It’s time Amtrak stopped treating Lincoln Service Business Class like Second Class

Amtrak still has a very long way to go to provide passengers with service continuity. The customer experience can be great one day horrible the next. Even though rules, regulations and guidelines exist – depending on the crew, station and time of day – operations are handled differently. This at times can lead to a very miserable ride.

It only takes one crew who doesn’t care to turn customers off to riding Amtrak. I’ve begun to wonder if many of these employees even care about customer service. I’ve seen many who are just doing the bare minimum to get by until retirement. I have seen where the “old timers” are passing along bad habits and their negative attitude onto the next generation of Amtrak workers.

I’m not sure if it’s that old 1970’s Amtrak attitude that never went away. Or if it’s just worn out workers tired of the same drama. I think in many cases these people probably shouldn’t have chosen to be employed in the service industry.

Most of my comments are going to relate to my Amtrak Business Class experiences over the years riding the Illinois Lincoln Service route. I have not ridden Business Class on any other Amtrak trains – so I don’t have that experience for comparison. I have been a paying customer in Coach Class and several Roomettes ( Sleeper Class ). Many of these rides have been less than pleasant. So far all my Roomette purchases have been worth it – although level of service can vary. Example – on a recent City of New Orleans trip to Memphis Tennessee – never saw or spoke to my room attendant. On the return trip to Chicago the Sleeper Car attendant was very visible and engaging with passengers.

All Amtrak Lincoln Service Business Class tickets aren’t created equal. Depending on where you board – your ticket earns you more perks. It also can provide a much more happy boarding experience. Amtrak may not realize this – but customers can be won or lost depending how the loading and unloading process goes. Many days on Lincoln Service this process is a complete FAIL from a customer service perspective.

Granted if you talk to enough people you will get mixed reviews. Some are happy with mediocre customer service. Many are just used to Amtrak not providing a higher standard and have just come to accept this reality.

Where your Amtrak journey begins can influence your opinion in one direction or the other. Although even when starting my travels in Chicago – the experience isn’t always what it should be. Amtrak Lincoln Service Business Class passengers get the best value for their money spent when traveling out of Chicago. After many people complained and asked for lounge access – Business Class ticket holders are now allowed Metropolitan Lounge access in Union Station. That is definitely a nice perk – long overdue. Unfortunately this perk doesn’t always lead to a great experience. For years access was denied to BC customers elsewhere while provided to East coast riders.

My most recent Metropolitan Lounge experience was less than pleasant. After coming into Chicago on Lincoln Service Business Class from Springfield I headed to the lounge to check in. Since I was a Roomette ticket holder for City of New Orleans – I had paid for lounge access. The check-in process is just to much drama. Granted this depends on who is working the counter. I based that comment on previous experiences.

Part of what would help to speed up the check-in process is to give the counter employees the same scanner “guns” that conductors have. If the QR Code reader could then input the data into the system automatically – This would reduce the twenty questions process, customer confusion and the back and forth with Amtrak staff when confusion arises.

I use E-ticketing – one thing Amtrak has definitely gotten right. But since I use an old fashion flip phone and because Amtrak employees freakout with all things new – this at times has led to drama in Chicago. Keep in mind that on my phone I have a blown up QR code .jpg that can easily be scanned and another .jpg of my full ticket. A few gate personnel freak out when they only see the QR code without full ticket. Won’t give you time to show them the full ticket.

Female Amtrak Metropolitan Lounge employee was impatient ( 1/11/2014) – so I just read off the reservation number to her – this is when she got snippy with me. Yes I returned the favor. She tried to claim that what I had given her wasn’t the right data. Why – because I had read everything in front of my face to her. Reservation number has a date included – when I started to read that is when she flipped out. I sternly explained to her why I had read things to her the way I did and she laughed – why because she knew I was right!!

