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Acela Express First Class Seat Assignment (WHOA!)

Acela Express First Class Seat Assignment (WHOA!)

Old Feb 13, 18, 11:09 am
  #1  
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Acela Express First Class Seat Assignment (WHOA!)

I just booked Acela first tickets for Feb 19 and 20. Usual process for Feb 19. But for the Feb 20 ticket, the system assigned me a specific seat, and then offered the opportunity to change it, using a clickable seat map.

So I'm guessing Feb 20 is the first day this is possible?

It looks like for those who book early, the "rush" to get a good seat is over! THANK YOU AMTRAK for finally making this work.

EDITED TO ADD.... from amtrak.com:

Assigned Seating Exclusively Available on Select Acela Express Trains

You can now reserve your preferred seat in First Class on select Acela Express trains. Have more piece of mind knowing your seat is waiting for you. Once you've selected Complete Purchase, you'll automatically be assigned a seat. To select a different seat, use the Amtrak app or visit Amtrak.com.
So it looks like it's only on some trains. Hmmmm... hope this is eventually a system-wide rollout.

Last edited by wxguy; Feb 13, 18 at 11:16 am
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Old Feb 14, 18, 5:32 am
  #2  
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Hope it works better this time than it did the last time!!

Especially since Amtrak is already starting off by making the same mistake as last time; not publicizing this enough and giving people warning that it's coming!
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Old Feb 14, 18, 7:14 am
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I just talked to an S+ phone agent, and she said it's being tested on just two trains now -- 2190 and 2290. The expectation is that it will be rolled out across the schedule, but she didn't know details as to when and how that will be accomplished.
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Old Feb 14, 18, 7:27 am
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Like many pilots, there is a soft launch, followed by a splash. This is not new technology but Amtrak is hardly on the forefront of IT.
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Old Feb 14, 18, 7:47 am
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
Like many pilots, there is a soft launch, followed by a splash. This is not new technology but Amtrak is hardly on the forefront of IT.
I ride high-speed trains in Asia frequently (Taiwan, China, etc.). All have assigned seats in premium cabins (and some in coach). It works well.

The difference is that other countries' trains have uniform seating, mostly with all 2x2 or 1x2 forward facing seats, such that nearly all are identical and passengers have little choice other than window or aisle.

Acela First has the mix of seat types -- singles, doubles, double tables, and quad tables, where half the seats at tables are rear-facing. Being at a First quad with strangers is worse than being in a Business double, especially when your table mates are non-stop cell-phone users, have their computers and meals spread all over, running power cords from the aisle seats to the outlets. and constantly banging knees. That's why the mad scramble for seats, that is worst at NYP. And that mid-route boarders (STM, PHL, etc.) get horrible seats.

The downside to the assigned seating system will be, for example: Pax1 boards at BOS and has a "bad" seat. Pax2 exits from a "good" seat at NHV. No one else boards, so Pax1 takes Pax2's former seat. Then at STM Pax3 has Pax2's original seat assigned, and has to kick out Pax1. It looks like the F attendants will now have to add seat monitoring/dispute resolution to their chores.

Let's hope that the next generation of Acela first cars has standard 1x2 seating throughout, so all seats are essentially equal. As long as there are sturdy and sizeable tray tables, in my opinion there's no need for the large hard tables.
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Old Feb 14, 18, 4:15 pm
  #6  
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Originally Posted by Often1 View Post
This is not new technology but Amtrak is hardly on the forefront of IT.
This isn't new to Amtrak either. When Acela expressed first launched as a new service back in December 2000, all first class seats were assigned seating. One could allow the computer to assign a seat or one could pull up a diagram of the car and pick one's seat from there much like one does for an airplane.
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Old Feb 14, 18, 4:20 pm
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Originally Posted by wxguy View Post
The downside to the assigned seating system will be, for example: Pax1 boards at BOS and has a "bad" seat. Pax2 exits from a "good" seat at NHV. No one else boards, so Pax1 takes Pax2's former seat. Then at STM Pax3 has Pax2's original seat assigned, and has to kick out Pax1. It looks like the F attendants will now have to add seat monitoring/dispute resolution to their chores.
And that's one of the bigger reasons for assigned seating failing the first time they tried this. People who didn't realize that they had an assigned seat, mainly those used to Metroliner First Class, just picked any seat upon boarding that they wanted that wasn't already occupied. And FC attendants not wanting to anger pax for fear of no tips, refused to enforce the assigned seats. I suspect that Amtrak will have a very hard time once again getting the attendants to enforce the assigned seats.

Of course one thing that the attendants didn't seem to consider is that those of us who had picked our seats and found them occupied and had an attendant just tell us to sit anywhere there was space were often less inclined to tip because we ended up in a double seat facing backwards when we had reserved a forward facing single seat.
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Old Feb 15, 18, 12:21 am
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And if you want a sign of the old experiment, IIRC that's why you have the little digital displays above the seats on the Acela.

