Against a background of rising fuel prices and concern for carbon footprints, we look at the benefits of coach, rail or ferry travel over flying. Joanna Booth reports
The benefits of avoiding air travel
1. Low prices
Trains, coaches and ferries will be less affected by rising fuel costs. Sequoiah Fischer of Brittany Ferries said: “Many air travel operators have added fuel surcharges to flights. Not only have we not added a surcharge to any of our services, we’ve actually lowered fares this year.”
2. Green credentials
Choosing an alternative to flying is one way to greatly minimise your carbon footprint. Rail Europe head of sales Jane Durham said: “Flights emit 180 grammes of carbon per passenger per kilometer while trains emit just 5.7 grammes.”
3. Fast check-in
You might spend less time in the air than on an alternative, but when you factor in the two hours spent in the queue to go through security or on the long walk to your gate it might not seem so attractive. Usually, you’ll only need to arrive 30 minutes in advance at the most for trains, ferries or coaches.
4. Alternatives for reluctant fliers
Leger retail sales director Peter Raynor said: “Whether it’s down to fear of flying, concerns about terrorism or a result of the current bad press about the airport experience, many people just don’t want to fly.” Give them a range of alternatives.
5. Relaxed journeys
Whether it’s dining in the buffet car, feeling the sea breeze in your hair on the front deck or watching the countryside roll by your window, coaches, ferries and trains offer an experience rather than just a means of reaching your destination.
6. Better deals for large groups
Rather than racking up a raft of full-price fares, on many ferries you’ll pay once for the vehicle and then add only minimal costs for extra passengers.
7. A ‘mini-cruise’ experience
Facilities and services on modern ferries are extensive, with cabins, restaurants, cinemas and plenty of entertainment options.
8. Generous luggage limits
Fischer said: “You don’t need to stuff a suitcase and check its weight – with the risk of being hit by excess luggage costs. With a ferry you just pack your entire car and go.”
9. Child-friendly facilities
Kids can run around on deck and take advantage of play areas and cinemas. Irish Ferries head of passenger sales Declan Mescall said: “In the summer season we have entertainment face painters and live music. You can even take your pet on board.”
10. Room for your own car
Wightlink marketing manager Kerry Jackson said: “Once you’ve rolled off the ferry you can immediately get on the road and explore your destination at leisure – without the cost and complications of hiring an unfamiliar car.”
11. Comfortable vehicles
Cosmos Tourama head of trade relations Tony Byrne said: “Modern coaches are comfortable and well maintained. And if you want to treat yourself, why not upgrade? Our Platinum Tourer option offers more legroom and a personal DVD and multitrack sound system.” Leger’s similar Silver service is now booked by 80% of its customers.
12. Local pick-ups
Make sure customers know about the multiple pick-up point options coach companies offer. Instead of making what can sometimes be a long an inconvenient journey to an airport, you can be picked up by the coach from somewhere much closer to home – most companies have hundreds of points to choose from.
13. Knowledgable drivers
Coaching holidays aren’t just a means of transport but a whole holiday experience organised so you can sit back and enjoy. Shearings head of product Caroline Brown said: “We know the best places to take people at the best times. The wealth of knowledge shared by our teams of drivers ensures you get to see places you may not have known existed if you’d travelled on your own.”
14. Like-minded people
For gregarious tourists or single people the communal aspects of coach travel are bonuses. Insight Vacations sales director Paul Melinis said: “It’s very easy to make friends, but there won’t be unwanted company pushed on to customers wanting to do their own thing.”
15. New themes and destinations
Raynor said: “There’s a stigma about coach travel that it’s all day trips to Southend and Blackpool. As well as short breaks to European cities and classic tours in Austria, Italy and Switzerland we now offer 16-day itineraries through Russia or up to the Arctic Circle.”
Many companies offer themed breaks, from battlefield tours to Christmas market visits. Just going on the market now are trips to see the Oberammergau passion play put on once a decade in Bavaria – the next one is in 2010.
16. An extensive network
Peter Mills of French Travel Service said: “As well as the Eurostar there are high speed rail networks across France, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and Spain – you can hop from city to city in three hours or so. On the Continent people think of rail before air for short-haul travel, and the UK is starting to catch on too.”
17. City-centre stations
Rail Europe head of sales Jane Durham has detailed advice on how to minimise the need for extra journeys even when changing trains. “Rather than asking your customers to cross Paris if they need to change trains, suggest they travel via Lille.
“Eurostar services arrive there and many TGV trains leave from the same location, so it’s just a matter of changing platforms rather than stations.”
18. Travelling in style
Trains are sleek and stylishly designed. European Rail managing director Michael Birtles said: “Forget your experience of packed commuter trains; high-speed rail is in a different league.
Stations are also far more romantic buildings than airports. Eurostar’s dedicated terminal at St Pancras has a range of high-end shops and the longest champagne bar in Europe.”
Eurostar spokesperson Tom Parker said: “This year we’re running at 93% punctuality. Airlines on our routes are only at 62%.”
20. Something for everyone
Rail Europe and Eurostar run dedicated ski trains right into the centre of the alps, and Motorail can allow families and campers to get their cars easily even to the south of France.
For those who want trains to play a dominant role in their whole holiday, FTS operates regional tours where, after using high-speed rail to reach a destination, visitors tour the area on local trains.