There seems to be a lot of split feelings towards Virgin Trains losing their West Coast franchise yesterday. I for one will sorry to see them go.
Now I have a very narrow experience of travelling by Virgin. In the past 5 years I have used them once or twice a year and generally I travel off-peak and buy my tickets well in advance. I must admit I also travel first class because the service has been great. In the times that I have travelled with Virgin, I have never once experienced a problem.
The Virgin experience is not reciprocated elsewhere on the train network. I have recently booked tickets (first class advance) for Edinburgh travelling using East Coast Trains. East Coast Trains have only just, within the last year, provided a full complementary menu to its first class customers. And as of yet, they do not allow first advance ticket holders to use their First Class Lounges, unlike Virgin.
Looking on First Great Western website, I can see where they may well end up making the savings they need to make in order to cover their commitments to the Department of Transport. The complimentary food is often less than Virgin offers and you have to pay extra by ordering from 'Express Café'. Also they do not have anyone providing food and drink at weekends. Instead the customers have to travel to the cafe to pick up their complementary food and drinks.
So on the whole Virgin, to me as a non-regular first class advance ticket traveller, seems to offer a service better than their competitors. But like most things, only time will tell.