IAH-EWR-HKG-NRT-IAH report (CO/CX)

Jan 5th, 2005, 09:58 AM
  #1  
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IAH-EWR-HKG-NRT-IAH report (CO/CX)

I flew CO on 12/24 IAH-EWR-HKG (arriving 12/25), and then CX HKG-NRT and CO NRT-IAH on 1/4. This is going to be pretty long, so I'm going to this segment by segment, and may take me a day or two (or more) to finish.

Fare/price:
IAH-HKG is usually about $780 on a pure CO off-season itinerary. But because it's peak season, those fare weren't available. I found this ~$1,070 routing on beta.itasoftware.com, and booked through Orbitz. Orbitz charged a $10 fee plus ~$20 for Fedex the paper-ticket to me. E-ticket wasn't available with this two-airline itinerary.

Segment 1:
12/24 CO510 IAH-EWR

1. Check-in:
IAH was busy but orderly at around 7am on Christmas Eve when I arrived. CO has seperate check-in lines for domestic/international/e-ticket/paper-ticket/elite, but there are enough workers there to direct people. Even though I wasn't Elite, they directed me and a few others to the Elite International line, so there was virtually no wait. Also used the Elite shortcut through security. Extremely fast and smooth.

2. Seats:
I assigned myself to 7A (an Elite seat, but I found a way to get it), the 2nd row in coach on the 737-700 (also known as 73G). [Because I can't check-in online, I can't grab the exit-row windown seat like I usually do.] This 9am flight is usually extremely full, but probably because few business travellers were flying during the holiday, several Elite people around me were upgraded. One was moved after he was already in his coach seat. Anyways, the seat next to me ended up being open, so it was more comfortable. Due to the snowstorm around the East the day before, there were many off-duty flight attendants on my flight to reposition, or to get home for the holidays. In seat 7C was a CO Express flight attendant, and we chatted for awhile.

3. Food & services:
Breakfast is the usual cereal/banana. The 73G has audio/video entertainment (monitors in ceiling), but I was too tired to use any.

4. Flight/route:
The most amazing about this flight is the flight time. 1415 miles from IAH-EWR in 2:18. That's extremely fast due to very strong tailwind. We might have pulled out of the gate at IAH a few minutes late, but we got to EWR on-time.

Next up: CO 99 EWR-HKG
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 06:56 PM
  #2  
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Before I go on, with CO99, I've started a thread about the Hong Kong/Macau trip on the Asia forum to talk about stuff not-related to the flights. I'll also start one about dining later.

http://www.fodors.com/forums/threads...7&tid=34550041

Also, forgot to mention that the booking class for the three CO segments is a 100% EQM-earning "B", and the CX segment is "S", which doesn't earn any FF miles with AAdvantage or CX's Asia Miles.

---
Segment 2:
12/24 CO99 EWR-HKG
Boeing 777-200ER

1. Terminal situation:
EWR's Terminal 3 isn't that busy at around lunch time on Christmas Eve. I didn't see any long lines outside the security areas either. My IAH flight arrived at Gate 80, and CO99 departed Gate 134 (as always!). Even though it looks far on the terminal map, it's only about a 10-minute walk, with a little help from the moving sidewalks.

2. Gate situation:

Not only was the flight totally full, but there were about 20-30 people on stand-by. At 1-hour prior to take off, only one gate agent started taking care of the 20-30 people lining up one-reason or another. Well, I lined up to see if they wanted any volunteer for a bump, but he said no. Oh well, no upgrades nor cash vouchers for me.

Announcement were made in English, Mandarin & Cantonese. Boarding started at around 2:55, which is a little late for a 3:15p departure on such a large plane. A lot of stupid people hanged out at the gate before their rows were called, delaying the process. [The agents did try their best, so can't blame CO.] Even though BusinessFirst passengers can pre-board, few did, as they were probably all still sitting in the President's Club. Gate closed, and the plane pulled back at 3:35p, 20 minutes late.

