Friday, November 19, 2010

Going for Platinum - Part 3, Los Angeles to Honolulu Continental First Class CO173

After arriving from Auckland I had quite a bit of time in transit so I wandered the terminal and did a bit of plane spotting. It constantly amazes me how many 757s you see around the USA as well as the masses of CRJ and ERJ's. Neither of these are seen very often at all around Asia and Australia.

My next leg would be on a Continental Boeing 737 in First Class. This is a pretty long 737 flight at about 5 and a half hours, certainly the longest 737 flight I have been on so far. Today my flight would be operated by N35204, a ten year old 737-800 delivered new to Continental in July 2000.

LAX Terminal 6 - Continental's pier! My aircraft to Honolulu is third from the camera.

After a bit of spotting and lunch at Wolfgang Puck,  it was time to check out the President's Club for a cup of coffee and a snack. The lounge was very quiet at this time and I found a spot with access to a powerpoint and a view out the window. I wanted a shower but there was none in this lounge.

President's Club - LAX

President's Club - LAX

I spent a bit of time watching some videos on my laptop and having some cheese and crackers (there isn't much else food on offer!). I wasn't in the mood for alcohol at this point so I didn't make use of the complimentary bar service. After a while I decided to head to the gate area...

LAX Gate 66 - Honolulu

I noticed the seats around the gate were mostly vacant! I had expected to see quite a large crowd waiting for the flight but it was pretty much a ghost town. There was a Frontier flight to Denver boarding nearby, the other gates were all empty.

Boarding for First Class was called soon enough and I was one of the first on board...

 Seat Pitch - Reasonable

Seatback Satellite Television

I was happy to see that this aircraft was equipped with Continental's 'DirecTV' system. This system supplies a number of live to air satellite television stations as well as some other stations which run on a loop system.

Satellite only works for a short time after you leave the coast and head across the Pacific Ocean, but you can still watch the non-live channels once out of range. The system accepts credit cards and I think the cost was a reasonable $5 or so, for First Class it is free.

DirecTV Controls in the Armrest

So after browsing the TV channel listing I decided I was pretty happy with the entertainment options on this flight! It was then that I noticed the screen was showing this text at the bottom :

Unfortunately the system seemed to be having an issue connecting to the satellites and despite the crew attempting to reset it numerous times, it never worked... for the entire 5 hour 30 min flight! ARGH! The purser decided to shut the system down so we didn't have to stare at the white screen the whole way. I was pretty disappointed but decided I could get my laptop out and watch some TV shows on that anyway... at least there was inseat power!

While that was all happening the First Class cabin quickly filled up, I heard a girl behind me saying she had been offered the upgrade for some insanely low amount of about $50 or so... for that price why wouldn't you upgrade? But then again, judging by the passenger load in the economy cabin, everyone would have had 3 seats to themselves up the back anyway. The economy load was under 50 passengers by my estimate.

About to Push Back

First Class Seating
The purser came around to each passenger and took pre-takeoff drink orders. This was a nice touch, we didn't simply have to just pick a drink from a tray... they were made to order. I took a vodka & orange...

Menu's were handed out and there was a choice of 3 mains... steak, chicken  or pasta. I selected the steak.

Soon after takeoff we were offered a bag of mixed nuts, sadly they were not warmed and put in an individual bowl (like on American). I took a glass of white wine with it. Service I would rate as good, with my wine glass regularly topped up and the 2 crew serving First Class being quite attentive and friendly!

To Begin...

Chilled Lobster with Dubarry Sauce - Salad Mix with Mozzarella Cheese - Garlic Bread

Grilled Steak with Mashed Potato

The food was good and I thought the presentation of the main course was very good! It was also nice to see metal knives in use. Common sense prevails!

After the mains were cleared away, we were offered a sundae with a choice of sauces. I took a chocolate fudge sundae with nuts but no cherry. The flight attendant commented that it's not a true sundae without a cherry on top, but she left it off anyway...

Chocolate Fudge Sundae with Nuts

This was immediately followed by coffee and tea... served in a nice big mug.

