Think of Switzerland and you may think of delicious chocolates or fine watches or snow-capped mountains ringed by winding roads made for drivers rather than people who just sit behind a steering wheel.
We'd add one more candidate to the list: Swiss International Air Lines, better known simply as Swiss.
Part of Lufthansa's empire (which also includes Austrian Airlines and Eurowings), the Swiss network not only spans Europe and the Americas but reaches into Asia, where we connected with Swiss via Hong Kong.
Swiss has daily flights between Hong Kong and Zurich, as well as Singapore-Zurich and Bangkok-Zurich – each leaves around midnight for an early morning arrival into Zurich around 6am-7am.
The flights from Singapore and Hong Kong are especially popular with Australian travellers who've made a business stop-over in either of these thriving Asian hubs.
From April to July 2016 the Zurich-Hong Kong and Bangkok-Hong Kong routes will be upgraded to Swiss' new Boeing 777-300ER, which finesses the airline's A340 highly-regarded business class with an even more contemporary look and feel (as shown below).
Swiss' Airbus A340 has 47 business class seats split between two cabins.
The first two rows are nestled behind first class and typically earmarked for top-tier members of the Airline's Miles & More frequent flyer scheme...
... with a second larger business class cabin behind for, well, everybody else.
The design aesthetic is masterful: chic blond wood offset by dark checked fabric in a colour palette which blend perfect to key elements of Swiss' brand identity.
What immediately stands out when you enter the business class cabin or even peruse the seatmap is Swiss' rather unique layout.
Each row of seats has a middle pair with the seats offset left and right (rows 4 through 14, seats D and G)...
... while the seats running down the left side of the plane alternate between A & B pairs (which means that not every passenger enjoys direct aisle access)...
... and single 'A' seats, in the 'throne' style that's popular with many solo travellers.
If that's not enough variety, the right side of the cabin also sports single 'K' seats but without the dual armrests of those 'thrones'.
These seats are staggered – one row directly next to the window, the next directly next to the aisle – which some travellers prefer as it provides more space around the elbows and legs for sleeping.
The paired seats obviously work well for people travelling together, but could do with a privacy screen for seatmates who don’t know one another.
Next to each seat is a wide bench that’s handy for spreading out your inflight stuff – getting it out of the way but close at hand.
This flight found me in 10A, one of the prized throne seats flanked by two benches.
What I love about these seats – and there's only five on them on the A340 – is not only a slightly greater sense of privacy due to the wooden veneer panel between the seat and the aisle, but the extra room the wide armrests provide for juggling your notebook or tablet, reading material, snacks and drinks and what-not.
There's ample room in the footwell, although it'll feel restrictive if you have plus-size plods.
(If you want maximum space in the footwell, shoot for a seat in rows 4 or 6, which have only the bulkhead in front of them.)
Stow your shoes in this little cubbyhole...
... and retrieve your very own hanger from the seat pocket.
It's "your own hanger" because the clever Swiss label each one with your seat number, removing the need for cabin crew to write out your seat number when putting away your jacket.
The amenity kit's rather basic, without skincare products such as moisturiser or lip balm let alone thoughtful touches like a comb or hairbrush – making it closer to what you'd expect in premium economy rather than business class.
But the airline's innate 'Swissness' bounces back with the ability to convert the amenity kit bag into all manner of useful forms as you collect more bags and pouches on successive flights.
Beneath the modestly-sized video screen – expect a much larger panel in Swiss' new Boeing 777-300ER jets – is a small shelf that's perfect for odds and ends such as reading glasses, tablets, books and magazines.
Clearly, plenty of thinking has gone into turning the Swiss business class seat into a flexible and useful environment.
The seat's control panel is easy to read, with the ability to make the cushions softer or firmer depending on your preference...
... while a secondary control panel housed inside the seat's shell provides convenient access to core functions once you've reclined into bed mode.
A sizeable tray swings out from just under the surface of the console, with a movement firm enough to leave it locked into position as a small off-centre table for drinks and snacks...
