Cross Country on Amtrak 2-5 Jan 2010 by Trey

When we got to Shelby, Montana, we found that it was a “port” and there were quite a number of tracks and trains and cars. We drove through the town, never seeing an Amtrak sign, but finally finding the station. I parked and went in to get my ticket and find out what I needed to know. The Amtrak agent had that quality of intentionally disregarding you that bordered on surly. She finally gave me my ticket and told me where to go and I went back to the truck to get my stuff. My sister hopped out to use the bathroom before she started back and I found that there was an open router. I checked my email and then Susan and I said goodbye.

The Amtrak agent announced that the train was inbound so I went out to my designated spot to board. While waiting for the train, I chatted with the crew that was boarding at the next spot down. We saw some people run across the tracks to the station and marveled at their stupidity.

When the train came, it was a double-decker, and I was topside. However, when I got to my room, there was already someone in there. I asked her if she was getting off at the next stop. She said no. So I went looking for a conductor to find out where I was going to sleep that night. They finally decided to put me in the crew quarters. They made up one of the rooms for me and there I put my stuff before heading to lunch. I had a nice lunch with a grandmother, her granddaughter, and another older woman. I found out from them that there was going to be a wine and cheese tasting at 3:00 pm. (I think that, outside of the Boston-NYC-DC corridor, Amtrak is the province of retirees, starving artists/students, families, and those who don’t like to fly.) I went to the tasting, tried four wines, tried three cheeses, chatted w/ the girl and the couple who sat with me, and chuckled at my attendant’s description of the cheeses and wines. He didn’t know how to say tannins or what tannins were. I explored a bit of the car and tried to arrange my room to my liking.

I went to dinner and had the spicy meatloaf. The meatloaf was okay, but the sauce was tasty and it made the whole meal quite nice. I got to dinner early, but I wasn’t the first one there. The first was an older woman named Lucy to whom the attendant had taken a liking. She would call her Luuuucy like Ricky Ricardo would say it. The attendant sat me with Lucy and then the woman I had sat with from lunch sat with us as did a girl who was going to Pace (I think), a small liberal arts school. We all had a nice time chatting. The girl and the woman left after they were done, but Lucy and I stayed and chatted some more with the attendant. She had lost her husband a few years earlier and was dating a “prominent citizen” from her town. Eventually we said good night and I went to find my car’s attendant to have my bed made. I found him and he had already prepared my bedding. He just put the two seats down to make the support and then went and got the mattress and laid it down. A roomette is a tight squeeze generally speaking and even more so when the bed is down. But I got ready for bed and slipped under the covers, leaving the blinds open to watch the countryside roll by.

Around 4:00 am I woke up to a crossing bell dinging, being a bit chilly, only the emergency lights working, and the car as quiet as a tomb. I was worried that there had been a change of trains and being a passenger in the crew car, I’d been forgotten. Looking outside, I saw I was in Fargo. I closed the blinds, got dressed, and went looking to see what the situation was. Eventually I heard people stirring, so I knew I wasn’t alone. I found an attendant, but not mine, in the following car. I asked him what was going on. He said that he thought we were “waiting on people,” but the way he said it made me think that he had no clue what was going on. So I asked him for another blanket, went back to my room, got undressed, and back into bed.

Being in the crew quarters, I got to hear a lot of the goings-on, and I eventually heard that they were having trouble with the electrical system. They got it fixed, seemingly, we were off again, and I went back to sleep. I woke up briefly again to the same issue, but I fell back asleep and don’t know where that stop was. I finally woke up to the announcement that the power was out again and that they weren’t going to be able to serve breakfast. Shortly after that, they announced that we were coming into Minneapolis and that they were going to try, once again, to fix the electrical issue, but if they couldn’t we were going to be bused to Chicago. I stayed wrapped up in bed. The blankets were thin, but warm! After a while, they told us to gather our belongings and head into the station. I thought about staying onboard, but decided against it. (I later met a woman who did stay onboard and traveled to Chicago on the train instead of the bus like I did.) I plugged my cell phone up to try and get as much of a charge as I could for the bus trip or possibly getting back on the train.

As it turned out, they put us on buses and they took the people first who were trying to make connections in Chicago, like me. I don’t know how I managed it, but I got a seat to myself on the bus. The driver asked us if we wanted to get something to eat now or later. The loudest of us wanted to go straight to Chicago, but he said he would need to stop to go to the bathroom. (My thought to that was, “Isn’t there a bathroom in the back of the bus?”) He drove about three and a half hours and then stopped at a truck stop for thirty minutes. If we hadn’t stopped, we would have made our connection in Chicago!

