SWISS, Business Class – Airbus A 321: Zürich to Stockholm

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Introduction

The valiant M. and I are on our way to Shanghai to present a paper on the use of Rasch measurement in testing. The first part of our journey will take us from Zürich to Stockholm on SWISS.

Getting to the Airport

Yeah, that’s a bit of a problem in this case. Admittedly, the connection via Stockholm is not the best, with a six-hour layover in Sweden. Worse still, the flight from Zürich to Stockholm will already be departing at 06h50. Alas, the first train from Basel to Zürich does not arrive at the airport until 06h07 according to the schedule. Also, the Swiss Federal Railways are currently operating on a reduced summer schedule, and the information on their app is somewhat unreliable. I think if I were only travelling with hand luggage, I’d probably risk it. But with the big suitcase I’ll need to check in, I’ve decided to go to the airport the evening before and spend the night at the Radisson Blu at Zürich airport.

The Radisson Blu is not a very good hotel, I don’t think. But it has the advantage of being the only hotel that is directly connected to the terminal and check-in 1, which is home to SWISS.

Check-in

The check-in area for premium passengers at Check-in 1 was done up not too long ago. It looks nice. Although I’m not really sure how having a little desk lamp on the counter top is supposed to enhance my experience… On the other hand, I must admit that the check-in process is very swift. Despite the fact that it’s the busy holiday period, there is no queue and the check-in agent immediately checks my suitcase all the way through to my destination.

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The SWISS Business Class Lounge

There is a separate access point to the security area for Business Class passengers. And there are two lanes open at the checkpoint for Business Class passengers. Pretty much like every other time I’ve travelled with the valiant M., I pass through security without a hitch, while he has to endure having the security staff more or less take apart his entire hand luggage, only to eventually tell him that he’s okay…

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By the time the valiant M. has reassembled his carefully packed bags, it’s 05h23. The SWISS Business Class lounge doesn’t open until 05h45 though. So we mosey around the airside area for another twenty minutes before I can get my morning coffee fix.

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The SWISS lounge recently reopened after an extensive refurbishment, which, in my view, was long overdue. The first thing that strikes me, is that there are automatic gates to access the lounge. I find this quite striking, because it means that if you’ve checked-in online and you use one of the gates to access the lounge, even as a premium passenger your interaction with the airline is quite limited.

The lounge itself is nice, although the valiant M. and I agree that it’s also a bit sterile. I’m not sure what to make of the design though, because it looks like a strange mix between an IKEA showroom and a Starbucks coffee shop that has hipster written all over it.

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The good news is that there’s a lot more place to sit now. Partly, this has also been achieved because the smoker’s lounge and bar on the upper floor of the lounge have been removed to make space for extra seating. Although no food is permitted on the upper floor.

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Boarding

Boarding for the flight starts at 06h30, twenty minutes before departure. Economy Class passengers are expected to use the automatic gates, while Business Class passengers can either use those or jump the queue and have their boarding pass scanned by the gate agent.

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The Cabin

There are three rows of seats in the Business Class cabin with a total of twelve seats. Nine seats are occupied by paying passengers and two are taken by staff that have been bumped up from Economy.

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The seat pitch on the second row is good, as the x-rated picture of my hairy legs shows. To be honest, I prefer the second row to the first, because you can get on the plane last and just dump your bag under the middle seat of the row in front if the overhead bins are already full. There are no power plugs for passengers on this aircraft.

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I am seated on 2F, which is a window seat.

The Crew

The crews on SWISS can be a bit of a hit or miss affair. Either they just really so couldn’t care less and make it painfully obvious, or they’re outstanding. There doesn’t seem to be anything in between. Luckily, today’s crew fall in the latter category. They are very courteous in the way they address the passengers, very polite and they make a point of addressing every passenger by their last name, literally every time they address them.

Once the boarding process is completed, the crew distribute the prepacked scented towels and a small bottle of still water.

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We take off in a northerly direction on runway 34. The flight time is announced as two hours.

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The Meal

Once the fasten seatbelt sign is turned off, the meal service begins.

The meal is served on one tray. There is a choice of two hot meals: a cheese omelette or scrambled egg with bacon, a small rösti and a grilled tomato. Also on the tray is a bowl of Bicher Müsli, a plate of fruit and another plate with cheese and butter. The crew make two rounds with the bread basket.

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Again, it strikes me that the crew are so attentive with their service. So far, I must say, I’m quite positively surprised by SWISS. This meals service is definitely way above the airline’s usual standards and the crew is excellent!

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Arrival

The flight passes quickly and there’s a comfortable, quiet hush in the cabin as we head towards Stockholm. Eventually we land in Stockholm pretty much on time.

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Conclusion

This flight was really nice. The crew were attentive but still left passengers in peace and quiet. The experience with check-in and the lounge made me think though. Perhaps not even so much about SWISS specifically, but because of the way that air travel appears to be evolving. As I mentioned above, you can check-in, access the lounge and even board the plane without having to interact with a single person. Which mean that the first and only opportunity for the airline to interact with its passengers is through its cabin crew. But even in this respect, opportunities are somewhat limited if, for example, the airline offers buy on board.