Now here is what I do not understand. Even though I had a digital copy of my full ticket and have never had an issue with a conductor scanning my QR code only JPG – this employee prints me out a ticket. Now why would I want a paper hardcopy when I had chosen to use an E-ticket? This is a waste of paper and time for her to do so. It was clear that I was a sleeper passenger – it was clear I belonged in the lounge – I should have just been given my pink lounge access ticket and moved on. Instead the process was like pulling teeth. Wasn’t just this way with me – those behind me had a similar experience – even though they had paper tickets.

Heading home on the same journey I had the same Amtrak counter person in the Metropolitan Lounge ( 1/17/2014 ) – check-in went a bit smoother this time around. Drama didn’t start until closer to departure time. In years past I am always in line very early. This way when station attendants call for Business Class ticket holders I am right there. Past few years they will move you into the even colder / hotter depending on the time of year – boarding area that is in front of general passenger waiting.

Now that Business Class ticket holders have Metropolitan Lounge privileges – you can wait for your train announcement there. Here is the problem – that announcement can be hit and miss. It can also be made late – after other passengers have already boarded. My past experience had me worried about not getting my priority boarding – so I headed to the counter to ask the female employee if I should head out in advance.

Her comment was if you want to go out there and freeze then go right ahead. I bit my tongue and did not snap back that the Metropolitan Lounge gets just as cold in Winter when they open the exit door to send passengers on the boarding walk. What she didn’t understand is I knew that if I waited I wouldn’t get on the train as quick as I usual do. Because communication between train crew and Metropolitan Lounge staff isn’t in real time and isn’t always an open line of communication.

Unfortunately I was right. By the time myself and one woman headed up to the front after the announcement – I knew we would be late. The male Amtrak employee was polite and did walk us thru the general waiting area to the “upgraded” seating. As I walked in he did ask the other employee if they loaded Business Class yet – the answer was yes – so much for my priority boarding and Metropolitan Lounge taking care of me. This easily could have screwed me in regards to getting a decent seat.

Most Lincoln Service Business Class ticket holders aren’t aware they are now allowed Metropolitan Lounge privileges at Union Station Chicago. Because in years past the policy had been different. So most still wait at the general boarding gate. This of course gave them quicker access to seats – do to lack of communication between train crew, gate staff and Metropolitan Lounge. I pay for Business Class for that priority boarding so I don’t have to feel rushed to get a seat. That day had me quickly walking to my train – luckily it wasn’t as busy as it usual is and I got a single seat.

The point being the process isn’t smooth. It should be and could be – if communication was given a priority. But because it has always been this way and no one was implemented changes in procedures – customers still get no continuity and many times a miserable experience.

That boarding experience was a cake walk compared to boarding Business Class in Springfield Illinois. Before I detail that – lets head to St Louis. The boarding experience in the cramped St Louis Amtrak station is normally pretty much the same. It gets close to having continuity. Business Class passengers are never given priority boarding in St Louis – even though there are many of us riding most days. A few months back when riding with Cafe car attendant Julie – her co-worker that day stated that if it wasn’t for Springfield passengers the train would be empty.

BC gets no priority in St Louis. First Class lounge access isn’t allowed. Even though in my years traveling out of this station I have only seen the lounge used once. On a recent trip I actually saw two people use it in the same day. Had never seen it used previously. Yes it is a smaller lounge with no attendant – but why shouldn’t St Louis Business Class riders get the same privileges as those who depart from Chicago? Many will be traveling same amount of miles on the route. Why should one Business Class ticket holder get more for their money over another on same train?

All passengers line up in the same location – many days the line wraps around the corner and snakes along the terminal wall. This station is way to small for the amount of passengers that use it daily – Greyhound runs service out of the same terminal. The boarding process is where things can get interesting for St Louis Business Class. You get covered walkways until you go outside to board with no overhead protection over loading area. Not pleasant in bad weather. Depending on the train – Business Class may load right in front – awesome – you can get off elevator right at Cafe door to load in. Or you may be forced to walk all the way to the end of the train. That walk is horrible on cold, hot or wet days.