During the meal I struck up a conversation with the passenger beside me. He was a Hawaii resident returning home and a frequent flyer too. We had a bit of airline discussion and at this point we worked out that with the DirecTV system switched off the inseat power was also not functioning. My laptop was not going to last the trip on battery power alone, so we asked the purser over to discuss the problem. She said there was no way to have the inseat power enabled with the PTV's disabled... quite a stupid design problem in my opinion. She felt that having the white screen on in front of all passengers was a disturbance and she didn't want to have the system powered on as it might bother other passengers. I told her that it was more of a bother having nothing to do on what was a mostly daylight flight and not even being able to use our laptops as entertainment. Eventually me and my seat partner won the argument and power was restored. I don't think I heard anyone complain too much about the bright white screens in front of them.

At some stage during the flight the crew handed out State of Hawaii plants and animal declaration forms:

These forms, once completed, were simply handed back to the crew. There was no need to hand them in to any body on the ground.

As we flew towards the sunset I snapped this shot, with a nice perspective of where day meets night:

I was happily watching Seinfeld episodes on my laptop for the next couple of hours. Eventually the smell of cookies in the oven started wafting around the cabin. Yum! They were double choc chip and quite delicious:

The captain came on the PA and announced our descent would commence shortly. We were running just a little behind schedule and weather in Hawaii was about 28 degrees celsius and fine! Great!

After a routine landing I disembarked  and walked through the open air terminal walkway getting my first whiff of Hawaii air. It was a beautiful night. The open air walkway gave me a nice opportunity to snap a photo of our bird for this flight:

Although this was a long flight on a 737 I found it to be quite comfortable. The seats were good but they lacked a foot and leg rest which is a shame... but seems common around the USA in domestic first class cabins. The crew serving First were no spring chickens but they were both friendly women who still seemed to enjoy their jobs. I don't have any other Continental flights to compare this one too, but I was pretty happy with the service I received. The food was better than I expected too.

Here is a few shots around Waikiki! Next up is American Airlines first class on the Boeing 767-300 to Dallas.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Going for Platinum - Part 2, Auckland to Los Angeles Air New Zealand Business Class NZ6

I had just landed in Auckland following a fabulous flight as reported in Part 1. The next flight was 'NZ6' from Auckland to Los Angeles on board a Boeing 747-400 in seat 6A, Business Class. 

With a couple of hours to spare it was off to the international Koru Club for a quick shower and a drink.

Auckland Koru Club Shower Room

Auckland Koru Club Shower

After a very relaxing and refreshing shower I went to explore the facilities. The lounge features a very extensive selection of beers along with the expected New Zealand wines and the usual spirits. There was hot food available but I was really full from the previous flight and with a big dinner ahead on the plane I just had a ginger ale. The lounge seemed quite spacious too. There are some seats which feature some partial tarmac views which is something I like.

Drinks Fridge



Lounge Surroundings


Tarmac View From My Seat - The 747 tail to the right is my flight

Whilst I was sitting in the lounge chatting on Facebook there was an announcement made, it was the inflight manager from NZ6 introducing himself! I was really impressed by this. He said he would be coming around to answer any questions we might have prior to the flight. I had never come across this kind of personal service in a lounge before and it was a very memorable touch which really made Air New Zealand stand out.

Soon after I decided to head to the gate...

Lounge Departures Board

ZK-NBT preparing for NZ6 to Los Angeles

Flight Information Display

There was a fairly long security line for US bound passengers, it took about 15 minutes or so to get through. I arrived at the gate and found a great view of my aircraft. Today's flight was to be operated by ZK-NBT, a 20 year old Boeing 747-419 named 'Kaikoura'. Air New Zealand's oldest Jumbo.

Boarding had already commenced and I proceeded down the jetway to Door 2L. Once again I was warmly greeted and directed to the left with the crew member saying 'Welcome to our Business Premier Cabin'. Nice!

