Continental Flt. 2224 (operated by Continental Express/ExpressJet)
Dallas Love Field-Houston George Bush Intercontinental
Departure/Arrival Gates: 27/B65
Photo © Jorge Rocafort Aviation Photography of México
I really enjoy flying Continental Express from Love Field. It's a ten minute drive down Lovers Lane from my house and that really comes in handy for early morning departures. This morning was no exception as I left my house at 5, instead of 4:15 if I was leaving from DFW. Another great thing about DAL is that you can park right next to the terminal for $7 a day, try doing that at DFW!
Since I had checked-in online the previous evening, I just had to stop at the ticket counter to check my luggage. Interestingly, the TSA scans your checked luggage before you go to the counter, not afterwards. This morning it wasn't a big deal since this flight was mainly a business crowd--like most CO flights out of DAL. After having my bag checked through to BOS by the ticket agent, I asked him if he could reprint my mangled boarding passes which I had shoved into my backpack that morning. After a couple of minutes of him typing away furiously, he responded that the computer wouldn't let him reprint the boarding passes and that the screen was just showing him my itinerary as 'display purposes only.' I've never had that happen before, I just wondered if my half-torn boarding pass would actually scan. The queue for security was non-existant this morning (the CO Express gates cannot be accessed from the WN part of the terminal, hence the need for its own security checkpoint), but unfortunately I had to be violated after I set off the metal detector.
Once through security, it was up the small escalator to the second floor where the two Continental Express gates are located. The flight had not yet began to board, so I bought a cup of coffee and read the paper for a few minutes. I was followed up the escalator by the crew which included an absolutely smoking (female) first officer. If I was the captain, I'd definitely be distracted the entire flight. I guess the CO Express IAH-based flight attendants aren't the only ones who are well "qualified" to work in Houston's many gentleman's clubs (as the 'true' rumors have it). Boarding began at around 5:40, despite the 5:25 boarding time indicated on my boarding pass. As I was giving my torn excuse for a boarding pass to the agent, the agent who before was trying to print my boarding pass at the counter ran up behind me and handed me all new boarding passes for my flights.
Once on board, I took a book out and gave my backpack to the flight attendant and asked her to stow it in the closet because there are no overhead bins for 1A and 2A. Since I was one of the last passengers on board, the doors closed a couple minutes after I was seated. Takeoffs on the westside are always interesting because immediately after takeoff the aircraft banks left and gives me a view of my neighborhood from a few thousand feet. It was still dark outside, but by locating the office building that is across the freeway from my block I could see where my house is. Once we had reached our cruising altitude of 23,000 feet, the flight attendant came through the cabin to offer a choice of drinks. I had another coffee as it was too early in the morning for anything else. The ERJ cabin is fairly comfortable, all the seats are outfitted in leather, and if you can secure a seat in row 1 or 10, the legroom isn't too bad either.
The sun was creeping over the western horizon as we began our decent into IAH, really the flight is only at cruising altitude for no more than 15 minutes--standard fare for a flight between Dallas and Houston. We had a rather hard landing at IAH (I wonder if the broad was the PIC for landing ), luckily unlike most DAL-IAH flights I have been aboard we didn't land on the runway that is about a 20 minute taxi away from the terminal. Once we reached the CO Express terminal I noticed the vast numbers of XRs, which led me to wonder if they were converting previous -145 models to -145XRs.
Continental Flt. 48
Houston George Bush Intercontinental-Newark Liberty
Departure/Arrival Gates: D5/C74
Photo © Rolf Wallner
After getting my backpack from the closet and being the first off the jetway I walked up the finger to the main concourse where I would have to take the Terminal Link monorail to C/D/E Terminal. I was a little disappointed and surprised that the continuation of the flight from Kahului wouldn't leave from the 'new' terminal E which is one of the nicer newly built terminals in the US. Instead I had to make the hike to the older terminal D. Although the three domestic gates in Terminal D are in bad shape and rather unsightly, the international portion of the terminal (D4-12) has floor-to-ceiling windows and an open feel to it. The flight was almost done boarding by the time I got to D5 despite the fact that it was only 7:20. I bought a bagel and cream cheese from the small restraunt next to the gate and was able to cram down most of it before I had to hustle to the gate to board.
