How to sit together without buying the same ticket?
March 24, 2010 9:04 PM   Subscribe

Me and a friend are both taking the Amtrak Empire Builder from Minneapolis to the Northwest in late May. However, she is heading to Wenatchee, WA. and I am heading to Portland, OR. We haven't bought any tickets yet, and we are wondering if it is possible to be on seats next to each other even though we are heading to different locations. Is this possible? The train we both need to take splits off in Spokane, WA. which is why we can't simply buy the same tickets and one of get off early.
posted by Corduroy to Travel & Transportation around Portland, OR (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Amtrak doesn't have assigned seats, but they may have assigned cars. Even so, there is nothing stopping you from wandering around and sitting together, just take the tag they put above the seat and get to the right car before Spokane. The train is rarely full.
posted by Duffington at 9:19 PM on March 24, 2010

Seconding Duffington, although my experience of that ride dates to the year 1990. Complete with engine-on-fire-breakdown somewhere in Montana, and a -bump- track fatality outside Chicago.
posted by mwhybark at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2010

Recently I travelled from Seattle, WA to Vancouver, BC via Amtrak, and seats were assigned at the station before departure. My friend and I (who purchased tickets separately) went to the counter tand asked to be seated together, which worked.
posted by asphericalcow at 9:29 PM on March 24, 2010

I've never had an assigned seat when I've taken Amtrak. Sometimes they've only boarded people in certain cars at the station, but if you're both boarding at the same station, you shouldn't have a problem finding seats together.
posted by SisterHavana at 9:38 PM on March 24, 2010 [1 favorite]

I took Amtrak from Seattle to Portland last December. Seats were assigned at the station before we boarded, but people tended to ignore this until the car filled up, or there was one person sitting in an area that a group had been assigned. You should be able to get seats together when you 'check in', unless it's a particularly full train. You don't get assigned seats at the time of purchase.
posted by jacalata at 9:57 PM on March 24, 2010

Another option, if they're assigning cars based on location, is to just take whatever seat they give you and then swiftly snag a spot in the observation car and sit there together for the duration of the trip.
posted by mustcatchmooseandsquirrel at 9:58 PM on March 24, 2010

Seats are assigned at the "check in" before boarding the train. Just make sure to show up together.
posted by halogen at 10:39 PM on March 24, 2010

I guess I'm confused -- is it cheaper for you to go from Spokane > Seattle > Portland than it would be for you to stay on her train through Wenatchee, down to Pasco and over to Portland?

Having taken Minneapolis to Spokane and down to Pasco several times, and Pasco to Portland even more -- the entire trip is gorgeous, and I just ignore ticket seating and hang out in the observation car at all waking hours.

And honestly, Seattle to Portland: not nearly as stunning as Pasco to Portland. Surprisingly disappointing, in fact.

If the extended time with your friend, the rolling hills of Southeastern Washington, and a few hours of the gorgeous Columbia River Gorge interest you, I'd see what you can do to take that route instead.
posted by june made him a gemini at 2:39 AM on March 25, 2010 [1 favorite]

There are no "assigned seats", just make sure you take your tag with you (otherwise they won't know to wake you up). And make sure you sit on the correct end of the train before Spokane, as the train is usually split in half there.
posted by mezamashii at 6:29 AM on March 25, 2010

I took the Empire Builder from Chicago to Seattle last November.

What mezamashil says is correct. Your best bet is to sit together until Spokane, then have her move at Spokane. There's a reasonably long stop there, so it shouldn't be a problem at all. You may need to explain it to the conductors.

The reason for the long stop at Spokane? That's where they split the train for the halves that go to Portland and the one that goes to Seattle.

Good luck and enjoy! I had a great time... but next time I'm getting a sleeper. I had such an ache in my rear. (Feel free to MeMail me if you want more information - I did an entire website up about my trip so my family and friends could follow my trip.)
posted by mephron at 6:45 AM on March 25, 2010

Thanks everyone! Sounds like it will be pretty simple, as long as we check in together. And I totally forgot about the lounge car and just hanging out there if the seating doesn't work out for some reason.

Also, I'll have to think about the Pasco route....
posted by Corduroy at 11:34 AM on March 25, 2010

I just did the Empire Builder half a year ago, and I believe that they set each coach aside as either Portland or Seattle-bound. This is probably due to the fact that people have ended up on the wrong train in the past (a problem when the train only runs daily!).

If I were you, I'd just ask the conductor when you get on, and make it clear that missing the train would be your responsibility.

Another option, if they're assigning cars based on location, is to just take whatever seat they give you and then swiftly snag a spot in the observation car and sit there together for the duration of the trip.

This is true, but remember that Minneapolis to Seattle is like a 30 hour trip. I wouldn't want to sit in the observation car that long! (but try to catch Glacier National Park if you can- not sure if you can west-bound with good lighting)

Also, you all might want to consider doing a on-board upgrade (cheapest bucket price) for a sleeper
posted by waylaid at 12:38 PM on March 25, 2010

If the train leaves Minneapolis at night like the trips I took did, you'll start getting into Glacier Nat'l in the evening and miss a good portion of it to the night until you get into Spokane. Seeing the silhouettes of the trees and the mountains around you and the occasional lit cabin on the side of the tracks keeps it interesting. They've usually got the TVs in the observation car going at that point too, though.

The Spokane Sea/PDX split is long and fairly noisy; totally worth sleeping through once you catch a glimpse of the downtown 'skyline'.
posted by june made him a gemini at 12:16 AM on April 13, 2010

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