What’s The Point Of First Class Train Travel, Anyway?

Avanti West Coast is adding another class of travel to its service. But do we need the space, or value the luxury?
Luciana Guerra - PA Images via Getty Images

Avanti West Coast, the rail operator that has replaced Virgin Trains, has announced its new trains will have not two, but three classes: standard, premium economy and first class.

The new, middle-tier fares are yet to be revealed, and a spokesperson for the operator told HuffPost UK while the new idea is at an “early stage” with details yet to be worked out, it’s likely that any premium economy offering will use first class carriages.

But it’s got us thinking: is segregating by class still necessary in the UK, at a time when rail fares are at record highs and overcrowding and cancellations are rife? Jamie Sanderson, 41, from Hertfordshire, who commutes into London for work, believes the system is an “outdated relic of Britain’s class-obsessed past”.

“There’s potentially an argument for [first class] on long distance intercity trains,” he tells HuffPost UK, “but certainly not on the everyday commuter trains where you see the ridiculous sight of people having to stand next to perfectly good empty seats.”

Denise Rawls, 49, from Hackney, east London, agrees, saying all seating should be high quality. “We took the train from Venice to Bologna and back recently. The whole train had an at-seat refreshment service and it was cleaner than any UK first class carriage. It was cheap, too. We are totally mugged off,” she adds.

Meanwhile Rosie Bucknell, 45, from Huddersfield, thinks first class in the UK is pointless when trains are still delayed. She says her husband paid first class to London for them recently as part of an anniversary present. “The train was shabby, no-one came round with tea or coffee and we got into London 45 minutes late anyway,” she says. “It feels like a lot of extra money for what amounts to access to a table lamp.”

“It feels like a lot of extra money for what amounts to access to a table lamp.”

Natasha Pashouros, 31 from Norbury, south London, also believes first class is pointless, because in her experience, commuters risk a fine and use it regardless of their ticket during peak times anyway. “Trains need more space,” she says. “Staff don’t always inspect these trains because they couldn’t, we are packed like sardines.”

But others tell HuffPost UK they value the option of first class, particularly when travelling for business or with children. Corrie Barnes, 31, from Northumberland, says first class is “essential” for her friend, who uses it to send her son with autism to visit his dad in London from Newcastle.

“It’s quieter for him and more comfortable,” she explains. “I think it’s a good option for people who need space and support; people with disabilities, sensory needs, physical impairments. Having the option to pay more is just that, an option.”

For Kerri Watt, 35, from New Forest in Hampshire, first class makes travelling easier with her five-year-old son, giving them the option to sit quietly away from noise or people walking through.

Perhaps a solution is for the class system to be more flexible. “When everyone else is standing, some policy allowing overspill would be nice and humane,” suggests Andy Knight, 41, from Dundee, who has travelled first class on a few occasions because the extra room means he can work on his laptop more easily.

And Peter Wilkinson, 72, from Pendeen in Cornwall, agrees a compromise is the way forward. “Discard it on overcrowded commuter trains to free up space, but keep on long haul services,” he says. “We use first class sometimes as a treat on the long Penzance to Paddington trip. There’s room to take a picnic with bottle of wine – but have had hard stares when [we] tried that in second class.”