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Old Jan 26, 07, 2:50 pm
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Bonn, Germany
Programs: TK Elite, LH FTL
Posts: 622
CGN-EWR-BOG and back on CO in Y/C

It has been a while since my last trip report and I actually did not take any notes while flying, so some details might be a bit blurry. During the past 14 months I have done four business trips to Colombia from Germany, twice on Air France, once on Delta via Atlanta and finally earlier this month on Continental (via EWR). The reasons for trying CO were threefold: (1) CO is the only airline with a direct daily service to the USA from my home airport CGN; (2) connections via the USA in my experience are significantly cheaper than the direct AF flight; and (3) after visiting Bogotá, I had another business meeting in upstate New York and felt like reducing the overall travel time by combining two trips. For the purpose of this journey, I bought a fairly cheap economy class ticket CGN-EWR-CGN (reflecting the low load factors on this route), while my client bought a much more expensive ticket EWR-BOG-EWR (outbound sector in Y, return in C).

08 JAN 07 CO 111 B757 dep 1100 arr 1355 seat 11F

The key advantage for flying CO on this sector is the fact that it eliminates a connection (in FRA, MUC, AMS) and that it allows me to check-in at the user-friendly airport in CGN. Having checked-in via the internet the day before, I arrived at the airport one hour before the scheduled departure time. Using the "elite access" line courtesy of my FB Platinum card, I was asked the usual security questions and proceeded to bag drop. CO operates four check-in counters at CGN, two for economy class and one each for businessfirst and elite access. There were about two people in front of me in the elite line, while there were about 10-15 people waiting in the other line. The agent had some problems printing my luggage tag because of the fact that I was travelling on two separate tickets and finally wrote the tag by hand. The whole process took about ten minutes, which I thought was quite long given the fact that I already had my seat assignments in hand (she actually re-issued the boarding passes on CO stock). Using the 'elite' security line, I was airside five minutes later and proceeded to the lounge. CO uses the airport business lounge in terminal 2, which I'm usually using when flying KL (one of the few other non-*A scheduled 'legacy' carriers still operating from CGN). Unfortunately, the combination of my coach boarding pass and FB Platinum card did not impress the lounge warden and I was turned away (I only learned later that it was only good for CO's own lounges), but since my flight was already boarding at that time, this was no big issue.

Boarding via the jetway (a rare treat in terminal 2 these days), I found CO's Boeing 757 surprisingly full. Sitting in seat 11F I was hoping that the middle seat would remain empty, but all my hopes were crushed when a rather large lady was moved from one of the back rows and queezed into into 11E. This was the moment things were starting to go south, as the a few seconds later a PA announcement was made that due to strong headwinds over the Atlantic we would make a fuel stop in Goose Bay, Canada. With only 1 hour and 25 minutes for my connection in EWR, it was quite clear that I would miss my flight. We were assured by the crew that we would be reaccommodated on other flights (not very helpful in my case - there is only one flight per day from EWR to BOG) and took off a few minutes behind schedule.

Onboard entertainment was 'Little Miss Sunshine' on the overhead monitors, a fairly shocking downgrade after the AVOD I have grown attached to on KLM and Air France, but a decent movie anyway. A few hours later, the clear view of Greenlands icebergs provided unparalled entertainment outside of my window anyway and I had a book and an iPod to tide me over. Memories of my first transatlantic journeys on a German Airforce B707 further sweetened the trip for me. The meal options were 'chicken' or 'beef', and my beef dish (accompanied by a side salad and a non-memorable desert) turned out to be fairly ok. I'm not terribly picky about airline food, so my only two gripes about CO's meal service in coach compared with most European carriers are the fact that (1) servings are fairly small; and (2) one has to pay for alcoholic drinks. Even Delta is still offering free cocktails with the meals, so this was a minor disappointment. About seven hours into the flight, we landed at Goose Bay, which is basically a large military airbase in the middle of the Canadian wilderness. The captain had informed us that Goose Bay had been chosen for the quick refuelling service offered and indeed, we spent less than forty minutes on the ground. While waiting, we actually saw another CO 757 being refuelling (the flight from HAM/TXL, I think) and we had also been told about the service from CPH having made a pit stop earlier on. While CO use of the 757s allow them to serve more secondary airports in Europe, the problem with tailwinds in winter is an obvious setback and when I though about my connection, I had thought about how convenient it would have been to fly a larger bird out of, say FRA or AMS. The remaining flight time was three hours and we passed the time watching 'The Queen' and chatting about all the connections we would miss. Despite the cramped company, my seatmates turned out to be pleasant fellows, so I won't complain about an uncomfortable flight. One hour out of EWR, we were served some form of snack. I seem to recall a sandwich of sorts and a bag of chips, but it was quite forgettable.

We finally arrived at EWR at 1600 hours and proceeded to immigration, where we waited for more than ninety minutes (non-US residents anyway). It seems the backlog of late arrivals from Europe had created major bottlenecks at immigration. When I finally found my luggage at 1730 hours, my flight to Colombia was long gone and went to search for the customer service desk. Here I found another enormous line of passengers waiting to be rebooked, stretching all the way into the terminal. After I was turned away at the dedicated businessfirst line (it seems elite status does not get you much at CO in this situation, KLM and Air France have special counters for their elites at their hubs), I proceeded to wait... and wait... and wait some more. I was about 2000 when I got a voucher for the Doubletree Hotel, meal vouchers for 26 US$ total and a reservation on the next flight out on the next day. All things considered, I thought this was a fair deal even though I felt that the International Transfer counters were quite understaffed given the volume of affected passengers. As CO had plenty of advance warning, I'm surprised that they could not have opened other positions. There were maybe 6 agents dealing with 150+ affected passengers and with EWR being a major hub, I would have thought that CO could have done better.

To be continued..

Last edited by Arnur; Jan 26, 07 at 6:25 pm
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