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Business class on the Illini/Saluki is a ripoff

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Seaboard92

Conductor
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
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I generally agree with most everything that's been said so far. The airlines have very little trouble standardizing their FC/BC services as much as they reasonably can with various regional operators. However, the one thing I will mention that's different is that most airlines aren't getting their funding from the state. Some services don't really require a business class or first class service on their routes, like the Shuttle.

That being said, a standardized business class/first class service really shouldn't be that hard to do. It goes back to the unified branding I've been preaching about for a while. It gives your customers a seamless, universal experience. They know what to expect. They know what's offered and what isn't. Understandably not every state is going to pay for BC/FC service but for the ones that do, there's really no good excuse for not having a universal product available. The one exception would be differing fleet types (i.e., swapping Horizons for Superliners due to weather conditions or California using dual-level cars instead of single level). The layout may be different, but the same basic services should be offered.

Amtrak would do well to recruit some marketing and corporate image folks from the airline industry, preferably Delta. From my experience, these guys know what they're doing. No stone is unturned, they ensure that every. single. piece. matches.
What I would like to know is how the Airlines are able to get a reasonably similar product over various routes, aircraft types, and operators in their system? I've long wondered about how they manage that because it is hard to get a standardly consistent product with one or two variables but when you have multiple companies involved it gets very complicated.

You are exactly there are routes that don't need business class even with Amtrak namely the Keystones, Hiawatha, or Capitol Corridor. I think even with the various types of equipment Amtrak has it makes no sense to not have a unified hard product. Airlines I understand why you can't have a single unified product because different planes have different dimensions and they serve different markets. But for the most part on the rails every car is a standard 850 sq ft. Now that isn't all usable when you factor in restrooms, and vestibules but it's consistent.

I agree some of the airline corporate image folks are needed in the worst way. I think a lot of problems could be fixed with that.
 

NSC1109

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 14, 2016
Messages
368
Location
MI
Toronto to Kansas City with half a can of Coke for $700. Just sayin'...
That experience ain’t worth more than $30 and even then I wouldn’t pay it, just so I could avoid flying the Deuce.

What I would like to know is how the Airlines are able to get a reasonably similar product over various routes, aircraft types, and operators in their system? I've long wondered about how they manage that because it is hard to get a standardly consistent product with one or two variables but when you have multiple companies involved it gets very complicated.

You are exactly there are routes that don't need business class even with Amtrak namely the Keystones, Hiawatha, or Capitol Corridor. I think even with the various types of equipment Amtrak has it makes no sense to not have a unified hard product. Airlines I understand why you can't have a single unified product because different planes have different dimensions and they serve different markets. But for the most part on the rails every car is a standard 850 sq ft. Now that isn't all usable when you factor in restrooms, and vestibules but it's consistent.

I agree some of the airline corporate image folks are needed in the worst way. I think a lot of problems could be fixed with that.
It’s a little above my pay grade but there is an entire team of people in Atlanta that focus solely on the customer experience. We even have an ACS branding and signage guide that covers literally everything from the location of the “Travel to [insert city here]” sign in the airport to the ground support equipment. Exact and acceptable locations on where to put the Delta logo, equipment ID, etc. It’s amazing what these guys do. I’m sure it’s divvied up by functionality (ACS, In-Flight, etc) but that is their sole focus. There’s even a uniform guide for below and above wing ACS employees that goes far beyond what you see in Amtrak’s OBSSM. As for how it ends up on the regional fleets: it’s put in a contract known as a Capacity Purchase Agreement (CPA). “We give you X dollars for Y seats with A,B,C amenities” etc etc etc.
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
Joined
Dec 31, 2014
Messages
3,768
Location
South Carolina
It’s a little above my pay grade but there is an entire team of people in Atlanta that focus solely on the customer experience. We even have an ACS branding and signage guide that covers literally everything from the location of the “Travel to [insert city here]” sign in the airport to the ground support equipment. Exact and acceptable locations on where to put the Delta logo, equipment ID, etc. It’s amazing what these guys do. I’m sure it’s divvied up by functionality (ACS, In-Flight, etc) but that is their sole focus. There’s even a uniform guide for below and above wing ACS employees that goes far beyond what you see in Amtrak’s OBSSM. As for how it ends up on the regional fleets: it’s put in a contract known as a Capacity Purchase Agreement (CPA). “We give you X dollars for Y seats with A,B,C amenities” etc etc etc.
Now if there was a dream job for me it would be writing the OBSSM for any airline or Amtrak. I was talking with a friend the other night about a service he is wanting to start somewhere and he commented "I can't wait to see your Service Standards Manual" because I was very detailed in my expectations for my stewards. And my methodology of using friends and family on Non Rev tickets to grade crews in the field of whom the crews wouldn't know.

