Tried & Tested

Rail review: LNER first class

2 Nov 2023 by Hannah Brandler
LNER Azuma train


LNER’s Azuma trains were rolled out in 2019, with a fleet of 65 new trains replacing the former 45 trains on the East Coast route, and travel between London, Leeds, York, Newcastle, and Edinburgh.

The trains are more accessible than LNER’s previous fleet, with faster, free wifi, plug sockets at every seat and an average of 100 more seats on every train. The trains are a diesel-electric hybrid and built by Japanese firm Hitachi’s UK manufacturing team in the northeast of England using lightweight materials, making them more environmentally friendly.

The Azuma trains have three different layouts, so there may be five, nine and ten coaches depending on your train. All of these trains, however, have two classes of travel (standard and first class).

This is a review of a nine-coach London King’s Cross-Edinburgh Waverly service, which stops en route at Peterborough, York, Darlington, Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed. While I am reviewing the first class coach, I have provided comments on the offering in standard too as I used this to travel back to London.

A quick note on the booking process – when you choose a date, the website has three options at the top, “go cheaper”, “go classier” or “go faster”, with a different price for each one. This can be a helpful way to speed up your choice, if you know that you want the fastest route for instance.

First impressions

I arrived at King’s Cross at 0830 for my 0900 departure, as I wanted to experience the lounge ahead of my journey. The station was not too crowded – thankfully I missed the chaos that occurred the week before during storm Babet.

LNER has first class lounges at Edinburgh Waverly, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Darlington, Newcastle, Leeds, Wakefield Westgate, Doncaster, London King’s Cross and York.

The London outpost is located in the main concourse next to the Little Waitrose, and open daily (0700-2125 Mon-Fri; 0800-2015 Sat; 0900-2015 Sun). A lift takes you to the first floor and you must scan your ticket to gain entry.

As you enter there are fridges stacked with still and sparkling Harrogate bottled water, along with a central pantry area with savoury snacks (crisps and crackers), jugs of orange juice, lots of tea options and coffee machines. There’s a sign stating that the food on offer is for consumption within the lounge only, and that guests shouldn’t take products with them. Guests can also order food by scanning the QR code at the various tables – though this is not complimentary.

It’s a sizeable lounge with seating on either side of the pantry area – tables, stools and sofas – plus long communal tables and high-top bars at the back right, which are better suited for working. There are two departure boards, live news is broadcast on a flatscreen TV, and there are various plug sockets for charging devices.

The additional benefit with the lounge is that you have speedy access to the platforms. Instead of taking the lift back downstairs and going via the main concourse, the exit takes you to ticket gates and a bridge passing over the platforms. My train was departing from platform 0 at the end of the bridge, and there was an escalator and lifts to reach the platform.

LNER first class (provided by LNER)


My train was called approximately 20 minutes before departure and the boarding process was very easy. The first class cabins are located in coaches L, M and half of K, located at the back of the train. I boarded from the far-end of the carriage and stowed my luggage in the bag racks at the end of the carriage – smaller bags and bagpacks can be stored overhead or by your feet.

As people took their seats, staff reminded travellers to check their tickets – super off-peak tickets were not permitted on this journey. There are display lights above the seat which detail reservations using a traffic light system: red for reserved, amber for reservation later in the journey, and green for availability throughout the journey.

Passengers’ tickets were checked approximately five minutes after we departed King’s Cross, and then the F&B service began.

LNER Azuma reservations (image: Hannah Brandler)

The seat

The first class cabins have a 1-2 configuration, with four seats at a table (some rows have just two seats next to each other and do not face other passengers – see seat map) and then single seats across the aisle. Standard class, by comparison, has a 2-2 configuration.

The seats in first class are wider than those in standard class and feature a smarter plum-coloured décor (as opposed to bright red), with added legroom, the option to recline and a larger table which is well-designed for a laptop and can be lifted up and down. The table in standard class, by comparison, is much smaller and less sturdy, with metal rods to extend it so you can fit your laptop.

LNER Azura seat map first class

My seat L13 was a forward-facing single seat and felt very private, with plenty of room to manoeuvre. There’s also a peg on the right-hand side for your coat, and my seat had armrests on both sides.

There are power outlets at every seat, with both USB charging and a plug socket, and these were well-located to the right of my seat so my charger didn’t get in my way.

First class was very busy during my Tuesday morning journey, with most seats occupied, but it was rather quiet as lots of people were working.

