Jun 272011

I suppose it’s time I wrap this thing up, mainly because the next adventure is about to start in a few days! Many years ago before I started flying United, I used to have a (somewhat irrational) loyalty to Northwest. Back in those days, Northwest and Continental were shacking up pretty close and there was really no comparing the two.

Looking back, my universe for comparison had been pretty small. Concepts such as international first class didn’t exist yet, so flying Business First on Continental was about as good as it got in my book! Now, almost ten years later with dozens of flights in Singapore First, Lufthansa First, etc, I was looking forward to seeing how business first on Continental stacked up. This would be my first Continental trip in nearly seven years…and it was on the 757 that IAD is sure to see much much more of unfortunately.

Showed up at Oslo about two hours before the flight to a very empty check-in area. Before I could even get to the counter, a very animated Business First concierge made his way up to me, enquired if I was flying business first, and offered to do anything and everything to make it a pleasant experience. It was all a little bit over the top, but at the same time – compared to the usual blank stares one gets at United check-in counters, it was quite nice.

Check in was quick, seat was confirmed, and it was off through security into the “international” area. Oslo has a bit of an unusual setup because the great majority of flights are inner-Schengen yet are still ex-EU. This means those flying to places in Europe are [b]not[/b] subject to immigration checks but [b]are[/b] subject to customs checks. This is why Oslo has a “domestic” part of the airport as well as a schengen part. It all made sense!

Not too much to say on the SAS lounge. Wi-fi was free, reasonably fast, and there was a pretty decent sized buffet and liquor offering out. However, being 9am in the morning, I resisted since I was still full from the giant hotel buffet and figured that Continental wouldn’t be skimping on the catering from what I remember.

I made the mistake of leaving the lounge just 45 minutes before the flight, forgetting I still had to exit immigration, and there was quite a queue since the SAS flight to EWR was leaving at the same time as the Continental one. Still, no real problem, and when I boarded 20 minutes before departure I was still the only one in BusinessFirst!

First impressions…wow, the seatpitch on these things is TERRIBLE. Yes, it was a lie flat seat, but compared to the product on the United 767s it seemed very very cramped. Plenty of room as long as your seat was upright, but it looked near impossible for the person in the window seat to get out if the aisle was reclined. I was later to learn this was the case.

The cabin slowly filled up, bubbly was offered (one glass, no refills, and when asked was told it was “one per customer”) newspapers, etc. It was beginning to look like I was going to have the only empty seat in the cabin next to me…but just before the door closed it started to go downhill fast.

My seatmate wobbled/staggered/arrived and the three-word description is necessary because honestly, I’m not sure which of the three he was doing. The gentleman was well into his 80s and immediately upon sitting popped a bottle of Diazepam on the drink table and started speaking on his mobile in Norweigan. After repeated attempts to get him to turn it off, he gave in…and instead reclined his seat fully.

At this point, the flight attendants appear to have decided the elderly gentleman was not a security risk, just a bit old, confused, and harmless, and very professionally asked him over and over to do this / don’t do that, etc. Takeoff was quick and uneventful, and maybe 20 minutes into flight service began. The in-flight entertainment (aka seatmate) had been reading a booked called “Passing the New Jersey Drivers Exam” which was frightening enough, but…so far harmless.

Drink orders were taken, I went with a Bordeaux (half a glass only before returning it in favour of something less noxious) and then the comedy next door began:

Him: “I’d like red wine.”
FA: “We have x, y, and z”
Him: “Yes”
FA: “which would you like”
Him: “All three.”

Now, here’s where the FA made mistake number one…actually bringing him three glasses of wine at once. In retrospect, I probably should have pointed out the Diazepam to them, but really didn’t feel it was my place to police the cabin. Plus, if he got out if hand I was pretty sure I could take him down! 😀

Shortly the nuts came around (the semi-warm kind, not the one I was sitting next to) along with a refill of the wine. This is where I returned the half-full glass (first time I can ever remember doing this on a plane…and my standards are pretty low, so you know this stuff was bad) and asking for another. As soon as they brought the new glass, the seatmate asked for a glass of….white wine!

Quite what the FAs were thinking I won’t know…because they brought him a glass. Fortunately, they didn’t offer him a choice of white as well or things could have gotten really ugly. He was contently sipping back and forth between all four glasses and reading the rules of the road as the meal service began. I’d been flipping through the wide selection (definitely quantity over quality) of movies, but nothing was nearly as entertaining as the show out of the corner of my eye.

So, food. Let’s talk about food…

The meal started with what was described as “A demitasse of potato mushroom soup with chicken accompanied by a vegetable spring roll and herbed shrimp with Chinese dipping sauce.” Overall, it was tasty enough, but nothing very memorable. It was worthy of full consumption, so that said something at least. Compared to the average United starter it was slightly more substantial, but I’d rate it about on par.

