Tuesday, January 10, 2012
I flew back from Israel to Toronto on United Airlines (formerly Continental Airlines) recently and I wanted to add a bit more information about that flight. I wrote a blog about this in October(Continental: Tel-Aviv to Toronto via New Jersey - Review) Tel-Aviv and much of that blog is still relevant. But I thought I would add a few points, some of which might be repetitive.
First of all, one of main reasons for choosing United is that the flight times are much better than those of Air Canada. United leaves Tel-Aviv at 11:10 p.m. and arrives in Newark, New Jersey at about 4:30 a.m. There is a 6:20 connecting flight to Toronto, which arrives in Toronto about 7:45 a.m. If you can sleep on the plane, it's a lot better than spending all day from 12:30 p.m. (Israel time) to 6:30 p.m. (Toronto time) on the plane. It's very hard to get any sleep at all on these flight times.
Secondly, United is a full partner with the Aeroplan program. So you get the full points that you would have had if you had flown with Air Canada - even the bonus points. If you are Elite or Super Elite, you can access the lounge in Newark, get priority backage handling and priority boarding. The main drawback is that you cannot get an upgrade using the Air Canada eupgrades system. There is a way to use Aeroplan points to buy an upgrade but it is apparently very limited.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, United (still flying as Continental in my last blog about them), has an excellent personal entertainment system. It includes a huge selection of audio recordings, new and old as well has a huge selection of movies, new and old. It also has a pretty decent selection of games that you can play at no additional charge. Unlike Austrian Air's circa 1970s "Space Invaders," the games on United are pretty decent. Just don't forget to bring your own headphones or you will be nickel and dimed into paying a few dollars for a set. You will also have to pay if you want wine, beer or any other alcohol at any time during the flight. If you are looking for some free drinks on a flight, for now you have to stick to Air Canada or the European airlines.
Leaving Israel, you cannot buy any duty free alcohol, perfume, liquid or gels and take it on the plane with you if you are travelling to the U.S. This applies even if you are not transferring - just taking a direct flight. This time I read the sign and didn't buy anything. But many others must have missed the sign. There was quite a bit of commotion at the check-in counter as departing passengers fought with staff over whether they could board the plane with duty free items or surrender the items for confiscation. At the gate, staff were not conducting full bag inspections but were asking passengers "do you have any duty free or liquids or gels?" I'm not counseling any violations of law but it seems to me there must have been some passengers who purchased duty free and simply put it in their knapsacks and said "no" when asked the question. This is probably risky, since the duty free shop enters the ticket information when it sells the merchandise. All in all, it looks mainly like a protectionist measure to me, aimed at getting passengers to buy from the U.S. airlines on-board duty free shops.
The flight itself was fine, for a twelve-hour flight. The Kosher meal that I had was probably slightly better than its Air Canada counterpart. It looked like some kind of meatballs made out of chicken on a bed of curried rice but I can't really be sure. It was heated up properly and accompanied by some fresh fruit and a stale roll.
The real hassle with this flight is the changeover in the U.S. Arriving in Newark, you have to go through U.S. customs and immigration, pick up your luggage and then bring it to a check-in station. If you have a Nexus/GOES system pass, the customs and immigration line-up can be cleared very quickly. If you don't, you could be waiting for quite a while. After that, you have to take a train from terminal C to terminal A. The trains come quite quickly and are reasonably convenient. The third part of the process is going back through U.S. airport security to get to the departure gates. Here, there is no special line-up for frequent flyers, business class or people who just have a good contact (the quick way to get through security in Israel)...so everyone has to get in a very long line. As in other U.S. security locations, you have to take off your shoes, your belt and anything else you might be wearing that might have any metal in it. The process takes so much longer than Israeli security and my guess is that the U.S. airport security is much less effective.
The price was similar to other airlines. You can mix and match on-line and fly one way via the U.S. and the other way direct. This is a decent option. For example, you can fly to Toronto from Tel-Aviv overnight on either United Airlines or U.S. Air and then fly back on Air Canada, which is also an overnight flight. The U.S. Air flight is somewhat more comfortable than United Airlines but Continental provides more Aeroplan points.
The connecting flight from Newark to Toronto is only about an hour long. Our flight was delayed about an hour, which is probably a reasonably short delay for wintertime, even though there was no snow anywhere. Delays like this can always happen and are one of the drawbacks of a stopover rather than a direct flight.