Review: Swiss (777-300ER) First Class from Zurich to Los Angeles
Following a brief connecting flight from London City Airport (LCY) to Zurich (ZRH), TPG Contributor J.P. got a chance to test out Swiss' brand new Boeing 777-300ER first-class product on a flight from Zurich to Los Angeles (LAX). Here's his review. (All photos are by the author).
After recently flying in first class from San Francisco to Zurich aboard Swiss' old Airbus A340, I'd gotten a good sense of the carrier's overall soft product. For my return trip, this time from Zurich to Los Angeles, I booked myself a flight in Swiss' newly updated first-class product aboard the Boeing 777-300ER. For more details about my booking process for this trip, check out my review of Swiss' Airbus A340.
Check-in at LCY
I started my trip at London City Airport (LCY), then I connected in Zurich (ZRH) and flew from there to Los Angeles (LAX) aboard the 777-300ER. My options were to either fly from London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) at 8:40am or London City Airport 50 minutes earlier at 7:50am. Despite it being an earlier flight, I opted for the LCY departure since the airport was more centrally located and significantly smaller, which would mean less time waiting at the airport.
I arrived at LCY at 7:30am and headed straight upstairs to check-in and security, where there was a short line of maybe 20 passengers in front of me during the morning rush. There was no priority line, which was fine, as it seemed like none was really needed thanks to a super-efficient security process — basically, there are five slots for passengers to stand in while you put your stuff into gigantic bins. Translation: nobody is pushing your stuff forward while you’re still taking your belt off, which causes much less stress for everyone involved. When you’re done, just push the bin forward onto the moving conveyor belt and let another passenger, patiently waiting behind you, move into your slot. Brilliant!
It took me another five minutes to get to the gate, boarding began around 7:45am and we took off about 20 minutes later for Zurich.
The Swiss First Lounge in Zurich
Upon my arrival in Zurich, I headed straight from the D gates to the E gates, where most long-haul flights depart from. About 10 minutes later, after a train ride and another security check, I checked into Swiss First Lounge E. The entrance set a design tone of clean white surfaces with natural wood accents, while the check-in process was similar to that of Lufthansa’s lounges, where an associate checks you in and escorts you into the lounge.
I was surprised to learn that my flight would actually be leaving from the D gates and was initially told that I’d have to make my way back there. Luckily, a few minutes later, the check-in agent came back and said they would organize a shuttle to the gate for me.
The lounge, which just opened about four months ago, was beautiful, with a new design featuring high-quality materials, clean lines and a warm, welcoming color scheme.
The casual seating area was organized as a series of living rooms, with each featuring a few armchairs and a sofa as well as a console with a television, books and power outlets. There was also a beautifully designed dining area, pictured below.
There was no buffet, just an a la carte menu, which had several options for breakfast, as well as hot and cold appetizers, main courses and desserts, including cheeses.
I was the first guest in the lounge, although I only had about two hours to go before my flight. It was a beautiful, warm day in Zurich, so I decided to check out the terrace, which wrapped all around the lounge so you can go plane-spotting on both sides of the E concourse — there were even a few sets of binoculars available in case you wanted to get a closer look.
At the back of the lounge were a conference room and two living rooms that featured sliding doors. You had to leave the main lounge and go across the check-in area to reach the bathrooms, which were very nice, but relatively small. There were two showers, but they were locked at the time I visited.
Swiss First Lounge E features a huge wine cellar, which you can inspect right as you enter. There were multiple Champagne options available — Deutz Champagne was usually served, although I did spot some other options as well.
With just about an hour to go before boarding, I decided to have a light lunch since I hadn't had any breakfast. By now there were several more passengers in the lounge, and most were also making time for a meal.
I chose the Tartare of Breton lobster with watermelon, wasabi and rose water as a cold starter and roasted salmon tranche with chanterelle, celery and buckwheat as my main course, pictured below.
