In flight: Narita to Newark in Continental BusinessFirst


Every time I board a long-haul flight with a ticket for a premium cabin seat my expectations are high. When it is a flight in Continental‘s BusinessFirst cabin those expectations might be (probably irrationally) even higher. I’ve had a number of great BF experiences and when I used my last system-wide upgrade to confirm into my favorite seat on that plane – 8E – I had pretty high expectations. I suppose it is no surprise that they were not met given that setup. Still, it was a bit disappointing.

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Don’t get me wrong – the seat was still just as awesome as I expected. The foot-well in the bulkhead rows is notably larger than that of the other rows and that makes a big difference for a taller passenger. And the overall seat + IFE experience was top-notch, giving me time to watch a few movies interspersed amongst some naps to pass the time.

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The difference in the foot-well space in the bulkhead and other rows in the new BusinessFirst seats is noticeable for taller passengers.

Dinner was a typical multi-course affair. The appetizer and salad were fine, though not particularly special. I was somewhat impressed that the flight attendant took care of one of the nearby passengers and his request for more of the garlic bread even before the service got into full swing but that level of service didn’t extend very far.

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For the main courses there was no misSteak™ on the menu. This made my choice a bit harder. I decided against the pork chop and went with the salmon instead. I got what I deserved: a somewhat overcooked piece of salmon.

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The cheese course was, as always, pretty if not particularly flavorful.

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And apparently I consumed my ice cream sundae so fast that I forgot to take a photo of it. So that’s a good sign, I suppose.

Still, there were a few misses in the service that made the overall experience less than stellar. The drink service was slow on the refills, somewhat surprisingly for a flight with 30% of the cabin empty, and there were a number of requests made that weren’t filled. None significant enough at the time to be an issue but overall the pattern was such that it was apparent the crew wasn’t really in to actually providing service on this particular flight.

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Breakfast time – served well after noon in the arrival time zone – was the real service miss that defined the flight for me. Given the choice between cereal and eggs I actually asked what the cereal was. Apparently this was an insult to the flight attendant taking my order; things went downhill from there. I ultimately did choose the Corn Flakes as my breakfast as when they were thrown down on my tray table I realized that apparently asking what the cereal option would be was a bad idea.

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I also was somewhat excited for a cinnamon roll as part of my breakfast. When they didn’t show up in the basket I jokingly noted that they must not have been loaded on the flight. About 5 minutes later a plate with two of them, minus the frosting, was tossed on my tray table. Not good to skip confirming whether I wanted them or not. Pretty awful the way they were presented.

Overall the flight was fine. It really probably doesn’t deserve real complaints. Still, there were enough little things gone wrong that it bugged me. The service was definitely not up to the standards that I generally expect from a Continental BusinessFirst crew; definitely worse than my prior experience flying Hong Kong to Newark two months prior.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.

7 Comments

  1. Your experience summarizes why we travel on LH to Europe in C rather than UA, even though LH has those horrible slopey beds and the IFE isn’t up to UA’s standards. I hate the service on UA, and all their talk of being there “primarily for [our] safety.” LH service rocks. The FA’s are welcoming, engaging, and seem to genuinely care about each passenger’s experience.

  2. Wait, I’m confused. LH Biz class FA’s that don’t look down their nose at you if you don’t engage them in German and are pleasant to deal with?

  3. CO has some good days and some not-so-good days, even in Biz/First. I prefer LH service, typical German ‘heartless efficiency’and that’s about all I expect our of flying Biz…..any additional service or perks is a bonus.

    I am trying to burn up as may OnePass miles as possible before the roll-over into UA!

  4. Hmm. An obviously Not So Good experience on Continental AL. For the service part, I suspect that you just got a bad FA crew, having a bad day. No excuse for that, but it does happen. As for the less than stellar food, you should probably write a polite letter to them on the subject, including pix as appropriate. Bad food in Business/First is simply Bad Business and they need to hear about it. I KNOW that they can do better, even with Salmon. Recall a front cabin flight some years ago, LAX-DEN (where I got bumped) with a salmon entree. I complimented the FA on the great fish and, to my surprise, she brought me another serving! The point is that they CAN do it right – if they want to. Lastly, you have more than enough butt-in-seat miles to know that the service and food is universally better on foreign carriers. Unless you are stuck on a US flag carrier for other reason, using the code-share partners or alliance partners is almost always a better choice. WIth but a 30% pax load in the Business/First cabin, there is no excuse for the lapses that you experienced. Somebody (other than you) was having a bad hair day, I guess. I enjoy your posts, thanks. -Craig

  5. @Copa, we don’t speak any German, but we are friendly and polite to FA’s (on all airlines we fly). While we find service at German airports to be “efficient” I find “heartless” to be a stretch, as described by @mountie, though not far off. On LH we do find that the service is excellent though. Not just efficient, but also warm and welcoming.

    1. I’ve never had a LH crew that I’d describe as “warm and welcoming” in Biz. Efficient and proper, but never open or friendly. So it goes. Combine that with the fact that the food options are generally worse and the seat is definitely worse than the CO choices and I’ll still lean towards to CO over LH. I’m actually looking forward to trying AC in a couple days to see what their C product is like; they get some good reviews and I’m excited to try it out myself.

      As for German airports, MUC is great for transfers or O/D traffic. FRA sucks for both. HAM was fine for O/D but I was there for all of 90 minutes total inbound and out so not much of a measure of quality.

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