Contrary to popular opinion, the UK’s public transport network is actually pretty good. The pricing structure, however, is up for debate when it comes to value for money.
Contrary to popular opinion, the UK’s public transport network is actually pretty good. The pricing structure, however, is up for debate when it comes to value for money. However, don’t think this doesn’t mean there aren’t bargains to be had. Although, should you always take the lowest price?
Kettle is here to help. We’re comparing Britain’s main modes of transport to help you find the best way to get around.
This matters most on coaches, since they are, generally speaking, the slowest mode of transport. Legroom on coaches is reasonable enough, and the seats are leather, but it does get a bit hard after a few hours sitting there. There’s no reason to move around, however, apart from going to the toilet—meaning achy legs in the morning!
On the train, things are somewhat better. Legroom is usually very reasonable. However, due to the rail network being operated by over 30 companies, there is a lot of variation. The seats are usually less comfortable than coaches, however. Of course, if you don’t reserve a seat in advance, you may not even get a seat! If travelling at the weekend, it pays to note that many operators offer a First Class upgrade for between £5 and £20, depending on the operator and length of journey. Also, there’s no seatbelt tying you down, so you’re free to move around.
Planes have less variation than trains when it comes to seats, with many having leather seats but lacking legroom. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, airlines are notorious for it. Three-abreast seating is commonplace on most aircraft, meaning you could be sat between two other passengers. Whilst this may not be a problem when you board, it may be midway through the flight when both of the other passengers are unconscious, and you need the toilet.
Let’s face it, the coach is no-hoper here.
Trains usually run from city centre to city centre, and you can board up to a minute before departure, so the times in the timetable really should be your total journey time. Also, don’t be put off by the image of trains being old and slow, Britain’s trains are some of the youngest around, and most intercity services hit between 100 and 125mph en route.
Planes rarely fly into city centres, meaning that you’ll have to add time on to your journey to get to and from the airport. Then there’s check-in and reclaiming any hold baggage you may have taken with you, adding yet more time to your trip. In general, if the journey is under four hours, it’s quicker by train.
Coaches aren’t as bad as they used to be, many have plug sockets and free Wi-Fi. However, these tend to be only one plug per two seats. They have toilets, too, but their location at the back of the vehicle can make them difficult to use comfortably. Bring food—there won’t be any for sale on board, and only overnight services stop at service stations.
Most intercity trains these days have plug sockets but, as with coaches, it’s often one per two passengers when they are provided. Wi-Fi is not commonplace on trains, it’s a bit hit-and-miss as to whether you’ll encounter it or not. If you do, you’ll most likely have to pay (unless you travel in First Class). Many trains have buffet cars or at least a trolley service. Whilst they may not be the cheapest, it does save you both space in your bag, and having to buy supplies beforehand.
Unless you’re flying with a major airline, don’t expect to be able to charge your phone on board, and never ever expect to find Wi-Fi. It’s only just starting to take off (pun not intended) over in the US.
That said, you should be able to get Wi-Fi (which may or may not be free) and find somewhere to charge your phone in the airport. Again, if you’re flying low-cost, don’t expect to find reasonably priced food or drink anywhere near an aircraft. Exorbitant prices on board is how airlines like EasyJet and Ryanair compensate for having such low fares.
The old adage of ‘book later for a bargain’ is now well and truly dead. If you want a cheap fare, you’ve got to be ready to book far in advance. Most operators will let you book months in advance, so shop around early.
If you’re on the plane or coach, your tickets will be tied to a specific departure – if you’re late, they won’t wait! On the trains this is slightly different, with only tickets marked “advance” being subject to this rule. Nonetheless, if you have an “advance” ticket and a delay on one train causes you to miss another, you will be allowed on a later service.
Typically, coaches do have the lowest fares, but they can creep up close to departure. Trains can be very reasonable, even if you book late, some departures are always quiet. If you buy on the day, you’ll have to pay the (hefty) full price. Airlines start off with a few cheap tickets, but even the average Ryanair purchase is still £40. Most people don’t get the cheap rates in the adverts.
Hidden fees and charges are always something to be wary of, coaches generally aren’t too bad, with a small booking fee often applied, but Britain’s two major coach operators offer an allowance over 20kg of free hold baggage per passenger.
On the train, you can get away with no extra charges if you play your cards right. Don’t use TheTrainLine.com, who make their money from booking charges. Instead, shop around the websites of the train operators themselves. They usually won’t charge you to collect your own tickets. Also, train companies generally don’t charge for extra baggage—there’s a rarely-enforced size limit on suitcases.
As for flying, you’ve no chance avoiding the extra fees. If you’ve got a case that’ll cost you. If your bag doesn’t fit the guideline at the gate (even if it fits the overhead locker), that’ll cost you. If you want to check for your flight on Ryanair (well, of course you do…) that’ll cost you. Above that, some airlines levy additional charges you’d normally expect to be included in the fare to allow them to quote a lower ‘headline’ fare.
With flying, you’ll also have to pay for transport to and from the airport too, possibly more than your air fare.
Quick glance guide
Coach: If money is important to you, go for it.
Train: If you want a stress free journey, look no further.
Plane: If speed is important, get hunting for a bargain.