BACKGROUND Swiss started flying daily from Zurich to Shanghai on May 9 this year. The flight, operated by an Airbus A340-300, leaves Zurich at 1305 and arrives in China at 0635 the following day. The return flight leaves Shanghai at 0915, arriving in Switzerland at 1540 the same day. There are good connecting flights in China, as Air China and Shanghai Airlines recently joined Star Alliance, and Swiss flies from London City airport, Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham for connecting flights to and from the UK.
CHECK-IN I arrived at 0700 at Shanghai Pudong International airport for the 0915 flight to Zurich. (I travelled the 30km by car, which took 35 minutes, but it can take up to two hours because of the traffic, in contrast with only eight minutes on the Maglev high-speed train.)
Swiss flies from the new Terminal 2, which opened in March and was built to handle traffic for the World Expo, which the city is hosting in 2010. The new terminal doubles the airport’s previous capacity of around 30 million, and is an impressive building with high ceilings and a floor so clean it looks like a mirror.
There was no queue at the Swiss check-in desk, where I was given a pass for the Star Alliance lounge by a welcoming member of staff and told boarding would begin at 0840. I went straight through passport control with my departure card at the ready. Security was fast and, once through, I browsed a couple of tourist and duty-free shops before heading to the lounge. Piped music plays through the whole terminal, which becomes grating after a while.
THE LOUNGE The Star Alliance lounges are by Gate D77 and up an escalator. The business class lounge is on the right-hand side (first class is on the left) and is mezzanine-style, so you can look over onto the gates below (you can hear the noise and announcements as well). The lounge is clean and modern with different seating areas. There are several sets of four black leather chairs divided by glass, a bar-type seating section with internet sockets, a slumber area with a long white sofa, and a dining space with large round tables and high-backed leather chairs. There are two kitchens serving sushi, dumplings, noodles and soup, as well as fruit, muffins, yoghurt, bread, hot and cold drinks, and alcohol. The business centre was huge, with lots of computers in separate desk areas and free internet access.
BOARDING I was using the internet in the lounge at 0840 when I realised I should go to the gate. I walked quickly and arrived at Gate 65 at 0850, just as boarding for first and business started.
THE SEAT The business class cabin is split into two sections. I was towards the front of the plane in seat 5K. The seats (configured 2-2-2 with a pitch of 60 inches and width of 20.5 inches) have blue and beige checked upholstery and recline within a hard shell to become angled lie-flat. The table for my seat was in the right-hand armrest, while the AVOD screen was tucked away bottom left, with the control also in the armrest. There’s a directional reading light and a ten-volt plug socket, while storage is in the seat in front, where there is room for shoes and bottles of water as well as magazines.
THE FLIGHT Once on board, my jacket was taken and I was offered a newspaper, and given an amenity kit and headphones. The amenity kit comes in a small velvet drawstring bag and has ear plugs, an eye mask, beige socks, a dental kit and a voucher for a e10 discount on products at pureneige.com (the same brand as the moisturiser and lip balm found in the toilet). You can also request extra items such as a shaving kit, nail file, comb, shoehorn and sewing kit.
The pilot informed us that the flight time would be 12 hours and 15 minutes, and we pushed back from the gate at 0910. There were only six people in my section of the business class cabin so I had no one sitting next to me. After take-off, a hot towel was handed out with a menu. The menu is devised by Renee Rischmeyer, chef de cuisine at Relais and Châteaux’s Michelin-starred Annex restaurant at the Park Hotel Weggis.
Starter options were shredded Parma ham with fresh green asparagus and salad leaves, or seasonal salad with vinaigrette dressing. For the main course, I had a choice of beef tenderloin steak with green peppercorn sauce and shiitake mushrooms, carrots and roasted potato wedges; steamed cod with new potatoes and broccoli; sweet and sour chicken with peppers and pineapple and egg-fried rice with spring onion; or vegetable lasagne with fresh tomato concasse. For dessert there was cheese, opera gateau with crème anglaise, or fruit salad. There is also a “Dine and Recline” cold option, which is served soon after take-off so that you can work or sleep.
Drinks were brought around once we were cruising. The wine list offered champagne, while the whites were Swiss Fendant du Valais or Californian Chardonnay 2005 Roundhill. The three reds available were Swiss Dôle du Valais AOC 2006, a Lurton la Chapelle 2005 from Bordeaux and Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 Valley Oaks from California. There is also a “discovery wine” on board each flight, which gives frequent flyers the chance to try something different, but I opted for a tomato juice with puff pastry cheese twirls.
Lunch was served on china plates with metal knives and forks on white tablecloths. I enjoyed the tasty fish option, followed by Camembert cheese, before settling down to watch Juno on the AVOD. (It was easy to use and had a large collection of recent films, shorter programmes and music albums.)
The cabin lights were dimmed a few hours into the flight and I reclined the chair to a sleeping position. However, as I find with all angled lie-flat seats, I quickly slid down to the footrest and found it far more comfortable to have the position not quite fully reclined, giving more support to the lower back.
I watched Margot at the Wedding with a tub of ice cream, read my book for a couple of hours while others slept (the flight attendant offered me a cheese roll), and then watched The Golden Compass. About two hours before landing, the attendants served a light meal of prawn noodle salad and tiramisu.
THE TRANSFER We landed on time at Zurich airport and I went straight to the transfer section on the shuttle train towards Gate A67. There was a fast-track security lane for first and business class passengers and I got to the gate at 1610. The screen showed that the 1700 flight was delayed by ten minutes, so I sat and waited, but fortunately we were called for boarding at 1650.
THE FLIGHT There were six rows of business class seating on the Airbus A321, configured 3-3 (although the middle seats were not used), and I was in seat 5F. The business and economy sections were divided by a brown curtain. We were given a bottle of water as we sat down and offered something to read. We took off at around 1720 and were served a light meal of cold salmon with potato and gherkin salad, bread and Camembert cheese, followed by a chocolate mousse. Tea and coffee with a chocolate were brought around, and by the time I had finished mine we were starting to descend.
ARRIVAL We landed on time and, being one of the first few people off the plane, I was through passport control quickly (although I noticed IRIS was closed). My priority bag also came out promptly and I was on the Underground heading into London by 1810.
VERDICT A good service. The seats were comfortable, the AVOD worked perfectly and the food offerings were frequent. The staff were also very friendly and chatty. The connection time for this flight was fine but if there had been a delay it could have been stressful. On the way out, my flight was delayed and I had just under an hour to connect, which was a close call for my bag. (Visit businesstraveller.com to read the full economy class flight review London Heathrow-Zurich-Shanghai.)