Now we get to my biggest frustration – the passenger loading process. Normally in Chicago the Cafe car door is left open – BC passengers can load right in. This is normally the procedure in St Louis. Makes for a fairly easy loading of Business Class riders. But there are times Conductors will force Business Class to walk through one or more cars to access their seats. Depending on the station many excuses are given – it’s stuck, frozen, a safety issue – list goes on. My opinion is a nonworking door is a passenger safety issue.

When this situation occurs not only does it make for an aggravating day for Business Class passengers with real luggage ( still within the rules ) – it also hassles and ruins the Coach experience. When BC passengers are forced to walk through coach it disturbs Coach riders – sometimes while they are trying to get situated. Other times they are already seated. Of course it doesn’t help matters when some Coach riders leave all their belongings in the aisle.

Most everyone in Coach looks at Business Class passengers walking through like they are idiots. Most look at you like why are you walking up there? A good majority still don’t know about BC seating. Unfortunately that number is dwindling and now bringing Coach problems into BC. Point being running BC customers through Coach causes a lot of drama and disturbs other passengers. I have yet to see a Conductor who forces this situation who cares. Normally these are the ones who shouldn’t still be employed by Amtrak.

My last trip out of St Louis was exactly what I stated above. Myself and one other BC rider were forced to walk through Coach to get to Business Class because the Cafe car door was not open. Other side door not facing passenger loading area was open for Cafe car. I covered that previously in my sock guy article. The other passenger was an older woman on her way home to Chicago. She was just as unhappy as me about the situation. When she found out she wouldn’t be getting her free newspaper that day she was even less happy. I did mention to her that in the future the newspaper perk may disappear. Amtrak on some long distance routes has eliminated some perks of Sleeper Class travel – debate is taking place on the value or lack of in doing so. She got her paper when we got to my home station of Springfield Illinois.

Speaking of Springfield this is where most of my drama occurs. And it is almost always do to how Business Class is loaded. At this station everything is general boarding – no priority is given to Business Class. 95% of the time Business Class is forced to board & de-board being run through at least 1 and sometimes 2 coach cars from the Cafe car. Even with a small amount of luggage this disturbs Coach passengers who have been settled in for hours. Yes some have made things a bit to much like home – with all their belongings scattered everywhere. Which makes it even harder for Business Class passengers to get off the train.

There are all kinds of excuses given – Union rules, safety, broken steps / door or whatever they can think of that day. Keep in mind just up the road in Normal – which like Springfield has a good number of Business Class passengers – they rarely are forced to board or de-board through a Coach car. Recently I saw a Normal Amtrak employee actually come out and drop the back Cafe car door down so Business Class riders could load. Now that is the type of service we should see in Springfield Illinois.

Ice and snow pack is a legitimate reason – but that is Amtrak’s fault. I’d also bet it is a key factor along with switches – that leads to many workers compensation claims. I had a young engineer really pissed off when I had an attitude about being forced through Coach to get off the train. While I was angry that once again my trip was being ruined – I did feel sorry for the guy having to bust all that ice. It is back breaking / injury causing work. The salt Amtrak tries to use has never worked. Amtrak is aware of this issue – other countries seem to able to run smooth in cold weather – yet Amtrak can’t figure it out. Watching Railroad Alaska I never see their passenger doors all frozen up like Amtrak.

Time would be the next excuse given – but it takes more time to load everyone through one car than two. It takes more time if the aisles are clogged with passengers – especially those who are being forced to walk through. It is also interesting how Texas Eagle Sleeper Passengers in Springfield are never forced to walk through Coach to get to their accommodations. The explanation would be – dedicated crew and more padded time for boarding. Again always an excuse why not do it right on other trains?

