REVIEW – SWISS First Class Lounge – Zurich (ZRH E-Gates)
August 4, 2019
REVIEW – W Montreal : Fantastic Suite
September 29, 2019

REVIEW – SWISS : First Class – Zurich ZRH to Montreal YUL (A330)

LX F swiss A330

SWISS (LX)

  • Flight: LX86
  • Class: First Class
  • From: Zurich (ZRH)
  • To: Montreal (YUL)
  • Duration: 8h20m
  • Aircraft: A330-300
  • Seat: 2K
  • Status during flight: Star Alliance Gold (avianca Amigo)
  • Booking type: Cash fare £1989.55 (LCY-ZRH-YUL-ZRH-LHR)
  • Date: March 2017


Intro


After an extraordinary, almost life-affirming 6 hour visit to the spectacular First Class Lounge I was ready to head to the gate and finally fly SWISS First Class for the first time.

Unfortunately despite being part of the same group as Lufthansa, SWISS take a far more hands off approach to its First Class Passengers. Where the former arranges for private immigration clearance and a personal assistant to shadow every passenger, ensuring that they are safely ensconced in a Porsche that will drive them to the plane; the latter leaves you to find your own gate and join a large queue of people who are all having their passport stamped at the gate, ahead of entering the usual boarding queues.

This may not seem like a huge deal in the grand scheme of things but the experience of entering a maul of people, jostling for position is quite jarring after the serene tranquility of the lounge.

There is no particular priority boarding for First either, we were called to board at the same time as business and star alliance elites. I’m not sure if this is standard practice or whether this was the result of the flight being slightly delayed but again it did somewhat tarnish the overall First Class experience.

However, this was quickly forgotten once I was on the jetbridge, moments away from finally experiencing the SWISS onboard product I’d been dreaming about for all these years!

 


Pre-Departure


LX F swiss A330

I deliberately booked this trip with an A330 on the outbound and a 777 on the return so that I could make a direct comparison between two generations of First Class cabins. I was immediately struck by two observations upon boarding: firstly, the A330 cabin looked pristine for an ‘old’ product and secondly, it was extremely open. There is effectively zero privacy afforded to passengers here. (Note: the white divider in this shot can be raised all the way up to create a solid dividing wall, should you be travelling alongside a stranger.)

LX F A330 swiss first

Arriving at my seat I noticed that a leather tray had been left on my ottoman. This contained a pair of slippers, headphones and an amenity kit. I like how the monitor surround has been built to ensure that there is no visible gap through to the seat in front. I found the screen to be too small given the distance from the seat, however the resolution was sharp and the system was responsive to controls.

LX F A330 YUL-20
LX F A330 YUL-15
LX F A330 YUL-19
LX F A330 YUL-16

The slippers were thin and flimsy, nothing like the thickly cushioned footwear handed out by the likes of Garuda. The headphones were cheap, generic and did not appear to offer active noise cancellation. The amenity kit had a basic exterior but contained some very high-end La Prairie creams a high quality dental kit and a local Swiss touch: Ricola sweets. Overall a rather lacklustre offering of amenities for a top tier airline.

As I sat exploring my seat, I was approached by a member of the cabin crew who offered to hang my jacket and enquired as to whether I would like a glass of champagne.

LX F A330 swiss first

The champagne was poured in the galley and brought to me on a rather utilitarian looking non-slip tray. SWISS offers Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle (LPGS) in the air but this was not served on the ground.

LX F A330 swiss first

In a marked contrast to the presentation of the champagne, a very elegant and delicious amuse bouche was served alongside my drink. This is one of the small touches which serves to highlight the (ever narrowing) difference between First and Business class.

LX F A330 swiss first

A rather token 50MB internet voucher was handed to me alongside the menu. This is roughly enough data to get all your push notifications and then have the connection immediately cut out again. It would be outrageous to pay for baggage or seat selection in First but for some reason a functional internet connection is still considered an optional extra.

 


The Seat


LX F A330 swiss first

I picked Seat 2K, a window seat at the back of the cabin. I generally prefer to sit in the back row of F as that way I can get shots of the whole cabin without having to turn back and get people’s faces in shot.

The overall design of the cabin is very clean, light and minimal. I really like the continuity in SWISS branding: the square lamps, the shiny white surfaces, the windowpane check. You can immediately tell when you’re looking at this airline’s design be it on the ground or in the air. I found the seat very to be very wide and comfortable for both sitting and lounging.

 

LX F A330 YUL-4
LX F A330 YUL-12
LX F A330 YUL-5

The seat comes with one large storage compartment, featuring an underpowered USB socket inside. There is also a very old school IFE controller here, although it appeared as though the software on the system had been modernised. There are numerous polished steel seat control buttons along the side console in addition to a tablet style seat controller that permits you to make more fine tuned adjustments to the seat.

