Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Brussels to Zürich

Getting to the airport

The Belgian ANSP has a very convenient shuttle that runs from the Brussels tower to the main terminal building. The really cool thing though, is that the shuttle passes along the inner side of the airport perimeter fence. It’s a bit like getting your own prviate tour of Brussels airport. The journey takes about twenty minutes, which is a lot less than it would take on the public road.

Check-in

I’ve checked in online for the flight, so I can just head straight for security and the lounge. Brussels only has one terminal with two piers. There is no priority lane for Business Class passengers at security. However, despite the many people around, the queue is very well managed and moves along swiftly. Behind security you are forced through a complex labyrinth of duty free shops and restaurants before eventually emerging on the other side to find yourself at the head of the A pier, from where the Schengen flights depart.

Qatar Airways B 787-8 to Doha at the non-Schengen B pier.
Tintin’s infamous rocket.

The lounges on the Schengen pier are located one floor up from the main passenger concourse.

The lounge

Brussels Airlines operates The Loft Lounge on behalf of its Star Alliance partners. Access to the lounge is only for Business class passengers and Star Gold members.

The lounge has a wide selection of hot and cold dishes to chose from. More importantly, there is a row of comfortable sofas that runs along the windows overseeing the main apron. So that’s where I park myself until it’s time for my flight.

I’m sorry, but the new livery really does look a hell of a lot like that of Croatia Airlines…

I think I’m starting to remember why I don’t really enjoy airline lounges all that much. If you will just indulge my rant, what is it with some people that a) they have no other means to occupy themselves other than by making one phone call after the other, and b) that said phone calls have to be done with them yelling at the top of their voice? And don’t get me started on the Scandinavian Airlines passengers, who basically see a trip abroad as an opportunity to access cheap or, in the case of the lounge, complimentary booze. Okay, thanks. I’m feeling better now…

But I digress. The lounge is very nice, despite the patrons.

Boarding

Boarding is done by groups, with a first call for status holders (group 1) and Business Class passengers (group 2). The process is very similar to flying with Easyjet. We walk down the airbridge and are stopped by one of the handling agents half way down. Apparently they’re not done cleaning the plane yet. So we spend another five minutes in the smelly airbridge waiting for the cleaners to be done. Here’s a novel idea: if the plane is not ready yet, why did you start boarding in the first place…?

The cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin. There are three people on row 2, and just me on row 1.

Once boarding is done, the crew pass through the cabin with still water and towels.

The crew

In the past, I have been accused of being overly critical of SWISS. But I really don’t think that’s entirely my fault, and this flight is no exception. Once we’re airborne, the purser informs the Business Class cabin that she made a mistake on the outbound leg and accidentally served all the meals for the return leg too. Although I’m not fully sure how that happens “accidentally”. Instead, we’re going to have to choose something off the Economy Class buy on board menu.

When she comes to apologise, I tell her not to worry about it, and make a joke about having overdosed on Belgian waffles in the lounge anyway. To which she tries to make a joke by saying that I really ought to be careful, because “you wouldn’t want to end up with diabetes…”. I mean, is it just me, or is that not something inappropriate to make a joke about?

Later on, as we start our descent into Zürich, the purser seems very preoccupied by the gorgeous sunset. So she kneels on the ground on row 1 to take a few pictures, commenting loudly to her colleague in Swissgerman that “das isch jo huere geil”. “Geil” litterally means horny, whereas “huere” acts as an intensifier to express that you think something is really, really very good. It is a bit awkward that “huere” derives from the German word for a whore. So in other words, “huere geil” roughly translates into “fucking brilliant”.

The meal

The option is between a chicken breast sandwich or a pulled beef brioche. I go with the chicken, and I must say, it’s very good. Once we’re done, the guy behind me asks about dessert. He saw on the Economy Class menu that there were Luxeburgerlis, Sprüngli’s signature confectionary. In no uncertain terms the crew tell him that he can have them, but he’ll have to pay, which I just find a bit cheap. Surprisingly, the passenger declines…

Arrival

Zürich airport really is just brilliant! We touch down on runway 28 at 21:26. We pull onto our stand at 21:30. By 21:41 I‘m already at the station waiting to catch the train home at 21:45.

Conclusion

All in all, this was a pleasant enough flight. It always helps when the cabin isn’t full and you can spread out. The mishap with the food was unfortunate. But these things happen and the alternative that was offered was good. To be perfectly honest, I’d say the Sprüngli sandwich I received was probably way better than what should have been served on that flight in Business Class. However, I do think they could have given the guy behind me his Luxeburgerli for free, considering it was their fault to start with that there was no dessert.

The cabin crew were generally very friendly, and that includes the purser. I also think she gets kudos for not making up some cock and bull story about the botched catering and just being honest about it. Never any harm done in telling the truth. But her joke about the diabetes was imply in bad taste and her – let’s call it overly enthusiastic – choice of words to comment on the spectacular vistas was really very badly chosen.

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.

SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Berlin

Introduction

It’s been a long time since I last visited Berlin, probably twelve years or so. My recent trip for the inauguration of the Air France A220 doesn’t count, because that time I continued to Vienna after a short layover of about two hours. This time around I’ll actually be leaving the airport and spending two nights in the city.

