Premium economy is increasingly a common fixture on airlines, but long distance rail travel has been generally slow to adopt this travel class. One outlier is Eurostar, which has offered premium economy for a number of years. Its Standard Premier product provides more space and some perks for a pricier ticket. On a recent evening trip from Lille, France to London, I discovered that the extra space and comfort is worth the small additional cost.
I connected to Eurostar at Lille Europe, a grandiloquently-named station in the north of France. The station is practical in every sense. Trains leaving Lille crisscross Europe, reaching as far as Barcelona or Edinburgh with one interchange. However, the grey, functional and windswept concourse suggests it is designed to connect you to elsewhere, and not a place in which to linger.
As I had two hours to make my connection, I sat on one of the heated benches and turned my face against the cold wind blowing across the tracks.
One hour before departure, border guards arrived at the kiosk and a queue began to form. The security check was quick, but passport control took a little longer. Twenty minutes later, I was back in the warmth of the Eurostar lounge.
The lounge is basic but comfortable. The walls are adorned with cutouts of various destinations, with Belgium’s Atomium proudly standing next to Big Ben. The Business Premier lounge, which can also be accessed with an Amex platinum card, was closed at the time.
Twenty minutes before departure, the 40-odd passengers boarding the train were invited to descend to the platform. After a 10-minute delay, the train glided into view, and I heaved my luggage onboard and ventured to find my seat.
Standard Premier carriages are designed in a 2-1 configuration, and feature both regular and table seats. It is worth noting that these carriages are also used for Business Premier, Eurostar’s equivalent of business/first class; only the service is differentiated.
I sat at a one-on-one table seat, with the other seat already occupied. Spaces for wheelchair users were also available.
The seats are very large and fairly wide. They recline and even have an extender to make the seat pad larger. All seats have both USB and AC power outlets. While the brown leather finish and headrest looked inviting, I personally didn’t find the seat to be particularly comfortable, as the sculpted back felt quite firm.
Legroom, however, was fine for this 193cm (6’4”) passenger. I had ample room for a laptop on the table.
A few moments after we had left Lille — and after the staff dealt professionally with an intoxicated passenger refusing to wear a mask — the meal service began. I was presented with a cold cheese and leek tart with a sticky date slice for dessert. The meal lacked finesse, but was edible, and was served with a decent white wine.
Once I had finished, I voluntarily cleared my own tray, bringing it back to the galley at the end of the carriage, and settled down for the rest of the journey to London. The crew did a sweep of the carriage shortly thereafter and collected the other trays.
On reflection, I found the Eurostar cabin to be very modern and well appointed, but it was incredibly bright. The clinical lighting felt very antiseptic. I reckon that sleep would have been nearly impossible for me, even with an eye mask.
The furnishings did not necessarily invite relaxation, and the interior lacked the unique touches of the original Eurostar trains, designed by Philippe Starck.
That said, as the train pulled into the cavernous London St Pancras station, I felt relaxed. Being able to sit in a solo seat in a spacious and airy cabin felt like a premium, and is markedly different to the 2+2 standard class configuration onboard.
While these newer trains are not as relaxing as their predecessors, they retain enough of the premium experience, and still keep the convenience of ending your journey in the heart of the city.
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Featured image credited to Fintan Horan-Stear