Amtrak E Ticketing Procedures

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Railroad Bill, Feb 19, 2012.

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  1. Feb 19, 2012 #1

    Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill

    Railroad Bill

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    Hello All,

    I have been reading about the big changeover to E ticketing which may go nationwide by this summer. I have several questions on how this system will work for those of us who are technically challenged. :giggle:

    1) When my reservation paper is printed at home, will this have a barcode similar to what we get now? Is that the paper that the conductor will scan when you get on the train? :unsure:

    2) If I am on a rail vacation and want to change the reservation route, train, etc, how will that be done if I dont have a WIFI connection and printer to produce a new reservation paper? Will you still be able to get a new reservation paper (e ticket) from the agent at the station? or produce one from a Quik Trak machine?? :unsure:

    3) Once the conductor has screened your e ticket on his Iphone reader, must you still hold on to your e ticket to prove you should be on that train.? Example: I get off at a stop to take photos and when I get back on, I sometimes must prove I am really in that sleeper car. :unsure:

    4) Under current system, we can print part of our tickets and wait until later to print others. Will an e ticket reservation cover an entire trip and thus make it difficult to change part of it later? Ex: CLE-CHI tickets printed in CLE, while waiting until we get to Chicago to print our CZ tickets? Still not clear about how a lost reservation e ticket can be replaced if I do not have access to print another one? :unsure:

    I guess that is enough questions for now. I suppose this new system will be more efficient but may take a while to adjust old habits.

    We do not ride planes so the whole concept is new to us. :help:
     
  2. Feb 19, 2012 #2

    PRR 60

    PRR 60

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    The Amtrak e-ticket does not use the same barcode as the present e-mail confirmations. It uses a "QR Code", which are those square graphics with patterns of small squares now commonly used.

    Unlike airline boarding passes, the Amtrak boarding document and the code will cover all the segments on your reservation. If your reservation has two trains, the same printout will be used for both trains. If the round trip is on one reservation, the same printout will be used for both the outbound segment and the return.

    If you change the reservation after printing the document, that is no problem. The code links to your reservation as stored by Amtrak's system. The original code will now be valid for your new reservation. Your printout will still be the one you use for your new trains unless your original reservation is cancelled outright and a new one generated. Note that you do not have to have a hard copy of the code. If you have a phone that can receive e-mails and display graphics, you can have the conductor scan the code right off your phone or even computer screen.

    I would expect that you should keep a copy of your reservation code with you to prove to an attendant or subsequent conductor that you belong on the train. That could be either paper or on your phone.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 19, 2012
  3. Feb 19, 2012 #3

    jis

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    Most airline E-ticketing systems have the capability to use the PNR in E-form as a boarding instrument. But because TSA needs to see clear evidence of association of the passenger to a specific segment starting at that airport while not being upto maintaining electronic readers that reconcile to the PNR from multiple CRSs to pull up the full record to verify at security checkpoints, airlines are obliged to issue boarding documents for each individual segment.

    OTOH, airlines routinely provide CBP with APIS info that gets fed to the CBP border agents and to the Global Entry kiosks, without which you and the airline in question is guaranteed almost infinite hassle, so it is within the realm of possibilities for them to provide TSA with a PNR and other relevant information. But it requires one more piece of electronic connection to be in place that is not currently in place at this time. Though we are moving rapidly in that direction with the Trusted Traveler program that is being slowly deployed at various airports.
     
  4. Feb 19, 2012 #4

    mfastx

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    I'd like to see a seat selection system, similar to what is used by most airlines. That just seems to make too much sense apparently.
     
  5. Feb 20, 2012 #5

    Trogdor

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    Actually, it doesn't make "too much sense" which is one of the reasons it hasn't been done.
     
  6. Feb 20, 2012 #6

    PaulM

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    Are you saying than most customers would not want seat selection? I've heard the old stories about the failed implementation on the Acela. But I would bet that a lot of coach passengers (not to mention conductors or CA's) boarding LD trains would think it made a lot of sense.

    If you are saying that it is infeasible, that's not obvious without at least a little analysis.

    It sounds to me like you responded in kind to a sarcastic comment.
     
  7. Feb 20, 2012 #7

    mfastx

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    I'd love to hear your reasons why it doesn't make sense. It seeme logical to me. When you make your reservation, choose your seat. Not that difficult or complicated, and prevents overbooking.
     
