Sunday, May 18, 2008

Lee: J comparison: DL Business Elite vs CO Business First

Comparison of Business Class products: Delta and Continental

I have been very fortunate enough to fly both Continental and Delta in J within the last year and thought a comparison from a rev-perspective might be useful. Both tickets were Y tickets upgraded, 20,000 R/T for Continental and 25,000 OW for Delta. - In April of 2007 I flew MSP-IAH-LGW-IAH-MSP on Continental in F/J and then most recently in April of 2008 I got to take my first Delta Business Elite trip to Shanghai with an ATL-PVG-ATL routing.

I will preference this posting with saying I am a die hard Delta fan. I have been an elite with Delta for 4 years and fly almost exclusively with Delta. That being said, here is my review.

First of all, I have to give the check in ease and politeness to Delta. When I checked in for my flight to London with Continental, I was forced by the agents standing behind the counter to use the kiosks instead of them checking me in themselves as a Business First / Skyteam Elite Plus pax. I was quite shocked that when I asked them, they pointedly directed me to the kiosks. It was important for me to check in with an agent as I had a surprise for my wife at the time and she didn't know where we were going for our 1 year anniversary. I was able to hide the screen long enough but that one step almost cost me the surprise of the year.

Lounge: This is a tie for one simple reason. The Business Elite lounge (which were closed May 1st, 2008) offered hot appetizers and a cold veggie tray for pre-departure snacks. This is much better than the pre-packaged junk food Continental has in their Presidents Club. With that said, Continental does have the upgraded wine program in IAH that allows patrons to purchase a very hearty glass of Vueve Clicquot champagne which is by far my favorite affordable champagne. CO gets high marks for having this! :-)

Seat: Tie - Continental has 5 inches less of seat pitch but does offer a flat-at-an-angle recline. Delta has 5 more inches of pitch but a recliner style seat. DL's seat is easier to sleep in on your back, CO's for side and stomach sleepers (which I am)

IFE: CO by a hair - The only reason CO wins on IFE was that I got on the 6th flight of ship 19 when it was doing it's tour after delivery. This ship offers 16x9 IFE that has 100's of movies and shows to choose from and all are Video on Demand. DL's Video on Demand has a smaller screen and fewer choices. If I was not on the new ship with CO on the outbound, DL would have won this category.

Food: DL by a hair - DL wins this category for more options and a slightly better steak in the air. DL had 5 main entrees / CO had 4. CO's steak was drier and tougher and DL's was closer to the medium side and easier to cut.

Wines: CO by a mile - CO had some great wine selections along with a Kendal Jackson Syrah that I absolutely loved. DL tries a little too hard with their exotic choices.

Service: Tie* - Both had outstanding service and took care of J pax. CO would have won if I did not have the same flight crew on both the outbound and return on DL as CO's crew really went above and beyond to help celebrate my 1st year wedding anniversary.

Arrival: CO by a mile - Once again, Continental BLOWS Delta away with an arrivals facility for Business First pax. I was able to get a refreshing shower after the 9 hour flight to London (which had a 2 hour maintenance delay before departure after boarding) and got a cold shoulder after a 16 hour flight from DL. This makes a huge difference in my opinion.

Baggage Handling: n/a - CO damaged one of my bags but quickly reimbursed the price of the bag - didn't have bags on DL

OVERALL: CO wins - This Delta lover must hand it to Continental. When weighing all things out, I would choose to fly Continental again before Delta based on the overall service and experience. I am a picky flyer and it is almost impossible to get me off of Delta metal since I live in Atlanta but I definitely will review my international bookings in the future.

Luxembourg: Arriving in Houston, TX (IAH) from Amsterdam (AMS)

18MAY08 Houston Intercontinental, Houston TX (IAH)

We touched down smoothly on runway 26 I think; the one closest to Terminal D. We were the first international non-Continental heavy to arrive from Europe. Actually, I think we arrived just before that first Continental flight from Amsterdam, CO59. There was a small amount of clapping, but it did not last long.

