Brian’s Travel Spot: The Demise of Amtrak’s Full Dining Service

Amtrak's new "contemporary" menu on its Viewliner sleeper services: prepacked meals, delivered in a paper bag, a far cry from the full service dining cars it replaced. Bottom, my vegan Asian noodle bowl, and top, Amanda's red wine braised beef.One of the great pleasures of taking Amtrak’s long-distance trains used to be the dining car, where you could enjoy three hot meals a day, cooked to order from a varied menu, along with dessert and full table service. While this is still true on services running west of the magical line from Chicago to New Orleans, since the start of October last year, Amtrak has replaced its full dining service on all other sleeper services (except the Silver Star from New York to Miami, which is due to move to the new service on 1st May this year).

Although the new service is touted as an “upgrade” by Amtrak, it’s anything but. Having experienced (and loved) the full service dining car, what’s replaced it is vastly inferior, as Amanda and I discovered when we took the train from New York to Atlanta at the start of this month. Instead of a bustling dining car, full of happy passengers, we found a near empty carriage, grumpy staff and, while the food was good, the menu was limited (particularly if you don’t eat meat). As an experience, it was an immense disappointment, fundamentally detracting from the enjoyment of our journey.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Portland to Atlanta by Car & Train

Locomotive 608, hauling Amtrak Train 19, The Crescent, from New York Penn Station to Washington DC Union Station before it is switched out for two diesel locomotives which take the train on to New Orleans.Welcome to the second instalment of this, the second Travel Spot of 2020. The first part covered my journey to Boston, flying in economy with British Airways, before catching the coach up to Portland, where I spent the next two weeks with Amanda. This instalment involves our journey down to Atlanta to see Amanda’s mother, while the next two parts will cover my onward journey to Chicago and my return home from there.

Amanda and I had plenty of options to get from Portland (Maine) to Atlanta, the most obvious one being to fly. However, neither of us is a great fan of flying internally in the US, and, since we had time, we decided to look at other options. One alternative was driving, something Amanda’s done before, although it’s a one-way trip of 1,200 miles, which amounts to about 19 hours behind the wheel, so I ruled it out.

That left the train, a mode of transport which we both enjoy. It wasn’t the cheapest, nor was it the quickest, but it definitely sounded the most enjoyable, so we booked tickets on Amtrak’s Train 19, Crescent, from New York to Atlanta, building our trip around that.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Back to Boston in Economy

Making my own coffee on my flight to from London Heathrow to Boston Logan, using my faithful Espro Travel Press and my Knock Aergrind. Beans by Hundred House.Welcome to the second Travel Spot of 2020, which follows hot on the heels of the first. So far this year I’ve flown business class (London to San Jose), premium economy (my return from Boston) and now I’ve made it all the way to the back of the plane, flying economy on my return to Boston from London earlier this week.

Mind you, this trip is somewhat different than the one I’d originally planned. It was supposed to be a two-week there-and-back trip to Portland to see Amanda. However, that was before coronavirus/COVID-19 caused the cancellation of March’s work trip to Shanghai, the meetings being switched to Chicago instead. As a result, rather than fly back to the UK next weekend, I’m heading down to Atlanta, then flying to Chicago, not returning until the end of March, when once again I’ll be flying back from Boston on the daytime flight.

As usual, I’m flying with British Airways to/from the US. I’m also flying to/from Chicago (with American Airlines). However, Amanda and I will be taking the train down to Atlanta which should be fun! Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself: this Travel Spot is all about flying economy to Boston.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Return from Boston

Making my own coffee again, this time in the British Airways lounge at Boston Logan, with my trusty Travel Press and Aergrind.Welcome to the fourth and final instalment of the first Travel Spot of 2020, which covered the trip I took out to the Bay Area, Phoenix and Portland (Maine) in January. Part I detailed my flight to San Jose, with British Airways, while Part II involved flying from San Francisco to Phoenix  with American Airlines (and almost losing my laptop!). Part III saw me change things up a little and fly with Delta from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) via Atlanta. And finally, this post covers my return home on the early morning flight from Boston.

I’ve done this route once before (last summer), flying from Boston in premium economy with Virgin Atlantic on its early morning flight. I’m flying in premium economy again (aka World Traveller Plus), but this time with British Airways, a flight which has the distinct disadvantage of leaving 45 minutes earlier than the corresponding Virgin Atlantic flight (which means 45 fewer minutes in bed…). Once again, Amanda drove me down from Portland to Boston the night before, and I stayed over in the same airport hotel before getting up at the ridiculously early hour of 05:15 to catch the 05:30 shuttle to the airport.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: From Phoenix to Portland with Delta

My Global WAKEcup with a pre-flight V60 from Giant Coffee at Phoenix Sky Harbor Terminal 3.Welcome to the third instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, while Part II saw me take the relatively short hop from San Francisco to Phoenix. Now, after two weeks in Arizona (one for work, in Phoenix, and one travelling in Northern Arizona), Part III sees me flying all the way from Phoenix to Portland (Maine), my final stop before making my way home with British Airways.

Although I’d have loved to have done the trip by train, it would have taken a minimum of three days and cost an awful lot more than flying. I did a similar journey in reverse in 2018, when I went from Providence to Tucson by train, but that time I allowed myself a leisurely two weeks for the journey with plenty of stops along the way. With time against me on this trip, I ruled that out and decided to fly. Since you can’t fly directly from Phoenix to Portland, I was faced with various combinations of airlines/routes, eventually settling on going via Atlanta with Delta (my favourite US airline).

