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 were, I’m expecting the airport to be very busy. But much to my surprise it’s rather 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 really 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 waiting 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 quite 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 full.

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 errected provisionally many moons ago but that they then 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 don’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 really 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 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, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Luxembourg to Zürich

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Introduction

It’s Friday afternoon, so it’s time for me to pack my bags and make my way back to Switzerland. The flying Dutchman has kindly offered to drop me off at the airport before returning to the office to do a Sim session.

I think I’ve already written more than enough about Luxembourg airport, so I guess we might as well skip ahead to the actual flight, without bothering with the preliminaries of getting to the airport, checking in, etc.

Boarding

The flight is scheduled to depart at 14h55, with boarding expected to commence at 14h30. Clearly, that’s not likely to happen today, given that the aircraft only touches down in Luxembourg until after 14h30. The monitors are showing a minor delay of ten minutes, with an expected time of departure at 15h05.

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Apparently, there’s a bit of a confusion about a VIP passenger, who is first allowed to board the aircraft but later on asked to step off the plane and wait with everybody else…

Boarding starts just after 15h00, so it looks like the 15h05 departure isn’t going happen either. Eventually we take-off at 15h32, forty minutes behind schedule.

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The Cabin

I really must say, I like the cabin of the CSeries. It feels so roomy. Having said that, I was recently browsing on the SWISS website and saw that on some days the CSeries is deployed even as far afield as Cairo. No matter how nice the CSeries is, I think a four-hour sector to Cairo is definitely pushing it in terms of passenger comfort…

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The Luxembourg route is highly susceptible to last minute aircraft changes. When I made the booking, the outbound should have been a CSeries 300 and the return should have been operated by a Helvetic Airways Embraer 190. As it turned out though, the CSeries on the outbound was substituted by an Embraer, while the Embraer on this afternoon’s flight has been replaced by a CSeries 100. I mention this because the configuration on the Embraer is 2 + 2. So it makes no difference which side of the vessel you’re seated on, because in Business Class the seat next to you always remains empty. But on the CSeries, the configuration is 2 + 3. Which means that if you’re on the starboard side, you will still possibly have to climb over the person on the aisle to get out.

Luckily enough for me though, today the aisle seat on my row stays empty.

The Crew

The cabin crew consists of three flight attendants, two young ladies and one young man, who is also the maître de. One of the females is exclusively working the Economy Class cabin, so I only catch a glimpse of her. The maître de is working the Business Class cabin and is occasionally assisted by the third crew member. Which is a good thing because she’s obviously having a bad day. Poor boo…! Apparently she’s made a vow of silence too, because she refuses to speak. And that’s just all sorts of awkward when you have a job that involves interacting with other human beings…

But the young man is excellent! He has very good manners and obviously goes to great lengths to make all the passengers feel comfortable.

Once the doors are closed, the crew distribute pre-packaged, scented towels and small bottles of still water. I think this is a nice touch and something that SWISS does on every flight, unlike KLM, who will only distribute water in case of a delay, so soften the blow so to speak…

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The Meal

The meal consists of the usual three ramekins. The first one is filled with a red cabbage salad on cream cheese, the second is pieces of duck on a barley salad and the third is the dessert – a milk chocolate and white chocolate mousse.

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With the meal I ask for some coffee, which is served from a cardboard cup and which doesn’t seem very premium to me…

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The flight time to Zürich is thirty minutes and the cockpit crew are obviously making the effort to make up for some of the delay.

Just before the landing, the crew distribute the chocolates. The usual small, red bars of goodness have been replaced with little round chocolates wrapped up like a football to mark the occasion of the world cup. And then there’s a bit of an awkward moment when the maître de makes an announcement that ‘…in preparation for lading, please consult the safety on board cards and take a moment to located the nearest emergency exit in the likely event of an evacuation…’. But I think it goes to show just how little the travelling public gives a shit about the on board announcements, because nobody turns a hair, leaving the young man clearly confused about what he actually intended to say and what eventually came out…!

