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Why do we cringe at the term ‘third class’?

20 October 2013

4:20 PM

20 October 2013

4:20 PM

Alas, it looks like the return to third class travel won’t happen. The papers had got terrifically excited about what seemed like a rolling back of 56 years, when British Rail finally ditched its working class fare. The story was on the back of the privatisation of the East Coast Line from Aberdeen to London, for which it seemed at least one of the bidders had envisaged another tier of fares, though it appears the Department of Transport has been thinking along the same lines for the last year.

But of course it wouldn’t have happened, a return to third class tickets. At least, not described in that dramatically honest and comprehensible way. What we would have got instead would have been a new Budget Fare, a Saver Ticket, an Economy Option, a Value Seat, anything except a bald description which would have made clear what was on offer. We don’t nowadays talk about third-class anything, even if it is the lowest and cheapest of three options: the coy descriptions for supermarkets’ own-brand cheap stuff is a case in point.


In the last half century what we have seen is a radical obfuscation of language, the inexorable advance of management-speak, particularly when it comes to job descriptions. We have in fact come to the point when it seems like an error of taste to describe things as they are, a kind of agonised embarrassment about anything that seems like a linguistic put-down. In this environment where upbeat language is the norm, politicians will never talk about the future when they can talk about going forward. Orwell knew what to make of all this.

I’d have welcomed the chance to ask for a third class ticket, myself, with all its radical class connotations. If we don’t get worked up about the existence of first class carriages with a buffet car inexorably separating the nice, sleek grey seats at the front from the hurly burly of the blue economy seats further down, I really don’t see why we should balk at a pleb class right at the back of the train.

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Show comments
  • ButcombeMan

    An article about nothing.

    The airline world already understands very well, more than two classes of travel and customer relationship.

    It improves choice.

    I would personally never again fly Ryanair, having experienced it once, “Third Class” in aviation terms, if anything is, with truly awful customer relationship management, but, it serves a purpose and allows millions a cheap ticket.

    Let it be.

    EasyJet is just about bearable, for short flights.

    “Full Service” airlines have been forced to compete to some extent with the likes of Easyjet, if not with Ryanair. That is good.

    It is the hang up about the word “Class” that is the British problem indeed disease. It is cheap journalism to write an article perpetuating that though Melanie has a point, we should say the way things are and get over these hang-ups. We would be more at ease as a nation

  • David L Rattigan

    We already have Third Class – all trains north of Birmingham. (Seriously. The difference in quality is shocking.)

  • simmo70


    The Class system has always been there but hidden from
    view.The Draconian measures employed by this Government through the excuse of
    Austeriy is to demean anyone receiving any kind of Welfare Benefit including
    Tax Credit and Pensions.The Bedroom Tax has proved a costly exercise but has
    reached its objective of having put more people dependent on the State and
    disrupted any stabilization of a settled home life .

    We heard about Ethnic Cleansing in places like Bosnia,but
    under the guise of saving money and the introduction of the Bedroom Tax whole
    families have been uprooted from London and been forced to move as far afield
    as the Midlands .Could this be associated with Class reallocation.

    The changes that have happed over the last few years
    steadily and steathily makes one wonder whether we are reintroducing the Class
    System especially when Third Class Rail will be introduced.

    It was last seen in Britain in 1956. While the Government
    insisted that the proposals were intended to pave the way for a class
    equivalent to premium economy on aircraft “it points to a Ryanair model with passengers
    rammed in to creaking cattle trucks with a surcharge for everything from your
    bags to using the lavatories,” said Bob Crow, leader of the RMT Transport


  • Ken

    Doubtless this woman’s expenses allow her to travel first class at any time.

  • Chingfordassociates .

    The anomaly of the old trains having only third and first class carriages goes back to Victorian times. Gladstone wanted the poor to enjoy the the benefits of travel by rail so by law all rail companies had to provide third class carriages alongside the existing first and second class carriages.
    The railway companies hated this so they looked for a way around the legislation. First class carriages were profitable and (by law) they couldn’t not provide third class so they just scrapped the second class carriages. Leaving first and third class.

    • andagain

      Really? I always assumed it was a bit of marketing. Third class sounds so much cheaper than second.

      • mightymark

        WS Gilbert’s “Trial by Jury” Judge describing his years of training as a lawyer says he:

        “soon got tired of third class journeys
        and dinners of bread of water”

        which suggests it was used by impoverished but aspiring folk.

        The judge, it will be recalled, solved his problem thus, the verse continues:

        “So I fell in love with a rich attorney’s
        Elderly ugly daughter”

        and presumably travelled first class thereafter!

  • swatnan

    Pity, all the students and football hooligans could go into 3rd class, and leave the rest of us to travel in peace.

