Consequences of not obeying Amtrak employees

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TheCrescent

OBS Chief
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Jun 24, 2020
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How much authority do individual Amtrak employees such as sleeping car attendants and cafe car attendants have to kick passengers off trains and have them arrested, or otherwise have over passengers?

On a plane, I believe that if you disobey a flight attendant, you can be arrested.

But on Amtrak, if, for example, a sleeping car attendant comes to your room to pick an argument with you about a question that you had about Flexible Dining, or if a sleeping car attendant follows you into the train and demands that you get off because you boarded through a car that wasn’t the sleeping car that you had a ticket for, can the sleeping car attendant have you thrown off the train and arrested?

Or do only certain Amtrak crew members have authority to throw you off the train and have you arrested?

Given the nasty crew member I dealt with recently, I’m curious. And for others who report nasty crew member behavior, I’m curious as to how much those crew members can actually do to passengers.

Thanks.
 

railiner

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Not sure, but I believe it is a federal law that you must comply with flight attendants orders while on an airliner. I don't think there is a similar law governing ground transportation. If an Amtrak Train Attendant, sleeper or coach, or any OBS crew has an issue with a passenger, they must refer it to the Conductor for handling. The Conductor will try to settle the matter, only if necessary, will eject the passenger or have law enforcement meet the train to handle the situation.
 

zephyr17

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The conductor has absolute authority and can remove you from the train. The OBS crew does not have any, but can get the conductor. Then it depends on who they believe, how you handle yourself, and how they are feeling. You really do not want to irritate a conductor.

Almost all conductors are quite professional. On a couple of occasions over many years and many miles I encountered a very few with little tin god complexes. Chances are if you are polite and professional and calmly tell your side of the story, they'll be fine with you. If nothing else, most do not want to fill out the paperwork required when they remove a passenger if they don't have to.

If they find you in an active shouting match with an OBS crew member, though, chances of getting booted off at the next stop are pretty high, no matter how egregious the act of the OBS crew member was that started it. If you lose it, you look like a loose cannon and they'll want you off their train, pronto. And all conductors legitimately consider it to be their train.
 
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Ryan

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I think the phrase is "fool around and find out" - if you're behaving in a way that you legitimately wonder "can this guy throw me off the train?", you're probably already wrong. Challenging someone because you don't think they're displaying the right attitude is a fool's game. You never know when you're going to run across a conductor that's tired of dealing with people's [email protected]!^ and decides to play the hard line. I'd rather be wrong and still on the train than righteously watching the markers recede into the distance. There's plenty of time after the trip to voice your concerns in an appropriate manner if you can't get satisfaction on the train.
 

cirdan

Engineer
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Mar 30, 2011
Messages
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This

And furthermore many arguments may seem infuriating and loaded with injustice at the time, but once you sleep over them and gain some distance they fade pretty quickly.

Being kicked off a train that only runs once daily, or even less, can seriously affect your further travel plans and lead to additional costs and inconvenience.

Sometimes winning an argument or being right simply isn't worth it. Chose your battles wisely.
 
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I can speak from personal experience. I was wrong in my behavior when I interacted with the PPC employee. I disagreed with his booting us out of the PPC during the wine tasting. I was with my father, and he escalated the interaction too. We left the car. As we left the employee told us we were prohibited from using the PPC. We went back after dinner thinking things may have cooled down. He called the conductor. I got up to leave, and my dad wanted to stay to debate. I told him we do not want to annoy the conductor because he will put us off at the next stop which was Chemult which is isolated. We both left. The conductor came to our rooms. He had us come back to the PPC so that we could all sit down and talk. He listened to our side of the story. And then informed me where I had been out of line and that he supported the PPC attendant's request for us to stay out of the car. He suggested a cooling-off period and that we stay out of there until the next day. He informed the attendant of his decision. I was VERY careful not to say anything else. I knew I had behaved inappropriately. The next day we returned to the PPC car and were careful not to annoy the attendant. The wine tasting was going to coincide with Cuesta pass. I was not about to push the issue. When he announced the wine tasting, we got up to leave. He told us we could stay this time. Apparently, the conductor had also told him to ease up. We were very fortunate to have a professional conductor in this situation.
 

fdaley

OBS Chief
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All good advice here. You don't want to test the limits. Over the years, I've encountered a few rude/difficult employees and some who were bent on enforcing rules designed to make their jobs easier, even at the expense of passenger comfort and even if these rules had no basis in Amtrak policy. It's best to just do what they ask, even if you think it's stupid or wrong. If you find yourself in a confrontation, try to de-escalate and move on. Occasionally the employee who snaps at you will think better of it and try to improve their behavior later in the trip.