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Eventually we land and taxi to one of the remote stands near the old SR Technics hangar. This time there’s a small minibus waiting to pick up all the Business Class passengers. I say ‘this time’ because the Business Class shuttle tends to be a bit unreliable…

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Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Zürich to Luxembourg

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Introduction

As some of the more regular readers of this blog will know, I’m not exactly a fan of Lufthansa and the Lufthansa group of airlines. But sometimes, circumstances change and we can either adapt to them or spend a lot of time not feeling sexy.

Late in 2017 it became clear that I would be spending a lot more time in Luxembourg. I think I should explain at this point that I don’t have a car, and a few years ago the direct train link between Basel, where I live, and Luxembourg was terminated, making it necessary to change trains at least once in Strassbourg and sometimes even a second time in Metz.

That’s why, so far, I have always chosen KLM for my trips to Luxembourg. First of all, because that allowed me to arrive and depart from Basel. And secondly, because I rather like KLM and their Flying Blue programme.

But of course, there are a few drawbacks in flying KLM. Mainly, over a distance of roughly 400 km it hardly makes sense to have to change aircraft in Amsterdam, which only makes the journey unnecessarily long and doesn’t really do anything to improve my carbon footprint either.

And so, more out of necessity than conviction, I have decided to shift back to SWISS – at least for the trips to Luxembourg. On the one hand, flying from Zürich will allow me to travel to and from Luxembourg without interfering too much with my work in Switzerland. On the other hand, it’s only a short 45 minute flight from Zürich to Luxembourg.

I have no status with the Miles and More programme and these days, achieving any sort of status is near impossible, unless you spend most of your waking hours on a plane or pay unreasonably high fares simply for a booking in an RBD that yields a higher mileage per segment. Both of which don’t strike me as exceptionally exciting right now.

Well, so be it. On European short-haul flights I think you can get by perfectly well without a lounge anyway. And for long-haul trips I would travel Business Class, which gives me lounge access anyway.

I won’t regale you with a post for every one of the planned flights between Zürich and Luxembourg. But I figured it would be good to post about my first experience under the new regime. After all, who knows what might happen. Perhaps I’ll be back to my old tricks with KLM in a month’s time…

Check-in

I arrive at Zürich airport by train at 07h15. Much to my surprise, it looks as though the morning rush is already over and there aren’t that many people milling about.

I’ve already checked in online. The app works well and is easy enough to navigate, but still, for some reason the SWISS boarding passes don’t show up on my iPhone’s locked screen.

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Airside

The SWISS Schengen lounge is currently closed for refurbishing. As a compromise – the Swiss are good at that – SWISS passengers have the option to use one of the other lounges in Zürich. With the understanding however, that the other carriers’ passengers are given preference. If the lounge is full when you arrive, you are given a voucher for a coffee in one of the public airside outlets.

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I’m feeling rather hungry anyway, so instead I go directly one floor down to the Marché restaurant in the passage between the B pier and the A pier and have myself a rather tasty and quiet breakfast there.

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Boarding

Boarding starts on time at 08h35. The gate agent is new, I’m guessing. The announcements she makes are oozing with the embarrassment of a person not used to hearing the sound of their own voice.

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Business Class passengers are invited to board first. But I’m sitting on 1A, so I figure I might as well wait so as not to get in everybody’s way.

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As I step aboard the aircraft, I am greeted by the maître de – a German female – and a young man, also German.

The Crew

As soon as I take my seat, the young man brings me a small bottle of water and a pre packed refreshing towel. He seems kind of shy, mostly avoiding having to interact with the passengers as much as he can, which seems a bit strange given that you do have quite a bit of interacting to do when you’re a flight attendant.

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The maître de is polite, but otherwise, as we say in Maltese, a kaxxa silg, an ice box. Whenever she smiles you feel guilty for the pain it must be causing her…

The Cabin

The cabin on the CS100 is nice. The seats are a nice warm brown colour and the bulkhead and walls are white, which makes a refreshing change from that godawful and depressing Lufthansa grey.

