Thanks to a very affordable first class fare out of London, I was finally able to book a flight in SWISS First on the airline's brand new B777-300ER aircraft, an experience I was very much looking forward to.
Commencing my trip in London meant that I had to book a separate positioning flight from Vienna to London to catch the first segment on my ticket, a London to Zurich flight in SWISS Business Class. I had scheduled the London to Zurich flight so that I could spend a night in Zurich to maximize my time in SWISS' brand new first class lounge in Terminal E and I was glad I did.
I spend the night at the Radisson Blu Zurich Airport, which is directly attached to the airport, near Check-In area 1. I obtained my boarding pass at the dedicated First Class check-in area, which is located across from the regular "First Class" check-in desks, which are meant for Star Alliance Gold members.
Unfortunately, SWISS does not provide any kind of escort or preferential treatment for its first class passengers on the ground - so the Heid train it was. For those of you not familiar with Zurich airport, the Heidi train refers to the train connecting the main terminal with the satellite terminal. To the bemusement of many passengers, a short movie featuring cows and some jodeling is shown during the ride.
Shortly after disembarking, I made my way to the brand-new SWISS First Class lounge in Terminal E, which I have heard great things about. The lounge certainly did not disappoint - at around 10 am, I was one of only two passengers in the lounge as the early morning departure wave had just left.
The lounge is very similar to Lufthansa's First Class lounges in Frankfurt and Munich. Since I haven't had breakfast yet, I decided to have some in the lounge and proceeded to the sit-down restaurant area, where I was the only guest. What a gorgeous view!
I was promptly presented with a menu and ordered a cappuccino, Eggs Benedict and some yoghurt with fruits. Service was very professional and attentive.
After finishing my breakfast, which is by the way, available all day long, I proceeded to the bar area - it was a bit too early for alcohol but it certainly seemed to be a well-stocked bar area.
I settled down on a sofa and slowly, the lounge filled up with other passengers. Although more people arrived by the minute, the place never felt crowded and service was very attentive, as I was asked every 20 minutes or so if I cared for another beverage.
About 25 minutes before boarding was supposed to start, I left the lounge to go to the gate. At Zurich, all U.S.-bound passengers have to get their documents checked at a somewhat centralized check-point before entering the gate area dedicated for U.S. bound flights. Unfortunately, there were huge lines today. There was a separate first class and HON line, but it wasn't enforced so it basically was a free for all. Even worse, there was a non-staffed business class counter right next to the very slow moving first class counter and while I was waiting in line, some genius just went ahead and began standing in line in front of the closed counter, cutting in front of everyone in the first class line, crossing over the the agent that was handling the line I was waiting in - aggravating. I have to admit that I am a stickler for rules and this made me a little bit upset. After an about 20 minute wait at that counter, I finally got to the gate just as the gate agent arrived - so much for a first class ground experience.
Our aircraft was already waiting at the gate. This particular B777-300ER with registry HB-JNC was delivered to SWISS in April 2016 - brand new.
Once again, SWISS disappointed me a bit when there wasn't a dedicated boarding call for first class - all premium passengers including Star Golds were lumped together and boarded, but once I entered the cabin, the awful ground experience seemed like a distant memory. I am a big fan of this sign welcoming passengers once you enter the aircraft - Welcome in English and the four official languages of Switzerland - German, French, Italian and Romansh.
The first class cabin looked stunning and for once, I managed to be the first first class passenger on-board, if you pardon my pun.
While the cabin showed four out of eight seats as occupied in the days and weeks leading up to departure, two passengers must have cancelled or changed their ticket as the seatmap only showed 1A as occupied on the day of departure.
SWISS First Class has a total of eight seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. I selected 2K, which is in the second row on the right hand side of the aircraft.
As soon as I arrived, the two lovely flight attendants taking care of me arrived to introduce themselves. At it is customary in Swiss culture, everything is a bit more formal than in the U.S. so the flight attendants referred to me as Mr. Rudari throughout the flight. Luckily, the second passenger in first arrived just before we closed our doors so I had some time to take some pictures of the still empty cabin.
SWISS does an excellent job with branding - I particularly liked the SWISS logo on the bulkhead wall.
The SWISS First branded amenity kit was already waiting for me at the seat.
It contained all the essentials you could possibly need. I like that it included a package of Ricola - a Swiss-made lozenge and La prairie branded cosmetics.
