Taking Amtrak is more convenient than flying. Or is it?

Traveling Amtrak in the Northeast Corridor of the United States can be a blessing compared to the hassles of air travel, and in many cases, it beats flying every time. Amtrak is the forgotten step-child of travel, and is pushed to the side, often in favor of more reliable service such as the US Airways or Delta Shuttle.

While those services are certainly convenient, they come at a price tag, both in monetary value, and productivity.

Is flying better?

Flying from Washington Reagan airport to either La Guardia or JFK takes just about an hour, wheels up to wheels down, depending on the direction and conditions. While you still need to go through security, the Shuttle flights tend to allow boarding right up until departure, and ticket purchases via kiosks at the departures terminal. With an hourly schedule, you’re able to arrive in New York a short while later, though still need to make your way into the city itself, either by subway, railroad or cab. Fares hover between around $200-800 for a round-trip on the sub-500 mile route, though you can save money by flying into JFK (keep in mind that less regional flights fly here, though), and by purchasing well in advance. Onboard amenities include complimentary drinks as well as a paid wifi service if you subscribe.

Check-In and Security: 25 minutes
Boarding: 30 minutes
Flight Time, include taxiing: 1.75 hours
Travel into the city: 45 minutes
Total travel time: 3 hours, 25 minutes

Is train travel better?

Travel on Amtrak’s Acela Express, their “high-speed” service, clocks in at around 2 hours, 45 minutes, door to door, departing Washington Union Station, and arriving at New York Penn Station. Via their regional service, you’re looking at about a 3.25 hour ride. The high-speed service runs between $100-300 each-way, and their regional, slower service can sometimes carry a price tag as low as $30, which you can find several times throughout the year, or on ungodly hour morning departures.

What makes the train better? There’s no security and check-in process. Simply bring your ticket with you on your Smartphone, or print it from a kiosk and you’re good to go. Because bags stay with you, there’s no checked baggage process, and you’re able to board directly from the gate or station platform. Onboard, there’s free wifi so you can stay productive throughout the journey, and also, you have the convenience of using your cell phone.

Check-In and Security: None
Boarding: 20 minutes
Travel Time: 3:20 (assuming regional service train with minor delay)
Travel into the city: None
Total Travel Time: 3:40

Taking the train puts you door to door, right in the center of the city, where flying has many moving parts that could delay your journey at any point, and put you in major traffic. Because trains don’t have to go through an air traffic control process, there are less “on the ground delays,” and if you’re traveling between Washington and New York, Amtrak owns the tracks, and isn’t often delayed by passing freighter trains, which a struggle for points south, and in the majority of the rest of the country.

If staying productive is important to you, you’ll actually find traveling by train better, since you can stay connected throughout the trip for free – which is important to both leisure and business travelers alike. With city center to city center routing, you save the hassle of fighting rush-hour traffic escaping the airport, and the sometimes endless lines at security check-points, sometimes even for passengers lucky enough to have Pre-Check.

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Comments

  1. Greg says

    I am about to take a trip back from DC – and Amtrak is the most reasonable price with a day’s notice. But to be honest, if the price were equal, I would take the flight every time I knew the weather in advance. Reagan and LaGuardia are so convenient and they just feel nicer than dealing with the open seating. I wish Amtrak had assigned seats.

  2. says

    One of the best values it transferring 4000 UR points to Amtrak for a 1 way NE regional ticket. Great value, especially last minute.3-4 cents per point is definitely great! Bear in mind that there are blackout dates.

  3. Ted says

    If you’re looking to save a buck, the bus services between DC and NYC (e.g. MegaBus, BoltBus) can be a good deal as well. Longer travel time (and subject to traffic) and less comfortable surroundings, but you can’t beat the chance to get $1 tickets! Or more realistically, ~$50 round trip, which is still a huge savings over the cash prices for rail or air travel.

  4. Vicente says

    Love Amtrak out West too. Just last week took the Capitol Corridor from my little burg over to Richmond, sat a table and used my laptop while looking out the window. Then connected to BART into downtown San Francisco. Spent a few days at the Amazon Web Summit, walked everywhere, didn’t have to worry about a friggin rental car and OUTRAGEOUS parking fees. It’s so freeing not to have to jump through a bunch of hoops to get where you want to go.

  5. TH says

    Internet on Amtrak is lousy – worse than in the air. Which is puzzling .. but i would not count that as an Amtrak benefit.

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