The first class lounges on the Virgin Trains East Coast (VTEC) network have been a bit of a mixed bag. The lounge at Kings Cross is relatively new having opened in 2012 in time for the Olympics alongside the new departures concourse. This lounge also received a small refurbishment over the weekend of the start of the new franchise in 2015 so it was looking at its best for passengers and the press during the Virgin Trains East Coast launch events.
The other lounges in the network had been pretty much neglected once GNER lost their franchise. None of the lounges had been refurbished since I can remember and I had been using them since 2001. When GNER was replaced with National Express East Coast they made all the lounges unstaffed except Kings Cross and the staffing levels in Kings Cross were reduced (table service was replaced with self service).
In the GNER days Edinburgh was my second favourite lounge after Kings Cross, it was staffed by a very friendly team and back in those days was licensed so was a good place to get a drink (before GNER scrapped the guest ales) if the nearby little pub 'The Halfway House' was full. The lounge manager had pride in the lounge and kept it well maintained. After National Express made the lounge unstaffed it wasn't the same again, add to the fact the furniture was starting to look worn and dated it just wasn't work a visit.
It looked like lounges were an inconvenience with National Express and East Coast did little to improve the matter.
Now it looks like the lounges are getting a long overdue makeover. Some have closed already and the others will be closing shortly. The aim is to get them all complete by the end of March. If they manage this it'll be a great achievement and will mean it won't be long before all the lounges in the network look like new.
I will miss the old look of the Kings Cross lounge, but hopefully I will like the new look version just as much. It will be great to see the other more dated lounges getting the treatment, perhaps some of the main lounges will be staffed and licensed and I can enjoy a Hop on Board before my train, even if they don't offer that it'll be great to see the lounges looking fresh for the first time in over 10 years.
In the meaning, while the lounges are closed for refurbishment, VTEC has made alternative arrangements where possible. For example in Kings Cross they have hired a room in the station pub, The Parcel Yard, and will be offering the usual complimentary offering from here. Not all stations will be able to offer an alternative but hopefully the inconvenience will prove worth it in the long run.
When VTEC announced Nectar before they even started their franchise I saw it as cuts from day 1 as Nectar is a poor alternative to the loyalty scheme we used to have. Fortunately, since then, they've done a number of things which have shown their commitment to invest in the customer experience. As well as the lounge refurbishments mentioned here and the on-board refurbs I was delighted to hear they're bringing customer relations back in house. As outsourcing is usually cheaper they must believe bringing it back in-house will improve satisfaction levels and drive more ticket sales.