Sunday, July 13, 2008

Why do I like Continental?

You might have noticed that whenever I talk about airlines, I tend to single out Continental as being better than its legacy-carrier counterparts.

So, lest you think that this bias is unfairly slanted, let me provide you with a recent excerpt that illustrates why I feel the way that I do:

Dennis Tierney, alliances director with US Airways, said the airline had been forced to keep prices relatively low to maintain load factors but in-flight services would start to disappear from domestic flights.

"Fuel is the story," he said "We are trying every means necessary to cut costs."

But Mark Erwin, senior vice-president of Continental Airlines, said services would be the last thing to disappear on his airline.

"Continental believes in delivering a higher level of service," he said "One of the reasons we receive such high marks from the consumer is that we focus on blankets and pillows and in-flight entertainment and meals at meal times and priority offerings for our elite customers.

"We believe you have to invest in the consumer to keep them."

The section that I quoted contrasts Continental with what is certainly my least-favorite domestic airline, U.S. Airways. But the article includes comments from other airlines as well, including United -- which last year added the position of Chief Customer Officer to its executive staff specifically to focus on service. And yet, Continental is the airline that is holding the line here. While its competitors add first-bag fees, booking fees, and even charge coach passengers for soda or peanuts, Continental continues to serve meals and provide blankets. That makes Continental special.

Let's be clear: Continental isn't our only good domestic carrier. Alaska Airlines is also outstanding among the lineup of legacy carriers. And most of the low-cost airlines are excellent, including JetBlue, Virgin America, AirTran, and Southwest. The thing is, none of these have the scope that Continental and its "big six" counterparts do, being able to take you around the country or around the world. That makes Continental really special.

And special things deserve recognition. That's why I give them so much credit here.

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