I was pretty lucky to get seated in a bulkhead for this flight considering it was completely full. The bulkhead seats on the 762s are great because they have cutouts for your feet. The only downside is that the PTV is not located in between the seats but mounted on the wall which makes it non-adjustable. As I was stowing my backpack in the overhead bin, a male flight attendant with a shaved head rudely told me in his deepest, toughest voice to find another overhead bin because he was putting a dead-heading crew's bag in that one. Fine. Although I had to walk back, past the exit row to find space for it.
We taxiied out of the gate only a few minutes late and the captain assured us that we would make up plenty of time during the flight, he was right, we were early by almost a half-hour into EWR. After takeoff, we flew along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico for a hundred miles or so before making a turn to the north. The flight attendants came through the cabin for headset purchases, despite the lame PTV offerings--Hidalgo, and some other B-rate films I got a headset just because I had a coupon for a free one that you recieve when checking-in online. By the way, I love PTVs, but they are about 10 times better when there is decent programming on them. Compared to international airlines, the PTV offerings of US airlines are that of a $1 theatre. Flipping through the Attractions magazine there were only probably one or two movies out of there that I'd actually watch. Not wanting to suffer though a bad movie, I instead switched to the airshow.
After the flight attendants were done selling headsets, they came through the cabin to offer breakfast. The choices were fresh pancakes with maple syrup, sausage, and fresh fruit or cheese omelette, bacon, and hashbrowns. Haha, yeah right, try corn flakes, milk, and a banana--the standard offering for a morning CO departure. Its pretty hard to mess up Corn Flakes, so the meal was just about as good as one could expect. Surprisingly, the flight attendants finished up the meal service quickly and came through to pick up the trash less than 20 minutes later. About an hour later, I tried to fall asleep with my head against the window and as I was dozing off I heard an announcement asking passengers to close their shades halfway. I decided not to considering my noggin was probably blocking most of the light through the window anyway. Ten minutes later, 'ouch!,' I turned around just in time to see the 'friendly' male flight attendant walking back towards the main coach cabin. The jackass had basically lowered the shade onto my head and wasn't very gentle about it. Call me old-fashioned, but I don't think that they cover that technique in the Continental FA's manual.
It just so happened that our route would take us slightly north of Atlanta into South Carolina over Lake Oconee. Even from 39,000 feet, I could see I-85 and the marina where during my ATL days, my friend and I would get loaded at his parents' lakehouse and try to pick up local girls at the marina. Fond memories. I flipped through the pages of the book as the flight continued over southwest Virginia on the way to EWR. Arrivals into Newark for today were from the north, so we were treated to a decent view of Manhattan, and a view of the swamps and malls of north Jersey--if you can call that a view. Another hard landing, as we were taxiing to the terminal an AF 340 followed us in, and I also noted the Hooters Air 757 on the tarmac.
Unlike most previous times arriving early into EWR, we didn't have to wait in the penalty box for a gate. Again, I was surprised about the gate assignment, this time we weren't in the CO international terminal, instead we were parking at gate 74.
Continental Flt. 854
Newark Liberty-Boston Logan
Departure/Arrival Gates: C96/C30
Photo © Brian Bartlett
I was originally afraid of this connection, considering it was only scheduled to be a half-an-hour, and thinking that my flight from IAH would be parking at the international terminal and I'd have to run to a gate in this finger to make the flight to BOS. All my fears were unfounded though, we landed a half an hour early and in the same finger as my flight to BOS. So with an hour to kill, I grabbed some lunch at McDonalds and read the Post. With 15 minutes to spare, I reached the gate of flight 854 where the gate agent was making her final boarding announcements. The domestic CO terminals were renovated nicely, its not the international terminal, but it beats the hell out of what it was before.