The closer we got, the more I checked how close we were, calling Amtrak to get updates. They never knew anything until they knew the train had left w/o us. Once we got to Union Station, I got in line to find out what my options were. The lady behind the counter was pleasant, but not friendly. She put me on train 48, The Lake Shore Limited to NYC and the 8:00 pm Regional to DC. I figured that she would put me in business class on the Regional since I was riding sleeper on the Limited, but I noticed later that she had booked me as coach class. I’d fix that later.

We, the sleeper passengers, were supposed to board at 8:15 pm for the wine and cheese tasting before the 9:00 pm departure. But again, that time came and went w/o an announcement. Finally around 9:00 pm, they announced that there was a problem with the engine that they were working on–it was the cold again. A couple of hours later, they either got it fixed, or they got a new engine, not sure which, but now the dining car wasn’t working and they needed a new dining car.

I called Amtrak (because the attendant working the desk left w/o telling us she was leaving or what the status was) around 12:30 am and the lady I spoke with told me that her computer was saying that we were suppose to leave at 12:30 am. Obviously that wasn’t going to happen. Finally, around 1:15 am, they came to get us. As we were boarding, one of the conductors said that they were still going to have the wine and cheese tasting. I wasn’t feeling especially sleepy, so I went. The guy that was going to give it told me that I could take a plate and a bottle of wine back to my room if I wished. I asked him if there were enough bottles for everyone. He said there weren’t, but he was sure that few were actually going to come to the tasting. So I took a bottle and the cheese, grapes, and crackers back to my room. We pulled out and got about twenty minutes out of the station when, holy mackerel, the engine died. It took awhile, at least an hour, but eventually an engine came along and pushed us back into the station. We sat there for about ten minutes or so when we got a new engine and took off. Originally, we were supposed to get into NYC around 6:00 pm on Monday. After all this, we were going to get into NYC around 5:00 am Tuesday.

We ended up getting into NYC around 3:30 am. The train wasn’t suppose to have served dinner Monday night because we were suppose to get into NYC at 6:00 pm, but since that wasn’t going to happen, they served us dinner. However, they weren’t really ready for it, so there were no vegetables. I ordered a flat iron steak, but got a small piece of a roast. It was tasty and tender, but small and not what I ordered. I also got a double helping of mashed potatoes, I guess because they were out of veggies. My lunch had been nice. I sat with an acting student named Amanda who was half Filipino and half Italian. She and I had a nice chat and a good time. We both got the Angus burger, but she pulled a lot of the breading out of the bun.

When we got into NYC at 3:00 am on Tuesday, I went straight to the Amtrak customer service office. They were waiting for us, but didn’t want to hear my story. They changed my Regional ticket from 8:00 pm Monday night to 4:40 am Tuesday morning and upgraded it to business class. They also gave me a phone number to call and I guess someone on the other end would listen to my story and compensate me. I finally got back into DC around 8:30 am Tuesday morning, around 19 or 20 hours later that I was supposed to get into DC. All in all it was a fun adventure and I would do it again, but not in the winter, unless Amtrak fixes their engines to run in the cold.

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SFO-ATL-TRI on Delta 5 August 2009

DL 1070 SFO-ATL 12:50 pm-8:38 pm Seat 3E 767-300ER
DL 5154 ATL-TRI 9:50 pm-10:58 pm Seat 8B Exit CRJ-200

I arrived SFO around 11:30 am and checked in with the first class/elite agent, since I had a bag and wine to check. And wow, she was not very pleasant. She asked me twice if I was first/elite, as if she did not believe me. I gave her my flight information and passport and she claimed she could not find me on the flight, so I had to give her my confirmation code. Then she rolled her eyes and grumbled about me checking a wine shipper box and having to tag it fragile, although Delta accepts correctly packed special and fragile items at the customer’s own risk. After that unpleasantness was over, I went to the Sky Club outside of security to connect quickly to the Internet. I logged into T-Mobile with my SkyMiles number but the network kept booting me off and redirecting me to the regular T-Mobile login page, although the small login window said I was logged in. That was very frustrating. I gave up after a couple of tries of reconnecting, as I didn’t have much time. I proceeded to the first/elite security line, where I was subjected to a random pat down for no apparent reason, as my computer bag was not searched at all.

