Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Singapore to Zürich

Transfer in Changi 3

My A 380 from Sydney pulls onto its stand just after 21h. The flight ends at Terminal 3, which is also from where my flight to Zürich will be leaving. In fact, I can see my B 777 parked at the gate three stands down. The A 380 I just arrived on will be departing again in about two hours for London Heathrow.

Terminal 3 is a lot livelier than Sydney airport was. Before I head for the lounge, I decide to go on a bit of a walkabout to stretch my legs a bit after the long flight from Sydney. I’ll be doing a lot more sitting before I’m done with the journey home.

The Singapore Airlines Silver Kris Lounge T3

The Silver Kris Lounge in T3 was only recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment. They’ve added some nice touches. But over all, I still can’t say I really like Singapore Airlines’ corporate design. The lounge looks a lot like the lobby of one of the big hotel chains in the United States, which I’m sure has it’s own appeal if you’re over seventy…

SWISS First Class passengers are eligible to use the First Class lounge, the entrance to which is off to the left from reception.

The only thing I’m really after in the lounge is a nice long shower. Luckily, it appears that at this time of night people are not inclined to take showers, so basically I can take my pick and there’s no queue. The shower rooms are well stocked with shaving kits, tooth brushes and a no name brand of shower gel and shampoo.

The shower hits the spot nicely. I then take a seat and catch up on a few work emails. Not point in trying to put of the inevitable anymore, I guess.

Boarding

I arrive at the gate at 22h45 to find there’s a long queue for security. I really don’t like this concept of having closed gates with individual security checkpoints. I mean, it’s great that the Singapore government is obviously trying to create jobs here, but it is awfully inconvenient. So I decide to take a seat outside and wait for the actual boarding to start.

After a few minutes, a young lady from SWISS’ handling agent approaches me. She’s holding a sign with my name on it. She checks my boarding pass and then asks me to follow her, apparently she’s going to escort me through security. I’m in two minds about the whole process though. On the hand, I think it’s great that SWISS takes care of its premium passengers, and it’s not their fault the boarding situation in Changi is what it is. On the other hand, I must say it’s kind of awkward to have so many people directing the stink eye at me for cutting the queue. I feel like telling them it’s not my fault and pointing at the young lady, but that would be throwing the poor gate agent under the bus.

The cabin

On this flight I’m seated on 2A, which is basically the same seat I had on the outbound – just one row further back. The cabin is full tonight, with eight out of eight seats taken. What is interesting, is that there isn’t a single passenger in First Class heading for Zürich. One passenger is connecting to London City, two to Brussels, two to Copenhagen, two to Amsterdam and then me to Paris.

The service

There are two female cabin crew working the First Class cabin this evening. One of them is a German young lady, who is very bright and sharp. She basically anticipates what passengers want before they even realise it themselves. Her colleague is a Romande and very French in her manners, which makes for an interesting and rather charming combination in terms of the composition of the crew.

In short sequence I am brought the pajamas, a cold refreshing towel, a glas of water and the amuse bouche.

The crew come to take my order for dinner. But I tell them it’s already been a long day, so after take-off I would like to have the bed made up for me straight away so I can get some sleep. The flight time is announced as twelve hours and thirty minutes.

True to their word, once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the German cabin crew arrives with hangers for me to go change out of my clothes while she makes up my bed.

The meal – midnight snack

I actually manage to get nearly seven hours of sleep. It doesn’t take long for the crew to notice I’m awake again, and immediately they both come to check if there’s anything I’d like. I tell them I’m feeling a bit hungry, so a small snack would be nice. “Überlassen Sie das uns…” the German one says, leave it to us. A few minutes later they are back with a cup of coffee, a cheese platter with a selection of crackers and bread, three packets of popcorn, two packets of Zweifel crisps and two packets of cashew nuts. The French crew reassures me that there’s plenty more where that came from and to just let them know. I must say, I thik I could get used to being mothered like this…! It’s kind of sweet.

The meal – second service

A few hours later the cabin begins to stir and passengers start waking up. The French crew approaches me and asks if I’d like to get a head start on breakfast before the rush begins, which is very considerate of her. Shen then proceeds to basically bring me a bit of everything there is on the menu:

A bread basket, served with butter and a selection of preserves and honey.

Fresh orange juice and coffee to drink.

Birchermüsli and fresh fruit.

And yoghurt (recommended by the crew, who tell me it’s delicious – which it really is).

Oh yes, and just in case I’m still feeling hungry, an omelette with sausage, bacon, tomato and potato.

By the time breakfast is done, we’re just past Belgrade with another eighty minutes to run to Zürich. I mean, I really was quite upset having to leave Australia. But sitting here watching Europe gradually wake up to a new day is also very nice, and I become aware of just how much I’ve missed my home continent, my family and my friends. It’s good to be back!

Arrival in Zürich

We’re the second aircraft to touch down in Zürich after the curfew is lifted at six. We make a quick taxi to our gate and the crew come to wish me a safe onward journey. They also tell me the driver will be waiting for us as we disembark through the L1 door to drive us to the Schengen area. The first thing that strikes me as I deplane, is just how different Switzerland smells. It’s oddly familiar but feels somewhat exotic after the smell of Australia these last two months.

And because this is an airline blog after all, I just want to mention that I think the B 777 is really hot shit. What a beast, and the size of those formidable engines is just… just…

We all pile into the minibus and then we’re off – and I nearly have a heart attack before I remember that they drive on the right side of the road here – and not on the left. I’ll have to reprogramme my brain… again.

Once we get to the main terminal at the other side of runway 28, we go through immigration and are then escorted up to the First Class lounge to wait for our onward connections. If you’re arriving from Singapore, at least in First Class there is no need to go through security again.

Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Boeing B 777-300: Zürich to Singapore

Transfer in Zürich

With six hours to kill before my flight to Singapore, I decide not to head for the First Class lounge straight away. It is a lovely day outside, so I might as well make the best of it.

