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Old Apr 24, 11, 4:49 am   #16
 
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Originally Posted by iquitos View Post
Union has taken over this thread. The passenger is always wrong and hence not entitled to an opinion, right?
What evidence do you have for such a crazy statement? Who on this FT thread works for Amtrak? I sure don't. And who on FT stopped you from expressing your opinion?
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Old Apr 24, 11, 5:39 am   #17
 
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Originally Posted by GoingAway View Post
Kinda strong on that post, aren't you DCBob. People are entitled to their opinion and may interpret things differently. Just because you could solve this with a pair if headphones doesn't mean that others could or even should get over it so easily/in the same manner. YMMV.

I have had short haul trips ruined by poor customer service, it happens. On amtrak in particular, there are some people who do not belong in customer facing positions.
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Originally Posted by DCBob View Post
Thankfully, both of us are entitled to our opinions and are able to freely discuss them in this forum. It's still my opinion that rude announcements should not turn a trip on Amtrak into a nightmare. Some obviously disagree.
Fairly illogical retort there, DCBob.

GoingAway basically made the point that everyone is different and will therefore perceive the same situations differently from one another. This was not an opinion as it is inherently true and as such cannot be disputed.

Your reply was to simply restate your position that you, personally, would not have been troubled. This is largely irrelevant as you are, obviously, not the OP.
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Old Apr 24, 11, 7:39 am   #18
 
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Re: Really, does Amtrak always suck so badly?

I can tell you from my personal experience, they really do suck. As an organization, they are merely a government agency, with all the disadvantages and none of the advantages of a privately operated transportation enterprise.

Amtrak is infested with substandard on-board service people, who would never be able to hold a position in any private enterprise that works with the public.

My experience has largely been negative, ranging from overly bossy conductors, who belong back in freight service to lazy, arrogant on-board "service" people, who believe their personal comfort and ease are more important than the service mission they are there to fulfill. (They will take a break during meal hours, because... "It's my mealtime")

As an organization, they are incapable of figuring out the most fundamental of logistics, which is to anticipate how many meals should be on-board, so they don't run out of food. I always ensured I took the first seating on long distance trains, because I knew that by the second and third seating, they would run out of food. It's ridiculous. Can you imagine United or American running out of food on a flight? Approximately the same number of passengers per train, as on a plane, yet Amtrak fails routinely, in this regard.

And the dining car staff? Hah! The old railroad tradition is to place four people to a table in a dining car (if they don't forget to couple a dining car into the train and substitute a "dinette" - basically a half-diner/"lounge" car), and then, when the service attendant (aka waiter/waitress) deigns to stroll by, literally drops a paper pamphlet, passing as a menu onto your table, with a pencil stub to make your selection.

So, you fill this menu out and some minutes later, either the report that they're out of the item you selected or it comes out. It's an edible meal, devoid of any professional presentation and expensive, for what your getting. The wait staff are always rudely interrupting you in conversation and after a barely satisfying meal, more often not, people drift off.

If you're traveling in one of the coaches, the conductors always try to group you into one coach, loudly proclaiming the passenger load down the line will be heavy and that there will be a full load, which almost never materializes. In the meantime, you're stuck in a seat with squalling babies and uninteresting traveling companions and officious conductors, patrolling the cars. It has all of air of a prison train, with a warden and deputies, ready to slap the side of the seat, to get you to "straighten up".

If you opt for one of the sleeping cars, probably the only really tolerable way to travel by rail, you get a small sleeping space (which I understand, due to the space constraints of getting reasonable capacity out of an 85 ft. long car), and meals included, but with lackluster, unenthusiastic sleeping car "attendants". After the initial greeting and maybe some help with your luggage, they usually disappear for the remainder of the trip.

Your trip is frequently interrupted by loud, unnecessary and verbose announcements, with junk canned and scripted "information". This passes as "professional" and the on-board staff seem to revel in using the intercom.

I was told an old joke: "What are the first three words of an Amtrak conductor on the intercom"? Answer: "FFFF FFFF FFFF", which is the conductor blowing into the handset, to test if it's working.

Being in the industry, I used to be sympathetic to rail, as a mode and would, in general, support them at every opportunity, but in the end, there were just too many negative experiences to ignore, rationalize or excuse. I could relate a long litany of unpleasant anecdotes to echo the OP's experience and might be compelled to, upon further reading of this thread, but suffice it to say that Amtrak is such a completely negative experience, that I do not consider them an travel option.

Except for very short trips along the NE Corridor (Washington DC to Ny or maybe even Boston), I consider Amtrak unusable and not an option.

Good luck to all who suffer them.
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Old Apr 24, 11, 10:43 am   #19
 
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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
Amtrak is infested with substandard on-board service people, who would never be able to hold a position in any private enterprise that works with the public.