3. Seat:
After a long personal debate, I chose 44A on this flight, which is the last row window seat. Seatguru gives this a "green" for its 2-by-2 seating, but others have warned me about noise and proximity to the rear bathroom, as well as recline. Now, here are the detailed description:

a. My "A" seat (same thing with the "L" on the opposite side) lined up directly behind 43A, so there is no extra storage space between me and the wall; unlike the last 2-3 rows on 747s.

b. The seat has full recline, and I can hang my jacket on the seatback as there's no one behind me. They did not put a window slighty behind me, so I only have access to the one that's slightly ahead of me.

c. What's behind 44A/B and K/L are indeed the rear lavatories. However, they are really not a concern because i) I never smelled anything; ii) I never heard a flush; iii) the doors open to the rear, not to the side, and there's a large waiting/standing area to the rear, so there were never anybody standing next to the "B" seat througout the flight. Because the aisle is very wide here, you'll never get bumped into.

d. CO serves food front to back in each cabin area. So I did get my food last (same if you have row 28). However, all choices were still available.

e. It is noisier back here. Everytime the engine increased power for a climb (happened a few times, as we did a staircase type of flight pattern on this ultra-longhaul from 29,000 ft to the final 39,500 ft - more about this later), I could hear the change in sound level. My 19D on the NRT-IAH flight (also 777) is significantly quieter.

more...
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 07:50 PM
  #3  
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cont...

4. Service & amenities:
This flight (as well as the latter NRT-IAH) is clearly the best in coach class operated by a US airline I've been on; what's particularly surprising and unexpected is that I have been on CO's European flights, and these Asian ones are so much better! Reasons:

- Hot towel soon after takeoff. Again before breakfast & arrival.

- Printed menu with English on one side & Traditional Chinese on the other.

- Individual screens on each seat, with ~7 video and 20 audio channels. [This is the same on all 777 service, not specific to Asian routes.] Films have either a 2nd Chinese audio channel or subtitles.

- Flight attendants pass through cabin every 1.5 to 2 hours in the middle of the flight to pass out drinking water.

Okay, well, maybe not exactly CX or SQ standard, but it's definitely way above UA, NW or AC to HKG; and also much better than CO to Europe. [Don't know about their South American longhaul.] Things that may still be better on other Asian airlines:

- The blanket is very thin.

- All announcements is in English & Mandarin (Putongha). Cantonese is more appropriate for HKG service.

- Other airlines have even more A/V choices, including on-demand service.

5. Food:
Food is also much better than UA/NW/AC as well as CO's own service to Europe:

- While some AAirline made news by removing olives from their salad a few years ago, there's actually a shrimp in CO's.

- Main courses are sirloin steak or salmon. The salmon I had was actually semi-decent. [I had the sirloin on the latter flight, and it's actually real steak that's okay. Not hamburger patty.]

- Around halfway, cup-noodles and sandwiches were provided. Not "or" but "and". In fact, one can grab as many sandwiches as he/she likes as they put them out in the galley for anybody to take, along with water.

What could have been better:
- The cup noodle is kind of a joke. It's prepared in some little coffee cups and is too little. People say it wasn't like that earlier. And the ones on NRT-IAH are also better.

- Of course, CO charges $5 for alcoholic drinks. [I used some CO coupons for that.]

more...
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 5th, 2005, 08:21 PM
  #4  
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cont...

6. Route & time:
Prior to SQ's 340-500 SIN-LAX & SIN-EWR services, CO98/99 were the longest commercial flights. UA ran JFK-HKG for a few months and pulled out. CX just started JFK-HKG a little while ago, which is a few miles longer. However, at 8060 miles, this is still the longest commercial route flown in a twin-engined aircraft.

Here's some notes for those who are interested. I'll use actual take-off time as a reference, unless stated otherwise:

3:15pm EST - scheduled departure

3:35pm EST - actual door close

4:10pm EST (0:00) - take off. Estimated flight time 14 hours 41 minutes.

Initial cruising altitude 29,000ft (290), due north

~0:50 after passing Montreal, heads NNE

~1:10 goes up to flight level 330. Very fast ground speed of about 640mph due to strong tailwind

~2:40 goes up to flight level 340, over Baffin Island. Ground speed drops a little back to about 590mph.

~5:45 very close to North Pole. Still flying at 340, ground speed to about 550mph - no more tailwind.

~6:00 flight level up to 350.

I fell asleep at this time, and woke up to find ourselves:

~11:00 near the Mongolian/Chinese border NE of Beijing. We were flying at 11,430m (which is 37,500ft). Russia/Mongolia/China uses a metric system for cruising altitude.

