A class of their own

Ahh, the joys of First Class travel! Whenever I can afford it – and always when there’s an offer on – I opt for a first class ticket on the train. But I’m starting to wonder why I bother. Up until a couple of years ago, the seat table in first class would be laid out with proper cups and saucers, and a little menu displaying the refreshments on offer. Tea and coffee were free – and if you were lucky – you got a biscuit and a newspaper too. Small pleasures, maybe, but coupled with a generally quieter carriage, it was worth the upgrade.

Today, on East Midlands Trains, my table looks like this.

That picture is so devoid of anything of note that I’m left wondering why it took the best part of two minutes to upload. Which brings me to another aspect of the First Class experience – so called “free wifi”.

Perhaps we’ve all become too expectant on technology these days, but when I’m offered wifi I assume it will work and work well. On enquiring why things were so slow (via Twitter, ironically) East Midlands Trains asked if I’d spoken to the on board crew. I hadn’t, since my previous experience of this conversation led to them providing me with a phone number for the helpline, since the wifi is operated by another company. So much for service.

So can I have a coffee? Yes, but you’ll have to walk to the buffet bar. No great inconvenience, but surely the point of First Class is a little luxury. So I asked East Midlands Trains about this too, only to be told that the “full” First Class service does not operate at weekends. So what am I getting for paying a premium price (albeit an offer)?

In effect, travelling First Class on a weekend amounts to a slightly bigger seat in a slightly less busy carriage. Even the First Class lounges at stations are closed. Although it’s not much better during the week – if you have an advanced first ticket, you’re charged a fee for using the lounge at St Pancras.

So what does this come down to? Fewer staff on the trains, a gradual erosion of what was once referred to as “service” or pure greed on the part of train companies? Here’s my tip – if you can’t offer a particular service, don’t sell tickets for it.

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