Some times I want to board a plane early to make sure I have room to stow my bags. Some times I don’t really care and just board whenever. It is rare, however, that I want to be the absolute last person on to the airplane. In Phoenix on Saturday night, however, I didn’t have much of a choice in the matter. The crew working the gate made it very clear that I was going to be last and I can not thank them enough for the gesture. They made sure that I had the honor of being the last passenger to board the very last departure under the Continental name.
I started the afternoon at JFK, catching a US Airways flight out to Phoenix so that I could meet up with the Phoenix – Cleveland redeye, the last Continental flight. I normally travel light but this trip I had about 30 pounds of candy in my bag. It was separated into little baggies to give away to the ticket and gate agents I ran in to along the way and it included some very important "extra" SHARES training for who were working the migration this weekend.
The crew in JFK was incredibly appreciative, with one of the Newark agents who was supporting the United agents in JFK noting that this was "the first time a customer has EVER done anything nice for me." Putting aside the obvious EWR dig, I was honored.
Once I got to Phoenix the party started to accelerate rather quickly. I had a couple beers in the lounge with one travel mate and then we headed over to the United terminal for check-in and the flight. Out at the ticket counter the agents were awed. One actually came out from behind the counter to give me a hug and thank me. She then insisted that I come back behind the counter and we get one last photo in front of the logo while it was still on the wall.
Thank goodness I was early to the counter; as we were taking the picture the maintenance crew started removing the signage just a couple stations down. I got to keep one of the stickers thanks to her and it is now firmly attached as a "skin" on my laptop lid.
Another relatively local travel junkie had driven down to the airport to join the party and, as a group, we headed through security to really begin the celebration. Part of this included getting photos of the departure board. Last time I was in Phoenix taking pictures of a departure board it was because the flight was headed to Paine Field; this time it was because the screen would never show that CO code again. I wasn’t the only one taking the pictures, and many of the other passengers started to wonder what was going on. As I tried to explain it to them many rolled their eyes, though many others started to get in to the spirit of celebrating the final departure rather than mourning it.
The flight crew came out from the plane to sign one of the temporary signs. All of the logoed stuff was being auctioned off to raise money for the company’s internal employee support fund, a great cause and one I’ve supported in the past. In this case I didn’t get to place a bid but I probably should have tried. Still, the environment was becoming more and more festive in the gate area:
There were a number of photos taken of the whole group of agents working the last flight as well. I may have wandered in to one or two of those.
At one point it was finally time to start boarding the plane. The appropriate announcements were made and passengers started moving down the jetway. I was hanging out towards the back of the group. It had finally dawned on me that I could be last.
During the shmoozing prior to departure I met Ken, a Global Account Manager in the sales team who works out of Phoenix as well. Sure, his job isn’t really "at the airport" but like everyone else at the company he was at a station doing what he could to help make sure that the transition went a smoothly as possible. As I started making my way towards the gate Ken caught my eye and waved me off. "You’re going to be last," was all he had to say. I wanted it to be that way and so did the crew. It was set.
Finally, a few minutes prior to the scheduled departure time, Ken called me over and Susan, the agent who gave me the big hug a couple hours earlier, escorted me down to the airplane. She insisted that I get to meet the pilots, and I’ll never say no to a photo op in the cockpit.
And then I took my seat and they closed the door. We pushed back a few minutes early and had a great flight into Cleveland (putting aside that a 3 hour long redeye is cruel and unusual punishment and may also violate Geneva Convention standards on torture).
I gave out more candy in Cleveland and finished the distribution in LaGuardia when I arrived there. It took me 18 hours to get from JFK to LaGuardia (I’ve heard rumors that I might have beaten some folks who tried to drive it) and I went via Phoenix. Not the most normal routing, but also not the strangest I’ve done. And I got this incredible experience out of it as well.
Farewell, Continental and welcome, United. Just another page turning in this grand travel adventure.
Never miss another post: Sign up for email alerts and get only the content you want direct to your inbox.