UK: WHICH WAY TO PARIS. - Charged with travelling from London to Paris, Management Today boards plane, train and automobile to map out the best way.

by Rhymer Rigby.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Charged with travelling from London to Paris, Management Today boards plane, train and automobile to map out the best way.

Paris is not only a familiar destination for countless British businessmen (and women), it is a convenient place to visit for a day's business. At a little over 200 miles from London, it is nearer to Britain's capital than either Edinburgh or Glasgow, and can be reached just about as easily. Served by a proliferation of flights, ferries, and now the Channel Tunnel, it has never been nearer - and the distance has been further shortened by the dismantling of border controls. That's the trouble, however, the Eurotraveller is spoiled for choice.

At first glance, the obvious way to go would be to fly, using one of the numerous scheduled flights that leave from Heathrow or Gatwick every day. Flying is quick, generally dependable, and readily available. But what about the other alternatives? Should overland travel be discounted because it's slower than air? Are there other, better ways to fly than simply by jumping on the nearest British Airways flight? And what about the Tunnel? When finally open, will it be a viable mode de transport for the business traveller?

Enter Management Today's hypothetical businessman. We have assumed, for the sake of consistency, that he will leave from Liverpool Street Station, and must meet his Parisian counterpart in La Defense at one o'clock. We put these requirements to numerous travel organisations, ranging from the RAC to helicopter hire companies, to determine the best way to get him from from L to P.

Clearly there were several factors to be considered prior to departure. The first is journey time: a 4am awakening followed by seven hours' travel is unlikely to leave our businessman alert and on the ball over lunch. Cost considerations also loom large; with the worst excesses of the '80s still fresh in many people's minds, companies are more likely to hand out economy tickets than to charter Learjets, and some companies even discourage the use of taxis. Finally, there is quality of travel: long hours spent in airport lounges are hardly conducive to arriving refreshed and ready for business.

To simplify matters, we made a few more assumptions: on reaching Paris, we decided that few would be willing to grapple with the probably unfamiliar Metro, so we opted in all cases for a taxi to La Defense. The times listed in the table on p106 refer to the outward journey only, so it should be assumed that a return journey will take twice as long. While an extra 45 minutes travelling time may not seem like much on the way out, it would decrease the time available for business from six to four-and-a-half hours. In some instances, the time saved could justify the hire of a jet for example, as opposed to a propeller-driven aircraft. But whatever the length of the journey, the time difference between Paris and London will always lengthen the outward trip by an hour or more, and compress the return.

Perhaps not surprisingly, commercial flights emerged as overall winner for the occasional business traveller. Airport delays notwithstanding, the total journey time works out at around three hours, door to door, with the flight occupying approximately one hour. Allowing for the hour time difference, leaving at a fairly civilised 8:30am should land the businessman safely at his meeting by 1pm and cost, inclusive of all other forms of transport, between £210 and £280, depending on whether the flight is economy or business class.

Commercial flights are also flexible and convenient, with the big airports offering departures to Paris at least hourly during the day. Although major airlines such as BA, British Midlands, Air UK, and Air France all offer similar (if not identical) prices, companies that use airlines regularly should be able to negotiate bulk discounts - as had most of those we spoke to.

Choice of airport is largely a matter of personal preference, with suitable flights available from Heathrow, City Airport, Gatwick, and Stanstead. From Liverpool Street Station, travel times to the various airports are surprisingly similar, ranging from 40 minutes to an hour, depending partly on the type of transport used for this stage in the journey. Given the traffic congestion endemic in central London, it is probably significantly quicker to use the regular rail service and leave the car in the garage. Although City Airport's rail link has been closed for the Jubilee Line extension, at six miles from Liverpool Street it is a reasonably short and inexpensive taxi ride away. Probably the best criterion to judge airports on is quality of environment. While it is rare to find anyone with a good word for departure lounges, it is worth noting that Heathrow and Gatwick flew in excess of 60 million passengers between them last year. Stanstead flew only about 3 million, and is currently operating at less than half its capacity, which makes for a welcome lack of crowding. This, and the well-designed new terminal, produce an unexpectedly stress-free environment.

