Smug at 04:20am

Sometimes people need to experience how crap the journey is by air before they stop flying. I got up at 04:20am to help

By: Daniel Elkan
Fri, 05 Apr 2024

It’s 4.20am, on a Sunday in February, Val d’Isere, France. 

We've been on a ski holiday.

Now two friends are leaving the chalet (see photo above) to take a transfer to Geneva Airport.

Their flight (to London) leaves Geneva at 12:40pm. 

That’s eight hours between leaving the chalet and their plane taking off!

I got up this early in order to take a photo of my friends leaving the chalet. Just so I could be smug. And have a photo for this blog post. 

How it started
The four of us had booked ourselves into a large catered chalet, booked a month in advance. The chalet runs – Sunday – Sunday. The three friends I came with flew here. I gave them the info about train travel but they decided to fly. 

On paper, they thought it would be quicker to fly.  Fair enough, people always do. They even thought that on the day of arrival in resort, they might be able to ski. I dispelled them of that myth!

Having realised how long it takes to reach the resort even when you fly, and how long to return, they have seen the error of their ways. I knew they would, but I also knew that they would probably have to fly first to learn the lesson. Experience is a reliable teacher.

I wave them goodbye. They are going to be shattered the whole way, with nowhere comfy to sleep until they get home. 

There’s a message on our group WhatsApp chat. It’s a copy of what one of our party has just sent to the Airport transfer company: 

‘We were picked up from Val D’Isere on time this morning. After 5 minutes the driver turned around and went beyond the pick up to collect more passengers then turned around again.
It was snowing.
The driver proceeded to overtake the snowplough/gritting lorry in front of us, scary as we were now on an un-treated surface. We made pickups as expected.
On the larger roads and autoroutes the drive was drifting in and out of lanes as he nodded of to sleep then jolted awake, while drinking RedBull.
As you can imagine this was very stressful and exceptionally dangerous.
We expect a full refund for this return leg. Should we contact the police as well? Please reply without delay.’

Airport transfers are expensive and nobody pays for the nonsense of having a dangerous, sleepy driver. The airport transfer company refunded my friends, following the complaint.

Now I’m on my journey back, by Eurostar + TGV.  A very different experience, and a very different schedule: 

Altibus from Val d’Isere at 07:30
Arrive Bourg St Maurice at 08:25
Take TGV from Bourg St Maurice at 09:12
Arrive Paris Gare de Lyon at 
Take RER or a taxi (haven’t decided yet, but probably RER) to Paris Gare du Nord
Take Eurostar at 17:13
Arrive London St Pancras at 18:30

But overall, a similar duration as flying, door to door.

Thing is, it’s difficult for people to see this on paper, myself included.  One would imagine that flying would be faster. 

And the cost
My friends thought flying would be cheaper, but the train would have cost them about £390 return from London, including an Altibus transfer from Bourg to Val, return. Their journey cost them about £260 for flight plus transfer. That’s £130 difference, which seemed a lot at the time. 

But that difference isn’t a lot when you look at the whole cost of a ski holiday. 

The chalet’s website didn’t exactly encourage people to take the train either, claiming the train was ‘slow’ (hardly, in relative terms!) and ‘expensive’ (true - but not that expensive in relative terms!). That kind of thing dampens curiosity and puts people off even researching train options. I will suggest to the chalet that they be a bit more positive about rail travel – I’m sure they will be open to this. 

Everyone in the chalet, except me, had flown. My friends said next time they are going to come by train. Some of the other people in the chalet said they will come by train next time. 

It takes time to change the way things are, and sometimes it’s only by comparative experience that people realise that train may be better. 

We all had some great time on the slopes though!

Slopes of Val d'Isere
Photo: Daniel Elkan