Next up was the “Mesclun salad mix with melon, cucumber, kalamata olive and almonds. Your choice of balsamic vinaigrette or tropical fruit dressing.” Now, really, I have no idea what troptical fruit dressing is, and how it belonged with kalamata olives, but I guess with melon maybe it made sense? That said, I broke my “no vinaigrette on a plane – EVER” rule. Seriously, that stuff splashes everywhere and the number of shirts I’ve lost to inflight vinaigrette is scary. Oh, and I forgot…the garlic bread! Whatever happens with the merger, please keep the garlic bread! This course blew away United’s salad course – no competition.

There were four choices for the main:

“The Chef’s Selection – Filet of beef topped with crispy onions and Port wine sauce and pan-fried pasta pocket filled with asparagus, accompanied by sautéed spring cabbage, carrots and homemade spaetzle noodles”

“Roasted Breast of Chicken – With creamy morel mushroom sauce, potato noodles, broccoli florets and carrots with crushed black pepper”

“halibut with Shrimp – Thai seasoned halibut and shrimp served over creamy mashed potatoes, fresh green buttered asparagus, crispy potato straws and spicy chile coconut sauce”

“Pasta Bowl – Lasagne filled with pumpkin and creamy cheeses – accompanied by tomato basil sauce offered with grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese”

I thought the halibut sounded interesting, but decided to go with the beef and was very glad I did. I’d say it was cooked a perfect medium rare and was quite easily the best steak I’ve ever had on a plane – I was pretty impressed actually. No way United’s hunks of mystery cow ever stack up to this.

Unusual seatmate was at this point still preoccupied with his salad, and had moved on to a few more glasses of wine. Nothing strange, but the old guy was definitely pretty happy at this point. At this point, I was used to the United cheese or desert, with a dirty look if you dared to ask for both. Nope, Continental delivered a full cheese course which was much higher quality than United even, and that was before the desert. Which is where it fell apart.

It seems catering had “forgotten” to load dry ice, so the desert option was “ice cream soup.” Why the flight attendants bothered I will never know, but they actually brought out the bowls of melted ice cream. Had they been 50% melted I might have vaguely understood – but we’re talking 100% melted here. 100% cream and 0% ice. PASS!

Rest of the flight – well about an hour after the meal things got interesting when the seatmate woke up and decided he had to get out his cell phone and start making a phone call. He dialed, started jabbering in Norweigan (with which imaginary friend/colleague I have no idea, since his phone clearly wasn’t working at 40,000 feet) and despite repeated flight attendant requests he acted like he didn’t speak english. Funny, he spoke it just fine when he wanted wine…or to order food…fortunately, he finally turned it off, and passed out again.

I should have known better and gotten out of my corner when he was awake, but I waited another 30 to try and make my way to the lavs….potentially big mistake. I’m 6’3 and have long legs, but there’s just no way to climb over the fully-reclined aisle seat. It was awful. I inadvertantly bumped him, waking him up with a start and chewing me out pretty loudly in Norweigan. It was kinda sad actually.

Rest of the flight was pretty uneventful. I caught up on bad tv on my laptop, read a bit, and passed on the pre-landing sandwich so I can’t really report on that. I was secretly semi-hoping for a Iceland detour for either 757-fuel-issues (hey, Iceland’s not checked off my list yet!) or to drop off crazy guy, but this was a banner day for the transatlantic 757, and we showed up in Newark about 20 minutes early. As much as I remember hating the airport I have to say, it’s pretty awesome on a clear day approaching New York and seeing the skyline.

Parked at the very last gate, hobbled my way through immigration (there is seriously nothing more awesome than Global Entry) and made it to Starbucks (yay caffeine) in record time. Less than 15 minutes from door opening, through immigration and customs, TSA-nonsense, and to Starbucks. Can’t say anything bad about Newark in that regards!

Next flight was about 90 minutes away on a Dash-8 to DCA. Not too much to say on this flight. Load was maybe 50-60% and everyone who wanted a whole row had one. The crew was friendly, arrival was early, and it was the best kind of regional flight – short, efficient, and no-drama. I was very glad I’d changed my OSL-FRA and FRA-IAD on LH F for this.

End thoughts: Business First still blows away United business from a catering point of view. I would actually say Business First catering is equal to United First catering. Hard product…the new United Business clearly beats the 757, hands down. Crews were about equal, but on a sample of one you really can’t generalize. However, from a convenience point of view, living a mile from DCA, EWR is going to open up a lot of options which will be quite nice. Dulles, well, major pain.

Next trip report to come soon….off to Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Armenia on UA, LH, and LO!

 Leave a Reply

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>



This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.