Q: I can’t get a refund from Amtrak for its totally inappropriate “handicapped” room on the Empire Builder from Chicago to Glacier National Park.
The room was not safe; there was no room for a wheelchair, no grab bars, and there were no safety bars on the toilet. There was no room for two people to sit and eat at the same time, and since my husband and I were downstairs and far from the dining car, this is where we had to have all meals.
Also, there were sharp metal protrusions that injured both my husband and me.
After almost three months, the only offer I got was a voucher on a future trip. This was after emails to the CEO, chief operating officer and my travel agent.
I would like at least a 50 percent refund. I can’t travel on Amtrak again because the room was not safe or comfortable for my disabled husband. I would even accept a $500 check, but not a voucher for travel that I can’t use.
Anne Evans, Chicago
A: I’m sorry about your unhappy experience on Amtrak. The Empire Builder is a 46-hour train ride through some of the most beautiful parts of the American West. In Amtrak’s promotional material, it invites you to “experience the rugged splendor of the American West” by traveling along major portions of the Lewis and Clark trail and following the footsteps of early pioneers.
OK, I have to admit, this one’s on my bucket list.
Alas, there’s no mention of handicapped facilities (or lack thereof) on Amtrak’s site. A little research will reveal that Amtrak offers something called a Superliner Accessible Bedroom, a lower-level room that offers enough space for a wheelchair. The room spans the entire width of the train and is designed for use by two adults: a passenger with a mobility impairment and a companion.
You should have reasonably expected the facilities associated with a handicapped-accessible room, including the grab bars and no sharp, protruding objects. Amtrak should be grateful that you pointed out these dangers and ought to fix them after your report. But I’m not sure if anything can be done about the distance from the dining car. Since the Amtrak’s accessible bedrooms extend the entire width of the train on the lower level, that may be a design limitation.
By the way, if you’re thinking of taking a lengthy train trip in the United States, you may want to check Amtrak’s 3-D tour feature on its website. You’ll get a pretty good idea of what to expect.
When your trip didn’t go as expected, a brief email or letter to Amtrak should have quickly addressed your problems. After your travel agent got involved, the company offered a $500 credit toward a future Amtrak trip, which was unacceptable. After your misadventures on the Empire Builder, why would you and your husband try Amtrak again? I would recommend driving in your own car next time. You don’t want to rush a trip through the American West. Bring your own car or van to ensure that you have all the amenities you need.
You appealed your decision to several Amtrak executives, which was a great idea. I list the names, numbers and email addresses on my consumer-advocacy site: http://elliott.org/company-contacts/amtrak/.
I contacted Amtrak on your behalf, and your travel agent also worked hard for a resolution. After some negotiations, the carrier agreed to refund $500.
Christopher Elliott is the ombudsman for National Geographic Traveler magazine and the author of “How to Be the World’s Smartest Traveler.” You can read more travel tips on his blog, elliott.org, or email him at email@example.com.