You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

How to Improve Your Chances of Getting a Seat on Amtrak

Lifehacker logo Lifehacker 7/24/2019 Elizabeth Yuko
© Photo: Mike Petrucci (Unsplash)

On a recent Amtrak trip, I arrived early, boarded as quickly as possible, and yet, wound up without a seat. I had purchased a “reserved seat” ticket, and when I asked the conductor about this, he told me that everyone on the train had a “reserved seat” ticket and having one did not guarantee you a seat.

As frustrating at this is, there are ways to improve your chances of getting a seat on a very full train. Here’s what you need to know about Amtrak’s coach ticketing policy and more importantly, how to snag yourself a seat.

When You Should Travel by Train, Not Plane in Western Europe

What does ‘reserved seat’ actually mean?

To figure out if this non-reserved reserved seat policy was real, I contacted Amtrak Corporate Communications, where a rep told me that “every effort is made to provide sufficient seats, but seating is not guaranteed.”

OK, that’s not ideal, but maybe there’s more to this. Kimberly Woods of Amtrak Corporation Communications told Lifehacker:

Each passenger paying a fare will be entitled to a seat, to the extent coach seats are available.

Passengers are entitled to one seat per fare, to ensure other paying passengers are not excluded. Unless specific seats are assigned, seating is on a first-come, first-served basis.

Seat availability is not guaranteed until we provide you with a reservation confirmation. On unreserved trains there are no guaranteed seats. Seating arrangements will be made without regard to race, color, gender, creed or national origin. Amtrak reserves the right, whenever operating conditions require, to transfer passengers from one car or train to another en route.

Seating is limited. Seats may not be available on all trains at all times.

TL;DR: your ticket may say “reserved seating” but in practice, that doesn’t mean anything.

Research

What to Consider When Choosing to Travel by Train or Rental Car on Vacation

Is there any way to improve your chances of getting a seat?

As an Amtrak customer, I’m happy to follow the rules, but wanted to know if there was anything I could possibly do—aside from buying a business class ticket and getting there early—that would increase my chances of actually getting a seat on a train. Woods responded:

“We encourage customers to arrive at boarding station at least 30 minutes before departure. A customer should confirm boarding times the day before travel in case there has been a schedule or service change for which we were unable to notify the passenger.”

Great, but at certain larger stations, you could arrive five hours early and still get trampled when they announce the track and end up without a seat. Fortunately, there are a few actual ways to improve your chances of not having to stand up for two hours:

Find a Red Cap

If you’re traveling out of one of the 12 busiest Amtrak stations, your best bet for getting a seat is seeking out the services of an Amtrak Red Cap team member. They will help you navigate the station, assist you with baggage, and best of all, can help you get a seat. The service is free for all Amtrak riders, but definitely tip them ($5 works).

Stake out a seat

If you leave the station without getting a seat, you’re going to want to find someone who is getting off the train soon and hover near their seat. So how do you know when someone is getting off? Sure, you could ask them, or you could look at that ticket tag that the conductor places above their seat to indicate their destination. You can even help them with their luggage as they exit the train, then swiftly grab their spot.

Find the secret boarding spots in larger stations

Another strategy is to try and get ahead of the stampede before the boarding process starts. Unfortunately, this won’t work in every station, but there are tricks at some of the most crowded locations, like Penn Station in New York, Union Station in D.C. and South Station in Boston, all compiled here by Vox. Using these spots won’t guarantee you a seat, but they will put you ahead of the pack and increase your chances.

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from Lifehacker

Loading...

image beaconimage beaconimage beacon