In part one of our Swiss flight review, Director travelled on an economy ticket from Heathrow to Geneva. For the return trip we flew business class to see how it compared on the scheduled 100-minute route and sampled the Swiss business lounge at Geneva airport
My Sunday evening Swiss flight wasn’t scheduled to depart until 5.50pm but with a busy day of meetings ahead of me in Lausanne and Montreux, I checked in early that morning using the free Swiss app for iPhone.
I was unable to use the app on my inbound journey from Heathrow but by the time I’d arrived in Switzerland, I worked out that Swiss’ ticket centre had combined my first and middle names. This time I entered my newly combined name in the ‘first name’ field, then my surname and flight number and logged in successfully.
The check-in option allowed me to change seat (I didn’t) and update my frequent flyer details (I’m not a Swiss frequent flyer) or proceed to check in with my passport information. You can view your boarding pass in the Swiss app by providing your mobile number or email address. I stored mine in my iPhone’s passbook folder.
A word on the aesthetics: the Swiss app is everything you’d expect from the design-conscious Swiss flag carrier – clean sans serif typefaces, images of a Swiss aeroplane over the Alps, and all the functional information you might require, from timetables and flight bookings to offers and currency conversion.
I arrived at the subterranean Geneva airport train station on time thanks to Swiss railways, and from there it was a four minute walk to the terminal building.
With no bags to check-in (my business-class ticket allowed for two pieces of check-in luggage up to 32kg and two pieces of hand luggage) I was grateful of the large departure screen showing the status of departing flights. Mine was on time.
I skipped the ground-floor queues for check-in and bag drop, taking an escalator to the first floor where I spotted several rows of security desks arranged horizontally. The queues were exceptionally short and moving so fast that, had it not been for two passengers ahead of me pleading for officers not to impound their jar of mustard, I would have cleared security in less than the already favourable five minutes.
Swiss business lounge
With belt on, mobile back in my front pocket and toiletries safely stored in my hand luggage, I took a gamble on the signs pointing left and right to the business lounges and turned right past a selection of gift shops. Lounges are located up another set of escalators. The Swiss first-class lounge is closest with the business-class lounge located towards the end of a corridor. (British Airways and Iberia share a lounge along this corridor too.)
After being welcomed to the Swiss business lounge by a member of reception staff, my mobile boarding pass didn’t scan, prompting her to ask if I was sat in business-class. Fortunately I had a print out of my ticket and travel itinerary issued by the Swiss ticket centre in Cape Town, which was enough evidence to wave me through at 4.21pm.
A large full-length window runs along one side of the lounge, which helps maximise light, and the other walls are adorned with pictures of Swiss landscapes and Swiss Air Lines aircraft.
The long rectangular lounge has white and brown decor with a dark wood floor. On one side are white tables set around black bench seating and swivel chairs. The other side contains large armchairs with a range of international plug sockets – including UK and European. (Many trains and hotels in Switzerland only feature Swiss hexagonal three-prong plug sockets, so check ahead with reception to see if you borrow an adaptor if you don’t already have one.)
A TV screen displayed my gate as B44 for the 5.50pm departure but reception assured me I could leave the lounge half an hour before the flight and still have plenty of time to get there.
The food and beverage area offered a fine selection of hot and cold snacks on a long, white, granite kitchen top. I’d eaten a late lunch, so resisted temptation to try the buffet of pastries, rolls, fruit tarts, chocolate cake and a selection of ice creams in the freezer. Shortly before I left the lounge, staff replenished the afternoon snacks with hot food for dinner, including Chinese chicken.
A fully stocked self-service bar runs along the right-hand wall with a selection of beer, wine, spirits and soft drinks on offer. Even here, Director was only tempted by the free mineral water.
The larger side of the lounge has more seating and a newsstand of complimentary newspapers and magazines. I spotted three PCs but most passengers looked to be taking advantage of the free wifi, accessible by inputting a code on a ticket printed by reception and available on up to three devices per passenger. According to the Speedtest.net app on my iPhone, I achieved an impressive 31.37Mps download and 30.78Mps upload.
