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San Francisco (SFO) - Zurich (ZRH)
Monday, February 26th
Arrive 3:30pm next day
Duration 10 hrs 50 mins
Aircraft: Boeing 777-300ER
Business Class Throne Seat 10K
Points redeemed for this flight (North America to Europe): 55,000 Aeroplan miles, transferred from American Express Membership Rewards and Starwood Preferred guest.
Points accrued primarily from spending and signup bonuses on the following credit cards:
- American Express Platinum Card (one of my favorite cards in general)
- American Express Business Gold Card
- American Express Everyday Card
- Starwood Preferred Guest Business Card
Making the Booking:
I had visited Stockholm in May 2017, but when my buddy and his girlfriend moved there in January, I knew that a winter adventure was a must. So I began searching for awards to find the best way to get there. Being based in Seattle, the quickest way to get to Europe on a star alliance carrier is with Lufthansa, but I had taken the flight to Frankfurt only four months earlier and decided I wanted to try something else.
After a few days of intermittent searching, I noticed that the Swiss flight from SFO-ZRH was frequently available on Mondays and Thursdays and once I found return flight availability, I booked a ticket using 55,000 Aeroplan miles that I had transferred from Amex and SPG. The Amex points transferred instantly, the SPG points took 72 hrs. I could have also booked this flight for 70k United miles transferred from Chase, but decided to save my Ultimate Rewards points for another trip.
I was excited about this flight because it was on a less than two year old Swiss 777 with the throne seats. However, even after booking a business class ticket, you can not select a throne seat without paying $200 for the privilege...ugh. HOWEVER, I discovered that at 48hrs before departure, Swiss opens up the throne seat selection to all business class customers free of charge as long as there are some left. Luckily for me, there were! In general, I find that checking seat maps, upgrade lists, flight status, and award availability at the 48hr mark often leads to fortuitous changes for the consumer.
Pre-Flight and Boarding:
I flew down from Seattle on a United flight that I had grouped into my itinerary through Aeroplan. To start my 3 hr layover, I briefly visited the Amex Centurion Club before making my way to the United club (formerly the Global First Lounge) that was being used by all Star Alliance Gold and Business Class customers while United was building their Polaris lounge that opened in May 2018.
United is going to repurpose this space and it is now closed, so I will keep my remarks very brief. In general, I should have stayed longer at the Centurion Club as it is a much nicer space and was overcrowded.
Boarding began at 7:15pm with First, Business Class, HON Circle and Senators all called together. I boarded through door L2 and turned right (sadly) into the massive business class cabin between doors L2 and L3. With 62 seats, the cabin doesn't feel particularly spacious, but it is very well designed. Very simple without being bland, the Swiss nailed it.
Once on board, I was offered a choice between champagne, orange juice or water. I chose champagne which was served in a real glass and settled in for the night.
Seat and Storage: The cabin alternates between a 2-2-1 and 1-2-2 layout with 5 seats per row. Although 5 across is a bit dense for business class, securing a throne seat ensures you have tons of storage and privacy. Considering I flew to SFO in order to experience this product, I was exceptionally glad I didn't get stuck in a seat without direct aisle access or with less storage and privacy. The seat was a bit hard, but not to the point of it being an issue. The firmness is adjustable with controls tucked into the armrest, but doesn't make a huge difference. Seats have a small lamp, 110V power outlets and USB ports, headphone connectors, a remote control for the entertainment system, and tons of storage.
What makes these throne seats so desirable is their excessive storage space. On the Swiss 777, passengers get a large cubby to the side of the seat, a drawer underneath the screen, a compartment above the armrest, two large counters on either side of the seat which will easily hold a laptop. There's also a locker for headphones, the amenity kit, or any other bulky loose items above the right countertop. I value storage tremendously, so I really appreciated that there was a place to keep all of my things within arms reach.
Cabin and Overall Comfort: Swiss uses a very poor blanket and pillow for their business class experience. The pillow is so flimsy that I had to use my sweater for additional padding. Although the blanket wasn't particularly plush, I wouldn't have used it anyways because the cabin was too warm and it was difficult to sleep. Sleeping was also made difficult by the fact that the throne seats really cocoon you into them and there's very little room for your knees while you are sleeping. I did not sleep particularly well as I was too hot and a bit too crammed, but I imagine a shorter person would not suffer from the latter. Further, there aren't personal air vents so you are at the mercy of the overall cabin temperature.
