On a visit to King's Cross last week I made a rather poor quality video showing the facilities available in the VTEC First Class lounge at King's Cross station. This has always been the best lounge on the East Coast route and so tends to receive the most investment and has better facilities.
All the lounges on the VTEC network were refurbished in March 2016, although the King's Cross lounge didn't really need it as it was looked after by the previous operator, the other lounges were overdue for refurbishment as they had very little work done on them since the GNER days. It was good that for the first time in 10 years the first class lounge network was being taken seriously.
This year, however, it's obvious that VTEC are cost cutting wherever they can. Examples of this are most apparent in the King's Cross lounge:
- This was the only lounge on the network that offered Coke and Diet Coke - this has now been stopped
- They no longer offer a glass of Prosecco on a Friday afternoon/evening
- Both coffee machines were out of order on my last visit
- China cups and real glasses are no longer available. You need to use the disposable coffee cups for both hot and cold drinks
- Some people considered this an improvement as they could then take their drink to the train. Others considered it environmentally irresponsible as it's causing needless waste. One solution would have been to offer both china cups and disposable ones so those who wanted to take away could but everyone else could use real cups and glasses
- The credit card machine (if you would like to buy a drink) rarely works
- The little bits of attention to detail have gone: there used to be a model of the Flying Scotsman on the shelves above the refreshment area, and the shelves are now bare except for two empty Hop on Board gift packs a few of the onboard menus.
- One of the sinks in the toilets was out of order.
In unstaffed lounges, like Newcastle, it's possible for the lounge to get in a terrible state before someone has a chance to deal with it. Oddly enough the unstaffed lounges still have proper cups and glasses. Newcastle doesn't appear to offer any biscuits anymore.
— Amy (@amy_star) 21 October 2017
Although it's worth pointing out that I was at the Newcastle lounge later that day and the mess had been cleared up, so it is dependent on how busy the lounge is and how busy the station staff are.
On the other hand I used the Darlington first class lounge for the first time and although all it consisted of is a small room I couldn't find fault with it. As it was located next to the station reception they had the advantage that they could check eligibility for entry and at the same time ensure that the lounge was kept tidy, there was no stock supply issues and there was three different types of biscuits.
I did a comparison to the British Airways Galleries First lounge with another poor quality shaky video (if I visit when the lounge is less busy I'll try and put something better together), this shows the difference between what you can get as a frequent flyer compared to a train traveller.
I'd never expect a station lounge to offer all the benefits of an airline lounge because they're serving different markets. As I'll be in the airport longer than I'd be in the station I like the ability to get food in the lounge, on the train I'd rather eat on-board. Although it's nice to have a wider drinks selection in the airline lounge (including complimentary alcohol) it's again not essential for a station lounge.
What a station lounge should offer...
Comfort - make sure there's enough space for passengers during the peak periods.
Cleanliness - busier lounges should be sufficiently staffed both to police entry to the lounge and to ensure that it's kept tidy.
Hot and cold refreshments - mostly catered for currently, removing Coke from King's Cross just seems like penny pinching, they should have been looking to provide it elsewhere. The lack of biscuits in some lounges needs to be addressed too.
Sockets and charging points - although well intentioned the wireless phone charging points are not ideal for all circumstances so desks with sockets and USB points should also be provided.
Add a bit of sparkle - doesn't have to be free prosecco on a Friday, have some surprise treats in the lounge on different days.
Better WiFi - I've found the performance of the WiFi at King's Cross poor and often can't work with it.