Sunday Blog: Virgin v easyJet, UKIP v Europe, UK v Spain …

In a few hours, I am off to Leeds on the train from London to visit son No.2. Although I booked the train ticket in advance (an off-peak day return, a Sunday, and it was the cheapest I could get) – it still cost more than my easyJet return flight from Barcelona here to the UK. How, please, is that possible? Can someone explain?

I have been investigating this further. Bear with me, OK?

Let’s imagine, for example, that I have to be in Liverpool at some point in May (which is possibly true) for a business lunch presentation. Firstly, let’s have a look at a single, one way, no return ticket …

I went on easyJet’s website to search for the cheapest flight I could get from Barcelona to Liverpool. It came up as £23.10 on Thursday 15 May (for proof, I have the screenshot). The flight takes off at a very relaxed time of 11am, and lands at 12.30pm (I admit the time difference helps) – just in time for the presentation lunch meeting. [It would even cost less with Ryanair …  £21.40 … but that would either arrive at 12.15pm, promptly, with the bloody bugle blaring, or not arrive at all].

I then compared the price of taking a train from London to Liverpool. Here goes (I repeat, bear with me):

To arrive at the same time in Liverpool by train from London on Thursday 15 May, I would have to pay £78.70 …  which is £55.60 more expensive than flying there from Barcelona. Does that make sense? To me, it is nuts. This is the same price quoted by both Trainline and Virgin’s own website (departing 10.07am, arriving 12.21pm). Again, I have all the screenshots for proof. I haven’t put them up on this blog because I’m not sure how to. But if you saw the screenshot, there would be no point saying I could get there for £19 via Trainline’s screenshot because I can’t. I can’t, okay? The train won’t arrive until 13.21 – halfway through the lunch presentation – so don’t start …

I admit, however, that the price differences are narrower once I take ‘return tickets’ into account – but the figures are still incredible:

The lowest fare on easyJet back to Barcelona on the same day, departing at 6pm, costs £45.10. The flight arrives in Barcelona for 9.30pm, early enough to still enjoy a lazy Spanish dinner, or exquisite tapas outside a bar, watching the soft glow of the sunset over the Mediterranean … (but I digress). By booking the Liverpool-Barcelona return flight for £45.10, it also means that the flight out becomes less, too, at £17.60 … so the total return flight works out at £62.70. Not bad if you really, really, really think about it. Not bad at all. [With Ryanair, there wasn’t a flight back the same day … but it would still cost just £32.44 to fly back at 7am the next morning … that’s assuming you’d got there in the first place].

I then went back to the Trainline and Virgin websites to recalculate the return train tickets. Choosing a return (departing 18.47 to arrive back in London for 21.04) at a special ‘advance’ rate of £19 somehow meant that the original standard fare getting there (same details as above) became ‘off-peak’ too, at £39.85. So the total cost became £58.85 – but still only a saving of just £3.85 compared to flying there and back from Barcelona …

Does that make sense? Not the maths, the logic. Does it make sense? Should it really cost more (often double, sometimes treble) to travel from London to Liverpool by train as opposed to flying there directly from Barcelona? Something is wrong somewhere.

Recently, I have spent time going backwards and forwards between Barcelona and London for many diverse reasons – mostly professional, some personal, many meetings, pitches, interviews, presentations, some writing, research, also for necessity and family issues. Each time I travel, I love London and the UK more – but then each time I go back, I also love Spain more, too. London feels dynamic right now. Spain is not so dynamic – not right now – not anymore. There are things I loathe about London, but there are things I also loathe about Spain. The differences become more acute, too … and not just in the cost of train fares.

This week I read that 90,000 British expats in Spain (that’s 1 in 4) have packed up and returned to Britain in the last year alone – mainly blaming the eurozone crisis, the property market crash, or Spain’s unemployment rate (now 26%). It’s not just the Brits who are leaving Spain. Apparently the registered German population fell by 23.6% last year to 138,917 and the French population by 12.7% to just over 100,000. Even many Spaniards are leaving Spain – many seeking (and finding) employment in Holland, Brazil, anywhere where there are jobs. I find it ironic that France’s new prime minister is a Spaniard – Manuel Valls, originally from Barcelona (born to a Spanish father and Swiss mother). And the mayor of Paris is also a Spaniard, the Andalusia-born Anne Hidalgo. Perhaps Spain could run France better than the French.

Which somehow brings me to Nigel Farage and the UKIP …

Now, I’m not (I don’t think) about to suggest that a Spaniard could do Nigel Farage’s job better than he does … although they probably could. I do think, however, that any Spaniard (in fact anyone at all) could certainly do a better job than the UKIP’s communications manager, David Challice, who apparently recently suggested that ‘cash-strapped Muslims’ should get multiple wives as a ‘money spinner’.

What I don’t understand is the UKIP’s £1.5m anti-EU immigration poster campaign, recently launched before the European elections next month – and which has been labelled ‘racist’. In one poster, a builder in a high-visibility jacket and hard-hat is shown begging. The poster has the slogan: ‘EU policy at work. British workers are hit hard by unlimited cheap labour’. The ‘builder’ was Dave O’Rourke, an Irish actor who was born in Dublin and lives in Edinburgh. Farange had said that the party had used genuine supporters rather than actors in campaign material. Another poster shows an enormous hand pointing at the viewer, with the line: ‘26 million people in Europe are looking for work. And whose job are they after?’

Yes, 26 million people in Europe are looking for work – David Moyes and myself included. We’ll always be looking for work, or the next best step, project or career. At the moment, work is hard to come by – especially in Spain. But the 26 million people aren’t all looking for British jobs. Even if they were, they wouldn’t be able to afford the UK rail fares. It would be cheaper to commute to work from Europe by easyJet. So don’t worry, Nigel. Just because 90,000 expat-Brits have returned to the green and pleasant land, it doesn’t mean 26 million eastern Europeans are suddenly going to immigrate, nor take Irish actors’ “builder jobs”. The problem with the UKIP campaign is that the focus is wrong: maybe many Brits would prefer to not be in the EU because they want to govern themselves again, but surely not because they ‘hate foreigners’?

Low-cost flights across Europe have probably done more to create jobs and pan-European ‘consumerism’ than anything else in the past 10 years.

The fact is this: it is far cheaper to fly backwards and forwards to the UK from Europe than to travel by train between two of the UK’s major cities – London, Liverpool, Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, wherever. Solve that problem first – and stop ranting on about the EU and Brussels bureaucracy.

2 thoughts on “Sunday Blog: Virgin v easyJet, UKIP v Europe, UK v Spain …

  1. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    April 27, 2014 at 9:15am

    I have read about ‘split tickets’ for rail travel being cheaper. I don’t know anything about this but maybe worth a try.

  2. Permalink  ⋅ Reply


    April 28, 2014 at 11:40am

    i think it is impossible to compare the cost structures of rail vs. air travel, there are too many variables affecting air fares, much more than those involved in train fares.

    By the way, you can fly Barcelona-Leeds/Bradford with KLM via Amsterdam for as little as 243 Euros (200 GBP) return, with a short and efficient transfer at Schipol, if you chose your dates right. This ought to be much more time efficient than going through Heathrow and transferring to trains.

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