Despite the massive storm earlier and my subsequent delayed arrival, my next flight was scheduled to depart on time. Looking out of the terminal windows I could even see a few slithers of blue sky, a notable deviation from the earlier cataclysm swirling overhead.
The boarding process for SWISS can best be described in one word: chaotic.
There were a couple of kiosks set up within the gate area. It transpires that it was beholden on every passenger to visit these kiosks, have their visa documentation verified and then receive a stamp on their boarding pass. This was to be done separately and in addition to the normal boarding process.
This was not effectively communicated at all and premium lines were not enforced.
I saw plenty of people wait in line, get all the way to the boarding pass scan and then be sent back to the separate queue for these kiosks. Surely there must be a better way?
Luckily I overheard a family discussing this very process next to me, otherwise I probably would have been one of the passengers sent back for a second round of queueing.
As soon as my boarding pass was scanned, everything changed: SWISS has a poor reputation when it comes to honouring cheap airfares. Leaving passengers stranded, fighting protracted court battles, etc. It wasn’t until I made my way up the jetbridge that I was truly convinced that I was finally going to try this airline’s newest business class product for myself!
I was so excited to finally see this cabin up close. Having spent the majority of the preceding year flying on reverse herringbone seats from the likes of Cathay, American and Qatar, it was a real thrill to see such a different cabin placed within the confines of a similar fuselage.
I have to hand it to SWISS, they deliver an extremely cohesive experience. The lounges and the onboard product are very closely aligned. The same colours, texture and shapes are visible throughout your experience with this airline. Clean lines, light wood and dark seats abound.
Much like on BA, every seat on SWISS Business class is not created equal. The cabin has a rather unusual layout whereby the majority of the seats are placed in pairs, with the more desirable single seats placed on alternating rows, along each side of the cabin.
When I booked this flight the SWISS policy was that single ‘throne seats’ were available for pre-selection only be Miles and More Senator and Honors Circle members. Star Alliance Gold card holders from other airlines could not pre-select them at all.
However, upon calling the airline I discovered that three of these throne seats had become available for some reason. I had really been hoping to sit in the mini cabin of rows 4 and 5, directly behind First Class but when I was offered 8K, right near the front of the cabin, I jumped at the chance!
Nowadays the policy has changed. Anybody can pre-book a throne seat but there’s a catch: it will cost you between 99CHF and 199CHF, depending on the length of the flight. Is this worth it? Personally I wouldn’t hesitate to pay the price if it guaranteed me one of these seats.
SWISS provides noise canceling headphones in business class, I’m unsure of the brand but they did a great job of blocking ambient cabin noise. I love the little leather hanging strap for them too. Having the headphone socket up high means you won’t accidentally scrape it when getting out of your seat and the cable is also out of the way of any items you may have on the countertop.
The little push out light is a nice touch too. There are so many different lighting options here that it feels more like a first class product than business class. On their own these little details may not seem like much but when you put them all together they make for a very aesthetically and haptically pleasing experience.
A water bottle awaits every passenger upon boarding, placed in its own leather holster. The majority of airlines seem to do this in business class now. It makes sense. Our bodies are 90% water and every passenger is guaranteed to want water during their flight. Rationing it and serving it alongside champagne as a PDB , by the glass, makes no sense.
The pull out shelf serves two purposes, it provides a great deal of storage space but also serves as an additional barrier, granting privacy from the aisle. Unfortunately it hasn’t been designed to stay open by itself. Not one to be easily thwarted, I used a Cathay Pacific amenity kit to wedge it open for the duration of the flight, creating my own little “suite”.
There is a universal power port located just below the aisle side armrest, it also features a USB port with a cool blue light. The IFE and seat controls are located in a flap, further down the armrest, by the water bottle holder. The controls were all highly responsive and very sleek in their appearance.
The crew came around before take-off to distribute amenity kits, menus and PDBs. My jacket was also taken from me and placed on a wooden hanger with my seat number on it.
The amenity kit was absolutely woeful. A giant, recycled shopping bag. The fact that it has handles makes it marginally more useful than the BA ‘sack of woe’ but it is still far from what you would expect to be given by a premium carrier. The contents were equally unimpressive. A long way off Qatar’s Armani kits, filled with cologne, aftershave etc.
I couldn’t help noticing at this point that our scheduled departure was less than five minutes away and we had yet to push back. I enquired about the length of the delay but was assured by the crew that we would be taking off on time. I checked my phone and Google told me that the delay was just under an hour.