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The seating configuration is 2 + 3. In Business Class the seat next to you is always kept empty. On the downside, in the fully upright position the seatback is quite far forward, so you really have to sit very upright. Secondly, there is no cabin divider at all. Not even a curtain. It’s no big deal really, but I think a divider would be nice.

The windows on the CS100 are definitely are larger than on other aircraft. The inflight video screens, in contrast, are minute and I really wonder what on earth they were thinking installing those in the first place.

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The Meal

We take off and very soon after we find ourselves climbing above the clouds. The view of the snow peaked mountains is spectacular. And then the meal service begins. It consists of a thin, long plate which contains

  1. a brioche filled with smoked salmon and horseradish,
  2. a small ramekin of müsli,
  3. a bowl of fresh fruit.

To drink I have an orange juice.

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Hot drinks are available from a thermos, and don’t look and smell too appealing. The guy one row behind me on the other side of the aisle orders a cup of coffee and I think you can actually hear his jaw hit the floor as the flight attendant serves him his drink in a cardboard cup. I mean, admittedly, it’s not the most elegant presentation but the flight time is only 45 minutes. So I think they can be forgiven for not bringing out the bells and whistles and the fine bone china cups.

Arrival

We’re only in cruise flight for about twenty minutes before we start our descent again. Eventually the aircraft dives under the thick layer of clouds as we start our final approach into Luxembourg. Before we land, the cabin crew pass through the cabin with a basket full of Swiss chocolate and shortly after we touch down.

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The SWISS flight quite reliably uses a contact stand at Luxembourg airport. And so, ten minutes after landing, I’m already on the bus line 16 on my way to Kirchberg.

Conclusion

So, I left Basel on the 06h07 train and I was in the office in Luxembourg at 10h30. I timed it. If I’d taken the train, I would have left Basel at 06h21 and would have arrived at Luxembourg station at 10h21 – which means I would have been in the office at around 10h45. So in summary, the flight is roughly the same duration as the train.

Other than that, what can I say about SWISS? Obviously the flight was hardly long enough for them to distinguish themselves. While I rather like the meal service and the table ware it is served on, I still found the whole experience a bit lacklustre.

I also thought the crews were subpar. On the one hand, they were obviously not interested in engaging with the passengers in any way, even though the flight was far from full and they would have had the time. On the other hand, I also noticed that their uniforms are evidently of very bad quality and quite frankly, they just looked shabby. They were okay, I guess. But that doesn’t make me a convert yet.

SWISS, Business Class – Bombardier CS100: Zürich to Paris-Roissy

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Date: 10. September 2016
Departure: 12:35
Arrival: 13:55
Flight time: 1 hour
Seat: 1F, window on the starboard side

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: Train.
Journey time: 1 hour 27 minutes.
Departs from: Basel SBB.
Arrives: Zürich Flughafen.
Cost: CHF33.- for a one way ticket.

The Swiss Federal Railways finally introduced a second direct train from Basel to Zürich Airport. The service still leaves much to be desired, but at least it is something.

The first train departs at 37 minutes past the hour and makes the journey to the airport in 1 hour and 27 minutes, stopping regularly along the way. In addition, the rolling stock on the route is completely inadequate. They use these regional trains which are very modern and fairly comfortable, but have next to no storage area for the amounts of luggage you can expect people to bring along that are travelling to the airport.

The second train departs just ten minutes later, at 47 minutes past the hour. This train takes 1 hour and 32 minutes, mainly because it stops for 17 minutes at Zürich Main Station before continuing to the airport. I am sure if you ask somebody from the railway company they can give you a scientific reason why it really is not possible to space the trains more conveniently and why the stop of 17 minutes is absolutely imperative…

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Check-in

The SWISS app really does not work well, at least not for me. First of all, for some reason, I get logged out every time I switch the iPhone off. And secondly, the boarding passes I obtain from the SWISS app never seem to appear on the iPhone’s lock screen, which kind of forfeits the main idea of having Passbook.

