Review: Swiss (777-300ER) Business Class from Zurich to Montreal
TO THE POINT: Swiss offers a solid in-flight experience with its new flagship, the 777-300ER. The pros: new seats in all three cabins, good food and in-flight Wi-Fi. The cons: underwhelming service, some seats are (much) better than others.
I had a very pleasant trip from Dubai to New York (via Zurich) on Swiss' A330 last summer, so when the airline first showed off the interior of its new 777-300ER in June of 2015, I started thinking about how I might be able to take the new plane for a ride.
Unfortunately, Swiss has yet to launch the new aircraft on its JFK and Newark routes, so flying to the East Coast meant a stop in Montreal, followed by an Air Canada regional flight to Newark. Still, that was a small price to pay for a chance to try the 777-300ER just a few months after its initial launch.
Booking Swiss Business Class
There wasn't any award availability at the time of booking, so I looked for the cheapest revenue flight I could find. That required beginning the trip in Dublin, but I was also able to include a nested trip to Hawaii in January (first class on United's nonstop flight from Newark) and a return to Ireland next March for roughly $2,000 all-in.
Since I booked via United's site, this trip was eligible for PQDs, though I'd be earning far fewer redeemable miles than I would if booking the itinerary through Swiss. Since maintaining 1K status was my priority at this point, that seemed like a reasonable compromise.
I called Swiss for a seat assignment, but the best option at the time was 5D — an aisle seat in the mini-cabin up front. Fortunately, at check-in I was able to select 4A, which is what I consider to be the best seat in the cabin (more on that shortly).
Thanks to a generous contributor, we were able to review Swiss first class on the 777 — first-class awards are only open to Miles & More elite members (and revenue fares can be sky-high), but you can use partner miles to book business and economy awards, including miles from United (70,000 miles in business class) and Aeroplan (55,000 miles in biz).
If you want to catch a ride to the US on the 777-300ER, LAX is your only option for the time being, though business-class awards are nonexistent. There is plenty of availability out of Montreal, though, especially for last-minute bookings, so that's certainly an option to consider.
Airport and Lounge
Given how fantastic the airline's new international lounges are, I decided to review those separately — you can see the full review here. To recap, there's a "Whisky Club" in the Senator lounge (accessible to Star Alliance Gold members).
Then there's a large dining area in both the Senator and Business lounges.
Including a live cooking station, with a very friendly chef.
There are showers available as well, so you can freshen up before your flight.
And, for what's sure to be a highlight for Avgeeks, there's an enormous open balcony with endless opportunities to check out parked and passing airplanes.
The only better view is from an airplane window, really — here's runway 16 just before takeoff.
And here's the very first Swiss 777-300ER, which happened to be taking off just behind our plane.
As one of the largest Star Alliance hubs in Europe, Zurich Airport is quite sizable — here it is from the air.
Onboard the Swiss 777-300ER
For now, though, we're heading back down to the ground. Since this was a new plane, I managed to set up early access for a tour — there are dozens of pictures to check out here, so I'll keep this section brief. First up is the 3-4-3 high-density economy cabin.
Followed by business class, which consists of 62 seats spread between two cabins.
Check out our tour post for a detailed look at the business cabin — here, I'll focus on some details that didn't make it into that post, including the business-class lavs, which are clean but fairly compact.
The 777's lavatories aren't quite as modern as the ones you'll find in a 787, but the automated sinks are certainly appreciated.
And, finally, the first-class cabin, which was completely empty on this flight to Montreal.
Swiss Business Class Seat
As I mentioned, I opted for seat 4A, which is in the very front of the mini-cabin, located just behind first class. 4A is a "throne" seat, with tons of surface space on both the window and aisle side.
These "throne" seats have quite a bit more storage space than those on the A330, including a sizable storage locker next to the aisle.
There's a fold-out table — you can slide it forward and back so it's comfortable to use even when the seat's reclined a bit.
There's another storage compartment under the touchscreen display — the screen, while larger than those on the A330, is far smaller than the 32-inch display in first class.
This plane also offers a touchscreen remote, located under the arm rest.
The seat controls are fairly straightforward, though you don't have quite as much control as you do on some planes. These seats are filled with air, so you can adjust the firmness and lumbar support as well. I found the seat to be fairly comfortable overall — perhaps more so when upright vs. in the lie-flat bed mode.
There's an overhead light, of course, but no dedicated air vents, so your comfort is dependent on the overall cabin temperature (which was fairly mild during my flight).
There's also a small adjustable reading light at each seat.
Along with a USB charging port and a universal power outlet.
Back to the storage locker — there's a slide-out drawer with enough space to store some necessities, including an amenity kit and even a small laptop (my 12-inch MacBook fit just fine).
As did my Bose QC25 headphones (which I preferred to use over the provided business-class headphones).
Each seat also includes a hanger, which comes already labeled with the seat number (a flight attendant will collect it if you have something to hang up — otherwise it'll just stay at your seat).
There was also a small compartment on the floor that (I think) is designed to store your shoes.
Moving to the Main Cabin
I really enjoyed the privacy of the mini-cabin — and also the fact that it was very dark during the flight, compared to the bright main cabin behind — but unfortunately there was a couple behind me fighting in German the entire time. My Bose noise-canceling headphones are good, but they're not that good, so halfway through the flight I decided to move to an empty seat in the main cabin.
I managed to snag another "throne" seat, so while the cabin was quite a bit brighter (since several passengers had their windows open), my seat was just as spacious — both upright and in bed mode (pictured below).
