I’m going to do a rare but unapologetic plug for a company that is not sponsoring YAPC: Amtrak. About a month ago I mentioned that Amtrak is a viable means of travel for YAPC::NA 2012. However, I didn’t mention how absolutely awesome it is. I’ve used it for a few trips recently, and I’m a complete convert from air travel.
Here are the benefits of traveling via Amtrak that immediately come to mind over any airline that you might pick:
- The seats are just two across and are wide. You’ll not only not be stuck between two people (the dreaded middle seat), but you’ll be swimming in all the room it provides.
- The seats tilt back about 45 or 50 degrees, unlike the 10-15 degrees you get on a plane.
- I’m a tall guy, and my knees always hit the seat in front of me on a plane, even when the person in front of me doesn’t tilt their seat back. However, on the train I have at least 1.5 feet of space in front of my knees, and still plenty even if the person in front of me tilts their seat all the way back.
- You can get up and walk around during the entire trip, and nobody will ever tell you to return to your seat and fasten your seatbelt.
- Every seat comes with two AC power outlets.
- Half the time the trains are half empty, so you can usually have an empty seat next to you.
- You can keep all of your luggage with you or check it, but bag size doesn’t matter either way.
- You don’t need to be at the train station two hours early. In fact, when I travelled back to Madison from New York, I arrived at Penn Station 15 minutes before the train departed, and was on the train within 5 minutes of my arrival. Granted, most of the time you should be there a little early in case you get lost or there are schedule changes, but no more 2 hour wait and miles of security checks.
- There’s always a cafeteria, and usually a restaurant car and a bar car.
- There’s always an observation car where the walls of the car have been replaced with plexiglass from floor to ceiling and the seats are facing outward. And on some lines they serve free coffee and newspapers if you just want to sit back and relax.
- Amtrak is starting to equip all their trains with Wifi now. However, I bring my Mifi along with me and have never had a connectivity problem.
- Tickets are usually 20-40% cheaper than airfare.
- The bathrooms are 25-30% larger than plane bathrooms, and there are a lot more of them so you never have to wait.
- Parking at most train stations is free (check in advance for each station).
- Amtrak serves more cities than there are airports, however, some regions of the country are devoid of Amtrak lines.
There are of course a couple of downsides by traveling with Amtrak over planes.
- It certainly takes longer to get where you are going. However, if you’re like me and can work from anywhere (telecommute), time is irrelevant.
- Amtrak’s web site is horrible if you have to do multiple connecting trains who’s schedules don’t line up perfectly.
- There’s generally only one train arrival / departure for a given city per day.
Overall travel via Amtrak is lightyears ahead of air travel. If you can afford the extra time, and there’s a stop within driving distance of you, then do yourself a favor and try it out.