LHR-IAH-PDX on Continental 777-200ER & 737-900ER
The start of my latest trip report series features Continental's Boeing 777-200ER - equipped with the carrier's new AVOD IFE system - and the company's Boeing 737-900ER. During trip planning I had desperately tried to find flights on the regular (and rare) 737-900 (Alaska Airlines or Continental), but the options were not satisfying. However, a combination of CO's 777 (London-Houston) and 739ER (Houston-Portland) caught my attention after a while. I had never been to Houston and Portland - and I couldn't resist flying on the largest and heaviest 737 ever.
In early September 2009 it was time to book another enthusiast trip. Flights to the United States were quite cheap in mid-October so I started searching for interesting combos. My plan was to get as many new airlines and aircraft types as possible on a five- or six-day trip. The destinations did not matter really much, I only tried to include LAX in order to meet my friend The777Man again. Some days later, after spending countless hours on airline and travel websites, my itinerary was complete:
Munich (MUC) - London (LHR) on British Airways
London (LHR) - Houston (IAH) on Continental
Houston (IAH) - Portland (PDX) on Continental
Portland (PDX) - Seattle (SEA) on United Express, operated by Skywest Airlines
Seattle (SEA) - San Jose (SJC) on Alaska Airlines
San Jose (SJC) - Los Angeles (LAX) on American Eagle
Los Angeles (LAX) - Atlanta (ATL) on Delta
Atlanta (ATL) - Houston (IAH) on Continental Express, operated by ExpressJet
Houston (IAH) - Newark (EWR) on Continental
Newark (EWR) - Frankfurt (FRA) on Continental
Frankfurt (FRA) - Munich (MUC) on Lufthansa
I booked all Continental flights together on the carrier's website - connections on both British Airways and Lufthansa were included in the combo. After that I separately added the flights on United Express, Alaska Airlines, American Eagle and Delta. The itinerary included five new airlines, five new aircraft types and four new airports - I was quite satisfied in the end after getting all the confirmation emails.
Btw - booking all the separate flights was easy, but I faced some trouble on CO's website. Whenever I entered all my data, including my credit card information, the booking process got stuck. Even though I didn't get any confirmation message, the selected seats were always gone when I tried again - which was very frustrating. That's how I lost the last available aisle seat on the 777 flight. It finally worked at the fourth attempt by using my girlfriend’s computer, but I was told by mail that it could take up to 24 hours for the final booking confirmation to arrive - due to the pending confirmation by British Airways and Lufthansa.
On the next day, after waiting almost 24 hours, I called CO. However, the male agent told me that the 24 hours weren't over yet. I waited some more time until the "deadline" was over, but I still didn't get any message, so I called again. This time a lady informed me that the connecting flights on BA and LH weren't confirmed yet and that I should call again on the next day. I distinctly told her that this wasn't acceptable after that odyssey - and believe it or not, suddenly the agent told me that the reservation had just been confirmed. Coincidence or not? Who knows. I still don't know what caused the initial problems during the reservation process.
Friday, 16 October 2009
London (LHR) - Houston (IAH)
Flying time: 09:27 (hrs)
Economy Class, Seat 42L
N77012 (s/n 234)
Delivered in 08/1999
1st flight on N77012
10th 777-200ER flight
23rd 777 flight
Photo © Tony Woof
Photo © John Harris
Photo © BJ
Photo © Antonis Panayotatos
After an uneventful flight on BA947 from Munich (operated by ex-GB Airways A320-232 G-TTOB) I had to transfer from Terminal 5 to Terminal 4. Fortunately, British Airways had been able to check my luggage through to Portland, so I only had to carry my hand luggage. When I arrived at Terminal 4 some 30 minutes later I tried my luck at a check-in kiosk, but I got an error message after entering my passport - names didn't match. I had added my middle name during reservation - not a good idea apparently. An agent helped and it finally worked. Then a message on the screen informed me that the flight was overbooked. I was asked whether I would be interested in taking a later flight and being compensated with USD 250, but I had to decline. No more pieces of information about alternative flight options were available and I did not want to risk missing my flights on the next day. Why doesn't that ever happen on ordinary trips without onward connections?
I tried again to get an aisle seat for the long-haul flight, but it wasn't possible. So I kept the window seat which I had reserved at the time of booking.
Aircraft & Cabin Comfort
I passed security immediately after checking in and walked to my gate 14. Unfortunately, it was impossible to see anything but the wing of the 777, so I started walking to another part of the terminal.
The Continental crowd, consisting of my 777 in the background and two 757s with winglets:
Finally I was able to recognize the 777's registration. The plane was N77012, delivered in August 1999. It's one of 20 777-200ERs in the Continental fleet.
From the other side of Terminal 4 you have good views of runway 27L/09R and Terminal 3. Among others, a SIA A380, a Turkish A340-300 and a Thai 747-400 were parked there:
Boarding by seat numbers was started about 45 minutes prior to departure. The cabin was equipped with new comfortable seats...
