Continental Airlines are really a tale of woe. I have never had such a bad few flights as I had one our recent trip to the States.
Let me say to begin, I knew this journey would be a long stressful one, due to monetary restrictions we’d had to chose an indirect flight to Florida, so we had a long (5 hour) stay in Newark Airport, but this was made worse by Continental.
Checking in was simple, you can do that online 6 to 24 hours before the flight is due to leave . I logged on 5 minutes after the 24hours began, and already the majority of seats were booked up, there were only two rows of 3 left available, so I snapped one up. I was surprised that the aircraft was so small, it only had two seating blocks, with one aisle down the middle, all the other airlines I’ve used have used planes in a 3-4-3 formation with two aisles. I wasn’t able to print off the boarding passes though, I was told by the website to visit the customer service desk at the airport. I don’t know the reason why, I can only presume it was because it was a connecting flight and there were two lots of boarding passes to print off and check.
When we got to Manchester Airport the queue for the check in desks was short and the wait was only about 5 minutes. Just a quick scan of the passports and the usually security questions (which I find totally pointless, because no one is going to admit it if they’ve got a bomb in their bag!) and our suitcases were on the way.
Unfortunately we were told that the flight was delayed for an hour, but at the time I thought that wasn’t too bad, because it reduced our wait in Newark by an hour.
When we finally got to the boarding the problems began. Firstly there was no organisation for the boarding, people were rushing tag lag, and the staff weren’t doing anything to ensure that only the row numbers being called were actually getting on the plane. This meant that when people got to the actual plane itself the idiots that had rushed it were blocking the one aisle whist they were forcing their oversized hand luggage into the overhead bins. At the same time the air conditioning wasn’t on, they announced about 15 minutes later that something in the electrics was broken and it meant the aircon wouldn’t work unless the engines were running, which they can’t do while people are boarding. So once we actually got on the plane we were sweltering for about 30 minutes while they got everything organised.
The actual flight wasn’t too bad, the cabin crew were polite enough, although when my son had a nose bleed (which happens on a regular basis) the female crew member looked at him as if he was diseased and refused to help. The male crew member told us to just ignore her and brought a full pack of napkins (which were all used, because the blood was pouring faster than Niagara Falls), but he also tried to tell him to hold his nose on the bridge which is wrong as you have to hold the nose where the bridge meets the cartilage.
The food was adequate, pretty much standard airline fare, edible but not magnificent. Soft drinks were free, but alcohol needed to be paid for. I’m not sure if this is a regular thing now with airlines, because the other times I’ve flown to America all drinks were free, but that was about 8 years ago. The little touches were lacking, there were not hot towels handed out after the meal which I’ve always experienced before, and not even a facial wipe in the cutlery packet, even KFC manage that one.
The seats were all fitted with on demand TVs in the head rest, so at least there was plenty for the kids to watch on the way over. I think there were about 20 films to choose from, and then there were episodes of The Simpsons, CSI, House, a Jamie Oliver programme and various others. The only problem here was that the CSI Miami episodes didn’t follow each other, so the first one ended with a cliff hanger and to be continued, yet the next on the list wasn’t the next in the season. You could also choose to listen to music, and there was a list of about 60 albums from various artists. This was fine, but there was no way to just add songs to a list to listen to. So it meant picking a song, then flicking thorough a choosing the next, but having to wait until the first song had finished in order to start the next song. So you couldn’t make a selection and then close your eyes to relax whilst listening. Finally there was a games section with card games, word games and arcade games which were all played via the touch screen.
Eventually we arrived at Newark, my son was very excited that he got to see the Statue of Liberty from the window as we were flying past! Again the problems with the aircon reared their ugly heads, the pilot decided to wait until the plane could be hooked up to the electricity outlets on the ground before turning the engines off. So of course we couldn’t get off until the engines were shut down; 30 minutes later we were still waiting and another announcement saying they couldn’t manage to connect it up so they would have to shut the engines down. The aircon went off immediately, but it was still another 10 minutes before the doors opened, and then of course there were the people who couldn’t get their oversized hand luggage out of the bins because it was jammed in, eventually about 50 minutes after landing we managed to get off the plane.
As the next flight was a long time off there was no gate set for boarding when we got into Newark Airport proper. So we had something to eat and a drink, and by this time the gate was on the board, we headed in that direction and waited until 9pm (the flight was due to leave at 9.30pm), at 9pm there was an announcement saying the gate number had changed, so we all trudged over to the other side of the airport, to be met with a sign behind the gate saying the plane was delayed for 2 hours (the staff never bothered to say anything until a queue formed at the desk with people wanting to know what was happening). The gate they’d chosen had about 60 seats for a flight of over 100 people, so people were sprawled all over the floor. The delay was due to bad weather in Miami, which was where the crew were flying in from!
This plane didn’t have head rest tv, and they charged for headsets on this flight (the others had been free). But we were shattered after being up since 5am (in UK time it was 4.30am by the time the plane set off) and never bothered to watch the tv programmes they played.
Thankfully, on the way our this was the last of the problems, and although each problem was only minor now I think of them, at the time they just made a long journey a lot more miserable than it needed to be.