On Trains & Buses

Travel news, views & information from Europe & North America by an independent public transport user

Why reserve a seat if unsure of your time of travel?

Posted on May 5, 2009

Reading time: 3 minutes.

Sadly, those insulting thetrainline.com ads have reappeared. Personally, I like the flexibility of just turning up at a train station, buying a ticket for my journey and going on my way. In fact, I like that idea so much that I am willing to pay for it most of the time (saying that, when the cost passes £60, savings are often sought). Being called an idiot for wanting to things in this way is certainly not something that I appreciate and I can next to guarantee that the said company will not be getting my custom, at least not directly.

Apart from those appalling posters, another thing that brings the whole matter of Internet bookings to mind is my travelling on a train south from Aviemore a few weeks back. Many seats were reserved but most of these weren’t occupied. That may have been just as well for sake of travelling comfort but it prompted the thought in my mind as to whether those reservations were a “just in case” measure. The next step in musings has me wondering if a world where there was more more frugality in the booking of seats might be a better one. However, there is also the possibility that a decline in seat booking would result in less frequent services and shorter trains, something that could increase seat reservations and pop things back where they were before anyway. It all makes a seat reservation less useful than it ought to be. In reality, it is probably no bad thing to sit in such a spot until disturbed by the rightful occupant. After all, you only need to move away when asked. It may not make things user friendly for those reserving seats or be the sort of practice that is encouraged but it might be a minor irritation in the broad scheme of things.

While the railways still cut some slack and that is good when it comes to convenience, other modes of travel are far from being like this and I hope that the railways don’t follow suit. For one thing, they already compensate for a less than comprehensive express coach network in England that makes seat bookings a necessity. Wales now has its Trawscambria long distance bus network with Ireland and Scotland having none too shabby networks provided by Citylink, Ulsterbus and Bus Éireann. Airlines are run on a far tighter footing and you only need to note Ryanair’s closure of airport check in desks in favour of the online option and Aer Lingus’ passenger operated baggage check in facilities to see what I mean. They also overbook their aircraft which is not so nice but the expectation is that not everyone will make a flight. If the same sort of thinking started to pervade the railways, then that would be a very disappointing development.

Saying all of that, I don’t object to there being a need for bookings on services running at busy times. In fact, if you are tied to a train by an advance purchase ticket, then reserving a seat makes sense. For more flexible tickets (Off Peak and Anytime returns come to mind), the logic of that argument may not be so strong, hence my appeal to only reserve your place when you are absolutely certain of travelling. Yes, I realise that stuff happens but there’s no need to devalue the seat booking by not turning up because it was only done just in case.