Like in 2002 and 2003, my brother and me decided to make a trip to Florida this year which we booked at expedia.de (a decent all suites hotel and flight for below €900,- per person which is quite a good deal).
I was also glad to see that two new airplane types might get added to my personal collection, the 767-400 which I had unfortunately missed last year on Delta (if you´re interested, you can find the respective trip report at http://www.airliners.net/discussions/trip_reports/read.main/36350/ ) and the 737-900.
In addition to that we booked an Alamo car for those two weeks at a local travel agency and the night before our departure in the Sheraton Airport Hotel in Frankfurt.
Well, I live about 12 miles from the airport so I´m not surprised if some of you will call me crazy but for my brother and me, both being absolute aviation enthusiasts, spending a night in this hotel located right inside the airport before taking a longhaul flight seemed to be somewhat special.
Looking forward to our trip, we prepared for our vacation when about one week before our scheduled departure, hurricane Frances began to threaten Florida so I was getting kind of nervous while still hoping it wouldn´t turn out to be as bad as Charly or even miss South Florida.
Two days before we were supposed to fly to Florida, it became clear that Orlando would be like a ghost town and the airport most probably closed on Saturday 4th, our planned arrival date, so on Thursday, I decided to call Continental Airlines and asked them what they would recommend me to do.
A friendly lady at CO´s Frankfurt office advised me to call back the next day as she still wasn´t completely confident whether Frances would affect our travel plans or not and rebooking would not be a problem anyway.
On Friday morning I checked continental.com and wasn´t surprised at all to see that our EWR-MCO flight (CO392) got cancelled.
Realizing that going to Orlando on some different way before the hurricane would be gone wasn´t a brilliant idea, it came to my mind what a beautiful city New York City is so I asked the agent at CO if it was possible to keep the FRA-EWR section on the 4th and go on to MCO a few days later. She checked that and told me to contact expedia travel in this case as they were only able to postpone the whole trip due to our (relatively cheap) booking class.
The agent at expedia told me to stay tuned until they would call me back some time later on the same day as they were also being forced to deal with lots of other clients who had similar problems like mine.
Not feeling to happy about the fact that it still wasn´t clear where and if we would go on the next day, my brother and me packed our things and checked in and the Sheraton Hotel inside Frankfurt Airport where I (of course) requested a room with airport view whereupon the very, very nice lady at the desk gave me a location on the top floor with perfect views onto the B and C gate areas of Terminal 1.
The Sheraton Hotel is really a very nice one. Although the standard rooms aren´t too spacy, they have all amenities I need, the personnel is excellent and they have three decent (but expensive) bars where we later went to have some beers. If you´re interested to visit that hotel one day, make sure to check out their special Internet only rates!
Still not having heard anything from expedia travel at 9.30 pm I was getting more and more nervous. I still didn´t know if we were supposed to go home or to the United States on the next morning…quite a weird feeling.
Finally, on 9.45pm the long awaited call came in and an extremely helpful female agent rebooked the EWR-MCO section to the 7th which meant that we would be able to visit New York City, where I had not been since three years ago, for three days before hopefully getting to Orlando. This was not a bad set-up either. The agent also rebooked our hotel in Orlando and told me about the amount of compensation that we were supposed to receive.
As all available hotels in Manhattan were too expensive in our opinions, we decided to book three nights at the Holiday Inn at Newark Airport as I knew there were frequent decent bus shuttles from that airport to Grand Central/Port Authority.
I was very relieved after that call as our trip was neither postponed nor even cancelled.
On the next morning we went to the Continental Ticket counter located in Terminal 2 where they told us that we didn´t need new prints of our tickets as they found the changed EWR-MCO section in their reservation system.
We checked in quickly after having answered those very useful questions about weapons or other things in our baggage (Can´t I just walk to that agent with a big sign “No!” on my shirt to make sure they let me pass? ) , got our pre-assigned seats (41AB) and went back to the Sheraton Hotel where we enjoyed a marvellous breakfast buffet (including as much french champaign as we liked…and we liked a lot ).
At one of those computer terminals where you can check the regs of the airplanes operating, we found out that we would fly on N69059. Yipee! I would finally get to fly on the Boeing 767-400 after last year´s unsuccessful try.
OK, after this part which may have been more exciting for us to experience than for you to read (I apologize if this was the case), we come closer to finally getting up into the air
We checked out at the Sheraton and went straight through the pretty strict security to our gate D12 where we had a seat after taking some pictures of that nice Continental 767-400.
