Hello and welcome to my 23rd trip report. This report covers my westbound jaunt across the Atlantic in August of 2011. For me, this was an interesting trip because it was my first time flying Continental on a transatlantic route. Due to the merger with United, which was already well underway at the time, it was also my last chance to add Continental to my transatlantic logbook. I have tried to document my experience with detailed notes and photos, and the result of that effort is the following trip report. I hope you enjoy. As always, comments, questions and feedback are greatly appreciated!
As some of you might remember from my previous reports, I am originally from the US (Montana to be exact) and am now living in Brussels, Belgium. In the summer of 2011, approximately one year after moving from the US to Belgium, I was ready to return home for a visit. August was a good time to get away from the office in Brussels and the timing also worked well to visit our friends in New York, as well as my family in Montana thereafter. As my mother’s 60th birthday was approaching, I decided to surprise her by showing up in Montana without telling her I was even travelling to the US. In the next report covering my domestic flights within the US, I will say more about this surprise.
After scouring the internet for the best fares and routes, I decided to buy two separate roundtrip tickets. The first ticket involved outbound travel from Brussels to New York-Newark, via London Heathrow, on Brussels Airlines and Continental on the 12th of August. This coincided nicely with the outbound itinerary of my girl, who had already planned the New York trip followed by a visit to California to see her own family, and who was departing the same day on the nonstop Brussels-Newark flight operated by United. The return portion of my ticket was scheduled for the 27th of August with the same routing in reverse—Newark to Brussels via London Heathrow.
For my travel from New York to Montana, I purchased a roundtrip ticket on Delta from JFK
Airport to Bozeman via Salt Lake City for the 15th of August. The return for that ticket would take me from Bozeman to Minneapolis and onward to Newark on the 27th of August, with my arrival into Newark giving me five hours to spare in order to catch my Continental flight back to Europe. At least, that was the plan. I will reveal what really happened in subsequent trip reports, which I will post soon. For now, I hope you enjoy riding with me on the westbound crossing of the Atlantic from Brussels to London and onward to Newark!
TIME TO FLY
On the day of travel, my girl and I awoke at 04:00. After a shower and some final packing, a taxi arrived at 04:45. Traffic was light so early in the morning and we arrived at the airport around 05:00, more than two hours before my scheduled departure, and more than 4 hours before my girl’s flight. The terminal was nearly deserted at this early hour and check-in was quick and easy at the Brussels Airlines counter, where I dropped my suitcase and was issued my boarding passes. After a bite to eat, I parted ways with my girl, whose check-in counter had yet to open, and continued to the B Terminal, where all non-Schengen flights arrive and depart. Immigration control was quick, as was security, and I was soon airside with over an hour to spare. Here are some images of the quiet, early-morning terminal facilities.
I also snapped some photos of the ramp, which was beginning to stir to life. Here’s a Brussels Airlines A330 awaiting its next African excursion.
And here is a Freebird A321 pushing back for Turkey.
My A319 was already at gate B30 waiting patiently for its hop across the English Channel.
Date: 12 August 2011
Flight #: SN
2091 (ticketed as BD
Aircraft Type: Airbus A319-112
Aircraft Registration: OO
Scheduled Departure: 07:15 CES
Actual Takeoff: 07:21 CES
Scheduled Arrival: 07:30 GMT
Actual Landing: 07:07 GMT
Flight Time: 0:46
Distance: 218 miles / 351 kilometers
Seat: 19A (b.light economy)
Load: Business = Unknown / Economy = 40%
Personal Stats: 283rd airline flight / 23rd flight on the A319 / 4th flight on SN
Boarding began more or less on time at 06:55, about twenty minutes ahead of the scheduled departure. I made my way aboard and quickly found my seat at 19A, a window on the left side. I was immediately impressed with the condition of the cabin. This was nice to see, as I had experienced an outdated and dirty cabin the year before on a Brussels Airlines A319 to Madrid (see the report at A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
). This time, the cabin was absolutely immaculate sporting the slim new Recaro seats—amazingly thin and quite comfortable. Good job, Brussels Airlines!
The window was clean and clear, as well—an important detail for us aviation fanatics who like to snap photos.
With the cabin door closed, one of the pilots made a welcome announcement in English only (no French or Dutch) and indicated an expected flying time of 43 minutes. At 07:11, we pushed from the gate and the engines spooled to life.
We taxied quickly to RWY 25R, which has been the departure runway each of the last five times I have flown from BRU
At 07:21, the Airbus twinjet rolled onto the centerline before accelerating quickly down the runway.
