David Horne recently Tweeted a letter in the Herald where someone claimed that the train is a viable means to travel if you need to have a full working day in London.

We do a lot of articles comparing travelling by train to plane. Although when everything is going well travelling first class by train is the best way to go (sit back, enjoy breakfast and plenty of tea) it is wrong to suggest that it is the fastest way between Edinburgh and London. If you have to be in the office for a normal (09:00-17:30) working day your only options are to fly or get the sleeper service. You can only travel by Virgin Trains East Coast if you're able to start at 10am.

If you're based in Canary Wharf or Central London the quickest way to get there from Edinburgh is to fly to London City Airport. 

Let's look at timings for someone based near Bank station, this is a major station in the City of London and has direct links to both King's Cross and London City Airport so seems a fair choice.

Train

The Flying Scotsman is the fastest train from Edinburgh to London, the journey time is scheduled to take exactly four hours. Departing Edinburgh Waverley at 05:40 and arriving at King's Cross at 09:40.

The Virgin Trains East Coast first class lounge is not open until 06:30 (according to their website) so if you arrive early at the station you have nowhere comfortable to relax.

  • 05:30 Arrive 10 minutes before departure to ensure you can find platform and to allow for a small delay to the station
  • 05:40 Train departs Edinburgh
  • 09:40 Train arrives King's Cross
  • 09:45 Board Northern Line train to bank (journey time 8 minutes according to TfL journey planner)
  • 09:53 Arrive bank
  • 10:00 In office (assuming all has gone well)

Total travel time 4 hours 30 minutes.

Return leg

Let's assume a 17:30 finish.

  • 17:30 Leave office
  • 17:40 Board Northern Line train at Bank station
  • 17:48 Arrive King's Cross
  • 17:55 Board 18:00 service to Edinburgh
  • 18:00 Train departs
  • 22:20 Train arrives Edinburgh Waverley

Total travel time 5 hours 20 minutes.

Note that this schedule does not allow much leeway for delays in getting to King's Cross. Getting the later 18:30 service would make more sense if using a non-flexible ticket.

Plane

British Airways have flights to Gatwick, Heathrow and London City from Edinburgh. Other airlines also fly Edinburgh to London but we're concentrating on British Airways as they offer a decent loyalty scheme and also have the best schedule for business travellers.

The first flight is BA8701 operated by BA CityFlyer to London City Airport, this has a departure time for 06:30.

If you're travelling business class or have frequent flyer status it's useful to know that the British Airways lounge opens at 05:30 well in time for your flight, so you can relax before departure.

  • 05:30 arrive at Edinburgh Airport and pass through security. As it's a day trip you don't need to take luggage so there's no need to visit a check-in desk.
  • 06:20 boarding closes
  • 06:30 depart Edinburgh
  • 08:05 arrive London City Airport
  • 08:15 catch DLR to Bank (journey time 21 minutes according to TfL journey planner)
  • 08:36 arrive at Bank station
  • 08:45 arrive in office, make a coffee
  • 09:00 start work

Total travel time 3 hours 30 minutes.

So in this scenario you would arrive in the office comfortably for a 9am start making the flight an hour quicker.

It's worth also noting that it's not really necessary to arrive an hour before the flight when not checking in baggage, 45 minutes is enough and if you have fast track you could get away with getting there later.

Return leg

The flight at 19:50 (BA8714) will allow plenty of time to get to the airport and still beat the train. It would also be suitable if you finish later than 17:30 or want to go for a quick drink after work. Due to the compact nature of London City Airport you can arrive up to 30 minutes before your flight.

  • 17:30 Leave office
  • 17:45 Board DLR at Bank station
  • 18:06 Arrive at London City Airport
  • 18:15 Go through security
  • 18:25 Wonder why you got to the airport so early!
  • 19:40 Boarding closes
  • 19:50 Flight departs
  • 21:10 Arrival Edinburgh Airport

In reality you could easily board the DLR an hour later (at 18:45) and still comfortably make this flight. The only drawback with departing from London City is that due to the compact nature of the airport there's no British Airways lounge. If you value lounge access you can fly Edinburgh to London City for the convenience but return via Heathrow or Gatwick. There's a 20:05 departure from Heathrow which gets in at 21:30 so is still faster than the train.

Reap the rewards

Whereas Virgin Trains East Coast gives you a choice of Nectar points or Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles, British Airways will reward you in more significant ways, so if you have to travel back and forward for work it does make sense to join the British Airways Executive Club.

You earn status based on either number of flights taken in your membership year or tier points. Tier points are too complicated to explain here but if you fly on business class tickets or the more flexible economy fares then you will earn more tier points and reach status faster than you would based on the number of flights.

When you reach silver status in BA Executive Club you get lounge access even on the cheapest tickets, priority security, priority boarding and business class check-in for the times when you're staying longer than a day and need to take some luggage.

The longest way to reach silver is to take 50 flights using the cheapest economy fares, so that's 25 returns, not a lot if you have to do the trip to London weekly. If you book more expensive tickets or business class you will hit silver sooner. If you also have international travel on British Airways this will also help you get status sooner.

So if your company has an economy/standard class only policy and you have to make this trip regularly it makes sense trying to build up status in the BA Executive Club and then enjoy benefits such as lounge access which Virgin Trains East Coast don't offer their frequent standard class customers. In fact as the lounge in Edinburgh isn't open that early even first class passengers can't access the lounge.

As well as the status benefits to make your airport experience more pleasant you also earn Avios points which can be put towards flights an upgrades. Imagine flying a long haul flight in the comfort of business class (flat beds, etc) for around the price of an economy class ticket. It certainly beats a few quid off your shopping that Nectar delivers.