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SFO-GVA on Continental BusinessFirst, featuring The Department of Homeland Absurdity

SFO-GVA on Continental BusinessFirst, featuring The Department of Homeland Absurdity

Old Dec 28, 09, 11:37 pm
  #1  
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Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Arizona, USA
Posts: 2,248
SFO-GVA on Continental BusinessFirst, featuring The Department of Homeland Absurdity

I wasn’t planning to write a trip report, but BizJet inspired me to do so.
Introduction

I hadn’t seen my sisters, among other family members in over a year. Despite limited time off, I managed to swing a Wednesday through Sunday trip to Geneva. My friends thought it sounded snobbish to fly to Switzerland for a weekend. Yeah, it probably is. Excuse me while I prop up the collar on my pink Lacoste shirt. More Perrier?

Continental once again offered discounted BusinessFirst fares, which made the trip more or less reasonable.

An Inauspicious Start
23 December 2009
Continental 349
SFO-EWR
Seat 1B

I checked in online, snagging my favorite seat on the 737. I hopped in a cab early in the morning, and set out for SFO.

Upon entering Terminal 1, I noticed that the line for security extended all the way to the opposite end of the building. A Continental agent was barking orders at the line of waiting passengers. I had no idea what she was saying.

After checking in, an agent said nothing, affixed a tag, and I headed off.

I wanted to wash my face and check my email, so I decided to use the President’s Club. Oops. The agent acted like I was trying to move up on the liver transplant list. My revenue international business class ticket and Star Alliance Gold status wasn't convincing. She finally relented and let me in.

The carefully-guarded club was dark and cave-like, but the WiFi was free. I stayed for just a few minutes.

To my relief, the Premier/Elite/FancyPants line for security wasn’t too long, about 10 minutes. I managed to escape undue scrutiny from “Team SFO,” such as their “all pat-downs, all the time” program.

Boarding was already underway, and I hopped on the full 737-900.
The crew were… how shall I put this? Very obviously from Newark. Their accents were as thick as their hair gel. But they were friendly, seemed to be enjoying themselves, and really seemed to care about what they were doing.

Above all, I was happy to take off on time.

There were no menus, and breakfast was just a one-tray deal. Usually it’s a bit more elaborate on transcons, but I wasn’t complaining. The choices were French Toast, eggs, or cereal. I chose the latter, which came with some unexciting fruit and a much more exciting cinnamon roll.

I watched about half a season of “30 Rock,” and we were there.

Newark
I wonder how much of my life I’ve spent in Terminal C.

The President’s Club was very busy, but I still found a seat. There was a long wait for a shower, but I still managed to do this. I just wish they had faster WiFi and better cell phone reception in there.

The staff at the President’s Club were friendly, chatty, and welcoming. The crowds were no problem; in fact, they seemed happy to be working.

A George Clooney Moment
Boarding was rather chaotic for my flight to Geneva. The agent was busy checking passports and boarding cards, barely looking up. As she scanned my boarding card, she said “Nice to see you again Mr. ____, we appreciate your business.” I would have found this pleasant had I not seen the movie. “Uh oh,” I thought, “No wonder I’m single. I’m THAT guy.”

23 December 2009
Continental 80
EWR-GVA
Seat 6D

Thanks to FlyerTalk recommendations, I chose 6D. I don’t really like the 767-400 cabin: it feels too big; I like the cozier 757-200 or the mini “B” cabin on the 777. I’m neither here nor there about the seat. I liked the absence of neighbors, easy aisle access, but I think I prefer not feeling in the center of everything.

The second I sat down, multiple crew arrived to take my coat, offer a menu, introduce themselves, provide amenity kits, etc.

They looked amazing: the 10 cabin crew looked sharp in their new blue shirts. Everyone was carefully put together, smiling, and organized. Again, they gave the impression that they really wanted to be there. The purser, José, welcomed everyone by name, and checked in periodically. There were two “speakers” in business class.

We had a lightning-fast taxi: I calculated it at 15 minutes! My last trans-Atlantic flight out of Newark had a six-hour delay on the ground, so this felt miraculous.

Service was prompt and carefully-orchestrated. The many courses were served in a fairly rapid succession.