Can you imagine United or American running out of food on a flight? Approximately the same number of passengers per train, as on a plane, yet Amtrak fails routinely, in this regard.

Good luck to all who suffer them.
You seem to be making some broad generalizations on the whole organization and I'm sorry you feel that way.

I had dinner at a very nice restaurant recently where the service was terrible. It was a private enterprise where I received this substandard service. We seemed to really annoy the waitress with a second request to refill our water glasses after 15 minutes. Everything took forever. Oh, and it was at Walt Disney World. I guess WDW is infested with these people. When this waitress leaves Disney I'm positive she will go work for Amtrak.

I've been on two flights that ran out of food and both were American. Not fun when you end up in the back of coach LAX-MIA due to IRROPS and had no time to buy anything before boarding.

I've had plenty of good luck while traveling by train. I've seen my share of cranky employees at Amtrak, but the vast majority are pleasant. The percentage of cranky people at Amtrak about matches the percentage of cranky people I've dealt with on airlines and other businesses in general. Except Verizon. Their landline business customer service is pretty bad.
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Old Apr 24, 11, 11:10 am   #20
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I gotta say that I thought BobKinkaid did hit it on the head. Amtrak is nothing more than a dysfunctional organization and to think otherwise is a mistake. Really good experiences are limited, and taciturn, poor customer service facing staff are more frequent than not. This is at all levels of customer service from the ticket counter, to the lounge folks to the red caps and on board staff. (I would say the worst has been the regional dining car staff and selected conductors at the bottom of the pile)

I travel the NE corridor, mostly on Acela but with regional trains thrown in. They are some of the worse "professionals" I've dealt with. Are they all bad? No, absolutely not. Some of the conductors have been stellar, as well as some of the First class staff. That said, I've also experienced more poor attitude, poor mannerisms, poor communication skills, downright hostility and more entitlement than I have ever experienced or would expect to experience on public transportation anywhere in the world. The ownership of the table space in the dining car, even when the train is overfull is ridiculous and reeks of a "me first" attitude and you're scum so squeeze somewhere (we had people standing and others on the floor and the guy would still not let someone sit on the other side of the 4 top while he was out walking around). The employee equivalent to airline non-rev travel has stench of entitlement that is overwhelming at times. Again, not always but it is definitely present, esp visible on crowded trains.

If you have had positive experiences, that is truly wonderful but it is not the norm within this organization. I go in thinking the worse, so I'm pleasantly surprised when I do have good experiences, and thrilled when they are great.
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Old Apr 24, 11, 2:38 pm   #21
 
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I'm not making broad generalizations, at all.

The basis of my writing is the large volume of perception records in my database of experience, in which nearly every experience (record), with Amtrak has registered as a bad experience.

If it were a few random and isolated incidents, I wouldn't sweat it and just move on.

However, my experiences, across the spectrum of every conceivable public interface with Amtrak personnel have been so negative, it's more than just a generalization and beyond a pattern, it's what I've come to anticipate. And, I'm usually right. (I'm sure there are exceptions, but not many, in my experience).

As regards dealing with cranky passengers, hey, that's what's presumably in the job description, when you sign up for a position dealing with the public. Dealing with passenger issues with aplomb, grace and diplomacy, along with a sense of what's appropriate in passenger relations (also known as professionalism), is something that the rest of the service industry has mastered long ago and is standard, but not with Amtrak.

Let me also say that I'm pretty easy-going and am not someone to overreact to small stimuli. I do envy your positive experiences and wish mine were different. The vast majority of my experiences (and those of colleagues'), have been quite negative.



Quote:
Originally Posted by ByeByeDelta View Post
You seem to be making some broad generalizations on the whole organization and I'm sorry you feel that way.

I had dinner at a very nice restaurant recently where the service was terrible. It was a private enterprise where I received this substandard service. We seemed to really annoy the waitress with a second request to refill our water glasses after 15 minutes. Everything took forever. Oh, and it was at Walt Disney World. I guess WDW is infested with these people. When this waitress leaves Disney I'm positive she will go work for Amtrak.

I've been on two flights that ran out of food and both were American. Not fun when you end up in the back of coach LAX-MIA due to IRROPS and had no time to buy anything before boarding.

I've had plenty of good luck while traveling by train. I've seen my share of cranky employees at Amtrak, but the vast majority are pleasant. The percentage of cranky people at Amtrak about matches the percentage of cranky people I've dealt with on airlines and other businesses in general. Except Verizon. Their landline business customer service is pretty bad.

