Swiss Perfection: A Review of Swiss First Class on Its Flagship Boeing 777-300ER
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When was the last time you went window shopping? Do you remember the product or item that caught your fancy? Was it a pair of shoes, a handbag or maybe even a piece of clothing?
I do a fair bit of window shopping myself, especially considering that mall walking is a reality where I grew up in the summer heat of South Florida. But do I remember the last thing I coveted? You bet.
And no, you couldn’t find the item in the Town Center Mall in Boca Raton. Instead, I was sitting in business class on a Swiss Airbus A330-300 in seat 4A salivating over the experience that was happening just one row in front of me in first class.
Fast forward 3 years later, and I’m working at The Points Guy. When a sale fare broke for Swiss first class, I knew it was my opportunity. I smashed the glass and bought the ticket for Swiss first class aboard the carrier’s flagship Boeing 777-300ER.
And so, was all that jealousy misplaced? Read on to find out.
I can guarantee that you’ll have better luck betting black at roulette than finding Swiss first-class award availability. There’s no easy way to redeem points for the product, save for the extremely rare error where Swiss releases first-class award seats to partners.
Swiss does allow you to redeem miles for the product if you’re a Miles & More Senator or HON Circle member. The route I flew would’ve cost 111,000 miles plus taxes. It’s no surprise then that this product has landed on bucket lists for many miles-and-points junkies around the world.
Since I’m not an elite member in Miles & More, I went digging for the cheapest paid ticket. I follow the FlyerTalk Premium Fare Deal page religiously (pro tip: set an IFTTT email alert), and when I saw a post for Swiss first-class flights from $2,800 round-trip, I knew it was time to pull the trigger.
In the end, my open-jaw routing looked like this:
- Kiev, Ukraine (KBP) – Zurich, Switzerland (KBP) – Bangkok, Thailand (BKK), with the short-haul flight operated by one of Swiss’s new A220s and the ZRH-BKK segment operated by the B77W.
- Shanghai, China (PVG) – Frankfurt, Germany (FRA) – Kiev (KBP) later in the year aboard Lufthansa’s A380 (also in first class).
I maximized my points earned for my flight purchase, given that I paid with the Platinum Card® from American Express for 5x Membership Rewards points on the ticket (booked directly with the airline), yielding 14,080 points, worth $282 at TPG’s latest valuation.
The short-haul KBP-ZRH segment booked into J class, and the ZRH-BKK segment booked into A class, earning me 2,573 and 14,035 redeemable miles respectively as a United MileagePlus Gold member.
The first-class experience began as my Uber pulled up to the main terminal at the Zurich Airport. The first terminal entrance door was reserved for Swiss first-class passengers and members of the airline’s highest elite tier, HON Circle.
Instead of queuing at a traditional check-in desk, I made my way to a small landside lounge for first-class passengers. The check-in agent quickly confirmed my flight details, issued my boarding pass and directed me to one of the most exclusive airport screening experiences available in commercial aviation.
On my way out of this private area, I noticed that there were two food and beverage items available: espresso and ice cream. Nothing quite like an ice cream at 5:45am.
Instead of going through the main security checkpoint, I turned right and took the escalator up to the Swiss First lounge. The lounge features private security that opens directly into the lounge, and I was airside within 30 seconds. Aside from the Lufthansa first-class terminal or LAX’s Private Suite, I can’t imagine a better security experience.
You won’t be eligible for this VIP security if you are connecting in Zurich, but there’s an airside lounge entrance for travelers who are connecting (or forget about the private security entrance).
Once inside the lounge, my eyes were immediately drawn to the beautiful centerpiece table and bar area. The table had a “candy bar,” similar to what you’d find in Lufthansa’s first-class lounges though there were fewer gummies and more chocolates in this characteristically Swiss presentation.
Although there’s a dedicated dining area, food and drinks are served throughout the lounge. There’s also a tiny buffet and drink selection if you’re in a hurry.
It was too early to indulge at the bar (I arrived just as the lounge opened to get the best possible pictures), but there was no drink menu. Instead, bartenders and servers could customize a drink to suit your preferences.
If you’re a
breakfast for dinner person jet-lagged traveler, Swiss has you covered. The all day a la carte menu includes both breakfast and lunch/dinner items.