I can imagine Delta or any of the airlines are very particular about signage and branding from the moment you enter the airport all the way to the moment you exit the airport. I wonder if there is a copy of the Delta SSM as I would love to read it and model the one I'm working on for the PV I'm working with on it.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,841
Now if there was a dream job for me it would be writing the OBSSM for any airline or Amtrak. I was talking with a friend the other night about a service he is wanting to start somewhere and he commented "I can't wait to see your Service Standards Manual" because I was very detailed in my expectations for my stewards. And my methodology of using friends and family on Non Rev tickets to grade crews in the field of whom the crews wouldn't know.

I can imagine Delta or any of the airlines are very particular about signage and branding from the moment you enter the airport all the way to the moment you exit the airport. I wonder if there is a copy of the Delta SSM as I would love to read it and model the one I'm working on for the PV I'm working with on it.
If employees followed the Amtrak service manual, we would have great service.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,841
If management enforced the Amtrak service manual we would have improved service. Not great I think there are some things I would want to rewrite.
Have you studied leadership or are you just wanting to copy the Pullman employee guidelines?
 

Devil's Advocate

Sarcastic Misanthrope
Joined
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Messages
11,729
Location
Texas
We know how well that worked out with Richard Anderson, former Delta CEO...😉
You're probably just joking around but the part that made the Anderson experience so annoying for me wasn't that he came from Delta. It was that nothing I enjoyed about flying Delta ever seemed to come with him. Delta's service standards used to languish near the bottom of the pack, but they continued to improve over the years and eventually rose to the top. Whoever implemented the service upgrades in that turnaround would have been a great addition to Amtrak. Instead we suffered a series of service downgrades in exchange for a corn syrup consolation prize. :rolleyes:
 
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crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,841
You're probably just joking around but the part that made the Anderson experience so annoying to me wasn't that he came from Delta. It was that nothing I enjoyed about flying Delta ever seemed to come with him. Delta's service standards used to languish at the bottom of the pack but they continued to improve a lot over the years and eventually rose to the top. Whoever managed the upgraded service aspects of that turnaround would have been a great addition for Amtrak. Instead we suffered a bunch of service downgrades in exchange for a corn syrup consolation prize. :rolleyes:
Agreed. Delta even has little regional nods like the black and white cookie out of New York City. When planes get delayed, they come around with an iPad and check with passengers about connections.
 

Seaboard92

Conductor
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Messages
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South Carolina
Have you studied leadership or are you just wanting to copy the Pullman employee guidelines?
I actually have studied leadership and various service standards for multiple operations abroad. I've studied extensively the service standards of the Grand Express Russia over the last eight months. It is quite the impressive operation. I have also researched their competitors at RZD and Tver Express (d.b.a Metropolis). ÖBB's NightJet is an interesting property as well.

I have to say one of the most detailed Service Standard Manuals belongs to VIA Rail Canada. If you want a copy of it shoot me a message I'll be happy to share it.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
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Oct 21, 2015
Messages
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I have to say one of the most detailed Service Standard Manuals belongs to VIA Rail Canada. If you want a copy of it shoot me a message I'll be happy to share it.
I know that I hit when morale was low (right after the Canadian dropped to 2 trains a week I think, the first winter they did that.). But I wasn’t that impressed with the VIA crews I had. I’m glad I rode when I did before they messed up the park cars though.

I don’t think you get better customer service by having better manuals. You have to hire the right people, inspire them, and give them freedom to add a personal touch. When this happens on Amtrak, it’s the best of the best. Gul is a great example as well as Nanette from the parlor car days and several others I’ve had over the years. There should be standards that are followed and there should be consistency, but not a rigid set of rules like the Pullman porters were expected to follow.
 

Night Ranger

Train Attendant
AU Supporter
Joined
Jan 22, 2020
Messages
68
"As a Delta ACS employee: DAY-DTW is usually operated by a CRJ-200. The "Deuce Canoe" barely counts as an aircraft; it's a glorified Greyhound bus that breaks far too often. Glad we're finally getting rid of it. "

Last month I spent 45 minutes on a CRJ-200 to get to a connecting hub. Next time I'll drive the 2 or so hours or better still, ride an actual Greyhound. It was the most uncomfortable flight I have ever experienced. The only saving grace was that it was so short. I have never been as cramped and squished in an airplane seat in my life.
 

CameraObscura76

Train Attendant
Joined
Apr 10, 2014
Messages
25
Location
Mobile, AL
Amtrak's business class product is all over the place on a soft and hard product spread. And honestly it is a bit of a joke. You don't see Airlines with ten different versions of it.

Acela: Business class is 2-2 Seats. No amenities. It is just a nice name to make the "Elite" passengers feel like they are part of the elite despite being equivalent to a European 2nd Class Car.