~11:45 about a hundred miles west of Beijing, we went up to 12,039m (flight level 395)

~13:00 near Wuhan, ground speed down to about 500mph (800km/h)

The path it took is straight south, passed around halfway between Lantau and Macau, then made a 180-turn back north, and finally a right hand turn to line up to the runway.

~14:25 (7:35pm Hong Kong time 12/25), touched down on Runway 7L (the North runway, going from SW to NE).

Since I have a window seat, there's some stuff I saw enroute:

- Sunset when we were above Montreal

- In the arctic region, even though it's at night, I can still see some patches of whitish reflective stuff, probably from moonlight?

- I was wrong in thinking that the whole flight would be flown in darkness. In fact, there was late afternoon sun when we were over Mongolia and Northern China.

- The whole northen China was snow-covered. We flew over some very desolute areas in Mongolia, Inner Mongolia and the Wutaishan area in Shanxi province west of Beijing.

Next up: CX 504 HKG-NRT
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 7th, 2005, 11:35 PM
  #5  
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Segment 3:
1/4 CX504 HKG-NRT

1. Background:
Even though I grew up in Hong Kong and travelled there often, I really haven't flown CX much, and this is first trip in about 10 years. I used to fly between HKG-NRT quite often connecting to AA to DFW; and I've flown HKG-LAX on a AAFF ticket once. So, it's pretty exciting to sample CX again, which has become one of the two "premiere" airlines of the world. [The other being SQ, of course.]

2. Check-in:
I arrived at around 6:40 for my 9:10 flight, very early. No wait at all, and even though my bags are to be checked-through to the US, no hand-search of bags at HKG. [A JAL sticker was on my luggage when I retrieved it in Houston, indicating that it has been opened and searched in Tokyo.]

3. Seats:
Since I am no elite on CX, and the fare is a very low "S"-class, I wasn't preassigned seats, though I requested an aisle seat with the US phone agent before I left for HK. My request was honored, and I got 57D on a 747-400 (74J configuration), which is an okay seat 3rd row in the rear-most cabin. 57EFG were travelling together, and the kid in 57E was asleep for the whole trip.

4. Boarding:
The 744 was coming into HKG from LAX, and no surprise that it was late. Headwind is incredible during winter, and the LAX-HKG often has to make a fuel-stop in TPE. But the turnaround was pretty quick, and doors were closed 30minutes late, at 9:40. I don't understand why everybody was so anxious to line up at the gate even before they announced boarding these days, but they did. This flight was 100% full in coach. Announcement were made in Cantonese, English and Japanese.

5. Flight attendants:
I know some people fly or prefer to fly CX or SQ because of their attractive FA, so I will make a comment or two here. Seriously, I don't think CX's FA are anymore nicer or more efficient than say, CO's. And I've seen some young beautiful people on CO's staff too, but look at their uniform, hair and makeup. CX's uniform is modern, light-color and sharp; while CO's navy blue suits are like from the 70's. All CX's female FA has the same type of light makeup of the same color, and hair tied up; while CO's FA (including their young Asian staff) look like they just got up from bed and forgot to comb their hair! Image is everything - US airlines should realize.

One more note about FAs on this flight. In the late 80's and early 90's, for one reason or another, CX hired a lot of FA from the Phillippines, Indonesia, etc... that there's often trouble finding one that speakes Cantonese. Not anymore. Most are local Hong Kongers, with a few Japanese in the crew. Their badge indicates what language they speak as their first language.

6. Service and amenities:
No towel service & no amenities kits - not sure if it's pan-system, or just shorthauls. The kid next to me was given a child's life-jacket, but no drawing set or playing cards. There is a beautifully printed menu in English, Traditional Chinese and Japanese - very appropriate. All announcements were made in Cantonese, English and Japanese.

This 74J (B-HOR) has the standard 20 video channels & ~45 audio channels. Though no AVOD, it should still keep people relatively happy on the longhauls. Note that the headphones use the large single plug type, so if you want to use your own headphones, bring that adapter. [I only brought a 2-to-1 adapter to use on CO. Stupid me!]

In the lavatories, there is no handcream or aftershave, just soap. I can't remember if CX used to have those, but I definitely remember seeing them in SQ.

more...

rkkwan is offline  
Jan 8th, 2005, 12:08 AM
  #6  
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7. Food:
An orange juice/water service, and then a brunch with choice of omelette or a fish fillet. The fish is a "special selection from The Hong Kong Jockey Club's exclusive Happy Valley Clubhouse restaurants". Okay, and it's indeed pretty tasty. Free alcoholic drinks. Japanese green tea is the only thing Japanese on this flight to Tokyo in coach. I've heard about some complaints about CX's food recently, but I think it's pretty fine.

