I’ve been particularly harsh on Continental over a spattering of posts spanning the last week and a half and offer this review of my in-flight experience from Newark to Brussels and back to demonstrate that Continental certainly does many things right.
Apparently a hole had open up in the fuselage of a Continental 767-400 earlier in the day in Brussels (hence the reason for the mechanic helping himself to my seat) and the flight was delayed due to customs paperwork for an aircraft part that was being flown over to repair the damaged aircraft.
We boarded on time, but 15 minutes after scheduled departure it was apparent something was wrong. The captain came on and announced that we were just waiting on some “final paperwork” then we would be on our way. Same announcement 15 minutes later and 30 minutes later. Eventually, she admitted that she didn’t know why the paperwork was taking so long, but we’d just wait it out. Between each announcement, the purser (“flight manager” on Continental) chimed in with a few comments of her own. Her name was Veronica and I had a nice talk with her later in the flight. She had a Brooklyn accent and cracked me up when making her announcements, “Thank you foe flawyin’ Cone-tinental, a Stah-Alliance Netwik Ehlilne.” (recited every time she made an announcement).
CO’s 767-400 feature looping video (five channels) and audio as well as games on demand. Unfortunately, it wasn’t turned on during the ground delay, but my seatmate kept me occupied with conversation. I have to admit—I’ve never sat as far back as row 36. My seatmate, a petite woman of about 40 from Durham, North Carolina had never been out of the country before and was embarking on a guided tour of southern France. She had never seen a seatback monitor or been on a widebody jet and made it a point to let me know it. She was a chatty type and even as I tried to return to my reading, she interjected with questions and comments, eventually telling me her life story. I listened intently, frequently nodded, and was happy to keep her company during the ground delay. Eventually, she tired of talking and pulled out one of those cheesy paperback romance novels and began reading.
Finally we got the required paperwork—but we had lost our takeoff slot. Another 20 minute delay followed, but we finally took to the air about two hours behind schedule.
The captain was a cautious type and the seatbelt sign remained on for nearly the entire flight, despite only moderate, sporadic chop. 45 minutes into the flight dinner service began. Special meals were delivered first and that included mine, a Muslim meal (which turned out to be a vegetarian meal). The main course was excellent—surprisingly flavorful for a meatless entrée and I could have easily downed a couple more helpings. Then there was the side salad—that was frozen. By this time, the meal and beverage carts had been deployed to the front of the economy cabin so I got up and walked back the galley, where David, the lead FA in economy was pulling out some more meals out of the ovens.
He must have thought I wanted to dump my trash because he snarkly told me that FAs would be by later to collect trash. I let him know that my salad was frozen and he changed his tune, apologizing and telling me to take a seat and that he’d be back soon. A few minutes later he brought a Styrofoam cup filled with hot water to my seat and told me to plop my salad (in the small plastic container pictured below) in the cup. I appreciate his effort, though the salad remained frozen in the center.
During dinner I watched “Sherman’s Way”, a movie about a stodgy Yale law student who had a life-transforming experience in California after being dumped by his prissy girlfriend. It had its moments, but it was apparent why I had never heard of this move before until before I stepped aboard this flight.
I was actually very productive and got a lot of paperwork done after the meals were cleared away, though because I was without emPower (only the front economy cabin on CO’s 764s have emPower ports) I didn’t get the more pressing work done that I had to spend the following day completing in Frankfurt.
About 3am ET, my stomach started to growl and I wandered up to the galley between business and economy class to check on the availability of any leftovers. Veronica, the flight manager, was enjoying a filet with mashed potatoes and asparagus and a couple other FAs were standing around talking. I made small talk about the merger for a while then asked if there might be an ice cream sundae leftover. I was obliged and was offered other food and drink as well. One of the FA’s showed me a picture of the damaged 764 on his phone—unbelievable that a gaping hole would open up on a plane. Or not. He was talkative and confirmed what I have observed in my dozen or so Continental flights this year: he hates flying domestically because the FA’s are “so darn lazy” (his words, not mine). He told me about working a domestic flight recently where he was the only FA who wanted to get up and start service after the double-chime went off at ~10K feet. Everyone else, he claimed, told him to sit down and that service didn’t have to begin for at least another 20 minutes.
Truth be told, I’ve never seen service that bad on Continental and I’ve had excellent service on some of my CO flights, though I have noticed (as I have blogged about) that CO crews seem to disappear right after the meal service and often don’t re-appear for far too long. United FA’s sometimes are guilty of this too, but rarely in my experience. Anyway, this crew was great. I spoke to some other FA’s as well and everyone seemed to get along well and enjoy his or her jobs.
A very light breakfast was served before landing. My special meal featured a packaged bagel and cup of sugar with some candied fruit in it, so I hid it when the FAs came by a few moments later with a much better breakfast—a hot croissant and a small side of cantaloupe and honey dew.
We didn’t make up much time in the air and landed just under two hours late at Brussels. I had a 3.5 hour connection so the flight delay didn’t impact my next flight to Frankfurt, but even if it did, I wouldn’t have been angry (or angry about the frozen salad). You see, when service is good, the other things just don’t matter as much. I maintain that service is the most important part of the flight and the one thing that sticks with a passenger as other memories of the flight quickly fade away. Continental surpassed my expectations in this area.
Tomorrow: the return flight.