The highlight of this flight was the food:
TO BEGIN
Warm roasted nuts with your preferred cocktail or beverage

HOT APPETIZER CART
A demitasse of creamy poblano and corn soup
accompanied by coconut shrimp and a vegetable spring roll
with mango chutney

SALAD and warm breads
Romaine and mesclun salad mix with hot house tomatoes,
mozzarella cheese and crispy terra sticks
Your choice of champagne vinaigrette or blue cheese dressing
Freshly baked garlic bread and assorted rolls with butter
MAIN COURSES
The Chef’s Selection
Braised beef short rib with bordelaise mushroom sauce,
spicy aji amarillo mashed potatoes, fine green beans,
baby carrots and cherry tomato
Southwest Breast of Chicken

Tamale filled breast of chicken served with ancho pepper
and corn sauce, roasted red and yellow tomatoes
and grilled yucca sticks
Seafood medley

Grilled striped bass and lump crab meat with cream sauce,
collard greens and grape tomato served over barley risotto

Pasta Bowl
Squash and asparagus filled tricolor ravioli served with creamy pomodoro sauce, green and white asparagus, roasted red pepper and grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese

FRUIT AND CHEESE cart
Select American and imported cheeses, grapes, assorted
gourmet crackers and bread, served with Port wine

DESSERT CART
Edy’s Classic Grand vanilla ice cream with choice of toppings
or an assortment of petite pastries

Pre-arrival REFRESHMENT
A selection of juices
Fresh seasonal fruit and yogurt
Swiss cheese, pepper-coated salami and ham cold plate
Assorted breads including cinnamon and crusty rolls
and warm croissants with butter and strawberry preserves
Despite cold nuts and cold bread, I kicked back two Campari and soda and kicked back.

The poblano soup was quite good, especially with one of my beloved pretzel rolls.

The salad was particularly good, featuring little crunchy terra strips. Loved it. I remember flying with my dad last year, who is not a man of superlatives. “They have the best salads,” he exclaimed.

I went for the new chicken, which was delicious. It had just enough kick. The only weird part was that the sauce looked mysteriously similar to the poblano soup (not that this is a bad thing.) I asked José, who explained that really weren’t the same. Hmmm. I wonder if anyone else has noticed a striking similarity.

Cheese was back on an actual cart. I wanted ice cream, so I passed this time. It did, however, look great. The sundae requires no further discussion. Mmm.

Maybe it was the Campari, but everything seemed kind of glimmering: the carts, the silver trays, the tea pots, the coiffed flight attendants in pearl necklaces.

I tried to watch some sort of awful movie and nodded off.

I awoke to warm, flakey croissants and cinnamon rolls. Glutton that I am, I had both.

José came around to thank everyone, wishing happy holidays, and we descended promptly after that.

We exited from 1L, and there was no line at immigration. A friendly Swiss guard exchanged cheerful pleasantries. Bags took about five minutes, and my orange tag was effective.

Arrival lounge
Since I needed to wait for some relatives coming in on a later flight, I decided to use the arrival lounge program. I’d never done this before. The concierge in Newark had already set this up, but I wasn’t sure where to go. I headed up to the ticket counter, where the BusinessFirst concierge provided me with a voucher to go to the Mövenpick Hotel at the Geneva Airport.

Although it’s a bit of a pain to wait for a shuttle bus and check into a hotel just like a regular guest, it was worth it. I was provided with a small room, very nice shower, Bogner toiletries, and Nescafé. It was the perfect way to kill a couple of hours.

France and Switzerland
I have family in both France and Switzerland, and we converged on the French side. We enjoyed excessive amounts of wine, raclette, Nespresso.

My family is a bit like the UN: the languages spoken in the house are French, English, Arabic, Spanish, Hebrew, Schweizerdeutch, German, and nonsensical combinations thereof. It sounds somehow glamorous and international on paper. It's not. We might be multilingual, but we were watching “Kung Fu Panda.”

After a painfully short stay, it was time to head back to America.

The Department of Homeland Absurdity
I had heard about the attempted explosion in Detroit, but hadn’t thought much of it. Ha ha. Oops.

The first thing I noticed was a leaflet advising me that there would be no inflight entertainment “for security reasons.” My brother-in-law had come in with me to the airport, and had my exact response: “...?” Were they planning to show subversive films?

There was a crowded line to check in, probably because the elite line was longer than the economy class line.

