When booking a recent two hour return train journey I spotted that I could take 1st class on the return leg for only £5 extra. I thought I’d give it a go to see if it is any better than standard class.
The standard class outward journey
If you are taking a Virgin Train from a London mainline station like Euston and are in standard class, one of the first things you’ll notice is that you have quite a long walk to your carriage.
The 1st class carriages are nearest to the building entrance. The standard class carriages are at the other end so you might need a minute or two of walking to reach them.
Above is what the seating looks like. There are four seats across in standard class. The train itself is quite narrow so there isn’t a lot of space.
Don’t bother bringing luggage with you, especially at busy times, there’s hardly any space. The luggage rack above the seat is a joke. The space starts off fairly small in the middle of the carriage, and gets smaller and smaller as you get to the ends of the carriage. At the ends of the carriage you’d be lucky to get your coat in there.
There are some luggage spaces in the carriage, but competition for this space can be fierce. If you’ve ever been in standard class before Christmas you’ll know that bringing anything bigger than what you can fit on the floor in front of you, or on your lap is a bad idea.
At quieter times you won’t have problems, but it is sometimes hard to know whether it will be quiet or busy.
If you book on the Virgin Trains website you’ll get an automatic seat reservation. There is a display above each seat which says whether it is reserved or not. If you are lucky then you’ll find your seat unoccupied. If not you’ll have to ask a grumpy looking passenger to move on.
In standard class you’ll find a carriage where you can buy drinks, snacks and magazines. The shop closes about half an hour before reaching the final destination (they seem to need a lot of time to check the stock and count the takings).
There is also usually a quiet carriage in standard class where you are not supposed to use your phone, or play music at audible volume. People still do though, and I’ve never seen a ticket inspector do anything about it.
The 1st class return journey
First class is a bit more spacious. There are only three seats across in 1st class. Other than the extra space there isn’t much different about the interior of the carriage.
During the weekdays they’ll serve you a complimentary meal if you are travelling at the right time.
At the weekend you’ll have to make do with a complimentary tea, drink, and snack. I got a bottle of fizzy water, and a pack of two cookies.
In 1st class there is free WiFi. It is also available in standard class but you’ll have to pay for it there. As with most public WiFi the connection is unencrypted so be careful what you look at, as other (bad!) people could intercept your internet traffic if they wanted. Stick to standard website browsing, and only enter login details, or send sensitive information if you are using an encrypted (HTTPS/SSL) website. Ideally you should use VPN software to keep your sent or received traffic confidential.
On arriving back in London my carriage was very near to the station exit so I got out fast, whereas those in standard class had to walk much further along the platform.
Normally 1st class is much more expensive than standard class so I’d say it isn’t worth it, but if you can get a 1st class ticket for just a few pounds more than your standard class ticket then it is worth a go.