“Switzerland is known for its quality and we try to reflect that on our planes”, says Swiss International Air Lines Southern African director, Axel Simon. So, how does one do that? Well, you go out, do your research, speak to customers and come up with a way to give them what they want. “The main requests from the business traveller were for space, comfort and quiet”, says Simon. “These items were taken into consideration and went directly into the product development”. The end result – a new business class seat, which is fully reclinable to two metres, with an adjustable air cushion feature, which extends throughout the seat’s length and allows seat hardness to be set for each position. Further extras come in the form of an integrated seat massage function, USB and iPod sockets and a bigger 16:9-format in-flight entertainment screen.
Check-in at OR Tambo International was seamless, with no queuing for business class. What did impress me was the option to check one’s bags through from Johannesburg, all the way to our final destination in Interlaken in Switzerland, which is a fair trip from Zurich. So, as long as you’re covered with all you need for landing in Switzerland, you can avoid having to wait for luggage, by checking your bags through to your hotel.
Boarding was quick and efficient and we were called on time for our flight. Once on board, friendly flight staff were welcoming, offering direction, orange juice and newspapers.
The seat itself is very comfortable, with the adjustable air cushions and lots of space either side, and converts into the flat-bed courtesy of an easy-to-navigate console. It’s wide enough for a comfortable sleep and I can testify that it’s long enough to safely accommodate a six foot three frame, with some space to spare.
Unfortunately, for my Swiss host sitting next to me, unnecessarily dying of embarrassment, our take-off was delayed for an hour, due to a failure in one of the engines. Credit to the captain, though – he was honest enough to say up front that, at first, they didn’t know what the problem was. He kept us updated thereafter on a regular basis and the cabin staff quickly adjusted by bringing out the pre-dinner snacks, which were meant to be served once we were in the air. Obviously, no-one likes to be delayed, but it was well handled by Swiss. Thereafter, it was a fairly smooth ride on the Airbus A340-300. The drinks offering was fairly extensive, with a selection of red and white wines from Switzerland, New Zealand, Australia and France, along with the standard soft drinks, beers and spirits. For main course, I went for the pan-fried fillet of beef with shallot and red wine sauce, risoto galette, broccoli and baby carrots. The steak was done to perfection and proved a rather memorable meal, which was followed by a dessert of apple cream with rosemary and creme de gruyere, although the after-dinner Swiss chocolate was the real showstopper. I did have some trouble with my in-flight entertainment, but that was quickly solved by the steward re-setting it. If I have a criticism, it’s that there wasn’t an extensive list of current movies to choose from and that also applied to the television programmes on offer. Thereafter, following an easy six hours of sleep, the cabin lights were flipped on and I was greeted by a warm, damp towel with which to freshen up with. Breakfast was then served and I opted for the Continental offering, because of the delicious cheeses and cold meats on offer.
We proceeded quickly through immigration and onto an awaiting train, which connected our terminal with the main terminal at Zurich Airport. Approximately six hours later we arrived at our hotel in Interlaken and our bags arrived about four hours after that.
My only criticism is the limited in-flight entertainment options. But, otherwise, the new Swiss business class seat is incredibly comfortable, allows for a solid night’s sleep and the leg from Johannesburg to Zurich has all the business class trimmings one would expect of a quality airline.