In need of a refresh: Review of Swiss economy class from Geneva to New York on the A330
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[tpg_rating ticket-class="economy" tpg-rating-score="65" ground-experience="2" cabin-seat="24" amens-ife="15" food-bev="15" service="9" pros="Great food, excellent service with friendly flight attendants and ground staff, comfortable seat." cons="Slow, expensive Wi-Fi and sluggish IFE; the cabin is showing its age; and Geneva airport's Terminal 1 needs a refresh." /]
Late last year, I joined a few TPG colleagues on a life-changing PeaceJam trip to Monrovia, Liberia. We held workshops to help young people create a business. We spent time learning with two Nobel Peace Prize laureates: Leymah Gbowee, who led a women's movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War, and Kailash Satyarthi, who fought against child labor and supported education for children worldwide. Liberia is a complicated country still recovering from the effects of two back-to-back civil wars, but I left inspired by the young people I met.
After a few days in Monrovia, it was time to head back to New York. My flight home was all on Star Alliance carriers: Brussels Airlines and then Swiss, via Brussels and Geneva. I'd never flown Swiss before, so I was looking forward to comparing it to other European airlines I knew from experience, like Lufthansa and British Airways.
The only direct flight from Monrovia to Europe — until Air France begins serving Paris in April — is on Brussels Airlines, so I routed from Monrovia to Brussels, then connecting to Geneva for the flight to New York. We ended up paying for this multi-city ROB-BRU-GVA-JFK ticket by using 40,000 United MileagePlus miles plus $174.65 on The Platinum Card® from American Express.
If you find yourself short of United miles, remember that the MileagePlus program is a 1:1 transfer partner of Chase Ultimate Rewards. The Chase Sapphire Preferred® Card is currently offering a welcome bonus of 60,000 points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first three months of account opening. With that welcome bonus, you could fly in economy round-trip from the U.S. to Europe.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Ground Experience" tpg-rating="2" tpg-rating-max="5" tail="HB-JHC" age="10" departure="11" departure-2="58" duration="8" duration-2="08" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
I checked in for my flight in Monrovia all the way to New York. Brussels Airlines and Swiss are both members of Star Alliance and subsidiaries of the Lufthansa Group, making for a seamless experience overall. I did not have bags to check.
The six-hour flight from Monrovia to Brussels was uneventful. After arriving in Brussels and clearing security, I then caught another Brussels Airlines flight to Geneva, home of the only long-haul flight in the Swiss network not leaving from Zurich, LX22 to New York JFK.
I had about four hours to kill at the GVA airport and I wanted to check out a lounge and grab a bite to eat before my flight. After clearing security again, I found the Horizon Lounge, a Priority Pass lounge, after wandering for a few minutes. (Because lounge access is not included with an economy class ticket, we have not factored lounges in the ground-experience score.)
The lounge looks unassuming, but once inside, the views are gorgeous.
It's definitely more modern than the Swissport Lounge (also Priority Pass) I'd peeked in just down the hall. That lounge is dark and has low ceilings while this is light and airy and feels very "Swiss."
There are three large rooms, each offering runway and mountain views, with dozens of chairs and a few bar tables strewn throughout. Note that the outlets are all European, so make sure you bring converters if you plan to charge your devices.
The best views are along the back wall, looking at the mountains and planes taking off.
There was a decent bar but nothing particularly noteworthy. I opted for a coffee and water and kept it moving. The coffee was fresh and woke me up after recovering from a 9 p.m. departure from Monrovia and a 6 a.m. flight out of Brussels. Luckily, I wasn’t hungry because the food spread was the saddest I’d seen in a Priority Pass lounge in a while.
Running out of time, I snagged a sandwich and made to leave.
A big downside of this lounge is the bathroom, which is outside and a massive disappointment for such an aesthetically pleasing lounge. I stopped by the restroom before heading for the gate...and wished I hadn’t. It's quite grim.
My gate info was not published until 30 minutes before boarding, which led to me standing awkwardly in the middle of the airport. After my gate, C96, popped up, I made my way through passport control and to the C gates. It’s a small area with some duty-free shops and a sad grab-and-go store. (GVA technically has two terminals, but most flights leave from Terminal 1.)
All New York-bound passengers had their passports rechecked before being let into a gate area that looked more like a DMV waiting area. Nobody likes spending time at the DMV, and I didn’t like spending time at this gate. There was an ample amount of seating but what I was really searching for was a power outlet to charge my phone. I couldn't find one at the gate so I resigned to charging it during the flight.
The ground staff was friendly and prompt, and the gate orderly. Boarding was too, with all first class, business class, Star Alliance elite members and families with small children boarding through a dedicated line, and everyone else boarding later. What was not pleasant, though, was the lack of a jet bridge. After lugging my suitcase down the stairs, we had to board a shuttle bus to get to a pretty, 10-year-old Airbus A330. Cargo was being loaded into the belly holds as our bus approached.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Cabin and Seat" tpg-rating="24" tpg-rating-max="30" configuration="2" configuration-2="4" configuration-3="2" width="17.3" pitch="32" lavs="4" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
Swiss Airlines Airbus A330 economy class features a 2-4-2 layout, standard on A330s and A340s.
