Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – Avro RJ100: Basel to Copenhagen

Introduction

In the week between Christmas and New Year I normally visit Japan. In 2011 however, I decided to do something different for a change. It had also been quite a stressful year so I didn’t really want to stray too far from home anyway.

So where to go? Obviously, given that I probably do have a bit of an obsession – I like to call it a keen interest – with airplanes, apart from a new destination the routing would have to include a new type and preferably also a new airline.

Eventually, the solution came to me and I decided to head for Oulu in Finland. To get there, I would first fly with Swiss from Basel to Copenhagen and then from there on to Helsinki with Blue1 and then on to Oulu.

This trip review is about the first leg of my trip from Basel to Copenhagen. A route which has since been discontinued.

If you’re just interested in the pictures I took in Copenhagen, please scroll down to the bottom.

Date: 26 December 2011
From: Basel
To: Copenhagen
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Aircraft: Avro RJ100
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1D

Getting to the Airport

After celebrating Christmas with the family at my parents place, I leave Basel for Copenhagen in the afternoon of 26 December – Boxing Day. My first stop is the main railway station to get some Danish Krona and then catch the bus to the airport from just outside the main entrance of the station. It being the day after Christmas, I was not really expecting there to be any people. Much to my surprise though, the bus is full and the airport is also rather busy when I arrive.

The main entrance to the Swiss Railway Station in Basel
The airport bus from the inside. A few minutes later it was packed!
The departures level of terminal building, taken from the Swiss side of the airport. The boarder with France runs right through the middle of the building.

The Lounge

I’ve already done online check-in, so once I arrive at the airport, I head straight through security to the Swiss Business Class lounge, which is nearly deserted. This however, has nothing to do with the Christmas holiday and seems to be the usual state of affairs for this lovely lounge. As you can see, it looks wonderful with the warm light of the low winter sun seeping in through the windows in the roof.

My aircraft being prepared for the flight to Copenhagen. The Avros are getting a bit long in the tooth. Swiss International Air Lines intends to decommission the last one in 2016 as the Bombardier CSeries comes online. Quite frankly, I don’t see the Avro lasting that long.

Boarding

I looks as though the flight is going to be packed. and indeed, it turns out there is only one row of Business Class. There is another passenger in Business Class. He has the window seat 1F. The seat between us is empty and I am on 1D. I’m hoping to shift to 1A once boarding is completed, but no such luck.


The Cabin

In the row behind me there is a family with two young children sharing the row of three. The flight attendant informs them that they need to be reseated as there are no additional oxygen masks on the row of three, therefore one parent will have to sit on the other side of the aisle with one of the children. So the guy in the aisle seat on the row of two gets up to change seats with the dad, but instead of swapping seats, he just parks himself in the empty two-seater of the Business Class cabin. What’s more, the flight attendant lets him stay there for the entire flight.

It’s a lovely day for flying. The little Avro is obviously struggling with the heavy load, subsequently our climb is not exactly steep. We take off in a southerly direction, then do a 270 degree right hand turn and crossed the river Rhine into German airspace. We then fly a easterly track to lake Constance, on the German-Swiss boarder, and from there set course for Denmark.

Crossing the Rhine.

The Crew

The service on board this flight is nothing much to write home about either. The mini Business Class cabin is served by a German flight attendant who would obviously much rather be at home with her family or by the beach, or climbing a mountain – anywhere but just not on a flight to Copenhagen. Looks like the Avros are not the only ones that Swiss urgently need to decommission. She plonks down the tray with the meal before me, get the drinks and then disappears. No idea where to. She reappears to remove the tray about 15 minutes before we arrive in Copenhagen.

The Meal

The lunch that is served is rather strange and consists of shredded Zucchini with a slice of poached salmon and some Bündnerfleisch – dried meet. It also seems that since my previous trip in Business Class, Swiss has reverted back to using plastic dishes and cutlery. It’s so stylish…

Arrival

The rest of the flight is uneventful, which is rather obvious. The good thing about having a vanishing flight attendant is that it seriously reduces the risk of having red wine or something accidentally spilled over you.

Conclusion

What can I say? This flight was certainly not one of Swiss International Air Lines’ finest moments. First of all, the airline should make up its mind on whether or not to provide a Business Class product on flights from Basel or not. If the decision is to have such a service, then it should be executed properly, and not be treated as some kind of unnecessary burden for the staff.

And indeed, in the meantime this route has been discontinued, together with a number of other destinations from Basel. For an airline like Swiss there is no money to be made in Basel, given the strong presence of Easyjet, which now has something like eight Airbus A 319s stationed at the airport. First of all, the old little Avro – with its four engines and only 97 seats – can hardly compete, from an economic perspective at least, with Easyjet’s A 319s, which can seat up to 156 passengers.Furthermore, Easyjet’s dominance at Basel airport should be a clear enough indication that the market it serves has no use or interest in a premium product.

Obviously, Swiss’ plan for Basel was not to make money but simply to try and regain some of the market it had lost to Easyjet. But this is the kind of strategy you can only pursue if you have sufficient funds to keep it up over a longer period of time, which is evidently not the case for Swiss or any airline in Europe right now.

