For a few years now, I’ve been going down to London once a month for three days to see work and remind them who I am, and remind myself who they are. (The perils of working from home.) And up until last month, I’ve flown down.
Now, the company’s paying for it, so I’ve flown with traditional airlines like British Midland (who, misunderstanding their market, have decided to charge you for food and drink) or BA (who know their market much better and often give you doubles when you ask for a gin and tonic flying out from City airport on a Friday evening). But it’s never been particularly nice - there’s all the faffing about with getting a taxi to the airport (there’s no rail link to Glasgow airport at the moment because a whole bunch of playing fields are in the way), checking in, going through security, waiting in the departure lounge, shuffling onto the plane, taxiing around, taking off, sitting around with nothing to look at but clouds, landing, taxiing around again (especially at Heathrow where it takes ages to get to Terminal 5), going through baggage reclaim, and then realising that you’re in the middle of godforsaken nowhere so you have to get on at least one train to get anywhere near anywhere you’d want to be. The only particularly good thing about all of this is that a) it’s pretty fast compared to the trains, and b) City Airport, since their renovations, now has free wi-fi and plenty of plugs to recharge your laptop while you drink your extortionate £5.50 Hoegaarden.
Sorry, did I say “is”? I meant “was”. Work on the West Coast line completed in mid-December last year; that, coupled with Virgin’s new Pendolino trains, makes the train suddenly not just a contender, but a veritable no-brainer.
First of all, the combination of improved track and better trains that tilt as they go round corners means that you can go from Glasgow city centre to London city centre in 4 and a half hours, if you choose an express train that doesn’t stop everywhere. Once you factor in taking taxis and/or trains at either end to get from to the airport and back, going through security and general waiting around, it turns out that it only takes half an hour or so to take the train from Glasgow rather than fly.
Secondly, there’s far less hassle and faffing about. Going down to London is now a matter of walking about 4 minutes to my local train station, taking a train into Glasgow Queen Street, walking through the city centre to Glasgow Central, getting on a train, getting off at London Euston 4 and a half hours later, taking a brief tube trip to Liverpool Street, then 10 minute’s walk and I’m at work. There is so much less nonsense: no traipsing through airport corridors with any or all of your bags, no airport to city centre rail links, shorter tube trips. This doesn’t matter so much now, but in the middle of summer when you’ve flown down from Glasgow in the morning and then end up navigating the London Underground at midday with a couple of bags, not having to walk all over the place sweating like a pig is a definite good thing.
And that’s before I’ve mentioned the killer third fact: the train is cheaper and better.
BA’s web site promises that it will match anyone’s prices, and for my standard Wednesday to Friday flights, it’s quoting me £148.40. As one of those flights is into Heathrow, and both involve Glasgow, add £15.50 (Heathrow Express - remember, this is for work) and roughly £18 (airport taxis) respectively, which ends up as something like £200. Virgin Trains, which I know can be undercut when e.g. thetrainline.com’s web site is working, quotes me £173 for the trip.
The kicker? This is what it costs for First Class. Where they feed you, douse you with tea/coffee and fruit juice/alcohol, and give you both ample legroom and enough desk space (and power outlets) to fit a 17 inch laptop. If you’ve got a 3G modem or otherwise a tethered phone, you can get at the Internet for most of the trip; or you can download TV shows or films to watch on the way down, without worrying that you’ll bother anyone (assuming you’ve got headphones and don’t listen to things like a metaller). And if somehow you get bored, you can look out of the window and see things, like the snow on the Pennines this past Wednesday.
And this is before even mentioning that taking the train, powered by electricity (which could easily be switched to more-renewable sources), rather than taking the plane, powered by petroleum derivatives, is far more environmentally-friendly.
But hang on, I hear you say: what if you just want to get somewhere cheaply and you haven’t convinced someone to pay for it? Well, as it turns out, Cleodhna and I are going down to London next week, and we’re taking the train, but this time in cattle class. It’s £34.50 per person per trip, or £138 total; looking at what it would have cost me to book such tickets a fortnight in advance, Ryanair would have quoted me £150 (before you add on train fares to and from Prestwick, and the Stansted Express into London), Easyjet £130 (again before getting-to-airport fares, plus probably a whole bunch of sneaky extra costs).
So yeah. If you’re just travelling down South, take the train. It’s better in every single way.
Including delay explanations. Most of the time when your flight is delayed, it’s because of the weather, which are tedious and boring. (Sitting in a plane for an hour or two because the captain wants to be able to take off at a moment’s notice because landing slots are both unpredictable and first-come, first-served, is not fun.) The train down from Glasgow to London was remarkably smooth, with no annoying interruptions or slow-downs. The train up from London was fine, until we got to Crewe (where we weren’t supposed to stop), and stopped because, er, there had been a fatality up ahead, and, it became quickly apparent (and kudos to the train manager for keeping us informed), the Police had declared it a crime scene.
Kudos also to the Virgin trains staff as they managed to shuffle trains around, get people from a cancelled train onto ours, then all of us onto a third train, switch around routes and stops, and eventually lay on taxis for people travelling onwards to Edinburgh when it became obvious that they wouldn’t make the last connecting train. For reasons of space they also opened up first class for everyone, which was a nice gesture. I couldn’t help noticing, though, that they only gave people first class space - for some reason, while first class was full of random plebs, they stopped serving endless free tea/coffee/alcohol. Only after we left Carlisle did they seem to remember that this was first class, once the numbers had dwindled to
an acceptable a cheap level ;-).