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High speed rail v LCC the debate goes on!

October 21, 2013
Author: Philip Martin

Last month there was much buzz around low cost carriers or value carriers (as newly formed airline HOP! an Air France-KLM subsiduary is positioning itself), and they seemed to be putting forward a new challenge towards high speed railways.

At the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London, HOP! was represented by Helene Abraham, EVP Commercial. Abraham commented on how HOP! is planning to compete for European travellers by creating a more hassle-free network of point-to-point traffic, incorporating the hub airports of the three operating airlines which make up HOP! She also said: “one of the biggest competitors in the fragile French market is substitutes; high speed rail and road. The network must adapt and include destinations not served by rail.”

It’s currently got the thumbs up from my daughter who travels regularly from Toulouse to our home via Nice airport. There is still no viable train journey under many hours and station changes, between the east and west of France and its just a short HOP! Saving her much time.

I watched with intrigue the debate on budget air travel versus railway travel with Guardian transport correspondent Gwyn Topham and Mark Smith (the man in seat61) where they both made arguments for and against travelling by train or budget airline. I let you decide on the result but Mark has a point in that we need less stress during our journey.

Also another story caught my eye on the same topic. This one much more closer to home as you may have read in my last blog on my disrupted journey to Yorkshire, and now there seems to be an alternative mode of transport!

Leeds Bradford (LBA) returned to British Airways’ route map after three decades, and the carrier now serves it with 27 weekly frequencies; bmi previously operated the route until March 2009. James Keegan, British Airways’ Commercial Services Manager UK regions, said: “The well-timed four flights a day will offer our customers the chance to complete a full day’s business in the capital without the expense or inconvenience of an overnight stay.”

You would think this slightly risky to compete with a door to door rail offer, but hang on a minute lets take a look. A return journey from LHR to LBA if I was to leave in 2 days time on an economy ticket would cost me £144, plus the cost of the final leg to my destination. For a rail journey on the same route, Leeds to London Kings Cross, Trainline offer the trip at £154 for off peak, or £249 to travel anytime of the day plus cost of final trip. So really not much in it in terms of costs, unless you pick the anytime price then the airline wins. Also that restriction of off peak price means that business travellers will probably fly instead. Travel time is 2 hours and 15 minutes for the train versus 1 hour for the plane (plus of course check in and customs arrival and getting to the airport). So again not much in it, but it depends on your final destination as Kings Cross is fairly central London, and flying your arrival is to the west of London. Also you are probably much more productive during the train journey too, so preparation in advance of that all important business meeting will be very useful.

What would you chose (try our poll) and in what circumstance? I will (sad to say, and don't tell Mark Smith) definitely consider the flight option because of the price issue when having to book with only a few days to departure in times of need.

So will LCC or Value Carriers or budget airlines go with the flow and continue to re-invent themselves to counter the high speed rail threat? Or will they embrace it someway and join forces in some way – I reckon a mix of the two. Whatever happens, they will need to provide the traveller with a good booking and ticketing interface, that could handle intermodal journeys too.

My colleague and roving global cummunications manager Marian Hens was at the World Low Cost Airlines Congress in London, you can read her blog and find out more about what was discussed between the likes of Michael O'Leary and Willie Walsh.

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