Friday, January 13, 2012

Israel Trip Report Part 2 - United #90: Newark, NJ (EWR) to Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)

Trip Report – Israel 2011
  1. United #1273:  Orange County, CA(SNA) to Newark, NJ (EWR)
  2. United #90:  Newark, NJ (EWR) to Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)
  3. Tour of Jerusalem and Bethlehem
  4. Tour of Caeserea, Rosh Hanikra, and Acre
  5. Tour of Petra
  6. Tel Aviv
  7. Grand Beach Hotel Review
  8. United #91:  Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV) to Newark, NJ (EWR)
  9. United #311:  Newark, NJ (EWR) to Denver, CO (DEN)
  10. United #403:  Denver, CO (DEN) to Orange County, CA (SNA)

Part 2 – United #90:  Newark, NJ (EWR) to Tel Aviv, Israel (TLV)

Continental Boeing 777-200ER
Seat:  1L
Cabin:  BusinessFirst
Date: 01/12/12
Scheduled Departure:  8:25pm
Actual Departure:  9:19pm
Scheduled Arrival:  1:55pm (01/13/12)
Actual Arrival:  2:37pm (01/13/12)

I’ve been to Newark Liberty only once before on a quick mileage run last November.  At that time, the airport was fairly dead since it was the early morning hours of a Sunday.  Arriving at 5:00pm on a Thursday evening presented a much more chaotic seen.  On top of all the normal traffic you now have people running for their connections because of all the weather delayed flights.  My incoming flight was in the same terminal as my flight to Tel Aviv so I headed towards Gate C138 and stopped into the United Club on the way.  The club was fairly crowded but I did find a seat in the work carrel area.  I had to try a few different ones as the power outlets were not all working.  I hydrated with some water knowing that I would be consuming a fair amount of wine on my flight and snack on the measly offerings available:  cheese, crackers, snack mix, and some fruit.  One of the greatest benefits of an airline club membership is the better seating and complimentary wireless internet.  While my seat was comfortable, the wireless that night was abysmal.  I was finishing up some work emails before heading off the radar and it took nearly 20 minutes to send out three emails totaling 40kb of data.

All flights to Israel require additional security screening prior to boarding.  I left the United Club early to leisurely walk to the gate and go through the security line.  On my way I stopped off at Brookstone hoping that they would have an adapter for Israeli power outlets since they are not standard with other regions.  Thankfully they did have one in a  three-pack of regional adapters which also included one for South Africa and one for Italy.  If anyone ever needs to borrow one, let me know.  The additional screening included a passport check, bag check, and wanding.  Once completed there is a “secure” seating area for passengers to wait looking out at the plane which would shortly take us on our trip.  The 777-200ER outside the window was a Continental equipped Boeing 777-200ER, one of the few that is painted in the Star Alliance livery rather than the standard Continental / United globe tail. 

Secure Boarding Area with Our Ride Behind

Boarding started about 20 minutes later with BusinessFirst passengers allowed to step onto the plane.  I was third in line to get on and headed towards the front of the plane towards my window seat, 1L.  Continental’s BusinessFirst cabin is a bit of a misnomer.  At the time of its conception it was thought of a cabin that bridged the typical international first and business class cabins.  Now though, it is essentially a business class product with fully lie-flat seats (180 degree / horizontal) similar to what United offers on their aircraft.  The seat itself is comfortable with plenty of width to accommodate me with extra space to scoot around and great leg room.  A 15.4” personal monitor is attached to the seat or bulkhead in front of the seat with a remote located on the side of the seat.  Seating controls are easy to use with large buttons that you press to recline sections of the seat or to make the seat go horizontal.  The first row of seats in the cabin have a little more legroom than the other since they do not have seats in front of them. 

Legroom / Ottoman at My Seat

Profile of Continental BusinessFirst Seat

I opted for sparkling wine as we were sitting on the ground waiting for everyone to board the plane.  During this time I took the opportunity to review the menu provided and to explore the In-Flight Entertainment system and get an idea of what I would want to watch on the flight.  Two episodes of Top Gear were on the system (I’ve found Top Gear on most of the AVOD IFEs lately) and watched the Botswana special until we were ready to take off.  Boarding was taking a long time and after a while we were still sitting at the gate.  Finally one of the crew addressed the plane stating that we were waiting for passengers to arrive that were delayed by the weather.  While I appreciate that they held the plane since the next flight to Israel wouldn’t be until the next night, the cabin crew could’ve done a better job of keeping passengers informed and keeping my glass full.  No extra water or drinks were offered for the hour we stayed on the ground.  I feel that the crew should’ve at least come around once to see if we needed anything.  I was able to finish the episode of Top Gear and a Simpsons episode before we even pulled away from the gate.  

Chef's Bio

Appetizer and Entree Selection

Dessert Selection

Drink Selection

The menu for the late dinner service looked appetizing and I chose the Bordeaux red over a Cote du Rhone and Washington State Cabernet.  A small ramekin of warmed nuts was handed out to whet our appetites.  It held plenty of almonds and only a few cashews.  I would’ve preferred a reversed ratio.  The wine was a very good blend of the traditional Bordeaux grapes: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, and cabernet franc.  The appetizer was a salad with a creamy parmesan pepper dressing which definitely had a kick of pepper in it.  I tried the sesame crusted tuna pastrami which actually wasn’t that bad.  It was salty and savory without the fish taste.  The black halibut and smoked salmon combination was disgusting (the orange-ish thing below the tuna).  I took one bite, swallowed, and downed wine as a chaser.  The salad itself was good and fresh.  One item missing from the photo is a piece of excellent garlic bread.  A great fresh, warm slice of bread with just a little butter and plenty of garlic.  It was so good it didn’t last before the salad arrived for me to take a photo.