Last edited by BobKinkaid; Apr 24, 11 at 3:00 pm.. Reason: Clicked before adding comment
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Old Apr 24, 11, 2:50 pm   #22
 
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I share sentiment of the OP. Different set of participants here, so let me point you guys to an earlier thread of mine on similar topic:

the oxymoron that is amtrak customer service
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Old Apr 24, 11, 8:43 pm   #23
 
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different strokes

I have nothing but praise for staff on most trains in the west. But find the East coast crews to be obnoxious and surly.
Anyone else feel the same?
LSL is the worst IMO?
Trains west out of Chicago seem to be more laid back as most people are tourists (my belief).
What I wouldn't give for east coast crews to be better.

Last edited by darben; Apr 24, 11 at 8:44 pm.. Reason: misspelled word
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Old Apr 24, 11, 9:04 pm   #24
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I've taken the Zephyr twice, CHI-EMY. The dining car folks were always fun, always a couple that knew me by face by the end of the trip, share some jokes.

The sleeping car attendant - he made/unmade the bed, brought me breakfast once in my roomette when the dining car was back-logged. No strong impression either way, but he did his job.

On the Empire Service west of ALB, there's a cafe car attendant (short, gray hair, gray mustache) who's a particularly surly baastard, but that's the only rotten egg I've experienced in the East.
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Old Apr 25, 11, 4:32 pm   #25
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Originally Posted by BobKinkaid View Post
The basis of my writing is the large volume of perception records in my database of experience, in which nearly every experience (record), with Amtrak has registered as a bad experience.
With respect Bob, you either not been on a long distance train in a very long time and/or you need to update your database of experience. While I disagree with much of what you wrote, here's the biggest tip that your database needs updating.

No dining car attendant in at least the last 7 years would ever hand you a pencil to fill out your menu card. Passengers are not allowed to fill out anything on the guest check, except for their car & room number and their signature if they are in a sleeper. Additionally, pencils are not allowed to be used on the guest checks ever!

All guest checks must be marked with a black pen only. They can't use pencils and they cannot even use a blue pen. Those guest checks are scanned by a computer to account for inventory on the train. Anything other than a black pen mark cannot be read by the computer and the Lead Service Attendant is left being responsible for the missing inventory.

The crews are well aware of the repercussions of this rule and would never, ever hand you a pencil and ask you to fill out the guest check. In fact, they won't even give you the guest check to touch at all if you're not in a sleeper. If you are in a sleeper, they are quite specific that you are not to mark off any choices for food, but only to sign and provide a room/car number.

There is also no comparing Amtrak to United/American or any other airline. Airlines get their food delivered 30 minutes or less before departure and they know how many people are going to be on the flight. Amtrak gets its food delivered a few hours before the train leaves the first station. And the train can be in transit for up to 2 days, with people getting on/off along the way and tickets still being sold at upcoming stations.

Not to mention that if the flight does actually provide a meal, then it's a pretty safe bet that everyone will eat the meal. On Amtrak about the only people guaranteed to eat meals are those in the sleeping cars where meals are included. One has to guess how many coach passengers will actually go to the dining car vs. the cafe car vs. having brought something onboard with them.

There is no simple, valid comparison.

So again, with respect, I have to believe that it's been quite some time since you've been on an Amtrak long distance train. It's time to update your database.
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Old Apr 25, 11, 10:29 pm   #26
 
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Let me try to steer this discussion back onto the main track before it gets diverted to OMNI. Focus on culture. People can come from any number of cultures that cut across demographic boundaries. Some cultures are service-oriented, some crave power, some feel self-entitled, some are unusually ambitious. There's also an internal culture within an organization; this forms as a result of morale, relations between labor and management, dominant cultures and personality types in the workplace, and so on.

I'm willing to bet that Amtrak's internal culture isn't the most supportive of newer, enthusiastic employees and is driven by those with lots of seniority. The culture that forms within Amtrak is one of, "Our job is hard enough and is getting harder with all these budget and staffing cuts, so we save ourselves first." Not a customer-friendly attitude by any means. The good employees resist this, but I do see this attitude more often than I should on the non-corridor trains.

Last edited by ByeByeDelta; Apr 26, 11 at 7:11 am.. Reason: Edited out quote of deleted post
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Old Apr 26, 11, 6:50 am   #27
 
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Originally Posted by gatelouse View Post
Let me try to steer this discussion back onto the main track before it gets diverted to OMNI. Focus on culture. People can come from any number of cultures that cut across demographic boundaries. Some cultures are service-oriented, some crave power, some feel self-entitled, some are unusually ambitious. There's also an internal culture within an organization; this forms as a result of morale, relations between labor and management, dominant cultures and personality types in the workplace, and so on.

I'm willing to bet that Amtrak's internal culture isn't the most supportive of newer, enthusiastic employees and is driven by those with lots of seniority. The culture that forms within Amtrak is one of, "Our job is hard enough and is getting harder with all these budget and staffing cuts, so we save ourselves first." Not a customer-friendly attitude by any means. The good employees resist this, but I do see this attitude more often than I should on the non-corridor trains.
I think that corporate culture is the issue at Amtrak, and it has been an unsolvable problem for 40 years.

