Let’s be honest here. When United and Continental Airlines merged in October 2010, I really could have cared less. Yes, I do fly often, but like most consumers, I didn’t see how it would affect me personally. Now over a year later, I can see how it affects not only me, but all travelers. As airlines merge, they cut flights, reduce the number of planes available in and out of certain airports, and all of this ends up meaning less choice and higher prices. We’ve seen the cost of flights increase and fewer seats available on flights all the while the airlines are telling us about the great choices we have. I’m still waiting to see these choices.
Regardless of how I might feel about getting ripped off by the airlines, I pushed those emotions aside and decided that my husband and I needed to do something different for New Year’s. First Night in Boston is fun, but I wanted a different experience. Here’s what we decided to do: We are going to spend New Year’s in a different city each year starting with the letter A. First up is Amsterdam! There was one thing we knew for sure, which was that we would fly Business Class to Europe. Since we were leaving the day after Christmas, we knew flights might be expensive, but we had to go Business Class. My husband is 6′ tall and those long flights kill him squeezed into such a small space. Add to that the person who sits in front of him on any flight usually ends up reclining their seat way back upon take off, which results in one uncomfortable spouse on a very long trip.
Our son stayed with my in-laws for the week while we packed our bags and headed off to the airport. We parked in Central Parking at Boston Logan International airport and made our way inside the terminal. I checked in online, but didn’t print my tickets and so we went to a ticket agent to check in and check our bags. For whatever reason, the United ticket agent said we could only get our tickets for the first leg of our flight to Washington (IAD) and had to get the ticket for the leg to Amsterdam at IAD. Strange, but what can you do? We checked our bags and made our way to the United Club lounge where we were turned away because we aren’t “members.” The woman at the desk was rude and refused to listen to anything I had to say and instead of arguing with a stranger about how she was wrong, I wanted my trip to start off right and walked away. We walked over to UFood Grill and grabbed a couple of veggie burgers since we hadn’t had lunch. For what it’s worth — the veggie burgers are microwaved Boca Burgers and not worth the price they charge you. However, when you’re hungry you’ll probably pay for anything. We didn’t have to wait long to board our short, 1 hour and 50 minute flight to IAD. After checking in at the gate, we were able to get tickets and enter the United Club without issue. Our layover was a short one and before we knew it, it was time to board the flight to Amsterdam.
With two seats on each side of the aisle in Business First compared to three seats on either side of the aisle in coach, I wasn’t about to complain about the extra room. The pitch in Business First is 55″ vs. 31″ in coach and the seat width is 20″ in Business First vs. 17.2″ in coach. They boast about their lie flat seats and I have to say, they were pretty nice. Then again I can sleep just about anywhere and was able to sleep on both flights without issue while my husband fought sleep at every turn. The leg room, wider seats, USB port, outlet, headphone jack, and large personal monitor for watching movies or TV shows were nice. The negatives include the small amount of space for your feet under the monitor and really no place to put your belongings in front of you although there is sufficient room to put a few things behind your head. The little ledge in front of you by the monitor states that you can’t have anything stored here during takeoff and if you do, you’ll get to see them fly around the cabin so do be careful. My biggest problem ended up being both the food and the service in Business First. I certainly don’t choose business class because of the food, but when the food served in Business First is probably worse than that in coach class, you know things are bad.
Our flight to Amsterdam was uneventful. Service was subdued and the flight attendants were professional, did their jobs, but didn’t do anything above and beyond the normal and I wouldn’t exactly call them friendly. They kind of reminded me of bank tellers. You know, you go and get your money, but they do it hundreds of times a day and by the time they get to you they have lost any interest in what they are doing altogether. I was ok with that because I wanted to sleep the majority of the flight. The in-flight entertainment was abysmal with few decent choices and a majority of really bad ones. I was able to watch Glee: The Movie and an episode of CSI: NY, but that was about it. They, of course, had a cable for sale in their duty free magazine which you could connect to your iPhone, iPad, etc. and watch on the screen, but really? I have to pay for that? Never mind — I’ll just sleep, thank you very much.
Apparently, I must have slept through everything on my flight to Amsterdam as I didn’t take any photos of the food, but my return flight was worthy of pics. Our flight was at 9:15 am and this is what they served me. Yes, that’s their “vegetarian meal.” Of course, it was served after the appetizer course, which was some sort of spongy vegetable terrine that makes another appearance later on in this flight. Suffice it to say this tray went back to the flight attendant the same way that she brought it to me. That my friends is canned peas, carrots, and green beans over Minute Rice with a couple of tomatoes, broccoli, and a pretty parsley garnish. I don’t serve food like that at home and I’m not about to eat it in Business class. I’m not try to sound snobbish or elitist, but c’mon. It was insulting enough to look at, but to serve it in the morning? What is wrong with these people? When the flight attendant came by and took my tray, she didn’t ask if there was a problem with my meal. Could be because she was too busy engaging in arguments with every other flight attendant on board in front of passengers or because she was in a tremendous rush to complete the most minimum of duties before disappearing entirely from service. Between the main meal service and the last meal service, the flight attendants in coach were the ones working Business First because this flight attendant went MIA. When she asked me a question about beverages, my ears were popping and it was loud in the cabin, and I couldn’t hear her. She rolled her eyes at me and repeated herself. I couldn’t believe the lack of maturity and professionalism that this flight attendant possessed. It was truly appalling.
Remember the spongy vegetable terrine they served as my appetizer after boarding the flight? Well, it made a second showing as part of my sandwich in what they served about an hour before landing. The food and the service was completely lackluster on both international flights in Business First on Continental. After returning home, I did contact Continental by email and explained the issues with the flight attendant as well as the food. Their response was actually no response. This is what they said:
Thank you again for taking time to let us know about your recent experience with Continental Airlines. An Electronic Travel Certificate has been issued to you valid towards the purchase of one electronic airline ticket, where eligible, on Continental up to $100.00.
No apology, no “we’re contacting the flight crew to discuss this situation and make sure it doesn’t happen again,” nothing. Clearly customer service and retention of customers is not a priority otherwise their response could have and truly should have been different.
If I had paid for an Economy class seat and received this type of service, I hate to admit it, but I probably wouldn’t have been surprised. Service has been deteriorating for years and we all know it. However, when we sacrifice on a daily basis to enjoy our travels, including paying the extra money to fly in Business class, this type of situation is alarming. I had to make quite a few sacrifices in order to afford these tickets and I don’t feel as if the quality of the service matched what I paid. Next time my money will go toward an airline who can provide the service that I expect. Personally, I neither could recommend Continental, which is in the process of being called simply United, nor will I ever choose them first over other airlines.
What’s your favorite airline for First or Business Class? I want to know! Feel free to comment and share your experiences with others here.