Luckily, this short flight was fairly empty as about 45 passengers were aboard and I had the exit row all to myself. The EWR-based flight attendants did their safety demos and it got me thinking how could a New Jersey accent ever be considered warm and friendly? The captain apologized for the two minute delay in pushing back, explaining that we were waiting on some late connecting bags. Since the 737 was so lightly loaded, we were off the ground very quickly, instead of turning east over to fly over Long Island and Rhode Island, the flight turned west then north only turning east when the flight reached New York state. The flight attendants came through the cabin shortly after takeoff to offer a choice of beverages, I had a water, and peanuts or pretzels. From my aerial spotting skills, I guess that our flight continued over Hartford and Worcester before beginning our descent into BOS.
I guess BOS wasn't too busy at the time because we didn't begin our descent until we were 45 miles out. On short finals, we had a great view of the city of Boston and the Boston seaport. While taxiing in I saw a gaggle of Cape Air Cessnas and a few former Continental Connection Beech 1900s, who I assume are flying for Cape Air during the busy summer schedule. As I walked out of the gate, the first thing I noticed is that Logan hadn't changed at all over the past few years, its still a piece of crap. At least most airports that are lacking in the style department have tried to make some improvements (EWR, DFW, MIA), not Logan though. What can you expect though from a city where it takes 20 years to build a tunnel? I collected my rollaway at baggage claim and got on the painfully long bus-ride to the Cape.
Delta Air Lines Flt. 1923 (operated by Delta Shuttle)
Boston Logan-New York LaGuardia
Departure/Arrival Gates: B2/3 (Marine Air Terminal)
Photo © Mark Kopczak
Arriving about five hours early for my 6:30PM departure, I said goodbye to my parents who I had met on the Cape, and were flying back to DFW that day. For me, it was on to New York to meet up with a couple guys from a.net and party in the greatest city on earth. There was no way I wanted to stand around Logan for five hours, so after grabbing a cup of Starbucks coffee I proceeded to the Delta Shuttle check-in counter. At BOS, Delta Shuttle is located in an entirely different terminal from Delta itself. There was no line for the agent and instead of putting me on standby for the flight, she went ahead and issued me a boarding pass.
I transited security for the Delta Shuttle gates quickly and entered their small gate area. At BOS the waiting room for the three Delta Shuttle gates is about the size of one gate's waiting area normally. That being said the vast majority of travelers on this route don't sit around for their flight, they just make it in the nick of time. Since DL Shuttle has to compete with Amtrak and USAirways Shuttle, there are a lot of perks that one wouldn't find on mainline flights--free newspapers to all passengers, free magazines (crappy ones though), and complimentry alcohol. I grabbed a Boston Herald and sat in one of the rocking chairs that were positioned next to the window overlooking two DL Shuttle 737s parked at their gates.
Instead of doing priority boarding, Shuttle just lets everyone board at the same time. Its actually much quicker that way, especially with no seat assignments on their flights. I first sat in the exit row window, which didn't have an armrest. No problem, not a big deal. Then the guy who was sitting in the aisle seat decided to invite his buddy to sit in the middle seat. Listen, when there are about 40 passengers on a one hour flight, is there a reason why you'd want to sit in a middle seat with people on both sides of you? I got up and went towards the rear of the aircraft and settled in row 18 which was completely empty.
The Delta Shuttle interior is okay, the seats are just normal Delta seats covered in blue leather. An improvement, but nothing to write home about. We taxiied out on an active runway, only to turn around on said runway and takeoff over the city of Boston. The flight path took us over Worcester and then Hartford before making a turn SSE. The flight attendants came through the cabin and offered a choice of complementry beverages--including free booze. I went for a Bud Light and a pack of pretzels. Much to my dismay, the can of Bud Light was the size of those mini-Cokes that have popped up recently. I flipped through Sky Magazine as we began our descent into LGA. We flew over southeast Connecticut, I recognized Stamford, and then over the Long Island Sound, and made a westerly turn over Nassau County for final approach. We flew over 'gorgeous' Flushing, past Shea Stadium, and made a hard landing.