The Circle is a complex of offices and shops located land side, right behind the bus terminal. Access to The Circle is either at ground level or through a tunnel that connects it to the terminal buildings. Apparently, the tunnel has become a bit of a thing with the young and terminally hip Tik Tok and Insta community. As a result, do not be surprised to find a group of young people blocking most of the tunnel and trying to capture photos of themselves that they can post and that, at least they think, will secure their future social media fame and fortune…

The Circle has been modelled after the Niederdörfli, which is part of the old town of Zürich. Behind the buildings is a small, artificial hillock covered in thick forest. It is quite nice, and if it were not for the distant noise of the aircraft and the Autobahn, you might easily forget that you are in fact in the back yard of a major transport hub.

Check-in

Two hours later I figure I might as well head back into the terminal. I mean, I have a lot of investigating to do for this blog before my departure to Singapore.

My first stop is the First Class check-in area, just to make sure that the itinerary has not changed in the meantime. The young lady confirms that I am all good and then escorts me to the escalators leading up the the First Class lounge.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the A pier

Access to the First Class lounge is via the escalators to the left of the Edelweiss Bar in Terminal A or Check-in 1. I head up the stairs, where I am welcomed by a friendly middle-aged woman. She scans my boarding pass and inquires if I would like to go straight across to the E pier, or if I would rather wait here. I tell her I would prefer to go immediately, so she puts my name down for the shuttle in fifteen minutes and invites me to head through security in the meantime.

The lounge above Terminal A is fairly large. The design is very typical for Switzerland, I think. It is more comfortable than ostentatious.

I take a seat and immediately a young man comes to ask me if there is anything I would like to drink. I decline and tell him I will not be staying long.

First Class shuttle to the E pier

At 18h40 I head one floor up and walk down the long corridor to the departure point for the First Class shuttle to the E pier. I am the only one making the journey at this time. The driver takes me downstairs to clear immigration, and then we head out my ride to the E pier.

SWISS has these dedicated, purpose built mini vans to take passengers across, and they really are very funky. Basically, they look like a small version of a SWISS First Class cabin, complete with lamps and wood furnishings.

SWISS First Class day rooms on the E pier

The driver accompanies me up to the third floor with the lift, which ejects me in front of reception of the First Class lounge. SWISS has a limited number of day rooms available in the lounge. The receptionist informs me that “St. Moritz” is still available if I am interested. Of course I am!

The day rooms are brilliant. They are fairly small. There is no room for a desk or anything. However, each room has a comfortable double bed and a nice toilet and shower.

The view from the window is not too shabby either. But make sure to close the curtains before taking a shower, as the deck in front of the window is accessible from the lounge.

I manage to get a few hours of sleep. After a refreshing shower I decide to head out and investigate the lounge. It is fairly quiet today.

The SWISS First Class lounge on the E pier

There is no buffet service in the lounge. However, there is a large dining area and the staff are happy to also serve food on the deck outside.

My bird to Singapore is the B 777 parked next to the A 340-300.

No idea what this squirt is doing here…

I order the smoked salmon tatar with toast, which is quite tasty. Meanwhile, the evening bank has rolled on, returning the SWISS short-haul fleet home for the night. It is quite spectacular to watch, with the full moon and the mountains in the background.

Boarding

At 22h00 I head downstairs for the document check ahead of boarding. By this time the shops have already started shutting down for the night.

As I pass the gate, the gate agents tells me I will need to put on a mask for the duration of the flight as per regulation of the Singaporean authorities.

The cabin & seat

I step aboard the aircraft through the L2 door and make my way through the Stübli to the First Class cabin. I am seated on 1A. Eight out of eight seats are occupied tonight.

At my seat there is already a 50cl bottle of water and a voucher for 50Mb of complimentary wifi usage.

Once I am settled, the crew bring me the menu and the pajamas. A vanity kit and slippers are already at my seat.

The seat is wide, spacious and offers a lot of storage space that I think I must have missed on my last trip on the A 340 to Dubai. The cupboard has two hangers and two compartments to store smaller items and shoes.

There is also a small reading lamp that gives off pleasant, warm light in the dark.

The cupboard serves a second purpose to close off the seat from the aisle for more privacy. There is also a small divider that is operated electrically and which extends from the side of the seat. All in all, it is not a bad solution. The point of having these enclosed cabins is not really to have more privacy, but to prevent being disturbed in your sleep by crew and people passing by your seat.

The service

There are two crew working the First Class cabin, and both of them are excellent hosts. The service starts on the ground with the distribution of icy cold oshibori, which are highly welcomed – because although the aircon is running, the aircraft is still warm from standing around in the sun all day.

The meal

While we are still on the ground I am brought a glass of orange juice and an amuse bouche of flûtes from Sprüngli and a green tomato coulis with red tomato mousse. It is very refreshing.

Once we are airborne and the crew is released and the service begins. I am very much impressed that they actually manage to pull off the full meal service within less than two hours after take-off and without making the service seem rushed.

Starter: asparagus salad…

…and salmon trout with cucumber and trout mousse. Both of the starters are excellent. The salad leaves have managed not to go all limp in the heat, and the trout mousse is exceptional. It has a lovely smokey taste and a smooth, velvety texture.

Soup: gazpacho with shaved almonds. The soup is also very good, and has a strong dose of garlic – which at least I like very much. Not so sure about my fellow passengers though…

Main course: veal with morel jus and onion chutney, asparagus, and cheese polenta. I have no idea what compelled me to try this dish. I normally do not eat meat much, and certainly not very often on a plane. Whatever it was, I am glad I did because this dish is lovely. The polenta is rich and creamy and the meat has managed to stay juicy but without being bloody.

Cheese: a selection of cheese from the region around Lake Lucerne. Served with mustard chutney, grapes and fig bread. The blue one was a bit too salty for my liking, but the others were rather nice.

Dessert: chocolate pie. Oh my god, for a moment there I am not quite sure I will survive this dessert. It is very good, but it is also amazingly sweet and so, so rich.

Once the meal is done, I change into my pajamas and ask for the bed to be made up. I manage to sleep for a solid seven hours.