Both dishes looked absolutely stunning, plated as proper fine dining courses, and tasted phenomenal. I was truly blown away by both the flavors and the presentation. On top of that, both dishes were served extremely fast, mere minutes after I ordered them — it's great to know that you can still enjoy a full meal during a short visit to the lounge, even without a buffet around to speed things up.
For dessert, I decided to have a few scoops of Mövenpick ice cream from the stand next to the bar — I took mine outside and enjoyed the weather and the sights one more time before my flight.
Boarding was scheduled for 12:35pm, 40 minutes before our departure time. Around 12:30pm, the Swiss First Lounge check-in agent came to get me for my transfer to the D gates. There was another passenger going to the same flight, so we were escorted to the elevators and down to where a luxury Mercedes van was waiting to take us over.
After a five-minute drive, we were escorted to our gate and unbelievably, left to stand all the way in the back of the group, with hundreds of other passengers standing around the gate since boarding hadn’t started yet. After an amazing experience at Swiss First Lounge E and what I expected would be an equally impressive onboard experience, this little detail was really disappointing. Not only were we not escorted onto the plane — like you are on some other carriers when flying in first class — but we weren't even brought to the front of the line.
Boarding began a few minutes later and I got my first glimpse of Swiss' Boeing 777-300ER, featuring a special Faces of Swiss livery, which you can see in the photo below — I was told that these aircraft have to depart from the D gates because the plane sits taller than the A340 and the E gates have not been updated to handle it yet.
Cabin and Seat
We boarded through the front left door, which meant I got to pass through the business-class mini-cabin. Business-class seats on the 777 have also been refreshed and now feature a slightly larger screen, a bit more storage space and nice touches that make it look and feel brand new. Gone are the impossible-to-stow tray tables from the A340, for instance.
I chose seat 2K, the right window seat in the last row of the two-row first-class section.
There are eight seats in Swiss First, arranged in a 1-2-1 layout.
The new seats are just beautiful. It’s really hard to compare them to the old seats on the A340 because it’s just a whole other ball game, heck, a whole different sport.
The color scheme is identical in business, first and in the Swiss First Lounge E, making it a smooth transition between the lounge and the plane.
The seat itself is made of textile, while the headrest and ottoman are made of a smooth, dark leather.
Due to the curvature of the fuselage, there was an awkward metal mesh grate between my console and the window, pictured below on the right side, which disappeared toward the front of seat 1K.
Technically the seat is 22-inches wide, the same width as the old A340 seat, but it felt like there was much more room in these seats. There were plenty of natural wood finishes, which made the overall feeling very warm and cozy. The white ceramic tray with a built-in light accent was also a nice touch.
Like the old A340 seat, the new one converts into an 80-83-inch bed when fully reclined.
There were four pre-set seat settings for take-off and landing, lounging, sleeping and eating.
Next to those buttons was a light switch. There was also a nice lamp next to the seat that had several brightness settings and another reading light that popped out of the privacy panel to the left of the seat. Next to the reading lamp were controls for the privacy panel extension.
There were several more seat controls under the wooden panel, allowing you to control every aspect of your seat, so it was easy to find a comfortable position. The console also contained a pair of Swiss-branded headphones, a universal power plug and a USB charging outlet.
The seat itself featured significantly more storage options, including a pocket to the right of the seat, another one to the left of the seat — especially useful when the seat was in bed mode — and a large compartment that slid out from under the armrest.
Already waiting at my seat was the amenity kit, which was exactly the same as on the outbound A340 flight — a bag containing quality socks, an eye mask, a toothbrush, toothpaste, tissues, a wooden comb, earplugs, four skin products by La Prairie and a full-size pack of Ricola bonbons.
There were also slippers on the ottoman and a thin woolen blanket on the armrest. Zimmerli pajamas were distributed after take-off.
I was soon welcomed by a very friendly and bubbly flight attendant who offered me Champagne and an amuse-bouche that consisted of a warm cheese tart and tomato chutney.
Menus featuring dishes from Switzerland's Jura region and wines from the Neuchâtel region were distributed and we soon pushed back from the gate.
