First, my apologies for leaving some details out here. It's been a while since I posted a trip report, and I honestly wasn't anticipating writing a trip report before Saturday...
Also, I'm not sure how to post pictures here, so here's the link to my Webshots: http://travel.webshots.com/album/570020929wmlnGQ
February 6, 2008
Northwest Airlines Flight 1157
Lv Minneapolis, scheduled 1:25 p.m.
Ar Houston-Intercontinental, scheduled 4:24 p.m.
The purpose of this trip was to go to Houston for one of the biggest events in the frequent flyer community, Continental Airlines DO IV. For those of you who don't post on FlyerTalk, a DO is meet (like here on A.net). The past three DOs had become something of a legendary event, known for the great events surrounding them. Well, since I missed the first three, there was no way I was missing the fourth. So, I cashed in some Delta miles (and figured I'd throw in a quickie side trip in my favorite destination of Las Vegas) and booked my flights.
I had to work on Friday morning, so I did a quick OLCI from my office and printed my boarding pass, and headed out to the airport around 12:30 (the joys of working 5 minutes from MSP). No line in the Platinum security line, so I was through security by 12:45 – enough time to make a quick pit stop at the WorldClub by Concourses F and G.
The F WorldClub is not one of my favorite ones (the one in C is much better in my opinion), but it gets the job done. I had a self-serve Pepsi and a chocolate chip cookie (those things are so good!). Since we were leaving from G18, I couldn't relax in the lounge too long, so I left after about 5-10 minutes and made the trek down to G18 – the one thing MSP is good for is getting your exercise!
Boarding started about a minute after I got to the gate. There were a total of three FlyerTalkers on my flight today, all heading to IAH for the DO. As I was (a) traveling on an award ticket and (b) am a Delta Platinum (not a NW Platinum), I was in coach. But fortunately, Row 5 is some of the best seats in the US (domestic) skies for coach – it's a partial bulkhead seat, with a ton of legroom.
We boarded quickly, and headed out. The international gates at MSP had a good mix, with the Delta A330 (N801NW), a Northwest A330 and a Northwest 747-200 all at the gates (a Northwest 747-400 to NRT had just taken off as we were boarding). We made our way out to Runway 35 and took off pretty quickly.
Inflight service was drinks. As a Delta Platinum, I had a bunch of drink chits, so I figured why not have a beer, and had a Leinenkugel's Red. The flight wasn't of much interest; I read USA Today and then read Coach K's book on leadership. We cruised at 38,000 feet, passing over Waterloo, Iowa, Springfield, Mo., Little Rock, Ark. and making a right turn around Monroe, La. Not too much on the flight.
We landed early on Runway 26L, where I got a call from another FTer who was coming in off an AA flight. IAH Terminal A is a pretty easy-to-use facility, and the four FTers were together within minutes, where we caught our shuttle van to the Sheraton Houston Airport North.
And now, coverage of the Continental DO IV begins:
Friday night was a social reception, held at the Marriott on the property at IAH. Upon waiting in line to check-in (no EliteAccess here! But what good would it be when everyone was elite?), we were given our registration packets for the weekend, which included drink coupons for the evening, name tags for ourselves, our tickets for our tour tomorrow and our Q&A sessions and our gift from CO, which was a set of four China teacups – a real nice set.
The evening started with mingling amongst FTers, with me catching up with some familiar faces from past meets, and meeting some new faces. All this while having a pretty decent buffet going.
After a while, Scott O'Leary (CO's Director of Customer Experience, also known as the Insider in the Continetental in-flight magazine) got the event going by introducing FTer Cigarman (a Chairmen's Circle level passenger; there are only about two flying on Continental on any given day), who was the other major organizer of the event. Continental CEO Larry Kellner then got on stage and made some remarks as well.
Then, it was party time! The theme of this weekend was “Fun and Games”. And we played Deal or No Deal. But wait, we're Ffers. So, it was Miles or No Miles – same exact idea – you could win a million miles. 16 names were called out of a raffle, and then one of those 16 got to be the player (with the other 15 getting to be the models and recipients of 5,000 OnePass miles). We played a total of three times that evening – one person took home 130,000 miles or so; another took home about 25,000 miles and I didn't see what the third ended up with (I was in the lobby talking then).
