The two soon may be one, but I had a chance to try out Continental’s Hawaiian service recently from LAX-HNL and provide this report to compare their service to United’s on the same route.
Last year, Continental began 737-900 service from LAX-HNL. Unlike other Hawaiian routes on Continental, this aircraft features standard domestic Business Class seating and therefore complimentary upgrades are offered to Continental elites. As a Continental Platinum, my upgrade cleared at the five-day window.
I chatted with the Captain briefly before boarding and he shared that because of the fuel capacity on the 737-900 and additional cargo on the Hawaiian route, the number of passengers was restricted on the flight. True to his word, while Business Class was full, Economy was less than half full. Many had their own rows. This is not a good flight for VDBs, but a great flight if you are stuck in Coach. Not only is a complimentary meal provided, but it appeared that everyone behind the curtain got to stretch out a bit. My uncle had the exit row to himself and enjoyed more legroom than I did in row two.
While waiting in the President’s Club before the flight, I noticed Beth and Duane Chapman, from Dog the Bounty Hunter. I suspected they were either coming from Honolulu or returning and as it turned out, they were seated right behind me. I’ve read about their antics on Continental Hawaiian flights before, so I was hoping for a little ruckus onboard, but other than their loud cell phone conversations, they were well-behaved.
photo courtesy: popscribe.com
Dog dozed off right away and I had to turn on my Bose headphones to drown out his snoring, even with the engines roaring.
Prior to pushback menus were distributed. When giving the menus to Beth and Dog, the purser stated that the Chapmans would have first choice and to let her know if she could make their flight more comfortable. They each requested a Diet Coke and she scurried to galley to accommodate their request, even though we were minutes from takeoff. When she returned, both stated they wanted the steak with the asparagus removed. The purser smiled and said, “Not a problem.”
I’m all for taking care of the high revenue customers, but if you’re going to fawn over the Chapmans, why not fawn over every passenger in the cabin?
Although the 0945 departure was a bit early for lunch, the menu was impressive:
Meal and drink orders were taken front to back after takeoff. The steak and pasta went quickly and quite a few passengers, including my seatmate, ended up with their third choice: the chicken. The chicken option sounded very tasty to me actually, but I wanted to give CO’s steak a try.
No hot nuts, which was a disappointment, but the lobster appetizer and garlic bread were exceptional. Unlike United, CO also doesn’t stock mai tais.
The main course was great too. The steak was pink in the center and the steak + potatoes + asparagus were filling and flavorful.
Best of all was the ice cream sundae at the end. This is truly what I miss most on UA.
As for IFE, the aircraft was was equipped with satellite television and looping video. Because the flight was overwater, the satellite TV was turned off, but there was a decent selection of movies and television programs to choose from. AVOD would have been better, but I enjoyed watching Amelia and a couple House episodes. CO also had power outlets in each Business Class seat which was greatly appreciated.
Service was disappointing. While the purser continued to fawn over the Chapmans and the flight crew took turns coming up and requesting pictures with Beth, service was rushed and the purser did not have a smile on her face. While she was attentive during meal service, she disappeared after and was not diligent in keeping glasses full for the last 3.5 hours of the flight.
Flight time was scheduled for six hours and I thought CO was just padding their schedule, but the flight indeed was almost six hours. We landed in HNL on time and the purser was too busy chatting with her co-worker to thank passengers for their service as they departed.
Many of United’s Hawaiian flights, including this one, feature HNL-based crew, who I generally find to be great. The purser on this flight was an older man who had been flying with United for nearly three decades. He was professional, astute, and friendly.
No menus on United. Breakfast was served and was nothing to write home about. I like United’s omelets, but compared to Continental’s extended meal service on a flight departing less than an hour later, United could really improve in this area. The other choice was a fruit plate with yogurt.
On United flights from the mainland to Hawaii, a “Halfway to Hawaii” game is played in which the Captain shares information over the PA including takeoff and landing times, air speed, and wind speed and passengers are given the chance to guess at what time the plane will be halfway to Hawaii. A prize is offered to the winner, currently a CD with Hawaiian music. I won the contest and received a package of Mauna Loa nuts and a $10-off coupon for Hilo Hattie (the old prize).
There are not individual entertainment units on Hawaiian flights; movies and short subject programming are shown on overhead monitors and projected on the bulkhead walls of each cabin. With a friendly crew and Channel 9, I didn’t mind the lack of choice. The emPower units were turned on, but UA really needs to update their premium (and Economy) cabins with electrical power.
We landed early in HNL.
To compare a lunch flight to a lunch flight, I’ll also include this review from last year:
The purser was a middle-aged guy from LAX and not as friendly as the HNL-based members of the crew. Meal service was rushed and everything was served on a single tray–quite a difference from Continental’s multi-course lunch service.
There were hot nuts and mai tais, but the main course (chicken or pasta) left much to be desired.
Recall that this flight was over a year ago and since then, United has re-introduced Trader Vic’s meals for lunch and dinner on Hawaiian flights. From recent reports on Flyertalk, meal service has improved on the route.
Again, with no conventional power outlets and poor IFE choices it is advisable bring along a good book to read unless you want to chat with the flight crew. I haven’t done it lately, but on this flight I sent up a note to the Captain thanking him for making channel 9 available. I got a nice note back along with an invitation to visit the flight deck upon landing in HNL.
Maybe a CO pilot would have done the same thing, but it’s the little things like that which have kept me loyal to United.
Seats: United (they’re very similar–I just happen to prefer UA’s cloth seats to CO’s leather. 777 > 767 on UA in terms of seat width)
Aircraft: United (though remember my comments above–even with E+ on UA, I would take CO if I knew I was traveling in Economy due to their 737-900 weight restrictions)
Despite the exceptional meal, IFE, and power outlets on Continental, faced with a choice between UA and CO I would choose UA. While some are quick to dismiss FA interaction as a specious and jejune reason to choose a carrier, I really like UA’s HNL-based crews and would go with UA for that reason alone. Channel 9 and hot nuts help too…
Okay, okay, I’m one of those who don’t think FA interaction should breed loyalty to an airline 😀
@Gray: No really?! 🙂
Notice I used a couple fancy words just for the English major! 😉
On CO, they don’t ask for your first and second choice of meal. They generally go front to back in a first-come first-served basis. v
@Fozz: On this flight, the FA was hopping around the cabin. There were four rows in First Class and she came to me first in row two. It is true that she was keeping track of the number of each choice left as she took the orders, explaining why a second choice was not asked.
Was thinking about taking this flight. Did they have individual IFE monitors in Coach as well?
@Sher: Indeed they did on CO.
united inflight meal service is just plain bad all around – FC JC domestic and Int’l …..no creativity and grumpy old crew…..can anyone tell me why United just doesn’t try to compete? Some people certainly fly for great service, i do
I have fond memories of that route in Continental/SkyTeam days, as I recall it was a bit confusing which were nonstop between Honolulu and Guam and which were the full Island Hopper. The service was very relaxed and informal, and a touch festive. Not being a flying junkie the hops were only interesting for the people watching.