Today’s post is not about physics, but is definitely related to something particle physicists do quite frequently: travel.
The trip is to Amsterdam, something I do monthly as I have many friends and all my family there. This time it is a more than normally joyous occasion, a friends wedding. And just like every month, I spend a considerable amount of time trying to arrange transportation. As usual there are two things to consider: cost and time to take off work. The distance is almost 1000 kilometers (over 600 miles). Besides driving, which is not an option as I do not have a car (it would be unmaintainable as there is no parking in Geneva and besides that the public transport is excellent in Switzerland, and considering the high gas prices in Europe it will not be very competitive anyway) there are three travel options. And I would like to share the results of my search with you as it’s not only unexpected but I also do not understand the why:
- Travel by train. This would be my preferred option, it is much better for the environment and more relaxing. However it takes 9 hours. Also, for some mysterious reason it is practically impossible to buy tickets online, unless you go to online travel agencies which are mainly aimed at non-European tourists and the ticket prices are heavily increased. After half an hour of futile web browsing I managed to get to the double-international reservation page of the French national rail, which could only sell me paper tickets, to be delivered by post and at almost 450 Euros. The journey involves a transfer in Paris that includes a transfer by metro. This means the convenience of high-speed train travel is gone (I would spend 2.5 hours waiting for the next train there. If that transfer was shorter or at least well timed the entire trip would take just over six hours). I would lose two full days traveling as there are no convenient evening trips. All in all the train option is a bit pricey and very inconvenient in many ways, which leads me to my second option;
- Low-cost airlines. Low cost air travel in Europe is well established and has it’s quirks, you have to fight for your chair as there are no assigned seats, stand in long lines, the planes don’t get cleaned between flights and you pay for checked luggage if you have any. As everyone knows by now, there are security issues with bringing shampoo or toothpaste in any significant amounts, so traveling with only cabin bags is not really an option. Plane travel takes only a little less time than the same trip by train, including travel to the airport the entire trip takes about five hours, of which only 1.5 is actually spent in the air. Travelling like this is a lot cheaper than the train, which I find amazing and if anyone can tell me why I would love to hear. Unfortunately, low cost airlines (like for example easyjet) fly at the times when the take-off and landing slots are cheapest. This means that I would have to fly in the morning on Friday to be able to make it to my friends’ Saturday wedding ceremony. Actually, to get the cheapest fare I would have to leave even earlier than I would if I travel by train, and the return flight is equally inconvenient. All of this for a whopping 300 euros which I personally still find a bit expensive, which brings me to the final and most established option;
- Normal air travel. As the conventional airlines are in heavy competition for Geneva flights this is the most economical and also the most convenient option, I can fly on Friday night at 9 PM and return on Sunday evening, not spend any of my precious vacation days and I get peanuts! And all of this for 200 euros. I think the choice is obvious, yet again my friends at KLM are getting my business!
Now I wish I could travel by train. Every month I check again if there is a way to do this. But I always end up on a commuter flight together with people who are all in the same situation as myself: professionals who just want to get transported from A to B at and within a reasonable time. I do feel more than a speck of guilt about the burden I put on the environment, but mostly this monthly search for tickets just leaves me curious: How can it be that train travel is so much more expensive? How come these so-called low cost airlines have schedules that are so mis-matched with my requirements? Is the schedule I look for so exceptional? Should I just put my money where my environmentally-friendly mouth is and spend the 9 hours each way on a train?