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Passenger Trains > trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/448


Date: 05/23/23 05:32
trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/448
Author: austrobelge

Hello everyone,

since my boyhood days (I will be 60 in a couple of weeks) my dream has been to travel across the U.S. by train. A few days before Christmas I bought the tickets: LAX to BOS with the SWC and the LSL (Boston section after Albany) in a roomette for USD 956 altogether - USD 315 as "railfare" and USD 641 "Roomette" (which actually is rometteS of course since there are two trains).

Some 26 hours before departing on the SWC at LAX I got an email by Amtrak's Customer Service  stating "Involuntary Downgrade" in the subject line and with the text "This email is advising you of an equipment change for reservation number XXXXXX" (I replace the real number here). "This involuntary downgrade placed you in coach seating and the difference was refunded to your credit card."

Too bad. I still hoped it might have been for the shorter trip on the LSL #48/448 but it became quickly clear it was for the SWC #4. Almost 48 hours in coach wasn't what I was dreaming of. When I got their email I had just boarded a flight and doors had closed. When we started taxiing I decided not to call the customeer service and wait in the line for an eternity but rather check whether there weren't really any beds available.

After booking in December I had felt on the safe side however, since I was booked in car 4(30) and I understood that was the car next to the diner that would be a safer bet than car #31 which would be right behind the engines and might sometimes not be there.

So, while sitting on the plane, I started a booking process on the Amtrak App for LAX CHI and, to my surprise, it showed a "last one" roomette available for a bit over 1,000 USD. I don't know whether "last one" referred to the price or to the overall availablity of a roomette but I clicked on "book" just when we entered the runway. I entered my credit card details and got immediate confirmation. I got a downstairs roomette in car #31 (or #431 for that matter). 

The follwing day, at LAX at the platform, again to my surprise, I see that both cars, #430 and #431 were actually part of the consist and not one deadheading. I asked the Sleeping Car Attendant of car #30 - which turned out to be the one right behind the engines and which would have been the one I was initially booked into - what the reason for the downgrading was and she said that on the car actually running the number of available roomettes was lower than on the one that had been planned to be part of the consist (some Trans Dorm vs. "normal" sleeper thing).

What I find disappointing here is not so much the equipment change, which can happen, but rather the fact that Amtrak didn't "automatically" rebook me into the other car where beds were still available. I ignore whether a booking software just does this downgrade or whether a real person is behind that ... but I find it frustrating, whatever or whoever is at its origins. A real person could check whether there were beds available in another car and a software could be programmed in that way.

So much for the unpleasant part. (I will see at the end of the month when I get my monthly credit card statement how much the refund actually is, but it is sure that I will have lost a lot of money, since I paid way more for the "last minute" booking for LAX CHI than for the whole trip LAX CHI BOS.)

The trip as such went very smoothly. No big surprises after having read some trip reports before: nice L.A.-based crew in the sleepers and in the diner (they were all fresh obviously since theiy only started their tour). Food was good ("traditional dining") and they even made announcements for passengers in coach for ever meal that there were places available. The diner never filled up completely. (Prices might be prohibitive.) We were running around 90 minutes late after the first night, so we had sunlight from Flagstaff to La Junta. I spent quite some time at the very rear of the train, looking out of the vestibule window of the last (coach) car. Very nice views as we climbed Glorieta Pass and passed by Wagon Mound, with the very last semaphore signals still standing tall there.

Delay increased the following day as we had to wait at Ft. Madison for the Mississippi bridge to open. 

I got off the train at Naperville, the last stop before CHI, since I wanted to travel on a "Gallery Car" of a Chicago area commuter - something we don't have here in Europe. I split this trip along the "Chicago Racetrack" into two, getting of at Western Springs for some pictures of westbound commuters (it was early evening). It was heartening to witness how friendly the ticket inspector on the first and the conductor of the second train were. They were extremely kind. I was able to take "cab-ride type" pictures through the window of the leading cab car when we drove into CHI. The conductor even told me which stretch of the line was particularly interesting. 

I came into CHI two hours before #48, the LSL, would depart: enough time to settle down at the Metropolitan Lounge and to buy some food at the food court. 