Amenities and Entertainment: Swiss provides a very basic amenity kit, with socks, a toothbrush, toothpaste, chapstick, ear plugs and an eye-mask as well as a pair of decent quality headphones. The amenity kit seemed as cheap as it looked and I opted to bring my own toiletries to the bathroom, which kind of defeats the purpose of an amenity kit. Speaking of bathrooms, with 62 passengers, four is not enough of them. It seemed like there was a line to use the bathroom for the full hour that followed the meal service. Obviously this isn't something they can easily change, but perhaps some more thought could have gone into the numbers.
During dinner I fired up the entertainment system and watched American Made. The screen is a nice size and very sharp, which is a nice change from many low resolution airplane screens. The selection was just OK, but I found a few interesting options. Some airlines have started putting ads in their entertainment system and I can't stand that, but I'm happy to report that Swiss does not. The airshow has lots of different settings and views as well and I usually leave the screen in this mode whenever I am working as I find it irrationally interesting.
Meals and Service: Right after boarding concluded, a flight attendant came by and asked for my order. I hadn't looked at the menu yet, but I made a quick decision. Shortly after take-off, drink service started and I was offered warm nuts and a water to go along with my gin and tonic. This was followed shortly by a cheese plate, green salad, various bread offerings. and the first course which was a Swiss charcuterie selection. I enjoyed it, though it was nothing particularly special.
Service was friendly, not especially warm, but very efficient (wouldn't expect anything less from the Swiss). They serve the meals on trays from a cart, which is nearly the least personal way to do it apart from it being buffet style where the flight attendants plate all of your food right in front of you. About 30 minutes after I received the first courses, dinner was served. I had the beef tenderloin with gnocchi and I actually quite enjoyed it (but I forgot to take a picture, which was a big mistake).
Dinner was followed by a pistachio tart that wasn't anything special and a little bit difficult to eat. When I cut into it, my utensil broke the crust with such force that it sent half of the dessert off my table and into a crevasse of my seat. I was able to recover it, but not within the parameters of the 5 second rule and was sad to waste it. Luckily, before bed, chocolates were served, which was a nice way to finish off the service.
At this point I went to sleep and woke up to the cabin being prepared for breakfast roughly two hours before landing. Once again, breakfast was served from carts down the aisle and the flight attendants made up the breakfast at your seat. I had a croissant, an apple pastry a fruit selection, greek yogurt, and the "warm egg dish" as my main. This was not particularly good, but I have yet to have an egg dish on a plane that is, so no surprise there. I also had a berry smoothie to go along with an orange juice, which was a tasty addition to the meal.
Once the meals were cleared, I changed into a new set of clothes and relaxed for the remaining 45 minutes of the flight as we descended into a clear day in Zurich.
After landing, I went to the flagship Swiss lounge at ZRH to wait for my flight to Stockholm where I was VERY pleasantly surprised.
I started with a shower in one of the shower rooms, which has no wait time. After a great shower, I made my way to the made to order pasta bar and had a small rigatoni pesto dish with some wine. After my snack, I found the relax room which had some large reclining chairs that were dangerously comfortable. Because I didn't want to miss my flight by sleeping through it's departure, I decided to get up and even though it was only 8 degrees outside, I went onto the outdoor terrace that overlooks the various runways at ZRH. Unfortunately it was dark and extremely cold by this point, but this is a very cool space to hang out for anyone who might have even a small avgeek bone in their body.
I flew out of my way to try this product and in the end, I was glad that I did, but with a few major disclaimers. First, had I not secured a throne seat, I think I would've been much less excited about this flight. Second, depending on where you live, there may be lots of enticing options for getting to Europe on star alliance carriers, which was not the case for me. The cabin interior of the Swiss 777 is such a well designed space that it really is a cool thing to experience, there's a lot more class infused into the experience than you'd get on Lufthansa, or United for that matter. Finally, the taxes and fees were extremely cheap on this itinerary and would've been almost 10x more expensive had I flown Lufthansa and redeemed Aeroplan miles, which made Swiss a clear winner.
With that being said, the meals and service were only average, the amenities were very cheap and sparse, but the ground experience at ZRH was awesome. Particularly if you're traveling with a partner and looking to get to Europe in style and comfort, Swiss is a nice way to do it, but I don't recommend going out of your way to do so.