Well, the weekend of partying with the folks at Continental has finally ended. I’m on a plane now on my last flight, from Austin to Newark, and the shift from indulgence and celebration to work. Yeah, that’s a buzz kill. But the good news is that the high I’m on is pretty ridiculous. The weekend was absolutely amazing from start to finish.
As I mentioned on Saturday, we got a tour of Texas on one of Continental’s 757-200 planes, with Vice Presidents and Managers working as flight attendants on the trip, serving up a bit of bubbly and shmoozing with the group. They had a good time, as did all the passengers/customers on the flight. All in all, a phenomenal event.
And then there was the party on Saturday night. An airplane hanger is ridiculously big. But when you move the planes out and bring in a catering crew, some tables and chairs, a live jazz band and set up a couple of stages for entertainment, it gets pretty cozy in a hurry. And last night was just that. When I wasn’t busy making new friends I was hanging out with old ones or enjoying the entertainment. Certainly one of the highlights was when the CEO of the company took the stage to play MC for the final round of a competition giving away 1,000,000 OnePass mile. That was pretty ridiculous, and the competition was actually intense, coming down to the very last question to decide the winner.
Oh, and there was the 737-900ER plane that they had available for us to visit. We pretty much had free reign, which may or may not have been a mistake on their part, but it certainly was fun. Many folks got to take photos in the cockpit, sitting in the engine or even in the overhead bins!
While the Friday night, Saturday morning and Saturday night parts of the event were all fun and games, there were also some serious bits to the event. The Saturday afternoon sessions gave the 500+ attendees a chance to interact directly with the managers of the various departments in the company. Have a question about the OnePass program, the web site, the in-flight catering or hub operations? They had the people on-site to answer those questions for you. Some of the sessions were better than others, as is always the case, but we certainly learned a few new things that were quite good to know. Some highlights include:
- One little nugget about the Star Alliance move. Continental Gold elites will be Star Gold. This has a significant impact on checked luggage allowances and international lounge access. In the case of the latter it is a significant improvement for gold elites.
- An update on the plans to roll out LiveTV and in-flight Internet on the domestic fleet. The system is a bit delayed, but they were supposed to see “power on” of the system over the weekend. They expect it to start in commercial service by March 15 and to have all 220+ of their planes retrofit by mid-2010. The bad news is that the internet part of the service is not going to be coming at the same time. That service is expected to come online much later in the year, and that sucks. I was really looking forward to that. It was also mentioned that the in-flight internet as part of the LiveTV implementation is not necessarily the only option available. The current contract allows CO to put an additional internet service on the planes if they want to. So if something like Row44 or Aircell’s gogo service really takes off then they can always do that too. Oh, and they had a set of the seats on display during Saturday night’s session so we got to see what the system will look like. I am VERY impressed with it, though I still don’t really expect that I’ll spend much time watching TV on flights.
- There is a schedule for the deployment of the new business class seats (and we got to try them out). They are a full lie-flat seat and they are pretty nice. No, they are not perfect if you are 6’ 5”, and getting out over your neighbor from the window seat will remain an acrobatic event, but overall they are a great improvement, I think. I only spent a couple minutes in the seat, but it was comfortable both fully reclined and in the “lounge” mode. And the TV screens they have are just awesome. And they aren’t as good as the Singapore Air suites for getting two people into at the same time, but a couple folks proved that it could be done on the demo set that was set up, though it didn’t look particularly comfortable. As to the deployment schedule, they will start with the 777-200s in September 2009 and the 757-200s in December 2009. Each fleet type is expected to take about 14 months to complete. Yes, that is a long time, but it is better than them not upgrading the offering at all, and considering that even with recent cuts Continental is running their international fleet pretty much at full capacity, it isn’t particularly viable for them to do it any faster. The older 767-400s will start getting the new seats at some point in 2010 (and will likely be getting the AVOD at all seats at the same time) and the 787s will be delivered with the new seats already installed.
- Speaking of the 787s, there is a date on the horizon for their delivery: Q2 2011. Yes, it really is that far away. They are running a full two years late from Boeing, which sucks. But then will be now soon enough, I suppose.
- Also on the lounge front, there was some further discussion on the reciprocal relationship between Continental and United that has started to roll out. It seems that we’re stalled a bit for now, but eventually they do expect that the relationship will be fully realized. There are apparently a lot of legal ramifications because of the existing SkyTeam relationship that have to be carefully navigated. In other words, don’t hold your breath on this unless you can survive without breathing until the end of October.
- New gate display systems are coming. I had a private head’s up on this one but was sworn to secrecy until Saturday night when the system was finally on display. Continental is beginning the deployment of LCD TV gate display systems similar to the ones that Delta has at their gates. These systems show things like seat maps, in-flight entertainment and meal details and, most importantly to many, upgrade waitlist status. They also show a lot of ads if the demo we saw at the event is to be believed. The information is all the same stuff that has been available for almost a year now for folks with PDAs or other mobile devices that are connected online. And they rolled out the same information on the regular website just a couple months ago. When the gate displays go live I believe that Continental will be unrivaled in terms of transparency and access to the information that they are giving to their customers about the flights.
There were lots of other things that we did and talked about, but those are the biggest ones I can think of off the top of my head.
I want to again offer my public thanks to all the folks at Continental who work so hard at putting together these events. The events are equally as amazing as the folks who plan them. One last picture with me and a couple of the guys who work so hard on this stuff, Kerwin on the left and Scott on the right.
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