It was back to the hotel earlish though, since the next day was an early morning.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
The first program of the day was the tours. When registering for the event earlier this year, we could choose from five tours – simulators, Inflight Training/Baggage Center, Headquarters Tour, Chelsea Catering tour, or the Mystery Tour. I ended up with the mystery tour, which was being held in top-secret security until we were all on the tour bus.
We get on our bus at 7:30 a.m. (much earlier than I'm normally up!) where we are told what we were doing: “For our mystery tour today, you will be the passengers on Continental Airlines Flight 9920, nonstop service from Houston to...Houston.”
So, for our mystery tour, Continental used one of their 757-200s and took us for a party flight around the Houston/Galveston area! Music to my ears, and there was a lot of excitement on the bus.
Continental Airlines Flight 9920
Lv Houston-Intercontinental 9:00 a.m.
Ar Houston-Intercontinental 10:01 a.m.
Seat: 25F for take-off and landing...but only for take-off and landing
We got to the hardstand a few minutes later, where we got off the bus, got wanded down by the security folks, and then were allowed to wander around the plane – the only rules were no getting in the engines, or touching the tires/landing gear. So we walked around our 757, taking a lot of pictures.
Finally, it was time to board the flight. Sixteen lucky passengers had boarding passes for the 16 BusinessFirst seats, while the rest of us (about 60 or so people) were in coach. Prior to boarding, Continental's Director of Inflight Experience talked to us for a few minutes, telling us about what was coming to the CO fleet, including BusinessFirst lieflat seats, DirecTV on the 737s, AVOD on the 757-200s, etc. Then Scott O'Leary came back and told us of another twist – our flight attendants today weren't going to be any CO flight attendants – we were getting the ones from the previous safety videos!
We then boarded our 757 through doors 2L and 3L and chose our seats (Southwest-style!), where we found a little gift bag at each window and aisle. Included were the pillow and blanket from BusinessFirst for each of us to take with us, BusinessFirst headsets, and the CO International BusinessFirst amenity kit.
We get onboard where our two captains introduced themselves and told us about our flight today, which would be the following:
-takeoff from IAH to the South
-fly by Downtown Houston at 3,000 ft
-buzz the tower at Houston/Hobby at 1,000, then climb right out toward Galveston
-make a 270 turn over Galveston and head down to Corpus Christi
-make a right turn and head up to Austin
-come on in for arrival at IAH.
As for the flight, once past 10,000 feet they would open the flight deck door and we'd be allowed to come up and visit. And once we had taken off, we'd be getting a snack bag, including a champagne flute for us to drink up this morning.
We pushed back, and taxied out to Runway 15L. In the past, I've read several TRs that said that the 757 was a powerful aircraft, but it never felt that powerful to me on the 15-20 757 flights I would take across the country each year. Well, today, I was wrong. With only about 100 people on board, and nothing in the bins below, we rocketed out of IAH in about 3000 feet. We then made our turn toward downtown Houston, where the CO executives on board were the ones handing out the bags, while the flight attendants got to rest up. After only a few minutes, we were descending into Hobby, where we did a fly-by and then rocketed (and I mean rocketed) away toward Galveston. Once we were clear of Hobby (as in 10 seconds after), we all started to get up and walk around the plane – wow, it's a lot steeper to walk around the plane when your climbing like that. Our CO Execs got on the PA right after clearing Hobby, saying the reason for this was to “show those folks at Southwest who have 100 flights a day at HOU what a real airline looked like, as well as to show them a plane that goes around the world.” They then told us that they have a maintenance base at HOU and regularly have planes down there.
By this time, it was full party mode on the plane. Champagne was flowing – it was more of a problem if your glass wasn't full. The flight deck door opened up shortly afterwards, and we all got to spend a minute or two up there during the flight (no champagne allowed in the flight deck though!). It was just a lot of interaction between the FTers, the flight attendants and the execs on board – just one big party. It was, by far, the best flight I've ever been on, and I don't think it can be topped (yes, I don't think SQ A380 Suites could top this flight).