Carolinian: 2-2 Seats in an Amfleet I car the rest of the train is also Amfleet I so this is a slight hard product upgrade, a pillow, complimentary drinks (Up to the discretion of the LSA, I've wanted something and been told to pay for the item 50 percent of the time), and a dedicated business class attendant (Is this really a perk).

Cascades: 2-1 Seats on the Talgo. A coupon for food or beverage from the Cafe worth $3, priority boarding at PDX, SEA, and VAC. As well as priority at customs at VAC.

Coast Starlight: 2-2 Seats on a Superliner. Literally the same layout as coach, but the chairs have leather instead of cloth. Priority boarding in SEA, PDX, small coupon for food/beverage on board the train.

Downeaster: 2-1 Seats on an Amfleet I/Cafe. Free drinks.

New York State Trains (Ethan Allan Express, Empire Corridor, Maple Leaf): 2-1 Seats on an Amfleet I/Cafe. Free drinks on trains that offer meal service (Anything west of Albany), nothing on the NYP-ALB turns.

Illinois/Michigan/Missouri Trains: Generally it is a 2-1 Amfleet or Horizon car split with the cafe. Sometimes substitutions occur however. Complimentary coffee and tea, lounge access, dedicated attendant (not an amenity).

Lake Shore Limited: 2-1 Seating in an Amfleet I Cafe Split Car. Free drinks, Lounge access at Chicago.

Northeast Regional: 2-2 Seats on Amfleet I. Maybe free drinks but the website isn't clear, and I refuse to spend the extra money for it normally.

Pacific Surfliner: 2-2 Seats on a California Car. Free Glass of wine, free drinks, snack pack, lounge access (LAX), priority boarding (SAN), and a dedicated attendant. Most importantly a reserved seat.

Palmetto: 2-2 Seats in an Amfleet I which has more seats than the Amfleet II coaches in the same consist. Complimentary drinks (again see comment about varying on the items).

Pennsylvanian: 2-2 Seats in an Amfleet I which has more seats than the Amfleet II coaches in the same consist. Complimentary drinks (again see comment about varying on the items).

Vermonter: 2-1 Seating in an Amfleet I Cafe Split Car. Free Drinks.

When you look at this its very unprofessional how there are 5 different hard products. Then look at the various soft products of which there are 6 ranging from nothing to something great like the Pacific Surfliner. We all try to make excuses for Amtrak's lack of consistency but that doesn't matter to someone who uses Amtrak for transportation from point A to point B, they aren't fans. They don't care if there is a valid reason for a service. If they buy a ticket to go from SAN-LAX for a flight to New York, then connect to an Acela for NHV or PRV they are experiencing two vastly different soft products. One is amazing, and one is in name only.

Look at United Airlines they offer two business class products. Polaris which is the best of the best, and United Business. No two types are on the same aircraft, and for the most part Polaris isn't in the domestic market so it doesn't effect the business class here. Soft product: Food/Drinks are free (including alcohol), free checked bags, priority security, outlets, and other nicities. But the thing is if you board one UA flight from CLT-ORD, and then connect ORD-DEN, DEN-PDX the product is 100 percent consistent between the three flights.

There is no good reason for Amtrak to have the many different varieties of business class. They need to pick one single hard product and stick with it. My recommendation is 2-1 Seating. Yes there are fewer seats on an all 2-1 Car on the NEC but you will get a better yield, as you can sell more tickets at a higher bucket as people always will upgrade if they can. Next they need to pick one single soft product that befits the extra charge I would argue the Cascades or the Pacific Surfliner offer the best soft product.

If Amtrak could do that they would have a very good business class product that would get higher yields, and have consistency.
I took BC on the Starlight to Seattle, I got neither leather seating nor the coupon. I did however get access to the Parlour car for what ended up being the first and last time experiencing it. I haven’t taken BC since because honestly what am I paying the extra for?
 

NSC1109

Lead Service Attendant
Joined
Aug 14, 2016
Messages
368
Location
MI
You're probably just joking around but the part that made the Anderson experience so annoying for me wasn't that he came from Delta. It was that nothing I enjoyed about flying Delta ever seemed to come with him. Delta's service standards used to languish near the bottom of the pack, but they continued to improve over the years and eventually rose to the top. Whoever implemented the service upgrades in that turnaround would have been a great addition to Amtrak. Instead we suffered a series of service downgrades in exchange for a corn syrup consolation prize. :rolleyes:
Service standards didn’t come from just Anderson. Before he took over Delta, he was at Northwest, who had a relatively crappy customer service experience but was, from an operations standpoint, one of the best airlines in the world. crescent-zephyr is correct, neither a CEO or a manual will change the culture of service Amtrak has. You need the right people who will make it happen and have some freedom to fix a situation when it arises.
 