Boarding began with specials and passengers w/strollers/young children, then first class via the Breezeway, and then by zone. In first class, we received a full pre-departure beverage service, pillow, blanket, and mini Dasani. We finally departed at 1:31 pm, 41 minutes past scheduled departure. Shortly thereafter, the flight attendant took meal orders. The choices were a reuben sandwich or a green salad w/grilled chicken. The hot towel, beverage, and meal service followed in that order. The salad consisted of grilled chicken, romaine lettuce, cucumber, onion, tomato, olives, feta, red and yellow pepper, and olive oil balsamic vinaigrette dressing. The sides were pre-packaged breadsticks, fresh fruit, and a pre-packaged molasses cookie. For entertainment, I watched “Frasier,” the episode about when Frasier loses the wine club corkmaster election to Niles twice, resigns from the club, then tries his hand at hosting a new radio show, “The Wine Corner,” just to spite Niles. Hilarious! Then I watched “Friends” (The One with the Engagement Picture). After that, I watched an episode of “Law & Order: SVU” that somehow I’d never seen. The flight attendants offered a snack basket and beverage service about and hour and a half before landing. I wrote this trip report and listened to “Sting & The Police: The Best Of…”CD available on the in-flight entertainment system. We landed at Atlanta at 8:31 pm, seven minutes before scheduled arrival.

Upon arriving to Atlanta, I proceeded from the T gates to concourse D for my connection.  I stopped at a recharging station to charge my BlackBerry and made phone calls.  I made my way to the gate just in time for boarding by zone numbers.  We loaded up and were ready to depart, but we took a “volume” delay getting to the runway and waiting in line to take off.  We finally were airborne at 10:35 pm, 45 minutes past scheduled departure.  Although the flight attendant said no beverage service was supposed to be scheduled, she served snacks and ice water due to the delay.  We landed at 11:13 pm, only 15 minutes past scheduled arrival.

Ticket Agent and Sky Club (Non) Internet at SFO – D
Flights – A

TRI-ATL-PHL on Delta 5 May 2009

DL 5326 TRI-ATL 830AM – 948AM Seat 1B CRJ-200
DL 1012 ATL-PHL 1232PM –  235PM Seat 25C Exit MD-88 with Gogo Inflight Internet

Today could have possibly gone differently, but the DL agents at TRI were proactive!  I arrived at TRI and started to check in at the kiosk, when an agent asked me to approach her and told me that she was putting me on a delayed 8:30 am flight to ATL because of low ceilings/weather delays.  She was afraid the 9:50 am would also delay and I might misconnect.  So I rushed through security, hit the restroom, and boarded.  She had assigned me 1B and I had no seatmate, so I was pleased.  We departed the gate at 9:25 am, one hour late, but 20 minutes earlier than my original flight.  The flight attendant was excellent.  Although the flight was scheduled to be 37 minutes en route, she offered a full beverage and snack service.  She was the kind of flight attendant that makes the others look badly!  We arrived ATL about 45 minutes later, around 10:10 am.  And I found out later that my original flight did leave on time and arrived about 20 minutes after my new flight, but I still appreciated the TRI agents proactively trying to prevent misconnects.

I had some extra time to spend in the Delta Sky Club near B10.  That is the small club, but it was a light crowd in the late morning.  I checked delta.com and saw my upgrade changes were absolutely nil.  I ended up being something like number six of 17 with no seats remaining!  I relaxed and ate pretzel mix and had a couple of Bloody Marys.

Boarding began promptly at gate B11, with first class and zone 1, then zone 2, etc.  Although first class was full, coach had 42 empty seats, including the middle seat in my row, so the guy in seat A and I in seat C were able to spread out, which was nice.  And the MD-88 exit row legroom was very good.

We pushed back on time and took off around 1:00 pm for a flight time of approximately 1 hour 25 minutes.  We had a full beverage and snack service in flight, but I had also purchased a sandwich before boarding, because I knew I’d be in coach.

The highlight of my trip today was that I finally got to try out the Gogo Inflight Internet service on my new iPod Touch for $7.95.  It took the iPod a few minutes to connect, but once the connection was made, all I had to do was open the Safari, log into the Gogo account I had set up in advance, and I was off!  I was able to send and receive e-mail, as well as surf the Internet and make posts to a frequent flier forum, Facebook, and Twitter.  Having the Internet made my flight go by so quickly and I felt like I’d accomplished something, too.  I will be a Gogo customer again every time it is offered.

We landed on time around 2:30 pm, but we did have to wait about 5-10 minutes for our gate, A13.