Sooner than later, it was time for us to start settling down, and we came in and landed on Runway 26L a little more than an hour after taking off, where we returned to our hardstand and took a group photo in front of our 757. We then headed back to the buses and went to our hotels, where it was lunch on our own (me and a couple other FTers headed across the street to a pizza place).
That afternoon was a series of three questions and answers panels. We had a choice of 4 panels, and I chose Customer Care/Hubs as well as OnePass/Alliances. The Customer Care panel was the VP of operations and the station managers of the 3 hubs (IAH, EWR and CLE, which was affectionately called the hublet by the EWR/IAH station managers – a nice little elbowing there). They fielded questions from us FTers, with a lot having to deal with irregular operations. The OnePass panel was Scott, the director of OnePass and the director of Alliances. Lots of questions here, especially with CO joining Star. A lot of it couldn't be discussed (the alliances person said that the lawyers drilled a phrase of “we are unable to comment at this time” into his head before this panel), but we got some insight, such as CO Golds are going to be Star Gold, a little about how Star Alliance works (vis-a-vis SkyTeam), etc. Pretty good session, especially as someone considering flying CO a lot more with the UA alliance.
In between the two sessions, we were all given a little 15 question quiz about Continental. Questions such as what is the minimum number of miles needed for an EWR-SAV award (20,000), which city did not have a call center and lounge, etc. The top sixteen would get to compete in a quiz bowl that evening at the party. The quiz bowl would be four teams of four, competing to win ONE MILLION ONEPASS MILES (250,000 miles for each team member).
The third session was one where everyone came together – a Q&A with Larry Kellner and Jeff Smisek (President of CO). It was a very lively session, with a PowerPoint first of ideas that had come out of previous DOs that had become reality (TV, the pda.continental.com site, etc.). They then had some FAQs that they knew were going to come up (with some great graphics!) and then opened the floor up. I'll refer you to sbm12's site at http://www.continentaldo.com for comments there. After Larry and Jeff were done, Scott came back up, and told us of the sixteen people who would be competing that evening. He read off the names, and loandbehold, my name was the last one read off.
Let's just say that I was pretty nervous. I went back to the hotel, got changed for the evening, and since I figured I had 250,000 miles on the line here, it couldn't hurt to read Continental's Wikipedia page. And that's what I did – I studied while listening to some of my old pregame music from my baseball days.
I boarded the bus over to the evening event, which was held at Hangar B, Continental's newest hangar. Inside, there was a lot – CO had the new BusinessFirst seats on display, as well as a DirecTV demo area, a jazz band playing, two buffet stations (each cooked by Chelsea catering!) and in the back, a 737-900 ER (N37427, delivered 8/2008) for us to explore. I headed back there first and checked out the 73E, going into the flight deck and then checking out the cabin (first class, the mid-cabin lav, the rear galley, etc.). I then had some dinner and mingled, and the evening festivities then started.
The first was Let's Make a Deal. Two FlyerTalkers were called up, and one was given a CO inflight magazine that might have had something in it. He could keep the magazine, or choose something in a box that was labeled “First Class.” Well, he took the First Class. The other FTer then came, and could choose the magazine or something behind the Blue Curtain (which, while it was supposed to be a secret, was announced as a barcart). He took the bar cart, and then the first FTer was given the option of keeping the First Class or taking something behind the Gold Curtain, called “Many Uses.” He stuck with the First Class, and it ended up being the soup that used to be served in first class. The magazine had 10 President's Club passes in it, while “Many uses” was 250,000 OnePass miles.
The next game was The Price is Right. Four FTers came up and did the Price is Right, having to guess the number of destinations CO flew to, the price of a new 737-900 ER, etc., with the right respondant getting the chance to win a good number of OnePass miles in one case, and a boatload of prizes (lounge passes, drink chits, etc.) in the other.
But, it was also time to pick teams for the Quiz Bowl. My team got assembled, and we were told to meet at a certain point at 9 p.m.
The first rounds of the quiz bowl were semi-finals. The two teams had to place 5 cards onto a sticky wall in the correct order – best 2 out of 3 go on. The first question was place five Continental logos in the right order. We won this round, thanks to some teamwork.
