Amtrak vs Flying: Pros and Cons

Southwest airplane wing

There are pros and cons to Amtrak travel and pros and cons to getting on a plane. Your interest in seeing the country, need for on-time arrival or quick travel time are some of the top deciding factors when choosing between these transportation options. See below to learn more about Amtrak vs. flying.

Pros of Amtrak Travel

More Luggage Allowed

You can bring more luggage on Amtrak trains than on planes, and no liquid restrictions. Two personal items and two pieces of luggage can be brought on board the train (size and weight restrictions apply). Additionally, you can check up to four bags if your starting station and train route has checked bag service. The first two checked bags are free. Look up your starting station on Amtrak.com to view checked baggage information.

Arrivals and Departures May Be Easier

For air travel, it is recommended that passengers arrive at the airport one to two hours before the flight. With Amtrak, you can show up 30 minutes to 1 hour before the scheduled train arrival, and as a bonus, no security lines. Your nearby Amtrak station might also be closer than the airport, so consider drive time when choosing whether to fly or take the train.

Once you arrive at your destination via train, you also don’t have to walk through an airport to exit or have a long commute into the city. Many Amtrak stations are right in the middle of town, so you can get off the train and be at your destination. Transfers to local transit are also at or near many Amtrak stations, and it is easier to request a Lyft, Uber or taxi without airport crowds.

Privacy (including private rooms, bathrooms and beds)

The long-distance Amtrak routes have sleeper cars that have roomettes and bedrooms with doors and beds. Additionally, if you book a Viewliner roomette (available on single-level trains) or any Amtrak bedroom, you will have a private toilet and sink. These private travel spaces may be helpful during the Covid-19 pandemic to reduce contact with other people on the train.

More Space to Move

Another perk of Amtrak over air travel is that you can get up, walk around through multiple train cars, take a shower (if you have booked sleeping accommodations), sit down at a table to eat meal and on some routes, sit in the observation car to view the scenery.

Great Views of America

While it’s amazing to view the ground from 30,000 feet up, being eye-level with different landscapes across the United States is a unique way to experience the country without driving.

Environmentally-Friendly

According to 2018 EPA data, planes emit more greenhouse gases in the United States than trains. So if traveling in an environmentally-friendly way is important, Amtrak is the better option, especially on shorter trips.

Fewer Weather Delays

Flights are quickly delayed due to lightning and major storms, but these threats have less impact on trains since they travel on the ground. Amtrak trains may also be able to depart more easily during snow and ice storms. With air travel, runways have to be cleared at airports and planes deiced.

Inexpensive Regional Trips

If you are traveling a short distance on Amtrak, such as within the same state or to a neighboring state, ticket prices can be inexpensive. For example, a coach ticket between Chicago and Detroit or between San Diego and Los Angeles can be as low as $40. And a Miami to Tampa trip priced on August 30, 2020 was under $30 one way and Dallas to Austin only $15.

Cons of Amtrak Travel

Delays

Amtrak delays can be common, especially on long-distance routes where Amtrak might be asked to yield to freight trains on shared tracks. Despite this, Amtrak trains were on-time about 73% of the time in 2018, per United States Department of Transportation. In comparison, major U.S. airline carriers were on time 79% in the same year (source).

Longer Trip Times

It’s typically faster to travel by plane than by train, especially when your destination is across the country. A three-hour flight might be two nights on a train. However, regional rail trips or travel within the same state may be comparable or faster than flying, especially if you can arrive at an Amtrak station 30 minutes before the train departure vs 1.5 hours before a flight (hour saved).

More Expensive Tickets (in some cases)

Amtrak tickets tend to be higher than air fares if you book a roomette or bedroom as the price includes meals and private accommodations. However, Amtrak coach seats are often cheaper than coach seats on a plane, especially if you purchase tickets in advance.

Car Rentals are More Complicated

Most airports have car rental counters and cars at the airport, making it easy to pick up a car. While there are some rental car offices in walking distance of Amtrak stations, in many cases, you’ll need to find a rental car agency that will pick you up (or take a taxi, Uber or Lyft to get your rental car). Additionally, not all train stations have a nearby car rental option, so be sure to do your research. Sometimes the closest station to your final destination won’t have rental cars, so you’ll need to exit at the station before or after if you need to pick up a car.

More Information

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