Today (August 16, 2017): Trip report: Swiss Boeing 777-300ER Business Class Zürich (Switzerland) to San Francisco (USA).
On July 5th 2017, I flew Business Class in a brand-new Boeing 777-300ER of Swiss International Air Lines from Zürich Airport, also known as Kloten Airport, in Switzerland to San Francisco on the USA’s West Coast. Swiss International Air Lines (more commonly know under its short name Swiss, often stylized as SWISS) was formed after the 2001 bankruptcy of Swissair, Switzerland’s former flag carrier. The airline, which ranks among my favorite European carriers for longhaul 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 aging A340 planes although five A340s will remain in service and be refurbished. The experience on this B777 trip was great and clearly a step up from flying on Swiss’ A340s (which I reviewed here). But although I liked the elegant new cabin interior, I am not a fan of the constricting flat-bed and cramp cabin layout, which represents an updated version of Swiss’ old and not so comfortable Business Class seat configuration.
As usual, I made a Youtube clip with my impressions during the flight, which you can watch below. It’s a somewhat different video (compared to my other flight clips) since it prominently features the lovely kids of my best friends who joined me on this trip. I did not intend to film them, but they were so cute that I could not resist recording their excitement (with the permission of their parents) as they experience Business Class for the very first time. They give the clip a nice twist.
- Trip: ZRH-SFO
- Airline: Swiss International Air Lines
- Aircraft type: Boeing 777-300ER
- Aircraft registration number: HB-JND
- Flight Number: LX38
- Date: July 5, 2017
- On time departure: yes (1.30 pm)
- On time arrival: yes (4 am)
- Miles: 5826
- Flight time: 10.30
- Seat: 14A
- Class: business (D)
In this review (more information & photos below my Youtube clip & slideshow):
- Cost of the ticket
- Zürich Airport Business Lounge
- Fact & figures about Swiss’ Boeing 777 fleet
- Business Class cabin
- Business Class seat (+ best & worst seats)
- Other inflight experiences (views, crew, lavatory, WiFi)
- My verdict (score)
1. COST OF THE TICKET
The four Business Class tickets, including those of the kids, were bought via the Miles & More program at a price of 105,000 miles + 500 euros taxes per round-trip ticket. Miles & More is the largest traveler loyalty program in Europe with more than 30 million members. The frequent flyer program was launched by Lufthansa in 1993, and is now used by all airlines in the Lufthansa group (e.g. Swiss, Brussels Airlines, Austrian Airlines) in addition to a few others, such as LOT Polish Airlines and Luxair. I used to be a huge fan of the Miles & More program, but after a massive devaluation in 2012, I switched to American Airlines’ AAdvantage program, which up till now I consider to be the best frequent flyer program. The problem with Miles & More is that they charge heavy taxes for tickets (mostly around 250 euros for a one-way ticket), which often top the price of an intercontinental Economy Class ticket, making it rather useless to spend your Miles & More miles on an intercontinental Economy Class ticket.
When booking an award Business Class ticket, the heavy surcharges will always come as unpleasant surprise, but the program does have some great features, such as excellent award availability on most routes (with sometimes 4 or even 5 award seats available on certain routes and dates). In addition, children at the age of 2 to 11 years fly at more reasonable prices, with only 75 % of the miles normally required for the flight award needed. Child awards – which can only booked over the phone and not online – are only offered though on flights operated by Adria Airways, Air One, Austrian Airlines Group, Croatia Airlines, LOT Polish Airlines, Lufthansa, and SWISS.
2. BUSINESS LOUNGE AT ZURICH AIRPORT
Swiss manages 9 lounges at its main hub in Zürich airport. I made the mistake of visiting the Business lounge in Terminal A, which is used exclusively for flights within the Schengen Area, including domestic flights within Switzerland. Swiss’ intercontinental flights (such as Zürich to San Francisco) leave from Terminal E, which is a stand-alone satellite terminal that can only be reached by a short underground train ride. I remembered from previous flights with Swiss that there’s was only one, rather unattractive lounge in terminal E, hence why I stayed in the lounge complex at Terminal A. It’s only shortly before boarding that I learned that Swiss recently opened a new Business and First Class lounge at Terminal E, which is now the best lounge facility at the airport.
