Does Amtrak Come Thru?

Before reading this entry you may want to read the first part, where things get entirely messed up in the first place. This part of the story is the ongoing story of my travel woes…

With the whole mess already framed, I awoke on Thursday with intent to travel on Friday. My original travel date, back when I scheduled this trip over a month ago was to be on Saturday. I’d changed it once, and that change went through the Amtrak computer system just fine.

Context of How I Interact and Operate With Amtrak

Generally Amtrak always has my tickets correct. The ticket clerks, at least in the Pacific Northwest are always nice and at worst, respectful in their interactions with me. For me, this is my baseline of interaction with Amtrak. Generally good people that are respectful to me and to other passengers. Overall Amtrak, in the northwest does a good job of performing their jobs too!

Because Amtrak personnel in the northwest are competent, respectful and generally good people. I’ve never had to get frustrated, never been insulted and problems have always been resolved almost immediately. So I operate, obviously conserving my time and energy, by assuming they’re doing these things. In the end, even with the debacle I was fighting earlier this week, I come out on top with time saved, not stressing over travel arrangements, ticket problems or otherwise. Never have I had any remotely significant problem or been insulted by poor customer interactions.

Earlier in the week that all changed. Should I blame myself and consider it my own incompetence that I got messed up tickets? A comment in the previous entry portrayed that I should blame myself. This is a serious victims mentality. If one accepts this mentality they will end up always being the victim, and I have too many things to do in life for myself and for those I care about to suck up my life acting like a victim. It”s vastly less time consumed and I come out less stressed, have more time for myself and those I love, and actually end up being “lucky” and respected by people assuming that they’ll merely do their jobs as best they can. I could go on for hours why this is a superior attribute and better for everybody involved.

Blaming one self first is ridiculous, the first thing to do is to try and determine what the problem is. The second thing is to resolve the problem in a logical and respectful way. That second part is where Amtrak screwed up last time. Not particular Amtrak as a whole, but one single phone operator that doesn’t understand basic customer relations very well. The last thing you ever do when someone is merely explaining the problem on the phone is start blaming them.

So now that I’ve put down some clarification of all this nonsense and why I got so perturbed by the whole scenario, I’ve got more to the story now.

Failing Software?

Amtrak clearly has a software synchronization problem. With a physical ticket being printed out that is for one date, the same reservation being displayed online for a completely different date, we already had one glaring software issue. The consistency between these two mediums was incorrect. When I had called originally these tickets remained incorrect, and the clerk had even reported a different time again. Then the whole explosion of absolutely unacceptable costumer service behavior occurred.

Well on Thursday I called customer relations, or more accurately I went through the phone menu to get to the customer relations line. The first person I talked to, I explained the problem to them, patiently as I do. She seemed a bit confused, but as she is supposed DID NOT IMMEDIATELY BLAME ME. Matter of fact, she didn’t even blame me. She confirmed that the reservation showed the 22nd. I told her that I had the ticket in my had which was not supposed to be for the day, but it showed the 21st. So we both were confused. So before having it become too complicated I explained my original intent, when rescheduling on Monday, was to have the departure date be Friday the 25th departing on the Coast Starlight for Portland, Oregon.

She then noted that the ticket for the 22nd had shown lifted too, so she’d have to send me to customer relations. I confirmed with her, that when she says “lifted” that this means a conductor marked me as on the train?

She said “yes”.

To which I asked her, “so they marked me on the train even though I’m in San Francisco?”

She responded, “it looks that way.”

I merely said, “weird” and she then forwarded me on to customer relations.

I got to customer relations and a lady answered the phone. She asked how she could help and I commenced to explain the situation again, starting from the original purchase on to the Monday when all this chaos started. She then looked at the reservation that she could see. I suppose she has an actual log she could see because the conversation then went like this.

While looking at the ticket and reservation log she asks, “so just to clarify, you’re in San Francisco and left from Denver, completing the first part of the trip right?”

“Yes.”

She continued, “ok, this reservation is completely messed up, it shows a travel time, a printed ticket dispersed for a different date, somehow that then got changed from and to the original travel date of the 26th to the 25th and then to the 22nd, printed the 21st, then back to the 25th and finally shows lifted on the 22nd.”

I responded, somewhat even more confused, “what? I mean, the 25th was listed at some point?”

