In late January I had the chance to fly Business Class on Swiss International Air Lines. This was an experience I was keen to try, in order to compare the airline’s premium-service product to and from New York compared with its own service in years past, as well as that of the famous former Swiss flag carrier, Swissair.
Until 2002, Swissair was the national flag carrier of Switzerland. In-flight, its premium-class service was not always as cheerfully friendly as that of some other airlines at the time, but the service was known for its formal excellence.
By repute, Swissair’s on-board service was a model of Swiss precision. Twice, in the 1980s, I flew long-haul business class on Swissair and found that the service pretty much lived up to this reputation. There weren’t many smiles from the flight attendants but everything you were supposed to get in-flight, you did, and at the exact moment you were supposed to get it.
Swissair’s pilots were willing to be slightly unconventional, however, when on one occasion I was a guest on the delivery flight of a new, stretched-upper-deck Boeing 747-300 to Swissair from Boeing’s widebody final-assembly line at Everett.
Before landing, the crew showed off the new 747’s sleek lines to waiting crowds at Zurich Airport by making the huge jet perform tight turns and fast passes over the airport. The 747-300 was practically empty of passengers and cargo and by the end of the flight from Seattle it was by no means heavily laden with fuel, so the aircraft had plenty of spare power to allow the pilots to indulge in some fun maneuvering.
In 2002, to the shock of the entire airline industry, Swissair was liquidated after over-reaching itself in buying several other carriers – notably Belgium’s badly run Sabena, which also folded. A new airline, the unrelated Swiss International Air Lines – which styles itself ‘SWISS’ in its advertising and publicity materials – came into being to take Swissair’s place as Switzerland’s flag carrier.
Since 2002 Swiss International Air Lines has grown successfully, particularly after it became a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group in July 2007. Now, Swiss International Air Lines is actually bigger than Swissair ever was in terms of traffic: last year it carried 15.3 million passengers.
In 2009, I was able to sample the in-flight service on board the all-Business Class service operated for Swiss International Air Lines by the Swiss operator PrivatAir between Zurich and Newark with a modified, long-range version of the Boeing 737-800 known as the Boeing Business Jet 2, or BBJ2.
The service standards were stunning but the service itself was unrepresentative of Swiss International Air Lines’ main long-haul Business Class cabins in the carrier’s Airbus A330s and A340-300s. This was because the BBJ2’s seats didn’t fold down into flat beds and the aircraft itself was a single-aisle jet rather than a twin-aisle widebody.
So I was highly interested to have the chance in late January 2012 to experience Swiss International Air Lines’ Business Class service on board its twice-daily service between New York JFK and Zurich Airport.
The timing of the experience was all the more relevant because at the end of March Swiss International Air Lines is replacing the PrivatAir-operated BBJ all-business class service between Zurich and Newark Liberty International Airport with one of the airline’s own Airbus A340-300 four-engine widebodies. The flight will offer three classes of on-board service: First, Business and Economy.
However, it was a twin-engine Airbus A330-300 – which has exactly the same fuselage size as the sister A340-300, though the A340 has longer range and a higher maximum take-off weight – on which I traveled round-trip between New York JFK and Zurich. The A330-300 is the workhorse of Swiss International Air Lines’ network between Europe and the East Coast of North America.
A fleet decision taken two years ago by Lufthansa Group has given Swiss International Air Lines the chance to introduce a new Business Class interior (and a new First Class interior as well) to the A330 fleet which operates the bulk of its flights between Switzerland – flights are from Zurich and Geneva – and North America.
Until two years ago, Swiss International Air Lines operated long-range A330-200s along with its fleet of even-longer-range A340-300s. However, all the A330s operated by Lufthansa itself and by subsidiary Brussels Airlines (which replaced Sabena as Belgium’s flag carrier) were A330-300s.
The A330-300 doesn’t have quite as much range as the A330-200 but still has enough range to operate between Europe and the U.S. West Coast, though Swiss International Air Lines only operates its A330-300s on routes to the East Coast. It also has a longer fuselage than the A330-200 and can carry about 50 to 60 more passengers than the A330-200 in comparable cabin configuration.
In addition to putting eight First Class seats and 183 Economy seats in its A330-300s, Swiss International Air Lines has used much of the extra space to install a large Business Class cabin with 45 seats. These recline fully into flat beds which are 2 meters 6 millimeters (6 feet 6 inches) long.
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