An ICTS agent, who looked like Irma Bundt (“Not ground, ice”), asked me the usual questions. I tripped her up by pre-empting her. She asked if I had any electronics, and I responded by saying, “I have my laptop, but it is mine, nobody else has access to it, and I have not had it repaired.” Bingo! No further questions. Works every time.

I was advised to go the gate immediately, and that no lounge access would be granted, even though it was close to two hours before flight time. This would be due to “very strict security checks.”

I was pretty much expecting a detailed hernia and prostate exam. (I don’t know why this bothers me… I mean… I do this to other people five days a week.) But this was not the case at all. There was a brief look inside my carry-on (i.e. one second) and a very ceremonial, quick pat-down. Irma, however, was being far more detailed with her passengers.

Unlike most flights from Europe, there was no second set of questions prior to boarding, and no random inspection on the Jetway.

27 December 2009
Continental 81
GVA-EWR
Seat 6D

The mood on board was tense. Passengers and crew were all baffled by the new rules. Some of the flight attendants admitted that they hadn’t even seen the fax themselves. There was a lot of drama about carry-on bags, since several passengers had to check bags that included valuables.

The purser, Doug, was a saint. He took everything in stride. He tried to smile, stay calm and cheerful, and used his best to maintain common sense. He had to make so many unfortunate announcements, including that we were would be forbidden from asking the crew what we were flying over.

The other crew were also clearly frustrated, scared, but really tried hard. All but one of them warmed up as best as they could. I can’t praise them enough for being good sports.

The food was once again quite good:
TO BEGIN
Warm roasted nuts with your preferred cocktail or beverage

HOT APPETIZER CART
A demitasse of morel mushroom soup accompanied by 
seafood-filled pastry and lamb kabob with coriander sauce

SALAD and warm breads
Mesclun salad mix with fresh tomato, sun-dried cherries,
galia melon and almonds
Your choice of balsamic vinaigrette or creamy yogurt dressing
Freshly baked garlic bread and assorted rolls with butter

MAIN COURSES
Please choose between a traditional lunch or brunch entree

The Chef’s Selection
Tenderloin of beef with Marsala sauce, steamed carrots,
sugar snap peas and vegetable potato au gratin
halibut and Shrimp

Seared halibut and grilled herbed shrimp with lobster sauce,
white and wild rice and seasoned broccoli

Pasta Bowl
Cheese lasagne accented by pomodoro sauce
offered with grated Parmesan Reggiano cheese
Brunch Entree
Crêpe filled with scrambled eggs accompanied by marinated
shrimp and salmon, pork sausage, vegetable potato au gratin,
sautéed champignon mushrooms, cherry pancakes,
syrup and warm croissants with butter and strawberry preserves

FRUIT AND CHEESE cart
Select European cheeses, grapes, assorted gourmet crackers
and rolls, served with Port wine

DESSERT CART
Vanilla ice cream with choice of toppings or a petite dessert cup

SKYSNACKS™
A selection of light snacks and refreshments
pre-arrival REFRESHMENT

Smoked salmon accented by savory dipping sauce
Fresh seasonal fruit

Sandwich wrap
Flatbread wrap filled with breast of chicken, grilled eggplant,
red bell pepper, sautéed onion, mozzarella cheese
and seasoned cream cheese spread

Accompanied by a pickle, kalamata olive, cherry tomato
and pearl onion
Chocolate

The soup was described as “leek and potato” on the right side of the aircraft, “scallop” on the left. I skipped it. The appetizers were actually “satay chicken” (delicious) and a seafood spring roll.

The salad dressing was vinaigrette or passion fruit.

I aimed for the pasta this time, which was fine. I actually prefer the domestic lasagna, but this was fine.

The service was once again speedy, organized, and careful.
After lunch, I watched “Munich” and a couple of episodes of “Glee.” I was fortunate that laptops were allowed on my flight, the EmPower, however, was shut off.

Despite the lack of formal inflight entertainment, there was a very cute passenger in 6E, which helped me pass the time. (Insert joke here about the “upright and locked position.”) Can I use Continental Currency to pay for THAT?

The pre-arrival meal was served ridiculously early. It was the weird chicken melt sandwich, accompanied by the good “Drei” something chocolates.