Second service

As soon as the cabin crew notice I am awake they come to ask me if I would like coffee. The young lady working the First Class cabin brings me the coffee and tells me that for one horrible moment she thought the coffee machine – the most important piece of equipment even before the engines in her view – may have gone US. But luckily she managed to get it going again.

She then ask me if I am having breakfast. There is no menu, so I challenge her to surprise me. Which she and her colleague take to mean I will try a bit of everything!

With breakfast done, I’m feeling fit to burst. Thank goodness we only have about one more hour to run to Singapore, where I can get off the plane and walk off some of all this lovely food.

Arrival in Singapore

The approach into Singapore is very scenic and takes us right past the waterfront and Changi airport, before we then make a wide 180 degree turn to line up and land.

As we pull onto our stand, the cleaning crew are already expecting us. I am guessing it is very humid, because they look as though they are trying to move as little as possible.

Conclusion

This experience with SWISS was a very pleasant surprise. I think it also proved, yet again, that the crew can make or break a flight in First Class. The crew working this flight were friendly and engaged with the passengers in a pleasant and effortless way that made you feel welcome – as though they were happy to have you with them. The lounge in Zürich was also very nice and the day rooms were just brilliant.

Of course, those of you who regularly read this blog may be wondering how SWISS compared to Air France. The answer is, I think I could not really say – mainly because their products are very different. The Air France service in La Première is elegant, polished and very grand – or just really very French. For example, when you order a drink in La Première, they will always serve it to you from a silver tray, whereas at SWISS they would just bring you a glass from the galley, without a tray. It is a minor thing and not really all that important. On the other hand, I found the service on SWISS a lot more personable.

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, First Class – Airbus A 340-300: Bangkok to Zürich

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Introduction

Previously, LX180 left Zürich at around 22h45 to arrive in Bangkok early in the afternoon the next day. The aircraft would then stand around in Bangkok until the evening for a departure around midnight, to arrive in Zürich just in time for the night curfew to be lifted at 06h00 in the morning. Thus, the airline offered a schedule that was ideally suited to the business or premium traveller, who tends to prefer night flights.

With the beginning of the winter timetable of 2014 though, Swiss International Air Lines changed its schedule to and from Bangkok. The outbound now leaves Zürich in the late afternoon to arrive in Bangkok in the morning. As a result, the inbound flight – LX181 – now departs Bangkok at 12h45 as a day flight and arrives back in Zürich at 19h30. Of course, for SWISS the new schedule makes far more sense, because it means much less down time for the aircraft. However, it also shows just how insignificant the Thai market has become for SWISS, particularly in the premium segment, if the optimisation of the aircraft’s utilisation takes precedent over offering the customer an attractive schedule. But to be fair, SWISS is not the only carrier struggling on the route and in fact, recently Thai Airways switched its operation to Zürich to a Boeing B 777-300 which does not even offer a First Class product any more.

Getting to the Airport

The Novotel Suvarnabhumi is connected to the airport’s railway station and terminal via a tunnel. Once you reach the terminal, you can either take the escalators or the lifts to the fourth floor, which is the departures level of the terminal.

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Check-in

Location: Row G.
Facilities: Airport check-in, web check-in. There are self-service check-in machines at Suvarnabhumi, but I am not sure if SWISS uses those as well.
Counters: There are three Economy Class counters, one Business Class counter, a counter for First Class, HON and Star Gold passengers and a baggage drop-off counter.

Check-in for the flight is swift, there is nobody ahead of me at the counter. While one agent is issuing my boarding pass, a young lady appears from behind me to escort me through security and immigration. To access the Premium Lane fast track for security, you will need a voucher which you should receive at check-in.

Immigration is right behind security. From there we head one floor down to the transit level, which is where the Thai Airways lounges are.

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The Thai Airways First Class Lounge

Location: Near the intersection of the D and C concourses.
Type of Lounge:
Thai Airways First Class lounge.
Facilities:
The lounge has a large open seating area. In addition, there are also semi-private rooms, all of which have their own large TV and a computer workstation. There is a separate dining area and a buffet area with a selection of sweet and savoury dishes. In addition, as soon as you are seated, one of the many lounge attendants will come to ask you if you would like to eat or drink anything. The food is served either at your seat or in the dinning room. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge, L’Occitane toiletries are provided by Thai Airways, although I am not sure if the ladies have the same toiletries.
Internet:
Wifi is available, password required.

I only have about thirty minutes in the lounge. But it has already been at least two hours since my last meal and I am starting to feel a bit peckish. So I order a Coke Zero and a green curry with chicken, which is truly excellent. Which is also the reasons why I forgot to take a picture of the meal.

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Boarding

There is only one entrance to the holding area. However, both airbridges are in use; the one to the L1 door is for First Class passengers only.

Just after noon I make my way to the gate at C06. Much to my surprise, the flight is already in the final stages of boarding. So I can walk right up to the counter and then straight on to the aircraft.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 1K, window seat on the starboard side of the aircraft. There are eight seats in First Class. The SWISS First Class seat is more or less the same seat that was introduced by Swissair many moons ago before the carrier went bankrupt. The seat is inspired by the design of the famous Eames chair. The seat and the entire hardware are now getting a bit long in the tooth, quite frankly. In comparison to other First Class seats, this one here offers zero privacy. It has started to look dated and somewhat old fashioned.
Pitch: 83 inches.
Width: 22 inches.
Facilities: 110 volt power port available in First and Business Class but not in Economy. That is about it, SWISS currently does not provide wifi on board any of its aircraft.
Length as a bed: 80 inches.
Audio and Video: Audio and video on demand. The inflight entertainment system is quite simply a shambles. First of all, they have these really cheap no name earphones that have very bad quality. Secondly, the selection of films and music is quite limited, unless of course you do not mind watching Bridget Jones’ diary or Casino Royale – again. The controls of the IFE are also a far cry from what I would describe as state of the art. The system can only be operated by remote control that is now so old the buttons have stopped reacting unless you press on them very hard. And that of course, is if you are lucky and manage to get the screen out, which took me about five minutes, because even the button to release the screen from its holder no longer works properly either.