Some of the more regular readers to this blog will probably know that this year’s plan was to make the best of Covid 19, by visiting the many sights of Europe without having to deal with all the overseas tourist. So far I’ve ticked off the bucket list:

  • Le Chateau de Versailles in Paris
  • La Gioconda in the Louvre Museum in Paris
  • A night at the Opéra de la Bastille in Paris
  • La Sainte-Chapelle in Paris
  • The Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel in Rome
  • The Colosseum in Rome
  • St. Peter’s in Rome
  • The Duomo di Milano
  • Schloss Schönbrunn in Vienna
  • A night at the Staatsoper in Vienna
  • Linzer Torte in Linz

In Berlin, my aim is to finally visit the Pergamon Museum to see its reconstruction of the famour Ishtar Gate.

But first things first. The narrative begins as I am ejected from security into the airside duty free at Zürich airport. It’s just gone 17h30, and even though security was quiet, there are a lot of people airside. The airport is already decked out for Christmas, which is nice. But I must say that Covid 19 doesn’t really give me the warm and fuzzies, so it’s not as though I’m in much of a Christmas mood yet.

My first attempt to enter the SWISS lounge is foiled by the long queue to enter. It looks like there are more people inside the lounge than outside. And there isn’t a mask to be seen inside either. Okay, maybe not then…

So I go for a bit of a walkbout. Which is nice too, becaue it gives you an interesting, if not pretty, glimpse into the strangeness of the human race…

I also spot one of SWISS’ new A 321NEOs pulling onto its stand. Like WizzAir, SWISS has opted for a configuration with only one door on either side before the wing and two overwing hatches.

The lounge

Just before 18h00 I decide to try my luck again. I’ve had enough of mankind anyway, and the maskless shaker-movers in the lounge have mostly dispersed.

SWISS has a separate Senator lounge and a Business Class lounge in Zürich. As on my previous visit, they have the connecting door between the two lounges open and passengers can sit in either one or the other. Shortly after I enter though, they start removing the buffet and prepare to shut down the Business Class lounge.

I wasn’t planning on eating anything in the lounge. But a man is only so strong… have I mentioned that I love Spätzli? I think there is not very much I wouldn’t do for a plate of that doughy goodness. As it turns out, later on I will be grateful for having next to zero discpline where food is concerned…

Boarding

My boarding pass says that boarding will start at 18h10 for an 18h30 departure. But when I arrive at the gate just after 18h15, boarding is already in the final stages.

I’m seated on the window seat, on 2F. The middle seat is kept empty, and there are two bottles of SWISS’ famous, iconic no-brand water and two refreshing towels on the middle seat.

The cabin

I’m not sure how many times exactly the aircraft type for this flight changed since I booked it. At some point it looked as though it might be an A 320NEO, but thankfully my kneecaps and two herniated discs have been spared, and instead the flight is operated by the slightly less tight A 320CEO.

I think there are seven or eight rows of Business Class, and while the Business Class cabin is not sold out, I’d say it’s a fairly good load.

As we taxi out, the purser informs us that on today’s flight wifi is available. And as the system is still being tested, the service is complimentary for all passengers. I give it a try, but at no point during the flight am I able to log in. But it’s not that important to me anyway.

The crew

The two female cabin crew are both German and make the snow queen look like a very chirpy people person. They’re not rude or anything, but just totally lacking in anything that might remotely be recognised as an interest in their passengers. Probably it doesn’t help that 1D is either a Senator or a HON and is hellbent on making sure that everybody, probably even the guy on row 31, knows just how experienced a flyer he is. Honestly, the guy would put me is a foul mood too.

The meal

The meal is served with the plastic still on it, which I’m assuming is due to Covid 19. And sweet baby Jesus, what in the name of creation is this meal supposed to be anyway?

The main dish is two slices of some kind of dried meat with a few limp leaves of salad on top of it and a globule of pumkin flavoured gelatine.

And a dollop of… mayonnaise? Just in case the whole thing wasn’t already greasy enough.

The meal’s saving grace are the two slices of cheese.

And for dessert, it’s more gelatine – this time of the sweet variety. Let nobody every say SWISS catering is boring.

At least they didn’t forget to dish out the little chocolates, as they have a tendency of doing on Austrian Airlines.

Arrival

We land after a flight time of one hour and ten minutes and I’m really glad to be allowed off the plane. Our stand is more or less in the middle of the terminal. Even so, it’s still quite a schlepp from the gate to the exit.

My hotel is near Bahnhof Zoologischer Garten. I could take the S9, which is a direct service that takes about 55 minutes to make the journey from the airport. But that won’t be leaving for another 18 minutes. So I catch a train to Ostkreuz, which takes 15 minutes, and then from there a S5 service to Zoologischer Garten. Even with the change at Ostkreuz, the journey is shorter and only takes 42 minutes to complete.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-100: Zürich to Malta

Introduction

It’s been more than 18 months since I last visited Malta, and I’m seriously starting to have withdrawal symptoms. Add to that the fact that it has rained pretty much every day here in Switzerland since mid-June, and I’m feeling positively ecstatic at the prospect of some sunshine!

I booked this trip at relatively short notice (one week before departure). Even so, I was still able to secure a miles tickets in Business Class on SWISS for the outbound, which suggests that tourist traffic to Malta is still only just picking up again. It probably also helps that the school summer holidays are nearing the end in Switzerland, which means that most of the traffic on the route will be heading back north at this stage.

As per 11 August 2021, passengers from the Schengen area are required to complete the PLF form, that Italy is also using, to enter Malta by plane. You need to create a login before you can complete the form. Once you’re done, you will receive a mail confirmation that you must be able to present at boarding and upon arrival on the island – either in print or digital form.

