Don’t Be Like Amtrak (Please)

September 22nd, 2009

Ride the train. Buy the ticket online. Get from Boston to New York. How difficult could it be?

Source: cliff1066 @ Flickr

Source: cliff1066 @ Flickr

If anyone can make it difficult, it’s Amtrak. They have many of the annoying restrictions of an airline (must book 14 days in advance to get special fare) without many of the key conveniences (like, um, being able to print your ticket).

But adding insult to injury is their written communications. Case in point: the confirmation e-mail. Not only does it tell me I can’t print my ticket, it also informs me I have to print out a page with a bar code on it and take the page with me to a kiosk at the train station in order to get my ticket. Anyone following this?

Now for the best part, and I’ve included the entire e-mail (minus reservation number) below in case anyone thinks I’m making this up or blind as a bat.

The e-mail instructs me as follows:


1. Print this confirmation page.
2. Scan the barcode under the scanner below the keypad.
3. Touch the “Print Tickets” button.

No credit card is needed.

Well, I was visiting my folks (love ‘em; they’re the best). They live near my brother and his family. And my sister and partner were in from Colorado. In short, lots of chaos. And what slipped through the cracks? Printing the confirmation page.

I panic. In the middle of the requisite visit to Marshall’s for tax-free clothes shopping (and designer names for less!). How am I going to print my ticket? The e-mail was very explicit about printing from the kiosk using the bar code. It didn’t say I could obtain my ticket any other way. So I call.

And guess what? At the kiosk, you can scan the bar code OR…you can use a credit card. So apparently, while no credit card is needed should you opt to print the damn confirmation and shlep it with you to the station, a credit card is a perfectly reasonable and convenient option. That’s not mentioned anywhere in the e-mail.

People, people.

You gave me an anxiety attack in the middle of all those discounted designer brands and in front of my two gorgeous, brilliant nieces. Really. Now, maybe I’m just a dope who should know that even Amtrak isn’t so stupid as to not make a credit card option available. Maybe I should have tried to enlarge the itsy-bitsy photo of the Quik-Trak in the e-mail and looked for a credit card slot. But geez Louise, do you have to make it hard? Really? Something so easy?

Who is writing your e-mails? Better yet, who is proofing your e-mails?

Sometimes it’s the obvious things that are easy to miss. Especially for Amtrak

Proof, proof and proof again.

Thank you for choosing Amtrak.

p.s. I left out the part about how the first agent I spoke with told me that if I didn’t print my ticket at the kiosk at least 30 minutes before the departure time, my reservation would be cancelled; the second guy was, to his credit, competent and polite.

…………….THE ACTUAL E-MAIL……………………..


Subject: Amtrak: Reservation Confirmation – THIS IS NOT A TICKET

Thank you for choosing Amtrak. Save or print this page for your records.

Reservation Number: 15C…

THIS IS NOT A TICKET. You must obtain your ticket(s) before boarding any train; this confirmation will not be accepted onboard.

This confirmation notice is not a ticket. You must obtain your ticket(s) before boarding any train.

Pick up your tickets at any Amtrak Quik-Trak self-service ticketing kiosk, or at any Amtrak ticket window. Check station operating hours before you go; ticket window and Quik-Trak kiosk hours vary from station to station. Your entire reservation (all segments) will be cancelled if you do not pick up your tickets before your first departure or if you no-show for any segment in your reservation. If your reservation cancels, you will need to make a new reservation, which may be at a higher fare.


1. Print this confirmation page.
2. Scan the barcode under the scanner below the keypad.
3. Touch the “Print Tickets” button.

No credit card is needed.


For important identification requirements, please visit

For important baggage policy information, please visit

All Amtrak trains except the Auto Train are non-smoking.

Passenger 1: Deb Arnold (Adult)

Westwood – Route-128, MA (RTE) to New York – Penn Station, NY (NYP)
04-OCT-09; 5:24 pm – 04-OCT-09; 8:45 pm

Service: 2297 Acela Express
Duration: 3h 21m

Westwood – Route-128, MA (RTE)
04-OCT-09; 5:24 pm

New York – Penn Station, NY (NYP)
04-OCT-09; 8:45 pm

1 Business Class Seat

Amenities: ============================================================

[I don’t know you that well]

* We recommend that you arrive at the station at least 30 minutes prior to your scheduled departure. If you need help with ticketing, baggage or other passenger assistance, please arrive at the station at least 60 minutes prior to your scheduled departure.

* If you are traveling on the Auto Train you must check in at least two hours before scheduled departure.

* You may cancel (but not modify) your reservation online. Cancellation fees and/or refund fees may apply. To change your reservation, please call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

* Need a hotel or car? Amtrak offers great deals for your destination. For the best hotel, car and activity deals, visit to book now.

* THIS IS NOT A TICKET. You must obtain your ticket(s) before boarding any train.

Questions? Contact us online at or call 1-800-USA-RAIL (1-800-872-7245).

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