I sing Amtrak’s praises.
Thursday morning, the snow started falling in Denver. Again. And for a bunch of people for whom snow is an oddity if not a nuisance, that meant frustration and delay and the real potential of sleeping in the Denver airport.
Everyone, that is, except us, the intrepid three who took The City of New Orleans and the California Zephyr.
That’s not to say we didn’t have our difficulties. The California Zephyr was supposed to leave Denver at 7:00 p.m., and when we arrived at the station, it had already been delayed four and a half hours. But not to worry, the agents said—you have a five+ hour layover in Chicago, and we can usually make up an hour on that leg of the trip. That delay extended another four and a half hours, thanks to a snow slide in Winter Park Colorado, and we didn’t board the Zephyr until 4:00 a.m., far beyond our layover period. We wound up losing two more hours between Denver and Chicago due to weather and traffic congestion, so we spent 21 hours total on the train, plus six in the Denver station.
So what did Amtrak do for us? They put an agent on the train at Omaha who arranged hotels, cab fare, and money for food (generously, too—no skimping) so we knew what was happening even before we got near to Chicago. We stayed at the Swissotel, a very nicely appointed place on East Wacker (although they charge for internet usage, which is why this post is so dated), they held our bags for us the next day while we went sightseeing—the Art Institute of Chicago is beyond incredible—and they basically went to every length to make certain we were comfortable even though we are now a day later getting back than we’d originally planned.
And we didn’t have to beg, plead, or threaten anyone to get this—they were proactive. They even threw in a free meal on the train itself. It wasn’t the greatest food, but free is free. And the porters and conductors, some of whom had been on the entire trip from San Francisco to Chicago, were the best. They took care of us poor folk in the Coach section, making sure we had whatever they could offer.
I’ve never had that level of commitment from an airline. If anything, my experience with airlines in the past has been a polar opposite, and I don’t understand why, since airlines have competitors and should ideally be doing everything they can to please their customers. If anything, you’d figure the Congressionally subsidized Amtrak would be the first to raise the single finger salute of “we don’t give a shit—who else are you going to go with?” to people who don’t like to fly and who have precious few options otherwise.
So Amtrak, thank you. And thanks to Debbie and Antonio and the guy down in the lounge car who kept the railroad coffee hot. Y’all deserve raises.