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Brian’s Travel Spot: From San Francisco to Phoenix with American

Making airline coffee bearable: make your own! My Espro Travel Press and Knock Aergrind in the American Airlines lounge at San Francisco Airport before my flight to Phoenix.Welcome to the second instalment of the first Travel Spot of the new year, documenting my first trip of 2020. Part I saw me flying from London Heathrow to San Jose on 3rd January, where British Airways kindly upgraded me to Club World, thus ruining my plans for writing about my experiences in World Traveller Plus (premium economy to you and me). Not that I am complaining too much.

After a week in the Bay Area for work (plus visiting plenty of coffee shops and an unexpected Cat Café), Part II sees me on my way from San Francisco to Phoenix, flying with American Airlines. From there, I’ll have two weeks in Arizona (one for work, one travelling) before flying from Phoenix to Portland (Maine) with Delta and making my way home from there with British Airways.

Flying internally in America is one of my least favourite activities, but I’m slowly learning to make the most of it, helped immensely by having a work travel budget that allows me to fly first class (not as grand as it sounds), plus having enough status with British Airways that I can use the lounge when flying with partner airlines such as American Airlines.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying to San Jose

The nose of my British Airways Boeing 787-900 which flew me to San Jose.Welcome to the first Travel Spot of the new year, on my first trip of 2020, which means I’m starting the year much as I started 2019, when I flew to Phoenix on the 4th January, managing to get upgraded along the way from Club World to First Class. That was also on the first Friday of the year (I flew yesterday).

This time, I flew from Heathrow to San Jose, California, where I’ll be spending a week (for work). Then I’ll back be in Phoenix the following week (work again), before spending a week travelling around Arizona, enjoying the winter sun. Finally, I’m flying to Portland (Maine) to see Amanda for the weekend, which will make an interest contrast (similar to last year, when I flew from Phoenix to Chicago). From there, it’s on to Boston to fly home at the end of January.

As usual, I’m flying with British Airways to and from the US, while, due to time constraints, I’m doing the internal travel by plane as well, flying from San Francisco to Phoenix with American and from Phoenix to Portland with Delta. I’d have loved to have done either (or both) of those legs by train, but it wasn’t feasible.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Returning from Tokyo in Club World

My British Airways Boeing 787-900 on the stand at London Heathrow Terminal 5, having safely returned me from Tokyo's Narita Airport.On Friday I’ll be flying to Tokyo again, so I thought it was high time that I finished writing  up my previous trip, so welcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot, this time covering my return from Tokyo. On my flight out, I travelled a new route and new airline for me, flying with Finnair from Manchester via Helsinki and on to Tokyo’s Narita airport. However, for my return, I was back in more familiar territory, flying with British Airways from Narita to Heathrow, with a short hop after that to Manchester.

This is the fourth time I’ve flown from Tokyo with British Airways and the third time I’ve done it from Narita (my other flight, in July last year, was from Haneda, Tokyo’s second airport). It’s also the third time that I’ve flown Club World (business class to you and me), although the first time I went to Tokyo, in April 2017, I was in World Traveller (economy to you and me).

The first step, as ever, is getting to the airport, taking the Keisei Skyliner. For the first time, I’ve covered this in its own post, so we’ll start at the airport.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Narita Airport and the Keisei Skyliner

The platform notice for the Keisei Skyliner service from Tokyo.Welcome to another instalment of Brian’s Travel Spot, following on from my flights with Finnair from Manchester via Helsinki and on to Tokyo’s Narita airport. I ended that particular Travel Spot at Narita Airport, where, as every seasoned traveller knows, the journey’s not quite over. You still have to get from the airport to your ultimate destination. Sometimes, this is fairly straightforward. However, in the case of Narita, you are faced with a bewildering array of options…

Part of the trick is knowing where in Tokyo (or, in my case, where beyond Tokyo) you want to get to. This Travel Spot is dedicated to getting to and from Narita Airport using just one of the options, the Keisei Skyliner, although I will talk about the merits of the other routes/options.

Narita, by the way, isn’t the only airport in Tokyo. There’s also Haneda, which, in contrast to Narita (65 km east of Tokyo), is much closer to the city centre, on the western edge of Tokyo Bay. You also have a similarly bewildering array of options there, including a monorail! For more on getting to Tokyo from Haneda and getting back to the airport, check out my trip from July last year.

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Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Finnair, Part II – Helsinki to Tokyo

My espresso on board a Finnair Airbus A350-900 bound for Tokyo Narita airport.Welcome to second instalment of the latest Brian’s Travel Spot, covering my journey to Tokyo, flying with Finnair via Helsinki, a new route and new airline (for me). Part I covered my journey from Manchester to Helsinki, while this, Part II, covers my onward flight from Helsinki to Tokyo’s Narita airport.

On my previous three trips to Japan, I’ve flown British Airways, and, wherever possible, I fly direct (one less thing to go wrong). However, since I was starting in Manchester, I had to change planes somewhere, so I decided to try the Manchester-Helsinki-Tokyo route, flying with British Airways’ One World alliance partner Finnair.

Compared to the route I would normally take, flying to Heathrow with British Airways and on from there, this meant a longer first leg, heading over the North Sea to Helsinki (approximately two hours in the air versus 35 minutes), followed by a shorter second leg, roughly 9½ hours as opposed to 11½ hours. That may not seem like much, but when you’re trying to sleep on the plane, that’s actually two hours less sleep, which can be crucial!

Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself: my first challenge was to make my connecting flight at Helsinki.

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