‘Masterclass in poor service’: rail passenger hits out at Avanti over £589 ticket | Rail transport

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A rail passenger who paid an “eye-watering” £589 for a return train ticket from Brighton to Wales has hit out at operator Avanti West Coast for cancelling parts of his journey and providing “a masterclass in poor service”.

Drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat – Gateau for short – paid the sum for a first-class open return ticket between Brighton and Bangor in north Wales to perform for a private customer as a birthday treat.

The bulk of the journey, between Bangor and London Euston, is on Avanti West Coast, the much-maligned operator that managed to run just 39% of its trains on time between July and September this year. The Avanti portion of the ticket was £498.60.

By comparison, a first class Interrail ticket offering unlimited train travel in 33 European countries for 15 days costs €590 (£508).

£589 was the cost of your return 1st class ticket, @AvantiWestCoast. Yesterday, the driver announced there’d be no 1st class service on the 1610 from Euston to Bangor.

This morning, you cancelled the 1005 train from Bangor to Euston at… 1007 pic.twitter.com/veUlUCG5KQ

— Le Gateau Chocolat (@LeGateauChoc) December 11, 2022

His ticket should have guaranteed him a Christmas dinner with wine, but on his outward leg from Euston to Bangor on Saturday afternoon, the driver announced there would be no first-class service because of staff shortages.

On his return journey, he was waiting at Bangor station on Sunday morning for the 10.05 train to Euston, only for the train to be cancelled at 10.07.

The performer had agreed with his clients that he should travel by train first class in order to guarantee a seat and dinner, as the day’s schedule had him arriving “with just enough time to go straight into makeup to be ready to be a post-pudding treat”. The “eye-watering cost of this ticket” was, he hoped, “the price of peace of mind and some modicum of ease”.

The price was outrageous, he said: “This summer I was in Germany with an opera. One of my Club World tickets with British Airways – London to Munich – was £260, less than half the price of this train ticket. Club World because, most times, the levy for heavy drag bags amounts to the same price of travelling club v economy.”

The performer tweeted his frustrations to Avanti on Sunday. In response, a customer service operative called Mike asked if he would “like to take this further”. To which, Gateau said: “Oh, at £589, I shouldn’t be the one looking to take it further, Mike. But sure, I will. Thanks.”

It was, said the performer, “a masterclass in poor service – not just in delivering their ‘first class’ product but also in customer relations”.

An Avanti West Coast spokesperson said: “We’re sorry to hear about this customer’s experience and we’re happy to contact them to look into their complaint.

“Over the last few months, our sole focus has been to do everything we can to return to a more resilient operation and deliver more services for our customers and communities.

“Crucially, our new timetable is based on a robust and sustainable roster for our people without reliance on overtime, and has been achieved by working with our people and the unions. It provides a better working pattern for staff and our customers will benefit from more trains and greater connectivity.”

In October the government gave Avanti a six-month period to improve or be stripped of the West Coast contract.

Things got so bad from July to September, according to data from the Office of Rail and Road, that fewer than four in 10 Avanti West Coast trains ran on time, and one in eight was cancelled – even after it had removed thousands of services from the schedules.

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