Sometimes, whether taking Amtrak overnight or just a short trip, Amtrak coach seats can be the best and most economical choice. To help you enjoy your travel aboard Amtrak in coach, here is my list of travel tips and advice for coach passengers.
First, you need to have a reservation to travel with Amtrak. You can do this online, by phone or through a travel agent. I always research my trip on Amtrak.com. Whether I’m booking a coach seat or overnight sleeper, I always call to speak with an Amtrak reservations person.
Only select Acela trains on the east coast offer assigned seating when you make your reservation. All other trains, your seat assignment is completed at the station when you check in or by the conductor when you board your train.
Traveling in an Amtrak Coach Seat
Nothing like at an airport, it is suggested that you arrive at the station about 45 minutes before the expected arrival time. If you plan to check luggage, the cut-off time is 30 minutes before departure, so definitely get to the station an hour before departure.
One of the best things about traveling on Amtrak is that you can almost bring your entire wardrobe. But there are some restrictions.
With coach seats, there’s only overhead storage for small carry-on luggage, same size requirements as the airlines. But if you’re traveling with oversized suitcases, you’ll need to check them at the station. There’s a generous 50 lb. limit for two checked bags, but it’s free!
However, not all stations offer checked baggage, so inquire when you make your reservation. Here’s a list of Amtrak stations that provide baggage handling services.
Be Courteous to Other Coach Passengers
Etiquette is an absolute necessity when traveling in an Amtrak coach seat. Yet easily overlooked. Common sense should prevail, but sometimes not everyone plans ahead.
Earphones are required for all devices. And it’s nice if you keep your personal space tidy. Leave the tuna fish sandwich and dill pickles at home. If you don’t want to visit the café car, pack a picnic lunch and snacks that won’t be offensive to others.
Using the Public Bathrooms in Coach
It’s a public bathroom, so clean up after yourself. It only takes a paper towel to wipe down the splashes around the sink or wherever. Your coach attendant can’t clean up after everyone so be considerate of the next person.
Ladies, if you happen to board the train at the very first or second station on the route, the bathrooms will be very clean. If you need to “go,” visit the restroom earlier rather than later. I guarantee it will be a much nicer experience.
Cozy in Coach Seats on Overnight Trains
If you’re traveling overnight in a coach seat, it helps if you bring a small pillow and blanket. If it helps you to sleep, bring an eye mask and ear plugs. Just don’t miss your station because of ear plugs!
For most coach passengers, a truly good night’s sleep isn’t really possible. It’s lights-out in the coach at 10:00 p.m. Plan your evening accordingly.
Dining Aboard Amtrak When You Have a Coach Seat
Due to recent cutbacks, dining cars on various trains were removed. However, the future of Amtrak is looking brighter and there’s a good chance your train will have a dining car back in service very soon. Unlike when you book a sleeping room, those traveling in coach seats do not receive complimentary meals.
If you’re lucky enough and your train has a dining car, reservations are required for lunch and dinner. A dining car staff member will walk through the coach cars and offer you three dining times to choose. Lunch is usually from 12 until 2:30 and dinner is served around 5:30pm until 8:30pm. Breakfast is open seating.
Dining Car Procedure for All Passengers
Step into the dining car and you must wait to be seated. It’s community seating, four passengers per table.
If you’re traveling with someone, you’ll be seated side-by-side, not across from each other. Remember to tip your waiter, just as you would at a “stationary” restaurant.
There is almost always a Café Car on every train and you can pay with cash or credit card. Lines forms at peak hours, so again, plan ahead. It’s appropriate to leave a tip for the always-busy snack bar attendant. Usually $.50 – $1-2 dollars, again, depending upon the purchase cost.
And you can bring your meal back to your coach seat.
Sometimes the snack bar has to close, usually when passing through a “dry” county or when the attendant takes a meal break. Closings are always announced and advanced warning given.
Arrival and Departure Times – Be Prepared
Ground travel comes with its inherent hiccups. Weather is one of them, especially in winter. Ice storms, blizzards, sudden downpours in the desert, even remnants of hurricanes can cause disruptions.
Then there’s the Big Guys. Except for tracks within the Acela network and the northeast corridor, Amtrak trains are at the mercy of the freight trains. Big railroads like CSX and Burlington Northern own the tracks and have right-of-way privileges over passenger trains. I give Amtrak a 60-minute on-time window before I consider the train to be running late.
When a long delay happens, there’s nothing you can do except sit back in your seat, watch a video on your tablet or iPad, read a book, or get up and visit the lounge or observation car.
Amtrak is prepared for traffic delays and weather-related issues. Until Amtrak can finally own its own tracks, a cool head, calm demeanor and a few snacks and beverages from home will get you through these disruptive situations.
Amtrak Coach Seats for Family Travel
An Amtrak train ride in coach seats can be a fun and interesting experience, especially for families. Kids love it because they can stand up at their seat and stretch. Or stretch out and doze on an empty seat.
INSIDER TIP: There are coach seats on the lower level of Amtrak Superliner trains. Ask an Amtrak reservation agent for one of those if you want a quieter, less crowded area on the train.
If your kids get bored, depending on your route, head to the Observation Car. Boredom is seldom an issue. What kid (or grown-up) doesn’t love trains?
Travel Cheaper in Coach
While overnights in coach can mean a not-so-perfect night’s sleep for some, it’s still the best value for your travel dollar. With lights-out at 10PM, the coach car quiets down and it becomes peaceful and calm. Be sure to pack earphones so you don’t disturb your neighbor.
Save more money when you bring your own food and beverages. Dinner in the dining car for coach passengers isn’t cheap. Though meals are included for those in sleeping accommodations, Amtrak coach passengers can easily pay $25 for a steak, salad and dessert dinner.
I hope these coach tips and advice are helpful. Know what to expect when traveling in an Amtrak coach seat. You’ll save money, see gorgeous scenery and meet interesting people from all walks of life. Enjoy the journey!
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I’m the editor and creator of CruiseMaven.com, a solo traveler cruising the world on waves and wheels. I hope my articles and photos entertain, advise and inspire you to travel the world without flying. Take a breath… stop for a meal and a glass of wine along the way.