A few minutes later Business First boarding was announced and I was amazed that this time NOT everyone seemed to be a premium passenger like most of the other times boarding begins. People behaved quite respectable this morning .
When our row´s section was called, we grabbed our carry-on items and I was happily looking forward to finally getting into this plane I was so eager to fly on.
Date: September 4th 2004
Continental Airlines Flight 51
Aircraft: Boeing 767-424(ER)
Reg.: N69059, delivered February 2002
Photo © Lee Collins
Photo © Oliver Brunke
Entering the spotless clean cabin of the airplane (unfortunately not through the front door so I didn´t get an impression of their famous Business First seat) we were greeted by one of the few female flight attendants on this flight and proceeded to our seats which offered a decent but not great amount of legroom (well, where is that the case today in coach class?), however the legroom on the window side was quite severely influenced by the entertainment box under the seat in front but still there was more room than in coach on a LH 744.
The Coach cabin of Continental´s 764 looks like this:
Photo © Vasco Garcia
Once again I wondered how some people manage to get through security and into the airplane with those heaps of carry-on luggage desperately trying to squeeze it into the overhead bins before falling right into a seat which they don´t have an assignment for (you know how the story usually continues)
I liked the 777-style interiors of the 767-400, it gives a feeling of having tons of more space above one´s head than in one of the 767-300´s not being equipped with these interiors (for example on Delta).
After boarding was completed, we were greeted by the purser and the rest of the crew. I discovered that the load factor must have been around 90% as there were only very few open seats in Coach. Also, like on Delta´s 767, the crew rest department were some specially equipped seats with curtains in the very back of the airplane.
We were pushed back 5 minutes before our scheduled departure and performed a short taxi to runway 25R where two LH 744s took off in front of us.
Runway 25R used to be very bumpy in the past years but now has been renovated and feels pretty smooth again on take-off runs.
Our take-off wasn´t too powerful and I was now looking forward to enjoying my first flight on Continental.
Unfortunately, CO like most other US airlines these days charges €4,-/$5,- for any alcoholic drink in Coach Class so this wasn´t an option for me on this flight.
I decided to read some newspapers and magazines instead of using the PTV (I had the airshow running for almost the whole flight).
The generally very friendly and professional F/As came around frequently with drinks and also offered assistance to those people who had trouble completing their immigration forms (still quite many). At least two of the F/As were fluent in german which surprised me as it is often pretty unusual to find someone in the USA who has very good german language skills.
The first meal service offered a surprisingly creative choice of chicken or beef
Missing a nice little menu card like Delta still offers it, I opted for the beef, which tasted good but certainly not outstanding, but hey, this wasn´t Singapore Airlines so it was ok for me.
The First Officer came over the cabin speakers several times and made announcements concerning flight path, weather in NYC etc.
Somewhere past Gander a hot ham´n cheese sandwich was served along with further drinks. I generally prefer crispy european bread to this kind of airline sandwiches but it was still edible.
From England until shortly before arrival there were no turbulences at all but on arrival it got a little shaky .
To our regret it was very dizzy in the Ney York area this afternoon which negatively influenced the Manhattan skyline sightseeing on approach to Newark´s Liberty International Airport.
We touched down about 20 minutes early and taxied to gate C136. I was able to spot some visitors I hardly see in Frankfurt: AF A343, KL B763, AZ B777, BA B777, Hooters B757, SK A333 and all the CO stuff.
Leaving the airplane I thanked the crew for a very enjoyable flight and after clearing the immigration (which was a relief compared to ATL, JFK or MIA) we claimed our baggage, proceeded through customs to the AirTrain (a monorail connecting the terminals with parking lots and the train station) which took us to P4. This is the place where all hotel shuttles use to leave.