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The Crew

There are two gentlemen serving the First Class cabin on today’s flight. For some reason, the whole service seems very rushed from the very beginning. One of the two gentlemen in particular seems a bit flustered. Every time he addresses me, it is in High German, even though he is obviously Swiss. And every time I answer him in Swiss German. But that does not stop him from addressing me in High German the next time he comes around. It is not a big deal, but there is nothing really First Class about the experience either.

Amenities

In any case, a cushion, the vanity kit, slippers and the earphones have already been placed at my seat. Shortly after I am seated, the cabin crew also brings me a pajama.

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The Meal

Amuse Bouche

On the ground orange juice is served with an amuse bouche of grilled shrimp on a papaya and chilli salsa.

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A hot unscented towel is served on the ground just as we push back.

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The First Course

  1. Balik salmon with crème fraîche and lemon.
  2. Crab salad with avocado purée and cocktail dressing.
  3. Tomato and mozzarella with Thai basil and pesto.
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The Soup

Cream of carrot and ginger soup with croutons and parmesan shavings.

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The Main Course

Shredded veal Zürich style in a creamy white wine sauce, served with a mini Rösti and broccoli with almond flakes.

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The Cheese

  1. Wildbachkäse.
  2. Glattaler Mutschli.
  3. Gruyère AOC.
  4. Senneflade.
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Dessert

Basil infused Baba Rhum with a minestrone of tropical fruit and apricot sorbet.

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Over all, the meal is rather tasty. The starter looks very appealing and also tastes very nice. The soup is also good and creamy, although the taste of the ginger is too subtle for me to make out. The main is good. The sauce has a nice flavour but the mini Rösti is only so so.

The service comes to a somewhat abrupt end. I do not really know what is going on, but rather than asking passengers if they would like tea or coffee and offering them one of those delectable Sprüngli truffes – which is what normally happens in SWISS Fist Class – today, the flight attendant just dumps the truffes on the bar, clears the tables and vanishes for the rest of the flight. For those passengers willing to sleep, the crew will graciously make the seat up into a bed and will put down the mattress and duvet. However, if like myself, you are not planning on sleeping, then basically you are on your own. I even have to go scavenging for a blanket because the crew are obviously not interested.

During the entire flight, the crew does not do a single drinks run either.

The Second Service

There are about four choices for the second service. However, none of these are actually mentioned on the menu, and I forget what all the options are. In any case, I have:

  1. Vegetarian quiche, which was in fact more like a pie.
  2. With a small salad to accompany the pie.
  3. One bun.
  4. A piece of warm apple tart with slices of fresh apple, chocolate sauce and whipped cream.
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The second meal is adequate, even though the savoury item is placed on rather a small plate, which looks a bit forlorn on the large table.

Arrival

We approach Switzerland from the east. Roughly forty minutes out of Zürich, we start our descent while we are still in Austrian airspace. It is a lovely, late summer’s evening and the landscape below is covered in a golden glow.

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Swiss International Air Lines, First Class – Airbus A 330-300: Chicago to Zürich

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Getting to the Airport

Transport: train, train, bus, train, shuttle train
Departs from: Grand station – red line
Frequency:
Journey time: one hour and fifty minutes
Fare: USD3

Following the relatively easy journey from O’Hare to the city a couple of days earlier, I figure I might as well take public transport again to get back to the airport. Or perhaps better not…

I walk down the step into the underground station on Grand to find an enormous and growing queue of passengers trying to purchase tickets. Apparently there is some technical glitch. The machines will not accept cards and if you pay in cash, they will not give change. Eventually, fifteen minutes later, I am finally in possession of a train ticket to get me to the airport.

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I take the red line for one stop to Lake, where I transfer to the blue line. The train duly arrives. As the doors shut behind me, an announcement is made that trains will only be running as far as Damen today due to construction on the line. At Damen I will have to change to a relief shuttle bus service which has been put in place. But this will only run three stops to Logan Square, from where I have to change back to the train again. Eventually, three trains and one bus later I arrive at the airport and figure I have finally had it with the public transport. Well, not quite. To reach Terminal 5, you have to pass through Terminal 2. From there follow the signs to the shuttle train station which links Terminals 1, 2, 3 and 5. Terminal 5 is the second stop after Terminal 3.

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Check-in

Location: Departures concourse Terminal 5
Facilities: web check-in, mobile check-in, dedicated SWISS check-in counters at the airport – there is a separate queue for First Class and Hon passengers.

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There are four queues for security and there is a dedicated queue for First Class passengers. You still have to queue for security, but at least the line is manageable and the whole process take a little less than ten minutes.

The SWISS First Class Lounge

Location: near gate M10
Type of Lounge:
Swiss International Air Lines First Class lounge
Facilities:
cold snacks, hot and cold drinks; the toilets are in the Business Class section
Internet:
password available at reception

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Chicago is one of only two outstations where SWISS still operates its own lounge. The other one is in New York’s JFK airport. As you enter, the Business Class section is to the right, while the First Class section is on the left. In all honesty I do not think there really is anything much that is First Class about this lounge. First of all, it is not much bigger than my bedroom at home. There are eight single sofas, and three small dining tables for two persons. As such, if the flight is full in First Class and there are a few Hons around too, the place becomes crowded very quickly.

Because of the very limited space, there is absolutely no privacy at all. This also means that unless you have really stupendous earphones with you, you are going to have to listen to the waffling and bravado of some people who have no qualms about blowing their own trumpet at full volume on the phone. I mean goodness, what is wrong with these people? Makes you wonder how short the shortcomings are they are trying to compensate…

The food options are very limited as well. In fact thee are no warm dishes and from what I can tell, all you can have are snacks – small items of sushi for example.

My suggestion if you are a STAR Gold member is to go to the SAS lounge located around about gate M14/M15. It is bigger, it is less crowded, quite frankly I think it is nicer, and Lufthansa’s B747-8 is parked right outside the window, so close you feel you could give her a tender pat on the nose.