She says, sounding confused too, “yeah, but it was lifted the 22nd and then just shows as a ticket for the 22nd.”

At this point my mind is completely blown. What the…   there’s nothing really that can explain this, beyond just simply absurd.

She continued, “well let me see, oh forget it. I’m going to cancel this entire trip reservation and get you setup with a completely new one.”

Happily I respond, “that sounds great.”

Meanwhile, I get put on hold a few and she works diligently to fix the tickets and reservation. Finally after about 45 minutes of fighting the battle with the Amtrak ticketing system, she returns to the phone with, “Alright Mr Adron I have you scheduled to depart on the Coast Starlight Friday the 25th from Oakland heading to Portland, Oregon.”

“Perfect!” I say. I’m relieved, and confident that the way I handle these things is fine. My confidence in Amtrak’s intent to keep things on the up and up is restored. I knew they would see this silly mess and fix it.

Now the computer systems and software however, there is still some serious concern there. What exactly is happening. The reason I ask is because this story isn’t over yet.

It Continues

I head off to work and get some things done with the team. It’s a good day, and I return home and check the reservation again via my mobile device.

It shows nothing. NOTHING!

I’m a bit freaked out, Amtrak’s accuracy in ticketing is plummeting fast at this rate. I then click on the mobile app button where it says there are no reservations and it pulls up another screen. What do I see? I see a reservation, but what’s this? Emeryville. I gotta go to Emeryville to board the train? What happened to Oakland? Oh well, whatever, that’s still acceptable. The reason I decide to just go with it is that Emeryville is about 10 kilometers north of Oakland, so no big deal. I’ll just take the BART and do the transfer I generally don’t like to do to get there. Perfectly doable, I don’t want to call service again.

On Friday, I depart for the station in Emeryville. Upon arriving I go to get my ticket. The ticket machine reports I must go to the ticket clerks in Emeryville. Then I notice some things while waiting in line listening to the clerks.

1. The clerks are working, while a third employee sits behind them bitching and whining about how she got a customer complaint from someone. She is doing this so loud that the entire waiting area can hear her babbling on about how it was the lady’s fault and not her fault. At this point, just from how she was whining about it, declaring for anyone that grasps the concept, that she was playing the victims card and is in fact a whiney brat about these situations. She displayed the exact emotions that would make her the person who would behave in such an inappropriate way and then say she was the victim. If I were running this station I’d probably have to fire this person. She was going on with such dispassionate and disrespectful word usage that she actually had waiting passengers go out to the platform because they felt uncomfortable listening to this lade endlessly bitch. The other two clerks continued working but kept nodding and letting her go on and on while trying to work.

2. I pulled up foursquare on my phone and multiple comments about the Emeryville Station came up. A huge number of the comments all revolved around “customer service here sucks” and “if you get the girl with the fake hair she’s a psycho” and “the old guy mopping the floor is the only nice person here” and the list just goes on and on. Usually I’m not one to just follow along with comments and agree. But in this situation, and considering it isn’t always common for people to comment on locations, these had more impact that most would. Maybe the Emeryville Station does have a significant customer service issue?

3. This was the station I received the messed up tickets in the first place. Matter of fact the lady who gave me the tickets was one of the working clerks now, letting this other employee just carry on endless and create a hostile, negative and uncomfortable working environment for everybody and a similar environment for the waiting passengers. She was also, when I changed my tickets, griping about something at the time too.

Emeryville, I give an F for customer service. I had not dealt with this type of crappy behavior since I’d lived in the south, where I was used to this type of attitude problem, hostile and uncomfortable situations, and unnecessary victim mentality. I generally don’t find it in California, and I really don’t experience it in Portland or Seattle or even in downtown San Francisco.

So I walk up and provide ID and state that I’m here to pick up my ticket. The clerk, while conferring and griping with the loud individual, prints it out and hands it to me. What’s on the ticket? Freaking Oakland.

What the hell. I come to Emeryville, which apparently is not a good station experience, and then get a ticket for Oakland. Oh dear the insanity of this. Whatever, I’m downline from Oakland toward the destination. Amtrak has never not accepted a passenger that gets on for a shorter distance than the one originally purchased. I’ve done this a few times matter of fact. Fortunately, this was no exception.

The clerk also reported the train 20 minutes late. The website did not show the train 20 minutes late. I was plenty early so it really didn’t matter. I sat down and started waiting. Sure enough, the train arrived not on time, but 3 minutes early. That works for me.