The 20 hours on the LSL were much less pleasant than the 46 or so on the SWC, but I somewhat knew what I had to expect. The staff was something between "quite okay" and "really unpleasant". The air-condition never worked on the "Boston Sleeper" and I spent most of the day in the "Boston portion" Café Car. (It was unbearably hot in the Sleeper.) The consist was as expected (Viewliner II for Boston, which seems to be the new normal, but just one - Viewliner I - for New York). The sleeping car attendant asked me (I think it was right after boarding at CHI before I went to bed, or possibly in the morning, I am not sure) what I wanted to have for lunch and dinner. (Dinner would be served after the splitting of the train at Albany.) I ordered chicken for lunch and pasta for dinner. Before Albany the food (which we, "Bostoners", were asked to eat in the "New York" Diner - a Viewliner diner) was at least nicely presented: the plastic film on top of the microwaved dish for the main course was gone and it was all presented on a sort of tray with holders for the (starter) salad and the "napkin-cutlery-combo". The quality of the food was as expected - eatable (or is it edible in English?) if you are hungry. Dinner - in the "Boston Cafe Car" (which I had ordered many hours before) turned out to be particularly frustrating: it was again chicken (which I already had for lunch) and not the pasta ordered. It seems they didn't transfer the right meal from the "New York Diner" to the "Boston Cafe Car" before Albany. The presentation was terrible this time: the plastic film on top of the plastic plate with the main course was just half lifted and the whole thing was literally thrown in front of me, placed in an Amtrak take-away paper box. 

We arrived a little early in BOS and I was happy to detrain ... .

The following day a made a round trip from Boston to New York and back: southwards (or is it westbound ...) on the first Acela service of the day and back, from Grand Central, on a commuter train with a visit to the lovely Danbury Railway Museum thrown in.

The next day I flew back from Boston to Europe on "daytime flight" - which is the option I prefer. (I find eastbound redeye flights terrible if you travel in coach.)

All in all an 
unforgettable experience. No mayor disruptions - and I met a lot of very nice people.

Take care and safe travels everyone.

Andreas



Date: 05/23/23 06:14
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: steve4031

I enjoyed the trip report.  I am glad you were able to get a sleeper from LAX to Chi.  Bad show on Amtrak's part to not move you to the roomette in the 431 car.  



Date: 05/23/23 06:15
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Hou74-76

The last minute downgrading sounds like an organized scam on part of Amtrak.  Its called bait & switch.  It is something I fear too.  You purchase a ticket at a good price in advance and then they cancel and let you pay more when you cannot make an easy change.  In my sole opinion this is fraud and criminal.  



Date: 05/23/23 06:23
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: lordsigma

I would try to contact customer relations about this incident and see if you can get the fare difference refunded or a voucher. The only other possibility is that there wasn’t open space when they first downgraded you and they got a last minute cancellation - but it sounds like you checked fairly quickly after the notice so it may have been an f’ up on their part. Last minute cancellations do happen - I managed to find a roomette for someone once who was in coach on a train that had already departed the initial terminal and when we first looked there was no availability.



Edited 2 time(s). Last edit at 05/23/23 06:31 by lordsigma.



Date: 05/23/23 06:35
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: UP951West

I'm glad you had a good trip across the US and that you met some nice Americans.
May I suggest riding LA northbound to Seattle  on the "Coast Starlight," and  Seattle eastbound to Chicago  on the Empire Builder.  Another scenic trip is Denver to Salt Lake City westbound on the California Zephyr.  Best wishes for your next trip to our country.  



Date: 05/23/23 06:51
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: robj

I think it is interesting someone from Europe has all this specific Amtrak knowledge.

Great report.

Bob

Posted from Android



Date: 05/23/23 07:12
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: longliveSP

Hou74-76 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> The last minute downgrading sounds like an
> organized scam on part of Amtrak.  Its called
> bait & switch.  It is something I fear too.  You
> purchase a ticket at a good price in advance and
> then they cancel and let you pay more when you
> cannot make an easy change.  In my sole opinion
> this is fraud and criminal.  

Why yes of course, an equipment change was planned and scheduled to happen so as to scam and commit fraud.

You should be happy that being stupid and ignorant is not criminal. Otherwise if they were, the police would be knocking on your door.



Date: 05/23/23 07:38
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: CP8888

Thanks for the interesting trip report. Amtrak should have changed your SWC room without charge. I would call or email customer service and ask for a refund of the excess roomette fare.

BTW I do not believe this was a scam orchestrated by Amtrak. It was probably computer trying to do something a human could do better.



Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/23/23 07:44 by CP8888.



Date: 05/23/23 08:11
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Lackawanna484

I've noticed that Amtrak's line distance sleeper algorithm sometimes holds some rooms open for other than end to end customers.

Posted from Android



Date: 05/23/23 08:48
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: longliveSP

CP8888 Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------
> Thanks for the interesting trip report. Amtrak
> should have changed your SWC room without charge.
> I would call or email customer service and ask for
> a refund of the excess roomette fare.

Exactly, and I hope the OP does this.

> BTW I do not believe this was a scam orchestrated
> by Amtrak. It was probably computer trying to do
> something a human could do better.

EXACTLY! This could easily have been a case of the OP specifically choosing the car/room and the computer not programmed to offer a replacement when a change become required. Since the OP choose not to contact a human to see if a replacement room was available, we have no way of knowing what the outcome of that call would have been. 



