Flight Review: Swiss Business Class ZRH-LAX
Although I flew Swiss business class from Zurich to San Francisco with the rest of the Star Megadoers last month, we were all busy catching up, talking shop and taking stock of the service on the flight (and resting up for the busy week ahead!). But TPG Managing Editor Eric actually took a separate flight on his own that left 10 minutes later than mine from Zurich to Los Angeles, and he experienced Swiss business class as well, so I asked him to write up a review of his own experience. Here's what he had to say, eat, drink and watch on his 12-hour trip.
After an eventful few days in Seoul, South Korea and a fun weekend in Madrid, TPG and I met up with the other attendees of the international portion of Star Megado 4 in Zurich, Switzerland, where we all stayed at the beautiful Park Hyatt just on the edge of the old city center and were feted with a cocktail party where the hotel served dozens of local Swiss cheeses (no, they didn't all have holes in them) and Swiss wines, among other nibbles.
The following morning, it was out to the airport for a brief VIP tour of the Zurich Flughafen's shiny, newly renovated terminal and a fun little reception by the departure gate as well as a quick walk on the tarmac around the A340 that would shuttle us all back to San Francisco and a group photo.
After sending off the Megadoers on their own flight to SFO, I had a few minutes to get over to my gate since my flight to LAX was departing just 10 minutes later and was also aboard an A340. My itinerary was aboard Swiss from Zurich to Los Angeles in business class, then a connection with a quick first class flight on United up to San Francisco to catch back up with the start of the Star Megado’s domestic portion.
Ordinarily my ticket would have cost around 6,050 CHF ($6,500). However, I had been able to snag an award ticket for my entire route just 14 days before departure. I found the flight I wanted on United.com – until then there had only been mixed-cabin availability on United where I’d be flying to the east coast in business class but then to the west coast from there in economy, or on Lufthansa via Frankfurt or Munich at inconvenient times. So when the Swiss flight to LAX became available for 50,000 United miles in business class, I put it on hold for 24 hours, but booked it within minutes by instantly transferring the 50,000 Ultimate Rewards points I’d earned as a bonus on my Ink Bold card, and paying $64.70 in taxes and fees.
Because I’m just a Premier Silver elite with United, I also ended up paying an additional close-in booking fee of $50 (within 21 days). Even so, I ended up getting a value of over 12.5 cents per Ultimate Rewards point – a great redemption.
Like the Megado flight, mine was aboard the airline’s flagship craft, the A340. The first class cabin is just eight suite-style seats in two rows of a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration at the front of the plane. Just behind that is a small business class cabin with two rows of seats, the galleys and lavatories, and then the main business cabin with eight rows. Behind that is economy in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration.
The layout of the 46 seats in business class is an interesting staggered formation that is either:
1 x 2 x 1
2 x 2 x 1
1 x 2 x 2
And none of the rows quite line up, so you’ve got a bit of privacy and aren’t going to be looking right at anyone across the aisle.
Along the left side of the plane are alternating rows of either 1 or two seats. The single seats on this side are some of the hardest to get (and the Swiss agent I talked to said you pretty much needed elite status to get an assignment in advance) since they’re the “throne” style seats with huge armrests the size of side tables on either side that make it feel like its own separate suite. The single seats along the right side of the plane have a large armrest either on the aisle or the window.
In the two-seaters in the middle, each seat has a large armrest either to the right or left, and on the left side of the plane, there’s just a single large armrest between seats, so it’s probably a better choice for couples than strangers sitting together. Those armrests – kind of like in the new Lufthansa business class or on Singapore’s business class – are actually cubbies where the person behind you puts their feet when they recline all the way.
The cabin has won a bunch of design awards thanks to a sharp, Alpine-style look of blond wood and cross-stitched black upholstery that makes it feel like you're just having a cool apres ski while jetting across the Atlantic.
Seats have 58.8 inches in pitch and are just 20.5 inches wide – so a bit narrow when fully reclined. They lower to a full length of 78.7 inches (2 meters even) when reclined to lie-flat position. The cushion is actually a Lantal air pillow system that can be firmed up or softened with a control on the seat – though even at its softest it was still quite firm.
You can recline individual sections of the seat like the back or the leg rest, though moving one often makes the others move as well, so you sort of get an amalgam of positions. When you recline the seat all the way flat, it’s still angled ever so slightly, and descends to just a foot and a half above the floor, which some people seemed to have a hard time getting in and out of. Because it lowers between armrests or the armrest and the window or aisle, the bed position actually makes the seat feel narrow, though I had no problem getting several hours of sleep on it.
Seats also had power ports with international adapters, a personal reading lamp and a table that became large enough to be a work desk. The IFE monitors are mounted seatback and are a surprisingly paltry 10.4 inches and not great quality, but there were 42 movie choices, 40 TV shows, and tons of music and games all controlled with a handheld remote.
I didn’t get started on movies until after the meal service, though, because I had work to do and having a power plug gave me plenty of time to charge up my computer and my camera over the course of the flight.
The staff was extremely courteous, though only a few joked and cracked smiles or bantered. My sport coat was taken as I boarded and hung up for me and I was offered a glass of water and one of Deval-Leroy Brut champagne, which should be on flights for a while since they just started serving it.
Meal service started about 90 minutes into the flight (about 2:30pm Swiss time) and included some Swiss specialties like air-dried beef with potatoes and an Alpine goat cheese timbale; filet of sole with Swabian potato dumplings, saffron sauce, creamed Savoy cabbage, and artichokes with olives; grilled beef filet with truffle jus and celeriac purree; and then a selection of Swiss cheeses and a hazelnut-almond mousse for dessert.
During the middle portion of the flight while most passengers were napping, flight attendants came through with hoagie-style sandwiches and the drink cart to offer refreshments to those passengers that were awake, and there were also chocolates and fruit sitting out in the galley for anyone who wanted a snack. About 90 minutes before landing, the flight attendants came through with the second meal service – this time it was smoked salmon with crème fraiche, dill cucumbers and a potato rosti – light but delicious.
Though the wine selections weren’t particularly impressive, what was interesting is that there were several Swiss choices on the menu including a white varietal called Chasselas from Chateau d’Auvernier; and a pinot noir from Caves des Coteaux – when I asked about them, though, the flight attendants suggested going with the non-Swiss choices like a Chilean chardonnay and a French Red from Bordeaux. Noticing I was interested in the wines, the drinks attendant actually brought me the First Class wine menu to peruse and brought me tastes of several choices on it including a Premier Cru Chablis, which was crisp and delicious with the Dover sole.
The flight arrived in LA right on time, and perhaps because it was a Tuesday afternoon, or the timing of arrival around 4:30pm, but the Customs and Immigration hall was totally empty and we were all through in a matter of minutes (I was even faster because of my Global Entry), and I was off to the United terminal to catch my flight up to SFO.
Compared to other European business class products I’ve seen and/or flown including Air France, Lufthansa and Iberia, I’d highly rate Swiss and recommend it as a great option for getting from North America to/from Europe if it works with your routing and you have the Star Alliance miles to redeem for it.
Tons of room in the single seats
Very good food menu
Good, friendly, efficient service
Beautiful cabin design
You could be sitting next to a stranger with a single armrest in some of the double seats
Seat cushion is very firm
Seat lowers almost to floor when fully reclined
Small IFE screens