Tips for a Amtrak Coach newbie

Discussion in 'Amtrak Rail Discussion' started by Kbyrdleroydogg, May 17, 2019.

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  1. May 17, 2019 #1

    Kbyrdleroydogg

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    Kbyrdleroydogg

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    I'm booking a trip from Chicago to Denver on coach on the 5 California Zephyr . Normally I'd get a bedroom but its too expensive so I'll be in coach for the first time.
    What can I expect from coach? What should I bring in terms of blankets, etc. What tips can you give me for this overnight trip?
     
  2. May 17, 2019 #2

    mlanoue

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    I've done this trip a few times. it's not too bad at all. I think you have to be prepared to expect just about anything. It could peaceful and pleasant. Or, you could end up sitting next to a guy who talks to himself part of the way. Chances are, if you start in Chicago you will probably get a seat to yourself at first. But, a lot of people get on in Galesburg, and especially Omaha. Some sort of pillow makes all the difference. Once you open up the superliner seat to a reclining position, it is definitely possible to nod off. Just plan on being kind of tired when you get to Denver.
     
  3. May 17, 2019 #3

    MARC Rider

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    You'd better bring a blanket and a blow-up pillow, as these are no longer supplied. I have a "stadium sized" blanket that's less bulky than a full size blanket and does the job. Eye shades and earplugs will probably be helpful to insure a decent sleep. It's about the same as an intercontinental flight, except that the seats are more roomy.

    Technically, you can get a dinner reservation in the dining car, but they usually do the sleepers first, and sometimes nobody comes through the coaches, so you have to accept the possibility that dinner will come from the cafe car or what you bring on. Breakfast is usually without reservation, so you should be able to do that, if you want.

    I'm not sure how the CZ works, but the last time I did overnight coach on the Silver Star, the coach attendant assigned me a seat just before I boarded. I'm not sure how much they can accommodate your wishes for, say, a window seat, aisle seat, middle of the car, single seat, etc. Probably depends on how crowded the train is that trip and the size of the various traveling parties.

    Let us know how it worked out. If I start doing moire long trips, I, too might consider coach on some segments in order to save money.
     
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  4. May 17, 2019 #4

    mlanoue

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    Some of the CZ crews assign seats, some don't. I've had it both ways on my trips over the past year and a half. But, getting on in Chicago, usually there are plenty of seats, so getting a window shouldn't be a problem if traveling solo. Actually, the last time I rode, the attendant told me that the back of the end car is usually reserved for single travelers. So, even if they don't give you an assigned seat, they may send you to that car and tell you which direction to head when you get upstairs.
     
  5. May 17, 2019 #5

    Devil's Advocate

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    Amtrak's coach seats are quite large but they're also surprisingly uncomfortable for restful sleeping. In addition there is no divider between you and your neighbor, which means there's a reasonable chance you'll end up sleeping against them at some point, whether you want to or not. Coach class restrooms also tend to be in much worse shape than sleeper restrooms, both in the operational/mechanical sense and in general cleanliness, probably because they see higher passenger volume combined with lower staff involvement. Most of the time riding in coach is okay, but when things go South it can be hard to find a practical and actionable solution to your problems. For instance, if you find yourself assigned to a broken seat next to a noisy or smelly person in a car with a disgusting toilet you may be stuck with those problems until the end of your journey. You can ask the coach attendant for help, but in my experience most of the time they'll just blow you off without expending any real effort. If you try to escalate to the conductor you may find they're rather indifferent to the plight of a coach passenger and loathe to put your concerns over the casual excuses of a lazy coach attendant. If you take matters into your own hands or continue arguing your case you risk enraging the staff and possibly adding verbal abuse or even forced removal to an already unpleasant trip. It's true you can run into similar problems when flying, but at least in that case you can usually find some relief and be on your way in a few hours, whereas on Amtrak you might be forced to grin and bear it for days on end.
     
    Last edited: May 18, 2019
  6. May 17, 2019 #6

    BoulderCO

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    Mostly just confirming what others have said.

    From Chicago, unless you are leaving on an especially busy day, your car will most likely be "open seating" so you can find what looks to be a good window seat and a hope for no seat mate. No guarantees, but highly likely.

    I've never brought a blanket, but always make it a point to wear a heavy shirt and long pants, even in summer. The coach cars do get cold at night. Some sort of travel pillow will be helpful. Sleep is possible in small doses, but you will probably be very eager to see daylight come and an opportunity to get an early coffee from the Cafe car.

    I usually do a happy hour in the observation car prior to dinner with a couple of drinks from down below and some mixed nuts, etc.