I later tested out the suite feature of the seat, where a personal wardrobe slides out from the panel, essentially separating the ottoman from the aisle. The wardrobe features another two storage compartments and a light, making it very practical.
You can then your seat into a suite by leaving the wardrobe open and extending the privacy partition by pressing the button next to the reading light. It might have just been my seat, but there was about a half-inch crack between the privacy partition and the wardrobe, even when it was closed all the way.
When sitting up, you could still see the heads of people who walked down the aisle, but it did seem very private when you turned the seat into a bed. Because of my early departure from London, I didn’t get much sleep the previous night so I was ready for a nap. I asked for turndown service and when I got back to my seat, I found a very nice looking bed waiting for me. The bedding was the same as on the A340, very good quality that kept you nice and cool.
Here's a look at seat 2G across the row, the only empty seat in the first-class section on this flight.
In-Flight Entertainment and Amenities
I'm happy to report that the in-flight entertainment has also been dramatically upgraded and now features a gigantic 32-inch screen, a beg step up from the 10-inch version — the new screens also have crystal-clear resolution and are insanely responsive.
The IFE system is based on Android technology, which is quickly becoming the standard. The wired remote was stowed in the console and featured a fairly big screen of its own. The coolest part? You can actually have the remote play one thing and the big screen play another. I had the airshow running on the remote while I watched movies and TV shows on the big screen.
The entertainment selection interface is now much more clear and inviting, featuring cover photos of films and TV shows offered, as well as descriptions and trailers. The selection of movies and TV shows was also significantly larger and more up to date than on the A340.
I decided to check out the airshow options and was impressed by how many detailed viewing options and settings there were — it's powered by Voyager 3D by Panasonic and you could actually select layers on the map and control the exact angle at which you wanted to see the plane flying!
As far as onboard facilities, there were two lavatories up front, one slightly larger than the other, but both marginally larger than a regular economy lavatory. The design and finishes were very nice, including the same dark hardwood floor as the plane's entrance.
As usual, the bathrooms featured full-size La Prairie skin care products.
The Boeing 777s are now equipped with Wi-Fi and first-class passengers get a voucher for 50MB worth of data, which otherwise would cost about $19. To use the Wi-Fi (and the voucher), you'll have to register a username as well as other personal details.
Unfortunately, the connection timed out during my registration and when I went back to repeat it, I got an error message saying that my username already existed and the voucher had been claimed. I never got a chance to try out the Wi-Fi, but based on the loading speed of the pages during the registration process, it seemed very slow.
Food and Beverage
About 50 minutes into the flight, my table was set for dinner. Like the A340 cabin, the table is huge and made of solid wood. It might have been a bit smaller on the 777, but it was all in one piece, which was nice. The dinner setting was also identical to that of the A340 — I think that’s one part of the old first class that didn’t need refreshing and it looks really great.
I was offered another glass of Champagne — they served Grand Siècle La Cuvée by Laurent-Perrier during the flight. I also tested out the new window shades, which now cover all three windows — like I've seen on some versions of the Boeing 747-8, you can first lower the paper sheer and then the black-out cover. With the sheer lowered, it looks like you have one giant window, which was really cool.
Appetizers were served from a cart and there was no caviar service (other than one month per year when Swiss features a caviar tasting). This time, I could choose from the Swiss classic Balik salmon, lobster medallions with basil and courgettes, a selection of charcuterie from Switzerland's Jura region or quinoa and cream cheese tartare.
I loved that Swiss served the appetizers so you could see them because I never would have ordered the quinoa tartare — I mean, come on, what is that anyway? — but when I saw it, I did end up ordering one and it was delicious! I also had the phenomenal Balik salmon and some lobster tail medallions, which were also delicious.
Next, I was offered a Vichyssoise soup with smoked duck crostini and a seasonal salad with buffalo mozzarella, grilled watermelon and nut brittle with raspberry dressing. I was going to skip both but the flight attendant convinced me to at least take a half-portion of the salad because it was really good (she was right!) The description sounded a bit unusual, but the buffalo mozzarella was of great quality, served at room temperature and paired very well with the grilled watermelon and nuts.
