This is my first trip report, so please bear with me.
As a former Gold Elite OnePass member with Continental, I flew their excellent product in First dozens of times. I was lucky enough to catch upgrades to SJO
, and as far south as LIM
, but never with the full BusinessFirst service (though the 752 to Lima was close). Therefore it seemed well worth the mileage last January to upgrade on my flight from Buenos Aires to San Francisco. We actually upgraded round-trip, but I only made a trip report on the return leg.
A note on pricing: the upgrades were 25,000 miles and $400 in fees each. If you value the 25,000 miles at $300, which is the mileage amount and average price of a CO
domestic Y award, then these upgrades cost about $700 each way, adding $1400 round-trip to the $1600 price of the original Y ticket for a total of $3000. A BusinessFirst ticket direct from Continental.com can be had for as little as $3800 all-in, meaning that the price of the ticket and the upgrade were within $1000 of a discount BF
ticket. Of course, the more you value the mileage, the less the difference in price. Then again, the $3800 fare might not be available for your dates. Just something to think about.
Night Of Flight
We began with check-in around 9 PM
for an 11:50 PM
Departure at the CO
BusinessFirst (BF) lane. CO
concierge meets the customer in line and walks him or her through check-in and issue the vip lounge pass. He helps until customs, that is. The concierge was a very friendly and well-received gesture. He told us, for example, that the 'VIP Americas' lounge was right past customs behind Gate 1.
We then traveled upstairs to enter the secure area, and began weaving through an increasingly kafkaesque maze of immigration and customs, that seamlessly led into another, equally long maze of a duty-free mega-store, and when we emerged from this shop we had already reached gate 9 somehow. So we had to backtrack 9 gates, almost to customs, to go to the VIP lounge. Tip: go to the lounge first, then go to duty-free. Or maybe don't go to the lounge at all. Because this is what you get:
The lounge was so small it felt cramped even with a couple other people inside. It was downright claustrophobic, and far inferior to any Presidents Club in the system (no bar either), and compared unfavorably to the American Express lounge next door. The lounge offered nothing more than the most basic nuts and chips and quilmes beer. CO
needs a better lounge for its BusinessFirst customers here-- perhaps the UA
Red Carpet Club down the hall?
So after about 10 minutes in the lounge we decided to head to the gate as we were notified that we would get all carry-on baggage hand-searched.
(Buenos Aires-Ezeiza) - IAH
Aircraft: Boeing 767-200ER
Class: BusinessFirst (C)
We were greeted upon boarding and as we sat down, the flight manager immediately introduced herself. The (very senior) FA
in charge of our side of the cabin offered us a choice of whatever we wanted or the champagne (no brand given) in plastic cups on her little silver tray. We chose the champagne:
I took a few shots while the boarding was going on. The CO
762 is in great shape cosmetically:
Credit goes to the Boeing Signature Interior but also to consistently spotless upkeep by CO
. I like how CO
uses these trolleys for everything in BF
, from newspapers to table set-up to dessert. Another shot of the cabin and seats:
They only recline to 150 degrees, but at least they are comfortable.
One of the more interesting aspects of this plane is its tape-driven individual IFE. You can get a sense of the drives required for the system from the first row of BF
Maybe fifteen minutes after take-off (not very long) we began with the meal:
Biz F set-up, late night dinner, EZE
. Set-up is from the metal cart. Is there a proper name for this? Classy. Wine is the
"Hook and Ladder," a nice full-bodied red from Sonoma (California). A note to CO
: also featuring a nice Argentine malbec when departing EZE
would be stylish and probably cost the same.
Smoked salmon tartare appetizer served on top of field greens salad. Very tasty. The tartare is originally in a cake form with a cracker crust below. Basically CO
combines the appetizer with the salad to save time on the late-night departures.
Steak Main: "Sterling Silver" NY steak. Butter and lemon on top. Fresh garlic bread. Fingerling Potatoes side.
Actually cooked medium?!?!?!? CO
should be given an award! A nice parting memory of the Argentine national food (other than dulce de leche, that is!) . Much tastier than the steak on the way down. I should note there was a big strip of fat on the side, which might be a turn off to many Americans. Hopefully they got over themselves long enough to eat this yummy piece of beef.
Cheese course. Package of Argentine "Ritz" style crackers. Mild brie and gruyere, I think. They should work on de-blandifying this course.
Fantastic sunday served from dessert trolley. This one has strawberry and hot fudge. Also a choice of petit fours.
After this I slept soundly in the 762's cradle-style seats. I slept in these sideways, and the big pillow they provided definitely helped. The blanket provided was from soft British wool, but it seemed like it had been washed a few too many times.