I walked through the 2nd business class cabin and into the nose section which was completely full and I was the last passenger to arrive in that area. Each seat had an amenity kit with a drawstring bag, wine and food menu on the ottoman, as well as bottled water beside the seat. As I was placing my bag in the overhead one of the cabin crew came over to ask if I was familiar with the seat and if I needed to know how to operate it. Having worked it out on the previous sector I said I was fine.

Amenity Kit and Menus

The 'exclusive' Boeing 747 nose

Within moments one of the 2 male crew members serving my area was at my seat confirming I would like a glass of 'Bubbles' as my welcome drink. Of course I said yes!

View From My Window

Cute Amenity Kit

Menus - The Wine Guide is huge!

Looking Out From My Seat


I put my headsets, amenity kit and water bottle in this area behind the seat

Flight time was announced by the captain as 11 hours and 30 minutes. He expected smooth flying conditions en route although cloud and rain was forecast in Los Angeles the following morning. We were soon pushing back and making our way to the runway. It was pretty cloudy in Auckland tonight and shortly after lift off we entered a cloud layer:

Climb Out

Blue Skies

Once we were in clear skies the seat belt sign was switched off and the crew came around taking drinks orders. I stuck with Champagne. We also were offered some canapes and warmed nuts. 

Sunset During Dinner

The meal service commenced shortly afterwards, I chose the Beef. Meal service went like this:

Taking Orders For Main Course

Some Turbulence During Dinner

Two of the Lovely Crew, Wine In Hand

The meal was fabulous from start to finish. I enjoyed every course! The sauvignon blanc I was drinking with it was going down a treat, I wish I knew which one it was but I have forgotten. It sure was nice though. Afterwards I decided to try and get some sleep so I stood up and pressed the bed button, the seat back does a complete flip and looks like this:

Along with the pillow and duvet there is a bed cover to place over the seat. All up it makes a very nice flat sleeping experience with quite a bit of privacy. I was very content tucked up in bed with my seatbelt over the duvet just in case the seatbelt sign went on whilst I slept.

My Bed

Tucked Up in Bed Crossing the Date Line, 9 hours 13 mins to LA

Almost exactly 7 hours later it was time for breakfast. I hadn't slept the entire time, I did wake up and watch TV for an hour or so halfway through, but I was very refreshed none the less. The bed was very comfortable and leaps and bounds ahead of any angled lie flat business class I have tried.

To start breakfast hot towels followed by a fruit smoothie were on offer:

Good Morning!

Breakfast was served from a trolley and you could pick and choose what you wanted. On offer was yoghurts, fruit salad, fresh fruit and a selection of cereals. I started with orange juice, coffee, and fruit salad with boysenberry and blackberry yoghurt. It was very good! The crew were continually topping up coffee and tea and making sure all passengers were well looked after.

From the bakery I had a few pieces of fruit toast, the first time I had come across this in the sky and it was great! For my hot breakfast I had the cheddar and chive scrambled egg, chicken sausage and mushroom ragout. It was one of the best egg dishes I'd had on a plane too.

On each long haul Air New Zealand service there is always an 'inflight concierge'. This one flight attendant is able to provide advice to passengers of any class on sightseeing, tours and other destination information. During breakfast our inflight concierge put a message both over the PA and as text on the inflight entertainment system that if anybody had long transits at LAX they could offer suggestions on short itineraries available in the Los Angeles area. Very nice touch indeed.

As we were approaching North America it became quite cloudy outside. The crew cleaned up from breakfast and I freshened up in the lavatory making use of the amenity kit. All too soon we commenced our descent and entered heavy cloud with quite a bit of rain streaming past the window.

On Descent

On the Ground in LAX

My First Sighting of the New UNITED livery

As we taxi'ed to the gate I felt a little sad. My Air New Zealand flight was over already! I had always heard they were great to fly with but I left this aircraft absolutely and totally impressed. What a great way to spend 12 hours or so. The crew were delightful, the food was magnificent. I hope to have a chance to use them again very soon!

Parked at the Gate at LAX

Next up in this trip is Continental Airlines domestic first class from Los Angeles to Honolulu. Stay tuned!