For a very long time, the airline industry was very much focussed on hospitality and offering the passenger a personalised experience. But that no longer seems to be the case, or at least it is, but only to a lesser degree.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Airbus A 330-300: Dubai to Zürich

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Introduction

I check out of the Doubletree in Al Barsha at around 21h00 on Thursday evening and make my way to the airport for the flight back to Switzerland. The departure time is scheduled for 01h35. I really don’t like these flights that leave in the middle of the night. Especially when they’re as short as the one from Dubai to Zürich. By the time you step onto the plane you’re exhausted from a really long day and no matter what you do, it’s a fact that you’re not going to get enough sleep because the flight time is not nearly long enough…

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Check-in

SWISS checks in at Terminal 1, together with all the other foreign carriers at DXB. With the exception of the low-cost carriers and Hajj flights that is, which operate out of Terminal 2.

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SWISS is located on row 5. There are only two counters available: one for Economy Class and another for First Class and HON Circle passengers.

The Lufthansa Business Class Lounge

This is the first time I’m using the new D gates. The facility is rather nice, mainly because there are not as many people milling about as there normally are on the Emirates concourses.

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SWISS uses the Lufthansa lounge in Dubai. The lounge looks quite new and is designed in the typical Lufthansa corporate design. It’s a style that either you like or you don’t…

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The lounge is rather small and feels very cramped. So that eventually it gets too crowded for me and I decide to go for a walk through the terminal instead. Along the way, I come across these rather strange containers that I’ve never seen at any other airport. Apparently, if you have excess baggage, you can dump it in one of the containers for Dubai airport to dispose of. But I don’t get it. I mean, who would bother to make the schlep to get airside with an entire suitcase, only to dump it behind security? Is there something I’m missing here?

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The Cabin

I’m seated on 4A, which is one of the so called throne seats. Rows 4 and 5 are the first two rows of Business Class, located between the First Class cabin and the L2 galley. With only two rows, this mini cabin feels quite intimate and a lot quieter than the larger Business Class section behind the L2 galley.

The first thing I notice about the seat is that it doesn’t seem to have aged all that well. The seat and the cabin are well maintained, that’s not what I mean. But rather, the whole cabin and seat are starting to look a bit old fashioned.

Amenities

As for the amenities, there’s a vanity kit at my seat, a pillow and a towel. There have been some improvements here. The vanity kit is in the shape of an aluminium tin that is Victorinox branded. It contains lip balm, a toothbrush and toothpaste, an eye mask, ear plugs and socks. There are additional cosmetics in the toilets.

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But perhaps the most positive development for me are the blankets. They’re really quite nice and thick. And so’s the pillow.

The Crew

The crews are always SWISS’ weakness, I think. All of them have a rather disgruntled expression and not one of them seems to be overly enthusiastic about their job. There is no drinks service on the ground. Before we depart, the crew distribute flimsy scented hot towels. After that they pass through the cabin with the menus for the flight and the order forms for breakfast. I think this is a really good idea, because is significantly shortens the duration of the service in the morning, giving passengers more time to sleep.

As soon as we’re airborne, I extend my seat into a bed and go off to Noddy land.

The Second Service

I awake about seventy minutes out of Zürich, just as the meal service is about to start. So I quickly head for the toilets to change back into my normal clothes, ahead of the usual rush before landing.

The breakfast service consists of plain yoghurt, a bowl of fruit, two buns with butter and cherry jam, a glass of orange juice, a cup of coffee and the hot meal. The latter consists of a pancake filled with scrambled egg, a hash brown and some grilled veg and spinach. The bread is really good. But the egg/pancake thing has this very strange eggy flavour with a hind of plastic. It’s really not very good.

After the meal, I ask for a second cup of coffee, which one of the younger flight attendants brings me. I say ‘thank you’ but all I get in return is ‘I’m going to have to come back to collect that now…’. Was it something I said…?

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Arrival

Eventually we land just slightly ahead of schedule. It’s nice to be home again after two weeks. It’s also nice to be back in cooler temperatures again. Our flight ends at the E pier, from where you need to catch the underground metro to get to the main terminal area. But we’re only the second arrival of the day. So the train is not too crowded and immigration is swift.

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As soon as I collect my bags from the belt, I head out through customs and then one floor up, which is where the SWISS arrivals lounge is located. Luckily enough a shower room is available for me to freshen up before I head into the office. The arrivals lounge is nice and convenient. It’s also surprisingly empty and quiet this morning.

Conclusion

All in all, this wasn’t a bad flight with SWISS. I don’t think I’ll ever be fan but they got me home in one piece. But I wouldn’t go out of my way to travel with them. I think when I next fly to Dubai Emirates will be my first choice. Simply because Dubai is their hub and they therefore have the superior product on the ground. In addition, I also think Emirates provide the better on board experience. At least their crew aren’t so grumpy all the time.