This is second half of this trip report.
After a few weeks exploring all of Germany it was time to make our way home. The last city we visited was Munich and we would begin our trip home from the city’s airport, Franz Joseph Strauss International. Our return journey was slated to be MUC–ZRH–JFK/EWR–AUS. The long-haul Swiss flight, ZRH-JFK, would be on one of Swiss’s newly retrofitted Airbus A330-300s. It is the only aircraft in their fleet to be fitted with their newest first class seat.
One thing I failed to mention in the previous post was the fact that Swiss is actually a Lufthansa subsidiary and operates as a separate airline. As such, the ground services, onboard product, food, and lounges are very different from each other and it is obvious that Swiss is catering to a subset of the Lufthansa market.
Munich’s Franz Joseph Strauss airport sits a good 45 minutes away from the city by train and at €10.80 is one of the more expensive airport trains out there (I’m looking at you London Heathrow). Once inside the airport, Lufthansa handles the check-in and baggage movement for Swiss and as a first class passenger on their subsidiary, one is entitled to use the Lufthansa first class check-in, security checkpoint, and lounge. Check-in was fairly smooth, though there was a slight problem with Jessica’s ticket, but it was fixed and the agent was very apologetic. Security was just as smooth, though I did experience something I’ve never seen before. One of the security officers stopped me, had me remove my camera from it’s bag, take a picture and prove that a photograph was taken. While over the top, it makes more sense than taking a giant x-ray of me.
After a slight chuckle over that fun experience we walked to Lufthansa’s first class lounge and were promptly greeted and given a quick tour of the facility. We were also informed that since our flight would be leaving from a remote stand a car would be arranged to take us to the flight. The lounge is noticeably smaller than the first class terminal in Frankfurt but the same amenities remain. We decided to have breakfast in the restaurant and enjoyed a number of items, including their granola and yogurt, and eggs cooked just the way you like them.
Around 10:00am a Lufthansa assistant came and escorted us to the car, a Mercedes S-Class. A five minute drive later and we were at the aircraft with the driver taking our hand luggage onboard for us. This was a short flight, maybe right at an hour from gate to gate but Swiss managed to serve a continental style breakfast and I think the flight attendant was a little disappointed that I was not hungry and passed on the offering.
On arrival in Zurich we walked up some stairs and followed the sign to the Swiss First Lounge. It’s a modern, bright, and airy facility that one does not have a problem envisioning as “Swiss”. There are not as many amenities as the Lufthansa lounges but there is still a restaurant, a full service bar, a self-serve bar, showers and bathrooms. The check-in procedure to the lounge is a bit strange, you show the attendant your boarding pass and then they ask you what time you want to proceed to your flight. Not knowing what to expect I chose the second to last time available.
A couple of hours later and we headed to the desk where the agent told us to be at our designated time. We were five minutes early and the agent said they weren’t ready yet and asked if we could come back in a few minutes. This struck me as odd but we went and sat down for a few more minutes before once again walking back to the front desk. This time there was a driver waiting for us and another couple and she escorted us down an escalator to a security checkpoint. Our luggage was checked and then we were escorted to a van that took us across the airport and dropped us off outside of a second checkpoint. So we were able to skip the train ride (that is inside of security) and instead undergo two security screenings? Something just seems weird about the way Swiss has that van system set up.
About fifteen minutes later we were boarding the aircraft. A friendly Swiss flight attendant greeted us and asked if she could help us with any of our items. A few minutes later and she was back with an amuse bouche and a beverage. The amuse bouche consisted of poached leeks, a lightly fried cheese, and a savory torte. My stomach was already getting excited for what was to come.
The new Swiss seat is a great way to fly. It has a large ottoman and an enormous video screen. If you are in the middle section there is a large divider that can be raised to separate you from the person next to you. With only eight people in first, it is a very private cabin with a very personal feeling service.
Our flight was right on time and after a climb that gave some impressive views of the Swiss Alps the flight attendants were quickly going through the cabin making sure that every passenger was taken care of. A set of pajamas were handed out in case we wanted to nap and the same flight attendant asked us if we’d like to dine together. On Swiss’s aircraft, the first class seat’s ottoman also has a seatbelt that allows it to be used as a second seat for dining with your travel companion. The table was then set and lunch service began, with large menus being distributed.
The first two courses were great and I was having to pace myself. The flight attendants are constantly doing their rounds, filling up wine glasses, asking if we’d like more of a particular item, and just making sure everyone is happy. The soup was a cold gazpacho and it was flavorful, with a bit of heat at the end. For my main course I had chosen a Swiss specialty, Schnitzu. It is essentially schnitzel but the Swiss use pork rather than veal and bread it more delicately. Alas, they had only loaded two of that dish on board so I decided to have the rack of lamb instead. It was good, though a bit dry.
By far, my favorite course of the meal was the cheese course. The selection of cheeses was fantastic and the gruyere choice was particularly tasty. It was tart with that pungent bite that I love and I enjoyed it so much the flight attendant saved some for me for just before landing (I’m sure the immigration officer at JFK loved that).
The dessert course was nothing spectacular, a chocolate cake with raspberry mousse. It was flavorful and sweet and topped off the meal, but it was not something I vividly remember like the gazpacho or the cheese course.
Around the time we made landfall over Canada the flight attendant offered us ice cream and I gladly accepted, along with a cappuccino. The inflight entertainment system is loaded with a disappointing selection so I made due watching Wall-E. There is a hook-up for your iPad or iPod but you need to have an s-video connector as they only have one on-board for the first class cabin. When they came around with pre-arrival snacks, the flight attendant brought me more of that gruyere that I was so enamored with and I thanked her.
We landed right on time at JFK and that was pretty much the end of the Swiss experience. There is no escort from the plane to immigration or holding back of other passengers. I didn’t really care as we were still some of the first folks off of the plane and only had a ten minute wait at immigration.
Overall, I would say that Lufthansa’s ground handling, especially at their hubs, outshines Swiss without question. Swiss’s new first class seat definitely beat Lufthansa’s old style first class seat, though with Lufthansa receiving new first class seats fleet wide I’m sure it will be a dead heat between the two. Food wise, there were things I liked about both airlines but I thought Swiss’s presentation was better and enjoyed my meal on them more than Lufthansa. Both crews were equally fantastic and I never had a moment where I felt the service lacked on either flight.
If you are looking for a way to spend miles in the Star Alliance and especially if you want to spend some time in Europe either to or from Asia, it is a great value for a great experience.
If you are looking for some help with a reward booking or want more information on the Swiss or Lufthansa products, feel free to contact me.