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Transport : Airlines

On April 14th 2015, I flew Business Class in Swiss International Air Lines‘ oldest Airbus A340-300, registration number HB-JMJ (a former Canada Airlines plane, that left the Airbus factory in Toulouse in 1996). I was travelling from from Zurich Airport (ZRH) in Switzerland to Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport (BKK) in Thailand. Swiss is part of the Lufthansa group and has the reputation of being one of Europe’s best airlines, offering a great onboard product. I flew them a couple of years before and I loved the experience (although this may be explained by the fact that it was my first Business Class flight ever). On this particular occasion, they failed to impress me: the Business Class product – albeit only a few years old – starts to feel dated, the entertainment system (with very small personal screens) was disappointing, the seat was very uncomfortable in the lie flat position, and they ran out of food options immediately after take-off.

Business Class
Business Class on Swiss’ Airbus A340 is spread over 2 cabins: a small Business Class cabin with only 9 seats (in 2 rows) is located behind the First Class cabin, and a large Business Class cabin with just 38 seats (in 8 rows) is situated in front of the Economy cabin. Both Business Class cabins are divided by the main boarding door, a galley and 2 lavatories.

The Business Class seats are placed in a staggered configuration, a so-called Sogerma Solstys layout, whereby the foot compartment for each seat is located between and under the seats in front. The same layout can be found on Brussels Airlines’ A330, Finnair’s A330/A340, Austrian’s B767/B777, Delta’s B767, and American’s B767. On the Swiss Airbus A340, this configuration means that the middle seats always come in pairs, the aisle seats on the right side of the plane are all single seats, while the seats on the left side of the plane alternate from one to two per row. All seats enjoy a lot of privacy, as none of the rows quite line up, so nobody is directly looking into the seat across the aisle. Most seats also have direct aisle access, except for the window seats on left side of the plane where you will have to jump over your neighbour’s legs.

The cabin feels spacious, airy, and very ‘Swiss”, with a sharp contrast between blond wood and cross-stitched, dark brown seats. But although the Business Class product was only introduced across the Swiss fleet a few years ago, it starts to feel a little dated. It definitely looks and feels less trendy, luxurious and fresh as compared to the design aboard its Lufthansa Group sister company Austrian Airlines, which uses the same layout. If you have a choice, fly Austrian, not Swiss.

I was seated in seat 8A. All Business Class seats have the same characteristics: 152 cm (60 inches) in pitch, a width of 52 cm (20,5 inch), and a 180 degree recline. All seats have at least one large work surface on the side (where you can set up your laptop), with some seats featuring a work space on both sides (a so-called ‘throne seat’). Within that work surface, you will find the seat controls to adjust the seat position (from take-off position to fully flat) but also to adjust the seat cushion. Yes, you read that right. Swiss Business Class seats are not made of the customary plastic foam, but instead, the seat cushions have air-filled chambers, and with one press on the button you can either soften or firm up the seat cushion according to your liking, as well as activate its integrated massage function. On the side of the seat, there’s also a power port with international adapters, a personal reading lamp (at eye level), and the meal tray (which is hard to get out). In front of the seat, you will find the disappointingly small entertainment screen (see below), with the foot compartment below.

The seat is comfortable when you are sitting upright, but it’s a different story in its lie-flat position. Although it’s a 180 degree recline, the seat (and your lower legs) descends into a space carved out for it in the seat(s) in front, below your entertainment screen. This foot compartment narrows to its end and its ceiling is very low, so it’s impossible to switch position during your sleep as your legs have not enough room to move (although the seats that do not have the ‘throne’ feature have a little more space for the feet). In addition, in its lie flat position, the seat is just 45 cm (17 inch) above the floor, making it feel like you are resting on the ground or in a coffin (because of the seat walls), and making it very uncomfortable getting in and out to go to the restroom. This is one of the most uncomfortable lie flat seats in the sky, especially when compared to the lie flat seats installed on its competitors such as (the new) American Airlines, British Airways, Emirates, Qatar Airways, Etihad and Cathay Pacific (click the links to read our trip reports of those airlines).

At this point you might want to read my article the best Business Class seats on Swiss’ Airbus A340-300.

I suggest to avoid the window seats in row 8 (8A & AK) since they are missing a window.
Seats 14A, 14B & 14K as well as seats 15D & 15G are directly in front of the Economy bassinet seats (so you may end up being close to young children).

Amenities
Each seat comes with a nice though somewhat firm blanket and a comfortable pillow. The Business Class amenity kit, an environmently-friendly bag, only contained essentials: lipbalm, (bright red) socks, eyeshade, toothbrush, toothpaste, and earplugs. IMHO, this is one of the most basic – and thus most disappointing – amenity kits in the skies.

Food
Before takeoff, I was offered a choice of welcome drinks: orange juice, water, or Champagne. I had the orange juice. A small, hot towel was offered after take-off.

About 30 minutes later (6.30 pm local time), dinner was offered. Although food was very good and tasty, the crew unfortunately ran out of food options after taking orders from only a few passengers. I was seated in row 8 (Business Class starts in row 4, and ends in row 14), but fish was no longer available when they took my order (despite the fact that Business Class was only half full). Remarkably, I later learned that a friend, who was seated in row 10, insisted on having the fish and got it.

The starter consisted of salmon trout tartare with horseradish cream, beetroot and goat’s cheese. Delicious! While I would have prefered the fish as a main course, the only choice left was corn-fed chicken with Sbrinz sauce, potato purée with truffle, gnocchi, and green aspergus. It was quite good. Dessert was a tiramisu Tentazioni with salted chocolate crumble. All by all, an excellent gastronomic experience at 40,000 feet!

90 minutes prior to landing, breakfast was served. The crew rolled a selection of cold and hot items through the cabin and you could choose what you want: cold meats, several cheeses, muesli, fruit salad, and/or eggs.

Entertainment
In front of your seat, you will find the adjustable personal entertainment screen. It is disappointingly small (10.4 inches) and as such feels very outdated as compared to Swiss’ competitors. In addition, the quality of the screen is quite poor. The entertainment program itself was ok: it did what is was supposed to do, keep me entertained with over 140 films and TV programmes as well as 400 CD’s to choose from. Unfortunately, the planes cameras did not work (or at least did not connect to the entertainment system). And to my great disappointment, one my favorite features during a flight did not work: the flight map showed the plane located at Zurich airport for the duration of the flight.

Crew
The cabin crew on this flight was great, welcoming and served all of us with a smile.

My Verdict
Seat : 5/10
Food: 6/10
Inflight entertainment : 3/10
Service: 8/10
Cabin: 6/10
Overall experience: average: 5/10

You can also read my Swiss Airlines long haul First Class flight reviews and Swiss Airlines Business Class flight reviews.

Review by my friends at Luxury Travel Expert

Swiss International Air Lines