... before its fully unfurled to a useful half-width...
... or generous full-width.
While the table is large enough to accomodate almost any laptop, if you plonk your notebook in the middle of the table there's a lot of bounce and wobble as you type – so I found it best to sit my MacBook Air on an angle and closer to the table’s hinge.
Of course, if using your laptop to watch a video during dinner you can park it to one of the wide benches either side of you – another reason I like those 'throne' seats.
Unlike the newer Boeing 777-300ERs, these old Airbus A340s don't have any USB port to juice up your smartphone or tablet – just one universal AC socket per seat, located beneath the reading lamp.
Here's the problem: the socket is directly beneath the reading lamp, and fitted so close that it's impossible to plug in the Aussie power adaptor of any Apple MacBook laptop.
The angled pins on the Aussie AC heads are oriented the wrong way, you see, and as a result the little white brick just won’t fit.
Nor is there room for some of the larger worldwide travel adaptors, such as this one which includes two USB ports.
If you’re planning on spending a fair slab of the flight time working or watching videos it’ll pay to pack your MacBook’s longer AC cable in your carry-on bag, or bring a smaller adaptor designed for a single country’s pin layout, in order to have it fit within these tight confines.
The seat is quickly and easily converted into a lie-flat bed over two metres long, but while sufficient for most people, passengers with a larger frame (especially around the shoulders) or plus-sized body may find the solo 'throne' seats uncomfortable fit.
The footwells are also narrow, especially in the 'throne' seats: I often sleep on my side with knees slightly bent, so as to angle my legs, but with the bed extended there was no room to do this. Unless you're a fan of sleeping ramrod-straight, choose a paired seat or one of the single K seats by the aisle or window.
Although the LX138 flight from Zurich leaves around 10.40pm and there's the option of a light dinner in the lounge beforehand, Swiss tempts its business class travellers with a full three-course meal before you bed down for the overnight leg to Hong Kong.
(There's also the 'Dine and Recline' service: a starter, soup, salad, cheese and dessert, all served shortly after take-off so you can focus on working, relaxing or straight-out snoozing.)
Highlights on Swiss' inflight menu are created by Antonio Colaianni from Zurich's Restaurant Mesa.
First course was a choice between
- smoked duck and chicken breast with pistachio cream, couscous salad and apple balsamic jelly, and
- gravad char (cured salmaon) with créme fraîche, cucumber, radish and watercress
My philosophy is that when duck's on the menu the word 'choice' doesn't even get near any sentence, and I think I chose well:
- Sliced veal with mushroom cream suace, rösti and broccoli
- John Dory fillet dressed in citrus vinaigrette and smoked pepper sauce, with potato purée with mandarin oil and Mediterranean vegetables
- Gnocchi with saffron sauce, green asparagus and sweet 'datterini' cherry tomatoes
I opted for the mild sweet flavour of John Dory fillet, which is always a good choice if you don't want to feel weighed down by your inflight supper.
I skipped the dessert, which was a pistachio and lime financier cake served with yoghurt and peach, and wound down with a cup of digestion-friendly green tea – at odds with most of my fellow passengers, who enjoyed a Nespresso coffee and Swiss chocolates.
Service throughout the meal and indeed the rest of the flight was excellent, with a friendly and attentive crew who continued to circulate throughout the flight to make sure every passenger was being looked after.
Breakfast in Swiss business class is a typically European continental breakfast spread, served from 90 minutes to as late as 40 minutes before landing.
Take your pick from the bakery basket, add meats and cheeses, some yoghurt or Bircher muesli, and a fruit salad – there’s also a small dish of eggs, potatoes and tomatoes if you fancy something hot.
Of course, given the 5.15pm arrival into Hong Kong it's only 'breakfast' according to Swiss flight-time – in reality it's more of a light late lunch – but if you've slept well during the 11 hour flight you'll certainly arrive in great shape and ready to make the most of a night in Hong Kong.
David Flynn travelled as a guest of Swiss and Star Alliance.
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