Avanti West Coast rail line: My nightmare getting a seat to enjoy Glasgow-London trip – Alastair Dalton

I’d heard the nightmare stories about travelling with Avanti West Coast and my own first trip with the troubled train operator at the weekend produced several surprises, both good and bad.

I was keen to opt for rail having not taken the train between Glasgow and London since before Avanti won the franchise from Virgin Trains in 2019.

However, I almost fell at the first hurdle, grappling with its website to book tickets after having to wait until just days before travel for them to become available.

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The only thing that stopped me deciding to fly instead to see my family was that I had told them I would be travelling by train to limit my carbon footprint, having already taken more flights than usual this year.

An Avanti West Coast Pendolino arriving at Glasgow Central. Picture: Avanti West Coast
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Like ScotRail this summer, Avanti’s services are suffering major disruption due to staff not volunteering for overtime, on which its timetable depends, as part of a pay dispute.

But unlike ScotRail, which introduced a reduced timetable that provided more certainty to passengers planning travel and significantly cut short-notice cancellations, Avanti’s shrunken schedule did neither for me.

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It was hugely frustrating not being able to book further in advance, and I ended up having to travel earlier in the morning than I’d planned, while my return journey was cancelled just hours ahead of departure.

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A standard class carriage in one of Avanti West Coast's refurbished Pendolino trains - although most seats aren't around tables. Picture: Avanti West Coast

A further irritation greeted the start of the trip at Glasgow Central when I reached my seat to find the electronic indicator above it stating “Available if unoccupied” rather than confirming my reservation to Euston.

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Avanti later told me this is standard practice because many people don’t sit in their booked seat, but it admitted that shouldn’t have happened until after the train had left Glasgow.

However, I found the seat comfortable and the leg room much better than in an aircraft.

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The 20-year-old Pendolino tilting train was also in good nick, even if it didn’t have up-to-date features such as charging sockets, although these are being added as part of an ongoing fleet refurbishment programme.

But one welcome aspect of the train is a small but important detail – powerful hand dryers in the toilets of the type most of us now expect, but which puts those in far newer ScotRail and LNER trains to shame.

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My return journey was, however, a different story.

Not only was my train back to Glasgow cancelled within hours of departure, blamed on a “short-notice change to the timetable”, but I received no notification, despite having the Avanti app on my phone, which offered no options for reserving a seat on another service either.

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When an Easyjet flight was cancelled on my last trip to London, I was notified and able to rebook on its app in seconds.

Avanti said my train had been “retimed” to accommodate an extra stop, and I should have been notified that my seat reservation was valid at the new departure time.

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However, when I asked its staff at Euston for a new seat more than an hour before the new departure time, they said none could be booked.

My journeys were comfortable, enjoyable and relatively hassle free – once I’d reached my seat.

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It was the stress of getting that far – booking, dealing with a cancellation and Avanti’s poor communication – I could have done without.

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