Saturday, March 29, 2008

Heathrow Inaugural: Newark Liberty, Newark NJ (EWR) to London-Heathrow, London England (LHR)

CO28 29MAR08 Newark Liberty International, Newark NJ (EWR) to London-Heathrow International, London Heathrow (LHR) 7:25p 7:30p+1 777 N76010

Flight Time: 5:45
Seat Map

As I set foot on the plane, I was greeted by a flight attendant who pointed me to my aisle seat. This airplane has 50 seats in BusinessFirst and 235 in Economy class. The BusinessFirst cabin is divided into two with 18 seats in the second cabin and 32 in the first. In the BusinessFirst cabin, there is a power outlet at every seat and no adapter is required to use it. Economy class has two per set of three seats.

I got to my seat and settled in my BusinessFirst seat, trying to temper my excitement. I said hello to my seat mate and found out he was also flying this flight for the heck of it. He intends to return to Newark on the 4:00p flight on 30MAR08; my backup flight in case I do not make it on the 11:15a Houston flight.

A flight attendant came by and offered to take my jacket to which I of course agreed. On my seat was a blanket with a headset encased in plastic as well as a brown object in a white foamy covering. It was an Inaugural gift of a brown wooden tea and cookie holder. I glanced at Economy class and it looked like they had a passport holder. The words "Continental Airlines Inaugural Flight to London Heathrow March 29, 2008" was emblazoned on it.

Passengers continued to board commenting on how nice the seats in the BusinessFirst cabin looked. I was offered a menu with today’s fare and an amenity kit. I remarked that this is a new kit and the guy next to me says that he thought that this was the first flight on which this kit was being used. Nice!

The lead flight attendant came by and greeted us by name and introduced himself, saying that he is here to serve us and advise if we need anything, please do not hesitate to call on him.

At 7:02p, the captain gave his welcome saying that he is very excited to have us on board this inaugural flight. He said the weather in London Heathrow is rainy and the temperature is in the mid 40s. No surprise there at all.

A flight attendant came by and took my dinner order; I chose the grilled halibut with buttermilk ranch dressing.

At 7:12p, the gate agent gave a thank you from the Newark agents and shortly after the door was closed.

The safety video started and played on in English. We left the gate a minute early and headed out for the runway. It was 7:51p when that nose gear left the tarmac; we were bound for London Heathrow in 5:45.

Takeoff was sweet as we crisscrossed the New York area , making a nice left hand turn and getting a superb view of the New Jersey/New York area and the elegant George Washington Bridge, then heading out for the North Atlantic.

A few minutes after takeoff, the lead flight attendant welcomed everyone on board once more and detailed the service for tonight.

Refreshing hot towels were presented at about 8:11p followed by a table cloth being placed on the chair tables. I had a choice of Chablis or a California white which was served with warm assorted nuts (cashew, almond and pecans).

The Captain came on the PA at 7:20p and announced that we were at our cruisin' altitude of 35,000’ and that we would be 30 minutes early…Having been to Heathrow many times, I was skeptical as I know that we can arrive there and have no gate space available. It would be good if I was wrong this time around though.

A flight attendant then came through with a place setting of butter, salt and pepper and warm bread plus a napkin and cutlery.

While we ate, I could see and hear CNN's Richard Quest making an entry for his soon to be aired program, saying that this flight is a big deal and somewhere out there is Northwest and Delta following us into Heathrow.

For entertainment tonight, we have the audio/video on touch screen demand system with the choices below. I did not really choose anything, but just kind of wrote a bit as well as soaked up the service:

  • Movies (339 including August Rush, Bee Movie, Batman Returns )
  • Short programs (178 including 30 Rock, The Class, Everybody Hates Chris, House)
  • Music (213)
  • Games (26)
  • Flight map
You really cannot get bored on this flight as you have so many entertainment choices and all on demand. Just remember, you can hit pause when you go to the restroom or the flight attendant brings you something. It took me a while to get used to that.

A demitasse of lobster bisque accompanied by raspberry and brie cheese wrapped in pastry and Thai chicken satay, served with peanut sauce was served next. I ate it all as it was so good (sorry about the 1/2 eaten bread below).

A salad of fresh field greens, romaine and Belgian endive with cherry tomato, goat cheese and pecans with my choice of buttermilk ranch dressing arrived next and more offerings of breads.
By now, we were just about to start our crossing; this is weird as when you fly from Houston to London, you have a little more time before you start to cross the Atlantic Ocean. Usually, I'm asleep by then, having eaten and watched at least one movie. I've done this route before and it always weird me out due to its short length.

The main course was a choice of veal osso bucco, herbed breast of chicken, Manicotti Florentine pasta bowl or grilled halibut. I chose the latter (Herb-crusted halibut and char-grilled shrimp with lobster sauce, stewed artichoke hearts, roasted red tomatoes and fine green beans).
A helping of fruit and crackers and cheese followed. I was not feeling up to the cheese and crackers, so just had the fruits shown below.

Dessert came in the form of Edy's classic grand vanilla ice cream with strawberries and cherries. I could have also had whipped cream, nuts and chocolate fudge as well as caramel. Plus tea/coffee and/or an after dinner drink, but I declined all the extras.