There is an accessible toilet between coaches L and M, which was clean throughout the journey, and a toilet between coaches L and K.

LNER Azuma first class seat (image: Hannah Brandler)

Food and drink

First class passengers are offered a complimentary meal during their journey, with Brunch, Deli, Dish, and Dine menus on offer depending on the time of your train – you will be notified on the website/LNER app when you have booked your ticket.

Deli features sandwiches, salads and a breakfast selection; Dish includes more substantial cold options for lunch and hot dishes for dinner; and Dine has chef-prepared hot dishes and the popular ‘Full LNER’ breakfast.

It seems odd that the Brunch menu does not feature LNER’s full English/vegetarian breakfast, but there are plenty of other options, including vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options – examples include THIS plant-based sausage sandwich, and gluten-free apple and sultana overnight oats. LNER sources produce from local suppliers along the East Coast route and highlights this within its menus.

Our tables were laid with a mat just before departure, along with a physical menu. Within five minutes of departing King’s Cross, passengers were offered tea, coffee, water (both still and sparkling) and orange juice.

LNER Azuma first class dining (image: Hannah Brandler)

I opted for a mug of Earl Grey tea, provided by Edinburgh company Brodies, which was served with a teabag holder. Shortly after serving drinks, the friendly staff took passengers’ food orders and also provided either a small gluten-free and vegan fruit flapjack, produced in the Yorkshire Dales, or a piece of fruit (banana or apple).

I enjoyed a tasty frittata, served with cannellini beans in a tomato sauce, which featured Yorkshire-made Henderson’s relish. Dessert was offered an hour into the journey (at around 1000) and consisted of a raspberry pot made by Newcastle-based Beckleberry’s.

Drinks were offered again throughout the service, and from 11am you could also order alcoholic beverages such as wine and beer – it was still a little early for me though so I opted for a Pepsi (there’s no Coca Cola products I’m afraid). Snacks were also provided throughout the journey and I had a lovely bite-sized gluten-free brownie from Beckleberry’s, but Fairfield crisps were also on offer.

Our menus were collected at 1210, and those who had not yet ordered (perhaps because they joined later on) had the chance to get a meal before arriving at Edinburgh.

Standard class passengers, by comparison, can order and pay for food, drinks and snacks from their seat by scanning a QR code. There’s also a ‘Let’s Eat Café Bar’ in one of the carriages should you prefer to pick it up yourself.

LNER London-Edinburgh views (Hannah Brandler photo)

The journey

The trip went very quickly and was largely smooth, though I found it a little tricky to drink my tea at various points as it was quite shaky. Thankfully my stable hand stopped any spillages (and burns).

I was impressed with the wifi onboard which was quite strong throughout the journey, meaning that I could get plenty of work done and also message my colleagues and remain part of team chats.

The journey itself is also beautiful, especially if you have a window seat, with scenic views of rolling hills dotted with sheep, autumnal leaves and atmospheric drizzly grey skies as we approached Newcastle.

Views from LNER Azuma train (photo: Hannah Brandler)


The journey felt shorter than four and a half hours, with the last stretch from Berwick-upon-Tweed offering beautiful views of the cliffs and sea beyond. The train manager made an announcement as we crossed the border into Scotland at 1245, which was a lovely touch, and we arrived into Edinburgh Waverly with views of the city’s historic castle on the approach at 1328 – around eight minutes’ late.

Edinburgh Waverly Station (image: Hannah Brandler)


LNER provides a faff-free way to travel from London to Edinburgh, provided that your trip doesn’t coincide with strikes or adverse weather. I see no reason to travel by plane for such a route, with rail offering an eco-friendly alternative that also seems to be far simpler as you’re avoiding travel to/from the airport, queues for check-in and security and potential delays.

First class is ideal for business travellers thanks to well-located plug sockets, fast wifi and private-style seats for a peaceful journey. I managed to get plenty of work done during my journey, and was impressed with the dining service and friendly staff. The wifi on my return journey in standard class, however, was spottier and less reliable.

It’s also worth noting that the rail provider has a free-to-join loyalty programme, LNER Perks, which promises 2 per cent credit for every £1 spent, a £5 credit when you join, monthly competitions and various partner offers – including ten per cent off food onboard in Standard class.


  • Best for: a speedy, sustainable trip to Scotland
  • Seat configuration: 2-1
  • Price: Internet rates for a midweek advance single first class fare from London Kings Cross to Edinburgh Waverly in November started from £154.30.
  • Contact:
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