History would go on to vindicate Google’s assertion.
To begin my meal I opted for the Fera Trout Timbale with Saffron marinated salad. This was served with a separate side salad and a slice of dark sourdough. Despite being served on a tray, rather than being hand run, the presentation was very good.
The salad was fresh and appetising, the sourdough had great flavour and even had scorch marks on it. The Timbale was a generous portion of delicious fish with crunchy vegetables that had a very noticeable and pleasant saffron flavour.
I asked for the FA’s recommendation on the wine and he implored me to try the Swiss Chasselas. I can have an Argentinian Chardonnay any day of the week so I thought it would be fun to try something different. I was very pleasantly surprised, it was unlike any white wine I’ve ever tried before. After pouring me a small taste and seeing that I liked it, I was given a generous measure by the FA, to enjoy with my starter.
I had the Beef tenderloin with herb crust, red wine sauce, potato gratin and vegetables as my main course. I was happy to see that the ingredients had been cooked separately and then plated, thereby giving some assurance that each component had been cooked to an appropriate temperature. Unfortunately the beef was as overcooked as the grey pucks served by BA and the herb ‘crust’ was more of a pustulent smear. The dish had decent flavour but was texturally weak. A load of mush with a side of rubber.
My second foray into Swiss wine wasn’t quite as successful as the first. The Cuvée Réservée Pinot Noir 2014 (Cormondrèche – Neuchâtel) was a little too young and thin to accompany the steak.
The biggest success of the meal was undoubtedly the cheese course, which comes as no surprise, given the Swiss reputation in this particular field of gastronomy. The presentation on the black slate was excellent, a world away from the block of cheddar, wedge of brie and packet of crackers that most airlines settle for.
The Tête de Moine, Jean Pierre and Charmant were all excellent and served at something quite close to a suitable temperature (not easy when needing to keep the cheese refrigerated on a plane). Whilst the oat crackers were a rather standard choice, the pear bread was a revelation. The FA serving me said that it was a highly addictive Swiss speciality that they were proud to serve and that I would never look at cheese boards in quite the same way. Slightly hyperbolic but actually quite true. Writing this now I’m starting to think it would be a good idea to get some for home (a similar experience on Virgin many years ago means that my house is never without onion chutney😄).
I paired this with a beautifully robust 2011 Château Les Trois Manoirs Merlot.
I ordered an espresso, which the young FA brought to me immediately. A few minutes later when I asked a more senior FA for a second espresso, it never showed up. I rang the bell to ask for it again and the senior FA insisted that he’d sent the coffee to me already. A few minutes later a visibly shaken female FA came over apologising profusely, saying she’d taken my espresso to the wrong person earlier and handed me another coffee. Everyone makes mistakes but it seemed a bit distasteful that she’d been thrown under the bus by her colleague like that.
Around 3 hours before landing the crew did the rounds with a tray of wrapped sandwiches. I’m used to airlines offering mid-flight snack menus or setting up a snack display in the galley. This distribution of polythene-wrapped sandwiches had a distinctly economy class feel to it.
After a couple of weird turns to the service, SWISS saved the worst ’til last. The second ‘meal’ on this 12 hour flight was a green salad served with two miniature tomato bruschettas and a bowl of fruit. NO PROTEIN AT ALL.
I’ve witnessed some cost cutting by airlines in my time but this has to be the most severe infraction ever. At this stage it had been nearly ten hours since I had last eaten a meal and I was absolutely ravenous (the alternative ‘meal’ was tofu with rice and vegetables).
This miserable little salad was barely enough to make a dent on my hunger. My stomach would end up rumbling for the next few hours.
I had been worried that I wouldn’t be hungry enough for my animal style double doubles in L.A. after eating and drinking all flight. So at least that was no longer a concern.
This is a major black mark against SWISS. It is the only airline that I’ve ever flown in long haul business class where I’ve left the plane hungry.
I spent the last hour of the flight wistfully looking out of the window, picturing burgers in the shapes of the clouds.
There is a lot to like about SWISS business class but there are more than enough negatives to place this in the second tier of business class products behind the likes of Qatar, Etihad and Singapore Airlines. If the cabin was all throne seats and there was dine on demand, things would be very different. For the average passenger though, ending up crammed next to a stranger by the window, with access to a lower tier of lounge, any of the three aforementioned airlines would provide a better experience when flying on their flagship long haul routes.