The Nimb, Copenhagen

In Copenhagen I stayed at the Hotel Nimb, the entrance of which is opposite the main railway station. The Nimb is actually on the premises of the Tivoli amusement park and access is for free for guests. The Tivoli itself is a really magical place to visit in winter.

Fireplace in my room.
The hotel bar.
The hotel from the outside, taken from my room overlooking the Tivoli.
The classic Copenhagen shot.
Water taxi.
The opera house.
She needs no introduction.
A shop that sells cupcakes only.
He was also staying at the Tivoli.

Swiss International Air Lines, Business Class – A 320: Zürich to London Heathrow

Date: 21 July 2011
From: Zürich
To: London Heathrow
Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
Class: Business Class
Seat: 1A
Aircraft: A 320

Getting to the Airport

My journey begins, as usual, on the train from Basel to Zürich Airport on the ‘Flugzug’, the airport train. This train does not go via Zürich main station, going instead straight to Zürich Airport. All of the direct trains between Zürich Airport and Basel have an LX flight number and can be booked on the airlines’ website as a feeder in connection with a flight to or from Zürich. In theory, when you book the air train on SWISS.COM, you’re booking a particular train. In practice however, the Swiss Federal Railways are very lenient and in fact you can take any train on the date of travel. You may even take a train that goes via the main station in Zürich.

My pet peeve with the Flugzug is the duration of the journey. The distance between Basel and Zürich is merely 80kms. The direct nonstop trains to the main station usually make the journey in 49 minutes. The Flugzug however, takes 1hour and 16 minutes to make the journey. For one because it takes another route that is shorter but has speed restrictions, for another because it stops no less than seven times en route.

But let us now move on the trip review proper: as we pull out of Basel’s main, Swiss railway station the weather is still more or less fine. We haven’t really had much of a summer in Switzerland so far. After a promising start to summer, July was rather unsettled and also unusually cool and with lots of rain.

Within just a few minutes the weather situation starts to deteriorate, and by the time the train reaches Frick, the second of the seven stops between Basel and Zürich Airport, it is raining heavily. Alas, the situation does not improve any until I reach the airport. It is only a short while before boarding that the rain stops.

I’ve checked in online, so once I arrived the plan is to go airside immediately. On my way to the Senator lounge I spot the daily Air Malta flight to Malta. Yearning for the warmer climes the aircraft is heading for and overcome by a sudden bout of patriotism, I decide to sacrifice the comfort of the lounge to watch the Air Malta flight push back. As it happens though, the flight appears to have some slot issue and although it shows as departed, it is still parked at the gate at the time boarding for my flight to Heathrow starts.

Boarding

My flight left from a bus gate in the non-Schengen area in Terminal B. This part of the terminal complex has since closed down.

Fortunately it’s stopped raining and the sun is trying to make a come back by the time our bus reaches the aircraft. There is a bit of a hold up for departure. Some woman is travelling with her cello, for which she apparently had made a correct booking for an extra seat to have the delicate instrument transported in the cabin with her. But nobody on the aircraft or from Swissport knows about the cello. There’s a bit of a commotion and a substantial delay as the ground crew attempt, and finally manage, to secure the cello in the cabin. What I find particularly funny though, is that while all this is going on, the captain suddenly comes on the PA and makes an announcement that there will be a delay due to a passenger ‘and her cello which we did not know about’. The poor woman looks as though she wants to go through the floor with embarrassment.

The Cabin

The cabin is clean and tidy. Of course sitting on the bulkhead row the leg room is also very good.

Service begins on the ground with the distribution of small bottles of mineral water and prepacked cold refreshing towels. I don’t much like the ones Swiss uses, mainly because they’re so heavily scented they tend to give you a headache. There is a large selection of newspapers and I choose the Neu Zürcher Zeitung.

Take-off is from runway 28, which is the main departing runway at Zürich. A short while after we’re airborne, we’re already above the clouds.

The Meal

The service on this flight is nothing to write home about, really not. But at least the meal offered on this short sector is quite good. It consists of a chicken breast on rice salad with grilled artichokes. The meal is served with lovely crisp, warm bread and cheese and a dessert. Generally though, I find desserts are rarely any good in Swiss European Business Class and usually consist of something bland and overly sweet made with loads of gelatine. So I give this one a miss – as I usually do.

To drink I have a Diet Coke with lemon.

Arrival

Very soon we start our descent into Heathrow, where the weather is even worse than in Zürich. We are coming in on runway 9L but unfortunately I remember only at the last moment that this means we’ll be flying straight over Windsor Castle. Hence the somewhat botched picture of the estate.

After we land there is a further delay because our gate is still being occupied by a South African Airways A 340. After about 20 minutes the aircraft finally moves off stand and we are able to make our way to the gate.

I’ll be spending the night at the Sofitel in Terminal 5, which means taking the Heathrow Express to get there from Terminal 1, which is home to most of the Star Alliance carriers in Heathrow. The Heathrow Express is free of charge for passengers only transferring between Terminals 1, 3, 4 and 5.

Conclusion

Swiss offered a pretty standard service on this flight. They weren’t bad at all, they just weren’t overly good either. I’m no fan of the Recaro slimline seats they have on their European fleet, the seats are somewhat hard on the backside after a while. Still, at least the food was good!