Rails vs flying

Next July I, as one of 6 adults, will be escorting 18 high schoolers for 5 days from the upper Midwest (200 miles from Chicago) to New Orleans for a convention. There are also a few extra tourist days available. We will be traveling both ways mid-week. Our time, food, and rooms there are covered. We need to get there. Driving and busing are out. The two agreed upon options are rail and air. Only about half the group has flown before. One or two have taken the train. The last time the group went they flew and there were ticket issues at the boarding gate. Time before that they took the train and a few kids got sick. These are the options as I see them.
By air, we get there much sooner. Direct flight is probably not going to happen as we probably will not bus to a major airport but we’ll keep looking for one. Thus we’ll have a group of novices to shepherd through the airports. Ticket price plus all the add-on fees are a big factor. We expect to be able to get a shuttle to our hotel once we get to NOLa.
By rail it is basically 2 day travel. We drive an hour to catch a train into Chicago and wait a few hours there before pulling out for the 18 + hour ride getting there mid afternoon. Return trip is roughly the same timing. We will have more legroom, no added fees, more “bonding” time. We can take our own food along if desired. Reloading the food for the way home is a separate issue. We understand the internet is not on the train and will be restricted to cell phone coverage. The train station there is within walking distance of the hotel. Pricing round trip via Amtrak is about $550.
**I don’t know which is the best option to recommend. **

That Amtrak route is often very late.

You can bring food on the plane, just not liquids.

For five days you can get away with carry-on only, so no checked bag fees. I’m not sure what other fees you’re worried about. And round trip tickets from Chicago (which you’d be driving to anyway for the train) can be had for $150.

With 24 of you at $550 a pop or $13,200 all together, might hiring a private plane be an option? Then you could go from a local airfield.

22 people, Chicago to New Orleans? I don’t think its enough for a private plane. But you can always ask.

I vote train, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. Bring your own food, they can move about more, more to see, etc.

May I ask what the nature of their ‘ticket issues’ might have been, just curious.

You can move around more on the train, but the only reason you need to move around more is because you’re on the train so damn long, isn’t it?

I’m not sure why a bus is out. A charter bus seems like a reasonable solution and one that might be cheaper. But if not, I’d recommend flying. Work with the airline to get a group rate. They handle school groups regularly and can escort your group through check-in and boarding to minimize issues.

But you’re not going to have a direct train either, it sounds like, so you’d still have a group of novices to shepherd through an unfamiliar transportation hub.

Food to eat while on the way or food to eat once you get there? Because food to eat on the way is really only such a large problem if you’re traveling for two days and a night.

I would say train. It isn’t perfect but these days its a real different way to get somewhere and can be an experience in itself. I can’t think of a single flight that I remember because it was “fun” - just one that was a near disaster. But there are several rail trips I remember just because the trip itself was kick-ass fun.

My issue with the train is that you’re going to end up with a bunch of tired, grumpy kids and the adults will be tired and grumpy as well. It sounds exhausting.

Why on earth would you even consider the train? That sounds like hell to me.

Navigating an airport isn’t really that challenging and it’s a skill any adult should have - give these kids the experience now so they have it under their belt.

Agree. Another vote for plane. Plus, I just doubt kids will appreciate a train ride. That’s kind of an old(er) person thing. The half of kids who haven’t been on a plane will probably think it is pretty cool.

The train is good for seeing the sights and building camaraderie, but I think that’s best if you only have to do it once. Having to get back on that train to get back home might be too much. Also, herding teenagers and keeping them quiet especially when other people are sleeping can be exhausting. So, if I were a chaperone, I would have an eye on keeping the time in transit to a minimum.

I love trains, but I don’t really see any reason not to fly if your primary goal is to get from point A to point B.

The OP isn’t going to get a Gulfstream for that, but I was thinking along the lines of an older prop plane.

Sounds like 22 people is too much for small plane charters. This site indicates that a heavy jet has a capacity of 18 passengers. And this site gives an hourly cost of $5,000-$8,000 per hour for a heavy jet not counting crew, airport fees, etc. You’d eat up your $13,500 in no time. A chartered minibus might be a workable solution – hard to get pricing without giving your information for a quote but it looked like maybe $800-$1,000 per day?

If I’m picking between plane and train, plane will win every time. Every non-commuter train ride I’ve been on has been ridiculously long and not particularly enjoyable.

The trouble with busing is that a charter that has more than, I think, 11 hours of driving will require two drivers, who will have to be paid salary for the entire length of the trip, plus expenses along the route. For a less than 11 hour there and back again trip that one driver can handle assuming 10 hours of uninterrupted time off it would be an option, but upper mid-west to New Orleans is too far. I’d go for the plane, assuming you don’t have chaperones qualified to handle the bus.

I agree. A charter bus could be much faster and more convenient than Greyhound or Amtrak and might be cheaper than flying. You don’t need to charter a full-sized coach. Look for a company that offers a minibus which can often carry 25-30 passengers. If you contract with a charter company that can switch drivers you could do the whole trip in one long day. Commercial bus drivers in the U.S. are limited to 10 hours of driving before requiring 8 hours of rest.

So if you go by train, you’d drive to Chicago, but if you go by air, you’d fly out from somewhere else? Why not drive to Chicago under either plan? Then you could presumably find a direct flight.

2 days aboard a train sounds like it might be kind of hellish. Or it might be kind of fun. I assume you get sleeper cabins like in the movies? I’m just thinking how much I hated taking a cruise and on a cruise you get to move around what is basically a giant floating hotel/casino…

I generally take the Acela for trips along the Northeast Corridor (Boston to DC), but any further than that I fly.

I used to live in New Orleans and had many friends that also lived there but were originally from Chicago and needed to go back frequently. None of them ever considered driving, taking the train or anything like that and we were impoverished college students at the time. It is simply too far at over 900 miles even after you board whatever ground transportation you pick so you are looking at over 16 hours door-to-door realistically. That is not a good way to start or end a trip like that.

OTOH, planes out of O’Hare or Midway can make quick work of the same route and it will likely be cheaper as well. I just did a search for some random dates and it is easy to get round-trip tickets in the mid $200 range between Chicago and New Orleans and there were a couple of deals on Spirit that were absurdly low at just over $100 (again, round-trip).

Take the plane and forget about people putting a you and a bunch of students through hell for no rational reason.