As far as the Business Class lounge in Terminal A is involved, it’s an excellent lounge facility albeit not exceptional, and certainly not on pair with Swiss’ reputation as a luxurious airliner. It has to be noted though that the lounge will close at the end of this month (August 2017) and reopen in spring next year after an extensive refurbishment. So I will make this a rather short review, as you won’t experience the lounge in its currents state anymore. The Business Class lounge is spread over two floors, with the main seating area and two food buffets on the first floor, while the second floor features a smoking area with the longest airport bar in the world. The lounge features plenty of comfortable leather arm chairs, most of them equipped with reading lights and power outlets, although the space can feel cramped when operating at full capacity (probably one of the reasons why Swiss is introducing a makeover). Curved wood ceilings, jura stone walls, and hardwood floors reflect a traditional Swiss design and lend the space a somewhat cozy and homely ambience. The lounge lacks a decent amount of daylight, although there’s a separate corner in the back with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer nice tarmac views. The two buffets feature a decent, above average assortment of hot pasta and rice dishes, in addition to cold snacks, fruits, salads and soup. The beverage selection includes soft drinks, espresso, and a selection of self-serve red and white wines.
3. FACTS & FIGURES ABOUT SWISS’ BOEING 777 FLEET
Since 2016, Swiss acquired 9 Boeing 777-300ER planes that replace the carrier’s aging A340 aircraft. Here are some interesting facts and figures about Swiss’ Triple Sevens:
- The B777 fleet is managed by Swiss Global Air Lines, which is a subsidiary of Swiss. Swiss Global Air Lines operates scheduled flights in the name and corporate design of its parent company. Swiss Global Air Lines wet-leases the B777 fleet out to Swiss as per its existing crew labour agreements.
- The new B777 aircraft is used on Swiss’ ultra long routes, so for connections such as San Francisco, Los Angeles, Bangkok, Singapore, Miami, Sao Paulo, and Hong Kong.
- The B777-300ER offers maximum reliability and a very high level of comfort in the cabin. It also saves 23% in fuel and CO2 emissions per seat in comparison with the A340.
- The aircraft is powered by two General Electric GE90-115BL, with a maximum thrust per engine of 115,300 lbs or 52,300 kg.
- In Swiss’ configuration, the Boeing 777-300ER offers 340 seats: 8 in First Class, 62 in Business Class and 270 in Economy Class.
- The plane’s maximum range with a full load is 10,700 km (6650 miles).
4. BUSINESS CLASS CABIN
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 esthetically very nice and 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 galley, 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. Created by Priestmangoode, a British design and brand consultancy firm, the aircraft decor has a luxurious, elegant and timeless feel with a lightness of authentic Swiss touch. The dark-colored seat cushions, wooden veneer panels and cream-colored fabrics lend the cabin a modern, upscale and almost residential ambiance. The front bulkhead in both Business Class cabins features a Matterhorn print, referencing Switzerland’s most famous mountainscape.
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 x 2 x 2 and 2 x 2 x 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 (with the so solo seats – or so-called throne seats – being the most popular seats in the plane; more on that below). 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.
Click here for a seat map of Swiss’ Boeing 777-300ER.
5. THE BUSINESS CLASS SEAT
I was seated in 14A, and although an excellent seat, it was not the best on the plane as it has a misaligned window. 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 (above the fixed armrest) and a large slide-out drawer located on the other side (above the other fixed armrest). 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, although ejecting and stowing it can only be achieved through a slightly complicated maneuver that may require the help from a flight attendant. The wood panel – which also holds a large slide-out drawer at throne seats only (cf supra) – 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 (more on that below), and the automatic seat controls that can be used to adjust the seat position (from take-off position to fully flat) as well as the seat cushion’s firmness according to your liking.
It surprised me that Swiss choose these forward facing, staggered seats again for their flagship B777 plane, as they are not the best in the industry: the seats don’t offer direct aisle access for all passenger 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 foot wells 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.
