Expat Club doesn’t operate its own coaches for obvious reasons. Just like airplanes need to fly, coaches need to be on the road as much as possible to justify their high purchase and maintenance costs. Did you know that a new bus costs anywhere between €250.000 and €500.000? Indeed, they cost as much as a nice apartment in Brussels. Such buses are real “workhorses”, travelling continuously between Belgium and holiday destinations in Spain, Italy and Croatia, adding up sometimes over 300.000 kilometers per year! Needless to say that coach manufacturers such as MAN, Setra and Belgium’s own top producer Van Hool are investing a lot in the technical quality the engines and other parts.
Every two years Belgium hosts the world’s most important coach exhibition Busworld in Kortrijk. In 2015 I had the chance to walk around there for a few hours and was amazed with the new types of coaches and all interior options. It’s an amazing industry because coach travel is going up. No wonder, because it is a fantastic means of transportation. Unlike a train or plain, a coach can pick you up almost anywhere and drop you almost anywhere. Of course it is not as fast, but luckily all coach companies are doing their best to make the travelling more convenient and enjoyable. This brings me to coaches that Expat Club is using for its trips.
First, we are primarily travelling with the earlier mentioned top quality MAN, Setra and Van Hool coaches. Although the German Setra is generally considered “the Rolls Royce” under the buses, Van Hool is definitely rising the charts very quickly to become one of the top coach manufacturers in the world, exporting their models to many countries. The MAN Lion’s coach, one that we take very often, is known to be very spacious with comfortable seats.
Second, we are only working together with a few of Belgium’s most trusted bus companies, including Lauwers Reizen, Linden Cars, Rantour and De Ras. Each of them have in-house maintenance of the buses, so their fleet stays in optimal condition. They work with professional drivers and follow the E.U. driving regulations. A few of such rules are:
- A driver can only work 14 hours per day (first start engine to final switch off), with once per week 15 hours. With 2 drivers on-board this can be extended to 21 hours.
- A driver may only drive 4,5 hours in one go. This can be extended by taking a 15 minutes + 30 minutes break in the middle or one 45 minutes break. After that a new period of 4,5 hours begins.
- A driver may only sit 9 hours behind the wheel driving, with once 10 hours per week.
- When a driver has 9 hours of continuous rest (not behind the wheel), a new day starts and he can drive again 14 or 15 hours.
You can imagine (or maybe not) that for some of our trips keeping track of these rules is very important. Therefore we plan very long daytrips with a lot of driving throughout the day, such as the Champagne or Opal Coast, with 2 drivers. For other long daytrips such as Paris or Giverny we use only 1 driver, but ensure that he can can rest for 9 hours at the destination. And some trips are so complicated “timing” wise that we are very closely watching the “4,5 hours” driving time rule, such as the trip to Rotterdam Harbour.
Third, and most important point for this article, I would like to inform you about the comfort that we offer on board. Back in 2013 we carried out our trips with 3* coaches, but changed that within a year to 4* coaches as they were considerably more comfortable. The main difference between them concerns the seat pitch and therefore the number of passengers. Although the star qualification system has been officially abolished in Belgium, Expat Club still continues to use 4* or “Princess Class” for virtually all its trips. Only for the short ride to the Hallerbos in April (45 minutes) we use a 3* bus. Increasingly more we also use “5* coaches”. This is not an official qualification and is often referred to as “Royal Class”. The number of coaches available in Belgium in this class is limited as they are mostly used for shuttle transport to/from holiday resorts in the Mediterranean. However, we try to put such buses in service as much as possible on our long trips, such as the ones to England. First Class coaches are very rare and are only introduced recently for the premium bus trip market. These are solely used for more expensive and tailor-made bus trips by the coach companies themselves.
For a full-length double-decker coach of Van Hool (Astromega TDX27) the number of passengers on board varies per configuration. You can clearly see the significant differences and therefore added comfort for you for the following variables.
Number of passengers:
- 2-stars: 94+ passengers (quite uncomfortable)
- 3-stars: 90-94 passengers (Comfort Class)
- 4-stars: 78 passengers (Princess Class)
- 5-stars: 66 passengers (Royal Class)
- 6-stars: 48 passengers (First Class, but only 3 seats per row)
Minimum seat pitch:
- 2-stars: 72cm
- 3-stars: 77cm
- 4-stars: 83cm
- 5-stars: 94-100cm
- 6-stars: 94-100cm (but only 3 seats in a row)
Inclination of seats:
- 2-stars: 0˚
- 3-stars: 10˚
- 4-stars: 35˚
- 5-stars: 60˚
- 6-stars: 60˚ (but only 3 seats in a row)
- 2-stars: uncomfortable chairs with low seat backs, no toilet, no individual sound/air/light panel
- 3-stars: comfortable chairs, toilet on-board, individual sound/air/light panel, DVD system
- 4-stars: foot rests, considerably more distance between seats
- 5-stars: seats recline much more, including leg flaps, makes sleeping more comfortable
Besides these bus classes, there are also VIP-buses. These are usually very luxurious inside, with high-quality designs of chairs (leather) and other parts (e.g. curtains and bar), and most often also have corner seats in the back (6-12 seats in U-shape) as well as several table seats (2 x 2 seats facing each other with a table in the middle). Such buses are mostly used for football clubs and business trips. Expat Clubs uses such buses a few times per year for very special trips with 20-25 participants, such as to the Tesla factory and the UPS facilities at Cologne Airport.
At Expat Club we always search for the most suitable bus for the trip. Of course it would be great to always travel with Royal Class, but such buses are only available (if at all) in 66-seats configuration, so the group needs to be rather large to even consider it.
Wifi and video system
Despite the vast increase in data usage, the number of Belgian coach companies that offer (free) wifi on board is rather limited. The only buses that standard have it are usually the international shuttle services between major cities, such as Ouibus and Flixbus. Needless to say their business model is completely different as those buses drive all the time and need to compete with trains and planes.
There are two reasons why wifi is not offered so much in Belgium. First, the investments and monthly costs are really high. Second, the quality of the wifi connection is often poor. Everyone who ever drove in a car between Brussels and Paris on the highway (or any highway in Belgium and France) experiences the awful 4G or even 3G connections on their cell phones, even with major operators. Very often, if not most of the time, the connection is so bad that it is pointless to even try. Since wifi connections operate with the same signals, it just does not add to the service and experience on-board. It should be good, or not offered at all.
All coaches have a DVD system with at least 3 flat screens throughout the bus. We often put the volume low, but you can always click on the speaker button above your head. We regularly travel with a bus (one of the very few in Belgium) with an individual entertainment system.
At Expat Club we know everything about traveling by luxury coach. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.