Tickets please!

My train this morning was back-to-front.

Having strategically placed myself on the platform at a point where i imagined Coach B would draw up – somewhere towards the front end of the train – i waited, confident that when the train arrived, i could just step up and on and make my way unhurriedly to my reserved seat, before some scoundrel stole it!

How was i to know that the indicator board, stating that ‘First Class accommodation is at the rear of the train’, was blatantly lying? So it was that when the train did arrive i wasn’t the only one to be standing on the platform confused – a whole swathe of passengers bound for cattle class found themselves shuffling apologetically along the first class aisle, en-route to the less salubrious surroundings of the second class carriages, to seating more suited to our station, (sorry… terrible pun!).

Not being a habitual first class passenger, i made the most of the opportunity to check out the delights afforded to the more well-heeled traveller, although to be honest, i wasn’t that impressed and there seemed to be very little to justify the absurd overpricing of the revered first class ticket.

Slightly chunkier, swankier chairs, with a little more legroom, perhaps – although, in crappy class, i was more than happy with the two seats i had all to myself. Certainly, in first class, they had some tatty complementary newspapers, but again, i was perfectly happy with the neatly folded copy of The Metro that some kindly soul had abandoned handily on my seat. Then there were the disposable paper headrest covers, (i hesitate to call them antimacassars), that proudly proclaimed the seats to be ‘First Class’, as opposed to the ones further down the train that embarrassedly proclaimed themselves as ‘First Great Western’. Taking everything into account, i wasn’t blown away, i’m afraid, and although i daresay the first classers also get some sort of attendant service, which i’ve managed to do without all of my rail travelling life, with absolutely no ill-effects, i really don’t think that i’ve missed out!

It struck me that the reality of first class isn’t always what we might imagine it to be in the cold light of day. My local cinema, for example, offers ‘premium’ seats – something that i’m happy not to take advantage of  – quite apart from the fact they’re rather more expensive than the regular seats, they’re just a bit too big for my liking – the arms are too far apart for normal human elbows to rest upon comfortably – and i’ve found that a much better view is afforded from the less expensive seats in the rows behind, which are slightly higher and staggered, so that you don’t get to watch ‘Die Hard with an afro’ thanks to the outrageous hair in front of you. The best bit is that you can usually pick and choose which seat you want, since everybody else in the cinema tends to be crammed into the premium section, leaving you free to spread out!

All too often i fear, first class fails to deliver – in most cases, it’s just a few tacky extras and a thin veneer of fake sophistication, along with the mythical perception that the recipient is being treated in some ‘special’ way, that fully justifies the hike in price.

Sat in my perfectly adequate second class seating, i mused upon the nature of expectations and, in particular, our expectations of sl.

How many of us expect the ultimate in top-notch service and quality, and are then bitterly disappointed when we get mediocre and less-than satisfactory? We seem to make the assumption, for some reason, that we’re entitled to a service that is without glitches, faults or failures – it seems that our expectations are firmly focussed on first class, even though – for the majority of us – in the real world, our experience tells us that most of what we experience will rarely be first class and that it is more likely to be the exception, (often gained at high cost), rather than the rule. Do we really believe that sl should be any different?

Would we nip into our local café for a plate of egg ‘n’ chips and expect 3-star Michelin service and food? – Of  course not! Nor do we expect our mail to be personally delivered on a silk cushion at a time and a place that suits us; and how many of us would expect our ‘phone company to politely screen our calls and weed out all those annoying insurance sales cold callers? – i think not! Yet, we expect all this, and more, when we enter the virtual world. Real life is mediocre, glitchy and far from perfect – why should our second life be any different? In the real world, we may moan about it, but in the main we put up with the inconvenience and accept that it’s the way of the world. In the virtual world, we somehow consider a second class service to be essentially wrong – what’s more, we demand a first class service from what is essentially a second class company: a company no different from the vast majority of other companies we deal with on a daily basis.

i do feel some sympathy with those who pay for premium accounts and expect something more in the way of service, and there’s no disputing that tier is high and the ‘rewards’ for premium members are mostly pretty naff, but even if we’re paying for a first class service, is it our really our expectations, rather than the goods we receive, that are skewed?

Is what sl offers to its first class, premium, customers any worse than train companies and cinemas offer to their first class passengers and patrons? Probably not – at the end of the day, it’s a bit of gloss and a few perks, with one or two special ‘privileges’ thrown in. Worth the money, well that’s for the customer to decide, but it’s the company that calls the shots. If it’s real top class service that you want, then it’s going to cost a heck of a lot more that most are willing to pay… just consider the prices that airlines charge for their first-class tickets – and, even then, is it value for money?

Maybe we should accept that second class is really the most that we can ever really expect, and second class in sl, is better than no sl at all!

s. x

She’s got a ticket to ride,
But she don’t care.
The Beatles – Ticket To Ride

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