We taxied over to the gate and pulled in. One lady got up before we got stopped and a lot of others followed. It is so funny how people follow others even when they are wrong. The funny thing is that we were all at the back of the plane, so what is the point. Of course when the plane finally stopped a few of them pitched forward...Luckily no one fell.

I deplaned, thanking the crew and asking for a form so that I can commend the flight attendant who served our section. He was exceptional and had good attention to detail. I was sure to tell him that he did a good job and that I would send in a note about him.

In doing all that, I forgot my sweater that was behind my bag in the overhead, so I had to go back and get it. By the time I got to the door of the plane, they had already found it and placed it in the jetway so I just picked it up.

As I walked to Immigration, I saw Lufthansa's Boeing 747-400 pull up and then Air France's Boeing 777-200 from Paris, France (CDG). About six hundred more people are now in the ground. As I walked to the Immigration hall, I could see passengers checking in for the return KLM flight to Amsterdam. The whole saga just starts all over again, doesn't it?

I made my way to the Immigration counter where there was not much of a line on the U.S. side, but there was on the Visitors side and it was going to get longer now. I cleared Immigration, saying hello to one of my colleagues who had just returned from Colombia.

Getting through Baggage Claim was not an issue and I then made my way to the bus stop.

Flying is so amazing...

Luxembourg: Amsterdam Schipol International to Houston Intercontinental, Houston, TX (IAH)

KL661 18MAY08 Amsterdam Schipol International, Amsterdam Netherlands (AMS) to Houston Intercontinental, Houston TX (IAH) 10:10a 1:20p PH-BFI (City of Jakarta) 74M

Flight Time: 9:10
Seat Map

I boarded as soon as I got my boarding pass. On board, the flight attendant greeted me and directed me to the aisle on the right side of the aircraft. I had to wait a bit while a flight attendant talk to the purser who was standing on the steps that led up to the Business Class section in the upstairs bubble.. Once she was done, I made my way to my middle seat in the rear cabin.

This aircraft is configured in a 3-4-3 configuration with overhead monitors and also has cargo on the main deck at the back of the plane. This means that there are no lavs at the back of the plane, just a galley. I wonder what we were carrying today in there. I was on here once when there was a few horses back there as well as a red Ferarri. Oh, the configuration is also a 3-2 in the front just shy of the nose. It is kind of odd as there is no window on the right, but a wall which is the galley.

I made my way back and got settled in. The guy at the window was fast asleep already. The interesting thing about these flights is that people come from all over the world to join us in Amsterdam. I mean, I woke up at 4:15a so that I could connect, so you see that people have been up for a long time. Those from Africa started their journey late last night even. Aviation is amazing.

I chatted with the guy at the aisle seat a bit, he had flown in from Scotland and was on his way to Houston. The safety video started on the overheads. I looked forward and noticed that one of the overheads was not working; that sucks for those passengers at that location.

We had a delay with the pushback, but when it happened it was quick. I am always amazed at how fast the ground personnel do them here. It was not until 10:45a that we were under our own power.

We headed for the center runway, 36C. We had a quite a wait as there were several airplanes ahead of us: Bulgaria Air Boeing 737-500, Northwest Airlines (NW) Airbus A330, KLM (KL) Boeing 747-400 Combi, Austrian Airlines (OS) Airbus A319, SAS ARJ85 and a Northwest Boeing 757-200 with winglets.

There was a baby at the bulkhead who was not happy and kept crying the whole time. Soon, the other baby joined in. I knew that would soon end as the kids would get tired of crying after a while.

It was our time to go now at 10:59a, so we took to the runway. I looked behind and I could see a Lot Polish Airlines (LO) Embraer ERJ-175 (SP-LDB), then a Spanair Airbus A319, a KL Fokker F50 and finally a NW Airbus A330.

The Captain increased increased power to the four engines and were airborne in no time. I am always amazed at the power behind this fantastic airplane; the Boeing 747-400 Combi.