...and Continental's new AVOD IFE system with 9-inch screens:
The seat pitch was generous...
...but legroom was significantly reduced by the large and wide IFE box. At least there was enough space on the 777 to put the right foot between the seat frame and the wall:
You can try to put the left foot in the gap between the window seat and aisle seat boxes - but that depends on the length of your neighbor's legs.
My neighbor was a relatively short woman, so I could leave my left foot in that gap. Otherwise it would have been quite uncomfortable on that long flight.
Cabin shot (taken later during the flight):
Welcome Message & Departure
What I found very interesting before push-back was the welcome video by Continental's CEO Larry Kellner. In his short speech he talked about the "most professional co-workers in the business" and "one of the youngest fleets". Nice idea! I'm wondering whether Kellner's successor will do the same now.
We left the gate only ten minutes behind schedule, so I didn’t worry any more about the 104-minute connecting time at Houston.
17 minutes after leaving the gate our 777 entered runway 27L and started a powerful take-off roll:
Emirates A380 taxiing to the gate:
British Airways everywhere:
Continental's new AVOD (Audio Video On Demand) entertainment system offers a choice of more than 250 movies, 300 TV features, 3000 music tracks (playlist builder) and 25 interactive games. The menu is well structured and you find everything quite easy and quickly. Of course it can keep you entertained for a long time, but the system cannot match Emirates' ICE or similar systems in terms of quality and quantity. What I found a bit poor in particular was the small number of movies in German (or other languages).
You can choose between touchscreen and handset control:
Movies main menu:
You can list all movies or sort them by category:
Games – too bad Continental doesn’t have a trivia game:
Shortly after departure I noticed that the map was not available - the airshow channel only displayed flight data. Later I asked about it and a flight attendant confirmed that the map didn't work on that flight. That was a major disappointment, of course. Here's all I could see (pictures taken later in the flight):
Apart from the broken map feature I didn't notice any problems with the IFE system. However, my neighbor's TV crashed after a few hours and could not be reactivated.
Drinks and pretzels were offered some 45 minutes after take-off. In order to accelerate the process - while the service cart team still being far away - a flight attendant took orders from the passengers sitting in the last few rows and picked the drinks and pretzels up in the galley. Of course I ordered ginger ale - what else?
1,5 hours after take-off lunch was served. While other passengers around still had a choice between chicken and a vegetarian meal, I had to accept what was left. Fortunately, it was the marinated chicken which would have been my choice anyway:
The salad was fresh and tasted very good with the French dressing, but the main course was a big disappointment. I stayed away from the artificial-tasting red marinade and the overcooked green asparagus and only ate the chicken. The piece of cake was ok, but it was just too small. What I also found disappointing is the $5 charge for all alcoholic drinks at any time.
While I was watching a movie some five hours in the flight the flight attendants started serving vanilla ice cream which was a nice surprise. It was also good to see flight attendants constantly offering water and juice.
One hour prior to arrival another snack was served. I got a box and a hot sandwich:
The ham and cheese sandwich tasted very good and the other items, chips and a crispy chocolate cluster, weren't bad either. Btw – I found it quite interesting to get German mustard.
What's better than eating with a 777 wing over a bed of clouds next to you?
Approach & Arrival
The clouds soon disappeared and I could enjoy nice views during approach to Houston:
We touched down smoothly at George Bush Intercontinental Airport after a flying time of 9 hours and 27 minutes:
The taxi time was very short and we arrived at our Terminal E gate 13 minutes ahead of schedule. So there was plenty of time left for the plane change.
Transfer at Houston
Terminal E, used for Continental's international operations, is IAH's newest and I found it very convenient. The number of arriving passengers queuing up at immigration was limited, so I only had to wait some 15 minutes until it was my turn. However, in my case, you never know how long the fingerprinting process lasts due to some deformed fingers. At Atlanta in February the officer sent me to an office for special immigration cases and it took about 40 minutes to get my passport stamped. In Calgary in May it was just a matter of a few minutes. And this time in Houston the officer was quite clueless and had to call his supervisor. They tried to enter my data somehow, but failed several times. Finally, after 20 minutes, they were successful and I could proceed. I'm really wondering why it's handled so differently. Shouldn't there be a standard procedure for such cases?
Anyway, I passed customs, left my luggage at a belt for domestic connections and walked to my gate in Terminal C, just next to Terminal E.
