Truth can be elusive, especially in travel. Take the Stansted Express: its timetables have often been compared to works of fiction, but now the creaky old train link to London Liverpool Street has finally been accelerated. "Train to London, 35 minutes," brags the sign at the ticket desk. So how has National Express East Anglia cut 10 minutes from the fastest journey time?
By adopting the low-rent, low-cost airline tactic of disguising reality in the hope of getting a commercial edge. "Don't focus on making life for the traveller better – move the buffers instead," seems to be the company's mission. There are, indeed, trains that will get you to Greater London in 35 minutes, in the shape of Tottenham Hale station, at the outer northern reaches of the Victoria Line. But if you want to get to anywhere near the centre of the capital, the Stansted "Express" will take you 45 minutes. On that basis, Gatwick is only 15 minutes from London, that being the time trains to reach East Croydon – within Greater London, but even the most ardent Croydonophile (not, it must be said, an extensive breed) would have to agree it is far from the centre of the capital.
Lies, damn lies – and travel surveys. There is one more stage in this dismal procession, and that is the story based on a travel survey that was wide of the mark in the first place. An excellent example appears in the current edition of easyJet's inflight magazine. The airline's outgoing chief executive brags about the airline's "green" credentials, citing a survey by the price-comparison website, Liligo, that analysed the CO2 emissions on a range of airlines.
"A flight from London to Zurich on easyJet has a carbon footprint of 277kg per couple, compared with 688kg with Aer Lingus," was the survey's conclusion. Now, that sort of difference could be explained if the Irish airline used small, inefficient aircraft, but in fact both airlines operate efficient, narrow-bodied Airbuses on the Gatwick-Zurich route. So why should the Irish airline produce more than twice the CO2? A question for Liligo. The Aer Lingus calculation was made not on the airline's direct flights from Gatwick to Zurich but on an irrational trip from Gatwick via Dublin. If you flew to Switzerland on easyJet via, say, Barcelona the result would be equally noxious – and unhelpful.
Two weeks ago, on this page, I wrote excitedly about the maiden Oxford-to-Edinburgh flight by a start-up airline named Varsity Express. The managing director, Martin Halstead, assured me that the venture had six months of financial backing. But the link folded within a week, stranding passengers in the Scottish capital. The airline's commercial director, Will Gilligan, turned out to be Mr Halstead's imaginary friend, as fictitious as the financial backing. Sorry.