Why Amtrak is Better Than Flying

Amtrack photo via Flickr/sbamueller


Flying, as most everyone knows, has become absolutely terrible. We’re forced to trudge through the airport belt-less and shoe-less, grasping our sad little baggies of toiletries like we’re checking in for a short-term prison stay and not, you know, magically flying through the sky. Even after boarding, we suffer a host of indignities: fighting it out for overhead space because of baggage fees, nickel-and-diming over food, and cramming your knees up in your throat because airlines are once again removing leg room. At the rates that Americans continue to get fatter and legroom is consistently dialed back, it’s only a matter of time until we all look like those pigs crammed into disgustingly small cages that the pork industry claims it needs to use in order to make a profit (ie: guarantee the ability of every American family to afford weekly Baconators).

Little surprise, then, that long-troubled Amtrak is absolutely killing it in the Northeast Corridor. Today, Amtrak is responsible for 54 percent of the air/rail trips between New York and Boston—up from 20 percent just 12 years ago—and 75 percent of New York-Washington, D.C., trips. That’s in part due to the success of the fast Acela trains, which are 80 percent full and made a $200-million profit last year. But it’s also due to the fact that Amtrak treats you like a human being and not a walking and talking piece of cargo.

Consider, after all, the joys of taking the train: Instead of getting to the airport two hours before your flight and getting screwed by the absurd price of airport parking, you can actually just board the train a few minutes before it departs and pick your own seat! No one measures the size of your bag or heaves it into the back of the plane! There’s a bar car! There’s free WiFi on many of the trains! You can carry your Costco-sized bottle of Head & Shoulders on board, and no one will stop you! You can even wear a belt and shoes the entire time like an adult!

A couple weekends ago, I took Amtrak’s Downeaster from Boston to Maine. It was delightful, a totally easy trip that took about 2-and-a-half hours and cost $20 for a one-way ticket. The conductor told us funny little stories about each stop on the way. People on the train were actually nice. (Granted, this could have just been the Maine effect, but I’m chalking it up partly to the train-over-plane distinction.) They even sold local craft beer in the bar car, including Shipyard Summer Ale. My friend and I arrived in Portland totally relaxed, slightly buzzed, not stressed out about finding our luggage.

On the way back, I made the mistake of driving from Portland to Boston, and promptly got stuck in traffic on I-95. The lesson: We should have taken the train.