The solo Business Class seats – or throne seats – deserve a separate mention as they are the most popular seats on the plane and therefore in high demand by knowledgeable solo passengers, 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: (1) the very small foot compartment; and (2) the fixed armrests which cannot be lowered. So you have to very carefully weigh the pros and cons before choosing a throne seat. And regrettably, Swiss has recently 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 complimentary 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.
What are the best Business Class seats on Swiss’ B777? Click here for a seat map.
- The seats in the first, smaller cabin (row 4 & 5) are are excelllent 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. Keep in mind though that pre-reserving these seats come at a stiff price and they also have some downsides, such as a smaller foot compartment (albeit the bulkhead throne seats 4A and 7A have more space for the feet) and fixed armrests.
- 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 neighbor’s leg to reach the aisle.
What are the worst Business Class seats on Swiss’ B777? Click here for a seat map.
- I suggest to avoid 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).
- Choosing one of the paired seats is not the best thing to do for solo passengers, because these seats lack privacy (although there is a fixed divider to make you feel more comfortable in case you end up seated next to a stranger).
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 the form of a large tote bag available in four different colors. On inbound flights passengers receive four different re-usable smaller pouches that can be connected to the totes. Despite the inventive design, the bag only contains the basic amenities, such as lipbalm, (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).
IMHO, 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 – is designed to highlight different regions of the country on longhaul 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 San Francisco bound flight, the menu was created by chef Andreas Appenzeller, the chef de cuisine at Europe’s highest lakeside four-star-superior hotel, the frutt Lodge & Spa (which stands 1920 m or 6300 ft above sea level). Appenzeller has already earned 15 GaultMillau points for his creations in the hotel’s own frutt Stübli restaurant.
The menu read as follows:
- Starter: choice of
- smoked Balik salmon tartate with sour cream, pickled cucumber, and radish salad
- slow-cooked beef with vinaigrette and horseradish, marinated cauliflower, and purée
- Main course: choice of
- beef tenderloin with thyme sauce, Obwalden semolina slice, and summer vegetables
- sea bas fillets with red wine sauce, potato gnocci, spinach and mushroom
- Swiss cheese: selection of Bärgmandli, Seiler Sarnerli, and Kloster Bergkäse with pear bread
- Dessert: yoghurt and honey mousse with strawberry sponge and Bircher muesli popcorn
Our travel party had a selection of most dishes and everything tasted great. Even the kids liked the food. Ninety minutes prior to arrival, a light snack was offered, with a choice of salad or pasta, both served with fruit salad:
- Artichoke ravioli with lemon sauce
- Rice salad with curry and grilled pineapple, and sautéed chicken breast
Each seat has a personal 16 inch TV screen of very high quality (with bright and clear pictures), and 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 as you watch your favorite programs; as mentioned above, a hook is provided to secure the headphones in place during the flight, in case you don’t use them.
9. OTHER INFLIGHT EXPERIENCES
# VIEWS: To my own amazement, we experienced crispy clear weather all the way along the 10 hour 30 min flight from Zürich to San Francisco. Takeoff and landing were especially spectacular with breathtaking views of the Alps, the Bay Area, Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco city. I’ve tried to capture some of these views in my Youtube clip.
# CREW: I’ve always been a fan of Swiss’ cabin crew, which I rate among the best in Europe. Service was efficient, courteous and always with a genuine smile.
# LAVATORY: There are only two, standard-sized lavatories for Business Class passengers, located in the galley between the two cabins. They feature a selection of facial products and lotion by Swiss Code.
# 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 a 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, but I believe the carrier can afford it to charge this kind of rates since they are very popular and highly rated among Business Class travelers.
10. MY VERDICT
- Seat comfort (upright): 8/10
- Seat comfort (bed position): 3/10
- Food (quality): 8/10
- Food (quantity): 9/10
- Inflight entertainment : 8/10
- WiFi: 5/10 (works great but too expensive)
- Service: 9/10
- Cabin design: 9/10
- Overall experience: very good: 8/10