The Ride Begins

Myself and a few dozen other passengers all jump up throw on our packs and head out for the train. For this particular train (and the California Zephyr) they actually pull past the front of the station. Why, I am not entirely sure, as there is plenty of platform to just be in front of the station. I head out and walk the entire length of the train (which for context, is longer than a whole Talgo train, the Starlight is one of the longest trains in the Amtrak Fleet). I get to sleeping car 1430 and am greeted with a friendly hello and a, “hey, were you originally boarding in Oakland?”

I respond with a smile and a “yes, but online I got Emeryville listed, so ended up here instead, figured it was alright…”

To which the attendant smiled back, laughed, and said, “no worries boss, your room is right to the right of the entrance there. Just was wondering, thought we’d might have missed ya…”

I turned and there was my roomette, bed made up, ready for me to collapse. I stowed my stuff away and plunked down for some sleep. Outside my window was a beautifully clear sky, the train began to roll along at a steady 79mph. I checked a few things and rolled on my side, gazing out of the giant window at the sky, with sparse clouds. It had a grey and white glow against a blue and black back drop. The moon sat high above clearly outlining the detail of everything. The moon, being very full tonight, smiled upon me and I wavered and passed into slumber.

Albeit all this nonsense, it felt really good rolling along at 79mph heading back home with a beautiful view, with everything finally straightened out. Patience, do right by people, and things get settled. Cheers!

I Am Pissed, Amtrak Screwed Up Massively and Now I Have to Renegotiate My Day Completely To Deal With It…

I travel a lot. I travel a lot by train. But today Amtrak seriously did something that is making me rethink how I will be traveling in the future. They completely have screwed up things. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s take a look at concrete evidence.

I arrived at Emeryville Station to transfer to a Capital Corridor Train to go to Oakland (Jack London Square). I had just boarded and enjoyed a trip from Denver on the Zephyr. Overall a nice trip. The second full part of the trip however wasn’t to start until Saturday the 26th when I would depart from Oakland on the Coast Starlight to Portland. Well, I wanted to reschedule for Friday to depart & to upgrade to a roomette.

I walked up to the ticket agent to make these changes on my ticket. Keep in mind this was a two part trip; Denver to Oakland and then a week later, departing on Saturday the 26th from Oakland to Portland. I asked the ticket clerk if it would be possible to change my ticket from Oakland to Portland from the 26th to the 25th and upgrade to a roomette. She replied, “yes, let me take a look“. She pulled up the information and supposedly made this change. As she printed out the ticket she handed it to me and stated, “here’s the ticket for Friday (she didn’t state the numerical date) and here’s the refund and changes summary on this other ticket“. She held the ticket and exchange receipt like this to show me.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this.

Showing me the receipt, she held the ticket and receipt that where stapled together like this. (click for a full size image)

So I assumed, that since she just stated Friday to me and handed me the ticket and exchange receipt that everything was in order. I pocketed the ticket and headed out to board the Capitol Corridor Train to Oakland to complete this first leg of the trip.

Fast forward to Tuesday (yesterday). I looked online to see what the exact departure time was for the Coast Starlight heading north and this is when I realized there had been a mistake. But this simple mistake was only the beginning. The website on Tuesday, at around 11:30pm when I’m looking at the site, all of a sudden shows that I’m supposed to be leaving ON TUESDAY!? This was NOT what I was told nor what I rescheduled. I thought to myself, ok, no biggie I’ll call them as soon as possible on Wednesday and get this figured out. I’m sure that Amtrak will fix it, they generally do. Here’s what the website actually shows now, on Wednesday at 10:30pm. Still the incorrect time.

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that's three different dates I'm given. (again, click on image for full size)

Yup, it says the 22nd. Ugh, seriously Amtrak, that’s three different dates I’m given. (again, click on image for full size) …and btw, that amount isn’t what was charged to my card, to my company to anybody, nor was it the amount of the full trip or this part of the trip. I don’t even know who this amount of money applies to. I’m so confused at this point, I have no idea and it doesn’t seem anyone at Amtrak has any idea what is actually going on. All I do know is I don’t have a ticket for the day I need to take the train back to Portland.

