How Queen Elizabeth and the Royal Family Really Travel
It’s no surprise that members of the British royal family are among the world’s most well-traveled individuals.
They frequently jet overseas on official business, and are also no strangers to holidaying in far-flung—and, of course, secluded—destinations. Sometimes, this is by private plane, but the Queen's relatives have also been spotted on budget airlines, scheduled trains, and behind the wheel themselves.
Here are the details on how the royals really travel.
Private planes are used, but so are scheduled flights.
Travel arrangements for official visits are determined by the Royal Travel Office, who take into account security, cost, and logistics before coming up with a plan. Sometimes, this involves a charter plane which can enable royals and their entourage to more easily stop off in multiple countries or islands—such as when Prince Charles and Camilla visited Cuba and the Caribbean earlier this year. For that trip, which cost £416,576 (roughly $506,286), they used the U.K. ministerial jet, the Royal Air Force’s VIP Voyager, which is available to royals and British government officials.
For other visits, commercial flights are deemed more appropriate, like when Prince Harry and Meghan traveled first class with Qantas for their tour of Australia and New Zealand in 2018. During this trip they also used a charter plane, which cost £81,002 (roughly $98,444) to travel to Fiji and Tonga.
Usually the British public pick up the bill for official overseas travel except when the royals are visiting Commonwealth Realms (countries where the Queen is also Head of State), in which case the host country pays.
While off-duty, members of the royal family have been known to use both private planes and budget airlines.
Prince William and Kate, for example, have borrowed the private jet belonging to the Duke of Westminster for family vacations in Europe. When they holiday on the Caribbean island Mustique, they usually travel first class with British Airways to St. Lucia before taking another 30 minute flight to the private island. However, the couple have also been spotted on the budget airline EasyJet while heading on a skiing break.
Harry and Meghan were also seen sitting in economy on a scheduled British Airways flight to Nice in December 2017 en route to ring in the New Year. However, they have also both used private jets, with Harry recently taking one to Google’s Climate Change summit and Meghan returning from her baby shower in New York on one.
They like to take the train, and are not immune to delays.
No one covering Prince Harry and Meghan’s trip to Cardiff in January 2018 could forget the stormy look on Harry’s face when he stepped out of the car an hour late thanks to a train delay. The couple had boarded the first class carriage of a regular rail service from London Paddington that morning but found themselves held up when the train was moved to a slower track.
Other regular train journeys have gone more smoothly and the young royals in particular often choose this mode of transport, especially to visit major cities.
The Queen also uses a regular train service every year to start her Christmas break at Sandringham, boarding at London’s King’s Cross and disembarking at Norfolk’s King’s Lynn station. This all appears pretty frugal; however, there is also the small matter of the Royal Train, which is still occasionally used by members of the family.
Costing several thousands of pounds per trip, it is often cited when the royals reveal their annual financial reports as one of the more lavish expenditures. Last year, examples of journeys taken were Prince Charles using it to travel from Euston to Port Talbot at a cost of £20,049 (or roughly $24,370) and the Queen and Meghan’s trip to Cheshire, which came in at £29,714 (or roughly $26,115).
They use helicopters—sometimes to travel between their houses.
One of the quickest ways royals can get around the U.K. is to travel by helicopter. Between April 2018 and April 2019, 204 journeys were made on royal helicopters which cost a total of £688,845. Regulations permit the royals to use public funds to travel from residence to residence, trips they often make by helicopter. The Queen’s Helicopter Flight currently has two helicopters in operation, which are based at RAF Odiham (a Royal Air Force Station in the English town of Odiham).
While he doesn’t usually fly himself to or on official engagements, Prince William still likes to get behind the controls of a helicopter following his years spent in the Royal Air Force Search and Rescue and later as an air ambulance pilot. He took the opportunity to fly one for the cameras in January 2019 to highlight the work of the London Air Ambulance.
When it comes to getting around on a day-to-day basis, nothing beats the convenience of four wheels. The royals arrive at almost all their engagements by car (when they do take helicopters or planes, a local diplomatic vehicle is waiting to pick them up). Specifically, the Queen travels in her Bentley State Limousine which was created for her Golden Jubilee in 2002. The car was specially designed to make it possible for well-wishers to more easily see inside and with doors and a higher roof so Her Majesty can more easily get out of the vehicle.
British manufacturer Jaguar Land Rover also enjoy the patronage of the royal family, with members frequently seen in and behind the wheel of its vehicles. Despite the fact they could be driven everywhere if they wanted, the royals enjoy the independence of driving themselves. William drove Kate and all their three newborn children home from hospital and the Duchess of Cambridge has been spotted behind the wheel heading through the gates of Buckingham Palace.
The Queen has also been seen driving herself to church in Windsor many times, as well as driving visitors around the Balmoral estate. Prince Philip was still driving at age 96 until a crash forced him to decide to surrender his license.
Both William and Harry love to ride motorbikes.
The brothers were in their element when they took part in an eight-day 1,000 mile charity bike ride across South Africa in 2008. William also currently owns a 1198S Ducati, but his wife Kate isn't such a fan. In 2015, she admitted, “It always fills me with horror when he goes out on it. I'm terrified.”
Fortunately for her, the prince revealed in November 2017 that he has put biking on the back burner since having his children.
Finally, there’s the mode of transport they don’t use any more: the royal yacht.
Once upon a time, the royals took to the seas for official visits on the Royal Yacht Britannia. However, that all stopped when the vessel was decommissioned in 1997—a date often cited as one of the only times the Queen has shed a tear in public.
Over the course of 40 years, Britannia traveled more than one million nautical miles to 600+ ports in 135 countries. Now, it is moored in Edinburgh as a popular tourist attraction. Some British politicians have suggested bringing back a royal yacht but this has yet to catch on.
*This story originally appeared on Townandcountrymag.com
*Minor edits have been made by the Townandcountry.ph editors