  • BigAl

    Most of the things in this country are 4th class so this is an improvement!

  • Colonel Mustard

    I see that telemachus is still heckling the grown-ups. No pretence even of commenting now. Just continuous spamming harassment of this site.

    More news that the rose-tinted apologist for Stalin can put in his soviet pipe and smoke:-

  • Jimmy R

    The fuss about Third Class Rail Travel disappearing in 1956 is a complete waste of time because it is a load of baloney. For many years prior to that there was no Second Class , only First and Third. All that happened in 1956 was that Third Class was simply renamed Second Class meaning the existing two classes became First and Second instead of First and Third. The only reason for the hysteria over the suggestion of a “Third Class” fare is that, as normal, the Rail Unions simply cannot abide any form of change and yearn for a return to the days when they could ride roughshod over any changes or improvements to the system they did not like.

  • Fergus Pickering

    There has been no third vclass since the war. That designated Third was Second. I’d like to know if any rail buff can tell us when there actually were three classes on the trains.

    • terence patrick hewett

      As a child in 1950 I travelled on 1st, 2nd and 3rd class carriages: the 3rd class carriage of 1950 was superior in space and comfort to the 1st class carriage of today; although some of them were a bit manky after 6 years of wartime troop transport. The 2nd was extremely civilised. The 1st was like travelling in heaven.

  • mrsjosephinehydehartley

    Well they’ll have to provide something for the burgeoning underclass, i suppose. That’ll be everyone who pays cash up front for a ticket – ie with personal privacy, dignity and autonomy and/or without joining some exclusive upper class club.

  • Bonkim

    Don’t care what it is called as long as the fares are cheap.

  • Makroon

    This is 2013, there won’t be a “third class”.
    Although there might be an “economy class”, a “business class” (called “upper class” if that cheeky monkey Branson is involved), and a few “first class” compartments – exclusively for railway senior staff to use, naturally.

  • FrenchNewsonlin

    Your point about the abuse of language is very well made. Much of it has its origins in the twisted and obtuse efforts of the PC brigade to varnish reality, impose thought control and avoid the truth. Pernicious. Viva third class!

  • Blazenka Hudson-trograncic

    When I looked at old rolling stock I thought they got rid of second class, doors only said ‘first’ or ‘third’.
    I used to like proper buffet cars, classless and with non-fixed seats, lovely.
    We want a new ‘Brighton Belle’.

  • Ron Todd

    Third class that would be more seats packed into each carriage no room for luggage toilets that don’t work and a limited choice at the buffet no wait that is virgin 2nd class.

    • Alexsandr

      ask the DfT why they didnt authorise the lengthening of the pendolinos to 12 carriages, and why they left some only 9 long?
      Remember it is the government that specify train services. the TOC’s run the services with the trains supplied to the governments service requirements.

  • Alexsandr

    why do people get upset by this

    why not have a cheaper no frills service at a lower cost?

    we dont say having BA and ryanair on the same route is wrong? why is 3 classes on trains so wrong?

    • Fergus Pickering

      What are frills? Toilets I suppose.

  • Cumberland

    There was First and Third only, no Second.

    • Alexsandr

      depends how far back you go.
      Used to be 3 classes in the 19th century

      • Fergus Pickering

        Well of course there were.

    • salieri

      Yes indeed, at Trinity…

    • plmac

      On a small number of railways, second class lasted into the 1930s

  • Smithersjones2013

    If we don’t get worked up about the existence of first class carriages
    with a buffet car inexorably separating the nice, sleek grey seats at
    the front from the hurly burly of the blue economy seats further down, I
    really don’t see why we should balk at a pleb class right at the back
    of the train.

    Except the vast majority will prefer the pleb class leaving only those remaining in 2nd and 1st class to be sneered at (the wealthy, the pretentious and the narcissistic) to share the 1st and 2nd class seats. its not about who of us is a pleb (i.e. one of us) its about knowing who isn’t………

    • telemachus

      Ask youself what class George Osborne would choose?

      • Alexsandr

        same as millipede i reckon

        • telemachus

          Osborne delights in lauding over the poor and disadvantaged

          • Alexsandr

            while milliband puts the poor into fuel poverty with his windmill taxes. He should hang his head in shame.

            • telemachus

              Do you listen
              20 months of frozen energy charges

          • salieri

            No, you laud, he lords.

            • telemachus

              Must have been that selective school I attended

              • Airey Belvoir

                You actually went to school? Jeez.

            • Icebow

              Why does he bother?

          • Fergus Pickering

            Lording it, fellow.. What kind of a education did you have?

      • Fergus Pickering

        What has that got to do with anything? If someone else was paying for my tiket I would travel first. Who pays for Rad Ed’s ticket pray?