We lifted away smoothly and entered the usual grey skies above Belgium—in my five departures from BRU
thus far, this was the fourth on an overcast day.
After a few minutes inside the murk, we slipped into the soft blue colors above.
We soon leveled off in smooth air at 22,000 feet.
The flight attendants passed through the cabin distributing UK immigration cards. All passengers were handed one regardless of whether they were transiting or not. Not knowing whether I would have to clear immigration and customs when switching terminals, I took a card and filled it out; in the end, it was not necessary, as I remained in transit and in international areas at all times. The flight attendants then passed by again offering snacks and beverages; as I was in b.light economy class, everything was buy-on-board. Among those seated around me, I did not see anyone make a purchase. I did not purchase anything either and instead passed the short flight enjoying the views of the clouds.
After a very short cruise, the engines spooled down noticeably and the nose pitched slightly forward to begin the descent. Meanwhile, one of the pilots made a short announcement indicating we would be on the ground in about 20 minutes and that the weather in London was nicer than in Brussels—some scattered clouds but mostly sunny, light winds out of the west and a temperature of 16 degrees C (61 F).
We dropped through a layer of broken clouds and emerged over metropolitan London.
The aircraft banked left and I suddenly spied London City Airport. I snapped a photo quickly before we leveled the wings and the airport disappeared from view.
We then made a broad right turn toward the west to set up for an approach one of the RWY 27s.
The flaps started their downward march as we glided progressively lower over the neighborhoods of London.
Just east of Heathrow, I spied Twickenham Stadium, a large facility for rugby matches and concerts.
We dropped lower and lower over the greenery just beyond the airport’s perimeter.
At 07:07 local time, we touched the asphalt of RWY 27L after just 46 minutes in the air from Brussels.
We exited the runway to the right and taxied to Terminal 1 at the northeast side of the strange complex that is Heathrow. Along the way, we passed a couple of Continental and United heavies.
At 07:16, approximately fifteen minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time, the tires came to a halt at stand 139 of Terminal 1. This neighbor from South Africa greeted us off our left-hand side.
Given the light load, I was quickly off the plane. While walking up the glass jetway, I grabbed a final shot of the nice little Airbus. Thanks for the ride!
Once in the terminal I followed the signs for transit passengers. My Continental flight to Newark was set to depart from Terminal 4, which meant I had to take a bus clear to the southern side of the airport, on the far side of RWY 27L. The whole process was actually fairly easy, and it offered neat views of the airport, but it did take some time before I arrived at Terminal 4 a little past 08:00. I already had my boarding pass for the LHR
leg, but I had to clear security once again. The security lines were seemingly short, but thanks to a few novice travelers who were completely unprepared for the screening process, it took 20 minutes to get through. Once inside the secure zone, I made a few laps up and down the terminal and did some spotting.
At the distant Terminal 3 on the far side of the runway, I spied these two superjumbos parked side by side.
I then grabbed a bite to eat, took a peek in the various shops and had a coffee—just passing the time before departure. Finally it was time to head to my departure gate.
Date: 12 August 2011
Flight #: CO111
Aircraft Type: Boeing 757-224
Aircraft Registration: N12114
Scheduled Departure: 11:05 GMT
Actual Takeoff: 11:25 GMT
Scheduled Arrival: 14:25 EDT
Actual Landing: 14:06 EDT
Flight Time: 7:41
Distance: 3,465 miles / 5,576 kilometers
Altitude: FL340 / FL360 / FL380
Seat: 35F (Economy)
Load: Business = unknown / Economy = 100%
Personal Stats: 284th airline flight / 24th flight on the 757-200 / 6th flight on CO
From the gate area, there was no view of the aircraft—just a blank wall with door leading down a strange labyrinth of corridors, which eventually led to the jetway and the aircraft. That meant no photo, unfortunately, and no chance to see the tail number. In any case, boarding began a full 50 minutes before departure, at 10:15. It did not take long for the premium passengers to board first, and by 10:25 I was aboard the aircraft as well. I made my way down the long, single aisle toward my small allotment of space at seat 35F, a window on the right side. I have heard many complaints about narrow-body aircraft on long flights, especially those of 8 or more hours over the Atlantic, and indeed, my initial impression was that the cabin was cramped. Seat pitch was definitely tight for a flight of this length. Still, the cabin was fairly clean and the seatback screens were a decent size—much better than those found on much of the pre-merger United fleet.