The Holiday Inn Shuttle was already waiting and after loading off some confused people at the Marriott (they were originally supposed to stay at the HI) we reached our hotel which was a standard airport hotel with standard US hotel rooms (2 queens, bathroom, TV, table, chair…all you need but nothing special). The bar of this hotel turned out to be quite nice as it had lots of beers on tap, good food and TVs permanently running so we were able to follow Frances´ path. A good reason to choose this hotel is that the Hooters crews apparently use to stay there as well
Afterwards we had two great days in NYC. Apart from many other places in that impressive city, we visited Ground Zero which was very touching. I still can´t and never will forget those horrible pictures from three years ago…
On Tuesday Sept. 7th , we went to the airport quite early as we were secretly hoping that we might get booked on an earlier flight than we were supposed to fly on. So we arrived at the Continental domestic Check In at about 11am while our scheduled departure to MCO was at 5.05pm. Noticing that CO also offers those very practical self-check in machines that I´m used to from my LH flights, we went to one of the counters where a friendly lady offered us to take the 3.30pm departure instead for no extra charge which we happily agreed with.
Handing us our boarding passes (the assigned seats were 21EF) she sent us to baggage screening where we left our bags and took the AirTrain to the FoodPlaza at Terminal A where we sat a while spotting a not too wide variety of aircraft, mainly NW and UA.
After getting back to Terminal C, we went through security and unfortunately won the prize and had our bags as well as ourselves checked in almost every detail. At least the agents were correct and friendly.
I was positively surprised by the great variety of shops, restaurants and bars in the secure area (compared to FRA, LHR, MIA or JFK this variety was actually huge). We went to a bar called “Brew House” which was a very nice place to drink beer while spotting (mainly CO) airplanes.
About 50 minutes before our scheduled departure, we began to proceed to gate C98. I was still hoping to get on a 737-900 (we missed the one we were originally supposed to fly on by not getting to fly to MCO on the 4th) but wasn´t too disappointed notifying that we would fly on N29129, a B757-200, as I had not flown on this type since 1992 (SFO-IAD on UA).
Boarding for First Class- and disabled passengers was announced just a few moments after we had arrived at the gate and this time, once again EVERYONE seemed to either have a First Class ticket or consider themself as disabled .
After the mess was more or less cleaned up by the two Check In agents who appeared to be in a very good mood and were permanently joking, we showed our boarding passes and entered the jetway.
Date: September 7th 2004
Continental Airlines Flight 192
Aircraft: Boeing 757-224
Registration: N29129, delivered March 1998
Photo © Jonathan Simmons
Photo © Miguel Snoep
As I entered the plane, I noticed that the cabin wasn´t by far as worn off as on some other carriers´ domestic airplanes. I don´t know if I observed this due to the relatively young age of the aircraft or if it was the case because of the fact that CO also flies their ETOPS certificated 757s across the pond.
However the legroom was definitely pretty narrow compared to the 767-400 and I certainly wouldn´t want to sit in there for a flight taking 6 hours or longer.
The flight was packed to the limits with people which is not very surprising 2 days after a hurricane pounded the destination area, I guess.
Next to me at the aisle there sat a very talkative elderly man who had visited some relatives in New York and now headed home. He later told me that his house in Daytona Beach had only taken minor damages by Frances and that his major fear during hurricanes always is flooding which is also what I heard from several other people I met later on the trip.
We left the gate on time but somewhere on the taxiway, the captain came on the speakers and announced that we would have to wait on the ground for another 20 minutes because the ATC had changed our departure route. However, due to the relatively short flight time of 2 hours (scheduled: 3 hours), even an early arrival was still possible.
We took off about 25 minutes later and I assumed that 757 take-offs must be much more enjoyable if the flight is empty (and the runway short).
Beverage service was quite frequent again and the F/A´s were helpful and friendly once more.
The biggest part of this flight was rather uneventful, we flew down the east coast and turned to the west just south of Daytona Beach where there were still signs visible when looking out of the window of the massive floodings and devastations Frances and especially Charly had caused.
After a rather bumpy touch down in Orlando I noticed that the area that belongs to the airport is huge and there must be lots of room for expansion-exactly the opposite situation we are currently in at Frankfurt.
I also liked all that water and palm trees right on the airport.
After leaving the airplane we took a train to the main hall where we waited quite some time for our baggage to arrive and then headed for the Alamo counter located not far away right inside the airport J
Afterwards we had a great time once again in Florida (luckily for us, Ivan went further west). Apart from that wonderful countryside just next to the action of those huge theme parks, I was especially impressed by the way people down there cope with this year´s unbelievable hurricane season´s effects. Some people in Europe can still learn a lot from the relaxed but still productive lifestyle that can be found in many parts of the USA.
Well, as always on great trips, time went by much too fast and suddenly it was Sept 18th, the day we had to leave Orlando.
