Amtrak train travel tips for the holidays amid COVID-19

Amtrak has new COVID-19 safety protocols for the holidays. Thanksgiving travelers who plan to ride the train between Nov. 23 and Nov. 30 need to reserve a seat, including on the popular Pacific Surfliner, which links San Diego, Orange County, L.A., Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo. Amtrak is selling a limited number of tickets to allow for social distancing onboard, so book early to get a seat on the train you want.

Not sure when, or even if, you’ll be traveling? You have a little wiggle room. Amtrak won’t charge change fees on reservations made by Dec. 31. Also, if you cancel your plans, fees are waived for reservations made by Oct. 31. Travelers holding unreserved coach tickets on the Pacific Surfliner (which doesn’t require reservations during nonholiday times) can use them up to a year from the date on the ticket.

Still concerned about how to stay safe onboard? Consider a private room. Some Amtrak trains offer roomettes and bedrooms that accommodate up to two passengers and larger quarters for families. Meals are included in the price. For example, one-way room fares on the Coast Starlight in late November between L.A. and Santa Barbara start at $138 (compared with $25 for coach and $36 for business).

Here are other things to know about traveling on Amtrak during the pandemic.

  • Metrolink monthly passes and Coaster passes won’t be honored on the Pacific Surfliner during the Thanksgiving travel dates. Amtrak plans to require seat reservations during the Christmas holidays, though dates have not been released.
  • Wear a face mask that covers your nose and mouth while onboard the train and inside stations.
  • Follow social distancing guidelines in high-traffic areas inside and outside stations. Expect to find plastic barriers at customer service counters.
  • Check how full the train is before you book with Amtrak’s online “capacity indicator”; you may choose to travel at less-crowded times. With limited capacity, people in the same household should have no problem finding seats together, Amtrak says. Solo travelers may use the seat next to them for belongings and social distancing.
  • Use Amtrak’s app to check on your gate and track information instead of gathering at departure boards (which could become crowded). You can sign up for notifications through the app too.
  • Use an e-ticket, instead of a printed ticket, that conductors can scan from the Amtrak app on your mobile device.
  • Filtration systems onboard have a fresh air exchange rate of four to five minutes, Amtrak says.
  • Amtrak, which has partnered with Lysol on COVID-19 protocols, is performing extra cleaning and sanitizing on trains, at stations and inside Metropolitan Lounges.
  • Parking at the train station can add to the cost of your trip. For example, parking lots at Union Station in downtown L.A. charge $8 to $16 for each 24-hour period.

Info: Use the Amtrak app, go to or call (800) 872-7245 to find schedules and book your trip.

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