Although the legroom was not great, one very welcome amenity was the power outlet, especially since my laptop battery was nearing the end of its useful life. Inflight power is still rare in economy class on most airlines, so in this case, Continental deserves some credit.
The seatback monitor had a good picture and a nice size.
Shortly after getting settled, a flight attendant made a welcome announcement and informed us of an expected flight time of 7:43. The boarding process took a long time given the single aisle through which all passengers, and their bulky carry-ons, had to squeeze. Unfortunately, this flight was 100 percent full, and the two seats next to mine filled up with a couple of university-aged Londoners off for an adventure in America. Both made several confused comments about the small size of the plane. Indeed, I am sure there is not a single 757 flight across the pond that does not surprise at least a few passengers who were expecting a widebody. I passed the time watching the luggage being loaded; my suitcase is in the hands of the guy on the left—good to know it made the transfer!
At 10:50, one of the pilots made a welcome announcement and reiterated the flight attendant’s earlier mention of an expected flight time of 7:43. He also noted that we could expect a mostly smooth flight all the way to Newark.
At 11:00 sharp, five minutes ahead of schedule, we pushed back from the gate. Another Continental narrowbody came into view across the tarmac.
The engines spun to life and we began a slow taxi, halting frequently amidst the heavy traffic on the tarmac and taxiways. We crossed RWY 27L and kept taxiing north toward the parallel RWY 27R.
Occasionally, I caught a view of arriving or departing traffic, such as this American Airlines 777.
After a fairly long taxi, we took to the pavement of RWY 27R at 11:25.
Even with a full load of fuel, passengers and luggage, the takeoff was impressive—a powerful 757 experience!
We soon entered the clouds, the giant winglet slicing like a knife through the grey and white mist.
There were multiple layers of clouds—here we are sandwiched between two, the visibility out the window fairly good, but the blue and sunshine nowhere in sight.
Finally, we popped out into the blue on top; below us was the thick cloud blanket, but above just a crisscross of contrails.
I monitored our altitude on the map on my screen and it was not long before we were straight and level at 34,000 feet. At 11:50, some 25 minutes after departure, the cabin crew began the first drink and snack service. I took a tomato juice and was handed a pack of pretzels.
As I sipped my tomato juice, we again moved a step higher into the atmosphere, now climbing up to 36,000 feet. At this point, 428 miles (689 kilometers) were behind the tail, but nearly seven hours of flight time remained. The flight attendants were efficient and collected the trash from the first drink just as their colleagues began passing through with the meal service. At 12:35 local time, about a 1:10 after departure, the food cart reached my seat and I was asked the legendary question: “chicken or beef?” Actually, the choice was either chicken with rice or beef lasagna, and I opted for the lasagna. It was served with a nice salad with dressing, a bread roll with butter and a brownie.
All in all, the food was acceptable. The lasagna was tasty enough and the salad was crisp and fresh. The packaged brownie was nothing special, but still okay. Compared to other meals I have had on westbound transatlantic flights in coach, this was just about average. It was not as good as what I had received a few months prior on Lufthansa on the MUC
route, or as plentiful as what I experienced a year before on Delta on the BRU
After finishing lunch, the trays were collected and the flight went into what I call “hibernation mode,” with most people sleeping, watching a movie or doing a bit of both off and on. I settled in and passed the time watching my favorite inflight entertainment—the window, combined with our progress on the map on my screen. Just six more hours to go until Newark, a ground speed of 486 mph (782 km/h), an altitude of 36,000 feet and a nice blue sky with scattered clouds out over the Atlantic. The good life.
At one stage of the flight, we were overtaken by this Delta jet. It appeared from behind and gradually overtook us off the right wing, some distance below.
The flight droned on and finally my early morning wakeup got the best of me. Despite the tight legroom and the barely reclining seat, I drifted off to a restless sleep for a couple of hours. I noticed through my half-sleep that the flight attendants passed through the cabin several times offering water. When I awoke fully, we were over the western Atlantic, off the coast of the Canadian Maritimes.
Before long, I noticed through a break in the clouds a piece of land emerging from the sea.
As we continued over Atlantic Canada, we climbed another 2,000 feet up to FL380. With about 700 miles (1,130 kilometers) to go until Newark, the flight attendants began the last food and drink service, which consisted of a wrap, a bag of chips and a piece of chocolate. The wrap, which was served hot, was tasty, although very small.
The drink cart reached me some time after I had finished eating; by that time I was well in the mood for a post-meal cup of coffee, which hit the spot nicely.