For main course, I could have gone for a beef tenderloin, which sounded delicious — with green pea crust, ox cheek confit, gremolata jus, corn puree and sweet potatoes — but I hate ordering beef fillets on planes because they tend to be dry, no matter the class of service. Other options included rabbit stuffed with chanterelles and spinach with rosemary jus, potato gratin and spring vegetables, or the fish option, an herb-crusted fillet — there was also the third option of linguine with cheese.
I went for the rabbit and enjoyed every bite. The stuffing kept the meat from drying out and the potato gratin was tender and delicious, but the vegetables looked pretty sad.
Then it was time for the cheese course, which I was really excited about. It was served from a cart and I asked for the smallest possible portion of each of the cheeses: Tete de Moine, semi-hard Erguel Jura, another semi-hard Chaux-d’Arbel, Gruyère AOC and Tomme de Chèvre. The cheese was served with an apricot mostarda and walnuts (I skipped the crackers and grapes that came with it). The cheeses were incredible, a proud moment for Swiss and its sourcing.
I finished the meal with a verbena tea that was served with delicious Sprüngli pralines, which featured soccer balls chocolates to commemorate the Euro Soccer Championship that was happening at the time.
About an hour before landing, I was offered another meal. There was no menu this time, but like my outbound flight on the A340, ordering was more like having a conversation with the flight attendant.
There were quite a few options available, but I had my mind set on that buffalo mozzarella salad, which I just had to have again. This time, the flight attendant brought out the full-size portion and I didn’t mind one bit!
The warm course was a ricotta quiche, which was good, but really too big for one person to eat, especially after that salad.
Meal service was completed almost four hours into the flight, which was largely a function of passengers’ pace and the fact that the flight attendants really engaged in conversations with the passengers. Since it was a daytime flight, I don’t think this was a problem and I’m sure they could have done it faster if anyone had wanted to eat sooner.
Oh, by the way, see that door that leads to the business-class section? It’s just a standard curtain, not a properly padded door as it was indicated when Swiss first showed the design renders for the new cabin. Whoopsie.
Soon we were on our final descent into LAX, where we passed a colorful array of planes at the Tom Bradley International Terminal, including Iberia, Korean Air, KLM, Air France, Emirates, a retro Lufthansa 747, Etihad, Air New Zealand, EVA Air and Qantas — I'd honestly never seen so many different planes parked at one concourse before.
Unfortunately, that spelled problems for us. After landing, we sat out on the tarmac for about 20 minutes because another plane had been occupying our gate. Then when we pulled up to the gate, the parking signalization system didn’t work, so it took another five minutes to get the plane into its final position.
We then had to wait 15 more minutes before the doors opened, only to be told that the DHS and CBP wouldn't let us disembark because the immigration area was over capacity. We were asked to take our seats and waited another 20 minutes or so before we were finally let off the plane. I knew the immigration check would end up taking ages — for me, it meant that I collected my bags a full three hours after landing. Not a great experience, really.
This flight was a truly amazing experience. Swiss’ soft product felt great even on the old A340, better than any of the other first-class products I’ve flown so far, including Lufthansa, Emirates and even Singapore Airlines. With its updated hard product, I feel like Swiss is really taking the lead in the overall first-class experience. With its great food selection, awesome IFE system and a new, beautiful cabin with added privacy, Swiss' 777 offers one of the best first-class experiences in the sky.
What Swiss needs to work on is its ground service. Lufthansa still runs a much smoother operation — tarmac transfers are really convenient and a true priority is given to premium passengers both at immigration as well as when boarding the plane.
All in all, Swiss may not have over-the-top things like year-round caviar, showers on planes, terminal-sized lounges and direct boarding from the lounge, but what it lacks there, it definitely gains from having more personable and genuine staff and service.
Have you flown first class on Swiss' 777-300ER yet? How did your experience compare to mine?