Prior to this year’s changeover in the Amtrak Guest Rewards program, I booked myself a speculative ticket on the Southwest Chief train from Chicago to Los Angeles to lock-in lower points under the old rate.
I received an email today from Amtrak highlighting a new boarding process in Chicago, soon to come to other stations. This boarding process is “a la Southwest” for those of you that fly Southwest airlines.
In a nutshell, here’s the process:
- When you arrive at the station, you’ll show your ticket to an Amtrak employee at the ticket counter or gate. They will in turn give you a boarding pass for your train.
- The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll be in the boarding process.
- If you don’t check in, you’ll be one of the last people to board the train.
- This new boarding process doesn’t effect “Hiawatha Service” trains, since those are unreserved.
- If you’re a coach class passenger and want priority boarding, you can purchase a pass or $20 which will include access to a Legacy Club with free snacks and tv, as well as early boarding.
- Seniors age 62 and over, customers with disabilities, families with children 12 and under, and active duty military personnel will board ahead of general boarding, so none of these new procedures effects them.
- If you are traveling in a Sleeping car, Business Class, or are a Select Plus or a Select Executive Amtrak Guest Rewards member, you will be boarded early from the Metropolitan Lounge. The early boarding will only take place from the lounge itself, so you must wait there to take advantage of this.
Think of this almost exactly like Southwest airlines:
- The earlier you check-in, the better, but you can’t check in at home – you can only do so in the station.
- If you want priority boarding, you need to pay for it.
For those interested, here’s the full letter:
Dear Amtrak Customer,
We see you are scheduled to board the train or make a connection in Chicago. To provide our customers with a more convenient experience, we now have a new boarding process at Chicago Union Station. Coach Class customers (except Hiawatha Service customers) boarding or connecting to reserved trains in Chicago should obtain a boarding pass on the day of travel.
When you get to the station, check in with a station employee who will verify your ticket and give you a boarding pass. You will then be directed to the appropriate boarding area to wait for your train. The earlier you check in, the earlier you’ll be in the boarding process. If you don’t check in, you’ll be among the last to board. General boarding for Coach Class customers will take place in the Great Hall. Since Hiawatha Service trains are unreserved, boarding passes are not needed. Hiawatha Service customers can go straight to the North Boarding Lounge to wait for their train.
Coach Class customers who want priority boarding can purchase a $20 pass for the Legacy Club and enjoy free snacks, TV, games plus the benefit of early boarding access. Uniformed military personnel can enjoy the Legacy Club free of charge.
Seniors age 62 and over, customers with disabilities, families with children 12 and under, and active duty military personnel can board from the South Boarding Lounge, ahead of general boarding.
If you are traveling in a Sleeping car, Business Class, or are a Select Plus or a Select Executive Amtrak Guest Rewards member, you will be boarded early from the Metropolitan Lounge. Just make sure to wait in the in the Metropolitan Lounge in order to take advantage of advance boarding.
Passengers should arrive at Chicago Union Station no later than 45 minutes before departure (60 minutes if ticketing, baggage or passenger assistance services are required). Note that the boarding gates will close five minutes before train departure.
We look forward to welcoming you to Chicago Union Station. Thank you for choosing Amtrak.
I can sort of understand why this is necessary, because on longer distance trains, Amtrak usually has to assign seats at the gate or train-side, which does take up some time. That said, there are many short distance trains leaving from Chicago as well that wouldn’t necessarily need this service, however I assume it’s easier to do a blanket policy for the entire station. My understanding is that this new boarding procedure is being tested in Chicago, with a full rollout expected at other major stations, with the exception of Northeast Regional and Acela trains.
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