With others seated around you, it’s important to be a good neighbor.
For short journeys or budget-conscious travelers, coach is your least expensive option. You’ll need to make a reservation with Amtrak, but the conductor will assign your seat to you.
Etiquette is an absolute necessity when traveling in coach. Earphones are required for all devices and it’s nice if you keep you’re your personal space tidy. And leave the tuna fish sandwich and dill pickles at home.
Using the public bathrooms.
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.
Bringing your luggage with you.
There’s only overhead storage for small carry-on luggage. If you’re traveling with a lot of oversized bags, you’ll need to check them at the station. There’s a 50 lb. limit for checked bags, but heck, it’s free! However, not all stations offer checked baggage, so inquire when you make your reservation. For a list of stations that provide baggage handling services, click here.
Comfort in coach on overnight trains.
If it’s an overnight coach ride, bring a small pillow and blanket to help ensure that you’ll get some sleep. It’s lights-out in the coach at 10:00 p.m. Plan your evening accordingly.
The dining car is usually in the middle of the train. Same for the Café car. For lunch and dinner, the 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.
Step into the dining car and 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 snack bar available. 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. Sometimes the snack bar has to close, usually when passing through a “dry” county or when the attendant takes a meal break. Closing are always announced and advanced warning given.
Arrival and departure times.
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.
An Amtrak train ride in coach can be a fun and interesting experience. Kids love it because they can stand up at their seat and stretch. Or stretch out and doze on an empty seat. And what kid doesn’t love trains?
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. For a daylight trip, pack a meal, bring snacks and treats for kids and take an excursion to the observation or lounge car.
Know what to expect when traveling in an Amtrak coach seat and you’ll enjoy the journey even more.
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