Frustrations of Air Travel Push Passengers to Amtrak
By Ron Nixon, NY Times, August 15, 2012
WASHINGTON—Long a punch line for harried Northeast travelers, Amtrak has come to dominate commercial travel in the corridor connecting Washington, New York and Boston, and this summer its trains are packed.
A decade ago, Delta and US Airways shuttles were the preferred mode of travel between the cities. But high fares, slow airport security and frequent flight delays—along with Amtrak’s high-speed Acela trains, online ticketing and workstation amenities—have eaten away at the airlines’ share of passengers.
Between New York and Washington, Amtrak said, 75 percent of travelers go by train, a huge share that has been building steadily since the Acela was introduced in 2000 and airport security was tightened after 2001. Before that, Amtrak had just over a third of the business between New York and Washington.
“On the train, you’ve got power outlets and Wi-Fi, you can talk on the phone—it’s usable time,” said George Hamlin, an aviation writer and airline consultant who frequently rides Amtrak between Washington and New York. “Even I’m guilty of it,” he said of taking the train.
Part of Amtrak’s success reflects the inconvenience of air travel, experts say, which does not easily allow travelers to work as they move.
Even if the air shuttles worked perfectly, there is still the cost and time of traveling to the airport, waiting at the gate, sitting on the taxiway and finally getting into the air.
Amtrak’s fastest train makes the trip between Washington and New York in 2 hours 45 minutes, while planes travel the distance in 1 hour 20 minutes. Equivalent times for the New York-Boston trip are 3 hours 40 minutes by train, and 1 hour 15 minutes by plane. But transportation experts say adding in the ground travel and waiting times for air travel erases the difference. On a recent trip to Boston from New York, Fernando Valdes, a management consultant, said airport security was a main reason he decided to take the train.
“It’s easier. I don’t have to take my shoes off,” he said as he shared a drink with a friend in the Acela cafe car.
Frequent flight delays, often caused by weather or congestion, have also played a role in the switch from planes to trains. Amtrak arrives on time 90 percent or more of the time, according to its data. Delta said the shuttle’s on-time percentage was “in the mid-80s,” and US Airways said its record was a little higher.