Ticketless DB Bahn? Only for First Class…..

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By Jen

I take the train a lot for work. I’m not daft, but I’ve been trying for a while to work out how “ticketless” DB Bahn, the German train company, are in this day and age of mobile technology. And I’ve finally cracked it!!

It’s not what you might imagine. It says online that you need a paper copy. But do you?

German trains are generally awfully efficient (except the night train from France which has been an hour or so late every time I’ve taken it – bear this in mind if you have an onward connection). But their policy on paper/online ticketing is anything but efficient.

IN FIRST CLASS you can show your mobile screen (tablet etc, in my case an IPad), which has the QR code (that bar code cube in the corner) and your journey/ID details, as evidence of your ticket. All with a “thank you madam”, a smile and not even the batting of an eyelid.

IN SECOND CLASS, with the same evidence of your ticket, on the same day, with the same company, just in a different class, you are bombarded by the dual efforts of the DB Bahn and the SNCF ticket inspector (it was a cross border train), telling you that a screen copy to scan, rather than a paper copy, is not enough. Tough, you’ll have to buy another ticket. And no smile.

Luckily, this was just an experiment. I had a paper copy as well.

The reason for the experiment? I’ve been trying forever to work out the rule, which is applied on and off, it seems, at the whim of whoever checks your ticket. Sometimes it’s kinda difficult to find a printer if you make your booking after leaving home.

The whole idea of the QR code and an online ticket, is surely MOBILITY? Mobility is somewhat restricted if you are obliged to carry a printer in your pocket.

So, when travelling on the DB Bahn rail network, if you are in Second class, make sure you have a paper copy of your ticket unless you want to face a battle with a ticket inspector lacking basic customer service skills. When travelling in First class, don’t worry, there are special rules for you.

Dbahn train ice
The difference between first and second class. Don’t eat it all at once.

I forgot. The other difference between First and Second class was this delicious sweetie. Unfortunately nothing useful, like free wifi (you have to have a contract already with Dbahn’s partner, Telekom, for that). And, admittedly, the seats are a tiny winy bit further apart.

Have you had any weird ticketing experiences with DB Bahn?

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4 Replies to “Ticketless DB Bahn? Only for First Class…..”

  1. The post I’ve been waiting for! You can download the DB App and buy your tickets with that. Then, no paper is required.

  2. You can, apparently Jess, on a smart phone. I don’t have a smart phone. I have the DB Bahn app on my iPad but you can’t use that, I was told on my next train. I would love to be corrected on that because it’s an EVEN dumber rule. Try it!

  3. I have indeed had a weird ticketing experience with Deutsche Bahn. You know when you book a ticket online, it asks you to choose the method by which you will identify yourself to the inspector? Well, the default is the credit card with which you book the ticket, and so last time I booked a ticket with Deutsche Bahn, I did this. What I then went and did was cancel that credit card, cut it up and throw it away, which I didn’t realise was a problem until the day I travelled. I went to the service centre in Berlin Hbf half an hour before my train was meant to leave and asked if this was a major problem. “Yes, you’ll have to buy a new ticket. There’s no other answer.” “What?” Just as I was standing there, incredulous, another non-German walked up to the info desk and asked exactly the same question. “New ticket”, was the answer, and he dutifully went off and bought one. Had I bought a new ticket, it would’ve cost around €140, so I wasn’t going to do that if I really didn’t have to. I decided to get on the train, and if I was told on board that indeed I had to buy a new ticket, well, that’s what I’d do; not much other choice in that case. As it was, I explained to the inspector that my credit card had been stolen the day before, I hadn’t had time to report it to the police, but here was my passport with the same name stated on the ticket, plus another credit card, again with the same name. She said she was sorry I’d had my card stole, stamped my ticket and told me to enjoy my journey. This idea that “this is the rule and there is no other possibility” is something I had internalised as a stereotype of Germans, and that day, had it both affirmed and refuted.

    1. Thanks for your comments Sam, yep the whole thing is as arbitrary as the wind. What annoyed me was the abuse I got in second class and the smiles in first, with exactly the same set of circumstances.

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