Upon deplaning, I passed through security, to zone 2 ground transportation to catch my shuttle to Dollar for my rental car to New Jersey.  I was nervous at first, because I am not confortable driving in areas with which I am not familiar, but the drive to Toms River was quite pleasant and I had no trouble getting there with Gigi, my Garmin nüvi®.  Once I exited the Philadelphia metro area, the 45-50 minute drive on Route 70 East was very rural and relaxing, until the Toms River area, where I finished my drive in on Route 37 East.

12 Days of Travel: Day 8 (Part 2)

Delta Sky Club
The Delta Sky Club in PHL, although small, really rocks.  Snacks included hummus, crackers, cheese, and olives.  Yum!  And of course, adult beverages and Internet are complimentary for members.  I closed down the club, so I proceeded to Terminal F to the US Airways Club to enjoy the rest of my pass.

US Airways Club Terminal F
The agent who greeted me at the door was very nice and checked on my flight for me, but the US club just can’t stand up to the Delta club.  Snacks included cheese and Cape Cod potato chips (which they no longer have on their planes)! Neither adult beverages or Internet are complimentary, so I had to use my own, paid T-Mobile Hotspot service.  Basically their club is like their first class offering, you get a larger, more comfortable seat and that’s about it.

US 4257 PHL-ROA 8:20-9:55 pm Dash 8-300 Seat 11C Exit
This was a great little flight!  Everyone was boarded in about 15 minutes and we pushed back from the gate about five minutes early.  We were airborne by 8:25 pm, absolutely no line, no waiting at PHL!  The flight attendant provided a full beverage service.  We landed one hour 11 minutes later at 9:36 pm.  Quick, easy, and early, just the way I like it!

Now I am at my home away from home, Roanoke, another night in the Hampton Inn, same exact room as Sunday night!

12 Days of Travel: Day 3

Day 3 began very uneventfully, with breakfast and the final concurrent sessions of my conference at The Hotel Roanoke.  I did win a one-night stay with breakfast for two at the closing session, which was cool. I had lunch at the hotel before departing for the airport, peanut soup and a salmon Caesar salad. Yum!

3 Apr 2009
US 4158 ROA-LGA 4:48-6:45 PM Seat 4C Exit Dash 8-100

The wind in Roanoke had become quite blustery, with wind gusts up to 60 mph, and the weather in New York quite stormy, so I was anticipating some trouble.  And I was right, unfortunately.  The flight was originally delayed until midnight, then gradually easied back to 10:30 pm, 9:10 pm, then finally 8:50 pm.  I completely understood the weather and Air Traffic Control issues before me, but what bothered me was that the original gate agent in Roanoke was very uninformative.  For about three hours, she never made a general announcement in the boarding area, and people kept having to get up and ask her what was going on.  I personally got my updates from flightstats.com, usairways.com, and friends and family who checked other sources of information for me.  Finally another agent arrived and announced that he would update us every 30 minutes and/or if there was a change in the departure time.  Finally!

During my lengthly gate wait, I was thankful I had purchased food and had my computer, because it was a long sit. The Roanoke airport does not have anything past security except restrooms, gates, and a very small café, which closed around 7:30 pm.  The guy working in the café was nice enough to shout out a last call to us before he closed!

We finally boarded around 8:25 pm and after all was said and done, the plane was about half full.  I think some had left to try again tomorrow and some had managed to find other options.  However, US Airways did not transfer any tickets to other carriers when I was there.  All I heard the agent offer were flight options on US Airways the following day.

The wind was so strong when we boarded that the little Dash 8 was rocking at the gate.  We pushed back and were airborne by 6:44 pm, and was the climb out ever rocky!  That was probably one of the most turbulent takeoffs I’ve ever experienced.  Finally we got above the weather where it smoothed out considerably.

The in flight service was surprisingly good for an Express flight.  The flight attendant served us a full, complimentary beverage service, and gave us each three packages of Biscoffs.  I thought US Airways/US Airways Express discontinued free snacks, but apparently there was a stash of Biscoffs on board.  She also gave us each the entire can of our beverage of choice.

Our approach and landing into LaGuardia was also very turbulent and it seemed like the wind was still carrying us as we landed.  But we landed at 10:27 pm, making the total flight time one hour 43 minutes.  All-in-all, not a bad experience.  A nearly four-hour delay was certainly better than what could have been.

Airport Experience/Information Provided to Customers = D
In Flight Experience = A

LGA-TRI: A True “Beth Effect,” 1-2 Mar 2009

DL 1779 LGA – ATL 11:00 am – 1:54 pm seat 27C exit
DL 9857 TLH – ATL 7:00 am – 8:06 am seat 27C exit or 35D
DL 5388 ATL – TRI 10:00 am – 11:13 am seat 3D then 8C exit

On Saturday, I realized this trip would be a challenge due to the winter weather, but Delta had not cancelled my flights or changed my schedule, so I tried to remain positive. The elite phone lines were clogged anyway, so I could not proactively make changes for myself.