The lounge wasn’t too large, and I could definitely imagine it filling up with the number of HON Circle members passing through Swiss’s largest hub.
If you’re looking to work, there are four private cubicles with all the necessary power outlets. Past the cubicles is a relaxation area with two lounge chairs.
I also checked out the bathrooms and showers. They were both in immaculate condition, but were definitely smaller and less luxurious than their counterparts in Lufthansa first-class lounges. The shower was refreshing, but the single scratchy towel was definitely not what I’d expect from first class.
Wi-Fi in the lounge was fast and free, but you needed to pick up a single-use voucher code to login to the network.
Swiss offers private limousine transfers for its first class passengers to the satellite E Concourse for widebody non-Schengen departures. I let the lounge attendant know when I was ready to be transferred over, and he quickly arranged my transfer.
I walked upstairs, passed the empty cigar bar and conference room and strolled down a long hallway until I got to the limo transfer desk. A driver was waiting there, and she escorted me to the ground floor where my passport was stamped (at a private immigration desk).
While I loved the lounge’s elegant design and incredibly attentive service, I was disappointed that there weren’t any views. These worries would shortly be squashed when I hopped in my private Mercedes-Benz V-Class transfer from the main terminal to the E Concourse.
After a short six-minute ride, I was escorted to an elevator that let me out in the non-Schengen Swiss First lounge.
The design was strikingly similar to the lounge in the main terminal, though this lounge was broken up into three distinct sections. The first was the dining area which featured nine perfectly set tables and four booths.
The next area was the actual lounge, with multiple seating arrangements consisting of couches and chairs along a narrow corridor.
Separating the dining area from the lounge was an impressive wine humidor and bar, featuring over 1,000 bottles of wine.
The last section, an expansive terrace, was what really stole my AvGeek heart. If you’re like me and prefer to relax to the smell of jet A, there are various outdoor seating arrangements, all equipped with power outlets and umbrellas.
Although I visited for breakfast, all the food I tried was delicious, especially the buttery croissant that could’ve just as easily been flown in fresh from Paris.
Aside from the terrace and massive wine humidor, the lounge’s other highlight is the two
day hotel rooms. Read more about those hotel rooms in my separate post about the remarkable ground experience.
When it was time to board my flight, I made my way to Gate E46, where I was first to board the 777 to Bangkok.
The Swiss first-class ground experience was flawless. From the moment you arrive to the moment you board, you’ll be luxuriating in one of the world’s finest first-class lounges. Coupled with VIP security and private chauffeur transfer to the E gates, this is one of the world’s best pre-flight experiences.
Cabin and Seat
I would be lying if I said my heart didn’t skip a beat when I saw the 2-year-old bird, HB-JNH, waiting for me at the gate. We boarded an hour late since they needed to replace the smoke detector in the aft cargo compartment, but once that was fixed, I galloped towards the front of the line to maximize my time during this once-in-a-lifetime experience.
I was greeted by the purser at door 2L and escorted straight to my window seat, 2K. My initial impressions of the hard product were incredibly favorable. I particularly liked the wood cabin finishes.
Like its older cousin Lufthansa, the Swiss first-class seats are spread across two rows in an open 1-2-1 configuration. There’s no advantage to choosing seats in the bulkhead Row 1, as there’s no cramped footwell to deal with when sitting in first.
Unless you’re traveling as a couple, I’d definitely recommend choosing one of the window seats. While there’s a large privacy divider that could be raised between the D and G center seats, it needed to be down for taxi, takeoff and landing.
The seat’s design was especially reminiscent of Lufthansa first class. The large armchair-style seat was well padded and could be adjusted in about as many ways as you could imagine. The rectangular accent lamp was a bit gimmicky but definitely added to the overall posh office feel Swiss was going for.
While there were four basic seat adjustment controls to the right of the seat, lifting the flap of the storage compartment revealed many more granular controls. Lumbar support? Check. Headrest? Check. Footrest? Check. Armrests? Check. Seat length? Check. Recline? Check.
Aside from the advanced seat control buttons, this is where you found the IFE remote, headphones, AC power outlet and USB port.