About a week before my departure, I start receiving almonst daily mails from SWISS, reminding me to check the entry requirements for Malta and to ensure that I have completed all the necessary paperwork before I depart. SWISS’ approach is sensible and makes a lot of sense to me. I think it’s clear that we’re all going to have to come to terms with the fact that Covid19 is here to stay, so we better start getting used to it. It is every individual’s own responsibility to stay safe and with that, to decide how much they are willing to let this virus run their lives.

Getting to the airport

The flight to Malta departs at 12h15. I have not been to Zürich airport in six months, and I have no idea what the situation will be when I get there. So I take the 08h33 train from Basel, which runs nonstop to Zürich main station in 49 minutes. In Zürich I change trains to the airport, where I arrive at 09h42 with plenty of time to spare.

The second class carriages are quite full, but I have a First Class carriage nearly all to myself!

Considering how crowded the trains are, I’m expecting the airport to be very busy. But much to my surprise it’s quiet. There are people, but it’s certainly not as busy as it used to be.

Check-in

I’ve already checked in online, but I don’t fancy schlepping around my suitcase. So the first stop is one of the Business Class check-in counters in Check-in 1, the home of SWISS and the Lufthansa group.

The young lady is friendly and efficient. She tags my bag, issues the boarding pass and wishes me a safe journey and a great holiday. As I turn to leave, she eyes my Maltese passport: “I’ve never seen one of these…”. Yes, I know. I get that quite often… she does not ask to see the completed entry form or my Covid certificate.

My next stop is security. There is a dedicated entrance to the checkpoint for First and Business Class passengers. Not that it matters today, because the place is deserted and I can just walk straight up to any one of the entrances without having to wait at all.

SWISS Business Class lounge for Schengen flights

The lounge situation in Zürich is a bit confusing right now. When I arrive, the Business Class lounge is closed, so all passengers must use the Senator lounge instead. Initially, the place is far from crowded. However, as the time for the midday bank of departures approaches, the place begins to fill up until eventually they have no other choice but to open the Business Class lounge too.

The lounge is well stocked and SWISS seem to have upped their game with the catering. Due to COVID19, there is no longer a buffet, but there’s a very charming lady behind the counter serving passengers. There is a choice of warm or cold breakfast sets, but they’re quite generous and willing to provide you any other combination of dishes you might request.

Much to my surprise, by the time I leave the lounge just after 11h30, there’s a queue forming at the entrance. I’m not entirely sure if this is because of social distancing or because the lounge is just too busy.

Boarding

My flight is boarding from gate A56, which is good news and bad. It’s good news, because it means the aircraft is parked on a remote stand. So I’ll get to take a few pictures. It’s bad news though, because gate A56 is in a dreadful hovel that was erected provisionally many moons ago but that they then conveniently forgot to tear down again. It’s small, and cramped and simply not large enough for all the people waiting to board their flights at the same time. There are people everywhere!

It’s not until boarding for my flight starts that I realise what the problem is: in order to maintain social distancing, they’re only allowing about 35 passengers per bus. Which means that even for our small Airbus A 220-100 with a load of only 84 passengers they still need to use three busses.

I wait to board the last bus. And all my woes are forgotten to moment we pull up next to our aircraft for today’s flight. Well hello, Sweetness…!

The cabin

There are five rows of Business Class for a total of 15 seats, of which twelve are occupied today. Right in front of me is an obnoxious old bat, who won’t even let her poor husband sit by himself. So instead of taking advantage of an empty seat next to her on the row of two, with him on the aisle seat on the other side, she insists that he sits with her on the twin seat. She spends the rest of the flight chatting at the top of her voice. Thank God for the Sony WH-1000XM4 earphones I remembered to pack this time. Let me see, the Sisters of Mercy should do the trick to drown out the sound of her horrible voice droning on… “… she looks good in ribbons…just walk away…”.

Oh yes, and there’s a bottle of still water at my seat when I arrive. Excuse me while I go off on a tangent, because this is yet another instance of useless SWISS marketing rubbish: according to the SWISS website, the water is bottled exclusively for SWISS in Glarus, from a source at an elevation of 1156 metres. Hence the name. The website also tells us that the bottle comes in a ‘distinctive design’. I mean, I’ve lived in Switzerland long enough to know how much pride they take in the spectacular beauty of the Swiss Alps. Even so, I’m pretty sure most people honestly won’t give a rat’s bum about the altitude at which the source is, as long as they can rest assured that taking a sip of the bottle is not likely to give them diphtheria or something equally disturbing. And second, with all due respect, a distinctive design is the timeless shape of the Perrier bottle or the iconic Evian logo. But not this.

So the bottome line, boys and girls, is that SWISS serves a no name brand of still water that nobody has ever heard of. But they’re trying to pretend it’s because it’s so exclusive.

The crew

The crew on this flight is absolutely brilliant. I really cannot praise them enough, especially the maître de. If every SWISS crew were like this, I seriously wouldn’t bother flying any other airlines. The maître de is German. His announcements are clear, properly enunciated and nicely structured to form well-rounded and grammatically correct and coherent sentences in both German and in English. What’s more, he makes a point of remiding passengers repeatedly during the flight about the requirement to wear a face mask.

During the service, his interaction with the passengers is charming and easy going. Honestly, it’s a joy being taken care of by him! But first, let’s get the flight underway…

The meal

The meal is a very pleasant surprise. The maître de informs me that there’s going to be a hotmeal for lunch and there are two choices. The meat option is beef meatballs, whereas the vegetarian option is rice with grilled vegetables.

I decide to go with the meatballs pretty much the moment he mentions that they are served with mashed potatos and green beans in a creamy mushroom sauce. Total sucker for the mash here.

