ETD 0925 ETA 1140
Being dropped off bright and early on a wet autumnal morning, by my friend who was going to be house-sitting and cat-feeding whilst I was away, I made my way to check-in, as I was unable to use the self-service kiosk with an AirMiles paper ticket.
Check-in was quick with a surprisingly short queue at Gatwick that Thursday morning and I proceeded through into Departures shortly before our gate number was flashed up on the departures board.
I gently proceeded through to my departure gate and made a few phone calls including one to my brother who joked that I was once again trying to use the ‘ol’slingshot effect’ of flying via as many points possible between A and B to try to quicken the journey! The joke being slightly funnier this time as I was flying through Houston – home of American space travel.
Anyway, the flight was full this morning mostly with business folk flying into Amsterdam and settling into my seat, some disagreements between passengers started to come to light as a fellow passenger was asked by the chap behind him NOT to recline his seat as he wanted to read his copy of the Times and not have his personal space ‘invaded’. A rather unfair request I thought and thankfully, the passenger (in 24D) turned round and told this guy exactly where he could stick his newspaper. This incident made me snigger to myself as I watched the morning drizzle out of my window.
Taxiing out for an immediate takeoff, our baby Boeing did its usual beautiful climb out of the Surrey countryside and into clear sunshine above the clouds as we turned and headed Northeast towards Amsterdam.
Photo © Kjc Photography
The usual BA ‘breakfast’ snack boxes were rolled out by a rather cheerful cabin crew team, whilst teas and coffees were served efficiently, as we tucked into our muffins and yoghurt pots.
Speeding across the English Channel, the Low Countries came into sight as we lined up to land on Polderbaan at Schiphol and as we slowed on the runway, I saw several spotters taking our pictures and waving at us from the road adjacent to the runway. I thought about the guys who were at the last ‘A.netters AMS-Meet’ and thought about waving back but was too embarrassed to do so. Our pilot came on to warn us that we had a very long taxi – in fact, perhaps the longest they have to do on their European runs – to the terminal building and after docking, I swiftly made my way down to Immigration and baggage reclaim as I was in a bit of a rush to make it into Amsterdam for a spot of lunch.
Luggage retrieval was a little slow and I made my way directly to find the Check-in area for Continental Airlines which was in a rather nice newish section of Schiphol that I had never been to before.
Check in was rather slow as there was a preceeding CO flight to Newark that many passengers were checking in for and the queue at the Skyteam Elite counter was hardly quicker than any of the other counters.
Amsterdam – Houston
ETD 1550 ETA 1920
Nevertheless, I got to the front after a while and the check-in clerk was pleasant and reassured me that my KLM FD Elite membership numbers were all present and correct and that I will be earning Frequence Plus points. I laughed and pointed out to her that it was a KLM card and she laughed back saying ‘oh yeah, Frequence Plus, Flying Dutchman, all the same nowadays’, which was somewhat ironic as she was clearly Dutch and was fairly accustomed to KLM being ‘French’ as it were.
Anyway, with my luggage tagged and sent down the chute, I made a bee-line for Amsterdam Schiphol train station and purchased a day return into Amsterdam Centraal. Whilst boarding the train, the rain start to pelt down and I realised that my lunch was probably going to be a rather damp affair so arriving at Centraal, I walked in a loop and bought a quick sandwich and decided to return to Schiphol instead where at least I would be dry.
Arriving back at Schiphol, I cleared Immigration (again) and found my boarding gate to be on G pier – which was rather isolated, so after a quick trawl through the usual Duty-Free shops, I decided to make my way to G pier and wait for boarding which seemed unusually early.
As the boarding announcement was made, it became clear that the time required to board our flight was going to be quite lengthy as I proceeded to the Elite queue and was then quizzed by an Immigration officer at one of five pulpits about my reasons for travelling and the usual security questions which took about five minutes to complete. Passing that ‘test’ I was then asked to remove my shoes, jacket and belt and to go through security twice. After all that, I entered an almost empty gate lounge and sat waiting for the rest of the passengers to be ‘processed’.
Finally, after a rather long wait, boarding was announced and despite a call for only Business First and Elite members to board, a hoard of people crowded the gate only to be sent back on producing regular Economy boarding passes.
