The most read posts on the blog are those that review airline seats and service, and so here is my thoughts on Continental Airlines in the USA..
It makes me wonder why no carrier has stepped up (or in) with a flying experience that turns the whole horrible process into something more bearable. I know that Virgin is now trying this with the launch of Virgin America, but that is still in early days.
I assume it could be partly the fact that by law no foreign ownership of domestic airlines or foreign competition on domestic routes is allowed which stops anyone from outside the USA entering and changing the game. It is also unlikely the US carriers while make a major change as most of the US carriers are struggling with near bankruptcy or just again starting to make money after the events of 9/11 hammered their businesses.
Many flights in the USA are as long as some long haul flights from say New York to Ireland or parts of the UK. On these routes you simply have to have a better airport and in-flight offer if you want to attract passengers and compete. Colleagues of mine based on the West Coast tell of how they fly into cities on the East Coast from Europe in lie flat business seats with lounge access with lots of features. Then they change onto a flight from the East to West Coast, often with the same US airline. And they get a completely different seating arrangement, and service even for the same amount of flying.
The more I travel on these domestic flights, the more I can see why carriers like Jet Blue and Southwest did so well. They are very upfront about what they offer and are very efficient at doing it.
The cause of my grumble about Domestic US carriers is driven by part by the experience that I had flying Continental from Los Angeles to New York Newark. This leg of my trip was part of a round trip on Virgin Atlantic from London Heathrow – Los Angeles – New York – London Heathrow. As Continental is a partner alliance airline with Virgin they did the internal US leg. As it was a business fare, I was travelling First on Continental.
The Continental flight was so close to being good, but just not quite there considering how much it costs. Though I believe these days not that many people actually pay the fare to be in First Class but are mostly there through upgrades. This may explain why the service is not as good as long haul First/ Business as on those routes they make more money as people actually pay for it!
While I got a dedicated check-in for First Class where you check-in via a touch screen system and then someone tags and takes your bags and checks ID. This was very well organized and slick. Once I got through security, I found that if you are travelling domestically you do not get access to the lounge. This is only available at a charge of US$45, if you have status on frequent fly at a high level or if you are flying internationally.
This I found unusual and strange as in Europe and Asia lounge access is for all business flights, which makes some sense as people on these flights are usually looking for somewhere to work and get stuff done. Initially I decided to not pay, but later had to after we were told our flight was going to be delayed for 4 hours as there was nowhere else to plug in my laptop and get wireless access in the terminal.
The lounge was pretty good, large and with lots of space and food and drink, plus free wireless access.
The seats in First Class on Continental were much better than people had told me they would be. There was lots of room to stretch out. I am 6’2” and could not touch the seat in front of me. They had a great innovation where you can plug your normal plug in from your laptop and did not have to own or get all the fussy special adaptors you need on other airlines. The food was pretty standard airline fare, though you did get a choice of 3 main options for the breakfast (omelette, French toast or cereals). They also had a movie on demand service which seems to be quite new, and they struggled to get it working and then about 2 hours into the flight it stopped working.