One of the great advantages of having a sleeper room is that you can retreat there and close the door. If you're lucky enough to have a control knob that works, you can even turn the announcement volume down to zero and mostly ignore a bad crew. And you can look out the window and decide not to have your trip spoiled. If you're still bothered the next day, write a letter to Amtrak detailing your experience.
 

cirdan

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There are plenty of tips and tricks out there on how to psychologically de-escalate situations with persons of authority. Just check Youtube for example. I have got myself out of some sticky situations in the past (not Amtrak mind you).

But these things do not have unlimited success and its better not to push your luck.
 
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Perhaps the person who brought the wrong order was told if there was one more complaint about her, she’d be written up.

Perhaps the man in the PPC had twisted his ankle but couldn’t take time off and was standing for the whole day on a hurting foot.

We don’t know what a worker is dealing with behind the scenes.

As an example, a restaurant had a promotion that if they forgot to ask you if you wanted dessert, you got one free. The person did forget, and when I said could I get a free dessert, she insisted that she had asked me. I let it go. Then when I was eating, it hit me—and when there was nobody around, I went back up to the counter and asked her: if you have to give someone a free dessert, does it come out of your pay? And she said yes, and I said I didn’t need a dessert that badly, and she said thank you and was almost in tears.

I’m sure Amtrak treats its workers much better than that. But we still don’t know the details of what goes on behind the scenes.

Unfortunately for us, passengers possibly are the only group a crew can take something out on without fear of repercussions.

But as a passenger, I always back off.

It’s incredible what a simple “I’m sure you’re right—I may have made a mistake” or (to a grumpy cafe attendant) “I admire how you can stand for hours on a moving train—I think that’s amazing, but your feet must hurt” can do. Not always—but usually—the attitude turns around 180 degrees and they couldn’t be nicer.
 
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crescent-zephyr

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I can speak from personal experience. I was wrong in my behavior when I interacted with the PPC employee. I disagreed with his booting us out of the PPC during the wine tasting. I was with my father, and he escalated the interaction too. We left the car. As we left the employee told us we were prohibited from using the PPC. We went back after dinner thinking things may have cooled down. He called the conductor. I got up to leave, and my dad wanted to stay to debate. I told him we do not want to annoy the conductor because he will put us off at the next stop which was Chemult which is isolated. We both left. The conductor came to our rooms. He had us come back to the PPC so that we could all sit down and talk. He listened to our side of the story. And then informed me where I had been out of line and that he supported the PPC attendant's request for us to stay out of the car. He suggested a cooling-off period and that we stay out of there until the next day. He informed the attendant of his decision. I was VERY careful not to say anything else. I knew I had behaved inappropriately. The next day we returned to the PPC car and were careful not to annoy the attendant. The wine tasting was going to coincide with Cuesta pass. I was not about to push the issue. When he announced the wine tasting, we got up to leave. He told us we could stay this time. Apparently, the conductor had also told him to ease up. We were very fortunate to have a professional conductor in this situation.
i wish I could kick out any customer that I wanted to and have daddy conductor come and enforce my decision.

In the real world, if I got into a fight with the customer and the manager came by, I would be in trouble no matter what.
 

cirdan

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I used to have a friend who was very good at escalating situations and making an irrational drama out of minor inconveniences.

It could be quite embarrassing to be out and about with her, and I was actually surprised that she didn't get into unpleasant situations more often. Most staff are extremely polite and go the extra mile to not escalate.
 
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I'll reiterate that in this incident my father and I escalated the situation. We were lucky. When I travel by myself I pretty much know how to work around grumpy employees. I try the polite, cheerful approach. If the poor service continues and it's a SCA or dining car server, no tip.

I’m sorry, Steve, I was just trying to come up with general examples for my post and did not mean to criticize you at all. The PPC just came into my mind as a place where someone’s feet might hurt.

From reading your excellent and enjoyable travelogues, it’s obvious that you are a considerate traveler who deals well with situations that arise.

It can be hard to travel with older relatives. My mother could be so difficult that I would try to look invisible when I was with her. But the joy they get from traveling and being with us is worth it.
 
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If they find you in an active shouting match with an OBS crew member, though, chances of getting booted off at the next stop are pretty high, no matter how egregious the act of the OBS crew member was that started it.

At the same time, if you keep your composure, conductors will often side with the passenger over the OBS.