At 13:25 local time, about seven hours after lifting off from London, we began our descent into Newark. At that point, the screen in front of me indicated another 234 miles (377 kilometers) until landing and a remaining flight time of 38 minutes. We followed the Hudson River due south towards New York City; the next photo shows the town of Schenectady, New York, near the larger city of Albany.
I picked out the Schenectady County Airport below.
We continued south, passing near the Catskill Mountains, which were visible between the puffy clouds beneath the wing.
Meanwhile, one of the pilots came on the intercom with a final message and weather update for Newark. He indicated that we could expect gusty winds out of the north and a temperature of 28 degrees C (82 F). Soon we left the hills of the Catskills behind and the landscape gave way to the farm fields of northern New Jersey, just beyond the New York City metropolitan area.
We made a series of wing-dips over the Jersey suburbs while setting up for final approach.
As we dropped lower, I caught a glimpse of this small airport. I later identified it, thanks to Google Earth, as Lincoln Park Airport, a general aviation field close to the borough of the same name.
The flaps soon deployed as the aircraft slowed for the final stage of its long flight.
Finally, we made one final, slight turn to the right and I spied Newark Liberty International Airport ahead off the right side of the nose. It is visible in the next photo towards the upper-left corner of the frame.
The wings leveled as the narrow twinjet glided toward the runway.
Just north of the threshold of the runway we passed the Red Bull Arena, home of the New York Red Bulls of Major League Soccer. For all of my non-American friends who think soccer (football) is not popular in the United States, you can see that it is! It may not be the most popular sport of them all, but it still attracts a large following.
Meanwhile, the city center of Newark came into view.
We crossed the perimeter fence of the airport, passing over RWY 29, before settling in for a smooth landing on RWY 22L at 14:06 local time.
With that, another transatlantic crossing was complete—my 34th trip across the pond. We exited the runway to the right and taxied west toward the terminal.
We finally came to a stop at gate 126 at 14:20, about five minutes ahead of our scheduled arrival time. Good job, Continental!
Given the long fuselage and the single aisle, it took a while for the aircraft to clear out, especially from my seat at the back. About fifteen minutes after coming to a stop at the gate, I was finally out the door and onto the jetbridge. Once inside the terminal, a view of the aircraft was barely possible through one window. At least I managed to see it and get a photo of part of the aircraft, unlike from the strange, windowless labyrinth of a gate in London.
Once off the plane, it took another fifteen minutes to get to the immigration counters. The wait was nonexistent and I was soon legally in the US. Once at the baggage claim, however, I waited for 35 minutes for my single suitcase to finally roll off the belt, which at that point was over an hour after we had arrived at the gate. This was unacceptable in my opinion. Nonetheless, with my bag finally in hand, I proceeded through customs and into the terminal, where I met up with my girl who had arrived about an hour before. We then caught a cab to meet up with our friends to head off for a weekend in the Catskill Mountains. Below are two photos from our fun weekend near New Paltz, NY.
One of the highlights was the tasting room at Hudson Whiskey.
Now back to the flights. Based on this experience, I have generally positive things to say about Continental, although I realize the product I experienced was already beginning to be merged with that of United and was therefore not the “pure” Continental experience of the past. Below I have rated my experiences in seven different categories on a scale of 1 to 10. I am not considering my experience on Brussels Airlines in this evaluation, as my report mainly focuses on Continental.