Fortunately, I only have one small backpack with me, because the queue for check-in and baggage drop is just about as long as it was the last time I flew Edelweiss to Skopje. But the holiday season is now over, so what you’re excuse this time SWISS?

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But at least there is a separate entrance for security that is available to First, Business Class and premium card holders, although I do not think there actually exists an official list of all the airlines in the latter category that are allowed to send their passengers here.

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The SWISS Business Class Lounge

Location: Airside Centre, between docks A and B.
Facilities:
Toilets, showers, newspapers, workstations.
Catering: Soups, sandwiches and a rather strange dish of Spätzli with…nothing. Spätzli are usually a side dish. Perhaps the lounge’s one redeeming feature is the fact that they have Mövenpick ice cream. The cooler is located at the back of the lounge, near the sliding doors that lead to the Senator lounge.
Internet:
Complimentary wifi is available. The code is issued at reception.

The lounge is very crowded and there are only few empty seats scattered around the place. The ‘guests’ are all over the buffet like a bunch locusts. You’d think they haven’t been fed in days…

I think it really does not help that the ceiling in the lounge is fairly low, with the exception of the central atrium. The low ceilings add to the feeling of being in a crowded place.

Boarding

My aircraft has just come in from a non-Schengen flight from Manchester. Because only the B/D dock has mixed Schengen/non-Schengen gates, our aircraft is parked on a remote stand. Which suits me just fine.

Boarding is a bit messy. First of all, there is no priority boarding. Furthermore, ‘boarding’ means that passengers are herded into a tiny holding pen and then left there to stew until their bus finally arrives. It is a lot like flying Easyjet actually – but pretentious. I figure I might as well take my time, after all I am seated on the first row, so there really is no point in getting in everybody’s way while I take pictures.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2.
Seat: The seating configuration on the CSeries is 2 + 3. In Business Class, one of the seats on the row of two is kept empty. On the row of three, the middle seat is blocked so that every passenger has an empty seat next to them. The cabin looks nice and has a fresh look. Everything is white and looks shiny and new. I do wonder though what it will look like one or two years down the line, because I suspect the white will not age well.

The seat is comfortable, but not very deep, which means you cannot really slide forward too much. The video screens are quite simply ridiculously small. I mean, they are so small that you can hardly make out anything on them.

SWISS does not have a cabin divider on this aircraft. There are four rows of Business Class and the only separation is a small sign on the backrest of the aisle seat on row 4 which is marked ‘Business Class’ on the side facing forward, and ‘Economy Class’ on the side facing the rear of the aircraft.
Pitch: 32 inches that slowly decrease to 30 inches by row 5.
Width: 18 inches.
Facilities: Reading lamp, clothes hook.
Audio and Video: Small overhead screen showing the safety on board instructions and moving map.

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Seatmap courtesy of seatguru.com
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The Crew

As on my previous flight with SWISS to Malta, the first thing that strikes me is that the female crew really have way too much make-up on. Talk about laying it on thick…! But looks are only skin deep and I have to say, the maître de working the Business Class cabin is very good at her job and very friendly.

The Meal

Welcome drink on the ground: Bottle of Henniez still water.
Towel before the meal: Prepacked scented towel served on the ground.
Delivery:
Tray service.
Type of meal:
Lunch.

  1. Roast beef slices and potato salad.
  2. Plate of cheese.
  3. Selection from the breadbasket.
  4. Strawberry mousse with kiwi compote.

I must say, I am quite surprised by the meal service on this flight. After all, with a flight time of only 55 minutes, to be honest I was not really expecting anything much to eat. Moreover, I must also confess that the meal is quite good (except for dessert)!

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Arrival

It is a lovely day for flying. Once the meal tray has been cleared away, I lean back and try to get some rest. It is only then that I notice just how loud the cabin actually is. I am not quite sure what the source is either. It is not the engines, because on take-off I was surprised by how quiet the engines were. But there is still a fairly loud background noise.

In Paris, SWISS uses Terminal 1, as do all the other Star Alliance partners, I think. The terminal may not be that user friendly or convenient, but God, it’s just so chic and cool!