While the New York City airline market is one of the nation’s most competitive, transcon routes are particularly cutthroat. Delta, American, and United are all vying for your business out of JFK and offer an enhanced product to SFO/LAX, with premium meals and international-style seats.
Continental, with a hub in Newark, serves many West Coast cities and does not offer a special product on LAX/SFO routes, but still offers a soft product a cut above other carriers on standard transcon routes.
United and Continental will eventually be one, but until the merger happens you still have a choice when flying between the West Coast and the New York City area. Even after the merger, UA will likely still offer their Premium Service product to JFK. I recently had the chance to try out both products in business class, and offer the following thoughts.
United utilizes specially-configured B757s on JFK-SFO/LAX routes. The plane features three cabins and offers angled lie-flat seats in first class and a few extra inches of legroom (34″) and power ports throughout the economy cabin.
The leather business class seats are identical to UA’s old cloth international business class seats, still available on most internationally-configured 777s. One notable difference is that rather than a built-in IFE system, business and first class passengers are offered portable media players that feature 10-15 movies as well as an assortment of music, television programming, and games. Economy passengers have only overhead monitors.
photos courtesy of United Airlines (unitedps.com)
Meal service is a cut-above other transcon routes, even UA’s EWR-SFO route. The following menu and photos are from a JFK-SFO flight a few months ago, departing in the afternoon.
TO BEGIN:ASPARAGUS, SHAVED PARMESEAN, & APRICOT COUSCOUS SALADFRESH SEASONAL GREENSWith cherry tomato and yellow bell peppersServed with your choice of dressing:Caesar or Asian Sesame DressingMAIN COURSES:BARBECUE CHICKEN BREAST WITH BROWN SUGAR HICKORY SAUCE
Fresh dill and buttered potato wedges, sauteed zucchini and yellow peppersSALMON CAKES WITH PEPPERCORN HORSERADISH REMOULADE
Herbed rice pilaf, haricots verts with onions and garlicREUBEN SANDWICHShaved corned beef, sauerkraut and emmenthaler cheese on rye bread served with oven-roasted fingerling potatoesDESSERT:STRAWBERRY AND GRAND VANILLA ICE CREAMWith a choice of hot fudge or mixed berriestopped with toasted almonds and whipped creamWARM CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES
The meal was tasty, though mySmoothies are no longer available. The salmon cakes certainly weren’t the best I’ve ever had, but they were acceptable and filling. The ice cream sundae after lunch is always an appreciated dessert.
Service is also a notch up on p.s. routes, most of the time. I have had a bad crew occasionally, but UA’s JFK-based FA’s are generally attentive and friendly. The JFK-based pilots, for some reason, rarely make ATC communications available on Channel 9, including on this flight.
Continental utilizes a variety of aircraft on their transcon routes, though primarily 738s, 737s, and 753s. Some aircraft are equipped with individual IFE screens at each seat featuring DirecTV, though it seems like its a crapshoot as to whether your flight will have them or not. My Newark to Santa Ana flight was on a 737-700, featuring 12 leather business class seats with no power or individual IFE units.
photo courtesy: airliners.net (737-800 w/ 16 First Class seats)
Like United, printed menus were distributed and the food was tasty. CO does not offer hot nuts on this route, unlike UA. Furthermore, while FAs ladle dressing on your salad on United from a silver bowl, CO includes a package of croutons, cheese, and a tub of dressing on the tray–not the most attractive presentation. But the main course on Continental was better than on UA. The chicken was flavorful and moist–dare I say fresh.
Roasted nuts with your preferred cocktail or beverage
Smoked salmon, black halibut and sesame coated tuna pastrami with Wasbi mayonnaise sauce
SALAD AND WARM BREAD:Hearts of romaine with cherry tomatoes and kalamata olivesOffered with Classic Ceasar dressing
Freshly baked garlic bread and assorted rolls with butter
MAIN COURSES:THE CHEF’S SELECTIONGrilled Sterling Silver® sirloin steak with garlic and herb butter, Delmonico’s Original steak sauce and creamed spinach, onion hash brown potatoes and fresh green asparagus spearsCAJUN-STYLE BREAST OF CHICKENHerbed chicken with spicy Cajun cream sauce, white beans with chicken andouille sausage, mustard greens, and grilled cipollini onionsPASTA BOWLWild mushroom and squash filled spinach roulade served with roasted tomatoes, sautéed red bell peppers, kalamata olives, four cheese béchamel sauce and grated Parmesan Reggiano cheeseDESSERT:
Vanilla ice cream with choice of toppings
Fresh Brew® gourmet roasted regular and decaffeinated coffee made exclusively for Continental Airlines or tea with your choice of milk or lemon
Service, at least on this CO flight, was exceptional. Unlike water, orange juice, or champagne on United, the bar was open and I was offered any drink I wanted prior to takeoff. The purser was extremely attentive and engaging and monitored the cabin the entire flight.
The FAs could not get the overhead IFE to work on my CO flight, so passengers were left with no audio or visual entertainment for the flight, unless they brought it themselves. I had a book along so it didn’t bother me too much, though I was a bit disappointed that nothing other than a quick apology was made. On United, an IFE-outage like that would have netted me a $250 voucher.