On not flying

It is often assumed that flying is far superior to any other means of transportation in terms of getting conveniently from A to B. I sometimes wonder, though, if railway, coach and shipping companies have actually started believing in this nonsense and just stopped bothering when it comes to developing and refining their product/service portfolio.

As a potential customer of any ground services that will take me from London to mainland Europe, I find myself sizzling with anger every time I try to book a ticket. Most of the time I just give up because I end up spending too much time navigating the jungle of websites that must be traversed in order to travel across borders. A few examples will illustrate what I am talking about:

London – Berlin: While the Eurostar seems to be the only company that has learned anything from the smooth interaction design of most airlines’ online sales points, the Deutsche Bahn website – which I have to visit, too – keeps presenting me with an internal server error.

London – Rotterdam: Same story. Getting to Brussels is easy peasy, but if you want to avoid paying a exorbitant amount of money for the Thalys, you will soon find yourself nicknamed “Dances with train service providers.” In addition, “Around the World in 80 Days” reads like the CV of the Danish Minister for the Environment compared to the one time I attempted to go there by train/ferry.

The world is full of good travel portals, e.g. Momondo, Late Rooms, and Last Minute, so why is there no central resource for booking European travel by train, coach, ferry or any combination of the three?

While all the giants are sleeping in a newly/soon-to-be/trying-to-avoid-to-be privatised sort of way, I sincerely hope that my colleague, Alistair Hann, will be successful in developing his prize-winning idea further.

This brings me on to another rant: one of the reasons why I am so excited about CSR and similar issues is that it is really about innovating and thinking through alternative scenarios for the future, not ‘giving up’ or ‘returning’ to some form of imaginary state of things that used to be. Problems have always been the best providers of the stuff that gives rise to profound strategic renewal.

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  1. I agree. The only way I managed to buy my ticket from London to any station in the Netherlands was by phoning them to tell them they had the ticket and book it for me (including a £5 service charge). The ticket is 69 pounds, which is actually quite a good deal. It takes you 4.5 hours to get from London to Rotterdam – pretty fast! They say you could book it online, but I really have no clue where. Train-boat-train is another option. Info is available online and the booking works, but it’s pretty amateurish: http://www.stenaline.co.uk/ferry/rail-and-sail/holland/book. The Eurolines website works ok, normally, if you’d like to spend about 10 hours in a bus. I have done that too many times…

    A website I quite like is this one: http://www.seat61.com/index.html. It gives tips on how to get where. However, you’ll still have to go and book the separate tickets with the providers, so no real solution. Would be great if your friend’s idea would be executed!

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