At early september, a friend and I booked an amazingly cheap Amsterdam-Hong Kong roundtrip for early November by Swissair, a sort of two-for-one special for the price of ar. $320 each, excl. ar. $70 taxes and travelagence fees. While we were aware of the dumping policy of Swissair of their excess capacity in the Dutch market (I flew them from the Netherlands to the USA midsummer 2000 for $220 r/t) which of course isn't a sign of economic health, little did we know then about the forthcoming September 11 tragedy and the following temporary grounding of Swissair. Early October when Swissair was grounded, we thought our tickets wouldn't be worth the paper they were printed upon. I even had a thread in the General Aviation part without too many reassuring reactions on it.
A relief was we'd booked through a travel agency which had a pay back guarantee (they withdrew this guarantee for tickets bought after October, probably to back out from all the carriers which might fail in the next period), and another relief was the Swiss Government guaranteed Swissair operations till next year to make a more controlled revamp under the Crossair administration. Still I regularly checked the SR and Amadeus site and Swiss newssites, and gave continuous updates to my travel friend when flights disappeared and reappeared again on the schedule. Not the most relaxed way to go traveling, but in the end the only difference in the itinerary was the Swissair A-321 and A-319 were substituted for the Crossair Avro's on the sectors between Amsterdam and Zurich, a microscopic disappointment as I looked forward flying the Airbuses (new type/airline combi for me, unlike the Avro's), but of course we were happy we could fly anyway.
Nov. 8 AMS-ZRH Avro RJ-85 HB-IXF Crossair (old colours) 18.47-20.09, 10F
After an early arrival at Schiphol to have our ticket touched up with changed flightnumbers, we checked in at around 16 hr. The flight was packed so neither of us could get a windowseat, although I just grabbed it when boarding, assuming the businessman with his 10F stab would prefer the now free aisle 10D seat on this evening flight (if he claimed 10F of course I would have give it up acting innocently surprised. This trick works most of the time, do you think that's jerky?). We had to wait for pushback (sched dep. 18.10) a little but we assumed the connection would wait if we run a few minutes late. The weather was clear, so after take off we had a wonderful view of the evening lights of Central Amsterdam, Hilversum and Utrecht before getting over the clouds. The service was OK, a cart with cold drinks (juice, beer etc) and a choice between three nice and fresh small sandwiches, with cheese, salmon or Italian meat I believe (but no coffee/tea) and later their trademark big chocolate coint wrapped in silver Crossair logo . The special round with champaign glasses I remembered from an earlier flight was gone but I believe they didn't have full drinks choice then. The Crossair inflight magazine Crosstalk (yucky, those word jokes!) proudly discussed the huge challenges of incorporating aircraft and services formally from Swissair. We circelled for a while above Zurich before we could land.
At landing, it was nice to see the rows of Swissair Airbus and MD-11 tails at Zurich, maybe this trip is my last chance to see and spot these. Not sure about boarding time, we rushed to the gate of the MD-11 we'd take. A sidenote is security in Europe has been slightly retouched but luckily none of the paranoid athmosphere I hear about the US. A loophole might be that we weren't questioned in Amsterdam (taking an intra-european flight) and we could walk streight through to the MD-11.
Nov. 8 ZRH-HKG MD-11 HB-IWP Swissair 21.08-15.20, (11.12 hours), 23A
We boarded the MD-11 and it was interesting to see the assymetric 3+4+2 layout, better I think than the 2+5+2 "seat from hell" standard on most MD-11/777 size aircraft. The aircraft was filled for about 50%. After waiting for a few passengers probably also from a late inbound connecting flight, we were off the ground quickly after they boarded. We took a quite northern route over Prague, Warschau, Minsk, Moscow, Siberia, the Gobi Desert to Hong Kong. The first half hour (to Prague) we hit heavy turbulence but happily the rest of this and other flights were very stable. After the turbulence stopped, the F/A's handed out the trademark Swissair predinner snack, a bag of salted breadsticks (don't know the name) and a drink, around 21.45. Soon afterwards, a nice dinner followed. I chose the soursweet pork and rice to get myself in an eastern mood already. The dessert was a bowl of custard. The post terrorist cutlery; true metal forks and spoons but with plastic knifes, was cute. But I thought the glass wine bottles they hand out can also be as dangerous when you break them.
Still, as I have flown Swissair in summer 2000 to the US, I could tell the service was a little bit downgraded, maybe just around the level of most other carriers, to save money without compromizing too much on the final product. Little specials, like the waterbottle and the cloth eyelightshades present in every seatpocket last year, or the midflight icecream were now gone. The Inflight magazine was still of October (while it was 9 November), of course no reports yet in it about the forthcoming Swissair problems and changes, and there were only two rounds with water in between the two meals, although you could get drinks and small snacks in the galley. Also while I read Swissair used to dispatch some Asian cabincrew on their Asia routes, I only saw European F/A's. Probably they already have kicked the Asian staff out, they probably had temporary contracts and less labourrights. Still I must say the F/A's were nice, I especially admired an older male F/A who was always smiling and looking pleasantly surprised and helpful any, any time someone asked him anything. If there ever was to be a statue for F/A's, I'd dedicate it to Swissairs. After a few hours, the sun came up already and I enjoyed the view on the mountains and Gobi desert area. About two hours before landing, s small breakfast was served, a croissaint, orangejuice and a nice big bowl of biological yoghurt/pudding with pieces of fresh peach kind of fruit. We approached the airport from over water.