As we neared Ireland, you could see the crested moon out the window; at 35,000' it seems as if you can reach out and touch it.

With 1.5 hours to go, we were awoken for breakfast and given a hot refreshing towel. Next the table cloths were laid and an offer of juice was presented. I had some apple juice as opposed to orange.

After the service Landing cards were hand out for non-EU citizens about 0:47 minutes from landing. An arrival video was also shown minus the airplane of course since this was the first flight in. It highlighted the facilities and advised what to do on arrival.

The Captain advised of the weather which was 48F. He also said that we had no gate assignment as yet and we were 0:45 from touchdown at this point. We began to prepare for landing Heathrow, here comes your first "Open Skies" flight.

You can see the turn we made as we got sequenced into the Heathrow landing pattern.

As I was in the middle, I was not able to see much outside, but it was foggy anyways. As we got closer to the ground, I could see some airplanes and hangars below. It was foggy and the ground was wet. My seat mate had moved to the window in order to get a better view. This was his first time into Heathrow and his first time in London.

Heathrow Inaugural: Ribbon cutting in Newark, NJ (EWR)

29MAR08 Newark Liberty International, Newark NJ (EWR)
At about 6:00p welcome and hello was said by the Newark hub VP. There was a Senator, a NY/NJ Port Authority and a representative from the U.K. all present. They all spoke including the President of Continental. It was all over by 6:30p with a ribbon cutting ceremony, then boarding commenced.

Heathrow Inaugural: The party at Newark Liberty

Passengers are invited in for some eats and drinks while they wait for the flight. All they have to do is present their boarding passes.

A band, Shabby Road, is playing Beatles songs it is quite cool... Boarding starts at 6:30p.

Here is Richard Quest's take on it all [CNN Video].

Heathrow Inaugural: The preparations continue

The President arrives to check things out.

"Big Ben" with the departure time...

Heathrow Inaugural: The aircraft is at the gate

29MAR08 Newark Liberty International, Newark, NJ (EWR)
The aircraft arrived at the gate at about 2:52p local time.

Heathrow Inaugural: Arriving in Newark, NJ (EWR)

29MAR08 Newark Liberty International, Newark, NJ (EWR)

We touched down at 12:05p with a bump as we were battered on the landing due to what I think were cross winds. The stabilizers on the wing were working overtime to doing their jobs. We landed on that runway that is parallel to I-95 heading into the city of New York.

I could see the usual fare in Newark at this time of the day; El Al's Boeing 777-200, Jet Airways' Boeing 777-300ER and a host of Continental jets all around.

We had to pause to cross the parallel active runway to allow an ExpressJet to take to the skies as well as a Q400.

Continental Express' Embraer ERJ-145 taking off

Continental Connection Colgan Air's Bombardier Q40 taking off.

After that, we headed to our gate and slowly pulled in at C-98.

It took about 15 minutes to start the de-boarding process for some reason. In the meantime, I just waited and watched takeoffs and landings from my window.
Continental Express' Embraer ERJ-135 taking off.

An American Airlines (AA) MD-80 taking off.

A Continental Airlines (CO) Next Gen 737 taking off.

A wingleted Bowing 757-200 positioning.

Eventually, it was my turn and I quickly exited.

As I walked out, I noticed that this airplane was destined for Hong Kong at 3:00p. Its routing so far had been, Houston to Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE) on Thursday night, then the return trip on Friday night, then my flight and now off to Hong Kong (HKG), simply amazing...

I saw a cordoned off area and figured it must be by gate 90 for the inaugural flight later. Indeed it was, as they are preparing with some decorations, etc.

I continued on and saw some additional decorations as well. I thought, let me go see what the check-in areas are like.

On my way there, I saw Richard Quest from CNN fame walking back, I guess he is going to check out the gates and something tells me he will be on my flight today. What a job to have? I thought. The last time I saw him was in Singapore (SIN) for the Airbus A380 first flight on October 25, 2007. Today, maybe we will be on the same airplane making history together once more.

At the check-in areas, they have special areas setup that says "Heathrow Guests." How cool.

Today is really a major milestone in aviation History you see. For eons the U.S. has lobbied for additional carriers to fly into London-Heathrow and it was finally granted and today is the day Continental, Delta and Northwest begins the flights that will showcase their livery at Heathrow for the first time ever. American and United were the only two carriers with this right for eons. Continental has the honor of being the first airline to land at 7:25a tomorrow March 30. If all goes well, I'll be on that flight.

Here are the three first flights of these carriers:
  1. Continental 28 - Newark Liberty, NJ (EWR) to LHR 7:25p 7:30a+1 777
  2. Delta 1 - New York-JFK, NY (JFK) to LHR 8:55p 9:25a+1 767
  3. Northwest 28 - Minneapolis, MN (MSP) to LHR 9:30p 12:15p+1 333
So, it is a great day in aviation history!

Continental's actual first flight from Newark to Heathrow is CO18 at 9:00a arriving at 9:15p, but it does not operate today, it starts tomorrow.

I made my way back through security after check-in in at a kiosk. It was neat to see London-Heathrow on a boarding pass with a non-codeshared Continental flight number on it.

The flight is actually not showing on the Flight Information display just yet.

I then went to the Presidents Club to have a much needed bite to eat. For now I wait until the celebrations begin later today.