May 16, 2003

Flying to the south of France and back

Brian Micklethwait | Air Miscellany | Fares and Ticketing

I have just spent a week in the south of France, to the south even of Perpignan, and that involved me being transported. Here are my transport thoughts about this holiday.

The total cost of my travelling, to and from, was around £70, which is amazing. The money was divided about equally into train travel to and from Stansted airport, tribute for the privilege of making use of Stansted airport, and money to Ryanair to be on a couple of their airplanes.

Airline ticket purchase is a procedure which I feel sure now figures prominently in economics courses at the upper reaches of schools and the lower reaches of universities, because it is such a perfect example of such things as perfect competition, elasticity of demand, (in)elasticity of supply, sunk costs, marginal income, and such related things. My demand was elastic. I was willing to juggle my timing to get the cheapest flights. Ryanair's supply was inelastic. They had decided to fly the planes at the times I chose, and wanted to make sure their flights were nicely crowded and nicely profitable. Ergo, I got two very cheap flights. Hurrah. None of this would be possible without computers to allow Ryanair to do all their sums, and to allow my lady friend to make the purchase. So hurrah also for computers.

And both flights were crowded. On the way out I did something I've never done before, which was sit in the aisle and give up on all attempts to see what was happening outside. Flying was suddenly reduced from a romantic adventure at high speed with delightful cloudscapes and even more delightful scenery viewed from far above, to the occupation of a crowded and immobile tube of people, for two interminable hours. All that, and a headache. Oh what fun it was.

The journey back was far better. This time I did get a window seat, despite being among the last to register and hence again not being in the first batch of people to be allowed on. Following a tip from a fellow passenger, I used the rear entrance of the airplane and thus found a window seat, bumping my way past a man who, inexplicably (but doubtless commenters will explain) preferred to be in the aisle, and who had thus, without caring, been guarding my window seat for me from less determined aerial countryside viewers. Perhaps he had a weak bladder.

I was on the right of the plane, so I missed the spectacular view of the Pyrenees that you get from the Perpignan to London planes, as they fly along next to these mountains before turning half-right. (The London to Perpignan planes, as I know from an earlier trip, fly more directly, over Paris, down the last bit of north-south running coast, then out over the Mediterranean before landing at Perpignan. Very scenic.) But I did get a nice view of the Normandy coastline just to the west of Le Havre. If I'm not mistaken we flew not just over the Normandy beaches, but over the Normandy Beaches of World War 2 fame.

I also got a great sight of the bocage countryside of Normandy. Most of France seems to be peppered liberally with yellow fields, but in Normandy the yellow suddenly turns to dark reddish brown. And there are hedges – clearly visible hedges. Lots of them. That fits in with the Normandy campaign reportage I've read, and I recognised where I was as soon as we got there. Hedges and a special kind of extra-sticky tank-impeding mud. Fascinating.

I continue to be frustrated by the amount of time you consume when travelling by air, not travelling by air, so to speak. Example: my plane landed at 2.30pm, but it took me over two hours more, in other words more time than I spent in the plane, to collect my luggage and then to get back to my home in London SW1. Is luggage collection easier for people who are willing to pay more for their flights? Equally frustrating is having to get to the airport an hour before the thing takes off, and even earlier if you want to be reasonably sure of a nice window seat. Even to be sure of getting my aisle seat I had to get up at 6.30am to get my 10.30am flight. Again, do the plutocracy have easier arrangements made for them? Can they just turn up ten minutes before the plane leaves? And can things be made easier if you don't have any more luggage than you can carry?

I have a few things to say also about the state of transport within France, but I'll save them for another posting.

Trackbacks

Crozier visions
I suppose that to many Samizdata readers the quotes below will be old news. But it was newsworthy news to Patrick Crozier when he wrote it, and it was news to me when I read it about two days ago. I realise that two days in blog time is a lifetime, but...
Samizdata.net on May 28, 2003

Comments

If you do a lot of long haul travel, then you always want an aisle seat. If you are on a plane for 14 hours, then the ability to get up and walk around, stretch your legs, empty your bladder, and the like without disturbing the person next to you (who may be asleep) is of enormous value, and is of much more value than the view out the window. People who have travelled long haul a lot often tend to go for aisle seats even on short haul flights as a matter of habit.

And as for all the time you spent travelling be air not travelling by air, that is why I find the Eurostar to Paris so much more pleasant than any flight. I simply go to Waterloo, and three hours later I am at Gare du Nord. The train is less cramped than a flight, and it even contains a bar. When I was in Paris last month, I was still exploring the Parisian suburbs an hour before my train back to London was supposed to leave. There is simply no way I could have done this with air travel. (I was also relying on the reliability of local public transport in Paris, and I was not let down by it, whereas I could easily have been in London).

>Is luggage collection easier for people
>who are willing to pay more for their flights?

Not on a discount airline like Ryanair, no. In that case, everyone gets the same treatment. On a full service airline, yes. If you are flying business or first class, or are a premium level frequent flier, they generally stick a sticker on your bag saying "priority", which which is supposed to ensure that your bag comes out first (but which doesn't always happen). Premium travellers are usually allowed to go straight to the front of the queue at check in, too.

Posted by Michael Jennings on May 16, 2003

I have to agree with the burden of time 'wasted' not moving with air travel. This time has totally turned me off of air travel for any trip less than 500 miles. The time spent in lines for checking in, lines for security, lines for boarding, waiting for baggage, waiting for rental cars or other transport, waiting to pay to get your car out of the satellite lot, it's all somehow more galling than spending more time driving. And it even pushed me to check out Amtrak (in the northeast US corridor). Far superior to an airplane, even a non-high-speed Metroliner (although the Acela time from Washington to NYC is only 10 minutes shorter than the Metroliner), with more legroom, smooth ride, nice scenery even for those not in the window seat. So for me, it's driving or trains (mostly driving, as the rail system for passengers just isn't that attractive city to city here in the states).

Posted by Highway on May 17, 2003

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