Tried & Tested

Continental B777-200 BusinessFirst

13 Jul 2008 by Ciprian Hirlea

FIRST IMPRESSIONS: This direct long-haul service to New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, the global gateway of Continental Airlines, started in 2001. The carrier’s other US hubs are its Texan base of Houston and Cleveland (Ohio), while Guam is its Micronesian hub. It is the only daily, non-stop service out of Hongkong serving Newark Liberty with a flight time of less than 15 hours. (Alternatively, Cathay Pacific offers twice-daily direct flights to New York’s John F Kennedy.) An eight-minute helicopter transfer to either the Wall Street or midtown Manhattan heliport in collaboration with US Helicopter, is complimentary until March 31 for BusinessFirst passengers travelling from Hongkong and Beijing. (A one-way costs from US$159.)

BOARDING: I arrived Chek Lap Kok at 8.40am for my 10.25am flight CO98. Check in was at aisle D. We were on our way to Immigrations minutes after being processed swiftly and advised that BusinessFirst passengers could proceed to the Dragonair lounge near gate 16.

By 9.15am, we were at the lounge having breakfast. The crowd was fairly small at the lounge, which was also open to passengers of Asiana Airlines, Royal Brunei Airlines and Continental Micronesia. The breakfast spread included Chinese soup noodles, pastries and drinks. Boarding time was 9.35am, although we did not reach gate 23, which was a seven-minute walk from the lounge, until 10.03am.

Once onboard, I located my aisle seat 5E, had my drink order taken and was served instantly. All the other passengers were seated and attended to, thanks to a cabin crew who was relaxed and approachable. A round of newspapers including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and South China Morning Post followed. An announcement in English and Cantonese informed us ?that the flight time would be 14 hours and 41 minutes.

The aircraft peeled away from the platform at 10.25am as scheduled, and we were airborne about 10 minutes later.

THE SEAT: This Boeing B777-200 aircraft has 235 Economy seats and 48 in BusinessFirst, with the latter boasting a 2-2-2 seat configuration. Each BusinessFirst sleeper seat measures 22 inches wide and stretches over six-and-a-half feet long when reclined to 170º. One-touch position controls set the seat on fully extended (for lie flat), cradle or upright mode. Privacy hoods, back lumbar support and legrest and foot extension controls serve their purpose and the side reading light attached to the seat helps reduce glare better than the light over head, as I discovered during lights off.

The audio/video-on-demand (AVOD) system in both BusinessFirst and Economy Classes on the first of the B777 fleet was launched in April 2007, offering a 10.6-inch screen and over 250 movies, 300 short-subject programmes, a 150-CD jukebox, 25 videogames and the interactive Berlitz World Traveler foreign-language programme. Installation is under way and the new AVOD system will be available on the entire B777 fleet. But at the time of travel, this Newark-bound aircraft was not yet equipped with the system.

Other seat amenities include laptop PC power port (located below the middle armrest section on the front of seat) and a large seat-front pocket. A quick survey of my own confirmed my suspicion that most passengers used this storage space for shoes, although the cabin crew who approached me at the start of the flight said I could stow my carry-on there. I didn’t.

THE FLIGHT: Lunch and a pre-arrival light meal were served on this flight. The smoked chicken breast and salad drizzled with vinaigrette worked up my appetite for lunch, however, I did not finish my main of grilled tenderloin steak, leaving the tough half untouched. While the herb-sautéed mushrooms and mash potato ?that accompanied it were good, the asparagus and carrots were overcooked. Fruit and butterscotch-slathered vanilla ?ice-cream with almonds rounded up my first inflight meal. Four hours into the flight, it was lights off, signalling snooze time. But I chose to work on my laptop while listening to my iPod for over an hour until I succumbed to fatigue.

About an hour and a half to arriving at Newark, the light meal was served. Choices included congee with fried soy fish and black beans, which left me satisfied.

ARRIVAL: The landing announcement was made at 12.55pm and touchdown was at 1.15pm, way ahead of the scheduled 2.05pm arrival at Newark Liberty’s Terminal B. We were at Immigrations by 1.25pm. The flight culminated with a shuttle on the Sikorsky S76, which departs from gate 71 of Terminal C for Manhattan, providing distant views of the iconic Statue.

VERDICT: If there was anything to fault, it would be the overdone steak. The cabin crew’s positive attitude was commendable and more travellers from Asia will be able to benefit from this when Continental’s non-stop Shanghai connection launches in 2009.

PRICE: Internet rates from US$9,742 for return on BusinessFirst in early April.


Julian Tan

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