Upon arrival, it was announced that we could disembark from either the front of the aircraft through the jetway or the rear of the aircraft via airstairs. A walk across the tarmac is a nice departure from the norm. For some reason, it took about 40 minutes for the checked baggage to finally arrive, and I was off to catch the bus to the subway station.
Continental Flt. 63
Newark Liberty-Houston George Bush Intercontinental
Departure/Arrival Gates: C137/E7
Photo © Alastair T. Gardiner
After meeting AA61hvy at Penn Station, we took the AirTrain to Liberty Airport (he was taking AA back to DFW) and from there took the small monorail to the airport complex. Arriving for check-in shortly after 1:45, I was somewhat relieved to see that line to drop off luggage for passengers who checked in online was fairly short. Surprising, considering that very low ceilings (no storms) had forced the cancellations of numerous flights. I noticed that Continental seemed to favor cancelling Express flights and focused on trying to get the mainline flights out on-time. At the Continental eTicket kiosks, all one has to do is type in their confirmation number and the destination tags will be printed behind the counter where the agent is supposed to ask for ID before tagging the bags. Oops, the agent forgot that part. From there, I brought rolled my suitcase to the TSA screening area where I dropped it off.
Once a while, the security line in Terminal C is zoo. Not today though, as I was able to go through security with minimal hassle. The International finger of Terminal C is great, floor-to-ceiling windows, high ceilings, moving walkways, plenty of room in the concourse, and overall nice architecture. On my short walk to gate C137 I saw the Peter Max 777 loading up for the early afternoon flight to Tel Aviv (if my memory serves me correctly, there is also a 10:30PM departure). Since I hadn't eaten yet, I made a quick stop at the A&W burger joint in the concourse, there were more appetizing options (a Japanese place, Maui Tacos, Chinese), but A&W looked to be the fastest..it took 15 minutes for my $6.00 fast-food burger to finally appear.
By the time I had finished my rip-off of a burger I could hear the final boarding announcement for my flight to Houston. Since the Houston segment was a continuation of a flight from Madrid, boarding announcements were done in English and Spanish (in a Mexican dialect!). As I boarded the plane, I got the distinct feeling that I was boarding a widebody version of a 753...you're ready for the cabin to end, but there is still one more cabin of seats before it does. I settled in my seat, a bulkhead window, and I was rather surprised to see the Continental employee shuttle wasn't full (Every IAH-EWR/EWR-IAH flight I've been on has been packed, with the exception of one which had about 30 passengers total). It certainly looked full when I pulled up my reservations that morning. I guess a lot of mis-connects were occuring due to the poor ceilings and the fact that Newark really only has one arriving runway.
About ten minutes after our scheduled departure time, the captain came on the PA and announced that we were going to be at the gate for another ten minutes or so. I got up and used the bathroom, and struck lavatory gold--the middle lav on the 764 is absolutely massive. I've never seen a larger airplane lavatory in my life. When I exited, I asked a passing flight attendant--who I recognized as my 'buddy' from flight 48 earlier in the week, if there was a pillow and blanket around. "No, sit back down." Okay. Geez, either this guy had it out for me or he was just pissed about contract negotiations. Another 15 minutes or so passed and the captain came on the PA again to announce that we were waiting on some late baggage. Late baggage? I honestly don't know how that could happen--all the international connections were on the flight far before me and cleared customs ages ago. Also, why would they hold the flight when EWR-IAH flights run every couple hours or so? Its not like 63 was the last departure of the day. The woman behind me remarked to her husband that 'Continental sucks' and that they should fly American. I didn't think it was that big a deal, delays happen with all airlines--and if it was her bag they were waiting on I'm sure she'd bitch and moan when it didn't show up in Houston. Its not like I had a short connection at IAH anyway, my connection to DAL didn't leave until 9:10.