A few times, I've been involved in situations where the OBS was not only wrong, but belligerent and inappropriate. They summoned the conductor, who always supported me.
 

zephyr17

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i wish I could kick out any customer that I wanted to and have daddy conductor come and enforce my decision.

In the real world, if I got into a fight with the customer and the manager came by, I would be in trouble no matter what.
First, the conductor is not that OBS person's manager. Though he is "captain" of the ship and responsible for the safe operation of the train, they are in entirely separate managerial reporting lines. Most conductors will not really deal with passenger issues with OBS when brought up by the passenger. The lack of effective onboard supervision is a key, underlying problem of Amtrak's notoriously uneven and inconsistent customer service.

Second, since they are in charge of safe operation, overt belligerence on the part of a passenger towards the crew, almost no matter what the cause, is a safety issue. They tend to err on "better safe than sorry" and get rid of the problem (hint: it won't be the crew member).
 
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Ryan

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i wish I could kick out any customer that I wanted to and have daddy conductor come and enforce my decision.

In the real world, if I got into a fight with the customer and the manager came by, I would be in trouble no matter what.
That doesn’t happen in the real world on trains, either. Nice strawman.
 
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Sometimes winning an argument or being right simply isn't worth it. Chose your battles wisely.
So true. The following says it all, albeit in a different scenario:

Here lies the body of Jonathon Haye
He died maintaining his right of way.
He was right, dead right, as he sped along,
But he was just as dead as if he were dead wrong.
:rolleyes:
 

jebr

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i wish I could kick out any customer that I wanted to and have daddy conductor come and enforce my decision.

In the real world, if I got into a fight with the customer and the manager came by, I would be in trouble no matter what.

An OBS member can't just "kick off" whoever they want to and the conductor will just go along with it.

Also, spoiler alert: trains are also "the real world." Every job is different and has different expectations of the role. To a large extent, OBS has to be self-managing because there isn't a manager on board, and if a situation gets heated they don't have an option to have a higher-level manager come and resolve the situation (generally speaking.) Thus, things that a manager may do in a "standard" retail/customer-service establishment, like de-escalating the issue, remedying the problem, or asking someone to leave/remove themselves if need be, has to be handled by OBS directly. The conductor has wide-reaching powers, but they're not going to give a customer a refund if there was an issue with their beverage or the café car attendant was acting rude to them.

I would also expect any competent manager to back up their front-level employees when the situation warrants. Yes, a front-level employee shouldn't be out trying to make issues. But they also need to follow and enforce the rules and regulations of the business, which can make customers angry and blame the employee for "fighting with them" when they were just enforcing policy. If you work at a place where your manager won't back you up or hear your side of the story before getting you in trouble, it's time to find another job. I hear Amtrak is hiring. :)
 

Qapla

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I shop at Home Depot and Lowes quite often. I also have some mobility issues, so I like to park as close to the door as I can. At most of these stores, I can park under the contractor portico where there are spaces for the trades (yes, I am in the trades). However, there have been times when, for various reasons, they are not allowing people to park there - even though there are legitimate, empty parking spaces there. Most often, it is because they are loading and/or unloading something. The thing is, if I manage to get parked, I will get asked/told to move my car and park elsewhere. Do I insist that, because I have often parked there, I am not going to move to another parking space? Do I feel the store employee is being unreasonable or "yelling" at me because it is a noisy environment, so they are speaking loud enough to be heard?

Well, as someone who has bad hearing myself, I know that, at times (often) I tend to speak quite loudly. Am I yelling at people? I would not think so. In fact, I do not realize I am that loud because, to me, I am not loud. I can't tell that I am speaking that loud. For all I know, people may thing I am yelling at them.

Amtrak employees work in a loud environment on and near the trains. Is it possible that, when some think they are being yelled at, it is simply a person talking much like I do - loudly - without meaning anything or even realizing they are "shouting/yelling"

If I am boarding the train at the wrong car, instead of complaining that the Amtrak employee wants me to get off and go to the correct car, regardless how loudly they may speak, I am going to do as instructed, being glad they saved me the trouble of navigating through cars that may be moving while trying to get to my correct car/seat/sleeper/destination dragging my luggage.

I will say, I have never experienced an Amtrak employee doing what I would classify as yelling/shouting/screaming at me - even if they did speak loudly since I'm sure I was also speaking loudly ... especially outside next to the train where I find it difficult to hear. Personally, I would prefer they "speak up" so I don't have to keep asking them to repeat themselves.
 
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