Salad with Creamy Parmesan Pepper Dressing, Sesame Crusted Tuna Pastrami, and Black Halibut & Smoked Salmon

The sirloin steak was decent.  As with most steaks on flights it was well-done and a bit dry.  The steak sauce and herb butter helped add quite a bit of flavor and moisture to the steak but it would’ve been so much better if it was prepared as medium.  The pepper crust on it was good.  The asparagus was a little wilted and tasted as if all the nutrients had been cooked out of them and the onion potato hash was good.  The best part of the dish was the creamed spinach.  That side was probably the unhealthiest part of the plate but it was delicious.  I saved that for last.  Again, the toast didn’t last long enough for a picture.

Grilled Sterling Silver Sirloin Steak with Garlic and Herb Butter, Steak Sauce,  Creamed Spinach, Asparagus, and Onion Potato Hash

I moved on to the cheese and fruit plate once the entrée course was complete.  Three cheeses were on the plate: two slices of swiss, two slices of cheddar, and a circle of brie.  I spread the brie on the crackers before snacking on the cheese slices.  The grapes didn’t last long after that.  The port that was served was decent – not too strong yet not too fruity.  

Fruit and Cheese Plate

The last course for the night, dessert, was rolled around the cabin on a cart.  It was a build your own sundae.  The flight attendant asked what toppings you wanted and she put it all together right there for you.  All I wanted was some whipped cream, fudge, and a cherry on top of my ice cream.  She must have liked me since she gave me 4 cherries.  I enjoyed a second glass of the port with the sundae. 

Ice Cream Sundae

During dinner I was watching Moneyball.  It finished about the time that dinner was complete which was about 2 hours after we took off from Newark.  I reclined the seat into the lie-flat position and tried to get a bit of sleep.  One of the great things about the seat is that I fit at 6’2”!  I could lay flat and I didn’t need to bend my legs at all.  I know the foot space is greater in row 1 and I will see how different the second row foot space is on my return flight.  I think that the Continental BusinessFirst seat feels more spacious than the United business class seat although the United seat has better padding and is more comfortable.  Both are much better than Lufthansa business class seats (and the older Swiss business class seats ) as they recline flat but are angled at about 160 degrees.  I tend to slide down as I sleep on those seats.  I managed to get about 6 hours of sleep on the plane which was a perfect amount.  I didn’t want to sleep too much as we would be arriving in the afternoon.  I woke up at the perfect time as we started going through heavy turbulence over Austria and Hungary.  We were bouncing around the plane for about 20 minutes and it was better for me to be sitting up and more stable for that.

Breakfast was served about an hour and a half outside of Tel Aviv.  I started off with orange juice and then promptly turned my nose up at the first course:  smoked salmon with caviar and cream cheese.  I moved it around with a fork and was not interested in even trying it.  The fruit and yogurt were a good start to the meal though.  The bread plate is empty because they hadn’t based out the pastries yet, not because I scarfed down more garlic bread. 

Smoked Salmon with Caviar and Cream Cheese, Fruit, and Yogurt

The main breakfast course was very good.  The eggs were the weakest as eggs are always difficult to get right on a plane.  They easily turn rubbery or chalky.  Combining the egg with the spinach and bell pepper was very tasty.  The broccoli and potato gratin was very good as well, although a bit better texture would’ve been nice.  It was a bit too much on the mushy side.  I also had a warm cinnamon roll with breakfast. 

Cheese Omelet with Spinach, Bell Pepper, and Broccoli Gratin Potatoes  

The cabin crew was very friendly.  While I was waiting to use the bathroom in the front of the cabin I was chatting with one of the attendants who is Israeli.  I was sharing my plans for my trip and she was excited that I was going to Petra.  Although she is from the region, she had never been but heard great things about it from other flight attendants who had been there.  She also warned me that it would be pretty cold in Jerusalem since it is up in the mountains.  Good thing I packed my jacket.

The approach into Tel Aviv was smooth despite rainy weather in the area.  We landed and taxied to the gate.  Ben Gurion International Airport looked interesting from the outside, but the inside it even better.  The design is very airy and utilizes sandstone cladding to great effect.  I was a little surprised that passport control and customs were so lax.  I was expecting to be asked questions and have my bags looked at but I was at the passport counter for maybe 2 minutes at most.  No questions asked.  And then I was through to customs where I waited about 5 minutes for my bad to arrive.  A few minutes later I was outside fighting the crowds to get to a taxi. 

Ben Gurion International Airport

The taxi stand was a quick walk from the arrivals exit.  I waited a few minutes for a cab and then headed off to my hotel.  The weather was starting to get worse and eventually rained on the drive into the city.  The weather didn’t seem to faze my taxi driver as he was speeding and winding in and out of traffic honking his horn as he went.  I thought NYC taxi drivers were bad, but this guy took the cake.  130 New Israel Shekels for payment and I was at my hotel, the Grand Beach Hotel Tel Aviv.  I will have a review of the hotel later on in this trip report, but a preview would be that I miss Hilton brands already.  This hotel already is hitting on a few of my pet peeves.  More on that later. 

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