Friday, 16 October 2009
Houston (IAH) - Portland (PDX)
Flying time: 04:13 (hrs)
Economy Class, Seat 31F
N37437 (s/n 2959)
Delivered in 07/2009
1st flight on N37437
1st 737-900ER flight
23rd 737NG flight
46th 737 flight
Photo © Paul Wickstrom
Aircraft & Cabin Comfort
When I arrived at gate C32 about 40 minutes prior to departure almost all seats were already gone. The space is limited in that part of the terminal, the gates are simply not large enough to accommodate the crowds of fully booked 737-800 or 737-900 flights. I made my way through the tight rows, took a picture of the plane and checked the registration. N37437 was scheduled to operate the flight to Oregon, a relatively new 737-900ER delivered only three months before, in July 2009:
Spotting opportunities were limited in that area, so I soon joined the boarding queue. The plane was equipped with comfortable fabric seats...
...and the DIRECTV system (available on all 30 737-900ERs and a growing numbers of other 737NGs):
The legroom was absolutely sufficient - the IFE box didn't pose a problem this time:
Continental's DIRECTV satellite programming comprises over 95 channels of live television and previously recorded features such as premium movies, sitcoms, dramas and more. The service is complimentary in First Class and available in Economy Class for $6 per flight.
Screen variations before take-off and after landing:
I didn't pay for the service because I preferred to rest on the flight. But it's a nice feature which can keep you entertained on longer flights. Too bad Continental didn't include a map feature like jetBlue. What I found annoying after a while was the persistent playing of DIRECTV ads and movie trailers during the flight - and I didn't find a button to switch the TV screen off. I'm not sure how often I had to watch that silly Transformers 2 trailer in the five hours on that plane...
Due to the crowd in the waiting area I hadn't been optimistic about an empty seat next to me. And indeed, the flight was packed, I didn't see an empty seat after boarding had been completed. The captain then announced a slight delay because a family had to leave the aircraft again due to a "family emergency".
Parked next to us was sister ship N53441, the second newest 737-900ER in the fleet:
We finally left the gate 15 minutes behind schedule:
Many other aircraft were bound for departure at the same time:
The captain informed us that it would take longer than expected to get airborne due to the heavy traffic. So we had to taxi to a waiting position where we stayed about 20 minutes. Finally, 34 minutes after leaving the gate, it was our turn and we entered the runway. The long 737 lifted off after a powerful and very loud take-off roll - the roaring and shaking was really remarkable. We turned right almost immediately...
...and I had good views of the huge airport:
In contrast to many competitors, Continental still serves free (cold and hot) meals on longer domestic flights. I was very surprised to see the flight attendants handing out hamburgers:
My expectations hadn't been high, but the hamburger tasted very good. And I can't complain about the salad either. The chocolate bar and a refreshing candy were nice additions, too. Drinks were offered several times during the flight and ginger ale was my preferred choice, as usual.
After dinner I relaxed and caught up on some sleep. We touched down at Portland International Airport after a flying time of 4 hours and 13 minutes and arrived at the gate 36 minutes behind schedule. I grabbed my luggage and took the shuttle to the Rodeway Inn Portland Airport - a basic, but clean, comfortable and cheap hotel with friendly staff.
Three new aircraft, one new type, one new airline and two new airports for my flight logbook as well as 37 new registrations on a seamless trip - day one could be listed as a success. My first impression of Continental Airlines was very positive in general: Friendly staff on the ground and in the air, clean cabins and (mostly) comfortable seating. The new AVOD IFE system is good, but there's room for improvement. DIRECTV on domestic flights is nice, but Continental should also offer a map channel like other airlines do. While the catering on the domestic leg was satisfying, I cannot praise the catering on the long-haul flight - the main meal was simply disappointing. And not offering at least one free beer or wine with lunch or dinner is another weakness on a carrier often referred to as a quality airline.
Next report: PDX-SEA-SJC-LAX on Skywest Airlines, Alaska Airlines and American Eagle
P.S.: Just in case you missed them - other more or less recent reports:
Bye Bye, Hell! TRD-OSL-TXL-NUE - DY/AB/HE DH4
My Trip To Hell: NUE-CPH-OSL-TRD On Cimber & SAS
SFO-YUL-FRA: Map- & Sleepless On Air Canada's 77W
Sin City Gloss & Virgin America's Chic First Class
Seat Dilemma & Canyon Glamour: FRA To LAX, AC 763
On Par With Air France? DTW-AMS-MUC, KLM A330
Goodbye, Red Tails! DC-9-40/50 & Chicago Tour
Champagne & World Of Coke: Air France A340 To ATL
"Mission A380": Disappointing Legs On BA/BD/EI
Delights Of Doha, 773 & 77W: DOH-DXB-LHR On EK
A380 Really a Step Forward? LHR-DXB-DOH On EK
Quality & Style: HKG-LHR On Air New Zealand 744
Taiwan Trio: TransAsia, UNI Air And The Taipei 101
"The Wings Of Taiwan": EVA Air A332, 744 Combi
SHA-SZX, Shanghai 757: Delayed By The Military
PEK-SHA, China Eastern A330 & Shanghai At Night
Striking Newcomer: Berlin-Beijing On Hainan A330
[Edited 2010-01-06 09:20:17]