Business Class on Swiss Air: Careful, your Lufthansa is Showing

9:50 PM

By Dan Pimentel,
Airplanista Blog Editor
After flying over to the EU in early May business class onboard an Air Canada 787 Dreamliner (read about that flight here), we returned to the states May 26th aboard a Swiss Air Airbus A330-300, also business class. Departure was Milan, Italy, into Zurich International Airport (ZRH) on a Swiss Air 737, and ZRH to Chicago-O’hare (ORD), then ORD to SFO and back home to Eugene (KEUG).
I look forward to any chance I get to fly business class, which my brilliant wife/travel coordinator, Julie Celeste, is able to procure with airline points. How she does it is a mystery, but she is amazing, and I just come along for the ride. Our “deal” is that she gets us across the pond, and I get us around when there, because I have a knack for figuring out metro systems in pretty much any country we have visited.
So when it was time to come home via Swiss Air, it introduced a new chance to fly a new airline, in one of their premium cabins.
I learned from the Flight Attendant on the flight that Lufthansa Group owns Swiss Air, and it showed. I flew Lufthansa to the EU in 2012 in business class on an A380 SFO to Frankfurt and it was a fantastic experience. The food was outstanding, and the FAs were perfect, right on top of any need you have, very professional, and quite eager to make sure every second of the ride was to the passenger’s satisfaction.
The ride onboard the Swiss Air A330-300 was equally enjoyable, and it was clear that the standards kept at Lufthansa have filtered down to Swiss Air. The quick hop from Milan over the Alps, delivered us to ZRH, which was a wonderful transition airport:

Like many, I regard the Swiss as people that produce very high quality products. Swiss watches, Swiss chocolate, and the exquisite aircraft from Pilatus. So when we arrived at ZRH and saw a sparkling clean terminal, well-designed to flow people through it easily, I was not surprised. Everything about going from A to B inside this airport was perfect, and once we made it to our departure gate, even the seats in the waiting area were high-end, of contemporary design. Because we were flying back to the U.S., Swiss Air again had to check passports, even though we had already made it through one passport control zone. The airline set up two small kiosks on wheels near the gate, and asked everyone boarding to form two lines. The process went fast, the agents were smiling and efficient, and we soon were aboard the Airbus ready for departure.
Inside the A330-300, Swiss Air’s business class was grand. While this particular aircraft might have had a cabin that was a few years old, it was evident the designers did their job. Everything was where it should be, it all worked great, and the best part was the “lay flat” seat actually laid flat. Unlike the footwell of the Air Canada Dreamliner’s business class seats on the eastbound leg of this journey, I could easily stretch out and enjoyed a pretty decent nap. Of course, you sleep well after a good meal:

I am not going to go into every little detail of the menu. Served on the usual linen tablecloth on real china, I used actual metal utensils to enjoy a very good spread. Everything was hot, very tasty, and the presentation was perfect. Just like when I flew Lufthansa’s business class in 2012, the FAs were up and down the aisles during the meal constantly, and if you needed anything (like more of their delicious breads), you only had to look up, make eye contact, and they were seat side with whatever you wanted. 

After watching Bohemian Rhapsody on the oversized LCD screen, I pulled the complementary eyeshades down, grabbed the blanket (imagine that, blankets on a plane), and spent much of the westbound flight in deep sleep. The ride in the Airbus was smooth, and when I awoke somewhere over New England, I scarfed down another meal of very, very good raviolis. I had just spent a week in Northern Italy, and only saw pumpkin raviolis on one menu. Blasphemy, I am a ravioli connoisseur, and pumpkin in a ravioli was as despicable as lettuce on a “taco” pizza. And Swiss Air’s raviolis were of restaurant quality, tasting even better at FL380.
We of course made it across the pond to Chicago O’Hare, where our bliss of flying business class ended big time. As per usual when coming back to the states on an international flight, we knew the customs gauntlet would have to be run. But the customs area at ORD was as horrible as any I have been in, long, slow-moving lines inside cramped hot rooms, crappy signage to tell you where to go next, not nearly enough agents to process the crush of people, on and on. The logistics team at ORD blew it on this one, as everything about the customs gauntlet was incredibly poorly planned:

 Once you finally made it through the handful of agents processing hundreds of passengers, you had to retrieve your bags off the world’s largest carousel. They were dropping bags from three flights onto the same carousel, and it was almost overflowing. So when one of my bags snuck by, I had to fight my way through a sea of people, grab it, and then fight my way back to the front to retrieve our other bag. The carousel is so big, if you miss your bag, might as well grab lunch before it comes back around. Of course, you then have to schlepp those bags into the next crowded, disorganized room, determine which group of handlers to give it to so it can end up on the right bag recheck belt, and without signs, it was a total crapshoot. Lucky for us, at about the time I was going to lose it, a huge, plain clothes U.S. Customs agent with a badge came up, asked if we needed help, and told us where to go.

We dropped off our bags for recheck, and again had to figure out where to go next. We eventually determined by asking another uniformed U.S Customs agent that we needed to get to terminal 1, and to get there meant heading outside to stand in a ridiculous line of people waiting to board shuttle busses. It was under a temporary tent full of confused, often irate passengers, snaking through the tent in a “Disneyland” style series of back and forth lines that was barely moving. What was weird was that about every fourth passenger were dragging suitcases the size of Smart cars through the tent’s line, so when they tried to board the shuttle buses, of course everything stopped while they stuffed themselves and their steamer chest-sized luggage through the bus door and down the aisle. It was madness.
All this was to get us from the international terminal to Terminal 1, but the bus had to creep out into rush hour airport traffic and limp along at .0005 mph to go all the way around the airport access roads, and of course it hit every red light. What a joke. It was as if a supercomputer was programmed to design the most inefficient customs experience ever. This was America not being great.
After getting through a very slow TSA line, we finally made out gate for the flight to SFO, and on to home in Eugene. Those legs were uneventful on United, and our luggage made it home with us. It was great to fall into our own bed after 19 days away.
I am cursed any time I fly through ORD. That is one of the main reasons why I am meeting up with an #avgeek pal in St. Louis this year and driving into Oshkosh…bypassing O’Hare altogether. Let United cancel that last flight of the day to Appleton and strand dozens of people bound for AirVenture…I will be happily asleep in my dorm room at the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh when that happens again.
Any time I get to fly business class, it is a joy, and Swiss Air did not let us down. And yes, the little piece of Swiss chocolate they served to finish the meal was outstanding.
More please.

You Might Also Like