The next morning I woke up to one cancellation–my second flight on Sunday from ATL to TRI had been cancelled and I had been proactively rebooked on the next flight.

I arrived at LGA early and checked in with an elite ticket agent so I could inquire about additional options, but there were none. I passed quickly through security thanks to Clear, spent about 30 minutes enjoying the snacks and Internet in the Crown Room Club, and then went to the gate. The flight boarded promptly and pushed back within a few minutes of scheduled departure. We had our obligatory taxi wait at LGA, then took off about 20 minutes past scheduled departure, but were scheduled to arrive on time.

I was in coach and in-flight service included a full beverage and snack service, including beverages and snacks that were either complimentary or for sale. There was also Delta’s short-program in-flight entertainment with ear buds for sale for $2.00.

We started making our approach into ATL, but were turned back due to the weather and problems with ground landing equipment/technology. The pilot announced that we would try to land one more time, but if we were unable, we would be diverted to TLH. We were not allowed to land, so off we went to TLH, another 30 minutes in flight. We landed around 2:16 pm, but remained on the plane for a while until they announced we would be grounded until 7:00 am Monday morning. I deplaned with the other passengers, I stopped to ask the gate agent to make sure I was rebooked on an ATL-TRI flight for Monday, and then I boarded the first hotel shuttle available to the Residence Inn University location, one of our discounted overnight options.

Upon arrival to the hotel, we found out that the hotel was not expecting us, nor were they prepared to offer a discounted rate, but they called the general manager and he approved a rate of $99.00 per night instead of $199.00. The desk clerks quickly checked us in and I spent the rest of the afternoon and evening in my room, trying to relax after a stressful day. The only “perk” from this experience was the opportunity to earn a night’s frequent stay credit and points with Marriott Rewards!

The next morning I got up at 3:45 am and was downstairs by 4:45 am to take my taxi to the airport. Once there, the line started forming and became very long very quickly, as no one was able to use the kiosks to print boarding passes for this flight or any connecting flights. Once I was finally able to speak to an agent, it took him and another agent about 30 minutes to reissue a paper ticket with my new flights and seat assignments. Luckily the security line was not as long!

However, at the gate, there was a minor uproar about seating, as some of us had checked in for the new flight and been assigned different seats and some had just used their old boarding passes. So the decision was made for us to take our original seats, which worked out well, as I had originally had 27C exit row aisle, but had been assigned 35D when my ticket was reissued!

We were about to leave on time at 7:00 am, when the pilot announced we would be taking additional stranded passengers from other cancelled flights, so we departed about an hour late at 8:00 am. We landed at 8:50 am, so I still had plenty of time to make my 10:00 am connection. I proceeded to the concourse C Crown Room Club near gate 36C, as my connection was scheduled to depart C40. I spoke to one of the agents in the club about a better seat assignment and was given 8C exit row aisle instead of 3D window. I enjoyed a quick glass of water, a couple of mini muffins, a packet of Biscoffs, and then went to my gate.

We boarded a little late due to a late-arriving aircraft.  However, we boarded quickly and were ready to depart at 10:10 am when the pilot was alerted to a possible maintenance issue.  The tug driver had noticed that the toe bar looked broken, so the pilot deplaned to check it out, but it was a false alarm. So we pushed back, took a little bit of a typical ATL runway delay, and were airborne at 10:36 am.

I have to say, this was one of the best CRJ rides I have ever had. First of all, I had no seatmate, which is always a plus. Secondly, we had a very funny flight attendant, Jerry, who kept us laughing from boarding until the end of the flight. He also did not give the “due to the short duration” line, but instead, provided us with a full beverage and snack service, just like mainline coach. And after the snacks, he offered us all mints! He was an example of a stellar flight attendant who obviously loves what he does and does not use lame excuses to not do his job.

We arrived at TRI 40 minutes later at 11:16 am, only three minutes past our scheduled departure.

Upon checking my Delta frequent flier account later that day, I noticed that I received full fare Y flight mileage credit and all applicable bonuses for all three of my flights, LGA-ATL (actually TLH), TLH-ATL, and ATL-TRI.

Although I would have preferred to have arrived home on Sunday, I think Delta did a good job of handling the situation and getting me safely home before lunchtime the following day.