So at this point I’d still not looked at my physical ticket, which was to have another surprise. I went in to the office to take care of meetings and other things I’d planned on well before that needed taken care of. I finally arrived later in the day to where I was staying and called Amtrak at 10pm. I know, this is outside of hours that anybody that can actually be helpful in these matters is available. I get that, but imagine being a customer that needs this fixed now, they’d be screwed. Fortunately I’m a pretty flexible and easy going guy. I generally don’t bother people and let people do right by me. Almost always, people do exactly that and treat me well and honorably with appropriate intent.

Well I called and the operator answered. I didn’t understand her name, except something like Alisha or something. It was, I’ll admit, hard to understand her since her accent was a little thick. It was an American accent, likely of the east coast with a little southern thrown in. Now, I can understand almost any accent. Especially southern, cajun, Boston, New York and pretty much anywhere in the United States. But her slurring wasn’t very effective at actual communication. Again, I’m easy going so I thought, “whatever, I can deal with this…”

She asked how she could help me. So I explained to her my plight, and this is where she, and Amtrak, screwed up in a horribly dishonorable and inconsiderate way again. After I explain to her the situation, and while looking at the ticket – which, before I go on look at the ticket below.

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn't what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Hmmm, the ticket I received from the clerk actually shows the 21st. So wait, was I supposed to be on this train on the 22nd or the 21st? Well that isn’t what the clerk said, she had told me the ticket was rescheduled for the 25th! (again, click for a larger image)

Yup, that’s right. The ticket isn’t even for the day that the website shows on the screen. What the hell Amtrak? Somebody screwed up big time on this one. Ok, again, not a big deal we can remedy it. At least I thought that to myself. But this is when things got intolerable and completely unacceptable. The ticket showed that the departure time was supposed to be on the 21st, the website shows a departure of the 22nd, and I was told the departure was rescheduled for the 25th. Then the lady on the phone told me, “since you where a no show, you’ve forfeited the ticket…”

For those that don’t know how to interact with customers, the last thing you do in this particular situation is BLAME THE CUSTOMER. You NEVER BLAME THE CUSTOMER FIRST. You always try to determine if there is way to remedy things without a significant money cost, especially when there is the possibility (which in this case there’s evidence) that the company (Amtrak) is the party responsible for the fault. This was a customer service mistake 101. Completely unprofessional.

WHAT THE HELL?! I didn’t “no show”. I was misinformed, Amtrak’s clerk screwed up. The website shows the wrong information and I screwed up? No I didn’t. I didn’t screw up. Amtrak did. Technically, they screwed up and I’d already overlooked multiple other screw ups. But then their phone line person has the inappropriate and rude training to blame me for screwing up? This is, simply, completely unacceptable. I just wanted my ticket fixed. But instead I get this crap about how its all my fault that I didn’t check the ticket in the email and the physical ticket I have and verify that they’re all the same and that what the ticket clerk said they gave me was the correct thing that they gave me. Seriously Amtrak? I’m supposed to check 3 different things to verify that your clerk didn’t screw up my request?!

That is absolutely, in every way inexcusable. On top of that, which I was willing to forget all of these screw ups, the phone person then has the shoddy training and bad customer skills to say its my fault. I don’t know how many ways to say to Amtrak that you guys owe me big time.

So I’ll be calling on Thursday, tomorrow, with basically one day to go and now cutting it close, to fix this nonsense. I expect things to be fixed and will be sorely upset if they don’t have a roomette to have me in on the north bound trip on Friday of the Coast Starlight. If Amtrak really wants to fix things I’ll receive a full refund and be able to write a positive blog entry after this one commending Amtrak customer service on fixing their multiple wrongs they’ve done me.

No matter what, this is going to cost me customer time with MY CLIENTS tomorrow. Which is even worse, because I actually have to work with my clients, I have no Government to bail me out, I ask for no union to protect me, I just want to provide value to my clients that they find worth paying me for. But instead, I have to break of from my time with clients to call Amtrak to fix this during their “business hours”. So hopefully, I receive a full refund and get this ticket situation remedied immediately upon calling tomorrow.

I honestly want to write a story about how Amtrak fixed all of this. I have my fingers crossed.

PS Amtrak: I’d highly advise two other things in addition to hopefully fixing my ticket and giving me a refund. One is to check out the system and see why it would do this. Something, most likely whatever the last pushes live with various systems were, are causing a bug. The second thing is, fix this inappropriate actions taken by the phone staff. They should have better customer service skills than this.