    Certainly try for dinner in the dining car, but you may need to be proactive rather than hoping to be asked. If nobody comes around with reservation requests by 5 PM, I just go to the door of the dining car and tell them I'd like to reserve a time. They are often "grumpy" about it, but I've never been completely turned down. Breakfast in the diner is never a problem. But, depending on your time constraints after arrival in Denver, be aware that you can get a truly excellent breakfast in Union Station at "Snooze".

    That about covers it. Have a great trip!
     
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  7. May 17, 2019 #7

    Willbridge

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    With many miles of coach experience, I wear a hat with a brim that I can pull down low against some of the overhead lights and that helps against chilled air. And, referring to some previous comments, creeping Easternism at Amtrak makes it necessary to be alert to get dinner reservations. (Western railroads used to either happily seat coach passengers in the diner or offered full cafe meals in a car cut in between coaches or "Chico's Early Meals" in the diner.)
     
  8. May 18, 2019 #8

    LookingGlassTie

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    I rode in coach overnight on the Silver Meteor from RVR to ORL and then on the Silver Star from ORL back to RVR. I took both a neck and a travel pillow. I couldn't sleep straight through but I was rested enough. It was manageable.
     
  9. May 18, 2019 #9

    bratkinson

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    For me, there's 3 things I consider 'must have' for overnight coach travel: 1) one or two small blankets, 2) two to 4 inflatable pillows, and 3) tape and a piece of thin card stock to block out the aisle light that is always in my eyes. For pillows and blankets, I've found an inflatable pillow with blanket inside that comes with eye mask and ear plugs on Amazon. Use the pillows to stuff down the crack between the arm rest and the side of the rail car. In the winter, a heavy overcoat works very well, too.
     
  10. May 18, 2019 #10

    anumberone

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    Every time I read about long distance coach travel I'm amazed at the preparation it takes and the lack of solitude one is able to acquire over a long stretch real estate. I guess some trips glide by, but some must end feeling like you just jumped off a slow moving freight. I'm thinking, beg, borrow or heaven forbid steal the extra money to get a sleeper.
     
  11. May 18, 2019 #11

    ehbowen

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    Oh, it's not that bad. I've done it before, I'd do it again (at least for a single night)...I just haven't had to do it lately! (Last nine years)

    Why, when compared to a coach class flight from London to Houston (which I've done exactly once), my last overnight Amtrak coach trips (Houston to Alpine and return) seem positively luxurious!
     
  12. May 18, 2019 #12

    SarahZ

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    You'd have to pay me a hefty sum to get me to do an overnight in coach again. Even just one night is terrible.

    The seats, while large, don't recline far enough and have little/no back support. I can't rest my head against the window because the jostling and bumping gives me a headache. Luckily, I'm short enough that I can put the footrest up so that it's even with the seat and curl up on the footrest and seat itself. (That's assuming I'm not sitting next to a stranger. On that note, I hate cuddling up with a stranger for 24+ hours.)

    On top of that, it's often too hot (in the winter), too bright, and too noisy. I've worn earplugs with headphones, and it did nothing to block out chatty people, the noise associated with people departing/boarding, snoring, snack wrappers, and crying children.
     
  13. May 20, 2019 #13

    anumberone

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    Thanks, I've got a couple of those coach flights across the pond to and from LAX in a couple got weeks.
     
  14. May 20, 2019 #14

    CAMISSY55

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    Happy to know that I’m not the only one that finds that irritating!

    What bothers me more than listening to the crying child, is the parent/caretaker who seems not to care if the child is disturbing others and continues talking/texting/playing on their electronic device or talking to someone instead of trying to comfort (quiet) the child.
     
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  15. May 21, 2019 #15

    anumberone

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    Would a empty sardine can-sitting on the vacant seat next to a person quality as a snack wrapper.
     
    Last edited: May 22, 2019
  16. May 22, 2019 #16

    Rohr

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    Honestly, it can be fine or it can be unbearable. It's a crap shoot. I'll second all the previous advice and emphasize bringing a good sleep mask and getting a hold of some, over the ear, noise cancelling headphones. It is strange, but finding a comfortable sleeping position in those large seats is difficult.
     
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  17. May 25, 2019 #17

    flitcraft

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    For me, overnight in coach is a no-no. I did it a number of times when I was younger, but one unbearable night with a leering seatmate did me in. I was frankly too nervous to sleep given his inappropriate behavior, and the coach seating attendant would not reseat me unless he actually touched me. That was it for me and overnight coach. Now I probably wouldn't be subject to that kind of shenanigans, but my balky hips probably couldn't take coach.