After takeoff and the seat belts signs went out, we were given headsets which came in a small plastic packet. The overhead monitor played a video about the services in each cabin. This was followed by a packet of smoked almonds and your beverage of choice.

On the overhead monitors, a SkyTeam ad played as well as new from the BBC and some football. When that was not playing, the Airshow was shown. At this point, we were over Scotland heading out towards the open Atlantic Ocean.

The guy at the window was now awake and had me look through the window at a Northwest Boeing 757-200 above us as we passed it by (slow poke...). It was an awesome sight to see. I think we caught up with that one that took off before us.

The special meal service started which always takes a little while on these flights as the palette of the travelers are so varied. We now had 8:20 to go, with an estimated arrival time of 1:15p. A serving of hot towels also started.

The Captain came on the PA and gave an update first in Dutch and then in English. He said that we would be flying just south of Greenland today and then down over Northern Canada and onto Houston. We are five minutes ahead of schedule time and will arrive at 1:15p. There is a time difference of 7 hours; and there are a few clouds at high altitude almost no clouds really and the temperature is in the mid 80s (30C) about 30 minutes before landing we will come back on and wish you a pleasant flight.

It was pretty difficult to see the overhead screens unfortunately due to the glare from the sun through the windows.

Trash pickup came at 12:01a.. next an episode of “Thirty Rock” started followed by "How I Met your Mother."

Choices of resoto with chicken or cod fish with rice came and I chose the cod. It was really good and came with some beans, a roll, a salad and a dessert.

By now the movie "National Treasure" was on the screens. It was weird though as they had initially started "Bucket List"' which is the second movie. I fell asleep as I was so tired after they came through with a drink service during the meal and an additional drink service whey they cleaned up.

I awoke later to an ice cream or chips and drinks. This was the same chips that they had in the rear galley for on board snacks.

With 1:37 to go, we were served an arrival snack of hot tomato soup and a salad plus a piece of orange cake and drinks of choice. There was also sunflower seeds and croƻtons for toppings. I thought it odd that we were still over Ohio at the time, but we were according to the map.

On the tube, there was "Just for Laughs," playing. The crew had passed through and given out Immigration documents earlier so by now everyone had filled them out. By the time the meal was done and cleaned up and a final coffee/tea service offered, there was only 38 minutes left to go.

With 0:23 to go, we started our descent. It was 12:53p and we were still over Louisiana at 30,000', just east of Beaumont, TX. We headed south some more and then made a right turn and made a beeline for the airport. With 0:20 to go, the Captain said that there were scattered clouds at the field and the local temp was 78F.

Luxembourg: Arriving in AMS from LUX and heading for IAH

18MAY08 Amsterdam Schipol International, Amsterdam Netherlands (AMS)

We taxied to our hard stand arriving at 7:40a. I alighted wit the others and headed for the waiting bus which took us to the terminal. I did notice a Martinair (MP) Boeing 767-300ER tat was painted differently. I think it was there 50th anniversary tribute as I saw 50 on the left engine cowl. The design did look like a retro design.

I made my way through Immigration since I had arrived right where I started in Terminal B. this took no time and then I headed for the Transfer Desk 4. as it was closest. I had about a 20 minute wait and was checked in for the flight to Houston at 10:10 by 8:10p. the agent said it looked O.K. which meant that I’d have a middle seat waiting for me I suppose.

I then headed for the KLM Crown Lounge. I presented my documents and the agent had an initial issue. I told her it I was fine and then she said something to her colleagues in Dutch. Finally, it was fine so I entered. I looked around for a seat, but to no avail. So I told the lady I was leaving and found the next one which was not too full. I had no issue getting in at this Club and was soon updating the blogs and having breakfast.

It was about 9:05a, when I decided to get going. Once at gate F04, boarding ahd not yet started. Actually, security was just getting their act together. It was not until 9:15a that they commenced.

I waited until almost the lat minute to get on he queue as hid many others. I cleared without much issues and then got my boarding pass from the agent. As expected on this full flight I got a middle seat. It was on the right side of the plane close to the back.