Entering the Boeing 767-400, I was impressed by the 777-style cabin layout and found my seat right at the rear of the aircraft. Settling into my seat, I realised that the legroom was rather cramped (compared to my accustomed MAS 34” pitch) and there was indeed a rather annoying box for the IFE by the wall – which I did kick several times inadvertently.
Photo © Fernando Gomes
As a cabin crew member came down the aisle, I asked her if she could hang my jacket but was told rather surly that, ‘Sir, we never take coats and there is no wardrobe on board’, so I sat there with my jacket on my lap for the duration of the flight through meals and all. At this point, Continental Airlines started to slip in my opinion…
Gordon Bethune, introducing his airline made the whole experience even more tacky and cringe-worthy as we watched our PTV screens for the Safety Demo.
After a quick taxi to take-off not far from our parking spot, the rain cleared from our windows as we sped down the runway and it was quite nice to be riding on a ‘new’ aircraft type since this was my first on a 764.
Photo © Erwin
Our route was then to fly back over the UK heading northwest towards Edinburgh before tracking ‘up’ towards the southern tip of Greenland, which as always looked amazing from the air with its glaciers and ice-floats.
A drinks service commenced soon after takeoff and it became clear that I was going to have to pay for my (alcoholic) drinks. As I was keen to enjoy a glass of wine, I asked the rather matronly flight attendant what the meal was going to be and all she answered was ‘oh no, we won’t be serving dinner until a little later’ – which wasn’t really answering my question at all – so I plumped for a dry white wine. I was given a bottle of Chardonnay and she then asked ‘Is this dry?’. Unimpressed, I handed over a EUR5 note and was told that she would return later with my change (as it cost $5).
Dinner did appear shortly after as I settled to watch the Comedy channel as the films all looked appalling on the other channels. The meal was rather unimpressive – chicken and rice of some sort and was nothing to write home about. The portions were almost minute and after a cup of tea, I settled into my seat rather uncomfortably still with my jacket on my lap and read a few chapters of my book.
Falling asleep as we flew over Northern Canada, I awoke as we passed Illinois and was offered a few glasses of water as I returned to channel surfing rather dull channels on offer. As the sky grew darker, we were offered a second meal – or rather a snack – comprising of a warm turkey roll and another round of soft-drinks. At this point, I realised that the stewardess never returned with my change and she was nowhere to be seen in my cabin – so on my way back from the loo – which I must admit was kept clean by one of the stewardesses – I mentioned this to one of the other stewardesses who said she will find out what happened to it. Frankly, I was rather embarrassed as it was only EUR1 but it was the whole principal of it and I don’t think I should have even have had to ask!
Nevertheless, I looked out of my darkened window only to notice on the Airshow that we were flying in those most bizarre zig-zag route as we entered Texas. I was concerned only because we seemed to have lost all the time we made up for our slightly late departure out of Amsterdam and it looked increasingly that our rather ‘non-direct’ routing was going to make us arrive even later than expected and I had a very tight connection at IAH for the last flight to SFO that evening.
As we prepared to land at George Bush Intercontinental airport, an arrivals video was shown about visa and security procedures but was also interestingly slightly out of date given the new Biometric scanning procedures, which have recently been introduced. The pilot came on the PA to explain that in order to try to avoid traffic, ATC had sent us towards DFW but they had calculated that that routing would have cost us heavily in time, so requested to revert back to the original flight plan but at the same time had come to be behind a slower aircraft ahead of us – so they made another request to overtake that aircraft – hence the zig-zag on our Airshow.
Houston looked huge from the distance, as the seat belt sign was switched on about 55 mins prior to landing – which seemed rather excessive time-wise but I expect this may be a post-9/11 procedure. Just then, the stewardess who short-changed me came round and gave me my change in US$ and apologized that she couldn’t find any Euros for my change. It only took her 10 hours to find a dollar twenty-five (!) but I decided it was probably best to forget the whole episode – besides the amount of traffic heading in/out of IAH from out of my window was impressive at the time of the evening.