Also on the tray, there is a salad of mixed leaves with sunflower seeds.

A plate of soft and hard cheese. I have no idea what cheese it is, and at altitude everything tastes different anyway. My guess would be that the soft cheese is a French Camembert, whereas the hard cheese is probably a Gruyère.

There is also a selection of dark and white bread and crackers and a small bottle of vinaigrette for the salad.

And finally, for dessert there is a slice of rhubarb crumble with raspberry coulis and what I’m guessing is either a vanilla or white chocolate mousse.

To drink with that I have a glass of apple juice, which the maître de serves me together with a glass of sparkling water without me even having to ask for it.

To complete the meal, I ask for a mint tea, which is served with a small piece of chocolate. SWISS serves Sirocco tea on its flights. Now that, to me, would be a lot more worthwhile to mention if I were SWISS. Sirocco is a very old Swiss company that has been in the tea trading business for over a hundred years. Their teas are excellent, and apart from the more traditional blends, they also have a few fairly unusual and very tasty ones too.

The quality of the food is very good, well done SWISS. The salad is not at all limp and the main course is just very tasty and filling.

Arrival

The flight passes surprisingly quickly. There’s a lot of heat haze, making it difficult to see the ground. I can barely make out that we’re just leaving the coastline behind and figure that must by Sicily. So it can’t be much longer.

Our approach into Malta is quite unusual. I’m not sure I’ve actually ever arrived like this. We’re making the approach from the southeast. What is unusual, is that we’re flying down along Malta’s southern coast, putting the island on our left. We pass Filfla island below and continue out to sea, past Malta, before eventually turning back to line up with runway 13.

The Med looks lovely, with the sun glittering on the surface. The pilot informs us that the temperature on the ground is 39 degrees Celsius, and expected to rise to a high of 41 degrees before it starts to cool down again. As soon as we cross the shoreline, the aircraft is hit by the hot air rising, making the last few minutes of the descent rather bumpy. But we land safely. Malta l-hanina, I’ve missed you, 18 months is too long, and I’m so glad to be back!

There are only three aircraft standing on the apron, one Air Malta A 320, a Ryanair B 737-800 and the Emirates B 777-300. However, right behind us, another Air Malta, then a Ryanair and an Easyjet arrive.

We’re parked on a remote stand away form the terminal, which means we’re going to have to take a bus to arrivals. By the time I arrive at the luggage belt a short while later, my suitcase is already there. Behind customs is the health check that all passengers have to go through upon arrival on the islands. You will need to show your passport, the completed health declaration form and your Covid certificate if you ticked the box that you are fully vaccinates. The process is fairly painless and efficient. There are twenty counters open processing arriving passenger.

With that out of the way, it’s time to make my way to the hotel.

Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A 340-300 – First Class: Zürich to Dubai

Introduction

The day before my departure, I get a call from Swiss International Air Lines about my flight to Dubai. The friendly agent informs me that

  • there are no lounges open at Zürich Airport,
  • there is no First Class check-in available,
  • only Terminal 3 remains open in Dubai,
  • and therefore, SWISS will not provide a meet and greet service on arrival nor a lounge on departure from Dubai.

So basically, this means the SWISS First Class experience is going to be limited to the service on board.

Getting to the airport

The schedule for the SWISS flight to Dubai has changed. The flight now leaves at 16h15, instead of at noon, and arrives at the rather ungodly hour of 01:15. The flight also no longer continues on to Muscat from Dubai.

I take the 13h37 airport train from Basel’s Swiss railway station, which gets me into Zürich Airport at 15h04, slightly more than an hour before my flight to Dubai is scheduled to depart. With the Swiss Federal Council’s recommendation to do home office whenever possible, the trains are not so full these days. And so, today I have a whole carriage all to myself up until the last stop before the airport.

Check-in

My first stop is at the check-in counters in Zürich’s Terminal A. The lady checking me in is friendly. We have a brief chat behind the plexiglass screen and it turns out she and I worked for Swissair in the same building at the same time.

The check-in area is very quiet.

Airside & boarding

The situation airside is not much better. Most of the restaurants are closed, except for those that are able to provide food for take away. A lot of the shops are closed as well. It’s quite sad to see, really.

The ramp outside isn’t all that busy either.

The E pier at Zürich airport has been shut down, with the stands there being used for aircraft storage. As a result, all long-haul flights are now serving the B pier, which has both a Schengen and non-Schengen area. The non-Schengen gates are on the lower D concourse.

I go through passport control and head one floor down to ground level – and the place is crawling with people. My flight is departing from D43, which is the last gate. There is a document check before you can enter the holding area. There is no social distancing, half the passengers just walk through, seemingly oblivious to the queues and the staff can only watch helplessly as the chaos unfolds. It’s not really their fault, although I think it is quite apparent that there simply isn’t enough staff on hand to properly manage the situation.

Boarding begins with a call for HON Circles, Senators and Star Gold members to board first. And immediately, the scrum begins… The picture below was taken even before the boarding call was made.

So I figure I might as well wait for the queue to disperse before heading on board. There is only one airbridge attached to the L2 door.

The cabin

This is my first trip in SWISS First Class in a very long time and my first flight in the upgraded First Class seat with the sliding door. Generaly speaking, I think the seat is quite nice to look at. The first impression is good. But I also think the cabin looks a bit bland and, quite frankly, boring. And I suspect it will probably not age well either.

Storage space is good, though. There is place to store bags under the ottoman, and there’s also a drawer in the ottoman itself. More conveniently, there is a fairly large space in the side of the seat that is big enough to store a laptop.