There is a smaller storage compartment, located closer to the TV screen, which has a universal power socket inside. The location is quite inconvenient if you’re just lounging around in the seat though, since you’ll have to get up to access anything in there.

 


The Flight


LX F A330 swiss first

Shortly after my champagne was brought out, a different member of cabin crew came to offer me a hot towel and the menus.

Menu

The food portion of the menu was quite succinct. SWISS doesn’t feature a regular caviar service on its menu, opting instead to feature caviar for very limited periods throughout the year (during which passengers are treated to three different tins of caviar each!)

Despite the lack of this signature First Class foodstuff, the overall quality of the food on offer was extremely high. I particularly like how the menu is so focused on regional cuisine within Switzerland. I must admit that I’m something of a philistine when it comes to the region’s cooking and I really enjoyed the opportunity to not only eat delicious food and sample some new wines but also to learn something new in the process.

A lot of airlines ‘phone in’ their First Class catering, defaulting to a few standard internationally recognised tropes; it was really refreshing to see SWISS deviate from this template.

As I was handed the menu I was informed that dining was entirely on demand but I confirmed that I was happy to eat soon after take-off given that it was already around 1pm.

 

The meal began with the expert placement of a freshly pressed white linen tablecloth and a pair of very stylish wooden salt and pepper mills. Even as a certifiable carbophobe I couldn’t help but be impressed by the trifecta roll: wholegrain, white and rye baked into a unified amalgamation and presented in a polished steel basket.

Just as my table was being set the FA noticed that we were flying over Paris and spent some time pointing out various neighbourhoods and monuments to me, as well as giving me some of his top restaurant recommendations.

LX F A330 YUL-29
LX F A330 YUL-30
LX F A330 YUL-32
LX F A330 YUL-31

 

Despite a slightly wobbly start with the lacklustre amenities and rubber tray, things immediately started looking up once the meal service began.

I asked for champagne to be served with my starters and this time the Maȋtre de Cabine presented the bottle of LPGS to me before pouring a generous flute at the table.

On an ordinary menu you would expect to pick one starter, perhaps two if you’re having a soup as well, however on SWISS this is not the way things are done. Instead a trolley was brought out featuring the entire selection of cold starters, with the crew recommending that I try them all whilst waiting for the soup to be heated and brought over.

Every single thing that I tried was fantastic. The air dried beef is a Swiss delicacy, a cross between bresaola and biltong, it tasted like the concentrated essence of five steaks had somehow been locked into every slice.

The crayfish and the scallop were beautifully cooked and tasted very fresh.

The star attraction for me though was the fillet of Balik salmon, an old favourite that used to feature on the Cathay Pacific’s First Class caviar service (before a downward spiral of quarterly results led to its inevitable removal due to cost-cutting).

Once I had made my way through the panoply of starters I was approached by a member of the crew, he asked whether I would prefer to wait a few minutes or to have my soup straight away. This kind of small touch is what differentiates good First Class service, pacing the meal to the demands of each individual diner wherever possible, recognising the fact that some people prefer to eat quickly and get to sleep whilst others prefer to while away several hours trying a variety of wines and dishes.

As I’m sure you all know by now, I fit firmly into the second camp 😁

I asked to try a glass of the Chasselas, a unique grape which I’m still not entirely convinced by.  My tasting notes: Oily and very alcoholic, definite backbones of meths. Like cheap grappa.

Still no harm done and no incremental cost to me, other than perhaps a couple of pickled taste buds. This is one of the things I love most about flying in First, exploring the drinks list and not worrying about a. the cost implications b. having to travel very far to get to bed.

The soup was presented in restaurant style, as a bed of solid items over which the thick green liquid was poured tableside (a process which reminded me of dinners at the superb Jahn at the Conrad Koh Samui).

LX F a330 swiss first soup

Green pea soup with morel ravioli, spring vegetables and Vaud bacon. I’ve said this before but it bears repeating, soups are almost always a hit in the air, they are packed with flavour, easy to reheat and and don’t make you overly full. I almost never order them in restaurants on the ground but in the air they’re fast becoming one of my favourite types of food. Also, I’m not sure why Switzerland doesn’t get more credit for its cured meats because the Vaud bacon was every bit as amazing as the air dried beef.

Given that I was spending a weekend flying to one of the food capitals of the world and eating non-stop during the flights there and back, I decided to exercise some restraint at this early stage, ordering the fish for my main course.

Noticing that I wasn’t in love with the Chasselas the FA asked if I would prefer something else. I played it safe with a glass of the excellent Chablis which paired very well with my main.

LX F a330 swiss first fish

A pair of beautifully cooked trout fillets served with argan oil, asparagus, risoni and a cherry tomato confit.