  8. Feb 20, 2012 #8

    Ryan

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    It's been discussed many times here, there is plenty of reading you can go do.

    The biggest issue is that a plane goes from point A to point B. A train makes many stops along its journey. Consider the following:

    I am taking the Cap from WAS to PGH. There are 2 rooms remaining (A and B). I choose room A.

    You are taking the same train from CLE to CHI. You are presented with the same two rooms, but choose room B.

    Now a third person comes along and tries to book WAS to CHI. What happens?
     
  9. Feb 20, 2012 #9

    afigg

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    Think how this would work for a long NE Regional with 7 coach cars: 1 business class car, 2 coach cars, the cafe car followed by 5 coach cars. You have someone who is not familiar with the system or where the train is likely to stop on the station platform. All they know they have seat 23 in coach car XYZ. Train pulls into the station, they get on at the front coach car because it says coach car. After asking for help, turns out their seat is in the last coach car. So they drag their luggage the length of the train, squeezing by all the passengers going the other way looking for their assigned seat, passing by dozens of empty seats, and pass the line in the cafe car. After finally getting to their coach car, they find someone sitting in their seat because his ticket says seat 23. He is in the wrong coach car, but refuses to move and is rather brusque about it. So now the person who has hiked the length of the doesn't have an assigned seat. So, he or she says the [heck] with it, and take the next open seat.

    There is also the consideration that the Regionals have different number of coach cars. The Regional was to have 7 coach cars, but had sold less than 350 tickets at the peak by the night before. Amtrak decides that they badly need the 7th coach car elsewhere and pull it, limiting the number of ticket sales. Now they have to re-assign the seats sold in the last coach car. How does that work when people board the train at dozens of stations on the route?

    Seat assignments really require fixed length consists and either standard or minimum platform lengths to mark where the cars should pull up. Even the NEC does not have that.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2012
  10. Feb 20, 2012 #10

    Devil's Advocate

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    Problems with assigning seats for stubborn Northeast commuters should not be intentionally misconstrued as legitimate reasons why it would never work on a long distance train, which is where I presume most of the desire for this is anyway. Even with today's system on some of my trains my seat is already assigned for me. I just didn't get to pick it myself. As for all the supposed complications of letting the customer pick their own seats, this is already part of buying a sleeper ticket. If you want a specific room you're free to pick from whatever is left at the time of booking. Adding that capability for coach seats shouldn't be the end of the world event some folks seem to think it would be.
     
  11. Feb 20, 2012 #11

    The Davy Crockett

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    Instead of explaining why it won't work, maybe those who advocate passenger chosen seats/rooms would explain how it could work.

    There is no real difference between the NEC and the LD routes - when it comes to this issue - other than the distance between stops and the sleeper vs BC/FC configurations.

    Edit... One other thing to consider - people like, and have grown accustomed to, this practice because it is what most of the major airlines do. I think people feel it gives them some control. But you have no control over who is around you. I often find, due to the confined and often cramped quarters, that who is around you plays a major roll in how 'sucky' the flight/ride is.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Feb 20, 2012
  12. Feb 20, 2012 #12

    Devil's Advocate

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    Amtrak already assigns seats in coach on long distance trains today. I've seen them do it enough times to know its not a rare anomaly. Instead of basing this assignment on the whim of a coach attendant when you board I believe it should be based on your own choice when you book. It's true that there may be some extra clean-up work now that the whole "shove 'em all in a single car" coach roundup trick won't work so well anymore. Do I feel sorry for those coach attendants who may have to do some extra work to by tidying up a previously empty car? Not one bit. They can either attend to the full train as scheduled or they can find another job.
     
  13. Feb 20, 2012 #13

    The Davy Crockett

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    I understand your point about cramming everyone together and closing down coach cars so that the crews have less work and the conductors get their own 'private varnish' office, but that is a seperate issue from pre-assigned/customer chosen seats. All that would be required to stop 'the squash' is an edict issued from 60 Mass. Ave. that was enforced on the crews.
     
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  14. Feb 20, 2012 #14

    Ryan

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    "The squash" is also helpful in ensuring that passengers getting off at the same location are seated in the same general area. This gives you less dwell time, less disturbance to passengers staying on the train and reduces the chance of a carry by.
     