As discussed throughout the news media and here on FlyerTalk, no blankets, no pillows, no coats/sweaters, no bathrooms, carry-ons in overhead bins only, seats upright for the last hour of flight. I was allowed to read a magazine, but this was verboten on other flights. Never underestimate American paranoia.

Thanks again to Doug and his coworkers, they used that time to chit chat with passengers. The crew kept trying to smile, and not make us hate life for the last hour of the flight.

Newark Again
I was in the mood to strangle any Homeland Security employee, but the immigration officer was actually quite friendly. He was chatty, pleasant, and there were no hassles.

Bags took about 15 minutes, without too much of a delay for mine—especially considering that everyone seemed to have an orange elite tag.

Due to a flight change, I had to pick up a new boarding card for my connection. This turned out to be quite complicated, but the staff at the transfer desk were patient and accommodating. I asked if the new entertainment rules applied to domestic flights. They said “yes.” Uh-oh.

There's more to Newark than the airport
My other sister lives in New Jersey, so my five-and-a-half hour layover was a chance for the two of us to play.

We headed down to a predominately Portuguese neighborhood for coffee and chit chat. It made for a nice break.

Back to Terminal C
Expecting the worst, I mentally prepared myself for the TSA. (By “mentally prepare” I mean that I needed horse tranquilizers.)
To my surprise, there was a lengthy wait for ID inspection, but the actual security screening was brief and uneventful.

I headed back to the President’s Club, which was fairly quiet. Evelyn, one of my favorite President’s Club employees, wanted to know all about the crazy new rules. I think she thought I was exaggerating.

27 December 2009
CO349
EWR-SFO
Seat 3F

Boarding was a bit chaotic, and there was a seemingly endless wait on the Jetway.

Once on board, I settled into the spacious BusinessFirst seat. I looked up and breathed a sigh of relief to see that the inflight entertainment system was turned on.

After another relatively expeditious departure, we were on our way for a quite short 5:45 flight, leading to an arrival almost 60 minutes ahead of schedule.

Once aloft, the quiet but friendly crew passed out menus and headsets.
The menu was identical to the Newark-Geneva flight with a few modifications: the appetizer was “Chilled lobster tail with fresh dill and Dubarry sauce.” There was no seafood entrée, and no cheese cart.

I once again had the chicken, which was just as good as a few days prior.

The wonderful AVOD system was up and running, as well as the in-seat
power. I watched the remake of “Fame,” kicked back, and we were landing in no time.

We made another very quick taxi, and the long day of flying was over.
The bags seemed to take forever, but I think that’s probably subjective—I just wanted to get home.

Conclusion
Overall, Continental was great. There were a few snafus (some surliness at SFO, one crabby flight attendant), but the overwhelming majority of the ground and cabin crew were outstanding. They were faced with truly insane rules and high anxiety, but they rose to the occasion.

My flights were all on time or early, my bags made it everywhere, and I was happy to use a variety of “Elite Access” services, and the added benefit of a day room in Geneva.

Continental’s reputation for good food is well-deserved (I am still not convinced about the soup/chicken sauce distinction.) And I love flying on the BusinessFirst-configured 757s on transcon flights.

But right now… I don’t want to travel overseas until the TSA figures out a way to treat us like adults. I could go on for hours about their problems, but we’ll save that for another day.

I have several transcons over the next few months, and I'm looking forward to flying on Continental for those.
Mats is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 8:01 am
  #2  
 
Join Date: Apr 2008
Location: Ireland
Programs: Aerclub
Posts: 200
Thanks for the Trip Report. I am travelling SNN/EWR in March in Business First for the first time and this is very helpful to get an idea of what to expect.
mumha abu is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 9:18 am
  #3  
 
Join Date: Jul 2000
Location: Kuala Lumpur
Programs: AA Plat for Life, Starwood Platinum, HH Gold
Posts: 591
A really great report, thanks.

