With its bold, white equilateral cross on red tail fin, there’s no mistaking Swiss as the flag-carrier of Switzerland. But does the airline stand up to Switzerland’s reputation for efficiency? Director found out on an early-morning economy flight from Heathrow to Geneva
Swiss – or to give it its full name, Swiss International Air Lines – was formed in 2002 after the bankruptcy of its predecessor SwissAir. The airline, a member of the Star Alliance grouping, has been a subsidiary of Lufthansa since 2007. From its hub in Zurich and regional base at Geneva, Swiss carries 16 million passengers a year to over 105 destinations with 94 aircraft.
Swiss operates regular flights throughout the day from London’s Heathrow and City airports to Geneva but faces stiff competition on the route from the wider London area from British Airways and easyJet. (Swiss flights from Birmingham and Manchester serve Zurich only, while Gatwick to Geneva is less frequent.) Director has already sampled BA’s offering on the Heathrow to Geneva corridor and with that in mind, it was time to put Swiss to the test.
Swiss Flight LX353 check-in
Director’s flight was booked by a third-party through the Swiss ticket centre in Cape Town. Having previously downloaded the Swiss app, I was disappointed not to be able to check in on my phone, realising only in time for my return leg that the agent had combined my first and middle names, and I should have entered these in the first name field.
I arrived at the Queen’s terminal – as Heathrow terminal 2 is now known – at 6:51am to a sea of travellers and snaking queues for rows of self-service check-in machines. The departure boards indicated I should check in at zone B, shared with other Star Alliance partners including Austrian Airlines and Lufthansa.
While I waited for late-running colleagues, I observed Heathrow staff organising travellers who were carrying hold luggage into roped-off queues but there was some confusion as to where travellers carrying just hand luggage should go. Those of us who mentioned we were checking-in only with hand luggage were directed to jump the queue and wait for another member of staff to check us in using the self-service machines. This assisted check-in was quick enough.
Boarding pass in hand, I looked for signs directing me towards security, only to be told I had to wait in another queue for yet another member of staff to arrive with Star Alliance branded hand-luggage tags. All things considered, not the best start for an early flight. Fortunately passport control and security were just moments away and the queues were short and moving at an impressive pace. Taking out the time I waited for colleagues, the process of checking in and clearing security took just 15 minutes and I stepped out on to the upper level of the recently-refurbished departure lounge. 5/10
With this being an economy ticket, I didn’t get the chance to use the Star Alliance business lounge but I made the most of the spare time to make some last-minute purchases – John Lewis has a store here – and grab a coffee. By 8:12am, having made a mental note that next time I am flying through Terminal 2 to visit Heston Blumenthal’s Perfectionists’ Café or The Gorgeous Kitchen (a restaurant founded by four female chefs), I noticed my gate had been called. Preparing myself for a long slog, I was pleasantly surprised to discover gate A20 within spitting distance of the retail outlets and adjacent to a branch of WH Smith. Engrossing myself in the latest headlines on my mobile, I failed to notice the short, neat queue that had formed. It took just five minutes for my passport and boarding pass to be checked and to board via a short jet bridge. 8/10
By 8:37am, with my luggage was safely stowed in the overhead locker, I was seated in seat 29E of the Airbus A320 (of the six types of plane operated by Swiss, five are manufactured by Airbus), a middle seat behind the wing on the right-hand side of the cabin’s 3+3 configuration.
Furnished in two-tone chocolate and beige with narrow grey armrests, the seats are of a slimline design offer and a 31in pitch and 17in width – certainly they felt more spacious than other short-haul economy seats I’ve travelled on.
A safety card, two separate editions of the duty free brochure (both titled Swiss Shop Duty Free) and the in-flight magazine, Swiss Magazine – were safely stowed in a recess behind the lockable pulldown tray. A mesh pocket at shin level proved ample for my latest copy of Director and passport. 9/10
Swiss in-flight experience
With the last passengers boarded by 8:52am and an announcement to switch mobiles to flight mode – in English, then French – a safety video started on the numerous flat screens that had descended from beneath the overhead luggage bins. Departure was scheduled for 8:55am. With the video still playing we pushed back from the stand at 8:59am, paused for a few minutes before starting our taxi, giving me ample time to spot Concorde, which is on permanent display, out of the window closest to me. With the engines firing up, we turned on to the runway to start our take off. By 09:20 we were in the air.
While airborne the monitors showed a 3D animation of our aircraft en route to Geneva, plotting every turn of the compass. With the aircraft rising above the clouds, at 09:26, the cabin crew were released from their seats. Around 10 minutes later, the captain switched off the fasten seatbelt signs for passengers, and the in-flight service began. By 10am the cabin crew – all exceptionally polite – had worked their way to my seat with the offer of complimentary tea, coffee and soft drinks, and a croissant served in a Swiss-branded napkin. Later, cabin crew offered passengers a chocolate featuring the words ‘Thank you for flying Swiss’ on the red wrapper. A nice touch. 8/10
At 10:14am the captain reported the local weather – an impressive 28C and sunny – and a minute later the fasten seat belt signs came on, to indicate our descent. The monitors flashed up further arrival information – Destination: Geneva; Terminal: satellite; Arrival gate: B21; Baggage reclaim belt: 13 – and a map of the terminal. While we flew over glistening Lake Geneva, further information, including instructions for those passengers connecting with a flight to Athens, displayed on the screen.
The flight touched down at 11:33am CET (three minutes later than scheduled), with a cheerful welcome from the flight deck in French then English. The aircraft came to a halt by 11:36.
Accounting for the short delay to allow for stairs to be attached to the front of the aircraft, I alighted the aircraft at 11:44am for a bus to the terminal – and a queue for passport control booths. Bizarrely, despite signs indicating one queue for Swiss nationals and EU/EEA travellers and another for the rest of the world, airport staff split the queue between Swiss nationals and members of the UN, and the rest of us. With no luggage to collect from the carousel I cleared the green channel by 12:03 and followed the signs to Geneva Airport railway station for my onward journey to Montreux. 8/10
The Swiss onboard experience can’t be faulted. Modern planes, a welcome amount of leg room and professional, courteous cabin crew not to mention a strong design aesthetic throughout. Food was basic but ideal for such a short journey, and the complimentary Swiss chocolate a nice touch. Checking-in at Heathrow was too chaotic for my liking and making passengers wait longer for a hand-luggage tag, just bizarre. 38/50
Swiss operates daily flights from Heathrow and London City to Geneva. To book visit swiss.com