8. Flight route & time:
- Departed gate at 9:40am, 30 minutes late, due to late aircraft arrival from LAX

- 9:52 took off from runway 7R (SW to NE)

- Flew a little ESE and then E, while climbing to 37,000 ft, before heading NE.

- Flew across Taiwan from W. of Chiai (in west-central) to near Taipei in the north

- Flew very close to the tip of Kyushu Island. Tailwind was extremely strong just north of Taiwan all the way to Tokyo. Just east of Miyazaki, Kyushu, groundspeed reached 703MPH (1,120km/h), and tailwind reached 147MPH! That groundspeed was even higher than what I've seen previously over the North Atlantic to Europe or Northen Canada on my way to HK.

[For reference, speed of sound in still air at -50C (typical temperature at cruising altitude) is about 650MPH. Also, the Boeing 747 has a higher normal cruising speed than basically all current passenger jets. 777 is pretty fast too, but the Airbuses are quite a bit slower.]

- Landed Runway 16R (the original, longer one) 2:21pm local time (1:21pm HK time), about 25 minutes late

9. Duty-Free:
Just want to mention that due to the very short flight-time, the FA responsible for duty-free items was so busy that he just managed to get my money before he had to sit down for flight arrival. And somehow I was the first to ask him about the free-draw ticket with a chance to get free vacations. The promotion started 1/1, but I guess this might be his first flight of the year, and nobody asked him before I did. And for the record, I bought a pilot bear for HK$90, and I had to fill out the form after we landed - I ended up being the last passenger to leave the plane. The Japanese ground crew was very anxious to get on to service the plane, as we arrived 25 minutes late. They were definitely trying to make up time so the departure to HK can be made on time. [And yeah, I just started to collect airline teddy bears. ]

Next up: Experience at Narita and final leg to Houston on CO6.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 9th, 2005, 08:12 PM
  #7  
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Segment 4:
1/4 CO6 NRT-IAH

1. Experience at NRT:
So our CX flight arrived at NRT a little late; and since I had to fill out the lucky draw form from my purchase, I was the last one to get off the plane. Still have over 2 hours before CO6 departs, so no hurry, and I wandered around Narita Terminal 1, taking some pictures of the CX 744 I arrived in, as well as NW's new A330-200 parked at the next door, before heading to the shuttle bus for Terminal 2.

Well, turned out one bus (with many of my fellow CX passengers just left), and the next one would depart in 15 minutes. The guard at the bus-door kindly and enthusiastically showed me the schedule. Took the 3:05 shuttle bus, and it arrived Terminal 2 in about 5 minutes.

And then something interesting happened. A worker was holding a sign of Continental Airlines waiting for me at the bus door! No, she didn't write my name on it, but apparently I was her target. I was escorted to the transfer desk for CO, and my boarding pass was waiting for me there. They were definitely worrying that I was lost. Now, this is something that really wouldn't happen in the US or most places in the world, as I was just a lowly economy class passenger with no status with either CX or CO. Finally, I requested to have the FF miles deposited in my NW account instead of CO. I checked and they were indeed deposited properly to Worldperks just a few days later.

Anyways, I still have some time to spend, and just walked around the terminal. I forgot that they have an outdoor observation desk that I could have gone up to watch planes. Stuff at the gift shops and restaurants aren't that expensive. Very different than say 10 years ago when I found everything in Japan super-expensive. Now, things cost just a little more than the US, and may be cheaper than in Europe.

2. Boarding;
They didn't board by rows, but everything's orderly and efficient. Door closed at 5:03pm, 2 minutes early. There were two other CO aircrafts at NRT. Another 777 for CO8 to EWR, and a 737-800 for CO7 to Guam (2nd of three daily NRT-GUM flights). Across from us, DL 777 to ATL departed about 30 minutes before us, but they used the "zone" boarding, and I saw the gate agent writing on a white board in Japanese and English prior to boarding to explain what that was about. I found that pretty funny.