Finally the flight pushed back and we were on our way. The flight was about 60% filled and I was pleased that I had an empty seat next to me in the bulkhead row--that never happens. Despite the low ceilings and delays, the 764 was only third in line for takeoff. I rarely, if ever, get nervous on a plane. Well, it happened this time. Being on a heavy, I didn't expect a quick lift-off, but I never expected it to take as long as it did. We were at least more than three quarters down the runway before the 764 made it off the ground. I don't see how that could happen--considering it was a 1500 mile flight and the flight wasn't even close to filled. Even AA61hvy, who was waiting for his AA flight to board said that the 777 to TLV and a Kalitta 741 rotated before our flight did (although he had his own theory about why our 764 was so heavy). People say the 753 and 340 are underpowered, well, the 764 has got to rank up there somewhere!
Once we were at cruising altitude, the flight attendants offered a snack of peanuts and pretzels along with a choice of refreshments. The lame PTV offerings started up and of course I decided to turn my unit to the Airshow. Our flight took a much more northerly track than the IAH-EWR flight, in fact, it wasn't until the flight was over Little Rock that the aircraft made a distinct turn to the south. At that time the flight attendants came through the cabin a second time to offer water. That being said, the captain made up for the delay and we ended up arriving in Houston only about 15 minutes late. The flight pulled up to E7, where it would turn around and go to AMS at 7:40.
Continental Flt. 2169 (operated by ContinentalExpress/ExpressJet)
Houston George Bush Intercontinental-Dallas Love Field
Departure/Arrival Gates: B64/27
Photo © Paul Leach
With three hours to kill in Houston, the first thing I did was to call up a friend to see if she was going to come to IAH to hang out with me--which I had begged her to do before I left. Not surprisingly, since it was her birthday, she declined. Instead, my plan was to go to the roof of the parking decks and take some pictures. Well, after checking my email at a phone booth near terminal D, I took the little train to Terminal A. I never realized that IAH had a train system, but I had difficulty deciding whether it was cool or a piece of junk. At least I didn't have to walk to Terminal A. Once on the parking deck roof and after taking a total of one picture, my camera crapped out due to the fact that my batteries were dead. After a cursory search of a few gift shops, everyone had AAA batteries, but no AAs. With two hours still to kill, I went back to Terminal C, through security and went to Chili's On-The-Go--a JCS17 favorite at IAH. After watching the All-Star Game for an hour and a half, which happened to be taking place in Houston on that very night, I went to my departure gate.
The fingers off Terminal C are funny in the fact that it seemed that when regional jets came about, they just tried to cram as many jetways as possible into the end of each terminal. The fingers themselves aren't anything to write home about, designed in the late 70s, early 80s maybe and still had the decor to match. Sometimes, during the morning and evening peaks, its pretty much standing-room only. Luckily since the last wave of flights of the night were heading out (from what I can remember--LBB, OKC, AEX, TUL, RDU, and Veracruz), and looked to be heading out rather empty with the exception of the Veracruz flight which looked to be absolutely packed.
The flight to DAL was no different as there were only about 20 passengers on the flight. Unfortunately, the crew was waiting on a lavatory service truck that never arrived, so they decided not depart early. Instead they reasoned that since the aircraft would be back at IAH early the next morning, there was no reason to delay the flight. After taxiing out to the runway, we were second in line for departure. Interestingly enough, the flight attendant and captain made their departure announcements in both English and Spanish, I guess they spotted a few non-English speakers among the passengers.
Its always interesting to me how Continental continually schedules DAL-IAH-DAL for flight times of over an hour, the flight never takes more than 50 minutes--and even at IAH the ground delays are always minimal. Once we reached our modest cruising altitude, the sole flight attendant came through the cabin to offer a choice of bevrages. I took a water and by the time she was done serving in the cabin, we were halfway through our descent to DAL. The flight approached from the southeast and we were treated to a nice view of the city of Dallas as we passed to the east. Again, I got a nice view of my neighborhood before the aircraft made two quick banks to the left for final approach. After the flight landed, I collected my backpack from the closet, picked up my rollaway from the baggage claim and made the quick drive home.
VERDICT: All in all, with the exception of the rude flight attendant, Continental was how it always is--consistent.