railiner

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Palm Beach County
A CEO the likes of Herb Kelleher, or Gordon Bethune (“from worst to first”), would make a difference, although they would admittedly have a harder time changing Amtrak’s ingrained culture...
 

sttom

OBS Chief
Joined
Jan 23, 2019
Messages
585
That being said, a standardized business class/first class service really shouldn't be that hard to do. It goes back to the unified branding I've been preaching about for a while. It gives your customers a seamless, universal experience. They know what to expect. They know what's offered and what isn't. Understandably not every state is going to pay for BC/FC service but for the ones that do, there's really no good excuse for not having a universal product available. The one exception would be differing fleet types (i.e., swapping Horizons for Superliners due to weather conditions or California using dual-level cars instead of single level). The layout may be different, but the same basic services should be offered.
Standardizing across Amtrak would be far easier than with an airliner. Airlines have different widths to deal with, Train cars pretty much have a similar internal dimensions between them. Bi level cars would likely be the best candidates since you could put a galley in the lower level of a Superliner style car and have the upper level all be seating. But swapping them wouldn't be a big deal so long as Amtrak had a decent enough pool to pull from. There is no reason why the type of car should dictate what the "Business Class" upgrade actually is.

As for hiring airline people to do some of this, the time may be now, a lot of airline people are out of a job currently and Amtrak is trying to get more funding.

You are exactly there are routes that don't need business class even with Amtrak namely the Keystones, Hiawatha, or Capitol Corridor. I think even with the various types of equipment Amtrak has it makes no sense to not have a unified hard product. Airlines I understand why you can't have a single unified product because different planes have different dimensions and they serve different markets. But for the most part on the rails every car is a standard 850 sq ft. Now that isn't all usable when you factor in restrooms, and vestibules but it's consistent.
Whether or not a route *should* have an upgrade over coach is a matter of opinion. And in mine, if Amtrak runs a train, it should have an upgrade over coach and in the case of overnight trains should have a lie flat seat called business class as well. Other than budget airlines, pretty much all of them will offer some sort of upgrade over coach system wide, Amtrak shouldn't think or act any differently. Choice riders that are willing to pay more help pay the bills and Amtrak should be doing more to attract them as well as people who are sick of taking Greyhound. You don't grow your market share by appealing to only one type of customer and having a Business Class or Coach Plus option is one way to do that.

A CEO the likes of Herb Kelleher, or Gordon Bethune (“from worst to first”), would make a difference, although they would admittedly have a harder time changing Amtrak’s ingrained culture...
We frankly need people like them on the board, but the qualifications to get on the Board seem to be political connections, not being outstanding in your field.
 

Crowbar_k

Train Attendant
Joined
Jun 23, 2020
Messages
29
Personally, I think the trains that have the business/cafe car should be called First Class, because it honestly seems to be closer to first class on the Acela than the other business class options. Of course if they do that, they would probably feel that that would allow them to jack up the price.
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,841
Personally, I think the trains that have the business/cafe car should be called First Class, because it honestly seems to be closer to first class on the Acela than the other business class options. Of course if they do that, they would probably feel that that would allow them to jack up the price.
Do you mean the 2-1 seating?
 

crescent-zephyr

Conductor
Joined
Oct 21, 2015
Messages
2,841
Yes. And the seats look similar.
I see what you are saying, but First Class should include unlimited drinks (alcohol included) as well as food service. That's what first-class means when you fly, it should be the same on Amtrak and it is with Acela.

I do like the 2-1 seating. Even when having a seatmate you don't ever feel like you're sitting right next to someone like in the 2x2 layout.
 

Steve4031

Conductor
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Chicago
I could deal with that if they only sell half the seats so everyone gets a window seat.
 

Larry H.

OBS Chief
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Dec 22, 2006
Messages
966
The answer to that window question was answered years ago by many rail roads. This is the GM&O parlor car from St. Louis to Chicago which I rode many times. Some of them had a fan tail section on the rear, others just a door. The chairs all swiveled so you could talk to the person next to you or across the aisle or look out the window what ever you chose. Nice heavy overstuffed chairs made it more comfortable than the half plastic seating today. And the attendant was always around and would brush your cloths as you got off or shine your shoes while in route. He would bring your drinks or food from the diner which was usually to the front of this car which ran on the back all the time. Photo didn't copy to well but you can get the idea. 785B03D3-6533-4AA8-813E-2F8631CD8A2D_1_201_a.jpeg
 

caravanman

Conductor
Joined
Mar 22, 2004
Messages
3,828
Location
Nottingham, England.
Most folks who want to ride an enhanced "class" mostly want to feel superior to the regular crowd, in my humble opinion.
I took a day return trip from Chicago to Detroit, very enjoyable visit, but I noticed on the way back, that the business class coach was fully packed, where as us more humble poor folk had two seats each, and as much elbow room as we desired!
 
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