Could first class rail travel be set to hit stocks?

A major commuter train company has announced it will scrap first class on its trains connecting Kent and East Sussex to London.

Southeastern says making its trains single-class only from December 2022 will allow it to add more standard-class seats.

Could the move signal the wholesale removal of the first class?

The independent has conducted extensive research on chic seating.

A brief history of class discrimination in railroads

Ever since passenger rail travel was established nearly two centuries ago, wealthier travelers have been willing and able to pay extra for greater comfort. Different seat categories were common in the UK, continental Europe and worldwide.

Until the late 19th/early 20th century, the division of train accommodation into first, second and third class was common. The second class middle class began to be abolished around 1900.

For half a century the choice for UK train travelers has been between first and third class. In 1956 everyone in the cheap seats got an upgrade when the third seat was renamed second.

In 1988, another rebranding made the budget seats a single “standard” category.

What do you get in prime that you don’t get in standard?

The quality of first class now varies dramatically from one train company to another.

On commuter routes, sometimes all you have is the prospect of a less crowded carriage and maybe a headrest cover. In the South East and other ‘outer suburbs’ service providers there is no significant difference. The only thing you’re paying for is a better chance of a seat in a less crowded area.

But with journeys around 40% reduced by the coronavirus pandemic, there seems to be plenty of room for everyone on the ‘classic’ routes from Dover, Folkestone, Ashford, Canterbury, Margate, Whitstable, Maidstone and Hastings to London Victoria and London Charing Cross. .

For long-haul services to other parts of Britain, premium first class buys extra space and comfort – much appreciated by those who want to work.

At best, you can expect a sit-down meal with a variety of dishes and complementary alcohol. This belongs to the long distance companies, particularly Avanti West Coast and LNER on their connections from London to the north of England and Scotland.

How much extra does first class cost?

The premium is very variable. The cheapest I’ve found is just £1.30 extra for the 10 minute journey from Wigan to Warrington on the West Coast Avanti. Anyone traveling between the two cities who wants a cup of tea on the short journey would be better off paying the extra (a 22 per cent increase on the basic £6 at any time) than buying one from the class standard buffet.

This does not represent the usual cost. Between Inverness and Edinburgh, a standard anytime ticket is £50 one-way, with the former costing £75. That’s 50 percent more – which also happens to be the premium on many railways in continental Europe.

Meanwhile, an anytime single from Reading to Exeter is £112 in basic and £150 in first – a difference of just 34 per cent.

From Manchester to London, a typical off-peak ticket in standard class costs £98 return. The first class equivalent is £369, almost 275 per cent higher.

More and more passengers are choosing advance tickets, for which first class is usually 40-100 percent more expensive. For example, on a morning journey from London to York, first/standard options are £118/£76 on LNER and £97/£58 on Grand Central – around 55 and 70 per cent extra for first class respectively.

In some cases, you can travel first class for less than standard. This usually happens on journeys where the allocation of advance tickets has been exhausted in standard but not first.

Are there any other courses I should be aware of?

Over the years, train operators have tried all sorts of configurations – on the East Coast Main Line, for example, the Silver Standard was a special carriage for those unlucky enough to pay the full fare – rewarding them with free tea and cookies. Midland Mainline offered four classes for a time.

Today, Avanti West Coast has the most notable “middle class”: Standard Premier. The idea is that you can travel between London, the West Midlands, the north-west of England and the south of Scotland in a luxury seat (laid out in three abreast rather than four) minus the free catering. The premium on an advance ticket is around £15-£25.

It has a parallel on Eurostar, also called Standard Premier. Passengers from London to Paris, Brussels and Amsterdam receive “a light meal and drinks served at your seat”.

I have a standard ticket. Can I upgrade?

If first class seats are available (as they usually are) you can normally upgrade on the train by paying the appropriate supplement. Be warned that extra can be extreme. From Newcastle to Birmingham to Cross Country, the cost to upgrade a single at any time from standard to first is £186 (around £1 per minute of travel).

On the UK’s longest rail journey, from Penzance in Cornwall to Kyle of Lochalsh in western Scotland, a £276 one-way ticket can be upgraded at any time for an extra £430.

There is also an interesting app called Seatfrog which allows you to bid on relatively cheap upgrades on Avanti West Coast, GWR and LNER tickets that have been purchased directly. I bid, sometimes successfully and sometimes not, about £20 for a two hour journey.

Sometimes all standard class passengers can upgrade for free. If overcrowding becomes severe, the first seat can be “declassified”, i.e. opened to all passengers, regardless of their tickets.

However, a warning from the National Rail Conditions of Travel: “If you are given permission to sit in a first class seat when holding a standard class ticket, this is on the basis that you may later be required to surrender your seat for a passenger who holds a valid first class ticket position.”

Can I access the lounge?

For people who like to arrive in plenty of time for their intercity trains, the first class lounges operated by Avanti West Coast, East Midlands Railway, Great Western and LNER can be a welcome oasis – with complementary hot drinks and snacks, even (in the case of the LNER’s London King’s Cross lounge) direct access to the platforms via a dedicated overpass.

Can I stand in a first class aisle?

No. The official line is that you can only travel in the first class section (which includes standing room) with a first class ticket. The National Travel Conditions warn: “Your fine may change if you … travel in first class accommodation on a standard class ticket”.

Thus, regular class passengers are not allowed to stand in first class aisles and vestibules.

Won’t we miss first grade when he leaves?

Not in the southeast. The carrier’s high-speed Javelin services from London St Pancras to Kent have always been single-class only, as have suburban connections to south-east London. The idea of ​​abolishing it everywhere was first proposed by the government in 2017.

According to Southeastern, only 28 people have purchased first class annual season tickets since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic (and now they will be refunded). The company says more people will get a seat once the first seat is removed.

Many other trains are standard class only – including almost every service operated by Transport for Wales. (The exception is the top service between Cardiff and Holyhead; first class passengers get free drinks and snacks but have to pay £10-20 for more substantial meals.)

Some operators, notably Lumo, offer a strict one class only policy even on an Edinburgh-London journey of over 400 miles.

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