My seat, 27K, was in the forward economy cabin, with four lavatories separating this cabin from the larger rear one. The cabin was cozy enough to feel like a premium economy section and felt completely separate from the rear cabin. Note that Swiss does not have, at this point, an actual premium economy class — but it does have, a rare thing among major European airlines, a long-haul first class.
My seat was comfortable but showing signs of age. I immediately noticed scratches on the seat and dirt and other debris on the remote. I noticed the seats hadn't been thoroughly cleaned in a while.
The seat was good enough that I got a solid three hours of uninterrupted sleep on this eight-hour flight, although it was far enough away from the window that I had to strain to lean my head on the cabin wall. 32 inches of pitch between seats is relatively generous in standard coach these days, and I felt like I had ample legroom for my 5 foot, 8-inch frame.
Bathrooms were well-stocked with lotion and spray and kept clean.
The economy cabin on the Swiss A330 only has four lavs, and they are all situated in the middle. I mistakenly wandered towards the back of the plane in search of another lav and was surprised to find the galley.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Amenities and IFE" tpg-rating="15" tpg-rating-max="40" movies="128" tv-shows="81" live-tv="No" tailcam="No" headphones="Yes" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" /]
A blanket and pillow were waiting for me at my seat upon boarding, and they were good quality for economy class. The pillow was plush, and the blanket didn't feel scraggly at all. Some airlines supply amenity kits in economy, but Swiss does not.
But that was not the problem with this flight. The Wi-Fi and inflight entertainment were.
After connecting to the Wi-Fi, I wished I'd worked from the airport instead. Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of Swiss' Wi-Fi package is that the airline charges per megabyte, and not by time like some other airlines do.
Wi-Fii on Swiss isn't cheap, either. The most affordable package started at $9 and increased to a whopping $60 for the "best value" package. (A Swiss franc, or CHF, is roughly equivalent to a U.S. dollar.)
I opted for the $60 220 MB package, thinking I'd have enough data to work, check my email, and scroll Twitter. I was unpleasantly surprised to find out I'd maxed out the entire package in less than 12 minutes. Thinking there was a glitch, I bought another Wi-Fi package, this time the second most expensive one at $40. I needed to work, after all. I repeated this twice more with the $20 50 MB package before giving up somewhere over Newfoundland and listening to music for the duration of the flight.
The final bill for less than six hours of barely decent Wi-Fi? $140. After landing, I realized that all of the photos and videos I'd shot in Monrovia had begun uploading to my iCloud once my phone was connected to stable Wi-Fi. Cautionary tale: absolutely do check that you have automatic backup over Wi-Fi disabled if you connect to inflight Internet. While I can't blame Swiss for my forgetfulness, it's a case for Wi-Fi on all airlines to be charged by time, not by data. 220 MB for $60 works out to 27 cents per megabyte of data. That's expensive. Our experience with Swiss Wi-Fi on a previous review flight was also negative.
The inflight entertainment (IFE) was another bad point. It was sluggish and barely responsive.
The tailcam didn’t work on the IFE. I tried several times throughout the flight but eventually gave up. The screen's resolution left a lot to be desired, especially compared to economy class on the Brussels Airlines A330 I had flown earlier that day. I counted well over 100 movies and 81 TV shows, a pretty large number, but the IFE was so sluggish that pulling up movie titles was dishearteningly slow.
The earbuds were cheap-looking and unremarkable. The two-prong design also means that you cannot use your own headphones unless you bring an adapter.
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Shortly after the seatbelt sign was turned off, flight attendants came through the cabin, handed out cute heart-shaped pretzels and took drink orders.
When I asked for a 7 Up, I appreciated getting the entire can instead of just a cup.
Shortly after, lunch service began, with a classic binary option. Instead of chicken or pasta, it was chicken or fish. My choice, the chicken, came with cheesy mashed potatoes and spinach. I topped lunch off with a complimentary Prosecco.
The food was great (and not just "I'm stuck on an airplane" great) and tasty. For dessert, there was a delicious graham cracker mousse. It was so good that I wanted to ask for a second helping.
An hour and fifty minutes before landing, flight attendants came around and served the pre-landing snack: pizza and ice cream. Just like being back in college! All in all, this was a lot better than your average coach-class plane food.
[flight_stats ticket-class="econ" review-stat-section="Service" tpg-rating="9" tpg-rating-max="10" live-tv="0" tailcam="0" headphones="0" comp-alcohol="0" extra-pillows="0" turndown-service="0" blurb="Friendly, efficient service." /]
Swiss really shone here. From the captain to the flight attendants, the Swiss crew members were cheerful and stayed happy throughout the flight. On a daytime flight, with most passengers awake, the mood was light and the flight attendants were happy to chat. They were helpful without being overbearing.
Service started approximately five minutes after reaching cruising altitude. The cabin crew worked efficiently, considering this was a full flight too. Shortly before landing, a flight attendant passed around chocolates, which was a nice touch.
Service was excellent and prompt, and the food was great, but I expected that from an airline with the storied heritage Swiss has.
What Swiss really needs to update is its economy hard product. The seat, however comfortable, felt dated compared to other major European airlines. Most of all, the IFE needs a significant refresh. I also felt robbed blind by the exorbitant Wi-Fi costs. And while I did not particularly mind boarding from a bus, it is certainly a competitive disadvantage. I wouldn't mind flying Swiss long-haul economy again, with two caveats: I would watch my Wi-Fi usage, and try to fly from the Zurich airport, which offers a better ground experience.