Sunday, October 23, 2011
I tried flying Continental Air Lines on my most recent flight from Tel-Aviv back to Toronto.
The flight time was a key consideration. The flight leaves Tel-Aviv at about 11:00 p.m. and arrives in Newark, New Jersey around 4:30 a.m. (EST). There is a 6:30 a.m. connection to Toronto which means that that the flight arrives in Toronto at about 8:00 a.m. These flight times are similar to US Air times (via Philadelphia). I find it much better to fly at night. Air Canada's direct flights back to Toronto from Tel-Aviv all leave at 12:00 p.m. and arrive in Toronto at 6:00 p.m. For various reasons, which I have written about in other blog posts, I'm not very happy about these all day flights. With Continental (now also called United - since the two merged), you can even fly from Tel-Aviv to Toronto via the U.S. at night and then fly back from Toronto to Tel-Aviv on Air Canada direct at night. The price is very similar to flying both ways on Air Canada.
The Continental flight was quite decent. The flight left on time. The airplane was clean and looked fairly new. It seemed to be well kept. The personal entertainment systems were among the best I've seen. There was an enormous selection of music with hundreds of CDs. There was also an enormous selection of movies.
A major benefit of flying Continental for Air Canada Aeroplan Elite or Super Elite members is that you get the same bonus points as if you were flying Air Canada itself. So an Elite traveller can get about 18,000 points for a round trip flight between Toronto and Tel-Aviv. A super elite traveller can get about 23,000 points. No other airline (other than Air Canada) offers this benefit for this route.
Like other U.S. airlines, Continental charges for extra baggage (meaning more than one suitcase) and charges for everything from headphones to alcoholic beverages. The staff, like other U.S. airlines, are somewhat aloof. This is not the personal interaction that you can get with El Al nor is it even as friendly as Air Canada. At best, you could call it organized and competent, if somewhat stingy.
On arrival in New Jersey from Tel-Aviv, all passengers must clear U.S. customs and collect their baggage to be handed back for check-in just after customs clearance. Here it is a great benefit to have a Nexus card and bypass the lengthy customs line-ups. Otherwise you could be waiting for a quite a while in an immigration/customs line-up.
There is an airport shuttle that runs from the arrival terminal (Terminal C) to the departure terminal (A) but this was reasonably convenient, even if not marked particularly well. Unfortunately, there was no access to duty free since the duty free shops only open at 6:30 a.m. and the plane from Newark to Toronto left at 6:30 a.m. It is worth pointing out that you can buy duty free items in Tel-Aviv and then put them in your suitcase after you pick the suitcase up in Newark before sending it along to Toronto. However, you have to pay the prices of the Israeli duty free shops where are not necessarily that reasonable. Unlike the connection through Philadelphia, you have to clear personal security again after landing so that adds to the line-up time and inconvenience factor.
Overall, the flight was fine and was probably a decent option for Aeroplan members looking to take a night flight from Israel to Toronto though there is no easy way to upgrade to business class from economy. The availability of upgrades is still one of the best reasons to fly Air Canada between Toronto and Tel-Aviv along with the general convenience of a direct flight.