Monday, March 09, 2015

Amtrak Allows Pets: But it took a bill in Congress

For many years I've been scratching my head at the fact that Amtrak, which is ever-struggling to remain a viable form of transportation, hasn't allowed people to travel with their pets. While huge numbers of people are jetting across the country with their cats and dogs, paying a premium for pet-friendly accommodations and spending an unprecedented amount of money on their furry friends in general, Amtrak has remained clueless to a marketing opportunity of giant proportions.

Apparently it took a bill in Congress to make Amtrak do something it should have done a long time ago. No, it's not perfect. According to The Bark:
The bill specifically directs Amtrak to figure out parameters of the program within one year of its passing, which will need to include a designated pet car on each train. Traveling animals will ride in a kennel and be subject to a to fee (amount to be determined).
For now, pet kennels must fit within Amtrak's carry-on luggage size limits, 28" x 22" x 14". That's bad news for big dogs, but it is larger than the standard in-cabin size for pets traveling by plane.

Yeah, bad news for big dogs. Because little dogs can already travel in relative luxury inside cabins on airplanes while larger dogs are relegated to the cargo hold where temperatures, air pressure, oxygen and other necessities of remaining alive are not guaranteed (yes, I know many people travel with their pets in cargo and some airlines do a better job than others, but a friend had a pup nearly die from oxygen deprivation and lack of proper pressurization, so I know it does happen). This is why so many dog-loving travelers own or rent RVs and take road trips. But geez, who wants to drive an RV down Highway 1?

I've always loved road trips, but my favorite part is when someone else is driving. This is where trains come in. Traveling in places like Japan and all over Europe, my husband and I have experienced the relative luxury of train travel -- allowing someone else to do all the driving while we relax and enjoy the scenery. Those places have train systems that are efficient, cover most of the country and are usually on time. Amtrak can't quite get there, at least not in the West, where it shares many of its lines with freight trains that always seem to get precedence. But having dogs on board would be a check mark in the positive column, on balance.

I dream of a better situation here in the US for train travel. I want the train travel experience it to be like it was in the old black-and-white know, when traveling by train across the US was cool. Traveling in a sleeper car with my hubby and my dog, like Nick and Nora Charles above, would be pretty awesome. Although in one of the Thin Man movies, they ended up traveling in the baggage car because they insisted on bringing Asta with them... As I watched, I actually thought for a moment that it wouldn't be too bad traveling like they did in the baggage car if they allowed me to do it with my dog. Short trip maybe. Otherwise I would much prefer having windows...nevermind.

My idea of a pleasant, low-stress, cross-country trip would be on a train outfitted with both a pet-friendly policy and a car carrier (so I'd have my own transport when I arrive). It would be something like this:

  • Nice digs -- big seat next to a window so I can sit back and enjoy the scenery, catch up on my reading and sleep. For overnights and cross-country trips, I'll take a sleeper car.
  • Good food -- not the packaged food/snack bar variety on many trains. I want to eat the way they used to eat on trains in the old black-and-white know, when train travel in the US was cool.
  • Dog on the seat next to me. Ok I know this would bother many people who have allergies. So do peanuts. So I'll sit in the car with all the other "dog people" who want to take their furry friends with them. 
  • If I can't have the dog in the seat next to me, then a kennel car will due -- particularly if I have visiting privileges. 
  • Potty stops -- designated areas at train stations for the dogs to go relieve themselves and for the people to get some air. 
  • Dream scenario: they'd have a supervised doggy "romper room" car where you could go play with your dog and other dogs for short periods during your journey. Man, how the time would fly, even if you didn't.
I would get off at my destination and my dog and car would be there too. In the meantime, I'd feel good about having saved a lot of gas, enjoyed the ride and kept my pet with me rather than in a kennel. Almost perfect.