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At the tail end of a round-the-world trip, TPG Contributor Sarah Silbert flew from Zurich to New York in Swiss’ A330 business class. With decent availability, particularly for flights operating outside of North America, this Star Alliance airline is a great option for award redemptions. (All photos by Zach Honig.)
I tend to fly foreign carriers whenever possible. I’ve had more than my fair share of business-class flights on United and even a recent hop across the pond on American, but there’s no question that international airlines offer better seats, service and food, somewhat universally. Fortunately, thanks to a codeshare, I was able to work a couple of Swiss segments into a United itinerary. And while Swiss certainly wasn’t perfect, it was a far cry from my recent United flight to Sydney.
Booking Swiss Business
Booked as part of our United itinerary, which also included flights from New York to San Diego and San Diego to Sydney (both via SFO), this was the final segment of our six-flight United reservation:
Segment 1: United BusinessFirst JFK-SFO (Upgraded from economy using a RPU)
Segment 2: United First SFO-SAN (Upgraded from economy using a RPU)
Segment 3: United First SAN-SFO (Upgraded from economy using a GPU)
Segment 4: United BusinessFirst SFO-SYD (Upgraded from economy using a GPU)
Segment 5: Swiss business class DXB-ZRH (booked in “Z” class)
Segment 6: Swiss business class ZRH-JFK (booked in “Z” class)
The above flights priced out at $2,965 total, which, while not cheap, was still a solid deal. The first four segments were booked in upgradeable economy and the last two were booked in business class — a one-way Dubai to New York itinerary on Swiss will run you more than $3,000 in business, so we actually saved a bit by adding on the United flights. And this itinerary would have run me closer to $2,600 if I hadn’t been traveling to San Diego during Comic-Con.
Airport and Lounge
We arrived from our Dubai flight, which we slept right through, around 6:30am and followed signs for the E gates, where our flight to New York was scheduled to depart from just before 10am. After a rather long transfer security process, we arrived at Swiss’ contract lounge in Terminal E, called the Panorama Lounge.
Though it offers nice views of the greenery-surrounded Zurich airport, the Panorama Lounge unfortunately doesn’t have much else going for it. It was crowded, with very limited food and drink options. It also doesn’t offer a shower — as we had ample time before our next flight, we decided to hoof it to the larger Swiss lounge in Terminal A. Doing this required taking a train and going through immigration, though thankfully it didn’t mean a repeat of our sluggish security experience.
While any shower is better than no shower, the Swiss business lounge’s facilities were surprisingly basic — though not quite as bare-bones as the showers at the airline’s (very disappointing) contract lounge in Dubai. It’s definitely not on par with, say, the shower at the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Frankfurt, but it gets the job done.
On the upside, the Swiss lounge has plenty of seating, along with the longest attended airport bar (if you’re into that sort of thing). The lounge was rather quiet during our stay, with mostly business travelers popping in quickly before their intra-Europe flights.
While I can’t speak to the selection around lunch and dinner time, the food spread in the morning is nothing to write home about. In addition to fruit, there’s a modest selection of pastries and breads — including delicious fresh pretzel rolls — along with cereal.
Zach’s boarding pass was labeled “SSSS,” which meant he had to undergo secondary screening at the gate. Even though he was near the front of the line, business-class boarding was complete by the time security was finished going through each and every item in his backpack. Unfortunately this meant that the business-class cabin was completely full when we boarded, so we missed the usual pre-departure photo opps.
Swiss A330 Business-Class Cabin
Having slept all the way through the Swiss flight from Dubai to Zurich, I felt refreshed and ready to enjoy the on-board amenities en route to New York. While we sat in the larger secondary business section on our first flight, we happily nabbed seats 4D and 4G in the A330’s mini-cabin on this flight.
With only 9 seats spread across two rows, the first section (directly behind first class) is definitely the choice area for business-class passengers. If you’re traveling alone, the throne-like single seat 4A is ideal (a flight attendant referred to it as “the best seat on the plane”), and 4K and 5K are solid options as well, as they offer a bit more privacy, than, say, seats 5A and 5B.
With first class directly in front of me, I caught a few glimpses of the roomier seats, which feature partitions and a smallish ottoman under the IFE system that could be used as a second seat when dining with a companion. While I was happy with my seat in business, I’d definitely like to try Swiss’ first-class product on a future trip. Unfortunately Swiss only makes first-class awards available to Senators (Swiss and Lufthansa elite members) booking from their Miles & More accounts.
Having been seated in the larger business-class section on the flight from Dubai to Zurich, I was happy to notice that our bulkhead seats in the much smaller forward cabin actually offered more storage space, with a significantly larger shelf under the IFE panel.
The larger storage shelf was welcome, as there isn’t really anywhere else to stow your belongings apart from the overhead bins — and personally, I prefer to have all my in-flight necessities already at my seat before takeoff.
The sufficiently sized shelf was especially handy for me, as there was no room to store a Kindle or other small items in the magazine compartment.
Instead of coming around asking if they can hang your jacket for you, flight attendants have two hangers, complete with a sticker bearing your seat number, wedged into the literature compartment. Neither Zach nor I had a jacket that needed hanging, so the hangers remained here throughout the flight. I wish the flight attendants had come by to remove them, but then again I could have asked!