Boarding

Priority Boarding: separate queue for Business Class and First Class passengers

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Since I arrived at the airport the weather has been deteriorating quickly. Eventually it starts raining cats and dogs, there is thunder and lightning and all movements on the ramp are temporarily halted. Eventually we board with a delay of about thirty minutes.

The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: There are eight seats. The First Class seat Swiss has installed on its A330-300 fleet is the result of a series of compromises to get more passengers into the aircraft over all. First of all, to gain some space, there is no longer a passage between the two middle row seats on the first row and the bulkhead. As a result, sitting on the right side can be a bit inconvenient because you have to pass through the galley to get to the only toilet in the First Class cabin, which is on the left side. Furthermore, avoid sitting on one of the middle seats on row one. You would be amazed at the frequency with which the cabin crew bang into the middle seats with the trolley as they emerge from behind the curtain, coming from the galley. Other than that, the pneumatic cushion of the seat is quite irritating because it just goes off randomly. The vibration of the pump or motor is quite annoying; it is enough to wake you up!

But all the shortcomings aside, the seat looks very nice and SWISS has taken good care of the cabin.

Pitch: 83 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

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The Crew

I am the first passenger to enter the First Class cabin. Before I even have a chance to sit down, the two flight attendants working the First Class cabin have already come to welcome me aboard and ask me if I would like a paper and what I would like to drink.

Both of them are truly excellent at their job. Nothing seems too much of an effort for them. They proactively approach passengers to make them more comfortable, but at the same time manage to give them a lot of private space. And all this with a genuinely friendly smile!

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Amuse bouche

Orange juice – served with an amuse bouche of smoked breast of duck with watercress, apricot chutney and flutes from Sprüngli

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Other than that, the seat has already been set up for me when I arrive. Earphones, slippers and a cushion have been placed at the seat. Shortly after I also receive my pyjamas, the vanity kit and the menu.

While we wait for the last suitcases to be loaded I also receive a hot scented towel to freshen up.

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The Meal

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The First Course

Balik salmon with crème fraîche and fresh lemon, herb marinated prawns with a lemon cream sauce (I did not try this one), selection of Swiss cold meats (I did not try any) & goat cheese and golden beet timbale with a lemon vinaigrette.

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The Soup

Cream of sweet corn soup with polenta croutons.

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The Salad

Seasonal salad with radish and mixed teardrop tomatoes.

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The Main Course

For the main dish there are five options to choose from, including one vegetarian dish and one option that is not on the menu: Bratwurst sausage with Rösti, onion sauce, mustard and vegetables.

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The Cheese

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Dessert

Raspberry tart with crème pâtissière or chocolate ice cream with berries on a mango coulis – I try the latter and it is very good.

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After such an epic meal I am totally stuffed and need to have a digestive nap. I go to the lavatory to change into my pyjamas and by the time I return, one of the cabin crew has already turned my seat into a bed, drawn the privacy screen and lit the bedside lamp. Good night!

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The Second Service

I manage a good three hours of sleep. We are two hours out of Zürich. I head for the lavatory to change back into my clothes and when I return to my seat, the bed clothes have been removed and a coffee and an orange juice are already waiting for me!

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With a little less than an hour before we arrive in Zürich, the second service sets in. The cabin crew have noticed that I am taking pictures of all the food and I get the distinct impression they want to make sure I get enough pictures for my trip report. The food just will not stop coming. Meanwhile, the crew also make sure I remain properly hydrated and replenish my glass of orange juice and the coffee regularly.

  1. Birchermüsli with berries
  2. Fresh fruit
  3. Breadbasket with a selection of Hero jam
  4. Cheese omelette
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Once I have finished, one of the cabin crew comes to check if everything is okay. I tell her the meal was very tasty, to which she replies that there are also three minute eggs available, just in case I want one of those as well…, which if of course very nice of her but I really do not think I could eat anything else.

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The meal is perfectly timed and just as my table is cleared away our A 330 gently dips its nose and we begin our descent into Zürich.

Arrival

We enter into Swiss airspace just east of Basel, my hometown. As it is still early morning, we are approaching the airport from the south for an arrival on runway 34. We are running rather late, and while this may be slightly bothersome for most of the connecting passenger, it is rather convenient for those passengers ending their journey in Zürich because the mad rush is already over by the time we land.

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The SWISS Arrivals Lounge

Location: Terminal 2 arrivals, turn left as you exit customs and you will find glass sliding doors, press the button to enter and then take the lift one floor up.
Facilities: day rooms, showers, toilets, workstations, wifi, hot and cold dishes as well as beverages

I still have some time before my train leaves to Basel, so I figure I might as well give the SWISS arrivals lounge a try. The lounge is much nicer than I expected. It also happens to be empty this morning.

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Conclusion

After seventeen days of travelling I am finally back home. Over the entire journey I have picked up a delay of seventy minutes by the time I get back home, which really is not bad at all, considering the distance and the number of flights I took on this trip.

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

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Absentation, the hero leaves the security and comfort of home…

The first leg of my journey sees me travelling from Zürich to Hong Kong in First Class with Swiss International Air Lines. This is actually my first flight with SWISS this year. My last long-haul trip with them was in January last year, when I accidentally ended up flying SWISS after my original flight on British Airways was cancelled and the KLM flight I was subsequently rebooked to went tech and was then also cancelled…

Getting to the Airport

Transport: train
Departs from: Winterthur station
Frequency: six trains every hour, four of which are nonstop
Journey time: 13 minutes on the direct trains, 17 minutes on the regional train (S-Bahn)
Fare: CHF4.20 one way

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My train from Winterthur pulls into Zürich Flughafen station just after eight, which gives me about two hours before the flight to Hong Kong is scheduled to depart.

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The station is deep in the basement of the airport. The escalators up from the platforms will eject you in the retail area, which makes it a bit difficult to find the airport for all the shops if you’re unfamiliar with the place. This is also where you will find the Terminal 3 check-in counters. To reach Terminals 1 and 2 and to access the gates you need to go up one more floor. There are yet more shops here and it’s a bit of a schlep to the terminals, but at least the the signage at Zürich Airport is very good (Are you reading this, Vienna Airport?) so it is quite easy to find your way around.

