A third of people believe coaches are often uncomfortable, dirty or old and more than half think they are infrequent and often delayed by traffic or road works.

The findings come from new research by watchdog Transport Focus which also disclosed that only four per cent of travellers made their last journey to an airport by coach.

The study, to be discussed at meeting at Heathrow today (Friday), identifies changes that could “radically improve” public perception of coach travel and increase usage, especially to or from airports.

A five-point plan put forward by the independent transport user group calls for:

  • Government, industry and trade bodies to do more to develop a strategy which promotes coach travel as a value for money, sustainable option to other forms of long-distance travel
  • The coach industry to work together to attract new passengers to the mode and challenge the existing stigma
  • Better use of technology to improve visibility of coach journey planning and information
  • Airports and airlines to work more closely with the coach operators to promote coach travel to and from airports
  • The coach industry to publish performance data to help inform better consumer choice.

Aviation minister Liz Sugg said: “This research provides a valuable insight into passenger choice. It is clear that misconceptions need to be overcome so that coach travel is seen as a genuine alternative to the car.

“Through our aviation strategy and continued work with industry we are exploring how to meet rising passenger demand with action to reduce the environmental impact of our airports.”

Transport Focus director David Sidebottom said: “It’s time to break the stigma around coach travel and to promote this travel option as the savvy consumer choice.

“Despite strong levels of passenger satisfaction among coach travellers, awareness of this option as a cost effective and reliable way to travel remains desperately low.

“Encouraging people to use coach to reach airports presents a major challenge to the transport sector, so it’s good to see government and the transport industry coming together to explore how the coach passenger experience can be improved so that more customers can discover the benefits of coach travel.”

Heathrow surface access director Tony Caccavone added:“It is crucial we find new ways of getting our passengers to use more sustainable modes of transport, and coach travel – an often overlooked but convenient and comfortable option – is an essential part of that.

“The research we are launching today is the first of many steps we will take as we look to change the way passengers and colleagues travel to and from Heathrow and do our part to control emissions.”