Photo © Jerry Search
On a rainy Wednesday morning I decided to travel to Boston for a four-day weekend with friends and family. The last minute fare, booked through Delta but including two codeshare segments with Continental, was suprisingly reasonable. After a busy day of hastily making travel arrangements I got up early on Thursday morning and endured a miserable shuttle van ride from my home to LAX. The lady next to me forgot the single most important item she was taking with her (some book) and consequently we had to turn around and drive back to her house to get it. This was after waiting for half an hour for a couple at a house with a huge annoying sign "MEOW IS SPOKEN HERE" hung above the door to get onboard...
Photo © Sam Chui
My first flight was CO66, LAX-CLE departing at 10:30 AM out of Terminal 6. Terminal 6 has some mismatched styles of architecture, 1980s in the check in/baggage claim area and 60s/70s futuristic in the old satellite portion. The overall architecture is interesting, perhaps aesthetically bolder than Terminal 5 but not as pleasant or relaxing. Still I like it and would object to any plan to replace T6 with a newer facility... Walking through T6 was somewhat nostalgic for me as it was here in the year 2000 that I boarded a Continental jet on the first leg of my very first trip to Europe, which was one of the best experiences of my life. Before boarding I took a walk around the terminal. There is quite a bit of UA activity at T6 as well as an increasing amount of DL flights are using T6 gates instead of gates in the T5 Oasis Terminal. I had a typically disgusting bagel and cream cheese croissant in a cafe whose one redeeming quality was its view of the ramp, and then boarded.
Photo © Jerry Search
Photo © Chris Liao - SPOT THIS!
I had ironically enough posted on Tuesday on a thread about common aircraft you hadn't flown that I had never been on a 737-800. Well here I was, about to embark on my first flight on one. The flight attendants were extremely polite as I boarded and helped me stow my bag towards the aft of the aircraft as the luggage bins were rather full. Throughout the flight I was impressed by the impeccable courtesy and civility of the CO flight attendants. It was a refreshing change from my last flights with Continental in 2000, when in general an atmosphere of arrogance and superiority seemed to characterize the way they treated passengers. Perhaps it was the CLE crew base; in 2000 I flew via IAH and EWR...
After a scenic takeoff over LA meals were served. The meal was a suprisingly good hot teriyaki sandwich. I bought a pair of headphones to watch the movie, Master and Commander, which was enjoyable. The seats were fairly comfortable, not as good as those Delta 767-300s but with adjustable winged headrests. In a very impressive touch, Continental made sure there was a pillow and blanket in every seat on the plane when you boarded, whereas on Delta it is generally necessary to request them, and on domestic flights there are usually not enough to go around. Continental's safety video featured another nice touch, an introduction by the legendary CEO, Gordon Bethune. Continental historically seems to have had larger-than-life leaders: the pioneering Walter T. Varney, the dashing, flamboyant Bob Six, the "arch-villain" (or perhaps lightning-rod) Frank Lorenzo and his underling administrator Phil Bakes, and now Bethune, regarded somewhat as a hero by the employees of the airline.
Photo © Rafal Szczypek
We arrived on time in a bleak winter afternoon in Cleveland. Though the city itself looked pleasant enough the area around the airport was rather ugly, as was the terminal. It was modern and well equipped but decorated in oppressive shades of grey. Fortunately my flight departed on time allowing me to escape the oppressive terminal.
Photo © Norman Walesch
Photo © Joe Pries - A.T. TEAM
This next flight, CO1730, was operated by a 737-700. I unfortunately was seated in the row located just ahead of the exit row, which on Continental does not recline at all and features an annoying FAA notice (on Delta only the window seat in this row is non-reclining and the FAA notice is absent). I in an aisle seat, next to two businessmen. There was no meal service or IFE on this flight other than Mr. Bethune doing the safety video and watching the man next to me try to help the man in the window seat make a vodka martini from two bottles of martini mix given to him by the stewardess. "No, this isn't vodka, you need one bottle of vodka and one bottle of vermouth, they gave you two bottles of vermouth" et cetera ad nauseum...
I was relieved to arrive in Boston and enjoyed a fantastic three day weekend there.
Photo © Nick Onkow
On Sunday I returned home on Delta. Following a ride to the airport in a taxi via the Ted Williams tunnel, part of the massive "Big Dig" urban renewal project, I made the mistake of checking in curbside in the freezing temperatures. Chilled though he was the skycap (attired in warm winter garb and a baseball cap instead of the customary formal uniform) was friendly and helpful. Security was a breeze, which it had been at LAX also; I've never dealt with an unfriendly or hostile TSA agent in my travels. Terminal C, though well equipped, was aesthetically speaking nothing to write home about, however the still under construction Terminal A that Delta will soon occupy looked promising.