After getting settled, I was asked if I cared for a pre-departure beverage. I went with a glass of champagne and the flight attendant proactively also brought me a glass of water, which was certainly appreciated. I was also served an amuse bouche, which was some sort of smoked meat - whatever it was, it was very delicious. At this point, I already knew that it was gonna be an amazing flight - great flight attendants and only a two passengers in the cabin, including myself.
While boarding was in full swing, I took the opportunity to get some pictures of the seat. I really like SWISS' seat design and how the seat number is shown on the side wall.
The seat area is decently sized.
On the left-hand side wall, a reading light and buttons to extend a partition between the seat and the aisle are installed.
There is an ottoman with a seatbelt so passengers traveling in pairs can have dinner or lunch together.
The seat controls are pretty simple and intuitive.
The IFE remote, more seat control buttons and a power outlet are located underneath a wooden panel between the windows and the seat.
A decorative lamp is installed between the windows and the seat.
There is a small compartment to stow your personal belongings also on the right-hand side underneath the seat controls, although no stowage is allowed for taxi, take-off and landing.
A second power outlet including a separate USB outlet is located on the side of this storage compartment.
SWISS certainly loves to install a lot of little compartments, here on the left-hand side between the seat and the partition, supposedly storage for magazines - if you ask me, all these compartments greatly increase the risk of forgetting personal items, a suspicion which was confirmed by one of the flight attendants.
As we were waiting to finish up with boarding, I couldn't help but notice this nice view of the outside - Delta and a lot of SWISS tails.
Still before we pushed back, the flight attendant brought me a pair of PJs and slippers.
The slippers were pretty generic but the PJs were Zimmerli-branded, a well-known Swiss brand. Needless to say, they were extremely comfortable.
The flight attendant also provided me with the menu for today's flight.
In SWISS First and Business Class, every month culinary dished from one of Switzerland's 26 cantons are featured - this program is called "SWISS Taste of Switzerland". For January, dishes from the canton of Grisons or Graubünden were highlighted. The menu read as follows:
Shortly after receiving the menu, boarding wrapped up and we were finally pushing back. It was time to say goodbye to our Delta neighbor.
After a short taxi to the runway, we took off and were on our way to Miami. It sure was a beautiful winter day outside.
We made a very steep turn...
And wow, what a beautiful panorama of the Swiss Alps.
The seatbelt sign went off shortly after departure and the pilot made an announcement informing us that he expected an on-time arrival into Miami and a mostly smooth flight.
I was very much looking forward to lunch on-board and soon after take-off, my table was set. I have to say that I really like the fact that even the salt and pepper shakers matched the cabin design. In addition to the silverware, I received a bread basked.
Although I had seen it before, this is something very typical for Switzerland - combining three different kinds of bread into one - pretty neat.
In SWISS First, appetizers and desserts are served from a cart, which is a great idea. That way, you can have a look at all the different dishes and select whatever looks the best. Since my flight attendant saw me with my camera, she offered to take a picture of the appetizer cart for me. The choices for today's lunch service included Balik salmon filet, crab meat with ponzu sauce, a selection of dried meats and and a potato and spinach terrine.
I decided to get a little bit of everything. The Balik salmon was excellent, so were the dried meats. I'm just not a big fan of terrine in general so I did not like it that much and I also did not really care for the crab meat.
While I was enjoying my appetizer course, the Maître de Cabine - basically the lead flight attendant on SWISS flights - approached me to say hello. She wanted to know if I was enjoying my on-board experience so far and also gave me this SWISS Connect Voucher, good for a Wi-Fi flight pass on today's flight. As it is usually the case, she worked in the business class cabin and stopped by one more time shortly before we landed in Miami.
I am usually not the biggest fans of salad courses, but in this case, the salad was actually very tasty and I also liked the grape garnish. In addition to the usual salad greens, the porcini mushrooms and the pumpkin really made the salad stand out- the dressing was delicious too.
Lunch service continued with the soup course - a chestnut and apple soup with savoy cabbage, pumpkin sour cream and smoked quail breast. While I enjoyed the soup base, the smoked quail breast was a bit much so I did not finish the soup.
In addition to the four main course choices described in the menu, the flight attendant informed me that a traditional SWISS fondue was also available for a limited time until February. I decided to go ahead and try it and the fondue did not disappoint - the cheese was at a perfect temperature and consistency and I really enjoyed dipping the bits of bread into this cheesy goodness - yum.
Now I usually skip the cheese course in favor of dessert but the flight attendant spent a good 10 minutes explaining the history of each cheese offered on today's flight - like which dairy farm it was from and its location in in the valley - so I really had no other choice than to have a little bit of each cheese.