The power port and headphone jack are easily accessible, located on a wooden panel directly to the side of the seat. This is also where you’ll find the flexible reading lamp. Kudos to Swiss for making these features so conveniently located.
While the business-class seat itself was comfortable, I found the controls for adjusting it to be a little finicky. While the buttons were responsive, moving the seat was a rather jerky, stunted process. Maybe I just had bad luck with the two Swiss aircraft on this trip. In any case, after enjoying the meal service and reading a bit, I ended up drifting into a comfortable sleep for a few hours.
While you can’t stow any luggage underneath your seat during takeoff and landing, the business-class seats’ footwells are spacious — especially for the bulkhead seats — so you’ll have more than enough room to stow your shoes and any other necessities while your seat’s in lie-flat mode. The one downside of booking a single “throne” seat is that you’ll have much less room for your feet, unless you’re at the bulkhead.
Amenties and In-Flight Entertainment
Swiss offers a rather standard selection of items in its amenity kit — eye mask, toothbrush with toothpaste, earplugs, lip balm, socks and two Ricola drops — but I like the canvas bag itself.
The in-flight entertainment includes several new releases and a moderate selection of TV shows, but it doesn’t compare to the offerings on US carriers, which tend to be more extensive.
Swiss offers comfortable-ish headphones that don’t hurt or slip around. They won’t replace a high-end, noise-canceling set, but I wasn’t hugely disappointed having left my Bose pair at home. That said, if you have room to pack your own pair, it’s not a bad idea.
Swiss doesn’t include a touchscreen on its in-flight entertainment system, so you’ll need to use the in-seat remote to control it.
There are two bathrooms to accommodate 45 business-class passengers, and unsurprisingly there was often a wait.
The Swiss amenity kit is short on toiletries, so it was nice to see a generous selection in the lavatory. In addition to hand and face creams, there was a face mist and refreshing towelettes.
Prior to takeoff, flight attendants came around with menus and offered us Champagne. There were four options for the main course, including beef shoulder and a gnocchi dish that looked pretty tasty.
I had pre-ordered an Asian vegetarian meal, though the gnocchi sounded better than what I imagined I’d be getting. I asked the flight attendant if I could have that instead, but she said there was a limited supply and she wasn’t able to accommodate the request. Keep this in mind if you’re considering pre-booking a meal!
Shortly after takeoff, FAs returned to take our drink orders. With only one passenger seated to each side of us in row 4, the flight attendants in both aisles attended to both Zach and me. We were able to get plenty of drink and water refills, although it sometimes took a while for a flight attendant to return to our seats.
The wine list had some good red and white options, including a nice Pinot Noir from Zurich:
Duval-Leroy Brut Vertus, Champagne, France (about $30 per bottle on the ground)
Weingut Nadine Saxer Nobler Weisser 2014 Neftenbach, ZH, Switzerland (about $16 on the ground)
Glen Carlou Haven Chardonnay 2014 Paarl, Westcape, South Africa
Landolt Weine Zürich Schiterberger Himmelsleiterli AOC 2013 Zurich, Switzerland
Constantia Glen Three Constantia Glen 2012 Gols, Constantia, South Africa
Château Lauriol 2011 Côtes de Francs – Bordeaux, France
The first course included salad with a choice of French or Italian dressing; a smoked salmon appetizer; and a selection of bread. I’m a sucker for pretzel rolls, and this one was fresher and tastier than any I’ve ever had on American or United.
Zach opted for the beef shoulder, which he enjoyed despite an overly sugared BBQ sauce. The sides of corn and polenta were also tasty.
Crazy vegetarian that I am, I had pre-ordered Swiss’ Asian vegetarian option. As I mentioned, I was tempted by the gnocchi, but I’m glad I got the veggie meal; it was a very tasty mix of Indian dishes and Basmati rice.
If there’s ever a time to go for the cheese course on board, it’s when you’re flying Swiss. The airline does an awesome job with its trio, and the spicy, orange-flavored mustard was different, but in a really good way.
After the filling main course and the delicious cheese plate, I didn’t need another bite, but the dessert of pistachio and lime cake looked too good not to try. It was tasty, and the Swiss chocolates were a nice touch.
I didn’t opt for a pre-landing meal of rocket salad with bread and fruit, but Zach said it was fresh and high-quality. Swiss also offers passengers the option to add prosciutto. In general, service was good; flight attendants were friendly and very attentive, but the three-course lunch service took more than a couple of hours to complete.
Book Swiss Business with Miles
If you’re looking to book months in advance, you probably won’t find much availability on Swiss flights to the US. If you can be flexible with your travel plans, however, you can usually find open award seats within a couple days of departure. A business-class award ticket between the US and Europe will run you 70,000 United miles or 45,00 Aeroplan miles each way.
Availability from other regions to Switzerland is much better. For example, the 6-hour flight we took from Dubai to Zurich, also on the A330, is available to book on many dates through the end of the schedule, at just 45,000 United miles each way. Destinations in Asia, such as Beijing and Tokyo (75,000 United miles each way from Europe), have excellent availability as well.
After nine flights and more than two weeks on the road, I was aching for the option to teleport home. Still, our 8-plus hours in Swiss business class were thoroughly enjoyable, with very good food, great service and the comfort and privacy of a mini-cabin behind first class. If your travel plans align with the Zurich-New York route, I’d definitely look into nabbing a seat on this flight.