Sunday, 7 February 2010

Getting to the Isle of Man and Back

As anyone who has read the previous posting will know, I'm off to the Isle of Man in mid-April, to attend the National CAMRA members' weekend. I thought that arranging transport there and back would be relatively straight forward, but this turned out not to be the case, as I am about to relate.

After what seems like days of searching around, logging on to various websites and comparing options, prices, dates and times etc, I’ve finally booked my ticket to the Isle of Man. When I say ticket, I should actually say tickets, as I’ve opted for the overland and then sea-crossing route, rather than my preferred option of flying there. The reason has largely been one of price, coupled with my sheer frustration and annoyance at the total lack of transparency of the main carrier to the Island, Flybe.

I’m fully aware that certain budget airlines advertise extremely low prices, but then sting you with a raft of hidden charges. Ryanair, for example, are well known for this, and it is now almost par for the course when booking a flight with this airline to expect some additional fees. Call me naive, but I did not expect this from Flybe.

I live fairly close to Gatwick, so flying from there seemed the best option. Flybe are the only carrier operating the IOM route, and when I looked, earlier in the week I found I could get a return flight, for my required dates, for £94 (incl. taxes). Slightly on the dear side I thought, but still within my set budget. I then proceeded to book. Oh dear, what’s this an extra tenner each way for baggage? Well I’m only going for four days, so I’ll manage with just hand luggage. On checking the airline’s maximum size limits for cabin baggage, I discovered that the smallest case we have was still too large, even though it is supposed to fit in the overhead lockers on most aircraft. Not Flybe though; my wife’s handbag, on a good day, might just have qualified but no chance for a normal size piece of cabin baggage.

Oh well, I’ll just have to stump up the readies and pay the extra twenty quid. Next step, choose a seat. Picked a seat next to the window for both outward and return flights, but alarmed to see the total had suddenly increased to £126! Why I thought? Checking the small print showed a further charge of £6 each way for a seat – so after you have paid for the flight, you then have to pay extra for a seat! No option to stand of course, health and safety reasons don’t allow this.

The final straw was a charge of £3 per flight, card-handling fee (there’s no other way of paying online!), plus an additional fee of £1.50 if the translation is by credit card! The total cost has now reached £133, an increase of over 40% on the advertised price!

Time for a re-think, and the overland option. Fortunately the Isle of Man Steam Packet Company and National Rail Enquiries came to the rescue. The former operate a fast Seacat service out of Liverpool and offer foot passengers a return fare of just £37. Ok there’s still the task of getting to Liverpool, so let’s see what National Rail can offer in the way of special tickets? By booking in advance I could get a return ticket to Liverpool, from my home town in Kent, for the princely sum of just £28.

Job done, tickets booked, total cost £65; less than half what Flybe wanted to charge me, and on top of that was the coat of getting to and from the airport. Ok, the journey might be slightly longer, but not that much when you take account of check in times and security checks at the airport. What’s more, my itinerary allows time for a stop-off in Liverpool – plenty of time hopefully to check out a few pubs and enjoy a few pints!

Isle of Man - CAMRA Members Weekend

I’m off to the Isle of Man in April, to attend the Campaign for Real Ale’s member’s Weekend The weekend, which includes the National Annual General Meeting, offers the chance for CAMRA members from all over the country to get together to discuss future policy, and also provides the opportunity to socialise, meet up with friends from other branches, visit local pubs and perhaps go on the odd brewery trip. In addition there will be a beer exhibition showcasing Manx beers, as well as some from further a field, which will be held in the conference complex.

This will be my first such event in over twenty-five years, and I’m really looking forward to it. Back in the early 80’s I attended AGM’s in Durham, Bradford, Reading and Edinburgh. I stopped attending them primarily because they seemed to involve a lot of hot air, but that's a comment that applies equally to AGM's held by other organisations. Looking back, I think I just got bored with the whole thing. This year’s event probably won’t be much different in the hot air respect, but the main reason I’m going is for the chance to visit the IOM; a place I haven’t been to before. I will also be enjoying the company of some fellow branch members, as there’ll be half dozen or so of us attending from West Kent CAMRA.

I’m planning to travel over to the island late during the middle of the week, allowing a full day to explore the place before the weekend’s activities kick off. The members' weekend has all the hallmarks of a really good event, so I hope it lives up to expectations.