Virgin planes, er, trains

On a Virgin train from Oxford to Brighton, and once again I find myself wondering why Virgin Trains is pretending so hard that it’s an airline.

In first class, I’m presented with a plastic box containing five separate plastic packages, four brand names, 6 pretzels, a chocolate, a pre-chopped apple (presumably so I don’t go mad an attack a conductor with a core), and a ‘chicken and bacon’ roll that tastes like it’s been boiled. Sitting in its flimsy plastic package, it is the most dispiriting meal imaginable – the sort of meal served in the canteen at the Ministry of Truth, but with branding.

What’s particularly dispiriting is that Virgin – even with its extortionate fares – hasn’t learned the lesson of others. GNER, for example, has proved that food and drink on trains can be done right – its breakfasts are a delight, and the lunches and dinners are worth a special journey. Even First Great Western – which is pretty rubbish – has its travelling chef service, and a couple of proper meals.

Virgin, however, have never seemed to understand that train travel is about more than pre-packed food and pre-booked tickets. It’s about freedom and relaxation and a tiny bit of luxury. It’s about travelling a little bit in the style of 1920s. I don’t want a Pullman, I don’t want a steward, I just want proper food that doesn’t come in a plastic box. Is that too much to ask?

On a happier note, I’m off to Scotland (by train of course) next week, and the unparalleled delights of dinner on my GNER train await. Proper china, proper glasses, good service and good food. It’s the only way to go.