Trying to find a position that is fully comfortable is not quite so easy, and the the pre-selected settings for sleeping and lounging are not much use. But the cool thing about the seat is that every part of it can be moved independently.

The seat offers a reasonable amount of privacy with its sliding doors, even though they don’t fully close. It’s not quite as private as the heavy curtains Air France has in its First Class cabin, but I think it’s better than nothing.

A pillow wrapped in plastic, a pair of slippers, a disinfectant towel and the vanity kit are already at my seat when I finally get on board.

First Class passengers are also given a voucher for 50MB of complimentary wifi during the flight, which doesn’t work all that well, though.

Welcome drink

As soon as I’m settled, the crew bring me the menus and offer me a drink. I have a glass of sparkling water, served with warm cashew nuts with herbs, which I don’t try.

By the time we push back, we’re already running forty minutes late. The flight time is announced at six hours. The first officer welcomes all passengers aboard and informs us that we’re going to have to make a stop at the de-icing pad on our way to the active runway and that as a result, we should expect a one hour delay on arrival in Dubai.

Even in these strange and troubling times, I take comfort in the fact that some things obviously never change… and the Airbus A 340-300 remains a really very bad climber. The engines spool up with an agonised howl and we gradually, slowly start picking up speed, until eventually we’re airborne.

The meal

Once we settle into the cruise, the crew start their preparations for the meal service. My table it set with a crisp white table cloth.

Amuse bouche

To start off the meal, there is a mousse of gruyère cheese, served with a butter flûte in cumin. With that I have a glass of the Laurent Perrier Grand Siècle, which is a nice pairing. For the rest of the meal I have still water only.

Passengers have a choice of olive oil, butter or both to go with the warm bread.

The table is set with the wooden salt and pepper mills, which I find rather surprising, given the COVID19 situation. I would have thought they would have taken those out of use, at least temportarily.

First course

There is a wide selection of dishes to choose from for the first course. Due to the restrictions in place, the first course is not plated in front of the passengers from a trolley any more. Instead, passengers order with the crew, who will then bring the plates out directly from the galley.

I go with the Balik salmon, served with crème fraîche, and the smoked char with a romanesco and cauliflower couscous and cauliflower cream. Both starters are really very good and of good quality.

Salad

The salad is lovely. It comes with caramelised apples, veal speck, pumpkin seeds and a pumpkin vinaigrette.

Main course

For the main course, again I go with the fish. And what an exceptionally good piece of fish it is! This must be one of the best main dishes I’ve ever had on a plane. The fish is perfectly cooked. It’s moist and not at all dry and the lemon beurre blanc is a smooth, velvety revelation. I am absolutely delighted!

The cheese

Let’s face it, by this time I’m already quite full. But I’ve always been a sucker for a nice bit of cheese. And so, when the friendly cabin crew comes to remove the main course and asks me if I’d like to try the cheese… a man is only so strong.

The plate is nicely presented on a round slate. The cheese on it are Tomme, Chèvre Frais, Vacherin, Gruyère Vieux and Bleu de Gruyère. The cheese is served with pear bread, warm buns and crackers. With that I have a glass of sweet white wine, the name of which I forget.

Dessert

I’m hoping I’ll be able to find a place to go for a jog during my stay in Dubai to pay for my sins… Yes, I confess. I have dessert too. And I’m not even all that ashamed of it either. Perhaps a little bit guilty. Dessert is mousse of white and dark Toblerone chocolate, served with slices of fresh orange and an orange sorbet. With that I have some Sirocco mint tea, which is served in an elegant, small tea pot.

To conclude the meal, the crew pass through the cabin with a box of Sprüngli pralines, which most passengers refuse. I ask the cabin crew if she knows what the individual ones are. To which she responds that she really doesn’t know. However, she offers me a deal, and tells me I can have as many of them as I like, as long as I promise to tell her what’s in them for future reference. And so it falls to me to help out the poor woman in her cluelessness. But I will not say how many I eventually end up having…

After the meal, I close the doors and extend the seat into a lounging position to read until we start our descent. The crew pass through the cabin a number of times with snacks. But I resist.

The crew

The crew on this flight are really good. They very strictly enforce the COVID19 measures and are quick to remind passengers to do the same. Apart from that though, I think they’re putting a lot of effort into making the best of a really shitty situation, by trying to make passengers comfortable and putting them at ease. Their interaction with the passengers is friendly and personal, but without ever crossing the line and being intrusive. And I think they do a good job. Throughout the flight the passengers in the First Class cabin are very well taken care of, and nothing seems to be too much effort for the crew.

Arrival

Eventually, we land in Dubai with a delay of about 45 minutes. It’s just coming up 2 o’clock in the morning when we touch down. I think this is the first time I’ve ever arrived into Dubai without there being any holding delays. The airport is very quiet. We taxi to the remotest remote stand they could have possibly found, passing row after row of grounded Emirates aircraft. It’s quite upsetting to get a first hand glimpse of the extent of the fallout that has been caused by the pandemic.

The eight First Class passengers deboard first and are taken to Terminal 3 in a separate bus.

As we enter the terminal, I am struck by the silence and how eerily quiet the whole place is. Before I can head downstairs to arrivals, there is a checkpoint, where passengers have to show that they are holding a negative PCR test.

The e-gates for immigration have been closed, and all passengers have to go to one of the desks, where again they have to provide proof of a negative PCR test no older than 96 hours before they are allowed into the country.

