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Transport : Airlines

In August 2017, I reviewed my flight in Business Class in the newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft to join the fleet of Swiss International Air Lines. The flight departed from San Francisco (California, USA) and arrived 10 hours later on-time at Swiss’ main hub in Zürich (Switzerland).

Swiss International Air Lines (or SWISS) was formed after the 2001 bankruptcy of Swissair, Switzerland’s former flag carrier. The airline, which ranks among my favourite European carriers for long-haul flights, is a member of Star Alliance and a subsidiary of the Lufthansa Group since 2005.

Swiss recently acquired 9 Boeing 777-300ER aircraft, which replace most of Swiss’ current and ageing A340 planes although five A340s will remain in service and get a refurbishment.

Swiss features in my top 10 lists of my best airlines for long-haul Business Class.

Pre-Flight, I was given access to the United Club Lounge at San Francisco Airport which I have reviewed separately.

Business Class Cabin Review

As you enter the Swiss’ Boeing 777-300ER aircraft via the massive boarding doors, your first impression will be that of the welcoming galley. This sleek space features an illuminated welcome panel in addition to an illuminated world map in a wood finish that mirrors the one in the reception of the Swiss lounges at Zürich airport.

The entrance galley separates the two Business Class cabins: a small cabin with only 10 seats (in 2 rows) is located behind the First Class cabin to the left of the boarding door, while the main and much large Business Class cabin is located to the right, featuring an impressive 52 seats (in 11 rows).

The totally redesigned Business Class cabin interior of the new Swiss flagship plane is quite impressive. Decor has a luxurious and elegant with a lightness of authentic Swiss touch. The dark-colored seat cushions, wooden veneer panels and cream-colored fabrics lend the cabin an almost residential ambience.

The 62 Business Class seats, which are more like little cubicles, are Thompson Vantage seats placed in a staggered configuration or so-called Sogerma Solstys layout. This is basically an alternating 1-2-2 and 2-2 -1 seat configuration, whereby the foot compartment for each seat is located between and under the seat(s) in front.

The seats in the center of the plane always come in pairs, while the seats on the right and left side of the plane alternate from one to two per row. Although the Sogerma Solstys layout is not the best Business Class configuration (since there’s no direct aisle access for all passengers), it is also installed on aircraft operated by other airlines, such as Finnair’s A330/A340, Austrian Airlines B767/B777, Brussels Airlines’ A330, Delta’s B767, and American’s B767.

Business Class Seat review

I was seated in 8K for the 10 hour flight from San Francisco to Zürich. Swiss’ B777 Business Class seats are an updated, more comfortable version of Swiss’s previous Business Class seat, which you find on their A330 and A340 aircraft (and which I reviewed here).

The main difference between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ Business Class seat is the introduction of more personal storage, including headphone hangers and straps for storing tablets or magazines, and a new, more easy-to-handle tray table.

The seat has a pitch of 152 cm (60 inches) and a width of 52 cm (20,5 inch), which should be more than comfortable for most passengers. All seats come with a large work surface on the side (where you can set up your personal belongings such as a tablet or laptop). Solo seats as well as some seats in the center of the plane also feature an additional and equally large work space on the seat’s other side.

Besides the overhead bins, the main storage compartment is a closable shelf underneath the seat’s private TV monitor, which is perfect for storing smaller items although larger items such as laptops don’t fit in.

The solo, throne seats have the added benefit of two other storage spaces, being a small box with straps for storage of magazines or a laptop on one side of the seat and a large slide-out drawer located on the other side. Bulkhead row seats also have an additional shelf above their TV monitors to place items such as larger laptops albeit not during takeoff/landing.

A perforated wood panel located above the armrest is the seat’s main eyecatcher and unique to Swiss’ Boeing 777 aircraft (you won’t find it on Swiss’ Airbus fleet). It holds a large fold-out tray table. The wood panel also features a reading lamp on eye level and a hook, which is great for keeping the headphones secured in place during the flight and preventing the wires from getting tangled up in the seat.

The armrest below the wood panel holds a power port with international adapters, a remote control for the inflight entertainment system, and the automatic seat controls.

It surprised me that Swiss choose these forward-facing, staggered seats for their flagship B777 plane (as well as for their A330/A340 planes), as they are not the best in the industry: the seats don’t offer direct aisle access for all passengers and they are not very comfortable in the lie-flat position.

Although it’s a 180 degree recline and the bed has a length of 2 meters (6,5 ft), the seat has one major downside, being that its foot end (and thus your lower legs) glide into a small box under the seat(s) in front, below the TV screen. This foot compartment narrows to its end and its ceiling is quite low, so your lower legs and feet are kind of locked in this box once you have adopted the horizontal position, making it impossible to switch position during your sleep without your legs hitting the wall (and thus waking up).

It has to be noted that this is especially the case in the throne seats (except for the bulkhead throne seats) since the footwells at all other seats are more spacious due to the cabin configuration.

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 high 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 seat types installed on Swiss’ competitors such as Cathay Pacific, American Airlines, British Airways, Emirates, Cathay Pacific, Etihad Airways, and Qatar Airways.

Which Are The Best Seats On The Plane?

The solo Business Class seats, or throne seats, are the most popular seats on the plane, because they offer more storage space, increased privacy and direct aisle access. Compared to other seats, they do have two cons though which compromise an optimal sleeping comfort: the very small foot compartment; and the fixed armrests which cannot be lowered.

