and possible solutions more than you do. So be nice to us. It’s our duty to help you, but we’ll do that more eagerly if you behave nicely and attract our sympathy.

I hope these tips can be helpful and that you any future train travels in Europe as much as I love riding and working the rails.

The cheapest train booking platform

Planning train travel in Europe? We are currently recommending Trainline for the cheapest tickets and smartest routes. In our tests for cheap train ticket booking, it delivered overall and by far the best options for European train tickets — even better than the national operators themselves.

3 thoughts on “What You Never Knew about European Trains — Secrets from a Ticket Inspector”

  1. This is the worst puff piece I’ve ever heard. Asking someone to “submit to us” is the most disgustingly disturbing thing to write, and shows that all inspectors are heartless, power hungry, very sad individuals. I understand that everyone needs to make a living, but it is clear that Philippe here needs to seriously ask himself how he gets to sleep at night. What a putrid, pathetic existence

  2. Hello Philippe;

    I laughed and laughed at this piece. Everything you write is true.

    I salute you from the Hamburg-Cologne Flixtrain.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Our Reviewers’ Picks of Underrated, Useful Travel Gear