Conclusion

This was an interesting experience with SWISS. I have to say, getting onto the plane is a hassle, as you struggle to maintain your social distance in the face of the blatant, and often times frustrating stupidity of the human race. You look at the way the passengers behave at the gate and wonder how we ever managed even to invent the wheel. No wonder some people believe that aliens built the pyramids…

But once you step on board, things improve – at least in First Class. The crew genuinely made an effort and I am honestly very thankful to them for that. This trip was unavoidable for me. I’m here to give another course that could not be postponed. Even so, I must say that this flight down to Dubai has made it clear to me that I will not be undertaking any further travels by air in the forseeable future, save for the flight back to Switzerland, and certainly not without vaccination.

Swiss International Air Lines, Economy Class – Airbus A 320: Zürich to Stockholm Arlanda

This is a previously unpublished trip report from 2012

Introduction

I’ve decided to visit Stockholm for a long weekend. It’s nearing the end of summer so I figure it should be nice up north around this time of year. Probably, for most people the summer is a time to be outside having barbecues and stuff. But quite frankly, despite the fact that I was born on a Mediterranean island, I’ve never been able to handle the summer heat all that well. So a weekend trip to Stockholm, to me at least, holds the promise of respite from the oppressive humidity and the summer heat in Switzerland.

Getting to the Airport

On Friday afternoon I catch the train from Zürich Main Station to Zürich Airport. In July and August Switzerland pretty much comes to a halt, as this is when most families with kids go on vacation, and so the train is not very full.

Neither is the airport actually. It’s 10 August, which means that now all the traffic will be home bound tourists returning ahead of the start of the autumn semester at school.

Check-in

The SWISS check-in area is calm. There are no business travellers about either, which is kind of nice. Not because of the business travellers as such, but because it’s just nice to travel without hassle.

Which also means you can take your time at security without being rushed by the staff.

The SWISS Business Class Lounge

I make a brief stop at the lounge to grab something to eat and drink – just in case. Most of the flights I take with SWISS these days are usually short hops of one hour or so, which means I’m not really quite sure what to expect from the flight to Stockholm with a block time of over two hours.

Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule and the gate agent is obviously working to make sure we still manage to get away on time. So boarding is not by priority, just the usual scrum. But I figure that’s okay, because the flight is not that full anyway.

The Cabin

The cabin, or rather the seats, are not exactly in the best of condition. The leather on the seat is worn and threadbare and there are scratches on the back covers. There’s also some food left from the previous flight stuck in my seatbelt. Which is totally unfair, because the guy next to me still had a half eaten chocolate in his seat pocket…

The Crew

The crew seem tense and preoccupied. They’re certainly not rude or anything, but they all seem a bit distant. Either they’re worried about delays the passengers don’t know about, or perhaps they just haven’t found their groove as a crew.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne and the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the smell of warm food starts wafting through the cabin. Initially, I figure they’re probably just heating up the crew meals for the cockpit. But then once the service starts, it turns out the hot meals are for the passengers. Hurrah!

… or maybe not hurrah. Good heavens! The hot snack consists of a sort of rectangular pizza that has been heated in its card board box. KLM also serves these on longer flights in Europe and they’re just so, so bad. The taste isn’t really so much of an issue, if you’re into greasy fast food with zero nutritional value that will clog up your arteries and gives you heart burn just from looking at it.

But it just looks so vile. The bottom of the cardboard box is all greasy, where the oil has seeped into it and soaked the cardboard. Which I guess is a win, because that means the grease is not in your body, which is probably better for your digestive system and your life expectancy.

To drink I have a cup of water and a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually not too bad on SWISS. For dessert, of course, the crew pass through the cabin with those fabulous little SWISS chocolates.

Arrival

The flight is uneventful and passes quickly. Although it does take the crew a whole hour before they finally pass through the cabin to remove the trash. I guess that’s one way of keeping passengers in their seats.

Getting into Town

In Stockholm I’ll by staying at the Gashaga Sealodge. To get there, I first take the outrageously expensive Arlanda Express to the Central Station. Then from there it’s the tube line 13 to Ropsten and then finally, from there the Lidingöbanan, which is something of a hypbrid between a tram and a train.

Swiss International Air Lines powered by Helvetic Airways, Economy Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Luxembourg

Introduction

This is starting to feel a lot like running a marathon. At some point you have the finish line in sight, far off in the distance. Your legs are burning, you‘re thirsty, you’re tired and you‘re worried your legs will start cramping any time soon. The risk is that then you start to accelerate, just to bring the race to an end. And that‘s of course when you‘re most likely to fail. Because you‘re no longer running at a pace you‘re comfortable with.

The finishing line, in my case, is obviously the moment I step on that plane to Oz. But there‘s still a stretch to go until then and I have to watch out I don‘t start burning up before.

I leave the office at 11h10 and catch the 11h24 train to Zürich airport. I was kind of expecting security to be quite busy, given that it‘s the lunchtime rush hour. But the airport is suprisingly quiet.

The SWISS Business Class lounge

My first stop is the SWISS lounge and even here it’s much quieter than it usually is. The lunch buffet in the lounge consist of a limited selection of salads (three) and a main course, which is ‚prepared‘ by a chef.

Boarding

Boarding is from gate A55, which is in the provisorium that became permanent. No people here either. I‘m the last to enter the holding pen for the bus. There are about twenty passengers on the flight today. No wonder it was so easy to get the emergency exit on row 13 when I checked in!

The bus pulls up to our aircraft and I keep back so I can board last. If the plane is empty anyway, then I‘d much rather sit slightly behind the wing so I can watch the control surfaces during the flight.

