This past summer, I took an exemplary Business Class flight with SWISS International Airlines, better known as SWISS, from San Francisco (SFO) to Zurich (ZRH). The airline's onboard product and service is consistently regarded as one of the world's finer Business Class experiences - likened to a junior-First Class product - and for 70,000 United miles + $21.40, I was quite excited to try this flight out.
Airline: SWISS International Airlines (LX)
Flight: LX 39
Route: San Francisco (SFO) - Zurich (ZRH)
Arrival: 3:55PM +1
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Duration: 10h 50m
Service: Business Class
I love the International check-in hall at San Francisco International Airport, so much that I try to arrive extra early. I may be partial as a San Francisco native but I find the airy insides and vaulted oval-beams to be on par with the world's premier airports. I arrived at 6PM, giving myself a little over 2 hours to spend exploring the terminal and the United Club.
While I completed the check-in process via the SWISS Mobile App, I decided to stop by the check-in counter to tame my excitement and retrieve a SWISS branded boarding pass as a momento. That turned out to be a terrible mistake. The moment I walked up to the counter, the agent honed in on my carry-on bag and asked to weigh it. I obliged and placed it on the scale which showed 12 kg. Be forewarned, most European airlines follow a strict carry-on weight limit of 8 kg, which meant I was 4 kg off, or about 7 lbs.
Weary of turning this blog post into a Yelp review, the agent proceeded to harass me until my bag was under 8 kg. While I fully understand the reasons behind a hand baggage weight policy, I found it outright embarrassing that she insisted I rearrange my bag right in front of her, clothing by clothing. I reassured her I would take care of this in the lounge and proceeded towards security. I was certain the agent would inform the gate crew and request to have the team weigh my bag again before boarding. Low and behold, the gate crew sought me out and did just that. It was a disappointing and outright degrading experience for a mere 7 lbs.
SWISS First and Business Class passengers have access to the United Club when flying out of San Francisco given their affiliation with Star Alliance. Fortunately, United is introducing their new Polaris experience across the network, so unfortunately, the current lounge is under construction and does not reflect the true experience.
That said, the lounge was filled to the brim. I have never seen a more packed lounge, to the point where I decided to turn right back around. I wasn't able to properly capture the lounge experience, however, here's a link to a recent review of the lounge from my favorite travel blogger, One Mile At A Time.
I then decided to try my luck at the EVA Air and the Singapore Airlines lounge, both of which are Star Alliance members located next to the United Club. In theory, both should grant access to passengers traveling in a premium cabin on a Star Alliance flight. The EVA Air lounge closed at 5PM shortly after I arrived, while the Singapore Airlines lounge was reserved exclusively for Air New Zealand passengers. Despite holding a Business Class ticket on a Star Alliance member flight, the Singapore Airlines lounge did not accept any other passengers and I was directed back to the United Club.
After the unsuccessful lounge hops, I decided to call it quits and proceed to the gate for boarding. Please note, the Singapore Airlines lounge at SFO is now permanently closed and will soon become a part of the larger United Polaris Lounge. Make note of these changes as construction is expected to last a few months.
The Boarding Process
The departure area filled up about an hour before departure, with boarding beginning promptly at 7:35PM, 30 minutes before. The boarding sequence started with First Class, followed by Business Class, HON Circle, and Senator. I boarded through door 2L, the second door on the left after the First Class cabin and before the larger of the two Business Class sections.
In early 2016, SWISS took delivery of their first Boeing 777-300ER, naming this aircraft their new flagship international and long-haul aircraft. The airline has 10 confirmed orders of the ultra long-haul aircraft to be used primarily on routes to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Hong Kong, and more. The aircraft is configured with 340 seats, with 8 First Class seats, 62 Business Class seats, and 270 Economy seats.
Here is a promotional video of the newly debuted plane, which I'm obsessed with.
The Cabin + Seats
My aviation bucket list is ambitious, with plans to try every First and Business Class product at least once. When putting together my list, I decided to place SWISS at the top for the airlines unique throne seats, an almost-fully-enclosed private suite.
The Business Class cabin includes 62 Zodiac Aerospace Sicma’s Skylounge III seats in a staggered 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 configuration. Of the 62 seats, 12 offer a unique throne-like experience, which is first available to SWISS Miles & More loyalty members for advanced booking and opens up to all other passengers upon check-in 24 hours before departure.
My travel companion and I were lucky to find 2 throne seats available upon check-in, so I snagged 11A while my companion opted for 13A. In these seats, you'll find additional working surface area on both sides of your seat, which nearly doubles the size of your space. Just short of a door, the seat offers a nearly fully-enclosed suite experience for greater privacy.
In front was a large TV screen, to the right was a vanity with headphones and a lamp, and to the left, a magazine holder for documents and taller items. To clear up any confusion, despite the deceiving doors in the picture, the space did not offer any storage compartments for bags or shoes. The space under the side tables belong to the seat behind and their feet.