Luxembourg: Aeroport de Luxembourg, Luxembourg (LUX) to Amsterdam Schipol International (AMS)

KL1736 18MAY08 Aeroport de Luxembourg, Luxemburg (LUX) to Amsterdam Schipol International, Amsterdam Netherlands (AMS) 6:30a 7:55a F50 operated by KLM cityhopper

Flight Time: 1:00
Seat Map

The greeting flight attendant checked the boarding passes, then I made my way down the aisle of his 2-2 configured cloth seat airplane.

From my window seat, I had a view of the left wheel, fun…

The engines started, the safety demo was done and we were off. Soon, we were airborne.

Two sandwiches; Italian beef and mustard cream cheese. This was served with beverage of choice.

Trash pickup occurred shortly after the delivery of the meal but giving enough time to finish it all up.

Our descent started at 7:13a in to Schipol. Soon, the Captain came on with his welcome on board at 7:15a. He talked about our course of flight; we will make a turn at Rotterdam then to the Hague and then descend into Amsterdam. 7:35a is our landing time.

It was fantastic to see the Netherlands as we started our descent. It was a beautiful morning and we landed with no issues as promised at 7:35a.

Luxembourg: It is time to leave Luxembourg, Luxembourg (LUX)

18MAY08 Aeroport de Luxembourg

I started to hasten my steps as I got closer to the airport since it was now 5:40a and I did not now what time was the cut off for check-in. This walk will be just a tad further come Wednesday, May 21, 2008 when the new terminal opens.

I got checked in expeditiously by the Luxair Services agents. It looks like they do all the check in for almost all the airlines. I always love it when I get a choice of a window or an aisle seat. I chose the window of course; this time I was a little further back than the bulkhead.

I walked around the terminal a bit, before going into the departure lounge. I showed my boarding pass and passport to the security agent, then proceeded. I did ask him if I could get a stamp and he said no. Although I don’t think he has the stamp with him.

Once I cleared security, I saw that if you were heading to any other countries other than the European Union and the U.K. you have to go through a passport control area as those flights left from a special gate.

I looked around a bit and then sat down near gate 4 and waited for the flight. Outside amid the fog, I could see two Luxair Boeing 737-500s and one Embraer ERJ-145 on the hard stand. Off in the near distance were two Bombardier Q400s as well as an ERJ-135.

Boarding silently started at 6:03a to a waiting bus below. Once the very light load had boarded, we made our way out to the waiting Fokker F50 amid the fog.

As we alighted from the bus, I could hear an airplane approaching, but due to the fog I could not see a thing. Slowly, a Cargolux Boeing 747-400 emerged; it was an awesome sight to behold and the engines were actually not that loud.

It was not time to get in the airplane so I did.

Luxembourg: In the hotel lobby

17MAY08 Hotel lobby at the airport in Luxembourg

I awoke at 4:15a and got ready to go. My flight is at 6:30a, but I have some time left on the Internet card I bought yesterday so I want to use it before I go.

I left the room at 4:59a and headed to the hotel lobby as the WiFi wont work in my room for some reason. I was waiting in the hotel lobby when I overheard an argument. Apparently a guy took a cab to the hotel and wont pay the driver. So the front desk clerk called the Police who will be here in a few minutes. When that was done, all of a sudden the guy now wants to pay, but no go; the Police are on their way now.

The guy just walked back in and said he paid it and it is over and he go sleep now. The Front Desk clerk ran outside and asked if he paid and apparently he did not. It is getting better. the guy is drunk by the way. He keeps saying let's go or I go to bed. The Front Desk clerk keeps saying you wait or you pay. It is getting ugly...

Again, he says he goes to bed and gets in the elevator. The Front Desk clerk then says he is kicking him out of the hotel tomorrow and when the Police comes he is going to give them the keys. Apparently, the cab driver picked him up downtown and brought him here.

I will leave for the Terminal at 5:30a as it is just a 5 minutes walk away.