At the other end there is also a choice of airports, albeit a more limited one. Charles de Gaulle undoubtedly is the best known, but, of course, now a number of airlines including BA and Air UK fly to Orly. There is also Le Bourget, which is used mainly by private aircraft. For La Defense, it is a little quicker to fly into either Orly or Le Bourget, both of which are closer to the city centre than Charles de Gaulle. The taxi journeys should take around half an hour from Charles de Gaulle, and 20 minutes from Orly. Those who know their Paris might wish to chance public transport.

The other airborne option worth considering is a private plane. Should a group of of businessmen be planning to make the trip, this could be the best bet in terms of time and cost. A plane capable of carrying nine passengers will cost about £1,200 and, if full, is significantly cheaper than comparable commercial flights. Reduced check-in times also make small aircraft marginally faster. Jets are inevitably pricier, starting at just over twice as much, and will save approximately half an hour, but could be worthwhile for a party pressed for time and with a big deal to negotiate. Jets, particularly the more expensive ones, tend to be plusher than planes and offer perks such as cabin staff to serve drinks. A major plus of travelling by private aircraft is that, flying from major airports and from numerous small airfields dotted around the capital, the businessman can often step out of his car, on to the plane, and be airborne within a few minutes. Disembarkation at the other end is similarly swift and painless. Firms such as Love Air and Aerostar offer this type of service, and will, subject to space, allow the customer to choose which airports or airfields to fly from and to. Helicopter travel from the city tends to be difficult as the only commercial helipad is tucked away in relatively inaccessible Battersea. For terrestrial travellers, the much vaunted (and delayed) Eurostar passenger service via the Channel Tunnel is due to commence soon. With a door-to-door journey time of about four hours, it is unlikely to appeal to the very time conscious.

If Eurostar's promises are to be believed though, it will be more reliable than flying, being immune to airline troubles such as bad weather. Where Eurostar should really shine is in the quality of journey. Compared with air travel, with all its stops and starts, a simple train journey still has a certain elegance about it. Besides, for those who can work happily on trains, the extra 50 minutes could be a price well worth paying. Surprisingly, most firms we spoke to thought they would stick with air travel, citing its speed advantage over the Tunnel. Eurostar has to remain something of a wild card as it still has no definite opening date. It has no price structure either, although it is rumoured that prices will be set so as to undercut commercial airlines - probably in the region of £200.

Train and ferry timetables mean that it is physically impossible to reach La Defense by the old rail and ferry routes for one o'clock, unless the whole night is devoted to the journey. This leaves driving as the only remaining alternative, and a fairly unattractive one at that. Using the RAC's figures for a Ford Granada's total running costs per mile, the trip would cost about £360 - similar to the price of a shared jet.

Journey time, however, is the most serious drawback. At close to seven hours' driving it is likely to appeal only to those who are both pterophobic and claustrophobic - fearful of both flying and confined spaces.

Of course, for the Murdochs of this world, whose time is valuable enough to merit it, the ultimate in speed, convenience (and expense) is a helicopter that will collect him from his back garden. This is an arrangement the Civil Aviation Authority seems quite happy with, provided the garden is big enough, and a few basic rules are followed. For international travel, customs and excise must also be notified. While helicopters cannot compete with other aircraft in terms of flying times between airports, the fact that firms such as OSS and Lynton will arrive where and when required can make all the difference. Anyone living in the southern Home Counties could get to the Icyles-Moulineaux Heliport near the Eiffel Tower in a shade under two hours, and reduce 'airport travel' to a short stroll across the lawn. The cost of such plutocratic transport?

Anywhere from £3,000 upwards.


Rank Mode of travel Time (in hours) Cost

1 Helicopter from home 1.50-2.00 £3,000 (max of four people)

2 Chartered jet 2.20 £3,600 (max of ten people)

3 Chartered plane 2.45-3.00 £1,200 (max of nine people)

4 Commercial flights 3.00 £210-280

5 Eurostar 3.50 £210 (estimate)

6 Self-drive 6.00-7.00 £350-£370*

* Based on total running costs for a two-litre Ford Granada.

Source: RAC.

Notes: all costs are approximate. All times are journey times and do not include the one-hour time difference between London and Paris.

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