I opted for seat 10K, which was located near the front.
This seat was nearly identical, though there were a few minor differences — the under-screen storage compartment was a bit smaller, for example.
This seat also had a water bottle already in the holder, which I never received at 4A.
There was also a dimmable light, which I hadn't noticed at my other seat (though it was definitely there).
I also noticed a Matterhorn print on the forward bulkhead — you can't tell from a distance, but it's comprised of many Swiss crosses.
Backtracking a bit, let's check out the amenity kit. Swiss still offers the same amenity kits I received last year — though, notably, my last one was red.
What's unique about Swiss' kits is that they include a reusable tote bag, which means they most likely won't end up in a "junk" drawer after the flight. The contents are fairly basic, including socks, an eye mask, earplugs, lip balm and a toothbrush/toothpaste set.
Other amenities, including lotion and wipes, are available in the lavatory.
Each business-class seat includes a 15-inch touchscreen display. The picture was sharp and the system was responsive — this is definitely a big step up from the A330 (and a huge upgrade from the A340).
Swiss' entertainment selection is decent, though certainly not overwhelming. There were about 20 new release films to chose from.
Then a selection of "Feel-good summer comedies."
And a handful of films in the comedy, action and drama genres.
Once you select a movie, you'll see a description and runtime, and you can choose to watch a trailer or play the film.
Perhaps my favorite feature is that you can slide your finger across the timeline to jump ahead in a movie, letting you pick up where you left off on a previous flight.
There are also a selection of games to choose from.
I was also very happy to see that Swiss' 777 offers a touchscreen remote.
You can even browse through the film selections on the remote.
And, of course, there's a moving map.
Swiss also provides noise-isolating headphones, but my Bose headset sounded much better. I recommend bringing your own.
Fortunately, Swiss offers Wi-Fi on this plane — another reason to choose the 777 over the A330/A340. It's not cheap though, and you'll need to commit to a data package (I opted for 120MB for 39 CHF, or about $40). You can purchase another package once yours runs out, if you'd like.
As seems to be the norm with airlines that don't offer unlimited Wi-Fi, I managed to chew through my 120MB allotment very quickly.
I noticed that my data was disappearing at an alarming rate — as it turns out, iPhoto uploads photos to the cloud whenever you're connected to Wi-Fi, and of course my computer wasn't aware that I was trying to stick within a quota. Be sure to switch off this "feature" before you connect!
The connection was speedy enough to check email and chat with colleagues in Slack, but I was having difficulty uploading photos to Instagram, etc. — though I did manage to share a few.
There's also a map on the Wi-Fi landing page, though it isn't nearly as detailed as the IFE version.
Food and Beverage
Now, on to the good stuff! After boarding, I was offered a glass of Champagne — Swiss serves Duval-Leroy Brut, which retails for about $40 a bottle.
A few moments later, I was offered a menu. Business-class passengers can choose from three starters and four main courses — everybody gets the same cheese and dessert. There's also an express option, in which you can be served your starter, salad, cheese and dessert (no main course) just after takeoff.
Swiss offers a variety of spirits, but you'll need to ask for the day's selection — they're not outlined alongside the wine selection (below).
After takeoff, I opted for another glass of Champagne and a glass of sparkling water, which were served with mixed nuts.
For my starter, I selected the Fera trout, which was served with mixed veggies, my choice of bread (I went for an olive roll) and a small green salad.
The trout was moist and the veggies were fresh — a solid dish.
Then, for my main course, I selected the beef tenderloin with herb crust, red wine sauce, potato gratin and spring vegetables.
Everything was flavorful and the dish was well-plated.
And, much to my surprise, the steak was cooked medium-rare — a nice change from the well-done steaks you'll get on US carriers.
The cheese course consisted of Tête de Moine, Jean Pierre and Charmant, which was served with "pear bread," grapes and some packaged crackers. I very much enjoyed the cheese, though I was beginning to feel pretty full at this point.
After the cheese course, a flight attendant came by with a selection of delicious chocolates, as is the norm on Swiss.
There was also a cherry cake, which I tasted with some Port wine.
Then, later in the flight I asked for some tea and a Diet Coke. I had to tap the call button to get a flight attendant's attention — the crew didn't really pass through the cabin and they didn't appear right away when I pressed the button, though someone did pop up within a minute or two.
Meanwhile, prior to landing I was served a salad with radish, a bowl of fruit salad, bruschetta and a roll.
The flight attendants also weren't all that fast to clean up after the meal, though the "throne" seat design afforded plenty of space for me to move things out of the way.
After the pre-arrival meal, I was offered some ice cream, which was delicious.
Overall, I really enjoyed my flight on Swiss' 777-300ER. Would I connect in Montreal again just to fly the carrier's latest and greatest? No, definitely not, but if you happen to be traveling on a route operated by Swiss' new flagship, you're in for an improved experience. The new Swiss lounges in Zurich are also top-notch, which is a major plus, but you'll have the same experience there even if you're flying an A330 or A340.
It's important to note the odd window-seat configuration — you'll really want to avoid those paired seats, so if you're traveling with a friend, I'd definitely opt for two center seats, instead. Additionally, I wouldn't count on getting too much work done via the Wi-Fi — it's certainly nice that Swiss offers it, but unless you're only planning to catch up on email (without loading images), you'll probably end up blowing through that allotment very quickly.
Have you flown on Swiss' 777-300ER?