One of my best friends and fraternity brothers from college was getting married. There are few things that will make me choose to go to the Midwest on my own volition, friendship I suppose is one of those things. My journey to the heartland or “flyover country” as I normally refer to it began in Paris in the early morning hours.
I hadn’t been able to sleep well, and I rolled out of bed around fifteen minutes before my driver was to arrive. I stretched, went to the living room and peeked my head out the window to confirm the car was waiting on the street.
Then, armed with a suitcase filled with almost nothing but laundry, I made for the elevator. The eyesore that is Terminal 1 at CDG welcomed me into its inefficient confines and I searched for the Continental check-in counters, which are still maintained separately from the United kiosks.
The check in line for BusinessFirst took ages. Apparently some people still don’t know how to use the electronic check-in machines, and the desk agents are rarely helpful. In addition there were a series of interlopers who were trying to use the BusinessFirst check in line whilst flying in coach. Each one of them had to have their own spat with the Continental agents. They would explain they had Elite status on CO, the agent would tell them that didn’t entitle them to use the BF check-in, there would be a staccato argument, sour faces and eventually they would move on having wasted minutes of everyone’s day.
I smiled at the no doubt tired and perturbed agent, checked my bags and made for the lounge.
Continental BusinessFirst passengers use the Star Alliance lounge in T1. I imagine they would also be entitled to use the United Red Carpet Club or the SAS lounge, but in all my trips through T1, I have never bothered to try a different lounge. Not because the Star Alliance lounge is fantastic or anything, it’s just convenient.
The business class section is downstairs in a somewhat dark and unwelcoming basement. Depending on the time of day there will be a selection of sad looking cold foods (cold cuts and the odd sandwich) or very rarely some warm offerings.
I took a glass of water and availed myself of the gratis wifi.
Continental also has a flight from CDG-IAH (Houston, CO’s main hub along with EWR) that leaves at around the same time as the EWR flight I was on (CO 57). If everything is bigger in Texas, then it is certainly louder.
There was a girl in her 20’s who kept talking at maximum volume to her friend about how DRUNK she got in Paris and various people she made out with. Now I am far from a teetotaler, and it would be hypocrisy for me to decry this behavior. It’s just that she wasn’t terribly attractive and who really wants to hear about the drunken exploits of an ugly girl? Anyway, I had a nice chuckle when the couple behind me started openly mocking her in their conversation.
Continental Flight CO 57 CDG-EWR
Once you exit the Star Alliance lounge, it is necessary to head to the gate to clear security. This is a terrible system, and the security line near the departure gate for CDG-EWR flights is always a mess. On top of this, there is no priority line for Business/First class passengers.
Once through security, it was time to board, or rather should have been time to board. As happens all too frequently on Continental morning flights out of CDG, the crew was late. The pilots and cabin crew made it to the gate around 15 minutes after boarding should have started. As the Captain made his way to the jetway, an older gentleman standing next to me said “nice of you to show up,” nice move pal…that’ll get you places in this day and age. Luckily, we were in France and not America, so my aged compatriot wasn’t brutalized by the TSA and probed in a back room for his subversive comments.
Once the crew were settled in, boarding was called and I settled in to seat 1A. The cabin crew on this flight were excellent. Their top notch service and the above average (for Continental) food on this flight made up for the fact that this was one of the birds that hasn’t yet been retrofitted with Continental’s new BusinessFirst flatbed (as of this writing, all the 757-200’s and 777’s have received the new product while the 767 fleet has not yet begun conversion). That and the fact that it was a day flight…
The purser greeted me by name and then the cabin steward came to take my pre-departure beverage order. As I always do on Continental flights, I ordered a Mr. Pibb. The steward informed me that Continental no longer carries Mr. Pibb.
This is a shame. The musings of a poster on FlyerTalk sum up my feelings on Mr. Pibb “Ah, Mr. Pibb…the cornerstone of our love…delicious, refreshing, and totally lacking in pretension. He’s not one of those “Doctor” sodas, putting on airs and flashing around his Ivy League diploma. No, Mr. Pibb earns his paycheck. He’s the kind of soda I’d like to have a beer with.”
While Mr. Pibb shall be missed now that he has been “enhanced” away as a byproduct of the Continental/United merger, it is the duty of the living to go forwards. As such, I blocked this tragedy out of my mind, got my wits about me and ordered a coke. My drink was served in a cheap plastic cup. While I cannot stand people who bitch about every little mishap it seemed pretty bush league to serve a beverage in a plastic cup in a premium cabin on an intercontinental flight. If that makes me a hypocrite then…screw you…I’m not a hypocrite.
Since I knew that the 767’s have no AVOD (audio-video on demand) and only the old loop style movie selection I planned ahead and downloaded Battle:Los Angeles from iTunes. While this movie was widely panned, I was pleasantly surprised.