    My advice for surviving a coach trip in the summer is the same as above--bring a blanket, blow-up pillows, and warm clothing. I always brought a warm hat--it's surprising how much difference that makes, and they take up little room. Snacks help deal with cafe car and dining car disappointments--I used to splurge on nuts, fancy chocolate candies, dried fruit like cherries and blueberries, and even hard cheese bits like aged gouda. Again, light weight but tasty and 'special.' Don't try to sleep until you are good and tired; there's nothing worse than tossing and turning in those recliners because your body just isn't quite ready for sleep. I used to cheat myself on sleep the night before so that sleep would come more easily. (Okay, the real reason was that I always packed at the last minute, but I rationalize that it was a plan to get better sleep.) One last recommendation--bring a travel size packet of baby wipes for a quick sponge-down in lieu of a shower, since there aren't any in coach. And if you have a seat mate, feel free to offer one to them--you'll both be happy you did. Just don't try to flush them, regardless of what the package says--they aren't flushable!
     
  18. May 26, 2019 #18

    junebug

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    Tips from someone who enjoys Coach.. What can day I love making train friends and never have had any creepy seat mates. The Amish and Mennonite families are a joy to travel with. Well behaved children and kind people.

    Tips for Chicago to Emeryville and other long distance trips

    1. Bring a pack of makeup remover wipes. There's a big restroom that has a little bench and a nice mirror for putting on makeup,with a sink and an outlet for your flat iron or curling iron.

    2. Eat dinner in sometimes in the diner but get pizza for your first night. Can't remember the the name of the place across from Union station but it's pretty good. They'll bring it over to the station if you don't feel like carrying it. Get enough to share.

    3. Bring wine in those little plastic bottles. Bring a few bottles of water, an insulated cup and tea bags or instant coffee. Sometimes I bring a 6 pack cooler for snacks and cheese sticks and yogurt.

    4. There's halfway decent stuff for breakfast in the cafe car.

    5. Bring a sleeping bag and roll it up tight. Smoosh part of it for a pillow. If you feel like stretching out for awhile, around 10 or 11 go over to the dome car.

    6. Tip the attendant to get a seat to yourself. I've done that when I don't want a seatmate and feel like stretching out a bit.

    7. Bring an extension cord. You might need it if you don't get the window seat.

    8. Use Yelp to find restaurants near stops where you know you'll have at least an hour stop. Call them to have it ready. Breakfast and lunch are overpriced and not very good in the diner.

    I'd love to know what you do with the cardstock and tape!?
     
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  19. May 26, 2019 #19

    Skyline

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    Sometimes, it's about the stench...

    Rotten food, diapers, vomit...

    Give me a sleeper or give me death!
     
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  20. May 27, 2019 #20

    Gary Behling

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    OK----IF you MUST ride coach, have you ever thought of buying 2 (two) coach seats? I have and it's sure better than one and cheaper than a bedroom.
     
  21. May 27, 2019 #21

    Bob Dylan

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    Only problem with this is that if Amtrak needs the Second seat, you'll not have both Seats to yourself.
     
  22. May 27, 2019 #22

    caravanman

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    When I first started riding Amtrak, about 15 years ago, I was pretty confident to have two whole coach seats to myself on most long distance trains. I still hope for this, but now it is rather rare, so a good thing for Amtrak's revenues.
    Balding, I always bring a beanie hat and a blanket, the A/C feels too cold to me.
    Bring plenty of snacks, don't expect to get much sleep, but for me at least, it has never been the near death experience that some folk paint it!

    Ed.
     
  23. May 27, 2019 #23

    Philly Amtrak Fan

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    '

    If you bought two seats, you are entitled to two seats even if there is only one person present. You show them both tickets.
     
  24. May 27, 2019 #24

    Bob Dylan

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    Hate to correct you but when Trains fill up the Conductor and Attendants WILL Fill EVERY Seat!

    You may have paid for 2 Seats but I assure you they are NOT Guaranteed and all you will get is a Refund for the 2nd Seat If/When this happens!
     
  25. May 27, 2019 #25

    Devil's Advocate

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    According to Amtrak's Blue Book two coach tickets only guarantee two connecting seats if you're physically disabled or morbidly obese. Otherwise your ability to sit alone is at the discretion of the staff. The book claims this is because Amtrak staff simply can't handle the apparently difficult task of having to explain that you bought two tickets to another passenger. This seems like an odd excuse for trains with reserved seating, but I've called Amtrak myself and been told the same thing as the book. They also claimed that buying two tickets for the same train in the same name on the Amtrak website risks being auto-cancelled by the reservations system.
     
    Last edited: May 27, 2019

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