        • Icebow

          He’s heir to a baronetcy, and worth about £40 million, I hear, and has admitted to lacking a common touch. I’m sure none would blame him for using his resources to minimize any chance of an encounter with your replyee.

    • plmac

      I seem to remember a Mitfordian tale about train travel. First class was for the nouveau riche and show offs; second class was for the middle class enjoying a treat and third class was for everyone else including the aristocracy. Or something like that.

      • GeeBee36_6

        R S Surtees, as ever, had the Victorian nouveaux riches down to a tee. He recounts (in ‘Mr Sponger’s Sporting Tour’) the trick of booking a third class ticket for the journey from London to Melton Mowbray (then the epicentre of foxhunting), except for between Melton Mowbray and the preceding stop, for which our intrepid swank forks out for a first class ticket. The idea being that he is seen emerging from a first class carriage on his arrival at Melton. Surtees also includes the sense of disgruntlement when the traveler alights at Melton, only to discover that there is no-one to see him get down fron his carriage, so that the expenditure, even for just the one stop, had been – in his eyes – wasted.

  • Russell

    Why don’t these idiots realise they should be making train travel one class, with everyone getting a comfortable seat, with seat belts, and no standing allowed as that really is a Health & Safety hazard.

    • telemachus

      Not sure folks like you should be sharing with folks like me

      • NedMissingTeeth

        I’m better than you.I have skills.

        • telemachus

          That is the trouble
          Folks like you are elitist and laud it

      • Russell

        They could put ‘folks like you’ and your National Socialist pals in a new cattle class (open wagons) as far as I am concerned. Definitely isolated and kept away from ‘normal’ people. I somehow doubt that the millionaires on the shadow front bench and the Blairs of this world would think they should be in anything other than first class

        • telemachus

          I guess you mean that we are all first class

    • Alexsandr

      the first class tickets pay for most of the train. Look at the difference in prices -especially with the discounted tickets. With no first class the subsidies required would be much higher
      (This is inter-city stuff. Not sure of the economies on london commuter services)

      • Russell

        Erm…A train with a total of 8 carriages one of which is first class and has a couple of MP’s (charging taxpayers for their tickets on expenses) and a couple of businessmen does not equate to paying for the train, bearing in mind the other 7 carriages are packed to the ceilings with commuters (standing room only) paying for quite expensive tickets.
        Let the train companies charge a fair price for one class of tickets without any State(taxpayer) subsidy, as motorists who don’t use trains don’t get subsidised petrol or road tax. The taxpayer has enough to pay with child allowances, child tax credits, education maintenance allowance, job seekers allowance, housing benefits, pension tax credits etc. etc, etc..
        How about giving the PAYE taxpayer who doesn’t claim or receive all these socialist State dependency payments (especially the single taxpayers) a break.
        Let people get more money in their pockets to spend as they wish on cars, trains, buses or cycles!

        • telemachus

          Yes but they do not have more money in their pocket
          To achieve that you know what to do in 18 months

        • Colin

          I took a train from Doncaster to Kings Cross last week. I was sat in First, paid for by me. Sitting across from me, with an entourage was a full on First Class socialist f*ckwit. He had a lapel badge with “Coal not Dole” written on it and another one with some reference to some other socialist wrecking crew. Never mind the irony, this joker was the definition of a living cliche´. You hear about them, but until you actually come across one, it’s hard to understand that people like this actually exist.

          We’re really up against it.

          • Russell

            Meanwhile the BBC and Sky wheel out disgraced Labour MP after MP to give their anti Tory view in the guise of paper reviews (regulars like Tessa Jowell, ‘Lord’ Blair, Jacqui Smith) as well as Abbott, Johnson and others on Andrew Neils politics ‘shows’ giving them more of our money via the BBC honeypot.

            Oh for a Fox news with some anti socialist views to balance the bias.

            • Icebow

              Or better, Sun News Network of Canada. That’s really worth watching.

      • Fergus Pickering

        I would guess that very few first class passengers pay fo theirnown tickets. So who oes? Well, I think that we do.

      • Tom Tom

        There has been NO subsidy on East Coast Main Line since early 1990s

    • Fergus Pickering

      No standing means waiting hours on platforms. Don’t be daft.

      • Russell

        Just wait until a train crash occurs where many people were standing in a carriage….Imagine the carnage with bodies being thrown all over the carriage! If a particular service is popular, the train operator should put on more carriages or more frequent trains.

  • salieri

    For the same reason I always make a point of asking for a second class ticket, instead of a ‘standard’ one, just to annoy members of the Customer Relations Team

    • telemachus

      I am sure they go home spitting feathers

    • Airey Belvoir

      Try asking for a ‘cattle class’ ticket. It annoys them even more.