I think the reason Battle: L.A. was so poorly received is that people expected a sci-fi adventure movie. This is not what Battle: L.A. was. It was a straight war movie. Sure there were the normal hokey stereotypes you would expect with any hackneyed, formulaic war movie, but that has never been a problem for the viewing public at large. There WERE aliens in Battle:L.A., but you could easily have replaced aliens with any human invading power and made virtually the same movie. I like war movies more than sci-fi, so perhaps this is why I found it to be a good way to kill two hours.
Halfway through the movie, the meal service began. Since I know anyone who has been directed here from FlyerTalk loves meal service, I will start a new section for it.
As Continental states it on the menu “Warm roasted nuts with your preferred cocktail or beverage”
Hot Appetizer Cart
“A demitasse of scallop bisque accompanied by a glazed chicken skewer and seasoned vegetable filled pastry with coriander sauce.” All of the offerings were very good and this set the tone nicely for what was to be one of the better meals I have ever had on Continental.
“Salad and warm breads. Mesclun salad mix with cucumber, tomato, kalamata olive, a mini apple and walnuts. Your choice of balsamic vinagrette or creamy yogurt dressing. Freshly baked garlic bread and assorted rolls with butter.” Notice how the description says “kalamata olive” and not “olives.” This was no typo, there was a single olive in the salad. I chose the balsamic dressing and it was your average airplane salad.
I chose the “Tandoori breast of Chicken with tomato sauce, saffron rice pilaf and curried spinach.” It was very good and one of the better main courses I have had on Continental. The other choices were:
– The Chef’s Selection, New York strip steak served with chanterelle mushrooms, caramelized onions and red wine sauce accompanied by pan-fried potatoes broccoli florets and carrots.
-Herb marinated shrimp over julienned vegetables and indian spiced tomato sauce.
-Thick pasta threads tossed with sun-dried cherry tomatoes, zucchini, mushrooms, red onions and a tomato basil sauce.
Fruit & Cheese/Dessert Cart
After the main course I was stuffed and ended my service, however, for the sake of completeness the options were:
-Select European cheeses, grapes, assorted gourmet crackers and rolls served with port wine.
-Vanilla ice cream with choice of toppings or an assortment of petite pasteries.
After the meal service and the conclusion of Battle: L.A., I tried to nap. I got a few hours of sleep. I also managed to finish a dime novel about a hypothetical World War III, re-read Animal Farm and start Factotum by Bukowski which turned out to be a great read.
While the seats on the 767 are dated, they are comfortable enough for a day flight. Just know in advance there won’t be movies on demand and plan accordingly.
Just before we touched down, the purser came by again, greeted me by name and thanked me for my business. While I appreciated this gesture, I was a bit surprised as to why he went out of his way to thank me (he did not do this to other pax in the cabin) as I have flown maybe 30,000 BIS miles with Continental thus far this year. While this may sound like a lot to the uninitiated it is a drop in the bucket for Continental and merely a busy month for hard-core frequent fliers. Classy move anyway.
After wheels down in EWR it was back to my apartment in NYC for three days of trouble with friends I hadn’t seen in months.
Continental CO 1456 EWR-CLE
Soon enough I found myself back at EWR. It was time to venture into the middle of the country.
As an elite I was able to assign myself an extra leg-room seat in advance (I chose bulkhead). However, I was not elite enough to score an upgrade on the elite heavy hub-to-hub EWR-CLE route. Flight time was just over an hour. I confirmed the demise of Mr. Pibb, then I had my glass of water (no snack, not even pretzels) and thanked my lucky stars that I was flying hub-to-hub and therefore on a mainline aircraft instead of on a regional jet or Q-400.
Upon arrival in Cleveland, I wondered if perhaps my 737 had been a Delorean in a previous life. The airport looks very 1980’s. I had to wait for my ride, so I settled in at the first bar I could find and started ordering large beers. A cavalcade of “interesting” people waddled through the bar including an incredibly large woman who raved to her dining companions about the fare at this chain restaurant (Panini’s) as it is were Michelin starred. We were not in Kansas anymore…or rather we were in something more closely approximating Kansas than what we were used to.
I will spare those involved and just mention some of the highlights from Ohio which included a member of our party being warned by a waitress that she carries a taser. Drinking Coors light at 3 AM in a Hampton Inn parking lot with a gaggle of random white trash that wandered up (one of whom had her infant son with her, while her ten year old was in their room across the parking lot at the Red Roof Inn) and nearly getting jumped by some surly locals at a very questionable bar (this was in a bleak depressing suburb of Cleveland and when three clean cut gents in collared shirts walked in it was like the music stopping in that scene in Animal House).
