Flying in 21st Century America hasn’t exactly been pleasant. What used to be a fairly easy going process before 2001 is now plagued by long security lines jammed up with the forced removal of footwear, theatrical requirements for carrying liquid toiletries, the triple review of IDs and boarding passes and random searches of luggage.
Whether these steps taken by our nation’s underpaid TSA workers are actually preventing the next 9-11 is up for debate. When their security theatrics are combined with decades worth of our airlines stripping away our basic transactional rights — like the ability to receive a full refund or change carriers when they fail to deliver the contracted service by delaying or canceling flights, flying is now one of the most restrictive, freedom-depriving experiences to be had in the United States.
So what about trains? Fewer people travel our country by train than by plane or car. Until recently, I had never included traveling via Amtrak in my own travel plans. After flying from Minneapolis to Chicago to New Haven, Conn., I found the final leg of travel aboard a train to be a delightfully liberating experience.
While flying, I wasn’t detained by Homeland Security or had to suffer through any delays. However, the name of the game in air travel is control. You are inspected and essentially told what to do for the duration of the trip.In contrast, my train ride began at a little tiny train stop called Windsor Locks. Most other passengers boarding at this station use it as a Park-n-Ride. I stood on this platform for eight minutes. There was a shelter, a trash can, and nothing else but railway and parking lot. Then, the train poked its head over the horizon.
It stopped, opened a door and dropped some steps, and let two passengers off. then one of the conductors took my ticket and welcomed me aboard. A second conductor at the top of the stairs asked if I had been checked in, I said no, and then the first conductor asked me where I was going and jotted a code for it on a slip of paper. “Put this above your seat on the clip. Consider yourself checked in.” And that was it for intrusion. I was free to sit wherever I wanted, get up whenever I wanted and to get a drink or snack anytime from the snack car. It was an overall pleasant experience.
When compared in terms of function, planes are far faster than trains. But in terms of affording personal freedom while traveling, the older mode of transit — trains — are far less restrictive and the better option. Why aren’t our government and private sectors investing more in maintaining, enhancing and adding to the passenger lines and trains across the country?