Any trip that starts with a dozen folks hanging out in the lounge, enjoying a few drinks before the flight, has strong potential. That I had already been in the lounge 2+ hours when the others started to arrive didn’t hurt the situation either. And the fact that my upgrade into the BusinessFirst cabin on the 757-200 had cleared at the time of booking made things even better. So it was slightly lubricated that I made my way down to the duty free shop and then to the gate for a flight from Newark to Stockholm.
Boarding was a bit of a mess, even though we arrived at the gate towards the end of the process. We were awaiting the last of the duty free deliveries which took us precariously close to departure time and my mobile boarding pass failed, causing me to hunt down a printed one while the gate agent dealt with some other issues which involved the police. Still, I had sufficient time to stow my bags in the overhead and settle in to 1E with a glass of champagne prior to departure.
I also was able to find the International Concierge working the flight, despite his best efforts to remain invisible in the cabin. Somewhat critical to the success of our first day in Stockholm, I requested access to the arrivals facility that the BusinessFirst service provides. In Stockholm this is a day room at the Radisson Blu hotel in the airport. There were four of us in the forward cabin so four rooms were requested. And he actually followed through on the request; the agent meeting the flight knew that we needed the rooms and was ready for us (sortof).
I chatted with my seatmate a bit during our short taxi out to Runway 22R and the ~7.5 hour flight to Sweden began.
It turns out that there are only two bottles of Heidsieck Monopole catered in the forward cabin on a 752. Those went pretty quickly, starting with the warmed nuts service and lasting part of the way through the appetizer service. The nuts were not particularly memorable but the apps were. Both the cold seafood soup and the beef empanada were quite nice. There was a salad, too.
I took a risk when ordering dinner: I chose the miSteak. It is a complete crap-shoot taking that route. Sometimes the meat is horribly overcooked and miserable. For this flight, however, it was cooked to a reasonable medium doneness (still way overcooked for my tastes, but at least edible) and actually tasted pretty good. The accompanying sides (creamed spinach, asparagus and a potato patty of some sort) were not particularly memorable, either for being good or bad.
And then there is the hour-long foodgasm that is dessert on the BF flights. First was the cheese plate, served with a reasonable glass of Port. Not particularly great cheeses, but the flavors were where they should be for the types served. Next up was the ice cream sundaes. I only had one (caramel and chocolate, thank you very much), but there were extras making their way back to the galley which may have been waylaid by a couple of the other guys. And then there were the pastries. They’ve got nothing on Austrian, to be sure, but they were pretty tasty.
And then it was time to try for some much needed sleep. I actually managed to get 3-4 hours which is pretty good for an eastbound redeye; it helps that this is one of the longer flights being run out of Newark to Europe. Plus, I managed to sleep through the relatively poor breakfast offering which was a good plan based on the reports I got from the others.
The food was fine, as was the seat and the sleep. What truly made the flight for me, however, was the crew. It is usually easy to tell at the beginning of a flight if the crew is enjoying themselves or not, and that generally translates into a better in flight experience. This crew was having a great time from the get go and it really did play out through the rest of the flight. It really is great to fly with a crew that enjoys their job.
Overall the trip was a very good one. Most of that is attributable to the crew, combined with having a bunch of friends on board, but I’m not so sure the reasoning matters as much as the fact that it was a nice flight. Even with the very recent surprisingly nice flight on Lufthansa, I have to say that the legacy Continental product that United is offering these days tops it, both in food and seat. It is one of the better business products across the pond.
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