Against all odds we survived, my friend got married, we played a decent round of golf (well decent for the front nine), we managed not to ruin the wedding and only one of the groomsmen got drunk to the point of passing out during the reception (and we didn’t draw on his face with a sharpie).
Before you could say rehab, I was at the airport again.
Continental CO 50 CLE-EWR
I popped into the Presidents Club and went right for the main desk. The seatmap showed that this was going to be a very full flight and I was hoping to get VDB’d and pick up some miles or a voucher. Sadly, the agent informed that the flight was full to the hilt but not yet oversold. I told her to please let me know should the situation change. There would be no freebies for me, but there was a lovely 1-hour delay due to ATC in EWR being backed up.
Flight time again was roughly an hour. This time I had an exit-row extra legroom seat. The guy in the middle seat worked in venture capital and spent the entire flight trying to explain what he did / pick up the woman sitting in the aisle seat. I think it worked out well for him, they were strolling to baggage claim together post-flight.
I watched the U.S. woman utterly choke and give away the World Cup to Japan on the in-flight DirecTV (or rather on the woman in the aisle’s DirecTV because I refuse to pony up $6 for a 1 hour flight) and got maybe 15 minutes of sleep. After landing I did some plane spotting as we taxi’d to the gate. The B-terminal has the best scenery, there was a LH 747, several SAS aircraft, TAP, BA 777’s, El Al 747 and the SQ A340-500 in all J config that flies the EWR-SIN non-stop which I believe is the longest or at least one of the top-3 longest commercial non-stop routes currently being served.
After three more days of destruction in NYC it was time to go home…or rather to “other home.”
Continental CO 54 EWR-CDG
I can’t fully describe how much I love the new Continental BusinessFirst product. Maybe it’s because I so loathed the old BusinessFirst, maybe I am just a Continental fanboy, whatever. All the 752’s in the fleet have been refitted with these seats. On the 752 it is a 2-2 config. The seats go 180 degrees flat, have 15.4 inch screens (with iPod connectivity), video on demand, a footrest/ottoman and ample storage space. If you snag a seat in row 1 (as I did, 1F), then there is a larger foot cutout. This is a boon for people like me who are both tall and have large feet. In the other rows, your feet can be jammed up a bit in the smaller footbox while sleeping, which can make things slightly less comfortable. Topping the experience off, are the new (well I guess it’s been a year+) BusinessFirst comforters which are soft and warm. I haven’t flown UA international F, but I would rate Continental’s BusinessFirst above all other U.S. Flag Carrier’s premium products (both F and J) that I have experienced.
I didn’t take pictures on this flight, the menu will be reproduced below. I tried to watch “The Lincoln Lawyer,” but it was absolutely and irredeemably awful. I normally ALWAYS have to see the conclusion of a movie if I start watching it, but this was so bad I couldn’t go on. For a final time I confirmed that Mr. Pibb is indeed gone for good.
MENU CO 54 EWR-CDG
Warm roasted nuts with your preferred cocktail or beverage
LATE NIGHT SUPPER (this was a 9:20 PM departure)
Appetizer Salad and Warm Breads
Hearts of romaine and mesclun salad mix with vine-ripened tomatoes and Mandarin orange segments. Your choice of balsamic vinagrette or buttermilk ranch dressing. For your enjoyment, smoked salmon and orange peppered salmon may be added to your salad. Freshly baked garlic bread and assorted rolls with butter.
– The Chef’s Selection: Grilled pork chop with green peppercorn sauce, shiitake mushroom bread pudding, fresh broccolini and white asparagus.
-Osso Buco style breast of chicken served with roasted garlic polenta cake, fresh broccolini and mushroom ragout.
-Cioppino. Sea bass and lobster accompanied by a savory shellfish stew topped with fresh green asparagus.
-Mini cannelloni pasta bowl. Artichoke and ricotta cheese filled mini cannelloni served with creamy arugula sauce, mixed sauteed vegetables and grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese.
FRUIT AND CHEESE PLATE
Select American and imported cheese, grapes and crackers served with port wine.
Edy’s classic grand vanilla ice cream with choice of toppings or an assortment of petite pastries.
While the cabin crew on CO 57 were exemplary, the crew on CO 54 were not on their game. They were largely absent before and after the service and they made you feel like you were putting them out when asking for something, which is never a good quality for employees in a service industry to display.
I ended my meal service after picking at my main course, cranked the seat back and slept fairly well until just before touchdown in CDG. True to French form, the baggage handlers at the airport were on strike.
I was treated to a one hour delay before the bags rolled out. I made for the exits, found my regular driver Patrice and got back to my apartment just in time to sleep for eight hours before going out with my Paris friends. I will now enjoy the less than twenty hours I have before I have to be back at CDG for my next flight. Until then…