A crumby First Class experience on Virgin trains

There are two types of people who usually enjoy train travel. Train geeks like me and those in First class. For all the sexy advertising of leisure fares on Virgin trains, you can’t get away from that fact that unless you book in advance, get a railcard discount and reserve your seat sensibly, you’ll probably end up paying over £66 (London-Manchester, off peak) to be squeezed into a space next to someone who will invariably be an unpleasant travelling companion.

(‘Booty train’ ad. Makes standard look deceptively nice…)

Yes, the delights of cattle class also include a complete ignorance of the meaning of the word ‘quiet’ in Quiet Coach and usually a shaky walk to the shop (due to the tilting) to browse the excessive selection of alcohol, celebrity magazines and fat-laden meaty sandwiches. Oh, and throw in a smattering of racist football fans for good measure.

And, if you’re unlucky, the ever pervasive stench of sewage + chemical toilet that seems to emanate from the Pendolino toilets (if they’re operating that is).

But wait! This blog entry is supposed to focus on the exciting experience of First class on Virgin trains – more specifically, the trial offer of the Great British Breakfast, being served on selected weekend services this month and, I’m informed reliably, into next month now too.

As I am lucky enough to still qualify for a 16-25 Railcard, I was able to nab a First Class Advance ticket yesterday for today’s 1035 Virgin Trains service from Manchester to London for a little over £30. I’m actually travelling all over the south east over the next few days, which is why I was happy to pay a little extra for a single ticket in First, and try out something new.

I’ve travelled First a few times before, mostly at weekends when I’ve occasionally been tempted by a Weekend First upgrade for just £15. To be honest, by far and away, the main benefit was getting a seat – as anyone who has walked along the train at the weekend knows, there are masses and masses of empty seats in the First class carriages, which for those squeezed into the vestibules, must look like an oasis that they can’t afford.

The only other benefit of Weekend First is that, occasionally, someone will come and offer you a cup of tea, coffee or a pack of dry-looking biscuits. More often than not, staff shortages/broken coffee machine/failed train sets mean that you have to walk to the on-board shop to get your freebies, at the same time, earning the ire of those queuing passengers who realise you’re not paying for your beverage.

Update Sept 2013: I found this draft and truncated this blog post, which was going to be a rant about not getting breakfast during the week. In the end, I’ve travelled a few times and it’s been okay by-and-large. Just a shame the price keeps going up!