Uh-oh! The Eastern Shuttle Is Reborn.
For more than a dozen years, Amtrak has pretty much been the most popular way to travel between Boston and New York and between New York and Washington.
Those routes were a bonanza for Eastern Airlines and Pan American when they introduced the concept of the shuttle, but everything changed after 9/11. New security measures put into place at airports added well over an hour to the overall door-to-door time and then, with fortuitous timing, Amtrak introduced the high-speed Acelas.
Suddenly the train was competitive, and today, some 56-percent of the people traveling between Boston and New York City go by rail. The number is even higher for the New York to Washington stretch.
But that could be changing. A big reason is the TSA PreCheck. Almost everyone who flies even a few times a year has it, and the time saved going through security means the air vs. rail comparison for the Boston-La Guardia trip—city center to city center—is coming closer to being a toss-up.
In addition to time, there’s another factor: JetBlue recently entered that market and undercut the other airlines with a return of the $49 fare. American and Delta had to match it, of course, and now BOS-LGA fares on all three of the airlines are substantially less than Amtrak.
I arbitrarily picked Tuesday, February 7th, and priced an Amtrak ticket from South Station in Boston to Penn Station in New York. Amtrak matched the airlines at $49 for the cheapest, non-refundable coach seat on a Northeast Regional train. Business Class on the same train was $88. The big disparity comes with the Acela fares: Business Class—$116. First Class—$268.
There are no public reports yet . . . reports that would tell us if the new cheap air fare is luring significant amount of business away from Amtrak. My guess: some, maybe six or seven points. Not enough to panic, but enough to worry.
Acela and certainly regional Amtrak trains get a lot of their customers on midway stations, and even with PreCheck, I can’t imagine there is no time lost anymore. So even with the same point-to-point travel time, if more of that time can be spent in a comfortable seat, compared to standing in line at check-in…
Remember, the Airlines still charge for baggage. So, that still makes the train cheaper than the plane. If they paid you eleven dollars and then you paid them the $60 to check 2 luggages, then the price would become competitive.
True, indeed. I was thinking of a typical business traveler with a small carry-on, but the baggage fee certainly makes a difference.