Amtrak Informative - Amtrak needs a major overhaul/housecleaning
FREMONT, MICHIGAN -- I am compelled to write and relate the horrible experience we received at the hands of the Amtrak Company. In the last five years, my family and I have been frequent and preferred travelers on Amtrak. We have traveled on Amtrak on our last three cross country vacations as first class passengers. We even use the Amtrak Visa as our most used credit card. I would also like to add here that as a teacher, I was one of the biggest advocates of train travel and your company until our most recent experience.
You can review the file # 2021846 for details on our train reservations and tickets, but our trip went seriously awry almost at the very beginning of our journey. We planned to park in the long term parking in Holland Michigan and meet the Southwest Chief in Chicago. Upon pulling into the parking lot, we were immediately accosted by two women who refused to identify themselves. They were telling everyone that they could not park in the Amtrak designated lot but must move to a lot over a half mile away. The women claimed that the alternate lot was clearly identified with Amtrak signs and flags, but it was not. Afraid that we would miss the train, my husband parked the car in a completely random parking lot nearly one mile away from the Amtrak lot. Throughout our entire stay in California, we never knew if our car would be in the lot when we returned or not. The one Amtrak employee at the station would not comment about these two unidentified women who were claiming to everyone that the parking lot would be “ripped up” for remodeling in a day or two even though the parking lot looked like it was in fine condition.
The train to Chicago was canceled and busses were sent to take us to Chicago. The Amtrak employee on our bus was very nice, but he did not know where the train stations were. We were lost a few times, and the employee had to go into gas stations (in full Amtrak uniform) and ask where the train stations were. Fortunately, we arrived in time to still catch the Southwest Chief train #3 on July 6.
As I stated before, my family and I are seasoned Amtrak travelers. Our car hostess was excellent on this trip out to California. Our kids were really disappointed that Amtrak no longer employed a Native American guide for narration in the Western states or provided a movie in the lounge car. Our car hostess, however, did point out many places of interest to us. Also very disappointing on our trip to California was the major decline in the food and service of the dining car. We tried to understand paper table cloths and plastic plates as the ravages of budget cuts, but the “special” was the same “country fried steak” on both nights of the trip, and the passengers who were in the private, pulled cars treated the diner like a bar. They were given very preferential treatment to the Amtrak first class customers who only wanted to fed. We found the dining staff to be exceptionally rude to paying Amtrak customers and exceptionally accommodating to the people in the cars that were being pulled behind us.
All of the minor inconveniences pale, however, to what we experienced when our Train # 5 Southwest Chief arrived in Chicago at 9:00 p.m. - over five hours late. Once again, as seasoned Amtrak passengers, we did not worry about the delay and believed all the assurances we were given on the train that busses would be waiting to take us to our destinations or appropriate hotel accommodations would be made. Now, the nightmare begins.
When we arrived in Chicago, the customer service staff acted completely surprised and irritated by our presence. We were herded back and forth between a foyer, the ticket line, and waiting room G. Our family was sent and waited in line in three different places. The promised busses never came. Finally near midnight, we made it to a customer service employee who informed us that we were all going to be sent to a hotel in Homewood - a far south suburb which was over 40miles away. I have enclosed a review on this hotel. I grew up near this hotel and it had hourly rates when I was a child. There was no way I was going to this hotel 40 miles away from the station, after midnight, when I knew what a filthy and dangerous place it was. Because the employees would not send a bus back to this hotel until noon, anyone with a possible morning connection was basically told to like it or lump it. Especially rude throughout this entire experience was an employee with the last name Maloney. She was seriously angry when about 15 of us opted to spend the night in the station and catch morning connections rather than go to this “fleabag” motel over 40 miles away. Amtrak claimed that all Chicago hotels were filled. This was not true. Ms. Maloney said they usually put people up in Hyatt, Swisshotel and Westin. I called all three hotels that night, and they all had rooms.
Those of us who were spending the night were not given pillows or meals or even allowed in a first class lounge. Were were ushered into a filthy coach lounge with individual metal chairs that were bolted together - not conducive to sleeping. Ms. xxxxxxxx backed by an equally nasty security guard who insisted on treating us like prison inmates informed us that we had “refused” their offer of a hotel and we had better get something to eat (with our own money) in the next half hour because we were going to be confined to this room by the security guard.
Making the best of it, we found some mats that were velcroed to the wall, and we made up beds. In this group of fifteen was a crying teenage girl who we had to give money for food, other children, and a man who was traveling to his brother’s funeral and needed to be there by the next afternoon. My husband had to phone work and tell them he would miss another day - not an easy call to make when you have been on vacation for two weeks.
When we got all settled, in comes the nasty security guard and this Ms Mxxxxxxx again. In a loud voice with guard behind her, she demanded to know who had taken the mats off the walls. We explained to her that we all had, and that it was our only means of passing the night without food, pillows, blankets, and now locked bathrooms. Again she angrily insisted that we were offered a hotel that we we did not take and we were lucky they were letting us stay in this lounge. I then informed her that all of us wanted MORNING connections and would not be transported 40 miles away from the station without transportation back until noon could not go to this hotel. She then said she was going to get a manager and that we would not be permitted to use the mats.
After she strode away, the security guard told us that we were lucky we were not going to be thrown on the streets. He told us he should take us out and turn us out on the streets of Chicago and it was only by the grace of Amtrak that we were getting this lounge. My kids started crying and then he left. A few minutes later, the manager strode into the lounge, took one look at our pathetic selves that you must remember had been a train for three days before this experience. Then he strode out again without a word. Thankfully, we never saw Ms. Maloney again, but at 5 am, the security guard yelled in prison tone and fashion, “Ok, ladies and gentlemen, this lounge is opening in 5 minutes. You need to get up, put the cushions back and get out. McDonalds will be opening in 5 minutes!!!” Let me tell you, at that moment, I did not feel like someone who had paid thousands of dollars to be a first class passenger on Amtrak, my husband was missing work, my exhausted kids were sicker than dogs, I felt dirty inside and out. We cashed in our train tickets, and headed to Greyhound by cab. We slept on the floor of the Greyhound station until our bus came to take us to Michigan.
I am not writing this letter because I want anything from Amtrak, but you need to be aware of the way first class passengers were treated at the hands of your corporation. Our experience was nothing short of a nightmare but then I think what if I were elderly, or a mother traveling alone or someone like that poor terrified teenage girl with no money who spent the night in the lounge with us? What about these people? C’mon Amtrak, you can do better and you know you can….time to clean house and start being a service for people again. I am only a teacher, but I could have never treated anyone the way Ms. Maloney and the rest of that staff treated us. I could have never went home to my comfy bed knowing there were people in that stuffy, nasty lounge all night. Shame on them. Shame on them. And if you ignore this letter and do nothing about this: Shame on you.
Amtrak Guest Rewards Member #xxxxxxxxxxx
****When we arrived back in Holland, MI and hiked the mile to our car absolutely no changes had been made to where we were originally going to park in the Amtrak lot.