We packed our bags, checked out at the Sierra Suites Hotel and returned our car at the airport. Not having to take a shuttle bus to the airport after having returned the car was quite convenient.
Approaching the Continental Check In at Terminal A, I noticed a long line at the counters and it came to my mind that there currently were severe weather conditions in the north eastern part of the USA so I looked at one of the monitors and indeed, all flights to Newark were listed as “delayed”. Getting more and more curious about what would come next (another night at one of the airports? Flying on a different airline? Etc.) we were waved to one of the counters where a nice lady put us on the 10.50am departure which was now supposed to leave on 12.30pm so we wouldn´t miss our conncetion to Frankfurt. Once again, Continental´s staff handled a situation that nobody can influence very professionally without causing any unnecessary inconvenience to their passengers. Chapeau!
We were sent directly to the gate as the flight was going to leave in less than 45 minutes. Security went very fast this time, we didn´t even have to remove our shoes.
Proceeding to gate 4, I noticed again what a nice and bright construction this airport is, although there were still some visible damages caused by hurricane Charly (for example they had a temporary air conditioning running).
At the gate our flight was still shown just as “delayed” so I asked the guy handling the flight when it was going to leave. His answer was 12.45 which was in about 45 minutes so we used the time to call home and grabbed a coke at the Burger King. I had hoped to fly on a 737-900 or 757-300 this time but the airplane standing in front of the windows was again a 757-200 (N19141, CO´s newest 752).
Date: September 18th 2004
Continental Airlines Flight 693
Aircraft: Boeing 757-224(ER)
Reg.: N19141, delivered June 2000
Seat: 15B (Exit Row)
Photo © Art Brett - AirTeamImages
Photo © Paul Spijkers
As we returned to the gate, boarding had already begun and we entered the jetway where I checked my boarding pass and noticed that the words “Exit Row” were printed on it so I prepared for having lots of legroom this time.
We entered the clean cabin, were greeted by two of the F/As and took our seats 15BC that had indeed a very good portion of space in front of them; stretching out was no problem at all.
The girl sitting next to me at the window seemed to be an arrogant chick who used every second to transmit very important messages like “I´m now on the airplane” or “I think I need a coffee now” over her cellphone…at least she kept her voice calm, unlike some of those other cellphone maniacs.
Just after boarding was completed and the F/As were performing some final preparations to make the cabin ready for the flight, the captain announced that due to some severe weather in the New York area, our departure had to be furtherly delayed and that they had decided to deboard the plane.
Reboarding was planned to take place in 40 minutes, maybe earlier, maybe even later. Damn, everything had seemed to go well this time and now that…I was beginning to have serious doubts about this flight leaving anytime soon.
The ground crew repeated the planned time for reboarding about 20 times and told all passengers to remain in the gate area as an earlier departure than planned could not be excluded.
I was really surprised when about 30 minutes later the ground staff announced that reboarding would start in a few minutes and actually we were back inside the cabin another five minutes after this announcement had been made.
Boarding was almost completed and the door had already been closed when it had to be reopened for four guys who obviously had been fallen asleep at the Burger King…well, their way to the back of the cabin must have felt like running the gauntlet .
The load factor on this flight was 100%.
Our plane was pushed back a few moments later and we taxied to the runway where the cokpit crew announced another delay of 25 minutes due to air traffic regulations. We actually continued to proceed to the runway 15 minutes later and took off just after a company 737-800 (I think it was bound for IAH).
Flight time to Newark was below 2 hours this time so the First Officer expected an arrival at Newark about 3 hours behind schedule which meant that we would have over 3 hours of time to kill at Newark airport (I instinctively thought of the “Brew House” )
After about half an hour in flight drinks and a cold sandwich (that consisted of some very soft roll with a little lettuce and two slices of turkey ham). I decided better not to watch the movie (Shrek 2) although I wouldn´t have had to pay for the head-sets as they were given away for free on the transatlantic flight.
At some time, the First Officer prepared the passengers for a very bumpy approach to Newark and maybe a hard landing if the conditions demanded it so I was looking forward to having some fun.
The flight attendants did their job in a very proper way as the time passed by very fast and we were soon approaching Newark Airport. The gear was released when there was still nothing to see outside but dark clouds which made me assume that the weather had to be really bad. Actually the approach wasn´t more bumpy than usual and so wasn´t the landing.
