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Train or plane? Travelers weigh in

By Sandra Endo, CNN
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Riding the rails or flying the skies
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Travelers with access to high-speed rail sometimes opt for the longer train trip
  • The convenience of getting to the station minutes before departure is one reason
  • Others prefer flying, which can be more than an hour faster from airport to airport

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(CNN) -- Traveling from point A to B is often a race against time, but it's not always the most important factor.

Travelers who have a choice between riding the rails or flying often weigh other features when deciding the best way to get to their destination.

We took a day trip from Washington to New York, a route along the Northeast corridor where travelers have the luxury of choosing shuttle flights or riding Amtrak's Acela Express train.

Time and price are usually king when it comes to travel. And here's how the Acela stacks up: Searching for fares Tuesday for a departure on Wednesday, Acela Express one-way tickets from Washington's Union Station to New York's Penn Station were $162 for a 5 a.m. departure, $186 at 6 a.m. and $232 for a 7 a.m. departure.

The trip takes about 2 hours and 45 minutes on the express train.

With a ticket to ride, you can get aboard and choose your seat. There's a cafe car if you're hungry, free Wi-Fi if you need it, electrical outlets at your seat and a quiet car for some peace.

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Train rider Fred Facemire said that in many cases, it's cheaper and more convenient to take the train. "I can arrive at the station five minutes before the train arrives instead of an hour or an hour and a half earlier."

Cynthia O'Conner prefers the train, because she doesn't run into tarmac delays. "I like the fact trains aren't late, they're dependable, and I can run an office while I'm on the train."

Plus, passengers don't have to check bags, and there's about three feet of space between seats. You're welcome to keep electronic devices on, and you can walk around during the ride.

Just less than three hours after leaving, we arrived in the Big Apple.

Then we put the Delta Shuttle to the test. Searches on Tuesday for a one-way Wednesday flight from New York's LaGuardia to Washington Reagan National airport yielded one-way fares from $372 to $408. The trip takes about an hour and 20 minutes.

At La Guardia's Marine Air Terminal, there's a dedicated security line for the short commuter flights, but those shoes still have to come off. In other airports across the country, there are not always special security lines for experienced frequent fliers to breeze through.

But Maryann O'Brien said she'd rather fly from New York to Boston. "It's really quick, really convenient, no complaints. It's great having the shuttle because you avoid all the hustle and bustle of the main terminal. It's a lot faster, even though weather could be an issue."

Slow flight to safety regulations

Unlike with most flights, changing your shuttle flight is free of charge.

But frequent fliers say there is some unpredictability.

"It's tremendously variable based on the weather, based on traffic. It can take anywhere from an hour to three hours," traveler Brian Christiansen said.

But he says he's willing to take that gamble.

On flights, passengers must turn off electronic devices during takeoff and landing.

"Sometimes, that's an advantage to be out of touch for a little bit, but that's one of the downsides of flying," Christiansen said.

But many more airlines are offering in-flight Wi-Fi, and Delta says the shuttle flights will have connectivity by the end of the year.

This plane has smaller luggage bins and narrower seats compared with the train, but Delta Shuttle offers complimentary beer, wine and snacks.

And a mere hour and fifteen minutes after takeoff, we landed in Washington. It was a pretty smooth ride, and everything was on time.

So, ride or fly? What do you think?

Share your experiences in the comments section below.