Monday, April 18, 2011

Plains Trains and Autobuses

Since I was about seven, I've been flying back and forth across the country at least twice a year. It used to be lots more fun - heck, I remember when they served not only honey roasted peanuts, but also little cups of ice cream with wooden spoons!

In middle and high school, in addition to the still-continuing cross-country commuting, I also did my fair share of Greyhound Bus travel throughout the state of Virginia (ugh. ugh ugh ugh. Filthy and crowded and cramped and surrounded by what feels like the dregs of humanity. Thank goodness MegaBus came along).

Sometime during college I also discovered the magic of Amtrak and its ability to let me visit friends and relations in nearish lands.

I travel. A lot (ish). In a hilarious twist of ironic irony, I have never learned to drive.

That aside.

For a time now I've been touting trains (not subway trains, mind you, but trains between cities) as my prefered method of transport, even though flights are sometimes cheaper. It's more comfortable flexible seating, your ears don't pop, you can make phone calls, it's not TSA DEVILness, etc.

This weekend, I took the MegaBus for the first time, making a daytrip to Boston to see my dad. And - yeah, wow! Everyone was right. That is a perk-heavy, low cost means of transportation. But, as the crick in my neck from trying to sleep from 10pm-2am on this bus will testify, it's not without its downsides too.

So um.  I made a chart.


Automobiles (bus)
Wait Time
Advised to arrive at airport 2 hrs prior to departure. Oy to the vey!
You can get there right when the train is leaving. (Caveat: see Boarding and Seating below.)
It’s first-come, first-seat so you can get there a half hour early or you can get there 10 min early.
I vote the MegaBus.
Waiting Area
Airports vary, but they’re indoors at least. With restaurants and such.
Train stations vary, but I’m completely over Penn Station and its humid waiting area with no seating. Boo.
In New York, it’s outdoors, but in Boston it's indoors, so this also varies.
Variable. To say the least.
Blah-blah-blah priority whatsit and zone. It used to make sense, now I just think they’re messing with us. And everyone cuts in line.
It’s a frikkin mob scene, once they tell you which gate to bottleneck into. No rhyme or reason, and everyone wants a good seat.
That’s why you come early, because people respect the line here.
MegaBus wins.
You get to choose online, ahead of time, and can pay for a better seat.
Good luck, chuck. (See: Boarding above.)
Depends on what time you get there. (See: Wait Time above.)
Airplanes take the suspense away.
In-flight movies & music, sometimes free, sometimes not. Inconsistent. And the sound system blows. Better to bring your own.
Bring your own.
Some buses come with screens for filmic pleasure, but don’t count on it. Bring your own.
Flying’s still the way to go here.
Electronic perks
Depends on the flight, but internet access is becoming more common – sometimes free, sometimes not.
I haven’t researched the internet access, but outlets to plug in are provided.
Both outlets and free internets available on MegaBus! What what.
The MegaBus is screaming across the tarmac, leaving planes and trains far far behind.
Depends – window or aisle seat? Big plane or little plane? First class or Coach? Extended legroom? Standard coach is only so-so, narrow usually.
Big wide seats. Plenty of legroom.
Sadly, a bus seat is still a bus seat. Hard, narrow, plastic armrests, and you’ll get a crick in your neck if you try to sleep.
Trains. Trains trains trains.
Transport Time
Still the fastest. Unless your flight is delayed. Or it’s foggy. Or your plane breaks. 1-2 hr to DC
4 hrs to DC
4 hrs to DC
Fastest way is a straight line, as the crow flies.
Luggage restrictions
You now have to pay to check a bag, and limit your fluid amounts if you don’t check it. Plus be wary of tiny pairs of scissors. And your overhead suitcase might not fit in the overhead after all.
No restrictions, but you have to schlep it yourself and either put it at your feet or leave in the rear of the car unsupervised.
One bag you can get stored in the back, another bag to carry around with as you please. No content restrictions.
I’m going with the train on this actually.
Depends on what fabulous deals you’ve hit, but almost always over a hundred, and sometimes just exorbitantly high.
Cheaper than plane travel, but still variant.
Fares as low as $1 if you get in at the right time. Or as high as – gasp - $18.
This is why the MegaBus is the new best thing ever.

Feel free to comment with your own experience, or contribute categories and designations!


  1. I am very glad to know about this MegaBus

  2. MegaBus is amazing. HOWEVER, it should be noted that the outside wait is VERY VERY VERY bad in a wintery cold NYC. I can attest to this. Even waiting with my friends for entertainment was not enough to make me happy in that kind of cold.

  3. This is a very good point. I also totally forgot to talk about delays in travel - my MegaBus had a slight delay - not obscene, but annoying when it was 2 am. Flight travel has had HORRENDOUS delays this week alone, if my twitter and facebook feed are to be believed. In that category, trains are very much in the winning category.

  4. I don't know that I agree on the time difference for short travel distances. Yes, it only takes 1-2 hours to get to DC, but that's is once you are in the air. There is the added schlep to the airport, security, waiting at the gate. When I fly in from Michigan, I spend at least twice as much time traveling to and from the airport and waiting there, as I do flying.

    Not to mention the fact that of the last 10 flights that I have taken, I think one of them has left within 30 minutues of the designated liftoff time.

    I want trains in America to be like trains in Europe. Less sucky. More awesome.