  15. Feb 20, 2012 #15

    Ispolkom

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    I understand that assigned seating is more difficult on a train than an airliner, but I don't think the problem is unsolvable.

    Last fall I traveled on several fast Italian trains (Frecciarossa, Frecciargento, Frecciabianca). Each of these trains made several stops on their routes. Many were quite crowded. Nevertheless, each of these trains had assigned seating, and there weren't any delays with boarding, or disagreements on the train. Once a person was sitting in my assigned seat, but surrendered it when I arrived.

    Why does it work there and wouldn't work here?
     
  16. Feb 20, 2012 #16

    The Davy Crockett

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    But that is assigned seating and not passenger selected seating, correct?
     
  17. Feb 20, 2012 #17

    jis

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    No, what assigned seating requires is known consists. It has nothing to do with fixed or variable length. The consist that will be used on a specific date on a specific run needs to be known ahead of time.

    Unfortunately Amtrak's operations are not sufficiently within their own control to come anywhere near to being as predictable as that for various reasons that need not be dwelt upon here. So it is easier to trot out patently false claims about why assigned seating cannot be done instead of facing upto the fact that it is a management challenge that Amtrak is not quite upto given its general state of disarray.

    Even if all stations do not have the necessary minimum platform length, one could predictably berth known cars at that platform in each train and make sure that O/D from there get seats in those cars. Really all of this is not rocket science and has been worked out many times by many railroads. Actually that is one of the huge advantages of a train, that each car can be designated as a separate subtrain making only certain stops and assign seats accordingly.

    The basic requirement though is that your ops have to be sufficiently in control and predictable in general, and in the 21st century, you have to have a good IT system that is able to handle IROPS (IRregular OPerationS) efficiently, or for that matter even a good manual system on board that can do IROPS following well known rules. Heck Indian Railways have managed to do this since way before their reservation system was computerized, so it could not be that hard.

    Airlines assign seats and deal with it when they have to substitute equipment, which is inevitable at some point. But it should not be a frequent thing in a well orchestrated operation.

    Incidentally, if Amtrak actually had the wherewithall to come even close to meeting demand on the NEC this would be a non-issue since they could then take the Japanese approach where they reserve a certain set of cars perhaps charging higher for it and selling it as premium service and keep the rest of the train unreserved, and everyone is happy with each getting their preferred level of service and freedom, including to stand in the vestibule - I had to mention that having done that once myself from Osaka to Hiroshima on a Hikari service in Japan.
     
  18. Feb 20, 2012 #18

    Ispolkom

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    Good point. It had at least a little of both, I think. We didn't attempt to select seats, as I don't understand the Italian seat numbering system, which seems to differ by train. But I do remember that you could at least ask for a seat next to someone who already had a ticket.
     
  19. Feb 20, 2012 #19

    John Bobinyec

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    One advantage that airlines have, that I haven't seen mentioned before, is they force you to check in when you arrive at the airport. This is a necessary component of being allowed to choose your own seat. It has happened to me where I've gone through check-in and my seat had been changed from what I had printed up at home. There are unforeseen circumstances which dictate that the system has to be dynamic.

    So, suppose a passenger is now boarding at an unattended location. The crew must still do the check-in as the passenger is boarding the train. And in the case of some unforeseen circumstance, the passenger must be directed to an appropriate seat, not necessarily of his own choosing.

    At staffed stations, should all boarding passengers have to go through a formal check-in? If that's true, no one would be able to just walk up at the last second and get on the train, no matter what their iPhone says.

    I'm thinking that the paper-based seat assignment system won't go away totally, either. Sooner or later the car attendant's iPhone will run low on power. I can see the superintendent reading the delay report from the day before:

    "Train x 35 minutes late overall because of slow loading due to failure of seat assignment system (iPhone)."

    Right now, being allowed to choose your own seat seems like a problematic system, which would take a whole lot of work to install - for little added benefit to either the crew or the passenger.

    John Bobinyec
     
  20. Feb 20, 2012 #20

    jis

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    Let's not confuse normal operations with IROPS.

    Yes things do go wrong and when that happens a pre-assigned seat may not be available. It has also happened to me on airlines that normally assign seats (e.g. CO) where a very last minute equipment substitution substituted a 777 for a flight that was originally supposed to be a 757. Instead of worrying about assigning new seats to everyone, the solution was to simply let people use their original boarding document but with the proviso that they can occupy any empty seat of their choice. This was OK because there were more seats on that equipment than in the original.

