Friday, May 10, 2019

Travelling in VIA Business Class

VIA's Business Class is marketed as a step up from economy class. Boosting productivity and encouraging relaxation. There's at-seat meal and alcoholic beverage service,  access to Business Class lounges at larger stations with non-alcoholic hot and cold beverage choices and complimentary newspapers and magazines - perks for this extra-fare class of service. Not all Business Class passengers would appreciate the louder whistling that having the Business Class car directly behind the locomotive provides, but I do.

Having the opportunity to travel by Business Class between Kingston and Toronto on several occasions over the last few years, I've enjoyed the perks that this level of service offers. Especially with VIA's conversion of Business Class cars to 2+1 seating and refurbishing of the cars that began in late-2013. The change from 2+2 to 2+1 seating provided a roomier, more comfortable atmosphere.
Many passengers use the seat-tray tables for work (above - April 2018), laptop use or a convenient place to put their stuff (in my case, notepad, camera, railway-related reading material!) but VIA received feedback that the unhurried at-seat meal service was impinging on passengers' use of tables.  As a result, VIA reduced the numbers of steps in the meal service, thereby keeping the aisle clear of trolleys for more of the trip. On a couple of eastbound trips, I made note of the multiple steps in the meal service sequence.
In September 2014, aboard VIA No 48 (6413-3475-3332-3365-3336) I was in single-seat 5S of 3475 (seen newly-refurbished at Brockville in August, 2013 - above). At Oshawa, the drink cart finally reached me, having started at the back of the car. A cold Canadian was accompanied by a hot towel. The most popular alcoholic drink choice is always the Caesar! I did try this once and though it comes in a large plastic glass, like beer, I haven't tried it since. Previously larger and thicker and wrapped in a knotted plastic bag, the hot towel was smaller, thinner and in a tearable crinkly plastic pouch. Still a nice touch. Also provided was a small snack mix pouch.

Also previously, a crew member would have made a separate trip down the aisle with a tray of two different varieties of snack mix, often for waiting for indecisive passengers to try to choose one. This discriminatingly decisive passenger would simply take one of each - one for me and one for my wife, later. At Clarke, refuse from tray tables was collected. At Port Hope, meal service started from the front of the car. The meal choices were announced over the car's public address system. Previously, this was done by distributing several detailed paper copies of the menu, then noting passengers' choices on a notepad when tickets were collected. Now, most passengers don't hear the unusually inaudible bilingual choices, ask questions and are still indecisive. 

Some regular passengers with Preference Premier status have their choices guaranteed and have their meal choices taken early. Often, though not as often as before, meal choices evaporate by the time the cart reaches the middle of the car. Hope you like pasta! Choices are usually threefold: meat/fish/meatless. In September 2014, the beef was gone (always popular), with seafood brochette and pasta choices still remaining. Canadian red and white wine is served with dinner. Another round of wine and coffee was served at Trenton Junction. Previously, a cold appetizer was served with choice of bread. The appetizer and dessert all appeared on the tray together, again saving a trip down the aisle and compressing the service schedule significantly. Closer to Kingston, a digestif was offered - brandy, cognac or Irish cream were popular choices.

November 2015: In the absence of a warm fish dish (cold tuna just didn't cut it) the pork medallions, potatoes, vegetable and salad with white roll and maple bar, plus white wine was a close second!
In November 2016, also aboard VIA No 48 (916-3469-3304-3307-3369-3369-909) the consist was now 50/50. That is, a P42 at each end, and all the cars including 3469 in which I occupied seat 10S, bidirectional with almost all seats within a car facing centre. Ironically, this is the same seating pattern that the LRC coaches had been delivered with! Tickets (more accurately, passenger-printed emails with a QR code or simply a quick scan of the email displayed on a passenger's electronic device) were 'taken' upon departure. Bar service started at Guildwood, along with snacks. Pickering saw the distribution of warm towels. The entree/appetizer/dessert tray was served from the trolley at Port Hope. On this trip, the choices were beef tenderloin with mashed potatoes (the French announcement put it as 'puree de pommes de terre' which of course sounds much nicer than 'mashed potatoes', pan-fried cod with broccoli (not sure where the pan was kept or used) or lasagna with zucchini. 

More wine and coffee were offered east of Cobourg. At Trenton, a tray of pre-packaged chocolates of two varieties was brought around, and glasses of water offered at Belleville. Previously, the chocolates were not wrapped, arranged on a tray, allowing for yet more passenger indecision. If lucky, or passenger load being light, a trip back down the aisle rewarded lucky passengers with a second round of chocolates! The liqueur cart trip must have come east of Kingston this night. A votre sante - a bientot!

In April 2019, I revelled in one last Business Class junket. With the early morning-departure, late-evening return of VIA Nos 651/650, it's now possible to have breakfast in Business Class. Perhaps an omelette or breakfast wrap, cold cheese tray and that amazing Business Class coffee. The fish selection is also always amazing - a big portion and nicely-spiced. The olive bread is my pain-preference. My next Corridor travel will be in Economy, but I will gaze longingly through the vertical, slit-shaped LRC end-door toward the well-irrigated Business Class junketeers!

Running extra...

Just off the train and hot off the press - an enjoyable read here on Tim's Train Travels blog by Tim Hayman. I had the pleasure of meeting Tim in person in August 2017. He was headed west on a VIA trip and picked up his copy of Trackside with VIA - Research and Recollections.

Train orders, retirement, Kerrobert and the TH&B. Confused?

Cynthia Garneau is VIA's new CEO. Check out this farewell video from outgoing CEO Yves Desjardins-Siciliano. Kingston platform at 3:00 and 3:38 marks in the video!
I've seen a lot of questionable military loads on model railways, but the Russian military had a really eclectic trophy train to publicize their Syrian campaign (above). CBC's Chris Brown filed an interesting news report on the whats, hows and whys of this interesting train.
This week's book purchases:
Sous-vide cookbook. (That's French for under-empty)*
Mini-pot cookbook. (That's legal now)*
Rather Outspoken - My Life in the News by Dan Rather
Dig WW2 - Rediscovering the Great Wartime Battles
*for the spousal bookshelf

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