Taxiing to gate C76, I again spotted some interesting visitors such as an Air India 744, LH 343, AZ 777 and two SK 333s.
I thanked the crew and left the plane through the second door. Afterwards we once again enjoyed shopping in the stores and drinking in the “Brew House” which was very crowded this time but we managed to get a small table right at the window .
About two hours later we walked to our gate C98 (funnily the same gate like 11 days before when we left for Orlando) where our 767-400 was parked – it was again N69059 .
Not that I didn´t like that particular airplane but I hate flying on exactly the same aircraft twice when there are so many others I haven´t been on yet.
Next to our gate was a 757-200 being prepared for its flight to Oslo, Norway and it was clearly visible that booze is damn expensive over there as the trolley with all the duty free stuff was about ten times fuller than the one being parked at our gate area.
Boarding began at 7.10 pm which was 30 minutes before our scheduled departure, the whole process becoming a total mess as there was only one female agent who was not at all giving off the impression of being at least a bit authoritarian and many passengers from South America not understanding a single word of english. The situation was furtherly made worse by the fact that the Business First cabin was still being catered and Coach boarding was given priority to .
Date: September 18th 2004
Continental Airlines Flight 50
Aircraft: Boeing 767-424(ER)
Reg.: N69059, delivered February 2002
Photo © David James Clelford
We decided to wait until that whole bunch of impatient people had disappeared and boarded as two of the last passengers, took our seats 25AB and sat back to relax when a young asian looking woman came in and stored a brand-new laptop computer in one of the overhead bins. Shortly later, another woman, who was permanently looking for opportunities to stow a few more of her seemingly endless number of carry on-items, began to nestle at exactly that overhead bin when it happened: Bang, the laptop crashed right beside my brother into the aisle. While the asian girl obviously had not recognized anything, the woman who had to take responsibility for this quickly looked around, seemed to be sure that no one had noticed her being a complete idiot, squeezed the laptop back into the bin and disappeared…what a coward.
Boarding was completed a few moments later and the captain (“hey folks, how ya doin´ tonight, I´m your captain!”) announced a very short flight time of only 6 hours and 34 minutes so we should arrive quite a bit early at Frankfurt.
Pushback followed about ten minutes late and we began to proceed to our runway for departure. Again a few interesting planes could be spotted like a Singapore A345 (actually the first A345 I have ever seen in real life).
There was not a single open seat in Coach Class.
Take off and climb were rather unspectacular and we had soon reached our cruising altitude where the first drink service was completed. I decided to waste some of the last few bucks I had in my pocket for a white wine that was actually very good (a 2002 Chardonnay from Chile) and began to read a book. The interactive channels (games) didn´t work and I didn´t like the movie choice so I had the Airshow running for the whole flight again.
The meal service this time consisted of a choice between – guess what…yeah right – chicken and beef. I opted for the beef which was tasty apart from the totally overcooked vegetables and a horrible dessert.
After having spent another 5 dollars for more white wine I fell asleep for one or two hours and woke up somewhere over Ireland where it was still completely dark. I thought about having more wine but 10 bucks on one flight for something I can get free on other airlines were definitely enough so I opted for a Sprite this time.
At this time I noticed that it was very cold inside the cabin, colder than I had ever experienced it inside of an airplane but I didn´t want to wake up my brother just to grab the blanket that I had put in one of the bins.
Continuing to read my book I got tired again but didn´t manage to sleep anymore as we were already descending somewhere over the dutch north sea coast.
Amazingly we didn´t have to fly any circles near the Frankfurt area because of heavy FRA traffic (quite unusual at this time of the morning) and were soon on our final approach to Rhein-Main airport almost an hour before our scheduled arrival.
After having passed the airport on the south we soon touched down smoothly on runway 25L. This was followed by quite a long taxirun to gate D12 at Terminal 2.
As I left the aiplane I thanked the friendly crew, deciding to keep Continental Airlines in my memory as the best US airline and one of the best airlines overall that I had flown on so far.
As I had not come across a single unfriendly member of their staff on my whole journey and because of the fact that they handled all that mess caused by the hurricanes just perfectly, they definitely earn my respect for offering an extremely competitive product, not only on international flights.
I hope that you guys enjoyed this trip report and it didn´t bore anyone too much.
Any comments are welcome!
Edit: A few typos
[Edited 2004-09-21 12:39:39]
[Edited 2004-09-21 12:43:26]