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Check-in

Location: Terminal 1
Facilities: dedicated First Class check-in area with direct curb side access.

Check-in for SWISS flights is in Terminals 1 and 3. However, if you want to have the full on First Class experience, you will have to make your way to Terminal 1, because there is no dedicated First Class check-in available in Terminal 3. I can only assume that SWISS doesn’t expect any of its top tier passengers to condescend to use public transport.

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First Class check-in is segregated from the rest of the terminal. There are no conveyor belts here, so if you’re checking in luggage, the valet will come and pick it up – once it has been tagged and labelled accordingly – to quickly whisk it away. There is something very old school about the process, which I rather like.

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The lady at check in asks me if I’m really okay sitting on 1K. I answer that I am and in return ask her if there is a problem with 1K. She tells me 1K is as good as any other First Class seat, but apparently I have the entire First Class cabin to myself this evening and could have had 1A instead. Well in that case I think I might just have my meal in 1K, sleep in 1A and maybe try another one to watch a movie. Just for the heck of it, because their mine, all mine!

The SWISS First Class Lounge

Location: Terminal 1, access is via a staircase in the forum housing the transfer desks
Type of Lounge:
dedicated Swiss First Class lounge
Facilities:
restaurant with à la carte dining, buffet with hot and cold dishes, showers, day room, office area
Internet:
access code with a validity of 1 year, the internet connection is very slow and the PCs are even worse

From check-in I head straight for security. Admittedly, this part of the experience does not feel particularly exclusive ever since they introduced centralised security screening at Zürich Airport. There is a separate lane for premium passengers, but this includes status holders and Business Class passengers as well.

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I’m feeling a bit peckish, after all my last meal was at noon. I choose the veal pie with Cumberland sauce, mushroom mouse and smoked trout with roe and sweet potato. And for something sweet I have a small piece of lemon cheesecake with raspberries.

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Interdiction, the hero is warned against some action…

It’s time to give my mum a call to see how she’s doing. Today I passed out in the gym. I was working out my legs. I’ve had two weeks of intensive training and I think I may have overdone it a bit. I confess to my mum. I mean, what’s the point? Mothers have a way of prying out of you the things you’d actually rather not tell them. My mum starts telling me off, ‘you have to listen to your body young man’ – Ma I’m going to be forty – ‘don’t you try to change the subject, this is no laughing matter, it’s not healthy for you’ – yes Ma. Eventually I ring off, but the communication continues. My mum starts texting me. ‘You don’t want to end up sick in a foreign country you know…don’t forget to eat…’. Bless her!

Boarding

At 22:05 I leave the lounge and I make my way to the meeting point for the shuttle to the E gates. The shuttle is a Mercedes mini van with room for five passengers.

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Boarding has already started when I reach the gate, but by the looks of it they’ve only just made the call for the premium passengers. The gate agent scans my boarding pass. She makes a point of addressing me by name, thanks me for flying Swiss First Class and wishes me a pleasant flight. I’m a bit impressed I must admit.

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The Cabin

Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 8 seats – While this seat is obviously no longer the industry benchmark and does not offer the same level of privacy as some of the new generation products out there, as far as I’m concerned, it remains one of the most comfortable airplane seats around. Guaranteed to give you a few hours of restful slumber.
Pitch: 80 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled

The first thing that strikes me upon entering the cabin is that it is in mint condition. There are no signs of wear and tear, nor are there any marks or blemishes. Quite obviously Swiss has taken very good care of this bird.

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Amenities

Amenity kit: Bally
Content: toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, comb, various cosmetics by Swiss brand La Prairie, Ricola sweets, tissues, eye shade, ear plugs, socks
Slippers: I wear a size 46 shoes. The slipper fit me comfortably, but I’m not sure they have them in smaller sizes
Pyjamas: Zimmerli (Swiss brand) in various sizes

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The crew on this flight prove once again that it’s the people that make the airline. As a customer, our perception of what is a good flight and what not depends largely on the impression we receive from the crew. And by the looks of it, I’m in luck this evening. The crew up front consists of one senior cabin crew in his early fifties. He’s very outgoing and charming and gives you the feeling of being genuinely welcome on board. The other is a young man of South Asian descent with a broad Bernese accent. He comes across as being very nice, friendly and polite.

As I reach my seat, it’s quite apparent that I am already being expected, which is a nice feeling when you’re going on a journey abroad. Within short sequence I receive the slippers, vanity kit and pyjamas.

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The Meal

Mimosa, served on the ground as a welcome drink – freshly squeezed orange juice and champagne.

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Amuse Bouche

Amuse bouche of fish with peas and butter flûtes from Sprüngli (served on the ground).

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The Balik salmon is very tasty. I think I may perhaps have been a bit overly enthusiastic in demolishing it though, because the next thing I know the steward comes along and asks me if I’d like some more. Oh go on then, if you force me…!

The First Course

Balik salmon with crème fraîche and chives.

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Next up it’s the soup, which is outstanding. It’s incredibly flavourful; the taste of the lemongrass is well balanced with that of the corn. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well. The presentation of the dish is elegant; I really like the large and deep plates in which Swiss serve their soups. The plate arrives only with the popcorn in it. The actual soup is poured out into the dish at the passenger’s seat. As a finishing touch the steward adds a bit of cream to the dish and a few sprigs of thyme.

The Soup

Soup of corn and lemongrass with popcorn.

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The soup is followed by the salad, which is nice and crisp even though it looks like a bit of a mess. There is a choice of Italian or French dressing. I go with the Italian, which is much better than that vile stuff in a Heinz jar Lufthansa serve in First Class and which is inedible.

The Salad

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And then comes the main dish. This is just okay. The combination of flavours is all right, but somehow the veal just tastes bland.

The Main Course

Herb coated veal loin with rosemary sauce, macaroni gratin, artichoke and olives; with a side order of peppers and grilled zucchini.