3. Seat:
This time I took 19D, one of the "green" seats indicated on seatguru.com as having extra legroom. That is absolutely true! While the DEF seats on Row 16 are almost flush with ABC/JKL, my seat 3 rows back are 8-10 inches behind 19C. The seat up there is also significantly quieter than 44A in the back. 19EF are a Japanese mother/son traveling together, and they always got out of their seats from the otherside. That's the nice thing about the center-aisle seat of a 3-3-3 layout. No one has to climb over you to get out.

4. Service and Amenities:
It's similar to my EWR-HKG flight, except there was only one hot towel service instead of two. Also, Airshow was out of order during the early part of the flight. After I woke up after a nap about 3 hours into the flight, I found Airshow working then. Duty-free is available at all times, and I purchased a blue Continental beaniebear for US$10.


5. Food:
Same salad with a cooked shrimp as my earlier flight. Same Sterling Silver steak (which I chose) or white fish. Steak is actually quite good. Mid-flight, a cup-noodle (this time a real branded cup); AND sandwich or a Japanese rice ball. I chose the rice ball, which is wrapped in seaweed, and it's pretty good. Before arrival, a breakfast is served - omelette or cheese ravioli. The ravioli portion is so large that it's probably the first time in history that I found the portion on a US-airline meal "too large".

6. Route and Time:
- Took off at 17:20 local time (0:00 thereafter)

- [As mentioned Airshow was non-operation initially.]

- Forgot to check time, but we were flying at 37,000ft at around 600mph when crossing the International Date Line

~6:00, rose to 380, North of Hawaii.

- The route we took was very southerly, almost due East from Japan, instead of going along the Aleutians. [I can now understand why last year a flight was diverted to Midway Island after having engine trouble.] Ground speed is kind of slow between 550mph and 600mph, not much of a tailwind.

- We touched the US mainland near the Carmel Peninsula, and then headed SE towards LA, then E towards El Paso and then Houston.

- Not sure when we rose to 390, and then between Phoenix and Tucson, 410. [Because it's so much quieter in the forward seat, I often can't notice the extra thrust for the climb.]

- Touched down at IAH at 2:00pm CST, 15 minutes late, probably due to weak/no tailwind, for a flight time of 11hr40minutes on Runway 26L.

7. Baggage Claim & Immigration/Customs
At IAH, passengers go through INS passport control before claiming luggage, and therefore saves time. There's a single "Alien" and a single US Citizen/Resident line, and a INS agent directed you to the counter, so you don't have to "guess" which line's faster. This is my experience:

- Touched down at 2:00

- Cabin door open 2:08

- I was off the plane 2:11 (remember I sat on the 4th row of Economy)

- 2:15 I was through the INS passport control for US Citizen

- 2:17 First Elite priority bags came through the carousel; my non-elite bag came out at 2:22

- I declared to have food with me, so I was sent to US Agriculture. They X-rayed my bags but didn't open it, which delayed me a little, but I was out at the greetings hall at 2:27.

I think 19 minutes from cabin door open to out at greetings area is probably the fastest I've entered the US with checked luggage. Still, that's 45 minutes after scheduled arrival (1:45pm), even though the plane left Tokyo on time, and was just 15 minutes late into Houston. I know that CO allows a 1:00 international to domestic connection at IAH, and that's pretty ridiculous, as it can be easily a 20-minutes walk (or train) from Terminal D to one of the gates in Terminal E or a COEX gate in Terminal B.

- Finally, outside Terminal D is a mess as there are a lot of cars delivering people to their afternoon departures to Europe. Can't wait until CO opens the new consolidated check-in area in Terminal E.

Anyways, this conclude my flight reports. Overall, the experience on CO is way better than expected, and the CX flight is a pleasant one too. Don't know why, but I always have pretty good luck with flying.

All comments and questions welcomed. I doubt many will read through all this, but I do this mostly for my own records.
rkkwan is offline  
Jan 11th, 2005, 06:30 AM
  #8  
yk
 
Join Date: Jan 2004
Posts: 24,135
I have to agree with the moderate prices (I was surpirsed) at the Narita Airport. I dined at a noodles cafe, which is semi-self-service. One orders at the counter, then is given a # and can take a seat. Minutes later, servers come around the tables and delivers the food. I had a udon noodle soup (with some meat and mushrooms - the expensive kind in the US) and a non-alcoholic drink. The total was 1050yen, which came out to $10.45 on my credit card bill.
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