Next one was list the flights in the order of their flight number, lowest to highest. We were given the city pair and the time of departure. The flights were EWR-FCO (5:30 p.m. Departure); EWR-PEK (12:15 p.m. Departure), IAH-CMH (7:00 p.m. Departure), IAH-IND (7:15 p.m. Departure) and IAH-PHL (7:14 p.m. Departure). I knew EWR-FCO was before EWR-PEK, and we guessed on the last three. We barely lost this round (the other team buzzed in just before us). It ended up being FCO (Flt 40, something to do with the Catholic Church); PEK (Flt 88, 8 being a lucky number in China), IND (Flt 500, Indianapolis 500), CMH (Flt 1492, the year Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue) and PHL (1776 for the US' Independence).
The third (tiebreaker) was list the following planes in the year they were retired from the CO fleet from first to last. The planes were the A300, 747, DC-9, DC-10 and MD-80. I knew that the A300 left first from reading From First to Worst by Gordon Bethune, then the 747. I knew the DC-10 was last, lasting into this millenium and that the MD-80 was gone right around 9/11 and the DC-9 before that. So, process of deduction got us to the right answer, and we buzzed in first and were going to the finals!
The next two teams went, and had to decipher from northern most to southern most the following airport codes: BJX (Leon, Mexico), GIG (Rio de Janiero), KSA (Kosrae, Micronesia), MSY (New Orleans) and ARN (Stockholm/Arlanda). Not too bad (it took me a minute to remember Kosrae, but the rest were easy); they also had to figure out slogans in order, and list the following 5 planes (737-700, 737-800, 757-200, 767-200 and 777-200) in order from largest to smallest. Took them some time to remember that the 757-200 has one more seat than the 767-200, but our opponents were set.
We had to wait 15 minutes for the final, to be hosted by Larry Kellner himself. The next round was a traditional style quiz show, with four buzzers on each side. You buzz in, you had three seconds to answer the question. If you were wrong, the entire other team could consult for 10 seconds before giving their answer. There were two rounds – first round of “easier” questions for 5 points each, then the harder 10 point questions. 20 questions total. Winning team got one million miles, 250,000 for each person.
Well, let's just say the first round didn't start off too well. The other team was quick and the questions were tough. We found ourselves in a 45-0 hole after round one. They got nine questions. We got none. Ouch. It was so bad that Larry even jokingly said that it would be one hell of a comeback if we did it.
Well, I like those helluva comeback stories. The next round was the harder questions. But, I found them a lot easier. Questions like what former Continental hub is now served by no airline (Denver/Stapleton). We got lucky that they missed on the question about CO's recent biofuel flight and one of my teammates was able to get that one. But I was in the zone – just grabbing everything that Larry was throwing out there, and soon it was 65-60 them, one question left.
The question: In the 1980s, Continental started it's Cleveland hub. Who had a hub before... I buzzed in. I had just read that on the Continental Wikipedia page when studying for the finals right before I went on stage (God bless my Blackberry, so I could cram before the finals!). I confidently answered United Airlines, just as I had read it 20 minutes prior. Larry says, “You are correct.”
I just threw my arms up in the air as my teammate to my left wraps me up in a bear hug. They start playing We are the Champions. It just didn't feel real at all. It was a blur. We shook hands with our opponents, and then came up to the front of the stage, where we each were given a big check for 250,000 OnePass miles. We got our photos taken with Larry, and just soaked in the atmosphere. It was surreal. Words absolutely cannot describe it – it was just raw human emotions taking over.
We finally settled down and I mingled some more (with quite a few people coming up to me to congratulate me, and to give me some ideas on how to spend 250,000 miles – I really like one idea to take EK down to South Africa and get on the A380 from JFK-DXB in Business Class). Man, it was awesome.
I left the hangar at about 11 p.m. to get on my bus, where I was greeted with a round of applause. A few minutes later, I was back at the Sheraton, getting ready to try and sleep (it didn't work that well), as I had an early morning flight the next day.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Delta Flight 4551
Lv Houston-Intercontinenal, 6:30 a.m.
Ar Salt Lake City, 8:56 a.m.