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Next I have some cheese, and again I’m quite taken by the presentation of the plate. It all just looks so nice. I particularly like the mustard seed chutney, it’s spicy in the same way that wasabi is, the kind of strength that literally gets up you nose and makes you wince and your eyes water.

The Cheese

Selection of cheese served with mustard seed chutney, pear bread, fruit and crackers.

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By this time I’m already quite full but somehow the description in the menu of the dessert has kindled my curiosity. And I’m not disappointed. This is another well presented dish with lots of flavour. It’s very refreshing.

Dessert

Apricot and thyme slice with pistachio crumble, quark sorbet, apricot and vanilla coulis.

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To conclude the meal I have some Moroccan mint tea.

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While I’m eating, the steward made up the seat opposite into my bed, so once the meal is over I just cross the aisle, lay down and go off to bed. I even receive a small little soft toy airplane to keep my company during the night.

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The crew’s attention to detail is really something else. During the night I leave my bed twice, to find that it’s been redone by the time I return. They even give my pillow a good shake!

The Second Service

I awake just under five hours out of Hong Kong and figure I might as well make a start with the trip report. The friendly young man immediately notices I’m awake and comes to ask me if here’s anything I’d like. I ask for a coffee and an orange juice. While I wait he brings me a warm scented towel and a vitamin booster.

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  1. Bowl of Birchermüsli
  2. Plate of fresh fruit – melon, mango, kiwi and strawberries
  3. Various breads with butter and jam
  4. An egg dish with ham, sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomato – served with mustard
  5. Orange juice and coffee

About ninety minutes out of Hong Kong breakfast is served. The second service is not quite as elaborate as the main meal but it hits the spot nicely. By this time I’m also seriously wondering just exactly how much cutlery and how many dishes they actually have on board on a flight like this.

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Arrival

Our arrival into Hong Kong is beautiful. First of all there’s the light. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Hong Kong when the weather has been so nice. It’s clear day, with only a bit of haze. We approach the city from the north, flying out over the South China Sea with the city on our left hand side. We execute a number of turns around the entire city until eventually we’ve done a full 360 as we come out of the last turn to line up with the runway. Hong Kong is quite hilly, and on our descent we pass very close to the peaks of some of the hills and mountains that surround the area. It’s very spectacular.

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There is a lady expecting me as I disembark. Her job is to guide me through immigration and baggage claim as quickly and smoothly as possible. And indeed, within nine minutes from getting off the plane I find myself standing by the baggage reclaim carousel waiting for my suitcase to appear.

Getting into Town

Transport: train and bus
Departs from: Hong Kong Airport
Frequency: every 12 minutes
Journey time: 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island
Fare: HKD82 one way
The most convenient way to get from the airport into town is by train. At the station in Kowloon and at the terminus on Hong Kong Island there is a complimentary bus service available that will take you to most of the mayor hotels. There are different routes. If you’re not sure which bus to take,  just ask one of the many staff for directions.

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Russian Fairtyles and a Round the World Trip with Swiss, Cathay Pacific, Air New Zealand, Air Tahiti Nui, Air Tahiti, Air France and Virgin America

Preamble

In his Morphology of the Tale, which was published in 1928, Vladimir Propp analyses the narrative structure – or morphology – of Russian folklore and fairytales. He concludes that the narrative structure of the Russian fairytales he looked at essentially all follow the same pattern. Interestingly enough, this observation also holds for many other fictional works from different cultures, whether it is the Arabian Nights or Thelma and Louise.

According to Propp, every narrative follows the same sequence of thirty-one functions. A function is an event. Furthermore, the characters that appear in a narrative can be grouped into seven general character functions. This means that the role a character has in the narrative dictates their actions.

The first function is the absentation, which usually requires the hero to leave the familiarity and safety of home in order to resolve a situation or avenge an injustice committed at the hands of the nasty villain with the mad scientist laugh. Over the course of the narrative the hero must endure a lot of hardship and danger to finally prove the true value of his character. Eventually, towards the end of the narrative, the hero returns to the point from where he originally set out, but only once the problem has been resolved, the injustice avenged and the villain punished. By this time he has undergone what Propp refers to as the transfiguration, the function which conveniently turns him into an incredible stud just in time for the final function – wedding – where he gets to snog (or something else) the exotic and seriously hot princess…

… If you have managed to last up to here, perhaps you may be wondering why on earth I am telling you all this, when this should be an online travel journal? Well, quite simply because tomorrow I’ll be off on my summer vacation. I’ll be going around the world. Quite like the hero of Russian folklore I shall be setting out from home, hopefully to come full circle and return in much better shape than when I departed.

Admittedly, a comparison of my summer vacation with the likes of the Arabian Nights or Russian folklore may be a tad far fetched. But I hope you will grant me this, it makes an interesting change from the usual introductions I write – even if I have no problems to resolve, villains to punish or princesses to snog.

– William

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

Date: 30 August 2012
Airline:
Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft:
A340-300
From:
Zürich
To:
Bangkok
Cabin:
First Class
Seat:
1A

Getting to the Airport

Zürich airport has its own railway station underground. The station is highly convenient it that it is connected to the national and international rail network. There are frequent trains to Zürich Main Station (four trains an hour, journey time is about eight minutes) as well as to most major cities in Switzerland. The journey from Basel, where I live, to the airport takes one hour and 16 minutes. The distance is only 79 kilometres, but the train takes the northern line from Basel to Zürich, which is speed restricted, and stops no less than seven times between Basel and the airport.

Zürich airport has all the necessary facilities one can expect from a medium to large size European hub. After I disembark from the train from Basel, I take the escalators one floor up. Immediately on your left are the counters of the Swiss Federal Railways, who also operate a Bureau De Change. As my final destination will be Vietnam on this trip, I exchange some Thai Bhat and Vietnamese Dongs. And suddenly I’m a millionaire! I exchange CHF300 and in return I receive no less than 5’300’000 Dongs, a fat wad of green and red banknotes with the kind and benevolent face of Uncle Ho on them beaming at me!

