As I write this, I am en route from JFK to Zurich on the new SWISS Airbus A333, recently added to the SWISS fleet of 78 aircraft. This award-winning airline has three new top-quality classes of service (SWISS First, SWISS Business, and SWISS Economy) on its long-haul flights.
While I’m not among the lucky eight passengers on the plane to enjoy the new “Suite Above the Clouds”, the First Class cabin just added to the fleet – a milestone in the ongoing quality drive with exclusive design, top in-flight comfort, and extensive privacy – I’m still pretty lucky. I may not have a full-blown suite above the clouds but I do have a lie-flat bed above the clouds in my Business seat.
When I boarded, it took me at least half an hour to play with all the features of my spacious seat. The massage function was what I tried first. It had been a stressful day so it felt really good to have those kinks worked on and the sore muscles soothed. The attractively lit functions bar had a few other funky features I just had to try – such as moving the lumbar up, down, in and out, and making the seat more or less loungey. Then there was the leg rest, which I kept on shifting up and down depending on what my body was asking for. I could even fine tune the air cushion of my seat to make it firmer, almost like a futon, or softer, like a water mattress.
I hardly blinked when the pilot announced we were 16th in line for takeoff due to a thunderstorm above the New York area, which meant it would take another hour or two before we departed. On any other flight and in any other seat, I’d probably be quite irked. Yet here, in my super-comfy Business spot on SWISS, my very own cozy personal space with plenty of privacy, I was in no rush. First, I watched a bit of TV on my own entertainment system. Then I started taking notes on my notepad (the seat is complete with an electrical power outlet as well as USB and iPod sockets). I then got a bit chilly so I put on soft socks provided in the complimentary kit and covered myself with the lovely blanket. Next I put on headphones to listen to calming music. In the meantime, I was given a nicely scented hand towel and offered a choice of orange juice, water, or bubbly. I was also given a breakfast card to fill out and give to the attendant. You can choose your food options as well as whether you’d like to be woken up for breakfast – a nice privacy touch. Time just flew and the delay went almost unnoticed.
Soon after taking off, dinner was served. The “SWISS Taste of Switzerland” culinary concept aims to bring a taste of the culinary traditions of various regions of Switzerland to Business and First Class passengers. On my flight, the food served on a white tablecloth had the signature of the celebrated The Landgasthof Adler restaurant in central Switzerland. There was a choice of four main courses: beef, chicken, barramundi fish, and wild mushroom ravioli. I chose seared chicken breast with a corn and risotto cake and sautéed Savoy cabbage. There was also a cheese selection, a tasty salad, strawberry compote with vanilla mousse, and Swiss chocolates to top it off. I finished my meal with a cup of green tea although the wine choices were pretty tempting as well. Other options included an impressive list of beers, aperitifs, liqueurs and digestifs, soft drinks, juices, and hot drinks. If you want to fall asleep or focus on work soon after takeoff, there is also the option called Dine & Recline, basically a quicker meal consisting of a cold appetizer, cheese, and bread.
It is now way past my bedtime, dark in the cabin all around me, except my personal lamp that’s helping me write this and a little mood lighting underneath the seat. I think I’ll pull out that 79" long-bed and close my eyes for a few hours . . .
Several hours of solid undisturbed sleep (on my comfy bed) later: What awaited me in the morning was a kind wake-up call by the attendant with my delicious breakfast: a smoothie, a warm croissant with butter and jam, fresh fruit, and tea. Right before landing, it was a snap to adjust all the funky features back to their original position – there’s a takeoff/landing button that puts it all into place.
After the flight, I did some research on SWISS. The airline started replacing its fleet with the first A-300 entering service in April. A world first is the new air cushion technology that makes each seat four kilos lighter than it would be with conventional foam seating. Lighter materials have also been used for the in-flight trolleys. These weight savings cut the new A-330-300’s annual fuel consumption by 380 tonnes. This in turns means 1,200 tonnes fewer CO2 emissions! Not a surprise that SWISS won several awards, including the Skytrax 2009 World Airline Award and Business Traveller Awards 2008, both for best airline in Europe.
My flight harked back to the days when flying was reason to be excited, when we couldn’t wait to get on the plane. Those days are long gone but the new Business and First Class cabins on SWISS bring that time back. I must say, after the 7-hour flight, if somebody told me to get back on the plane and fly to another faraway destination, I would have jumped on happily. I still have the return portion of the flight to look forward to, as well as seeing the new short film LX Forty by Swiss star director Marc Forster (whose credits include the latest James Bond film Quantum of Solace), now screened onboard all long-haul flights.