Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Milan Malpensa

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INTRODUCTION
Finally! It’s time for my well-deserved winter vacation and man, do I need it! I’ve so busy getting things finished that I feel as though I completely missed most of Christmas cheer this year. But anyway, I’ve submitted my presentation and my paper for my last assignment of 2017 and so I’m good to go.

The first segment of this trip sees me flying from Zürich to Milan Malpensa with Helvetic Airways. The flight is operated with an Embraer 190 on behalf of Swiss International Air Lines. This is only my second flight ever with Helvetic Airways. The last time I flew them was from London Gatwick to Zürich back in 2004, I believe. Back then, the carrier hadn’t yet entered into a strategic partnership with SWISS and was desperately and, let’s face it, rather unsuccessfully, trying to position itself as some kind of low-cost hybrid. Oh yes, and they had these cutesy pink little aeroplanes. Although I’m told it was actually magenta, not pink…

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
The flight to Milan will not be leaving until 20h55. So I figure I might as well stay in the office a bit longer. Eventually, I take the 18h55 train from Winterthur, which brings me into Zürich airport just after 19h.

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CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in using the SWISS app. Depending on the fare you’ve purchased, seat selection is either free of charge or available against payment. In addition, there are also preferred seats, the exit row for example, which are available at an extra cost, unless of course you have status with Miles & More.

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If you do not select a seat at the time of booking, the check-in system will automatically assign you a seat 20 hours prior to departure that meets the preference specified in your profile – so basically aisle or window. This means that you have four hours to pick a seat yourself from the moment the flight opens for check-in. On today’s flight this isn’t really an issue, because the flight is operated by an Embraer 190 which has no middle seat. However, on the A 320 family or the C Series and depending also on the route, I think I might consider paying for a seat, if the alternative means having to sit in the cursed middle seat.

On this particular flight I am travelling with a bottom of the food-chain run of the mill fare that does not have the seat reservation included. I could have added that at a charge of CHF12, which is reasonable and comparable to other airlines’ practice.

AIRSIDE/LOUNGE
If you’re using the traditional airport check-in facilities, SWISS is at home in Terminal A, or Check-In 1, which is also home to some of the other Star Alliance carriers in Zürich. I like this building, because it incorporates parts of the original airport building that was built sometime in the late fifties or early sixties.

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The airport is really quiet for a Friday evening. Security is a breeze and the B dock, from where my flight will be leaving, is eerily quiet.

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BOARDING
Boarding starts exactly on time at 20h30. Surprisingly though, nobody seems to give a shit. The announcement is made, but none of the passengers seem to be in much of a hurry to get on board. And so I end up being the first one to step aboard.

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CABIN
The first four rows of the cabin are Business Class. They remain empty on this evening’s flight. I am sitting on 6A, which is the window seat on the port side of the aircraft.

Helvetic Airways operates the Embraer 190 in a 2 + 2 configuration with a seating capacity of 112, which is 12 seats or three rows more than what KLM Cityhopper has on its aircraft and the maximum number of seats possible on the Embraer 190. According to seatguru.com, the pitch on the Helvetic Airways aircraft is 32 inches throughout. Although to be honest, I think this can hardly be true. In fact, the seat is awfully cramped and not at all comfortable.

Fortunately, the flight time to Milan is only thirty minutes. Even so, by the time we land, the circulation to my legs has all but stopped, my kneecaps hurt like something nasty and my bum is numb. Ouch! No wonder the other passengers weren’t in a hurry to get on the plane.

Other than that, what really strikes me is that the cabin of this aircraft looks really drab and, quite frankly, boring.

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CREW & SERIVCE
The crew consists of three female flight attendants. One of them is German, while the other two speak both Italian and Swiss German fluently and without an accent. They’re not overly friendly, but they’re not unfriendly either and the announcements are nicely articulated with a good enunciation. Had I mentioned I’m a linguist…?

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THE MEAL
Given the short flight time, the service consists of a small piece of Frey chocolate and a small bottle of still mineral water.

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ARRIVAL
We arrive at the gate at 21h45, which means we’re pretty much on time. The airport is fairly deserted.

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TRANSIT
I will be spending just the one night in Milan. So rather than making the long schlep into the city, I’ve booked a room at the Malpensa Sheraton, which is directly connected to Terminal 1 and takes about ten minutes to reach from there on foot.

VERDICT
It’s been a while since I last flew with SWISS or one of its subsidiaries. I thought this flight was fine and pretty much comparable to the offerings of other airlines on sectors of a similar duration in Europe. However, having said that, given the really short flight time, there was hardly an opportunity for the crew and the service to shine – there was also hardly an opportunity for them to screw it up either. Except perhaps for the seat, which is really bad and very uncomfortable. The Helvetic Airways model of the Embraer 190 has an increased gross weight to give it more range. Apparently, originally Helvetic intended to deploy these aircraft as far afield as the Canaries, which are roughly four hours away from Zürich. I really cringe at the thought of my sore kneecaps…!

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