Amtrak was formed from the passenger rail operations of the freight railroads and, in particular, the Penn Central. In the later days of railroad passenger operations, customer service was horrible at the PC. It is my theory that Amtrak's culture was from day one was the culture of the Penn Central since so much of the early Amtrak operation was run by the PC. It's been handed down from generation to generation over the years and is engrained in Amtrak from top to bottom. Sadly, I don't see it changing anytime soon.
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Old Apr 26, 11, 7:06 am   #28
 
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I've always worked in customer facing jobs and my feeling is if I can give good customer service (and I do)-even when I'm having a bad day (be it a personal bad day or the company sysyems are screwing up) I see absolutely no reason why the employees I encounter as a customer can't too.

There's no excuse for poor attitude -and yes I agree that Disney concept "show" where the customer sees the positive side and all the staff moaning .....ing and complaining stays "backstage" and not inflicted on the paying customers is a good one -and do-able in any industry. I'm tired of hearing FAs moaning about their companies within my hearing amongst others.
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Old Apr 26, 11, 7:16 am   #29
 
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Let me try to steer this discussion back onto the main track before it gets diverted to OMNI.
Thread clean up complete. Where this discussion went was totally inappropriate. Those are the kind of opinions one should keep off FlyerTalk. This thread won't go anywhere but the delete heap if goes awry again.

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Old Apr 27, 11, 9:40 pm   #30
 
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With respect Bob, you either not been on a long distance train in a very long time and/or you need to update your database of experience. While I disagree with much of what you wrote, here's the biggest tip that your database needs updating.

No dining car attendant in at least the last 7 years would ever hand you a pencil to fill out your menu card. Passengers are not allowed to fill out anything on the guest check, except for their car & room number and their signature if they are in a sleeper. Additionally, pencils are not allowed to be used on the guest checks ever!

All guest checks must be marked with a black pen only. They can't use pencils and they cannot even use a blue pen. Those guest checks are scanned by a computer to account for inventory on the train. Anything other than a black pen mark cannot be read by the computer and the Lead Service Attendant is left being responsible for the missing inventory.

The crews are well aware of the repercussions of this rule and would never, ever hand you a pencil and ask you to fill out the guest check. In fact, they won't even give you the guest check to touch at all if you're not in a sleeper. If you are in a sleeper, they are quite specific that you are not to mark off any choices for food, but only to sign and provide a room/car number.

The issue discussed is service, or lack thereof. Rude, condescending, thoughtless employees, who have no business working on the front lines is the core issue.

Through my observations, not only on long distance trains, but on short-to-medium distance routes, without dining cars, along with numerous reports from others, it's easy to see that the situation hasn't changed.


There is also no comparing Amtrak to United/American or any other airline. Airlines get their food delivered 30 minutes or less before departure and they know how many people are going to be on the flight. Amtrak gets its food delivered a few hours before the train leaves the first station. And the train can be in transit for up to 2 days, with people getting on/off along the way and tickets still being sold at upcoming stations.

Yes, but airlines order their food long before 30 minutes before departure. The airlines have a private caterer (Example: SkyChef), deliver the food to the plane and get their data from the airlines, as to the quantities required. They have no trouble getting it right.

As regards the train being en-route two days, today there are all sorts of ways to get the message(s) communicated ahead (radio, mobile phones, internal channels - United and American have their own company channel), to have food ready, if demand is up and inventory is down. Low on steaks, with two more seatings ahead? Set up vendor relationships with a Costco, Sam's Club, Safeway, whatever, along with a local taxi company and have 'em meet the train. Next station, load up on inventory and people get fed. What's the big problem?

Any seasoned and reasonably intelligent on-board service employee should be able to figure this one out.


Not to mention that if the flight does actually provide a meal, then it's a pretty safe bet that everyone will eat the meal. On Amtrak about the only people guaranteed to eat meals are those in the sleeping cars where meals are included. One has to guess how many coach passengers will actually go to the dining car vs. the cafe car vs. having brought something onboard with them.

There is no simple, valid comparison.

Yes, there is. On pre-Amtrak, crack US trains, this problem would be unthinkable and they had less communication options than we have today. Imagine being able to handle a situation, any situation, pre-radio days, with a crew member dropping a message from the train onto a station platform, as the train blew through and the stationmaster, who would often (if not always) be present for the roll-by, picking it up and telegraphing ahead and solving the problem.

So again, with respect, I have to believe that it's been quite some time since you've been on an Amtrak long distance train. It's time to update your database.
It's time for Amtrak itself to catch up and use the many tools available to any member of the general public today. There is simply no excuse to run out of food and do it consistently.
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