After the main I asked to wait a while before the cheese course. “Perfect. This will give the cheese time to reach the correct temperature”. At a decent restaurant you’d expect staff to know this but it is was a pleasant surprise to see this level of detail being observed on a plane.

LX F a330 swiss first cheese wine

I asked for a glass of the 2011 Leoville Barton to accompany my cheese course. This is an exceptional second growth wine and once again an upside surprise from SWISS. You just don’t expect to see wines of this quality outside of Emirates and Qatar.

LX F a330 swiss first cheese

The cheese course was really good, despite the lack of anything blue or offensively smelly (my favourite species of cheese). This was a delectable feast of tastes and textures with each cheese paired with a different counterpoint, my favourite of which was the traditional pear bread – which let’s face it is basically just fruit cake served with cheese. I guess it didn’t take too long for me to cash in the calories I saved by ordering the fish…

LX F a330 swiss first dessert

At this point I figured I might as well go all in and ordered not only the dessert but also a generous pour of Tokaji to accompany it. I must admit I didn’t quite finish the dessert but this was more a product of the final regretful remnants of my will power rather than an indictment of the food quality. Top marks for presentation too.

I rounded off the meal with a double espresso and was offered my pick from a box of Sprüngli chocolates to go with it.

lx a330 f swiss first

At this point I was absolutely stuffed and very ready for a nap. I also took the opportunity to snap a quick pic of the cabin before getting my table cleared and my bed made.

lx pyjamas swiss first

The pyjamas offered were by the luxury Swiss underwear brand Zimmerli. They fit very well and were both breathable and comfortable. I really like the collar too, it adds an air of elegance to the otherwise undeniably odd experience of sitting in a metal tube full of adults drinking wine and hanging out in their jammies.

LX F A330 bathroom

There is nothing luxurious about getting changed in the tiny, cramped bathrooms on a 777 but SWISS did their best to jazz things up with two ostentatiously expensive La Prairie creams, presented on a black slate.

I returned to find my bed made and a bottle of water placed on the side table for me. The main pillow was large and plump, easily of hotel quality, the mattress topper ensured that no lumps or gaps from the seat were perceptible and the large, crisp duvet was large and heavy enough to make it feel as if I was in a proper bed on the ground.

lx swiss a330 first

Plenty of space to stretch out and no other passengers visible once I slid my privacy screen forward.

LX F A330

Two hours later I awoke to these majestic views of snow covered Canada.

On this short flight there was no second meal service, although it would have been possible to order items from the main menu at any stage given the dine on demand concept.

Given the amount I’d already eaten, I was starting to feel like a goose being readied for Christmas. What I really needed was a double espresso and some water to clear my head.

All too quickly the shores of Montreal came into view as we made our final approach.


Conclusion


As an overall experience, flying in SWISS First was absolutely fantastic. The lounge in Zurich may well be my favourite in the world and the service on board was close to perfect. The food was extremely well executed and presented. Indeed the table setting was basically indistinguishable from that of a restaurant, no miniature or plastic pieces of tableware in sight. Most importantly the bed was very comfortable and I managed a deep sleep in the middle of the day without any problems.

Some will lament the lack of a ‘signature’ First Class showpiece like caviar or onboard showers. However the overall quality of the experience and the attention to detail is excellent.

My only criticism would be that the seats don’t feel particularly private and the screens are quite small for a modern aircraft. With these two issues now resolved by the design of the new 777 cabin, I could hardly wait for the flight home!


SWISS First Class : One night in Montreal

Part 1:
Radisson Blu Zurich Airport : Business Class Room
Part 2:
SWISS First Class Lounge : Zurich E Gates
Part 3:
SWISS : First Class – A330 – Zurich to Montreal
Part 4:
W Montreal : Fantastic Suite
Part 5:
Air Canada Lounge : Montreal
Part 6:
SWISS : First Class – B777 – Montreal to Zurich

1 Comment

  1. Patrick says:

    You’re a poet in the air Jarvis – how else would gems such as “final regretful remnants of my will power” roll off the keyboard with such insouciant grace (even if not entirely heedless of carbs) as they do with you?

    I’m also in the same camp as you on 2 fronts: taking my time with the food and drink to try new things I wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to, and budgeting my carb intake as judiciously (on espère sans regrets après) as I can with menu choices (protein tho I can do until the air-dried 🐂 comes home, as it were). I’m a notorious (and fastidious, according to my friends) portioniser – e.g. I might have a morsel from each cheese as I sample their pairing with the reds and whites (except for unfortunate paint-thinner types to be sure!) in turn – 50 cal each bite-sip perhaps? Plenty of room then to consume in toto the fruity (yes!) dessert (YES!) with more booze (YAASS!!).

    Good thing tomorrow is cardio day… I feel I need extra intervals after all that!! 😱😬

    Can’t wait for your next TR! *zum Wohl!* 🥂🐖🐽🐷

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