I woke up at 3:30 to call Delta to do a Same Day Confirmed onto my SLC flight (I was booked on a 4:30 p.m. flight). After waiting 20 minutes (on the Platinum line at 3:30 a.m. on a Sunday morning...) I get through, and all is good. I go back to bed for an hour, wake up, shower and head to IAH. Check in is fast, security is faster and I'm at the Terminal A President's Club, where I have a bagel and surf the net for 20 minutes. The IAH Terminal A PC isn't too big, but it's all Continental Connection (and DL/NW) there, so no need for a huge club.
I head to my gate and board with Zone 2 since I'm on an award ticket. I get on board, we head to Runway 15L and take-off. I go to sleep and sleep until approach into SLC, which is one of my favorite approaches – I love flying through the Wasatch Range – it's absolutely beautiful.
We land 40 minutes early in SLC, landing on 34L. Well, landing early is good. 40 minutes, not so good, as we had to wait about 15 minutes for a gate. We finally pulled into B8, deplaned using the portable ramp, and SkyWest was actually quick with our pink-tag bags (for once) and I headed over to Concourse C to go to the Crown Room to check e-mail. After 10 minutes in the way too overcrowded CRC, I head back to the B gates, this time to B2.
Delta Flight 4601
Lv Salt Lake City, 9:40 a.m.
Ar Las Vegas, 10:10 a.m.
We had the same crew that flew us from IAH-SLC on this flight. We pushed back a little late, since there was some congestion in the B/C alleyway. I stayed up this flight and reviewed some photos from the weekend. It was a little annoying that the guy next to me took up a bit of my seat with his elbow as he did his crossword puzzles...
Service was drinks and peanuts – I had a Coke. I thought about using another drink chit, but decided against it.
Not a whole lot to see on this flight until we hit Lake Mead. We had a great view of the Hoover Dam (it was weird to think that exactly two weeks prior, down to the very hour, I was standing on top of the Hoover Dam!) and here I was, back in Vegas. We landed on Runway 25R and taxied in to D36, where it seems like every LAS-SLC leaves from (well, at least the RJs). Pink-tags were again reasonably quick, and I stopped by the President's Club to have a beer and take care of one or two things before heading over to the Strip for my abbreviated stay. Right now, one of the D Concourse trams is down, so it's a bit of a hassle getting to the main terminal for the next two months – expect some delays here.
I eventually headed over to the Strip and stopped by the bar I tend to go to (I'm in Las Vegas 10-12 times a year, so I have one bar that shall remain nameless, but let's just say I'm on a first name basis with all the bartenders...) where I had lunch and a few beers. I then went up to the Bellagio and gambled for a bit, before returning to my local bar to surprise my friend who was bartending that night (she's moving to SMF next month and I wasn't sure I'd see her again until I'm up that way sometime, so I figured I'd stop by and surprise her...). We caught up, talked a lot (slow night at the bar), and I made my way back over to McCarran for my redeye back.
Monday, February 9, 2009
Northwest Flight 206
Lv Las Vegas, 12:50 a.m.
Ar Minneapolis, 5:50 a.m.
Got to McCarran around 11:40, checked in at the kiosk and cleared security. Was at the President's Club by 11:50, where I talked to the agent (I knew him from previous visits) – he wanted to know all about the DO so I gave him the details. After spending 20 minutes up there, I headed over to D9. The GA was encouraging people to gate-check their bags on our full 757-300, offering boarding with the elites if they did.
I boarded the plane with the elites and took 16A, the third row of coach. Now, remember that BusinessFirst pillow from CO9920? Well, that came in VERY handy on this flight – it was extremely comfortable and allowed me to catch some sleep when I normally can't sleep at all on redeyes. We took a 15 minute delay out of LAS due to some maintenance (our F/A at door 2L forgot about this and had already closed the cabin door when they realized the mechanics were still on board!) and we began our 2:40 hop to the Twin Cities. Again, I just slept on this flight. I woke up at the 10,000 feet chime.
We landed at Gate G22, the last gate at the airport. It took 5 minutes for our ground crew to get out there (major pet peeve – no excuse at 6 a.m. for the ground crew not to be there!) and I was off the plane reasonably quick. I exited the secure area at the Skyway checkpoint, caught the tram to the baggage claim area, where I hopped on an elevator to the garage. Got in my car and drove off, and was home by 6:30 a.m., where I got some sleep before heading into work.