I pay more for a Business Class ticket – I expected a bit more service for that price!! Asking to be loaded right at the Cafe car door to access Business Class should be considered a reasonable request. By most crews working Lincoln Service is not seen that way. Anyone who ask is treated like crap and given run around.

Funny thing is most Business Class ticket holders in Springfield Illinois don’t even think there is a problem – why? Because they get loaded where they should – why? Because I bitch and complain – so when I de-boarded from where I should – they get to board where they should. Granted none of them realize this fact. They think Amtrak is actually doing right by them – when in fact most crews aren’t.

How loading unloading is done – changes with each crew. Most run BC through at least one Coach car.

Many Lincoln Service Business Class passengers don’t realize some of us use the train as our way to get home from our long distance Amtrak journeys. Not all of us in BC are regional commuters. This is why we have more luggage than you – granted even a two day trip has me carrying the same amount of bags.

I only use Amtrak Lincoln Service now when I absolutely have to. When I travel with my girlfriend – we have started purchasing a Roomette on the Texas Eagle. The cost is slightly higher than two Business Class seats. This reduces our options in regards to time. Lincoln Service runs more daily trains. We shouldn’t be forced to do this – but Amtrak has refused to deal with customer service issues and change procedures. The Texas Eagle Roomette is more expensive but service quality is higher and no drama.

I’m not sure Amtrak even cares about Lincoln Service Business Class revenue. Maybe they are to focused on East coast operations. I know rolling stock is limited and new equipment is being built in Illinois right now. But there is definitely demand for another BC car. I have seen many times where regular Business Class passengers are forced into Coach seats because no BC is available. This is losing higher-end revenue for Amtrak. No one including the crews seem to care.

We have a great opportunity right now in Illinois for Amtrak to shine. My opinion is that many of the crews and lack of customer service is going to kill that momentum. Plenty of times in Business Class I hear upset riders mention Southwest airlines. In years past when airplanes are down for the count and Amtrak is running I have heard praise from those who are riding Amtrak BC for the first time. Unfortunately that is followed by to bad it is so freezing cold in here – I like the seats and the ride – but it’s a freezer. Or if you are lucky – the heat is on and working and you can complain about what a sauna it is. When someone does – heat gets turned down and we freeze. Older rolling stock has no happy medium – it’s either iceberg or sauna – no in-between. Cooling in the Summer months is just as bad.

New riders don’t come back if they have a negative experience. Amtrak over the past few years has lost a good number of higher ticket price paying customers – do to customer service and equipment issues. The customer service problem should be easiest to fix. New rolling stock can’t get here fast enough to resolve other issues.

I don’t hold out much hope that the mindset will change. My thought is from management on down there are to many things broken for real change to take place.

Many crews system wide but especially in Illinois don’t care about the customer experience. Yes Julie – from Indianapolis who is on an Amtrak Committee does. Cafe car attendant Rachel ( Red Bull has wings ) – who I have only seen once does. But they are not the norm unfortunately.

Passengers are allowed to not wear headphones – even when they do they are allowed to blast their chosen audio all over passenger cars. While many of the crews just gossip, complain or try to flirt with attractive women.

Late last year – we had one of our worst Business Class trips coming home from Chicago on Lincoln Service. A family from Bloomington Normal was coming home from a shopping trip and adventure with the kids. Screaming kids playing games loudly on their devices. Conductor didn’t say a word about it. Everyone else in BC was miserable – but this family was allowed to rule the roost and were very arrogant about it. Especially after the rules were explained to them multiple times. They had no consideration for others and since the conductor refused to deal with them – they continued with their unruly behavior. Not the first time I have seen this play out.

From what can be seen below my butt is in an Amtrak seat often. Many times I will spend long hours in the Metropolitan Lounge or general passenger area – do to taking a later train to avoid riding coach. I could avoid this if more Business Class seating has added on Lincoln Service – NOW!! Not a year or two from now. But when I have these long waits – I watch – I listen and I have conversations with passengers.