I certainly did not regret it - Switzerland has some of the best cheeses in the word if you ask me - that is, if you like more flavorful "Alpine" cheese.
My favorite part of a meal is dessert - it was very difficult to chose between the chocolate pave and the bread and butter pudding but in the end I decided to go with the a bit more unusual choice of the bread and butter pudding, served with caramel Calvados custard and macadamia nut ice cream. The dessert was simply delicious and I finished every last bit of it. I also very much enjoyed the cappuccino, which had just the right amount of milk and milk foam in it.
Last but not least, I was offered some Spruengli pralines - I was pretty much stuffed at this point but still managed to have two with the rest of my coffee.
At this point, the flight attendant offered to prepare a bed in the seat adjacent to mine, but since it was a day flight and since I just had a coffee I decided to watch a movie on the gigantic screen.
Now while the screen is gigantic, I did notice one thing in terms of movies and shows offered in the system: the selection is identical to the IFE program offered on Austrian and presumably Lufthansa. Since I just flew on Austrian in December, I had a little bit of a difficult finding stuff I did not already know - time to go back to all-time classics - and I was surprised to find the always great movie "Office Space" being offered.
After the movie, I decided to rest for a little bit in 2G.
I loved the attention to detail - the water bottle and some chocolates - and of course I ate all of the chocolates.
Now the SWISS First Class Seat or Suite does have doors, but it's a bit odd - first, you have to close a partition wall and then yo have to open your wardrobe door all the way.
As you can see, there will still be a gap but it's a lot more private than say, Lufthansa's first class seat.
After napping for a bit, it was already time for a pre-arrival snack - I can't believe how fast time flies when you are having a good time. The pre-arrival snacks weren't in the menu but I could chose between a quiche and a potato salad. I went with the quiche and I wasn't disappointed.
For dessert, I had a pear-nut torte served with some fresh fruits. I wished that there would have been some sort of sauce or custard to go with it as it was a little bit dry, but in terms of taste, it was excellent
The attack on Fort Lauderdale International Airport occurred at the very same day of my flight and we actually flew over the airport - scary for sure. As you can see in the aerial picture, there were no aircraft movements whatsoever in the afternoon of the attack.
I was glued to the window for the rest of our approach into Miami - flying into the Miami area around sunset is always quite beautiful. I will let the pictures speak for a moment.
Upon final approach, I could see the backed up traffic on the freeway - Friday evening rush hour. I sure was glad that I just had to get to my airport hotel and not into Miami.
We touched down but had to wait for a bit as the gate we were going to was still occupied by another aircraft - no problem for me as I had a little bit more time to enjoy SWISS First Class.
We docked at the concourse and after an about 15-minute walk I arrived at the immigration hall, which was, surprisingly, completely deserted. I was through immigration in no time and to my surprise, even the bags were out about 15-20 minutes after touch-down, impressive for sure.
The SWISS First Class product on-board of its B777-300ER (and presumably its A330-300 aircraft too, since the hard product should be very similar) is nothing short of exceptional. I loved the seat, the fact that there are doors to give you more privacy and let's not forget about the more than exceptional service. Now I may be biased since I am from Austria, but the service delivered on my flight was just perfect - personal enough, without being too intrusive. The two flight attendants working on my flight genuinely cared for my well-being and I think they were quite proud of the product they were offering - and rightfully so. From the very first minute I stepped on board and was greeted by the flight attendants to the very last moment when I left the aircraft, I felt cared for. I do have to say that I was very lucky to be traveling in a basically empty cabin, so the flight attendants really had time to chat and engage with passengers.
My one criticism would be the ground product for first class passengers at Zurich - it shouldn't be too difficult to have a separate boarding call for first class passengers to avoid the hustle of lining up with 80+ passengers when boarding a fully-booked B777-300ER. In addition, how about offering an escort to the gate area for first class passengers? Anyway, even considering these shortfalls, I liked SWISS First Class better than Lufthansa First Class - even if I was just lucky with the on-board crew, I find that Lufthansa tends to offer over-complicated food in First Class, I like the fact that SWISS offers simple but delicious food. The privacy offered on SWISS B777-300ER first class seat is also far superior to Lufthansa. Unfortunately, it is not possible to redeem miles for SWISS First, unless you are a Miles & More Senator or HON, so if you wanna fly in SWISS First, be on the lookout for cheap fares out of London, where great deals are available from time to time.