With my work finished and mobile fully charged, I took the liberty of leaving the lounge at 5.10pm for a leisurely walk to the gate, two floors down by escalator. A travelator to passport control wasn’t working but fortunately there were no queues to have my ID checked.
Just as I cleared passport control and turned right along a corridor towards my gate, I heard an announcement to say my flight was full. Swiss asked for volunteers to check in their hand luggage in the hold and warned it would be charging any passengers travelling on a Swiss Light ticket (hand-luggage only) for oversized hang luggage.
The escalator to the gate wasn’t working but I arrived at 5.18pm to a crowded departure gate. I misheard the next announcement at 5.27pm but noticed most passengers surging towards the desk. I reached the front of the queue at 5.31pm and spotted a Swiss business sign, only for staff to send me to the back of a separate long queue to have my passport checked for a second time.
Three minutes later, with my passport checked by Swiss staff and having been handed a slip of paper, I returned to the back of the first queue. (Business passengers aren’t afforded an exclusive queue or priority boarding.) My boarding pass was checked, scanned and paper removed and by 5.36pm I walked up a covered portable staircase and boarded the aircraft.
Flight LX356 was operated using an Airbus A319 with a 3+3 seating configuration throughout. All passengers on this flight entered through the main door adjacent to the flight deck and turned right, with business class at the front and economy towards the rear.
My seat was 4A, a left-hand window seat in the final row of business class. To make up for the 3+3 configuration, Swiss leaves the middle business-class seat free on short-hault flights. Crew had left two bottles of still water and disposable refreshment wipes on all of the middle seats and removed the antimacassar from the headrest for those of us either side to use.
I counted 11 passengers in business-class with two rows completely free of passengers and one fortunate traveller having three seats to themselves.
The Swiss seats had already impressed on my inbound economy flight and didn’t disappoint here either. What you lose in cushion depth from a slimline construction you make up for in leg room.
An announcement from the flight deck at 5.44pm telling cabin crew to prepare for departure was followed a minute later in French, then English, from the cabin manager detailing our 70min flight. While a safety video played on the ceiling-mounted miniature drop down screens, cabin crew offered us newspapers – including the FT Weekend, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
Our position beside the gate meant we pushed forward from the stand at 5.49pm and taxied towards the runway. A two minute pause at 5.54pm was accompanied by an announcement in French and as got underway once more, the flight deck instructed cabin crew of two minutes to departure. By 5.57pm we were accelerating along the runway and soon airborne.
The video screens displayed an estimated arrival time of 6.08pm (local time). Cabin crew were swiftly released from their seats and promptly closed the curtain separating business-class and economy, while I enjoyed the view of Lake Geneva and lush pastures. Within four minutes the fasten seatbelt signs were switched off and within minutes the food service had begun from the front of the cabin.
Dinner was served on a covered plastic tray. The main course consisted of three slices of beef, potatoes, mixed vegetables and horseradish sauce. A side of two cheeses, including Gruyère, was presented on a slate tile to accompany the warm bread rolls offered the crew, along with a glass of still water and a mixed berry cheesecake desert in a glass pot.
After forgoing the complimentary alcoholic drinks at the lounge in Geneva airport, I took the opportunity to take up cabin manger Alfonso’s offer to sample the Duval Leroy champagne served in Swiss-branded glassware.
At 5.50pm (BST) the pilot announced we would start our decent into Heathrow in five minutes and updated us on the evening weather. Right on queue the curtains were opened and we touched down at 6.04pm, with a welcome in French, then English from the flight deck.
Unfortunately we lost the benefit of our early landing; the pilot informing us of a standstill caused by an Air Canada flight awaiting departure had resulted in us not receiving permission for a stand.
The delay meant we didn’t come to a final stop until 6.18pm and I disembarked the aircraft at 6.20pm. From the gate it was a 10 minute walk to UK border control. Fortunately there were no queues for the e-passport gates and I was clear within three minutes, stepped through customs and to my onward journey by Heathrow Express.
Even on a short flight, Swiss pulls out all the stops to ensure a full business-class experience with an attentive crew and well-stocked lounge. If I could point out one niggle it was the reasons behind making passengers at the gate queue twice to board the flight not being communicated clearly enough.
Swiss flies at least four times a day from Geneva to Heathrow. For more information see swiss.com
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