The cabin

I settle in the window seat on row seventeen. The rest of the cabin behind me is empty, which is something I don‘t think I‘ve ever experienced in Economy Class! the seat pitch on row seventeen is not bad at all, and certainly enough for a flight of forty minutes. The head rest, by the way, can be adjusted in height.

The Crew

There are three cabin crew on this flight. As a rule, I find that the Helvetic crews tend to be friendlier than the SWISS ones. And this bunch is no exception. What is perhaps a tad strange though, is that instead of stepping into the cabin to make his welcome aboard announcenent, the purser decides to hide in the galley, which is just weird to watch.

Our initial climb is quite bumpy. The flight time is only forty minutes, so by the time the crew are released, the captain also informs them that we‘ll be landing in twenty minutes.

The Meal

The service consists of a bottle of still or sparkling water and one of those lovely little Swiss chocolates.

Arrival

We land in Luxembourg on time. The weather here is so bad. This is the first time I‘ll be taking the bus line 16 to the office since Luxembourg introduced free public transport within the Grand Duchy on 1 March 2020. I think it‘s a brilliant idea. Although I must say that it does feel kind of strange getting on a bus without a ticket.

Conclusion

To conclude, I’m just assuming the apparent lack of passengers is the result of the recent outbreak of Covid19 in Europe. But of course that is only an assumption. However, if indeed it is the case, then I think 2020 may turn out to be something of a watershed moment for the global aviation industry. In Hong Kong more than half of Cathay Pacific’s fleet is on the ground as the result of a reduced network, and others are not doing much better. If the current situation continues, it seems likely that some airlines may simply end up running out of time and money. A bit like running a marathon.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 320: Geneva to Zürich

Transfer in Geneva

Man, what a rathole! I disembark from my flight from Paris at 14h40. Boarding for my next flight should start in ten minutes. But apparently, connecting from the French sector to the Schengen area is not really foreseen in Geneva. And so I end up going up and down a whole set of ugly and narrow corridors, at the end of which I am ejected in front of a security check point. Okay, fine…

The airport is very busy and crowded. There are people sitting on the floor everywhere. The SWISS lounge is one floor up from the gate area. Turn left and right a few times and eventually you should get there…

The SWISS Business Class lounge Genève

If my First Class departure from Zürich were on the same day, I’d be entitled to use the First and Hon lounge in Geneva, but because my departure is still more than two weeks away, it’s the regular Business Class lounge for me today. And it’s quite nice. It’s a descent size and rather empty this afternoon.

The flight is delayed by twenty minutes because of an incident with a dog on the runway earlier on. Boarding will be from gate A02.

Boarding…

… is a complete mess. There are grumpy passengers pushing and shoving everywhere. At some point, a Portuguese speaking mother boards with her baby in a pram and what looks like the combined baggage allowance of about twenty passengers. Oh yes, and she‘s also decided that standing in the middle of the aisle is a brilliant place to make a phone call. Eventually, the passenger behind her explains that she has a tight connection in Zürich, so it would be really good for the mother to get out of the way to let the other passengers board quickly.

So the mother quickly dumps her stuff in five overhead bins and then vanishes behind the curtain to find her seat in Economy Class.

Of course this isn‘t any of SWISS‘ fault. There are annoying passengers on every airline. But I do also think it might have helped if the crew had been in the cabin to help the poor woman, instead of hiding in the forward galley and doing a bloody convincing impersonation of somebody who is both blind and deaf.

The crew

Which brings me, of course, to the crew on this flight. Upon entering the aircraft, there is one male crew standing in the galley. He has one job, to say hello and welcome to passengers as they step aboard, but apparently even that is too much to ask.

Instead, he just stands there in his waistcoat, which is really not doing anything to hide just how badly fitting and tight the uniform is. He hasn‘t bothered to close the top button of his shirt either and looks, in short, like a complete and utter slob.

And just to make sure there‘s as little interaction as possible, the usual refreshing towel and bottle of water have been placed on the seats before boarding.

The meal

The meal service consists of one of the sandwiches they usually serve in Economy on international flights. The slob shoves the tray under my nose, without as much as asking if I‘d like to eat anything. I ask him what‘s in the sandwich, but he just shrugs and continues to ignore me. Turns out it‘s mozzarella with mushrooms and hits the spot nicely.

The purser quickly hands out chocolates, again without saying a word. Oh yes, and there is no drinks service. Apparently, the welcome drink was it.

Arrival

Luckily, it‘s not a long flight and we land in Zürich at 16h30 after a short flight of 30 minutes.

Conclusion

The difference between Air France and SWISS on these two flights was like night and day. The Air France staff on the ground and in the air were so friendly and nicely turned out. The interaction with them was just brilliant and really left a good impression.

The SWISS crew, on the other hand, were really not good. They have zero motivation, they look as though they’re really unhappy to be there and resent you for actually making them work. I’m aware of that fact that a short hop of thirty minutes hardly gives any airline an opportunity to shine and interact with the customer. But even so, I have to say that on this flight it really felt like they were intentionally not making the effort.

Swiss International Air Lines, Airbus A 320Neo: Allow me to introduce you…

Today, 20 February 2020, SWISS received its first ever Airbus A 320Neo. The aircraft was delivered to the airline factory fresh from the Airbus plant in Hamburg Finkenwerder. Originally, the plan had been for the aircraft to land on runway 16 and then roll out slowly. This would have brought the aircraft right past the viewing gallery. However, as arriving traffic was quite heavy, it was eventually decided to vector the aircraft for a runway 14 arrival to fit it into the other arriving traffic. The aircraft landed at 10h50.