The ottoman doubles as underseat storage (unlike on Lufthansa where the ottoman folds open and has a storage compartment) and triples as a buddy seat if you wanted to host a travel companion.
Other than the storage compartment located on the right-hand side of the seat, there was a narrow rectangular drawer that extended from the left armrest. It was wide enough to fit a laptop, tablet and maybe some books, but certainly nothing else.
Above the storage compartment was a small privacy partition that could be extended once airborne. To create a suite, you could open the closet that pulled out from the other side of the seat. The closet was similarly narrow, so don’t expect to hang your entire wardrobe or fur coat here.
Speaking of storage, you won’t find overhead bins above the center seats since that’s where the pilot crew rest is located on this B77W.
With the wardrobe and privacy screen extended, the seat became much more private.
Once boxed in, the suite measured 76 inches long and 43 inches wide. The seat itself was 74 inches long and 24 inches wide, which was large enough to provide me with six hours of uninterrupted sleep.
Each window seat has three windows, with a plastic covering that houses accordion and blackout shades that lower at the touch of a button. The plastic covering is highly susceptible to glare, so good luck capturing that perfect airplane sunset.
dining room table tray table folded out from the right side of the seat and measured a whopping 25 inches deep and 24 inches wide. This was definitely one of the largest tray tables I’ve ever seen on a plane.
Unfortunately, the cabin was kept really warm and there weren’t any individual air nozzles to mitigate the crew’s obvious obsession with dry heat.
Finally, there are two restrooms for first-class passengers, both located in front of the first-class cabin. The larger, handicapped accessible one is located on the port side of the aircraft and the standard-size lav is in the middle section. Neither was truly oversized, but both were stocked with single-use towels, La Prairie hand cream (hello, Switzerland), and Soeder facial spray.
Was the seat cutting edge? Not really. But the design and spaciousness of the fully enclosed suite certainly scored it lots of points.
Amenities and IFE
If your bag isn’t 5 pounds heavier (from swag) after a first-class flight, did the airline even do it right? On the Emirates A380, you’ll even deplane with a new beach bag filled with your goodies.
While there were the standard first-class amenities on my flight, Christmas definitely didn’t come early.
The first round of gifts were waiting at my seat upon boarding — slippers and a Bally amenity kit. The slippers were really comfortable, but definitely not as supportive as the newest slippers Lufthansa gives its first-class passengers.
The Bally amenity kit was stocked with the essentials, including four sample tubes of La Prairie products. I particularly appreciated the Swiss flair to the kit, especially the Ricola mints. The Bally pouch was soft and a bit bland, in my opinion.
The last gift came in the form of Zimmerli pajamas that featured an oh-so-classic Swiss design. I loved the solid navy blue design with red button accent.
Swiss definitely could have tried a bit harder in the amenity game. How about a box of Swiss chocolates for first-class passengers?
The 32-inch HD entertainment screen was locked in a fixed position in front of the seat.
The screen wasn’t touchscreen, which didn’t matter because you couldn’t reach the TV unless you had a wingspan as long as Shaquille O’Neal. The remote was responsive and featured a smaller screen that could be used to scroll through programming and watch the airshow.
As an AvGeek, I loved the customizable Panasonic 3D Airshow. There were multiple views and filter layers that could be applied to the moving map.
I personally could spend all day watching the airshow, but I realize I’m in the minority. If you’re after other entertainment, there were 120 movies and 112 TV shows to choose from on the IFE. Some of the new release movies include “The Aftermath,” “Captain Marvel” and “the Professor and the Madman.”
Swiss provided one entire season of the following TV shows: “Ballers,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Camping,” “Castle Rock,” “Catastrophe,” “The Middle,” “Sharp Objects,” “The Resident” and “This Is Us.” Otherwise, there were random one-off episodes from other shows.
It’s a good thing I stuck to watching the airshow, since the provided headphones felt like they belong in premium economy. The sound quality wasn’t great, and the noise cancellation was limited. Swiss should really invest in some good noise-cancelling headphones for first class.
I briefly connected to Wi-Fi, provided by Panasonic, using the complimentary 50 MB voucher given to first-class passengers.
