Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The breakup

My relationship with Continental Airlines extends back to 1998 when I lived in New Jersey and flew regularly from their Newark hub.

I’m told by friends who also live in Airworld, but have their allegiances and statuses with other carriers, that Continental is still the way to go.

Even when I moved to Boston in 2001, I stuck with Continental for much of my air travel. I think I was Gold Elite back then, and all of the additional segments and connections required to remain with Continental and operate out of a non-Continental hub airport (Logan) pushed me into the Platinum Elite level consistently (….naturally, the inspiration for the name of this blog).

2006 is my swan song / victory lap / year of emancipation from the Continental Platinum Elite ranks. I have already qualified for Silver Elite in 2007, just where I began with them years ago. Though Continental is still my go-to airline, and I really do think they are the best legacy carrier operating in the USA, it became to difficult to continue with them.

On the majority of the routes I fly, somebody from Logan offers non-stop direct service. Get on – Get Off. Lots of value in that. More carriers, more competition, lower fares (even though I expense 98% of my flights, I still try to “spend the money like it’s someone else’s” because, well, it is).

Upgrades on Continental have become very difficult, even in their highest Elite status level. There’s a hierarchy within each tier, including fare class, time of check-in, date of check-in, etc. I found myself checking in online exactly at the 24-hour-prior-to-departure mark to try to gain footing on the upgrade list.

Many Continental planes were reconfigured to remove a row of First Class, making those upgrades even rarer.

JetBlue and Song (when it wasn’t folded into Delta) are, without a doubt, more comfortable coach flights than Continental. Personal TV’s, leather seats, more legroom. It’s all true.

Continental is doing something right, though, because very few of my flights on Continental in 2006 have been anything but full, oversold, or 95% to capacity. Much more frequently do I find myself on a JetBlue or Delta flight in coach with the middle seat open. On Continental, forget it. But, good for them then – they have customers.

So Continental, thanks for the memories. Thanks for “still serving meals at mealtimes” in coach (aka an elementary school-style chicken patty sandwich), for having the most user-friendly legacy carrier website, and for introducing all of those fancy EliteAccess blue carpets at your gates that I’ll be marching down a few final times as a Platinum Elite through the end of February.

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