Friday, January 13, 2012

Israel Trip Report Part 1: United #1273: Orange County, CA (SNA) to Newark, NJ (EWR)

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. Arkia Flight and 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 1:  United #1273:  Orange County, CA (SNA) to Newark, NJ (EWR)

Continental Boeing 737-700
Seat:  2A
Cabin:  First
Date:  01/12/12
Scheduled Departure:  7:45am
Actual Departure:  8:41am
Scheduled Arrival:  3:58pm
Actual Arrival:  5:03pm

Arriving at John Wayne Airport in Orange County is incredible routine now, but I am used to booking one of the first flights out in the morning.  The curfew on flights before 7:00am means that every airline and every gate has a flight scheduled to depart at 6:45am in order to get a position in line on the taxiway awaiting the top of the hour.  Security lines are always the longest between 5:45am and 6:15am, yet thirty minutes later the lines are clear.  When I arrived at the airport this morning at 6:45 there was only one person in front of me at the Continental counter.  I went against my standard MO and actually checked my suitcase.  I am a bit of a control freak and value getting in and out of an airport quickly so I nearly always carry on my bag, but this time I decided to relax and not worry about toting the suitcase around – and pray that it actually makes it to Israel!  Only 4 people were in front of me in the TSA line so getting screened was fast and then I was off to the gate. 
Continental, now United, operates the longest flight out of Orange County services Newark Liberty International Airport.  This flight is a great option for a one-stop connection to all of the European destinations from EWR.  I’ve never taken this flight before and I typically fly United operated flights.  One of the upsides of Continental’s fleet is the availability of DirectTV (for a fee in economy class) and power outlets on most of their 737s.  The downside, in comparison to United, is a lack of a premium economy product which I need in order to have enough legroom to enjoy a flight.  Thankfully, all legs of my trip to Israel will be in a first or business class cabin.  Although the two airlines are now merged as a company, many aspects of operations including crews, reservation systems, in-flight experience, etc. are not merged.  For clarity, I will still be referencing both Continental and United as if they were still different airlines.

Boarding began smoothly with everyone in the gate area starting to line up.  I was the first passenger on the plane and settled into my seat around 7:20am.  The first class cabin was mostly on board and other elites were boarding when the gate agent made us deplane due to an Air Traffic Control hold.  Weather in Newark was causing numerous delays already in the morning and with all of the rerouting of landing slots at EWR, our time had to be pushed back.  We were told that our departure time was now scheduled for 9:00am.  Not an auspicious start to my vacation!  John Wayne Airport does have a United Club although I have never been in it.  While I will typically stay in an airline lounge during delays, I wanted to stay at the gate in case our ATC hold was changed to an earlier time. 

We were allowed to start boarding again at 8:20am and the plane filled up quickly.  Continental’s first class cabin on the 737-700 is equipped with more of an older recliner style seat which feels very upright.  It was actually a little uncomfortable unless you have just a touch of a recline on the seat.  One upside of the seat is that the headrest is flush with the seatback.  United’s first class seats have a headrest that sticks out which is rather uncomfortable with someone of my size as they dig into my shoulders and back when lowered (which is required during takeoff and landing).  Legroom was decent for a domestic first class service and the DirectTV was great.  I started watching Match Game on GSN right after I sat down and then transitioned to Food Network in between a quick nap.  

Legroom and Personal TV Screen

Service on the flight started promptly with a pre-departure beverage and drink service when the plane leveled off.  The purser provided a hard copy menu for us to view as he took our drink orders.  Once drinks were distributed, I opted for a mimosa, breakfast orders were taken.  I like the menu handout; it makes the flight experience feel a little classier.  One point of service that I received on my last few United flights was being addressed by name when asking for my meal preference.  It is a small gesture, but it is a gesture that the airline and crew care more about you.  It was missing from my Continental flight.

Breakfast Menu

I opted for the cinnamon swirl french toast with pork loin.  The french toast was good although several of the edges were hard due to cooking then reheating in the aircraft oven.  The pork loin was a welcome protein but it was very salty.  The fruit bowl was tasty and included a slice of mango, and being the carb lover that I am, the freshly warmed croissant was my favorite.  I will give Continental high marks on their in-cabin bread.  They offer croissants, blueberry muffins, and cinnamon rolls with breakfast and all look and taste fresh.  

Cinnamon French Toast with Grilled Smoked Pork Loin

We encountered some turbulence over the Rockies but other than that the flight was very smooth.  After breakfast and a couple mimosas I took a nap.  I may have been asleep at most for a couple hours.  Our pre-arrival snack started being served shortly after I woke up.  The cabin started smelling good even before the purser started passing out the white chocolate macadamia nut cookies from the oven.  I also opted for a small glass of milk to accompany the cookie.  I felt like a kid again.  The cookie was very good and probably the right amount of sugar to pick me up.  I will say that it was not as good as the fresh baked cookies that Midwest Airlines served on their flights.  Those cookies were amazing.  I don’t know if they still do that now that Republic/Frontier owns them. 

Cookie and Milk!!!

Descending into Newark was slightly bumpy but we were on the ground quickly.  New Jersey was very gray, drab, and damp.  I was hoping this would not be foreshadowing what my weekend would look like in Israel as the weather report was calling for rain.  

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