Train or plane? Which is better between NYC and DC?
All information correct as of September 2023
Let’s say you are working in New York City and have a business meeting in Washington, DC. Should you fly or take the Amtrak train? Which is the best option for this route?
The northeast corridor is a popular route for business travelers between major cities like DC, Philadelphia, NYC and Boston. There are multiple flight and train options, but deciding which one is the best for business travelers depends on a few variables including cost of ticket, timetables, door to door travel times, distance to the airport or major train station, ancillary costs, seating and Wi-Fi.
To put these options to the test, two of our employees traveled from the Cosmopolitan Hotel Tribeca (now rebranded as The Frederick Hotel) in NYC to a meeting in DC. One on a train, the other on a plane.
Video recorded May 5, 2017
Winner – Team Train
At the time that we booked our tickets, the Amtrak NE Regional train starts at $20(!) for a one way ticket and the flight from JFK to DCA starts at $143. The Acela Express train at a similar time started at $121. Team Plane noted that there weren’t very many flight options that got her into DC early enough for our meeting which is why she had to opt for a more expensive ticket. So simply in terms of timetables and cost, the train offered more flexibility.
Adding in the most basic ancillary costs of getting to and from the airport with Uber added $71.29, bringing the flight package to over $200. The subway to Penn Station cost $2.75 and the metro from Union Station cost $1.75, making the total NE Regional train trip cost still under $30.
When it comes to budget, the NE Regional is a steal. Not only are the tickets the cheaper option, but it costs a lot less to get to and from the train station than the airport.
Winner – Team Plane
The Acela Express won for time, but when we tested the plane versus the NE Regional train, Team Plane was 10 minutes faster door to door, taking 4 hrs and 35 minutes to get from the Cosmo Tribeca hotel to our meeting spot in DC.
While the actual flight time is only 55 minutes, the trips to and from the airport, TSA wait times and delays added a considerable amount of time to Team Plane’s total journey time. For this trip, Team Plane won on time because she had TSA Pre-Check and got through the security line in 11 minutes. JFK security can easily be 45 minutes for priority lanes, and longer for regular passengers.
The NE Regional train took 10 minutes longer door to door at 4 hours and 45 minutes, but Team Train enjoyed a stress-free and on-time trip. Both Penn Station in NYC and Union Station in DC are located downtown, shaving off a good amount of ancillary time for Team Train.
When we timed the Acela Express on the trip back to NYC, the door to door time was actually the fastest at 4 hours and 9 minutes. So if you are willing to spend a little extra on the Acela ticket, it will definitely save you time.
Winner – Team Train
On the day of our trip, Team Plane’s flight, originally scheduled for 8:05 AM, was delayed multiple times and got switched to a different gate in another terminal. It finally took off at 8:56 AM. Other flights making the same trip from JFK to DCA that morning were cancelled. Team Train’s trip was on schedule and stress-free.
While these experiences change from day-to-day, taking the train eliminates variables like traffic to and from airport and TSA wait times, and prevented Team Train from experiencing delays and cancellations on this trip.
Another factor to consider is reliability of work time. If you need to get work done on the journey, majority of the flight trip is spent in transit to and from the plane. Actual flight time is short and inflight Wi-Fi costs money. Majority of the train trip is spent sitting on the train where Wi-Fi is free and each seat has plenty of space to set up your laptop, plug into an outlet and get work done.
In summary, there are pros and cons but overall, the train had more wins. While the plane was 10 minutes faster door to door (when excluding the Acela Express), the NE Regional train ticket was cheaper, you don’t have to arrive as early for the train and the train stations are both centrally located, saving time and money getting to and from.
Once at the train station there are no TSA lines, and Team Train didn’t have any delays or cancellations like Team Plane experienced. As a bonus, the regional train seats are comparable to first class seats on flight, you get free Wi-Fi on train so you can work the entire time and luggage is free. Team Plane actually had to swap suitcases with Team Train because the airline would have charged her for an oversize carry-on. The train takes home the cake for comfort, convenience, reliability and cost.
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