Reservation & online services:
I was largely satisfied in this area. My itinerary was not for sale on Continental’s website, at least not for the cheap price I paid, so I purchased my ticket online at Expedia.com. And technically, this was a ticket issued by codeshare partner British Midland International (BMI
). However, as my six-digit reservation code from BMI
was not recognized by Continental, I called Continental to ask for their code for this reservation so I could select my seats online. I was immediately connected to an agent who was helpful and friendly; in addition to giving me the CO
code, she also helped me select my seats over the phone. I was able to monitor the seat map up until the day of departure and change my seat if desired. I was also able to check in on Continental’s website for the LHR
leg. For a ticket purchased through a third-party agent, and sold by a codeshare partner, I was satisfied with my experience working with Continental’s reservations system. SCORE: 8/10
Seats and cabin condition:
I was satisfied in this area. Although the seat pitch was fairly tight for a transatlantic leg, it was within industry norms. The cabin was in good condition, although of course 8 or more hours in a narrowbody aircraft is pushing the limit. Still, I did not find the narrowbody issue to be the major drawback that some people find it to be. It was generally acceptable. SCORE: 7/10
The cabin crew on CO
were average. I did not experience any rudeness or other difficulties, but there was very little personality to this group. They seemed to be acting as a team of robots. I have neither criticism nor praise in this regard. SCORE: 6/10
Food and drink:
The food and beverage offerings were average or slightly below. As this was a westbound flight, the catering was done in Europe, which in my opinion makes a big difference (a European-catered westbound meal is generally one notch above a US-catered eastbound meal, in my opinion). The lasagna was decent, as was the wrap prior to landing, but the portions were smaller and there were less items on my tray compared to what I have experienced on Delta on westbound transatlantic flights. SCORE: 5/10
This was one of the stronger aspects of my experience. The seatback screens were much better than those on United’s older transatlantic fleet, and there was a lot of good programing. Of course, I mostly watched the inflight map, but I also enjoyed some of the video features and music, as well. SCORE: 8/10
I waited for my bag for 35 minutes, and that does not count the time it took to disembark and make the long walk to immigration. Overall, it took over an hour for CO
to get my bag from the aircraft to the baggage belt. Moreover, there were just two international flights arriving at that time and the claim area was not busy at all. It should not have taken that long. SCORE: 3/10
Continental did a great job in this category, with my flight arriving just before the scheduled arrival time. SCORE 9/10
RESERVATION & ONLINE SERVICES: 8/10
SEATS & CABIN CONDITION: 7/10
CABIN CREW: 6/10
FOOD & DRINK: 5/10
INFLIGHT ENTERTAINMENT: 8/10
AVERAGE SCORE: 46/70 = 66%
In my final assessment, Continental, at 66%, offered an average transatlantic product as far as US airlines are concerned. In similar trip reports last year, I rated Delta at 71%, while United came in at 55%—so Continental more or less fell between the two. At the time of this flight, Continental was still a notch above its merger counterpart United; as a single airline, it will be interesting to see, over the long term, how United’s service is affected through the Continental acquisition. As for European carriers, Lufthansa, which I have rated at 82.5%, still occupies the top position in my assessment of transatlantic economy products.
Thank you for reading and I hope you enjoyed this report! Comments, questions and feedback are most welcome. Be sure to check back soon for my next trip reports covering the next legs of my travel, including out west to Montana, as well as a very unexpected itinerary for the return to Europe.
My previous reports on Airliners.net can be seen at:
Short & Long On LH: BRU-MUC-IAD, DCA-BOS-FRA-BRU (by BZNPilot Oct 30 2011 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: 3 Flights, 3 Countries, Many Pics (by BZNPilot Jun 13 2011 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 2: BZN-DEN-OKC-IAD-GVA-BRU (by BZNPilot Dec 3 2010 in Trip Reports)
Trans-Atlantic Part 1: BRU-ATL-SLC-BZN On DL (by BZNPilot Nov 15 2010 in Trip Reports)
A Bee-Line To Madrid: SN’s A319 & B733 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 13 2010 in Trip Reports)
YVR-PDX-BFI: Horizon + SeaPort's PC-12 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 6 2010 in Trip Reports)
Day Tripping: DCA-DTW-MKE-DCA On NW/YX (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 25 2009 in Trip Reports)
BZN-IAD On Skywest/Delta (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2009 in Trip Reports)
DCA-SEA + Boeing Field + Holiday Travel Odyssey (by BZNPilot Jan 3 2009 in Trip Reports)
CDG-FRA-IAD On AF/UA (Part 2, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-ORD-FRA-CDG On UA/LH/AF (Part 1, Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Nov 9 2008 in Trip Reports)
Planes & Trains To Montreal (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 18 2008 in Trip Reports)
IAD-DEN-BZN-ORD-DCA On UA Biz/Y (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Sep 12 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC-9+A320+738s On NW/DL To MT (pics) (by BZNPilot Aug 3 2008 in Trip Reports)
DC To Montana On NW (many Pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 15 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-ORD-DCA On UA In Coach (pics) (by BZNPilot Jun 14 2008 in Trip Reports)
HKG-MNL-HKG On CX (Business) W Pics (by BZNPilot Feb 25 2008 in Trip Reports)
Manila-Caticlan-Manila For New Years (Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 24 2008 in Trip Reports)
MRY-SFO-HKG On UA (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 2 2008 in Trip Reports)
DCA-PHL-SFO (with Pics) (by BZNPilot Jan 29 2008 in Trip Reports)
Northwest Tri-Jets To Germany In 1999 (Many Pics) (by BZNPilot Feb 5 2010 in Trip Reports)
Lama Chopper In The Montana Mountains (w Pics) (by BZNPilot Jul 21 2008 in Trip Reports)