Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 321 NEO: Zürich to Brussels

Introduction

I‘m on my way to Belgium. Before the pandemic, Brussels Airlines operated two daily flights between Basel and Brussels on weekdays. Alas, the route has been discontinued. My other option from Basel would have been Easyjet, but they were already sold out. There currently aren‘t any direct trains from Basel to Brussels anymore. I then decided to book a ticket on the TGV & Thalys via Paris. But then two days before departure, a private matter meant I would not be able to take the train. So eventually I booked a ticket on SWISS. Fortunately, they still had fairly competitive prices available, even at such short notice.

This post begins with me arriving at Zürich airport by train at 16h44 for my 18h15 departure to Brussels.

Check-in

Check-in 3 marks the area above the airport’s railway station. SWISS recently introduced new, fully automated check-in machines there. The process is swift. A SWISS representative scans my electronic boarding pass and prints the baggage tag for my flight. She puts the tag on my suitcase and instructs me to proceed to the drop-off machine.

I dump by bag on the belt just as another SWISS rep hurries by to help me. The staff are all very friendly. All in all though, I couldn’t really say if the process is any good or how easy it is to operate, because the staff basically take care of everything for me.

Next, I head over to Terminal A and the security checkpoint. The airport seems very quiet.

There are two separate entrances for security, one for Economy Class passengers and another for First and Business Class passengers.

Boarding

Security is quickly done. By the time I’m through, it’s already 17h30. I only have twenty minutes or so before boarding begins. These days I usually can’t be bothered with the lounges, so I head straight for gate A 63 to see if I can catch a glimpse of the aircraft taking me to Brussels this evening.

This is my first flight on an A 321 NEO, which SWISS keeps in a very high density configuration of 215 seats. Subsequently, it takes an eternity for the flight to board. I’m seated on 31 all the way in the back of the bus.

Apart from the massive engines, the A 321 Neo is easily distinguished from the the CEO version by the configuration of the doors. The A 321 CEO has two doors forward of the wing, no overwing exits and one door at the rear, whereas the A 321 NEO only has one door in the front, two overwing hatches and two doors behind the wing.

The cabin

The A 321 NEO is a very long aircraft. In the SWISS configuration in Economy Class there is one lavatory in the rear of the aircraft and one right by the R2 exit. The finish of the cabin is nice, and the brown seats give the cabin a nice warm feel. There is a hook for a jacket at every seat.

The seat pitch is okay as long as you’re sitting fully upright. Even so, I’m wondering just where you’re supposed to put your legs if you have a thick winter jacket with you. The flight time to Brussels is 55 minutes, which is fine. However, from what I gather on flightradar, after its return from Brussels this aircraft was scheduled to operate the red-eye to Tel Aviv, which has a block time of 3 hours and 50 minutes. And that, I don’t think I would want to try out on this bird.

Among the other noteworthy features of this aircraft, it has video screens throughout the cabin. On the downside, from row nine on, the seats cannot be reclined. One the one hand, I’m guessing this a cost-saving measure to reduce maintenance on the seats. On the other hand, given the tight pitch it’s probably not a bad idea…

Whatever, I just like sitting behind the wing for a change and being able to watch the flaps moving during take-off and landing.

The crew

There are six cabin crew. They’re all female and their interaction with the crew is rather limited. One of them has this haunted look on her face. She’s standing in the cabin during boarding, but doesn’t bother to say a word of greeting to passengers as they file past her. I say Grüezi to her in my best Baseldüütsch, but don’t get a reply. Later on when we deplane, I take the initiative again and say Adieu. Nothing. I suspect that perhaps the problem is not just a lack of manners but also a lack of language skills. But it’s still awkward.

A while back SWISS announced that they would stop using binary salutations and terms of address, such as Ladies & Gentlemen, and would be replacing them with gender-neutral formulations. I salute SWISS for their initiative and the fact that the crew on this flight are really very disciplined about it. On the other hand, I must admit that it does sound a bit weird. The crew either address passengers with Dear guests, or they do not use an address term at all, which is a bit strange. I guess it’ll just take getting used to.

I must say I’m quite impressed with the NEO’s performance. The take-off is powerful and you can really feel the acceleration.

The meal service

The meal service consists of a complimentary bottle of SWISS’ iconic (sic.) still water and a piece of Swiss chocolate. More substantial meals can be bought on board or pre-ordered online. For its buy on board service, SWISS has teamed up with Sprüngli. I’m not quite sure what to make of this though, because Sprüngli tends to be rather pricey. So if they’re trying to attract the price-sensitive Economy Class customer, I’m not sure Sprüngli is the way to go. Just as an example, you can buy a tub of Birchermüsli (200 gramms) for CHF7.50.

Arrival

Only 25 minutes after we take-off from Zürich, we’re already starting our descent into Brussels. It’s a lovely day in Belgium, with a ground temperature of 20 degrees celsius.

The airport is quite busy, no doubt with EU diplomats heading home for the weekend. It’s quite a treck from the arrival gate to baggage claim. On a positive note though, this means that by the time I reach the luggage belt for the flight from Zürich, my suitcase is just coming around the corner.

Getting into town

Like Zürich, Brussels airpot has a railway station located in the basement of the terminal. There are frequent trains from the airport into town, most of which will stop at the three main stations in Nord, Centraal and Midi. A one-way ticket costs EUR2.60 and there is an airport supplement of EUR5.70. The journey to Midi take about 20 minutes.

Conclusion

All things considered, this flight was pleasant enough. It was on time and they delivered me to Brussels safely, which is the main thing. I rather liked the A 321 NEO though, it felt solid. The finish of the cabin was rather elegant. On the downside, I think I would really think twice about getting on one of them again in Economy Class – especially on a longer journey. The pitch was really not comfortable.

The crew and service were decidely nondescript. It’s probably hard to convey Swissness when most of the crew are very obviously not Swiss.

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