I was invited by one of the Swiss national newspapers to attend the welcoming ceremony in my capacity as an aviation expert, such as it were.

The event started at 10h30 on the viewing terrace. After the aircraft had landed and taxied to the maintenance apron, guests were taken by bus to the hangar to view the aircraft and attend the welcoming ceremony, which included the baptism of the aircraft to the name of Engelberg.

Generally speaking, I think SWISS did a good job of the event. The speeches were kept fairly short and the alphorn blowers really gave the event a convincing touch of Swissness. I don’t have the exact numbers, but I would say the event was attended by about sixty persons, most of them from the media. The guest of honour was a monk from the monastery of Engelberg, which this year is celebrating 900 years of uninterrupted service.

Once the speeches were done, we were allowed aboard to take a look at SWISS’ new toy. First of all, the new aircraft will be installed with wifi. There will also be four USB ports per row of three. The seating capacity is for 180 passengers. The seat pitch on the first nine rows is 32 inches and then gradually decreases to a rather tight 29 inches on the last row. The seat back can only be reclined on the first nine rows.

While I generally think seat recline on narrow bodies is somewhat superfluous, you also have to keep in mind that SWISS will also operate this aircraft to Tel Aviv and Cairo, both of which have a block time of more than three hours and are both night time services. I’m not sure how much passengers will appreciate the lack of recline on those flights.

Other than that, there is only a small rear galley. Instead, half the space on the rear bulkhead is taken up by two toilets. This one I’m in two minds about. The toilets are wheelchair approved, which I think is a good idea. However, because the orientation of the toilets is towards the rear, the curvature of the hull is not an issue, which means that an adult man can stand fully upright in the toilet. Unfortunately, not all of us have impeccable target practice…

The space in the cabin where the toilets would otherwise be located, has been taken up by an additional row of seats, row 38. If you’re on this row you have the worst pitch and no view, because there are no windows.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 220-300: Zürich to Prague

Introduction

Yesterday, on Sunday afternoon, I flew back from London Heathrow to Basel just as the chaos of another epic IT failure started to unfold in Heathrow. The upshot of that being that I had to spend three hours sitting in agony in BA’s painfully cramped Economy Class to make a journey that normally should only last a bit more than an hour. So as you may well imagine, I didn’t really fancy getting on a plane again on Monday. But this is for work, and I guess there are worse things to have to endure than SWISS’ Business Class.

Getting to the Airport

My flight is scheduled to depart at 17h35. I catch the 16h24 train from Winterthur, which arrives in Zürich Airport at 16h40. The airport is very quiet, which may have something to do with the fact that I think it’s the public school skiing holiday, when a lot of people head for the slopes with their families. All the better for me, because it means there are only very short queues for security.

Boarding

I haven’t really got that much time left before boarding begins, so I figure I might as well head to the gate directly. I take a few pictures of my aircraft on the way.

Boarding starts on time. And I’m pleased to say that they appear to have implemented some changes to the check-in system which trigger an alarm if passengers try to board before their boarding group is called. It makes the whole process a lot more efficient.

The cabin

There are four rows of Business Class on today’s flight, for a total of twelve seats. However, only six of the seats are occupied and the load in Economy Class doesn’t appear to be all that heavy either.

I rather like the cabin layout SWISS has on the A 220-300. It’s a very comfortable experience for the passenger. The only thing I don’t like is the colour scheme, which looks rather bland and drab.

Another thing I really like on the A 220, is the Business Class loo, which is very roomy and large enough for me to be able to stand up straight in front of the sink. Usually, on the A 320 the curvature of the hull makes it impossible to stand upright.

The crew

The crew in the cabin consists of three young females. The maître de is 26 years old. She was married to a guy from Antigua and she really just couldn’t imagine living in the US, which is why he moved to Switzerland after they got married. But that only lasted for two years, because you know, honestly, after two years she’d really just had enough and couldn’t stand being married anymore. Like. I can also tell you what she studied and then broke off, what she’s currently studying, what she wants to do in future, and where she gets her nails done.

Don’t get me wrong, she’s actually very good at her job. She’s just a little Miss Chatterbox and clearly unaware of the fact that yes, the A 220 really has got very quiet engines indeed.

The service on the ground is the usual packaged towel and still water.

We make our way to runway 28 for departure. The weather really is quite dreary here today…

The meal

Much to my surprise, there’s a full meal service, depsite the short flight time. There is no choice for the meal. But I like that every passenger is served individually from the galley.

The main course

The main course is roast beef (bleeach…!) with potato salad, pickled radishes and carrots.

The cheese

The meal is served with the usual small plate of Swiss cheese.

The crew pass through the cabin twice offering warm bread rolls.

Dessert

And for dessert there is a Läckerli cream thingy (you better google that one…). And as if I haven’t had enough sweetness for one day, I have a coffee to finish the meal, which is served with a little SWISS chocolate.

The roast beef is so not my thing. But the potato salad is quite okay and the dessert is just lovely.

Arrival

Before I manage to finish the coffee, we’ve already started our descent into Prague, where eventually we land on time. The one thing I never fully understood about Prague is that although the airport is quite large, it’s also usually fairly empty. At least when I visit. And today is no exception, there are only a few aircraft standing around.

Getting into town

Public transport to and from the airport is a bit tricky in Prague. There is a bus that will take you to the closest metro station. But there is no rail link from the airport to the city. The hotel has organised a car to pick me up though, which makes the journey into town in about twenty minutes.