I do think there is an off risk of this actually losing Amtrak revenue. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume you've got a train with two seats traveling...oh, I'll just use WAS-BWI-BAL as a city set to make it nice on my brain. So you have three passengers: One traveling WAS-BWI, one BWI-BAL, and one WAS-BAL. Ideally, the WAS-BWI and BWI-BAL pax will pick one seat and the WAS-BAL pax will pick the other...but if the first two pick their seats first and don't pick the same seat, then the WAS-BAL pax is going to come along and be told "no seats available" while you have an empty seat all the way through. For the record, I've run into this with sleepers on more than one occasion.

This problem mostly doesn't come up on airlines because almost all flights these days are simple A-B flights; of the A-B-C flights I know of, many have restrictions on riding on either leg (e.g Qantas' SYD-LAX-JFK flight cannot sell tickets LAX-JFK for legal reasons). There are some exceptions (Cathay Pacific's JFK-YVR-HKG flight comes to mind, as do a few "milk runs" out there) but those are exceptions and not the rule (not to mention that most milk runs do not exactly have a load factor problem). Amtrak, on the other hand, can easily timetable a train that runs A-B-C-.....-W-X (and yes, a Boston-bound Virginia-originating Regional can easily run up to or over 24 stops, even counting BOS/BBY/RTE as a single stop) so the risk of losing more than a hatful of seats due to mid-route turnover really isn't trivial at peak times (and I don't think you want to lose part of your capacity at those times). With that being said, limiting this to the Acela ameliorates this issue somewhat (a weekday WAS-NYP Acela will, IIRC, only have between 4 and 8 intermediate stops, and NWK will be R/D-only and can effectively be consolidated with NYP for our purposes) and I'm sure that there are some workarounds in terms of dynamic pricing that could reduce the amount of this further...but I'll also admit that I'm kind of wary of a situation where Amtrak is trying to charge me an extra $10 for seat 12C in a given car versus 12C in the next car.

I think there's also a point to be made that at least as things stand, if the car is mostly empty and I got a lousy seatmate? Right now, I can move with no problem...and I see a certain value in that. To be fair, if you set up a decent back-end to allow the Conductor to make a swap on a space-available basis that wouldn't be a bad thing.

I recognize that Amtrak can probably kick out some extra revenue from charging folks to advance-select a window seat (and I've been advised that management probably has this on the brain) and it's always possible that they could offer you the ability to buy the neighboring seat at a discount (I'm thinking of things like Air New Zealand's "skycouch"), but I've got to admit that on balance I hope this falls on its face so hard that it needs reconstructive surgery...but I also lament the switch to e-tickets since that killed off what was a de facto "fully refundable" system that had survived well into the 21st century, so my desires as a customer aren't necessarily in line with what is best for Amtrak from a business perspective.
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Old Feb 15, 18, 6:38 am
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Airline seat assignments are not guaranteed. I've had times a FA has moved me, some to a better seat and some to a worse seat, or an late equipment change.
Isn't there some small text somewhere that would convey that for Amtrak like the airlines?
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Old Feb 15, 18, 6:58 am
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I would think the best way for Amtrak to handle the high turnover mid-route would be only assigning like 2/3 of the seats, with the 2/3 based on the % of ridership that is going WAS-NYP or NYP-BOS. This would create an open seating section that anyone can claim and a the person buying a PHL-STM ticket won't see sold out when booking online since all the seats are grabbed by NYP-BOS and NYP-WAS passengers. They'll simply be told to grab an unassigned seat if the train is already more than 2/3 full.
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Old Feb 15, 18, 11:38 am
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Originally Posted by GrayAnderson View Post
And if you want a sign of the old experiment, IIRC that's why you have the little digital displays above the seats on the Acela.

I do think there is an off risk of this actually losing Amtrak revenue. For the sake of simplicity, let's assume you've got a train with two seats traveling...oh, I'll just use WAS-BWI-BAL as a city set to make it nice on my brain. So you have three passengers: One traveling WAS-BWI, one BWI-BAL, and one WAS-BAL. Ideally, the WAS-BWI and BWI-BAL pax will pick one seat and the WAS-BAL pax will pick the other...but if the first two pick their seats first and don't pick the same seat, then the WAS-BAL pax is going to come along and be told "no seats available" while you have an empty seat all the way through. For the record, I've run into this with sleepers on more than one occasion.
Yep, I've made this point before, too, and AlanB has confirmed that the way Amtrak's system (ARROW) works, it actually will cost Amtrak revenue, since he confirmed that the same exact thing happens right now with sleeper room assignments (if one single room isn't available for the entire route that someone is searching for, ARROW will report the train as sold out).

Let's take an extreme case to see how this works. Take a train 2190 WAS-NYP. From WAS to PHL, the train is exactly 50% full, but everyone on that route is a leisure traveler, and they all choose window seats to see the scenery go by; all of the aisle seats are empty. At PHL, every last one of those passengers gets off to tour Independence Hall and the Liberty Bell.

From PHL to NYP, the train is also exactly 50% full, but every last one of those riders is a business traveler who only cares about productivity. They all choose aisle seats, leaving all of the window seats empty.

These loads are the case 24 hours before departure. At 20 hours before departure, you go to search for a seat WAS-NYP. At any given point along the route, the train is only 50% full. There should be hundreds of seats left for you to choose! But Amtrak shows the train as sold out. Why? Because there isn't one seat on the train that's available the full route between WAS and NYP.