The new Hong Kong airport was nice (although I regret I missed the old Kai Tak, now I know Hong Kong and the mid town area where Kai Tak is I can really imagine how spectacular the approaches must have been), saw some Cathay stuff and some mainland China airliners (China Southern, China Eastern etc).
Nov. 14 HKG-ZRH MD-11 HB-IWL Swissair 0.28-6.16 (12.48 hours) 36J
After checking in, I dashed through the terminal with my little notebook to see some special planes like the Orbis DC-10, a Japan Asia 767, Dragonair, Asiana, JAS and China Eastern stuff. I regularly checked the monitors which announced "boarding soon" or something. Suddenly it changed to "final call" and I even believed my name was on the airports P/A when I rushed back the long terminal to my plane (shame shame), I was the final person to board. It was only 11.45 (sched. departure 12.10) so don't lecture me on holding up flights, just as there were few pax the procedure went so fast.
First thing on board I checked the inflight magazine. I'd think a new inflightmagazine would be the last priority these hard times, but now there was a very nice November issue, carefully discussing the developments Swissair is in, and dedicated to a tribute on 70 years of Swissair operations and the faithful employees. Of course I took magazines along as souvenirs for myself and a friend. I was sad (for Swissair) to see the flight filled up for only 30% (maybe 50 pax in economy), but happy as an individual, because that would mean everyone can have a row for himself. Take off and the whole flight was smooth, although it was clearly more noisy in one of the last rows, with the center engine spooling right over my head. Again we did the northern routing. We turned right and flew over Hong Kong center after take off but we could hardly see the lights from the right side, then turned left over mainland China to Siberia. Later on in the flight I only occasionally looked outside as it was dark the whole trip and I could only sometimes see a small light or so.
Soon after climb, the F/A's rushed the service; the trademark salted breadsticks and predinnerdrink around 1 AM, then at 1.18 already dinner. I chose the beef/rice and vegetables, accompanied by a nice feta salad and a big bowl of very nice custard/citrus pudding, and closed with coffee, and I chose a Baileys as liquor to accompany. The inflight movie (Bridget Jones) already started right after take off and was finished by now, so the cabin turned dark while the F/A's made a last round to offer more coffee or drinks for the few passengers who weren't already sleeping.
Again the F/A's were extremely nice, as I was one of the few who kept on reading, they approached me a few times to ask if I liked another drink or snack. I kept on chatting for half an hour with an especially friendly older female F/A who bursted out spontaniously after my compliments on their friendly smiling service that it's the only thing to do to feel better, with the worries about their jobs and retirement packages, and that she almost broke down when she heared about the new NYC Airbus 300 tragedy the previous day.
The only complaint was it turned so awfully cold in the night. I put on my jacket and collected three blankets from the many unoccupied seats. But probably we as pax just had to be more assertive and ask the crew to turn up the heat, but I thought I might be the only one suffering, I couldn't ask my travelmate as he found a center row for himself to sleep while I prefered to continue reading in a windowseat.
Last part of the trip was a little more south than on the way to Hong Kong, we left Moscow on the right side, went over the Ukraine and Hungary to Zurich. Breakfast, only an hour before landing, was filling; a fruit/lemon salad, a small pack of blueberry yoghurt, a soaky muffin and they kept on offering more croissants and bread. After the nice weather in Hong Kong, we shivered to see the planes and tarmac covered by ice in this early morning.
Nov. 14 ZRH-AMS Avro RJ-100 HB-IXW Crossair 8.05-9.20 11F
It turned to dawn on the time we were bused to our Avro. This flight was again quite full (maybe 80%), I presume also because it is the substition for bigger Airbuses originally planned. We ran 45 minutes late as we had to wait for the deicing. The F/A's already went around with their trademark chocolate coints while waiting. While taxiing to the runway, an intimidating yellow mobile named "the elephant" approached us and sprayed red liquid stuff over the wings and fuselage. 5 minutes later we were off the ground. Now there was coffee (on china cups and sourcers!) but no cold drinks, accompanied by a choice of sandwiches and croissants, with service closed with yet another big chocolate coint. As it turned light, I could recognize the industry areas south of Rotterdam, so we apperently took a quite southern route to the coast of Belgium and then turning north. As the weather in Holland was cold and crisp, we could recognize other cities like Leiden before we touched down.
All in all I must say Swissair and Crossair continue to be dedicated to give top notch service. Even while in financial trouble, they hardly compromized on service. If you can get a guarantee either Swissair or its successor will fly or return the value of your paid ticket, I'd recommend anyone to support this airline. I really hope it wasn't my last trip with Swissair, but if it was, it was a wonderful farewell.