Photo © Ben Wang
Photo © Thomas Millard
Landing in the dark, we docked at the terminal, where I sprinted to Immigration but was then sent to a counter with an elderly passenger ahead of me who couldn’t understand anything the Immigration officer was asking – typical! By the time, the rest of the entire flight had cleared, I was still waiting behind her so I moved counters and the Immigration Officer ‘kindly’ pointed out that I was probably going to miss my connection given the time.
Stamping my passport, I ran to pick up my suitcase from the carousel downstairs and proceed to transfers as I now only had 16 minutes before my flight to SFO left. Throughout this ordeal, there was NO one from Continental to assist connecting passengers and it was obvious there was a large number of us as we then proceeded to remove shoes, belts again for security. To my shock and dismay, despite all the security measures in place, the TSA agent then asked me to leave my suitcase along with a long line of bags waiting for screening and to run to catch the plane – UNATTENDED!!!
I thought to myself, sod it, and continued my marathon across IAH to find the gate E16 from where my 737-800 was waiting to close its doors.
Continental Airlines ground staff were still nowhere to be seen to help anyone and I would have been very surprised if some of the passengers from our flight didn’t miss their connections.
So far, Continental Airlines has fallen very short of my expectations and need to address their flight connections and inflight service.
Houston – San Francisco
ETD 2054 ETA 2257
Being one of the last passengers to board (I was accompanied by a young Dutch couple who had also run to E16), I found my way to 22F and settled into my seat next to a young man who seemed to be studying Economics judging by his textbook on his lap. Interestingly, the flight was only about 2/3 full and the Dutch couple were separated in their seating despite there being empty rows – which they were rather annoyed about.
Back to me though and ‘YES’ – the seat between us was going to be empty for the flight as the door was shut and the video screens whirred down from above us to show Gordon Bethune (yet again) with the same video I had seen out of AMS. The only thing that was different was the cutaway diagram of emergency exits – this time on a Boeing 737-800.
Photo © Alastair T. Gardiner
Looking out of the window, there was a slight drizzle as I noticed this particular model had not had its winglets retrofitted yet. Wishing Gordon away from my face, the relatively senior crew members (although there was one young steward) prepared for takeoff and we started our push back for the taxiway. God I hope my suitcase made the connection…!
Passing some Embraer ERJs and lining up for takeoff behind a long line of CO aircraft, we were soon on our way again as the lights of multiple landings and takeoffs could be seen – which was certainly impressive – from an ATC point of view.
Soon after departure, there was little to see outside given the darkness and I was really starting to feel tired and sleepy. Most of all though was the hunger, which was not unreasonable having flown for over 10 hours and having only had one small meal at the start of that journey. To my shock and horror – there was no catering on this flight tonight to San Francisco – so to help drown my sorrows – I found solace in another glass of overpriced Chardonnay – this time paid for in US dollars (having quickly stopped at the ATM by Gate E16)!
Watching the start of Harry Potter, the cabin was dimmed and like most others on board – I fell asleep only to awake shortly before our descent into San Francisco. The crew were efficient and slightly more ‘smiley’ (but only just) than the previous crew as we prepared to land at a very foggy SFO.
As we descended, I couldn’t see very much as we flew into fog only to reappear shortly before touchdown as we created some impressive contrails on final approach.
Taxiing to our stand, there was a Philippine Airlines 747-400 at the International Terminal and lots of United Airlines aircraft parked for the night.
Photo © Vasco Garcia
Bags appeared a few minutes after I arrived at the Carousel but once again – US Airports really need to redesign their domestic flight terminal as I just can’t see who thought it ever safe to have the baggage carousels in a public area where anyone could pick up your suitcase and do a runner with it! Anyway - at least both me and my suitcase made it in one piece (albeit feeling rather dishevelled). Checked in at my hotel shortly after midnight... slept like a babe that night...
Continental Airlines came across as a rather mediocre airline. Inflight service was not really with a smile nor was it of the usual International standard I had become accustomed to with Asian and even certain European carriers. Punctuality was rather sketchy and there was a distinctive lack of assistance from ground crew. In fact – I don’t even remember the crew wishing anyone a simple goodbye as we disembarked from Amsterdam, although I’m sure they did… not a good sign in my book. The only plus-side so far, was that at least CO seems to be keen to use equipment that was fairly up to date.
Return trip coming up soon when I have time to write more…