Photo © Doug Owens
Photo © Matthew Lee
Once at the gate I successfully requested a window seat on the flight to CVG. DL1443, departing at around 1:30 PM, was MD-88 operated with no IFE and no meal service unfortunately... Boarding Delta flights now is a bit of a pain. All of the announcements are automated and the boarding is by zone, which makes little sense. Since boarding is still defined by row number, the use of zones only adds an extra layer of complexity. I and most other passengers I'm sure fail to comprehend the advantage of this new system over the system that was in use in the past. Fortunately though in spite of the impersonal boarding systems that have been introduced Delta's gate agents are still extremely friendly and courteous as are most Delta employees, who seem blissfully unaware of the extreme peril their airline currently is in.
This flight was my first flight in an exit row and when boarding the aircraft, I was immediately delighted by the extra comfort. I now intend to fly primarily in exit row seats where possible. The only disadvantage was that my seat was located by the window in the forward exit row meaning it was non reclining...however the legroom more than made up for this and I was still able to relax and sleep for most of the flight. The MD88 had been retrofitted with enlarged luggage bin doors identical to those in use on the CO 737s although with the original set of overhead reading lights, emergency oxygen masks et cetera left intact. The MD88 is a fun aircraft to fly on and after a refreshing sleep I arrived at CVG ready to make the connection for the flight on to LAX.
Photo © Brett B. Despain
CVG is a well planned airport, and the architect tried hard to design an aesthetically pleasing terminal. Unfortunately he failed miserably. CVG's interiors are a bit off...however at least the architect tried to make them look good, which is certainly better than what can be said about the sterile, antiseptic corridors of CLE. I had a disgusting meal at the Pizza Hut in the B concourse (basically identical to the C course which I had used in my travels last September, described in the trip report 5 Sectors on Delta in this same forum) and after having heard poor reviews of Delta's buyable food I also bought a bowl of the famed Chili Spaghetti from Gold Star Chili to take on board.
Photo © Michael Arcellana
Photo © Marlo Plate - IBERIAN SPOTTERS
I believe the DL gate agent who ran my ticket through the machine was one who I had encountered at this airport last year but I am not certain. In any case the gate agents were friendly and professional as were the flight attendants on my next flight, DL49, which I was delighted to discover was operated by one of DL's luxurious 767-300ERs instead of by the slightly less comfortable domestic 763. I had a window and an aisle seat next to myself. I did not partake of the movie even though I could have for free using my Continental headphones, as it looked to be a rather stupid comedy. I did listen to music but much to my agitation the classical music channel was down (it had been functioning on Continental and was reasonably good). However, IFE didn't matter that much on this flight as I brought on board my laptop computer. I had refrained from using it on my previous flight but now with all the room to myself I took it out. I acted out two long time dreams: I played AIRLINE 5 and Microsoft Flight Simulator 2004 during the course of the flight. I decided not to play Enter the Matrix, in which you shoot your way through an airport security check point, for obvious reasons.
Following that highly enjoyable flight we arrived at LAX at Terminal 6 (again, a lot of DL flights, especially 767 flights, are using T6 instead of the Oasis Terminal for some strange reason) and were towed into the gate. It was rather quiet at T6. Arriving in the baggage claim area, the carousel we were supposed to use was broken down and undergoing repairs, so we were routed to a carousel in the somewhat better decorated T5 baggage claim area. In T6 there are still signs of the dreadful National Airlines, and I felt like cheering on the first leg of my flight when I saw where the National name had been ripped off of the wall above a deserted check in counter. The second incarnation of National had terrible flight attendants and customer service, and it's fortunate that they never disgraced the original by using the SunKing logo, which I believe Southeast currently uses.
To conclude, my flights on DL and CO were both characterized by exceedingly pleasant flight attendants and customer service representatives. The service on Continental was much improved from my previous trip and the attention to small details such as carefully placing cocktail napkins on the tray table (DL does this more sloppily and their cocktail napkins have advertisements on them), making sure everyone has a pillow and blanket and giving out free food makes me rate Continental's service over Delta, however in terms of comfort Delta, with the exit row on the MD-88 and the hugely comfortable seating on their 767 wins out. Of course I'm sure many Delta flights are worse than CO flights in terms of comfort, in particular flights on DL's 767-400 "cattle cars" which I was lucky enough to avoid....
I will happily look forward to flying both airlines again. I'd recommend both airlines in a heartbeat. Hopefully Delta will soon transition from this current phase of bad management (the Song debacle, bad customer service policies et cetera) and improve their product making use of their friendly, talented employees, while Continental will retain their well-deserved reputation as a great airline to fly.
Photo © Aaron David Mandolesi
Photo © Aeroview Zurich/Worldwide
Postscript: A few notes, first I believe the DL MD-88 was in Landor livery, the DL 767 in Deltaflot livery, the picture of the CO 738 at LAX was taken one day before my flight, and due to a lack of cabin shots of CO 738s both cabin shots display 73Gs but are representative of both flights due to strong similiarity between the two aircraft; a layman probably couldn't tell them apart.