I'm on CX from KUL-HKG-JFK return in F (en route to New Orleans Mardi Gras and other places) in late January,and hope things have calmed down somewhat by then!
VanMan is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 9:33 am
  #4  
 
Join Date: Dec 2001
Posts: 3,131
I avoid CO from GVA to Newark because:

1. The food in Y is a disaster. The worst of any airline. At least AA have made an effort to improve the meals.
2. Lunch is served at 10AM which is pathetic.
3. The flight from GVA leaves at 9.15AM which means getting up at 4AM for me.
Bretteee is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 11:40 am
  #5  
 
Join Date: Jul 2005
Location: New Egypt NJ
Programs: UA 1K, Hilton Diamond, SPG Plat
Posts: 2,922
I went for the new chicken, which was delicious. It had just enough kick. The only weird part was that the sauce looked mysteriously similar to the poblano soup (not that this is a bad thing.) I asked José, who explained that really weren’t the same. Hmmm. I wonder if anyone else has noticed a striking similarity.
That's funny, I had the chicken on CO68 EWR-ARN last week. I thought the soup and the sauce were the same too, again not a bad thing it was quite good.

Thanks for a great trip report.
adelauro is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 1:53 pm
  #6  
 
Join Date: May 2002
Location: Moreland Hills (CLE)
Programs: Over-entitled UA 1.3MM Gold, AA Gold, Hilton Diamond, Hyatt Discv, Marriott Plat, Hertz PC
Posts: 5,503
Great report....enjoyed reading it.
Billiken is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 1:59 pm
  #7  
 
Join Date: Jun 2004
Location: Los Angeles
Programs: AA EXP
Posts: 626
Great report! i am glad i am not traveling till next month
exc3ll is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 8:37 pm
  #8  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Programs: UA, AA, VS, SQ, AS
Posts: 190
Thanks for the very detailed trip report!

Sorry about no IFE (groan)..... What possible damage could allowing the in-flight entertainment cause on an international flight? Mind-boggling futile rules....

Hopefully this gets sorted out soon and they come to their senses..... ;D
putongo is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 8:40 pm
  #9  
 
Join Date: Dec 2005
Programs: UA, AA, VS, SQ, AS
Posts: 190
Never underestimate American paranoia.

Ain't that the truth......
putongo is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 8:52 pm
  #10  
 
Join Date: May 2007
Location: San Diego
Programs: UA 1K, HH Gold, SPG Gold
Posts: 4,073
thanks for the TR, it looks like I might be doing some CO segments next year to Europe. great to read someone's experiences.
UCBeau is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 9:33 pm
  #11  
Original Poster
 
Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Arizona, USA
Posts: 2,248
Putongo,

I had the same thought. What movies were they planning to show?

The issue was that the TSA had banned Airshow (the moving map display.) Since this is completely linked to the audio, video, and in-seat power systems, everything had to be shut off.

Fortunately, that rule has been rescinded, and inflight entertainment has resumed--as far as I can tell.
Mats is offline  
Old Dec 29, 09, 11:17 pm
  #12  
 
Join Date: Mar 2007
Location: TSV, Australia
Posts: 2,363
Thanks for an interesting trip report. That other passenger must have been pretty cute to be that interesting .

I wonder if reading novels is allowed, being that they are smaller than a magazine?
camsean is offline  
Old Dec 30, 09, 4:21 pm
  #13  
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Join Date: Sep 2001
Location: Arizona, USA
Posts: 2,248
Maybe they'll allow TSA-approved novels.

They can change the plot lines to encourage "security:"

Oliver Twist is identified by a behavior detection officer and learns his lesson.

Hester Prynne gets a red "A" on her boarding card, indicating that she is an adulterer and a "selectee."

Nick becomes suspicious of Jay Gatsby and reports him immediately to the Department of Homeland Security.
Mats is offline  
Old Jan 2, 10, 11:03 am
  #14  
 
Join Date: Nov 2009
Location: NYC
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Posts: 235
Excellent TR -- thank you...and sorry you had to go through Security Theater.
ThatJohn is offline  
Old Jan 21, 10, 9:48 am
  #15  
 
Join Date: Apr 2003
Location: CLT
Programs: AA ExPlat, Hyatt Globalist, Bonvoy Lifetime Titanium
Posts: 1,421
Originally Posted by Mats View Post
Maybe they'll allow TSA-approved novels.

They can change the plot lines to encourage "security:"

Oliver Twist is identified by a behavior detection officer and learns his lesson.

Hester Prynne gets a red "A" on her boarding card, indicating that she is an adulterer and a "selectee."

Nick becomes suspicious of Jay Gatsby and reports him immediately to the Department of Homeland Security.
haha this made me laugh out loud.
beofotch is offline  

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