You have to very carefully weigh the pros and cons before choosing a throne seat. And regrettably, last year, Swiss introduced a gut-wrenching fee to pre-reserve a throne seat, ranging from 99 to 199 Swiss Francs ($100 to $200 USD) depending on the flight and route. Previously, these seats were reserved on a complementary base for Miles & More elite member (with HON Circle and Senator status), while they were released to non-members at the start of check-in.

The seats in the first, smaller cabin (row 4 & 5) are the better choice since this cabin feels more intimate. The single best seats for solo travelers are the solo throne seats on the left and right side of the plane.

Travel companions should go for the middle seats, which all have direct aisle access. There is also a set of paired window seats in each row, but here the passenger in the window seat will have to crawl over his/her neighbour’s leg to reach the aisle.
What are the worst Business Class seats on Swiss’ B777? Click here for a seat map.

I suggest avoiding the window seats in row 11 since they are missing a window. The window seats in row 14 also have a misaligned window, although that won’t impact your travel experience that much.

The seats in row 17 are directly in front of the Economy bassinet seats and are thus best avoided as well (or you may end up being close to young children).

The bulkhead seats in row 7 are close the galley and restrooms, which may cause some noise disturbance from time to time (albeit nothing too bad).

Amenity Kit

Swiss provides blankets and pillows of decent quality in Business Class. In addition, each Business Class passenger also gets an amenity kit, which, on outbound flights from Zürich, comes in a large tote bag available in four different colours. On inbound flights passengers receive four different re-usable smaller pouches that can be connected to the totes.

Despite the inventive design, the kit only contains the basic amenities, such as lip balm, (bright red) socks, eyeshade, toothbrush, toothpaste, and earplugs. While the content may disappoint many passengers, it’s still better than being stuck in Business Class without amenity kit (which I recently experienced during my Singapore Airlines A350 Business Class trip).

On-Board Food

Swiss is among the carriers that serve the most delicious in-flight meals. Swiss’ so-called ‘Taste of Switzerland program’ exclusively available to First and Business Class passengers, designed to highlight different regions of the country on long-haul flights departing from Switzerland.

The menus change every three months and are created by selected guest chefs whose restaurants have received Michelin stars and Gault Millau points. The focus is on regional and seasonal specialities that guarantee a culinary flight of fancy.

On this particular Zürich-bound, red-eye flight, a dinner and breakfast were served, shortly after takeoff and 90 minutes prior to departure respectively.

I choose the following selections from the dinner menu:

First course: salmon rillettes with grapefruit and bulgur salad.
Main course: Älper Macaroni – traditional Swiss macaroni gratin with cheese and potatoes.
Dessert: crème brülée cheesecake with raspberry sauce.
Ninety 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:

Selection of seasonal fresh fruits, artisanal yoghurt, and home-made Bircher muesli.
Bakery basket with a varied selection of bread, Swiss jam and honey.
Selection of cheese and cold cuts as well as a warm egg dish.
Coffee, espresso, and a selection of teas.

Entertainment

Each seat has a personal 16 inch TV screen of very high quality (with bright and clear pictures). There are over 140 movies and TV shows to choose from, including the latest blockbusters, award-winning documentaries and the most popular TV series. In addition, you can listen to over 400 different CDs and a wide range of music channels. The inflight entertainment can be commanded by directly touching the TV screen or by using a handheld remote control which is located in the armrest and also features its own touchscreen, allowing you to watch a different program (e.g. flight map) from the main screen. Swiss branded, noise-reducing headphones are located at each seat and block most noise from the cabin and aircraft.

Internet

Swiss offers satellite Internet via WiFi on board the Boeing 777-300ER from an altitude of 10,000 feet. The speed is similar to public WiFi connections on the ground. There is a charge for this and the rate depends on how much data you use (which includes both downloads and uploads), rather than how long you spend online. The least expensive option is 20MB for 9 Swiss Francs ($ 10USD), which the airline suggests is best “if you just intend to shortly check your emails or visit a couple of websites”. The most expensive choice will cost you 39 Swiss Francs ($ 40 USD) and get you a 120 MB package, that will allow you to enjoy the full extent of the internet. This makes Swiss’ onboard internet one of the most expensive in the world.

Other Inflight Experiences

I rate Swiss’ cabin crew among the best in Europe. Service was efficient, courteous and always with a genuine smile. I was surprised though by one fact.

There are only two, standard-sized toilets for Business Class passengers on this plane. They feature a selection of facial products and lotion by Swiss Code.

Conclusion

My experience on this B777 trip was great and clearly a step up compared to flying on Swiss’ A340 which I have reviewed to Sao Paulo and which I also reviewed on a flight to Bangkok in Business Class.

I liked the elegant new cabin interior but I was not a fan of the uncomfortable flat-bed and cramp cabin layout, which is an updated version of Swiss’ old and subpar Business Class seat configuration.

You can read all my Swiss Airlines Business Class flight reviews to compare the Business Class on the various SWISS planes. You can also read my Swiss First Class reviews for a comparison.

If you want to pick up a travel bargain, you should read our 7 sensational secrets that ALL travellers should know (but probably don’t).

Review by my friends at Luxury Travel Expert