Check-in

I then make my way to Check-in 1, the home of Swiss International Air Lines and the Star Alliance. It’s quite amazing just how quiet the airport is around this time of day (the flight to Bangkok leaves at 22h45). The place looks deserted.

I head inside the First Class check-in lounge and receive my boarding pass for the flight to Bangkok. Quite unusually, I’m sitting on 1A tonight. My normal seat is 1K on the right hand side. But that’s okay, it makes no difference.

After check-in I make my way through security. Here there has been a vast improvement at Zürich Airport. With the opening of the new centralised security check, First Class passengers go through security before heading for the lounge, rather than having to go through security before they take the shuttle across to the E dock. The only complaint, if you want to be pedantic, is that there is no separate lane for First Class passengers and they have to share security with the Business Class passengers.

The SWISS First Class Lounge

As usual in the Swiss First Class lounge in Zürich, the main area towards the left of the reception area is comfortably full, certainly not crowded. So I decide to check out the area on the other side of the reception and once again I have the whole place to my self!The lounge is well stocked. There are two bars and the larger one also has a warm buffet with a selection of cold and warm food. There is also a small area with about five or six tables where passengers can also order à la carte dining before their flight.


But tonight I intend to eat on the plane, so I just have a small canapé with Mozzarella, tomato and peppers and make myself a small cheese sandwich to tie me over. To drink I have a Canada Dry Ginger Ale.

The toilets are nicely appointed in the First Class lounge, although here too there has evidently been some cost saving. Nowadays the liquid soap in the soap dispenser is of the cheap variety you find everywhere else in the terminal.

Boarding

At 22h00 I return to the reception area for the shuttle across to the E dock. With only three other passengers making the journey across to the E gates with me, passport control is quickly done.Normally Swiss uses Mercedes Minivans to move people across to the E dock. When there are not that many passengers, the BMW7 will also do.

The E Dock on the other side of runway 28 is much busier this time of night than the main terminal complex.

At the gate there are two lanes. One is for the Economy Class passengers and the other is for premium passengers and those with status.

There are two airbridges attached to the aircraft, but the L1 door is closed, so all passengers have to board through the L2 door.

The Cabin

The cabin is in good condition. Tonight’s flight is showing a very healthy load, the First Class cabin is nearly completely full with seven out of eight seats taken. By the looks of it Swiss also has new cushions or at least cushion covers.

The usual Bally amenity kit, slippers and earphones have already been placed at my seat when I arrive.

As soon as I am seated the First Class service begins. Service is done by two middle aged and friendly female flight attendants. I am asked if I would like a newspaper and a drink. I choose the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and a glass of still water with a slice of lemon.

A short while later I am brought an amuse bouche of crab cake with a mango and zucchini salsa and a few butter sticks.

As soon as I finish that, the plate is removed and I am brought a scented, warm towel to refresh myself.

Departure is from runway 34. In the evenings it is either 34 or 32 that are in use for departures to minimise the noise pollution. As usual there are quite a few departures this time of night, we are number three in the departure sequence and I count a further three widebodies behind us.

Take-off is the usual lame A340-300 ‘will-he-make-it-before-the-end-of-the-runway’ departure. The acceleration and climb are barely perceivable. As soon as we get airborne we experience some significant turbulence which last for the first 45 minutes or so of the flight. Once the lights go on again and we are free to move, the flight attendant brings me my pajamas and I go and change for the night.

The Meal

The meal service begins with the table being set. I have my own breadbasket and a saucer of olive oil to dip the bread in.

With the meal I have sparkling mineral water with lemon.

The First Course

Balik Salmon with Crème Fraîche, chives and blinis. An excellent dish you can hardly go wrong with.

The Soup

Cream of sweet corn soup with popcorn. Very tasty, Swiss do a good soup.

The Salad

Mixed salad with croutons, cherry tomatoes and boiled egg. Excellent, they seem to have a new Italian dressing and it’s very tasty.

The Main Course

Zürich style shredded veal in a creamy mushroom sauce with Rösti and carrots sautéed in butter. Now this is simply outstanding. This is a signature dish you get in most self-respecting restaurants in Switzerland. Even so, I really don’t think I’ve ever had one in a restaurant that tasted this good. The sauce is rich and creamy and you even make out the white wine used for the sauce. Even the Rösti is cooked to perfection and has remained crisp on the outside and soft on the inside.

The Cheese

A platter of assorted Swiss cheese with mustard seed chutney, walnuts, grapes, crackers and dried prunes and apricots. Here is another cost saving measure. When I flew this same route last year, the cheese service came from an open trolley and every passenger could choose himself which cheese he wanted to try.

The flight attendant tries to convince me to have dessert. But I decline and admit defeat.

After that it’s off to bed. Good night!

The Second Service

I awake about two hours out of Bangkok. Perfect timing because it gives me enough time for a leisurely breakfast. I don’t like being rushed in the mornings.

I change back into my normal clothes. When I return to my seat the flight attendant has already placed a nice cup of coffee there for me with a glass of water.

She asks me what I’ll be having with breakfast and I ask for just an orange juice.

Next she sets up the table again for the meal. Breakfast consists of Zopf, a typically Swiss bread, and a croissant. With this I have some cherry jam and butter.

Apricot yoghurt.

French toast with berries.


After the meal the table is cleared again and the flight attendant asks me if there’s anything else I’d like. So I ask for a bottle of still water. After that I lean back to enjoy the views and nap some more before we land.

Arrival

Our route into Bangkok is a circuitous one.

Once we land, I bid the crew farewell and disembark through the L1 door. On the other side of the airbridge there is a SWISS ground attendant holding up a sign with my name on it. She asks me to follow her to a golf mobile. I get on board and she whisks me off to the transfer security check. From there we head one floor up to the Royal Jordanian transfer counter.

Conclusion

In summary it’s not a bad flight I have with Swiss. The crew is professional and efficient but still manages to be friendly and give the whole experience a personal touch. The tempo of the service is good and the food is very tasty.