CTA Trip Report Part 2—the Onboard Experience

In Part 1 I covered the ticketing and departure experience, now it’s time to talk about the onboard experience. We rejoin our story as I get ready to board for my trip south. Boarding is like the old Southwest model of free-for-all scramble onboard. But at least Southwest made sure that everyone getting off was able to do so before other passengers started getting on.

Seating Assignments

Once onboard I was met with the problem of where to sit. Much like Southwest, there are no assigned seats and every seat is certainly not created equal. On this particular trip I was treated to the new 5000-series model, which is slowly replacing the older 2000- and 3000-series models the CTA operates. While the 5000-series is noticeably quieter, smoother, and brighter, it’s main feature (one might argue flaw), is the center-facing seating arrangement, similar to the one used by the New York Subway.

5000s with Blue Interiors

CTA 5000-series.

The problem is the CTA’s implementation of the new layout. The chorus of complaints has actually become so loud that the 7000-series models the CTA will begin operating in 2016 will feature a different layout that solves the problems of the 5000-series. The 5000-series is designed to allow more room for standees. It does this by severely reducing the comfort of seated passengers. Instead of operating the open bench seating like New York, the CTA went with individual bucket seats, with posts strategically placed for standing passengers. Basically, each seat is like a middle seat on Spirit Airlines.

That said, there are a few good seats on each car. Near each door are seats that face the end of the car instead of the center. These are the best seats in the cabin, but they’re also priority seats for passengers in wheel chairs, so you may lose your seat at some point in the journey. Slightly less than awful seats can be found at the ends of the cabin. The end seats have a good deal of space between the side of the seat and the wall, providing some welcome respite from the otherwise sardine-like journey.

New Rail Cars (5000-series)

Best seats in the 5000-series.

The Onboard Experience

Once seated—thankfully in a seat at the end of the cabin—I put my bag away in the under-seat area. While not specifically designated for baggage, it’s a handy area to store your belongings. After stowing my carry-on, I enjoyed the entertainment system, which is completely different every trip. On this particular journey I was able to watch an episode of “Angry Woman Screaming into a Cellphone.” Admittedly not my favorite show, but I hadn’t yet seen this particular episode.

After the show ended, I decided to check out the AVOD. I saw that nearly everyone had a PED, so I thought I might have missed the purser handing them out when I boarded. Then I realized each person needed to supply their own PED. As much as that irked me, I had brought along my iPad, so I got it out of my bag and decided to get some work done. The cellular connection was reliable, although there’s no WiFi, something I hope the CTA is working on.

There is no meal service whatsoever; as the CTA expressly forbids eating and drinking, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that the CTA offers an onboard duty-free experience. A young man offered passengers chocolates for $1 each, noting that the proceeds went to benefit a local high school sports team.

As I neared my destination, I collected my belongings and steeled myself for the push through the sea of humanity to the “closing doors.”

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