    The reverse has also happened where a smaller equipment was substituted. In which case of course a bunch of people had to be denied boarding. I don't know what algorithm they used, but many people got $400 compensation that day.

    In case of trains there is not a gate agent in all stations, but being a train, that usually is a non-issue. On the NEC today, when a train comes in short one car, being a train, no one is denied boarding. Many just get to stand in aisles or if lucky find a seat in the Cafe. If it were assigned seating an announcement would be made that car X is not in the train today. Please use any open seat, or something to that effect.

    Those IROPS situations happen and are handled. But there is none that makes it impossible to allow passengers to choose their own seat at the time of reservation, knowing full well that there is an outside chance that that seat won;t be available due to unusual circumstances. As long as IROPS is a relatively rare occurrence things will work out just fine.
     
  21. Feb 20, 2012 #21

    John Bobinyec

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    I guess the basic question should be asked:

    What is the benefit of allowing an Amtrak passenger to choose his own seat through the reservations system?

    And please don't tell me, "Because the airlines do it."

    jb
     
  22. Feb 20, 2012 #22

    benjibear

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    If I am traveling alone, I don't mind the system the way it currently works. When traveling with my wife, we want two seats that are together. You get on to find the train is only half filled but everyone is at a window seat and nobody wants to move. Even when getting on alone, you walk down the aisle and nobody wants you to sit with them. What makes it worse is when there is a quiet car. Maybe, I don't want to sit in the quiet car because I want to talk on the phone. What if the only seats left are in the quiet car and I get on with a screaming baby. I think assigned seats would make more sense.
     
  23. Feb 20, 2012 #23

    jis

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    Exactly. Family travel on a Corridor train is mostly hellish unless you are boarding at an origination point. So much so that I know people who will not touch Amtrak when traveling in a group. Of course, given that Amtrak on the Corridor is over capacity at present they don't care. But buses are improving and wills start making an inroad, though they will never be able to meet the shorter schedules of Amtrak. But for group travel that is not as critical in most cases.

    So in effect Amtrak is becoming the air service on rails in the NEC while the rest of the riff-raff get to choose other various alternatives for their journey.
     
  24. Feb 20, 2012 #24

    PRR 60

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    [RANT]

    So many of those who argue that pre-assigned seats are not needed routinely board at the origin point of trains where you can pretty much walk on and pick your seat. For us poor slobs who have to board at a midpoint of a run, the seating situation is a major issue.

    For entertainment purposes only, lets say that I want to treat my wife to a weekend in Boston (from Philadelphia). In a moment of financial insanity, I decide we’re going to use Acela First Class both ways. The Amtrak tab for that little trek would be over $1200. In exchange for a $1200 fare, we would board our train at PHL and find the only seats in First are singles, maybe wrong way facing at a four-top. Until New York, we would either sit apart, or we would have to walk the aisle begging someone to move. Even boarding in Boston, if we want first choice in seats, we would have to use and tip a Red Cap – another $5 after already paying $1200 for the trip. That is not acceptable. Real world: I don’t even consider using Acela for travel with my wife. The seating situation boarding at PHL stinks.

    There are lots of excuses why Amtrak does not have assigned seating. That’s all they are – excuses. There are no reasons. Don’t say it can’t be done with trains. It has been and it is. I rode the California Zephyr from Chicago to Oakland, and we had seats assigned when we bought the tickets. That was in 1963.

    Not every Amtrak train needs assigned seats. But Acela First and long distance coach, you bet. Even then, not every seat necessarily needs to be available for pre-assignment. Some portion, maybe 1/3, could be left as open seating. However, something has to be done to make it possible for a couple boarding Acela First in PHL or a family boarding the CZ in Omaha to be sure they will be seated together. If it could be done in 1963 using phone calls and slips of paper, it can be done in 2012 with computers. The argument that Amtrak can’t do it is lame.

    {/RANT]
     
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  25. Feb 20, 2012 #25

    Ryan

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    That's fine for ASSIGNED seating.

    What started this tangent (and what I'm saying won't work) was USER SELECTED seating at the time of booking.

    The former is possible (although it would be a major culture shift on the corridor and failed miserably the last time it was tried). There are very good reasons that the latter isn't really feasible.

    It's important to understand the distinction between the two.
     

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