The pandemic and resulting lock-downs briefly halted the bombardment of fly-less-for-the-good-of-the-planet messages that was taking place in the fall of 2019. Hubby and I were in Ireland during the peak, enjoying a hard-earned vacation, while at the same time environmental activists were boarding airplanes to protest flights.
I’m an environmentalist myself, so have no quarrel with Greta Thunberg’s intent, but I feel she was choosing easy targets, not the planet’s biggest perpetrators — toxic chemical and plastics manufacturers like Monsanto and DuPont, the cruise ships that dump so much garbage in the ocean, the palm oil manufacturers mowing down acres and acres of rainforest…the list is long. Nevertheless, her growing movement did spur airlines to look at more environmentally-friendly ways to operate, and that was a good start.
I feel that travel is a force for good on our planet, when it’s performed with the goal of exploring another culture with thoughtfulness and authenticity. Putting an end to travel isn’t the solution.
Methods of travel that have less environmental impact are good choices when possible. To that end, my hubby and I decided to take a train to get to New Mexico this fall instead of flying. We’d actually planned to take this trip two years ago, but of course were unable to. The allure of taking a train all the way from Chicago to Albuquerque while doing nothing but watch the landscapes of the American Midwest roll by the big window in our onboard bedroom and enjoying three chef-cooked meals was irresistible, and we’d be taking a journey that left a smaller imprint on the environment.
We booked the trip on Amtrak’s Southwest Chief train last spring with great anticipation, and have been eagerly telling all of our family and friends about it ever since. The rest of the vacation in New Mexico has all been booked; everything is in place for a truly wonderful adventure within a few weeks.
However, in mid-August we received the following message from Amtrak:
“We wanted to let you know that the Sleeper Car has been removed from train #0003, the Southwest Chief, from Chicago, Illinois on xxx (date). We’ve changed your reservation to standard Coach seating and will refund you for the price difference.
We’re sorry for the inconvenience. Thanks for being a valued Amtrak customer – we’ll see you onboard.”
Hubby and I were stunned. They just arbitrarily removed the sleeper car? Twenty-five hours in coach seating was not what we’d booked. If it wasn’t an overnight journey, that might have been okay, but we’d wanted the full sleeper experience, with dining-room meals, not snacks from the Cafe for more than a day.
I called customer service at Amtrak to tell them their alternative was unacceptable. The best they could offer us was a Roomette a day earlier, also unacceptable because the Roomette is much smaller than the Bedrooms and not the comfortable experience we wanted, or a Bedroom THREE WEEKS LATER. I explained patiently that all of our other travel arrangements have been made, that changing the entire thing to a later date isn’t possible. The fellow at the other end of the phone said he was sorry.
I told him that “sorry” wasn’t good enough, that we’d been looking forward to this train journey for three years. I told him that we’d now have to tell all of our friends and family why we were no longer able to take an amazing train ride to New Mexico. I told him that Amtrak has lost us as a customer forever, because our very first experience with them had been aborted before we even got on the train; why would we ever book another journey when Amtrak clearly couldn’t be relied on to provide it? He keep saying “sorry”.
When I said we were cancelling completely, he processed a full refund on the spot, so no complaints about that aspect. But he finished by reiterating “Thank you for choosing Amtrak.” Seriously? The best I could say was, “I’m sorry we did.”
Well, so much for our attempt to travel with a smaller footprint. Our vacation isn’t a bust — we’ve booked a flight instead, and are still very much looking forward to the trip. We’re sad that we won’t be able to take what looked to be a really enchanting train ride. When the message from Amtrak thanked us for ‘being a valued Amtrak customer’, obviously they didn’t mean it — the company made no attempt to try and keep our business.
It’s all well and good to try making less of an impact through travel, but it’s also incumbent on transportation providers to keep up their end of the bargain. Good work is taking place in the travel industry, there’s no question. But until all the parties are committed, options for concerned travellers are limited.
All photos are by me unless otherwise specified, and all rights are reserved. E. Jurus