Tried & Tested

Rail check: Eurostar leisure select

5 Jun 2009 by Mark Caswell

BACKGROUND Eurostar operates up to 10 daily services from London St Pancras International to Brussels, with tickets valid for onward travel to any Belgian station. There are three classes of travel – Standard, Leisure Select and Business Premier – and the journey takes about two hours.

CHECK-IN I arrived at St Pancras International at 0950 for my 1057 departure (I had to check in no later than 30 minutes beforehand). I collected my ticket swiftly at one of a handful machines by inputting my reference number – there was no queue. I then walked to check-in a few minutes away. There were short queues at each of the check-in stations. Feeding my ticket through a barrier, I went through to security, putting my case and coat through the scanning machine – it was a nice novelty not to have to put my toiletries in a plastic bag – and then through immigration. The whole process was very smooth and took about ten minutes.

THE LOUNGE Eurostar’s St Pancras lounge is available only to Business Premier passengers – I was travelling Leisure Select but had been granted access. It was a bright, peaceful facility on two levels with lots of windows and huge lampshades hanging from the ceiling. Comfy brown leather armchairs were arranged in pairs with a table in between and UK and European plug sockets built in. There was also bar-style seating by the dining area. Wifi access was free and there was a wide range of UK and French newspapers and magazines. Refreshments included a good selection of beers, wines and soft drinks, as well as fresh orange juice, a coffee machine, pastries, cereals and fruit. My train was called about 20 minutes before departure. I proceeded to carriage eight, about five minutes’ walk, and was greeted at the door by a friendly member of staff.

THE SEAT The train had 18 carriages – ten Standard, six Leisure Select/Business Premier and two bar buffet carriages. The Leisure Select/Business Premier carriages are the same, with the level of service and the food offering differentiating the classes. Business Premier travellers also enjoy benefits such as flexible ticketing and fast-track check-in. My carriage had 13 rows in a 2-1 layout, a mixture of single rows of seats, and banks of four or two seats with a table in the middle – I was sat in one of the banks of four, in seat 74. All seats have access to overhead storage and have UK and European plug sockets. The trains are not wifi enabled, and I was told this was because the technology is not advanced enough yet – because of the speed the trains travel at, wifi wouldn’t be stable. There was a selection of newspapers and magazines to read. Seats were comfortable and upholstered in grey fabric with an orange cushion headrest. The seat pitch was 95cm/37in and the width 66cm/26in, and there was a recline option. The table in between the seats folded out to twice its size for eating or working.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Business travellers are able to select their seats. The seats in my carriage were numbered 11-78, with a storage area next to the 11 row and toilets by the 78 row, so the better seats are towards the middle of the carriage. The seats with tables are more spacious, and seat numbers ending in a 5, 7 or 8 are forward-facing.

THE SERVICE The train left bang on time and shortly after departure a tray was brought out for brunch with a roll, croissant, yogurt and a Tropicana orange juice. The main meal, a choice of an omelette or a goat’s cheese dish, was supposed to follow directly, but there was a long wait as the oven was broken – staff were helpful and came over to explain the situation. In the meantime I was served coffee and a choice of drink – I had a nice glass of champagne. When my omelette eventually arrived, it was served with mushrooms, a tomato, a sausage and sliced potatoes. I found the portion a little small but tasty. More drinks were also offered, and hot towels brought round afterwards. The journey was smooth, comfortable and arrived into Brussels on time, and it was refreshing not to have to go through immigration at the other end.

VERDICT A highly enjoyable journey that made a pleasant change from air travel. A quick and easy way to get to Brussels for business with good on-board service.

PRICE Online rates for a midweek leisure select return in June started from £160.

CONTACT eurostar.com

Michelle Mannion

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