Once you’re out of (free) data, you’ll want to be very conservative. With 220 MB packages selling for $60, you’ll want to steer clear of data-intensive applications to avoid a really expensive bill.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
As I settled into my seat for the 10-hour, 18-minute hop to Bangkok, the purser immediately introduced himself and offered me some warm rosemary nuts, Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle Champagne (a la British Airways first class) and a hot towel. He then brought the food and drink menus, which were printed on thick card stock.
For flights departing Switzerland, Swiss has a quarterly rotating cuisine program where it showcases dishes by celebrity chefs that hail from different cantons of the country. July’s menu featured the Canton of Vaud with dishes prepared by Michelin-starred chef Philippe Gobet.
In my opinion, a perfect first-class meal includes caviar regardless of route and season. Swiss clearly disagrees with me — it only serves caviar in first class during a two-week period in early summer.
Bummed about the lack of caviar, I perused the menu and selected chef Gobet’s signature dish for my main course, the lemon-crusted turbot with sauce vierge.
I quickly forgot about the missing caviar when the amuse bouche was served 20 minutes after takeoff. The succulent smoked trout jelly paired nicely with the parmesan breadsticks.
Excited for what was to come, my dining room table was set, including full-sized salt and pepper shakers and a bread basket filled with white, multigrain and whole wheat rolls.
Satisfaction in the form of the first course came rolling down the aisle about an hour after takeoff. I chose the beautifully presented Balik salmon and a quinoa and egg “mimosa”. The other options were scampi or charcuterie. The Balik salmon was absolutely perfect and tender to the touch, and the “mimosa” was light and refreshing.
I was then offered a choice of soup or salad, but in the name of research, selected both. The zucchini soup was served table-side with croutons and a dollop of goat cheese. The cheese gave the soup a distinct tartness which blended well with the zucchini flavor.
The niçoise salad was served a bit later. The smoked tuna and quail eggs were highlights of the otherwise bland salad.
I could smell the lemon-crusted turbot cooking as I chowed down my salad, so I was so excited when it was time for the feature presentation. The turbot’s lemon crust was flavorful, and the fish itself was cooked perfectly through. The flavor profile was great, and the accompanying sides of pea mashed potatoes and zucchini flower were excellent.
At this point, I had switched from Champagne to the Chardonnay, Chablis Premier Cru, which paired perfectly with the fish.
First class is about indulgence, so when the cheese and dessert cart rolled down the aisle, I selected both dessert options. I didn’t want to physically pop, so skipped the cheese.
The two desserts couldn’t have been more different, but both were scrumptious. The rich, smooth and creamy chocolate cake was served with praline ice cream. The apricot and almond tart was served with peach and apricot sorbet and was light, airy and refreshing. Cue a sugar rush.
I had six hours to sleep off my indulgence. A limited continental breakfast was served 35 minutes prior to landing. I got a plate of seasonal fruits and Bircher muesli and decided against a pastry.
While all the food I enjoyed was quite good, in my opinion, every first-class meal should have caviar. The end.
It’s pretty easy to tell a good crew from a great crew. I lucked out on this flight and had a great crew. From the moment I stepped aboard, I was attended to with the utmost care and concern. The captain and purser both wished me a pleasant flight, and the flight attendants sprung into action the minute we crossed 10k feet.
I was impressed with the two gentlemen working first class, as they hustled to serve everyone with precision. They balanced the hustle with a finesse that’s acquired over many flights. Both FAs engaged me in banter throughout the service and struck the perfect balance between being too talkative and too robotic.
As we landed on runway 19R, I was fully ready to embrace the madness that is BKK airport. I was shocked when there was a personal greeter waiting at the end of the jet bridge to drive me in a golf cart and escort me through customs and immigration. These are the service elements that distinguish the best first-class products.
So, was all that coveting misplaced? Absolutely not.
Swiss first class is an unbelievable product, starting with a ground experience that was second to none. Seriously, check this out. The intimate cabin with (almost) fully enclosed seats was incredibly comfortable, the food and drink was top-notch (minus the missing caviar and Champagne), and the service was pure perfection.
If Swiss were to serve caviar, cater a better Champagne and offer more affordable Wi-Fi, this could be the best first-class product in the world.
All photos by the author.
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