Asia, the Long Way: United BusinessFirst Newark to Copenhagen

When I was booking my trip in December, I was squeezed by two factors:  Limited advanced business class award availability and increasing swaths of fuel surcharges on many Star Alliance carriers for Aeroplan awards.  For the outbound leg, the former was a larger problem than the latter, as I wound up scouring every United, Swiss, Singapore (before the good new days of occasional JFK-FRA J award availability), and, yes, even US Airways-operated transatlantic city pair for award availability.  Even as the search dritfted towards fuel surcharge-imposing carriers, Lufthansa and Air Canada, my options were limited.

While it was not perfect, I came across UA 122 from Newark to Copenhagen, operated by a premerger Continental 757-200.  I wasn’t particularly thrilled by its 5:30PM departure at the time of booking, but it was a lie-flat, fuel surcharge-free seat across the Atlantic on the day I wanted to fly.  United announced yesterday that the route would be cut in September.

Three months later on the day before departure, I glanced at my email around 6PM and thought “I should remember to check-in soon” and pulled up my Aeroplan itinerary to be reminded of the departure time.  It’s somewhat fortunate I did think to check-in, as I would have probably not considered leaving my office until the plane was already taxiing.  Somehow, I had thought my flight was around 8:30 or even 9PM.

Therein lies the problem with this flight and many transatlantic flights for that matter in my book:  It’s too early if you’re loosely sync’d to the eastern time zone.  For our particular flight, FlightAware says it arrived at 7:17 CEST or 1:17AM EST.  Ordinarily, I’d consider going to bed around 1 or 2AM EST, not waking up for a full day in Europe.

Having written enough of my first world problems in flight scheduling, it’s time to discuss the flight itself.

United 122
Newark (EWR) to Copenhagen (CPH)
Friday, March 23rd
Depart: 5:49PM
Arrive: 7:17AM
Duration: 7 hours, 28 minutes
Aircraft: 757-224 (N14121)
Seat: 3B (Business Class)

With departure comes the flight show.

The English menu read as follows:

The amenity kits are styled in the premerger, Continental package.

I had ordered an Asian vegetarian meal in advance of this flight.  When the purser came around for meal orders, she had already checked what had been loaded aboard.  I chose the Indian curry over selecting something from the menu.

Due to a bit of turbulence slowing things down, our meal service ran about two hours from departure, just prior to us starting our transatlantic track.  In retrospect, the meal service during my first class experience on United p.s. in December felt like an eternity despite having a better flight attendant to passenger ratio. United’s three-cabin 757-200’s used for p.s. have a single flight attendant for a first class cabin of 12 passengers; Continental’s two-cabin 757-200’s used for mostly transatlantic BusinessFirst service have a single flight attendant for a cabin of 15 passengers (after discounting a seat used for crew rest purposes).

I awoke off the coast of Denmark to the start of our breakfast service.

This trip and its sampling of international business classes brought me newfound appreciation for the value of a good seat.  Overall, this seat seemed a bit cramped compared to premerger United lie-flat seats on United’s 747, 767, and “select” 777’s and I’m not abnormally tall.

Arrival services in Copenhagen were a bit disappointing as unlike many other BusinessFirst-serviced cities, United has not made arrangements for showers or day rooms for arriving passengers in Copenhagen.  With at least one widebody ahead of us, passport control took roughly twenty five minutes, from which I made my bleary eyed way into the city to explore before my flight to Zurich.

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