Opinion: Save time at the airport, take the train

Going+down+the+escalators+of+Union+Station+in+Chicago+to+the+rail+lines+from+street+level+is+the+Amtrak+sign+that+passengers+pass+by+on+their+way+to+the+train%2C+Nov.+22%2C+2022.+

Marcus Rogers

Going down the escalators of Union Station in Chicago to the rail lines from street level is the Amtrak sign that passengers pass by on their way to the train, Nov. 22, 2022.

The Prairie News is a student-led free press. All opinions expressed herein are solely those of the writer and not those of WTAMU.

MILWAUKEE- The most significant travel times of the year occur from the end of Nov. to the beginning of Jan.; studies show that there are expected to be more people traveling this holiday season than before COVID-19.

In the United States, most traveling is done from the seat of a personal vehicle, the automobile. However, almost 50% of people are expected to travel by plane compared to 2020.

I recently went on a trip to Chicago, IL, and I arrived on a Sun Country plane to leave on an Amtrak train to find the differences between the two modes of transportation. Throughout this article, I will compare each ticket’s economy classes to each other.

In America and the western world, planes have received praise from aristocrats and the wealthy as the best way to travel. While traveling by rail has been the only way to travel long distances over land.

Cost

Either way, traveling is costly. When I purchased my tickets from Sun Country Airlines, departing from Minneapolis-St. Paul International (MSP) Airport, two tickets cost $248. This total amount includes the cost of a single checked bag. Sun Country Airlines is a discounted airline that operates similarly to Spirit and Ryanair, where you pay for your bags that are not your personal item.

Amtrak is a cheaper mode of transportation but is more expensive because the U.S. requires the publicly owned service to be profitable. The two tickets cost $144, or $72 each. Unlike airlines, the price includes two carry-on bags and two checked bags. You can add two additional checked bags for $40.

My fiancé and I stuffed all our clothes in a single checked bag. Then we purchased a hiking bag to avoid cramming our clothes and souvenirs into the same suitcase we came with.

Trains: 1 Airplane: 0

Timing

If you have ridden on a plane, you know the struggles of plane travel post-9/11. There is the security line, the time it takes to get to the airport, unloading and loading passengers, checking luggage and waiting for the plane to leave the gate.

For my most recent trip, we were delayed six hours due to problems with the plane and staffing problems. We left our apartment at 4:00 p.m. and didn’t get to O’Hare Airport until midnight the next day. Then our flight had an hour-long problem with getting our single checked bag. Overall, it was an infuriating process.

With Amtrak, there was no such security or timing of passengers unloading and loading. The lounge areas in Chicago’s Union Station are some of the best in the country, and it was filled with Christmas music and a giant Christmas tree in the center.

I was in the train station for several hours, but that was because I wanted to avoid running around Chicago right before I left the city. I could have gotten to Union Station 30 minutes before the train was scheduled to depart, and I would have been fine.

Trains: 2 Airplane: 0

Planning

For the sole purpose of the amount of security at airports, trip planning is incredibly transparent with airlines. Each Airline is trying to win you over to provide a better service with lower costs. The timing and the arrival locations are flexible, and you can choose which airline you fly with.

Gate numbers and transportation at the MSP Airport are provided to you when you check-in 24 hours before the flight to help you navigate the labyrinth of the airport. Unless you are flying out of a smaller airport, such as the Rick Husband International Airport, you’ll want to research what side of the airport you will need to arrive at.

Sitting in Terminal 2 looking out over gate 5 in the Minneapolis- St. Paul International Airport, you can see Downtown Minneapolis in full view as well as several Sun Country planes, Nov. 18, 2022. (Marcus Rogers)

Consequently, the planning information for a trip on a train is minimal. In the U.S., we do not have any high-speed rail projects, like in Europe or Asia. There is only one system of lines managed by Amtrak.

There is no check-in for a train. Union Station in Chicago has three waiting areas where they call your train. Despite being the third-busiest rail terminal in the United States.

Trains: 2 Airplane: 1

Comfort

Airlines used to be the pinnacle of luxury in America. However, as with many other things, they are designed to be as profitable as possible. Airlines have seats spaced apart between 30 to 31 inches on average, in economy class. This measurement is the “space between one point on an aircraft passenger seat to the same point on the seat in front of it.”

A minimal amount of amenities can be offered to a person sitting in less room than was afforded to Harry Potter when he was living in a broom closet. Drinks and peanuts are about it when you are flying in economy class.

In Amtrak, there is no such measurement for the seats as there is no space limitation like in an Airplane. I can stretch my arms out in my current seat and not touch the seat in front of me. I can lean my chair back, which I can’t do on an airplane, and have my body almost entirely horizontal.

If I had spent an additional $500, I could have gotten a roomette, a smaller bedroom, to sleep on. This additional purchase would have given me access to the dining car. Amtrak has halted the dining car access to non-sleeping car passengers due to COVID-19, and they have no plan to resume the access.

Despite not having access to the dining car, I can still purchase drinks and snacks from the cafe and enjoy them in the observation car. This car has large glass panels on the roof and more oversized chairs that can help passengers get more comfortable views of the surroundings.

The biggest draw for me to choose Amtrak for this section is the views I got for the short amount of daylight from Chicago to Milwaukee.

Trains: 3 Plane: 1

Overall, there are some things that I dislike about trains. However, I would choose a train ride over a plane ride in a heartbeat. The view, combined with the process of getting from one point to another, is more enjoyable and relaxing on the rail. In the past, there was a stop in Amarillo, but like many other things, they stopped. Maybe one day, a passenger train stop will come back to Amarillo.

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