Looking around the cabin, you'll notice the high-contrast and striking black finishes. You'll find heavy fabric seats, paired with light grained wood, and plenty of white walls. Also, at the front of the First and Business Class cabin is an illustration of the Materhorn mountain, which adds a slightly corporate-starkness which I still found to be pretty cool. Like Lufthansa, UK-based Priestmangoode was contracted to designed the airlines Boeing 777-300ER cabin experience and they have done an outstanding job.
At my seat was an amenity kit, menu, a plush pillow, and blanket. After settling in, I was greeted by one of the two flight attendants working my aisle and offered a newspaper and beverage, which I selected water. I was also asked to select my meal as well, which I went with the Roasted Beef Tenderloin with red wine sauce.
The amenity kits offered by SWISS are very eco-friendly, which I love. They've designed a collection of 6 different collectible bags and pouches, which join to become a full tote bag with various accessories like a horizontal bag with a document holder, pouch, wallet holder, and drawstring bag. Inside the kit included an eye mask, toothbrush, sleep mask, chapstick, and earplugs. I appreciate the minimal and waste-conscious approach of SWISS.
The captain came on to add his welcome about 15 minutes before departure, letting us know our pushback will be on time for our 10h 10m flight.
It's a relative quiet time for SFO at this hour, primarily handling inbound Asia traffic and outbound Europe traffic. We passed by a new China Airlines A350 upon arrival from Taipei. Check out its winglets.
We were treated to an incredible sunset, leaving a glimmer of San Francisco in the distance.
We were first in line for take-off from Runway 28L, in parallel to a China Eastern Boeing 777-300ER in SkyTeam livery landing on Runway 28R. Our climb out was smooth and the scenes were pleasant.
30 minutes after we leveled off, the crew prepared the cabin for the first meal service. SWISS provides one of the most efficient meal services in Business Class, serving everything off of a cart, but it was still equally attentive. For instance, during the entire meal service, the drink cart rolled through at least four times - which is two more times than most airlines.
To begin, I selected a glass of the Schug Chardonnay 2015 and a glass of water. A glass of chilled Chardonnay is such a relaxing way to start a 10 hour flight. The drinks were served with warm nuts.
Next, the table was set and the appetizer and salad was delivered on a single tray. The prosciutto and melon is a solid offering, which tasted both fresh and delicious. I also selected a glass of the 2011 Chateau Paloumey Cru Brougeous Merlot, which added a nice earthy balance to the cheese.
For the main course, again, I selected the Roasted Beef Tenderloin with red wine sauce, baked potato, green beans, and baby carrots. The meat was quite tough but I loved the baked potato - which was twice baked. My favorite.
Last was the dessert, which was the perfect sized piece of Creme Brulee cheesecake with raspberry sauce and a glass of Bailey's on the rocks.
The meal service was promptly completed in under 2 hours, leaving plenty of time for movies and rest. Overall, I found the service to be efficient and well-paced. The flight attendants weren't the warmest but they were friendly and attentive.
Prior to landing, a light and single option meal was served. Everyone was served a European breakfast which included a selection of fresh fruits, breads, muesli, cheese, and cold cuts. The meal was again served on a single tray.
The Entertainment + WiFi
After the main meal service, I decided to hop on the WiFi to catch-up on some work. All SWISS Boeing 777 and Airbus A330 aircraft now offer International WiFi at affordable rates and decent speeds. Advanced WiFi vouchers can be purchased online by visiting SWISS Connect and rates vary between CHF 9 for 20MB to CHF 39 for 120MB. Costs average out to be ~$9 to $39, at a 1:1 currency exchange ratio. The prices are identical to purchasing it directly on the plane.
The IFE (Inflight Entertainment) system was also quite extensive, offering a nice selection of movies and TV shows. Not to mention, they have exterior cameras views, which I found myself watching both during take-off and landing.
In fully flat mode, the seat extends quite generously and comfortably for someone up to 6' 3". Anyone taller will likely find the space quite tight especially around the feet area, which was snug for me and I'm about 5' 10". Other than that, the throne-seats are wonderfully private and you really feel like you sink into the space give how deep your seat extends under the two seats in front of you.
About 45 minutes before landing, the Captain came on to add his thanks and to prepare the cabin for landing. We circled a bit but landed without any issues. It was a rather chilly day in Zurich but it was clear and the sun was out shining bright.
For anyone who appreciates thoughtful design, then you'll love SWISS Business Class. From the rich seat colors to the light teak colored wood, the minimally designed cabin offers a comfortable and zen-like feel which I found to be very calming. The service was efficient, well-paced, and organized but it did feel a bit robotic. I was craving a bit more warmth and personality from the crew. All together, this is certainly a solid Business Class experience and one I would fly again - especially if I'm able to land a throne seat.