A rail passenger who paid an ‘appetizing’ £589 for a return train ticket from Brighton to Wales has hit out at operator Avanti West Coast for canceling parts of his journey and providing ‘a masterclass in disservice’ .
Drag performer Le Gateau Chocolat – Gateau for short – paid for an open first class return ticket between Brighton and Bangor, North Wales, to perform for a private client as a of birthday present.
Most of the journey between Bangor and London Euston is on Avanti West Coast, the much-maligned operator which only managed to run 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).
His ticket should have guaranteed him a Christmas dinner with wine, but on his outward journey from Euston to Bangor on Saturday afternoon the driver announced that there would be no first class service due to the lack of staff.
On his return journey he was waiting at Bangor station on Sunday morning for the 10.05am train to Euston, only to have the train canceled at 10.07am.
The entertainer had agreed with his clients that he would have to travel first class by train to guarantee a seat and dinner, as the day’s schedule meant he would arrive “with just enough time to put on makeup straight away to be ready. to be a post-pudding treat”. The “exorbitant cost of this ticket” was, he hoped, “the price of peace of mind and a modicum of ease”.
The price was exorbitant, he says: “This summer I was in Germany with an opera. One of my Club World tickets with British Airways – London to Munich – cost £260, less than half the price of this train ticket. Club World because most of the time the heavy drag bag fee is the same price as the club v economy trip.
The entertainer tweeted his frustrations to Avanti on Sunday. In response, a customer service agent called Mike asked if he “would like to go further.” To which, Gateau said: “Oh, at £589 I shouldn’t be the one looking to go any further, Mike. But of course I will. Thanks.”
It was, the performer said, “a masterclass in poor service – not just in delivering their ‘first class’ product but also in customer relations”.
A spokesperson for Avanti West Coast said: ‘We are sorry to hear about this customer’s experience and are happy to contact them to investigate their complaint.
“Over the past few months, our sole focus has been to do everything we can to return to a more resilient operation and provide more services to our customers and communities.
“Fundamentally, our new schedule is based on a strong and sustainable roster for our employees without relying on overtime, and has been achieved by working with our employees and the unions. This provides a better working model 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 withdraw 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 were canceled – even after having removed thousands of services from the schedules.