You can get around this by searching for a multi-city itinerary WAS-PHL-NYP. You'd of course have to move seats in PHL, but that's not a huge deal (probably you can just slide over one seat). But you have no visibility into this and wouldn't even know to search that; all you know is that train 2190 is sold out.

Unless Amtrak comes up with a way around this, they're shooting themselves in the foot. Sure, the chances of the train showing sold out when it has 50% occupancy are pretty unlikely, but there are going to be some times where it happens to a not-insignificant number of seats, perhaps losing thousands of dollars of revenue on a given run.

Originally Posted by GrayAnderson View Post
This problem mostly doesn't come up on airlines because almost all flights these days are simple A-B flights; of the A-B-C flights I know of, many have restrictions on riding on either leg (e.g Qantas' SYD-LAX-JFK flight cannot sell tickets LAX-JFK for legal reasons). There are some exceptions (Cathay Pacific's JFK-YVR-HKG flight comes to mind, as do a few "milk runs" out there) but those are exceptions and not the rule (not to mention that most milk runs do not exactly have a load factor problem). Amtrak, on the other hand, can easily timetable a train that runs A-B-C-.....-W-X (and yes, a Boston-bound Virginia-originating Regional can easily run up to or over 24 stops, even counting BOS/BBY/RTE as a single stop) so the risk of losing more than a hatful of seats due to mid-route turnover really isn't trivial at peak times (and I don't think you want to lose part of your capacity at those times). With that being said, limiting this to the Acela ameliorates this issue somewhat (a weekday WAS-NYP Acela will, IIRC, only have between 4 and 8 intermediate stops, and NWK will be R/D-only and can effectively be consolidated with NYP for our purposes) and I'm sure that there are some workarounds in terms of dynamic pricing that could reduce the amount of this further...but I'll also admit that I'm kind of wary of a situation where Amtrak is trying to charge me an extra $10 for seat 12C in a given car versus 12C in the next car.
Exactly. Airlines get around this by allowing the system to book the flight anyway and then issuing split seat assignments. This is common on many intra-Alaska flights, such as the "Milk Run" flights that make several stops throughout Southeast Alaska. I can book SEA-KTN-WRG-PSG-JNU even if the flight only has Y1 left and that one seat hops around between each segment, because when I go to check in, the system will split my booking up into several segments and issue me a different boarding pass for each one with a different seat assignment (i.e. SEA-KTN in 7E, KTN-WRG in 14B, WRG-PSG in 23E, etc.). It's annoying to have to move around each time the airplane stops, but it's better than having to wait six hours for the next flight.

I would expect that's not how Amtrak will do it and they'll just show the train as sold out.

Another option would be for Amtrak to dynamically reassign seats to maximize utilization and minimize having to move. For example, in my illustration above, if someone books WAS-NYP, the system chooses one PHL-NYP-bound passenger and moves them over to a window seat, and then assigns the newly-booked passenger to the now-vacant aisle seat for the entire journey. Of course, that might be construed as mildly unfair to the person who booked and chose their seat preference much earlier, but it's one possible solution. But that's really how the system should do it for sleeper accommodations; sliding over a seat halfway through the route is not a big deal, but packing up all your belongings to move to a different sleeper in the middle of the night is quite annoying. (Plus, for the most part, one roomette or bedroom is the same as another roomette or bedroom, so most people probably won't notice or care.) Of course, there are challenges to overcome (older people without smartphones may print their e-tickets months ahead of time, and without an online check-in requirement like airlines have, there's not really an opportunity for Amtrak to notify them that their room has been reassigned, leading to potential conflicts on-board), but those aren't insurmountable.
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Old Feb 15, 18, 1:55 pm
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Great points. Also will impact people trying to use their valuable upgrade coupons to Acela First...

Interestingly enough, they are testing this out on 2190 which is one of the rare NYP-BOS Acela's (doesn't run south of NYP) so they are unlikely to encounter the problem of someone booking PHL-STM and seeing "sold out".
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Old Feb 23, 18, 10:41 am
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A complicated yet effective solution would be to have every stop be treated like a segment on the back end, so that the system knows how many people are ticketed (and which seats are occupied if seat selection were implemented) on the train at every given stop interval. Southwest does this (for example, they could have one flight with the same flight number that does BOS-BWI-BUF-ATL-FLL-MCO-ABQ-DAL. Southwest knows how many people are booked BOS-BWI, BOS-ATL, BOS-FLL, etc so that they're not overbooking the flight many times over the capacity of the plane).
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Old Feb 25, 18, 6:26 pm
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I took 2190 last week. Easy, no drama. It saved me from paying a few $ to the redcap for early boarding, and just waited until Billy in the Club announced the gate. The car ended up about a half full, with 10 or so boarding at STM.

I'll be on again this week, same seat, same station
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Old Feb 28, 18, 5:52 am
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On 2190 again this morning. Five on at NYP and seven at STM. No drama getting to assigned seats.

The conductor told me that eventually he will have a phone app that allows him to change seats on-board in real-time.
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