Amtrak vs Flying: Which Do You Prefer?

For the first time in many years, I took an Amtrak train instead of flying (or driving), and I have a few thoughts to share.

Megan and I were going to Chicago for Thanksgiving, and driving in potentially bad weather just didn’t seem like a great idea, nor did flying over the holidays. So we booked a few seats on Amtrak for half the cost of a single plane ticket.

We arrived at the train station 30 minutes before departure. We started boarding almost immediately, with Amtrak staff guiding couples and families into one car so they could sit next to each other and singles onto other cars (a nice touch, in my opinion, as there were no assigned seats).

A few minutes later, we were on our way to Chicago. A conductor stopped by to check our tickets, after which we moved to different seats due to a really noisy family nearby. Our seats were large, comfy, and there was plenty of leg room. Drinks weren’t served like on an airplane, but it was really easy to bring snacks and drinks on board, and there was a dining car if you wanted more.

The entire train ride was just over 5 hours, including a few unexpected stops and the boarding time.

As you can tell, there’s a lot here that compares favorably to a trip to the airport. Flying itself–the time you’re in the air compared to the distance you travel–is way more efficient. But when I fly, the process of arriving and going through security is extremely inefficient and time-consuming. Plus, I actually felt like I was treated as a human being by Amtrak. I appreciate everything TSA does to keep us safe, but I don’t walk out of an airport security line feeling good.

There are many places I want to travel for which Amtrak isn’t a good fit. But for those places that are, I’m definitely going to take the train in the future.

What has been your experience with taking the train versus flying?


7 Responses to “Amtrak vs Flying: Which Do You Prefer?”

  1. Jake D says:

    My friends and I have talked about taking the Amtrak route from Iowa to Colorado to go skiing one of these years. I’ve never traveled by train in the US but it seems like it would be a lot less stressful. Glad to see you had a pretty great experience!

  2. Emma says:

    We LOVE taking the train, especially to Chicago. There’s also WiFi and outlets! Because freight is still so important to the Midwest economy, there are occasions when passenger travel (Amtrak) gets delayed to defer to freight but that’s not that often and usually minor. I say it only so you don’t plan to take the train directly to a high dollar ticket performance for example 🙂 Otherwise I am a huge fan and, for short trips like that, prefer it for all of the reasons you mentioned!

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      That’s a good point about freight trains! We didn’t run into any of them, but we did stop at some point for small engine issues that took a few minutes to fix.

  3. Damien Lesage says:

    In France the train is way better overall than in the US and I would often take this option to flying (our country is small anyway).
    The other benefit is that it pollutes less if your electricity doesn’t come from coal, which the case in France since we mostly produce with nuclear.
    In the end, it isn’t really cheaper than flying for us but I always prefer the train for domestic travel.

  4. Andrea, London (UK) says:

    It’s great to hear that you enjoyed your train trip. I am a train buff and whenever possible I prefer it over flying for many the reasons you already mentioned. I live in London but I am German and even though a trip is almost double the time (8 hours vs 4-5 incl. going to the airport, checking-in etc.) I always look forward to the ride.
    I enjoy reading on the train but also met intersting people and had some good conversations (especially when sitting in a ompartment for 6, where you’re facing the other passengers). The german railroad also carries a reastaurant waggon where you can have coffee & cake or a meal.
    This summer we went to the english seaside by train a few times and I liked watching the counrtyside passing by. We played cards at one of the quite large tables of the 4 seaters. The only thing missing was the Food Trolley Lady serving butterbear and chocolate frogs.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      I’m glad you mentioned this, because I enjoyed the views from the train so much more than views from airplanes! I can see that being the case even more when taking the train through beautiful areas.

  5. Joseph E. Pilkus III says:

    Jamey,

    Like others, I will expand “Antrak” to define train travel in general. Whether I’m traveling for the government or on personal holiday, if I can do so, I’ll always choose the train option as it’s easier, more civil, and in many cases, takes no longer especially as I live near D.C., so places like Philly, Baltimore, and NYC are not the best locations into which one wants to fly.

    Also, like some other Stonemaier fans who live abroad, when I’m in Europe, to which I travel at least once a year (just came back from Italy), there’s no question about the choice…train travel is, in many ways, the way it was 100 years ago, insofar as as it’s level of comfort and civility. The trains are now simply much, much faster.

    Cheers,
    Joe

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