BizF headphones. Hard, poor-fitting and crummy sounding, these are actually worse than the old CO
domestic headphones. However, the "Private Screening" IFE magazine pictures a type of noise-reduction headphone that they are supposed to collect at the end of the flight, so I expect the ones pictured are on the way out. Has anyone tried the new headphones yet, or know when the change to these new headphones will occur?
Breakfast set-up from the trolley. Very classy. I like the little jams.
First course. I declined a second course as I was still full from the night before. Not much Summer fruit here, especially considering that Argentina is in the middle of summer! Sadly the sweet roll from the EZE
catering could not match CO
's cinnamon roll on US flights. I did see the breakfast choices served and they were almost identical (omelet or cereal) to the choices on the IAH
flight I would take later that morning. However, CO
is so obsessed with standardizing everything that a frequent CO
flier sort of expects this.
The fresh espresso after the meal. Excellent!
Between flights we stopped by the IAH
Presidents Club in Terminal E. Apparently this club keeps winning Priority Club "Club of the Year" Awards and it is obvious why: spacious, comfortable, calm and friendly. I really like the abundance of original art, even if I'm not a connoisseur. It reminds me a little of the legendary modern art of the Braniff lounges (which I am too young to have experienced). Maybe it's a Texas tradition.
The showers are good too. To make this the perfect club, they need another bar on the top floor. Oh and more food I guess-- half the time they have nice Tillamook sharp cheddar and half the time they have blah generic monterey jack.
View of Terminal E from the top floor of the P Club.
Another hour in the club and it was time for the continuing flight.
(San Francisco, CA
Typical boarding area for a CO IAH
Boarding door of a CO
The Domestic F cabin on a CO
A good-sized meal. I really like the addition of ketchup. Could we please get those little bottles of Tabasco next? Unfortunately at some point in the last year or two CO
sacrificed presentation for saving room in the galley carts. Case in point is this breakfast. Before they started space-saving, the fruit was served on a plate, as was the omelet. They were also served as separate courses. Now the fruit is in a little bowl. The omelet was decent but made round to save space. Breakfast was served all at once. And the new square casserole plates surely save space but they cram all the food into too small a space.
IMHO they should be proud and not mush it all together Swanson dinner-style. It would make the service so much classier.
Speaking of cost cutting, I hope and pray they never get rid of these cinnamon rolls! They're fresh, hot, and delicious. One of the best parts of flying CO
Pre-landing cookie. Fresh-baked chocolate chip. Served with milk. Perfect.
Overall, I had a superb experience on CO
between Buenos Aires and San Francisco in BusinessFirst and First. The concierge at EZE
really helped us through the process, at least up until immigration--so reserve lots of time to pass customs and immigration at EZE
's 767-200ER was very comfortable and modern, even if the seats are 150 degree recliners, and not beds. The food is well-presented, well-paced, and high-quality, if somewhat predictable (NY steak, stuffed chicken, fish fliet or pasta bowl). Breakfast contents were served nicely but otherwise identical to the domestic offering; CO
should really make more of an effort to distinguish this meal. The tape-based IFE selection was only OK
, but I did get to watch "Burn After Reading," which was unusually daring for CO
and provided some good laughs. Parents should note that the IFE in BusinessFirst does not edit the movies for family viewing-- something much appreciated by us non-children
The Houston-based crew was friendly and genuine but also very senior and not a little bit mechanical in their actions. Who could blame them with such a short layover tho...
Transferring from international flights to domestic at IAH
should be pleasant: the passageways leading to the immigration area are bright and well-lit, and though getting there sends one on a wandering maze through the top floor of Terminal E, it is also impossible to get lost. At immigration there are plenty of counters, and the immigration area itself has high ceilings and is well-lit and feels spacious. The new DHS "welcome to the US" videos that play on so many large LCD
screens as you wait seem to become increasingly loud and obnoxious the longer you stand there. These videos are sooo unnecessary and having them implies that DHS has money to burn. Worse, the staffing of the immigration counters was so dismal and inefficient that we still waited for half an hour. It would be nice if DHS tried a little more and helped IAH
live up to its potential. Janet, are you listening?
737-800 experience from IAH
was good as usual. The F cabin was clean and comfortable, and breakfast is filling and tasty. But the meal is needlessly crammed onto one tray. So yes, Larry, we do notice these "enhancements." Just as I noticed them on a recent EWR
dinner flight. The same holds for the F seats: CO
's newest 738's and 739's feature a seat that is cosmetically similar to the old one but comes without lumbar support and side storage... and it makes one appreciate the seats in the rest of the CO
fleet all that much more! Hopefully enough travelers complain about the cheaper seats to make them re-think this change. Thank you for reading...work hard and fly right!