Still Loyal to Your Airline? You Must Be Looney Tunes

BECAUSE I fly mostly out of Newark, a big Continental hub where the carrier has kept its fares competitive with low-cost airlines, I assiduously racked up the minimum number of miles for several years to maintain the top frequent-flier status level, Platinum Elite.

Alas, in 2005, I didn’t fly the minimum number of miles (75,000) for top status this year. So, Continental busted me down to the middle-status tier, Gold Elite (which requires an annual minimum of 50,000 miles).

Still, even though reduced one grade in rank, you would think I would get a lot more consideration than, say, Elmer Fudd.

But in an experiment last week, I went on the Continental Web site to research seat availability on a flight (with seven-day advance purchase) from Newark to Los Angeles, departing tomorrow and returning March 29. The round-trip fare was $608, by the way — nearly twice what I had been accustomed to paying in recent years on that route.

Sufferin’ succotash, as Mr. Fudd’s co-worker in the cartoon factory, Sylvester the Cat, would say. Basically, Mr. Fudd and I were treated pretty much the same in the dry-run booking. Neither of us could score a good seat, even though one of us was Gold Elite and the other was a cartoon.

The best Mr. Fudd could get were two middle-row seats. For the departing flight, on a 737, Mr. Fudd got 17-B in the middle of the plane. For the return, on a 757, Mr. Fudd got a middle seat back by the toilets.

But I, Mr. Gold Elite, did not fare much better on the same itinerary. I could get only middle-row seats on both trips. And I would rather take a brick up side the head than sit in a middle row seat on a long flight.

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