Date: 05/23/23 08:55
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: jp1822

Definitely call Amtrak customer relations on the Southwest Chief roomette issue, AND I would also let them know about your disappointment on the Lake Shore Limited. 

I have heard some really crazy things happening in both the booking and pricing of accommodations. Not getting into it here, but Amtrak's definitely got some algorithms going the wrong way. Some really hurting Amtrak's revenue, and others helping Amtrak's revenue. Just to give a quick example - inventory space for the Cardinal was not inputted properly and was showing space booked up when it wasn't (only the Bagg/Dorm was programmed for sales, not the regular full Viewiner Sleeper - went out like this for MONTHS). A bedroom on the Empire Builder was selling for $3,120 in January for a trip to be had in May from an intermediate stop in Montana to Chicago (one night, not two). But all the sudden, two weeks before three bedrooms randomly became available for the same points at exactly HALF the January price. Typically this is when the price would go up - not months out when inventory was showing as plentiful yet sky high. I re-booked and got a reimbursement on my credit card in the complaint process as well as a courtesy voucher.  



Date: 05/23/23 09:50
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Lackawanna484

Algorithm impact (how do these processing rules play out in the real world) is a key part of quality control.

Many companies have business analysts who focus on exactly the kind of issues mentioned here.

Posted from Android



Date: 05/23/23 09:55
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: 1976steve

When they close the door on that plane there is no time left to wait on hold for Amtrak to answer. If i was in the OP shoes and wanted to continue the trip I would have booked the  room too. Only other option to get the room is roll the dice and see if said room was available after the plane landed in however many hours his flight was



Date: 05/23/23 12:52
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: BRAtkinson

Having lived in the Springfield MA area for the last 28 years, I've ridden the Lakeshore to/from Chicago many times.

It was perhaps six or seven years ago, the Viewliner I was riding from Springfield was an oven during the 'shoulder' season weather that day, which is common this time of year. Lows in the upper 30s/low 40s highs in the upper 70s/low 80s.

I and my fellow travelers in the Viewliner were sweating it out until reaching Albany.

During the time it took to shuffle the cars at Albany, I talked with the nearby car knocker and described the problem. He told me the car had not been reset for the change of season. He then went under the car for at most 30 seconds and returned saying 'all fixed!'

Was it ever fixed! Within 10 minutes, the entire car was a deep freeze and I was a popsicle. As I understood from the car knocker's explanation, there's a summer/winter switch underneath that had not been reset with the changing season. He merely moved it to the summer setting which allowed the air conditioning to go to maximum output.

I suspect the OP encountered a similar situation when he rode to Lakeshore.

Posted from Android



Date: 05/23/23 13:19
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Flyer92122

If you're emphatic enough and mention calling congress, doors will open for you. My downgrade to coach on the CZ in Dec wasn't acceptable to me, 30 mins on the phone and it turned into a free upgrade to a bedroom. At the rates Amtrak is charging this madness has to stop. The kicker is in most if not all cases Amtrak knows about the downgrades days or weeks in advance and only sends out the email shortly before departure. Withholding this information gives credibility to the bait and switch thought. As with everything Amtrak now it's more incompetence at the management level with a streak of malice toward the long distance routes.



Date: 05/23/23 13:46
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Lackawanna484

If Amtrak knows that a car will be out of service weeks ahead, and doesn't communicate it to the people who should be in the car, there's likely a reason.  My guess is they know a significant % of customers will cancel altogether, and not travel on Amtrak.
 



Date: 05/23/23 15:18
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Englewood

austrobelge Wrote:
-------------------------------------------------------

> since my boyhood days (I will be 60 in a couple of
> weeks) my dream has been to travel across the U.S.
> by train.

To paraphrase the Bhagavad-Gita:
Now I am become amtrak, the destroyer of dreams...........

In the stone age, before the NRPC, before computers, before all the sh**, a change
in consist was handled as shown by the CB&Q in 1969. The "code" mentioned is the 
reservation.

How could all of this been handled on paper in the reservation office, transmitted to a station where it was typed 
manually by a person and then delivered to a  porter ? 

amtrak will show the private railroads how it can be done quicker, better, etc....... Tell those people in "69 how 
it will look in '23.............



Edited 3 time(s). Last edit at 05/23/23 15:25 by Englewood.






Date: 05/23/23 16:21
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: RevRandy

Glad you ventured up the Danbury Branch of Metro-North; my station is Branchville.  And that you got to our museum in Danbury.  

Until one has done this trip, one has no idea how, upon leaving the Northeast Corridor at South Norwalk, within a few miles you are out in the country for almost all the ride to Danbury.
 



Date: 05/23/23 18:42
Re: trip report (plus downgrading issue) LAX CHI BOS on #4 + #48/
Author: Drknow

Englewood for the win.

7 years and I hope to escape the madness of this industry.

Regards

Posted from iPhone



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