Date: 30 August 2012
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Cabin: First Class
Getting to the Airport
Zürich airport has its own railway station underground. The station is highly convenient it that it is connected to the national and international rail network. There are frequent trains to Zürich Main Station (four trains an hour, journey time is about eight minutes) as well as to most major cities in Switzerland. The journey from Basel, where I live, to the airport takes one hour and 16 minutes. The distance is only 79 kilometres, but the train takes the northern line from Basel to Zürich, which is speed restricted, and stops no less than seven times between Basel and the airport.
Zürich airport has all the necessary facilities one can expect from a medium to large size European hub. After I disembark from the train from Basel, I take the escalators one floor up. Immediately on your left are the counters of the Swiss Federal Railways, who also operate a Bureau De Change. As my final destination will be Vietnam on this trip, I exchange some Thai Bhat and Vietnamese Dongs. And suddenly I’m a millionaire! I exchange CHF300 and in return I receive no less than 5’300’000 Dongs, a fat wad of green and red banknotes with the kind and benevolent face of Uncle Ho on them beaming at me!
I then make my way to Check-in 1, the home of Swiss International Air Lines and the Star Alliance. It’s quite amazing just how quiet the airport is around this time of day (the flight to Bangkok leaves at 22h45). The place looks deserted.
I head inside the First Class check-in lounge and receive my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok. Quite unusually, I’m sitting on 1A tonight. My normal seat is 1K on the right hand side. But that’s okay, it makes no difference.
After check-in I make my way through security. Here there has been a vast improvement at Zürich Airport. With the opening of the new centralised security check, First Class passengers go through security before heading for the lounge, rather than having to go through security before they take the shuttle across to the E dock. The only complaint, if you want to be pedantic, is that there is no separate lane for First Class passengers and they have to share security with the Business Class passengers.
The SWISS First Class Lounge
As usual in the Swiss First Class lounge in Zürich, the main area towards the left of the reception area is comfortably full, certainly not crowded. So I decide to check out the area on the other side of the reception and once again I have the whole place to my self!The lounge is well stocked. There are two bars and the larger one also has a warm buffet with a selection of cold and warm food. There is also a small area with about five or six tables where passengers can also order à la carte dining before their flight.
But tonight I intend to eat on the plane, so I just have a small canapé with Mozzarella, tomato and peppers and make myself a small cheese sandwich to tie me over. To drink I have a Canada Dry Ginger Ale.
The toilets are nicely appointed in the First Class lounge, although here too there has evidently been some cost saving. Nowadays the liquid soap in the soap dispenser is of the cheap variety you find everywhere else in the terminal.
At 22h00 I return to the reception area for the shuttle across to the E dock. With only three other passengers making the journey across to the E gates with me, passport control is quickly done.Normally Swiss uses Mercedes Minivans to move people across to the E dock. When there are not that many passengers, the BMW7 will also do.
The E Dock on the other side of runway 28 is much busier this time of night than the main terminal complex.
At the gate there are two lanes. One is for the Economy Class passengers and the other is for premium passengers and those with status.
There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, but the L1 door is closed, so all passengers have to board through the L2 door.
The cabin is in good condition. Tonight’s flight is showing a very healthy load, the First Class cabin is nearly completely full with seven out of eight seats taken. By the looks of it Swiss also has new cushions or at least cushion covers.
The usual Bally amenity kit, slippers and earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.
As soon as I am seated the First Class service begins. Service is done by two middle aged and friendly female flight attendants. I am asked if I would like a newspaper and a drink. I choose the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and a glass of still water with a slice of lemon.
A short while later I am brought an amuse bouche of crab cake with a mango and zucchini salsa and a few butter sticks.
As soon as I finish that, the plate is removed and I am brought a scented, warm towel to refresh myself.
Departure is from runway 34. In the evenings it is either 34 or 32 that are in use for departures to minimise the noise pollution. As usual there are quite a few departures this time of night, we are number three in the departure sequence and I count a further three widebodies behind us.
Take-off is the usual lame A340-300 ‘will-he-make-it-before-the-end-of-the-runway’ departure. The acceleration and climb are barely perceivable. As soon as we get airborne we experience some significant turbulence which last for the first 45 minutes or so of the flight. Once the lights go on again and we are free to move, the flight attendant brings me my pajamas and I go and change for the night.
The meal service begins with the table being set. I have my own breadbasket and a saucer of olive oil to dip the bread in.
With the meal I have sparkling mineral water with lemon.
The First Course
Balik Salmon with Crème Fraîche, chives and blinis. An excellent dish you can hardly go wrong with.
Cream of sweet corn soup with popcorn. Very tasty, Swiss do a good soup.
Mixed salad with croutons, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg. Excellent, they seem to have a new Italian dressing and it’s very tasty.
The Main Course
Zürich style shredded veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with Rösti and carrots sautéed in butter. Now this is simply outstanding. This is a signature dish you get in most self-respecting restaurants in Switzerland. Even so, I really don’t think I’ve ever had one in a restaurant that tasted this good. The sauce is rich and creamy and you even make out the white wine used for the sauce. Even the Rösti is cooked to perfection and has remained crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.
A platter of assorted Swiss cheese with mustard seed chutney, walnuts, grapes, crackers and dried prunes and apricots. Here is another cost saving measure. When I flew this same route last year, the cheese service came from an open trolley and every passenger could choose himself which cheese he wanted to try.
The flight attendant tries to convince me to have dessert. But I decline and admit defeat.
After that it’s off to bed. Good night!
The Second Service
I awake about two hours out of Bangkok. Perfect timing because it gives me enough time for a leisurely breakfast. I don’t like being rushed in the mornings.
I change back into my normal clothes. When I return to my seat the flight attendant has already placed a nice cup of coffee there for me with a glass of water.
She asks me what I’ll be having with breakfast and I ask for just an orange juice.
Next she sets up the table again for the meal. Breakfast consists of Zopf, a typically Swiss bread, and a croissant. With this I have some cherry jam and butter.
French toast with berries.
After the meal the table is cleared again and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a bottle of still water. After that I lean back to enjoy the views and nap some more before we land.
Our route into Bangkok is a circuitous one.
Once we land, I bid the crew farewell and disembark through the L1 door. On the other side of the airbridge there is a SWISS ground attendant holding up a sign with my name on it. She asks me to follow her to a golf mobile. I get on board and she whisks me off to the transfer security check. From there we head one floor up to the Royal Jordanian transfer counter.
In summary it’s not a bad flight I have with Swiss. The crew is professional and efficient but still manages to be friendly and give the whole experience a personal touch. The tempo of the service is good and the food is very tasty.