I am posting this report on August 18, 2004, the six-year anniversary of the following two flights. My report is based on notes I had taken at that time and there will be some gaps for which I apologize. I thought some of you might want to know what Swissair was like when it was flying and why the airline had such a reputation for excellence. I hope you enjoy the report and share my appreciation of Swissair. Comments and questions are always welcome.
August 16 1998
New York JFK - Zurich
Scheduled Departure Time: 20:35
Scheduled Arrival Time: 10:15
Actual Departure Time: 20:35 (Actual Take Off: 21:15)
Actual Arrival Time: 10:15Boarding Time: 20:05
Gate: 5 (T3)
Business Class Seat: 10A
Photo © M.Oertle
Photo © Paul Kanagie
Photo © Christian Galliker
Photo © Tim Feise - APO Photos
Check In: We reached the airport around 5pm. My brother parked his car and we started walking towards the Delta terminal. I remember from the outside that the World Port looked gray, drab and old. There was a sign for First and Business Class check in for Delta, Swissair, Austrian Airlines, Aeromexico, and SABENA. We waited in line for a short while where a Delta agent greeted us. She knew exactly what to do and told us everything in detail but did not once conjuring up a smile. "Your seats have been pre-reserved over the phone all the way to Frankfurt. Your gate today will be number 5. It is located in Terminal 3, but the Business Elite lounge is located in terminal 2. Your bags have also been checked in all the way to Frankfurt, have a pleasant flight."
My mom and I bade goodbye to my brother as we headed over to the Business Elite lounge in Terminal 2. We showed our boarding pass to the agents at the desk and went in. It was big and spacious with a nice window facing the terminal and taxiway. I saw some great planes taxi by including a Virgin 747-200 with a bunch of fire trucks following it. I decided to take a walk around the two terminals. Terminal 2 was nothing special, it looked old and the paint was peeling off. I walked to T3 (Worldport) to look at our aircraft. There she was, a beautiful MD-11 with the registration, HB-IWF. Little did I know how infamous this registration would become15 days later. In the gate next to her was the MD-11 operating Swissair flight 111 backing away for its flight to Geneva. Not once did I imagine the connection that HB-IWF would have with flight 111 shortly thereafter. I headed back to the lounge to grab a coke and something to munch on. Soon it was 19:55 and we both headed to our aircraft.
Boarding: As we reached gate 5 I noticed this big box with the writing, "Emergency Contact Information." I have no idea why this caught my eye, but for a brief second I thought it was something new that had been implemented after TWA flight 800. At exactly 20:05 boarding was called for First and Business Class passengers and passengers needing special assistance or traveling with children. We went over to the jetway after the families boarded and walked straight onto the jetway which was connected to 2L. Once we stepped onboard, an older looking woman who was obviously the maitre de cabin greeted us, "Velkon an boardt. Nice to zee ya againz." Huh? Why again? I took a quick look at my bag and realized I had my father’s "Travel Club" baggage tag on. For those that are not familiar with "Travel Club," it was the old elite status of Swissair’s Qualiflyer program. Both my mother and father had them; I was the only one with a regular "Qualiflyer" tag.
I settled into my window seat in row 10 and a flight attendant immediately came around with a tray full of: water, champagne, and orange juice. "If there is something you would like that is not on the tray, I would be more than happy to get it for you." What, no accent, what happened? I looked up and realized why. She was a Delta Airlines flight attendant. But wait a minute. They are nowhere near this nice when I fly Delta. Oh well, I guess I should just count my blessings.
The seats were nice for their time. I had already spent a few hours in these seats earlier that year flying between Frankfurt and Bombay. The seats were a little rigid, by no means uncomfortable, but not plushy soft like many other airlines had at that time. They had about 55 inches of legroom, which was a big improvement over the old ones. The seats also had adjustable headrests that I have become accustomed to today.
Soon two Swiss flight attendants came around with a trolley. They offered a wide selection of newspapers and magazines. They also handed out amenity kits, which contained a toothbrush, toothpaste, socks, shoehorn, lip-balm, moisturizing cream, comb, a razor, shaving cream and some cologne.
The Flight: The doors were closed at exactly 20:30. If there was one thing I could count on with Swissair, it was punctuality. We pushed back shortly thereafter with the safety video playing on the main screens. It was an animated one with the characters looking a lot like Lara Croft from Tomb Raider. As we began taxing towards the runway the captain made his usual welcome onboard announcement with his final line being, “We are nummer thirty fur tak off.” The crew came around to take our dinner orders. I opted for the beef. Eventually we lined up with the runway with a beam of orange light left from the sunset. The good old Pratt & Whitney’s powered up and we rocketed down the runway into the New York night sky. The view outside the window was excellent with New York City all lit up; it was breathtaking.
Once the city was out of sight and the seat belt sign was turned off I pulled my huge PTV out. It was a large 11-inch touch screen, something very innovative for the time. I quickly selected “City of Angels” with Meg Ryan and Nicholas Cage. Service started shortly thereafter and I made full use of the AVOD and paused the movie when the flight attendant came around. The Delta flight attendant came around to serve the cocktails.
“What would you like to drink Mr. Tamboowala?”
Wait a minute; I have never been addressed by name on a Delta flight. Either way, one look at her beaming smile, I smiled back with a “coke please.”
The glass along with the opened can was placed on my armrest with a small china bowl of mixed nuts. “Enjoy!”
A short while later a young blonde came around and laid the table linens out for us all, the menu transcript is as follows for tonight’s flight.
Delta Air Lines and Swissair fly this route as partners, and so we together wish you a warm welcome onboard.
Switzerland is famous for its cuisine, for its tradition of bread and cheese - and not least for its sweeter side. And so we are out to surprise you more often with typical Swiss specialties. The choice is a large one, and - we hope - after your own tastes. We ask your forgiveness if on occasion extremely high demand means that we can't fulfill every wish.
NATURAL ENJOYMENT: NATURALGOURMET
So that everything we serve you tastes just that much better, we are increasingly using ingredients, which are naturally, or organically grown. And we are paying more attention to variety and freshness, with the most varied breads, with fresh vegetables, fresh salads and fresh fruit.
As we say in Switzerland, we wish you En Guete - bon appetit!
WITH US, IT'S YOUR CHOICE
So that you may pass the time just the way you'd like, we offer you two possibilities. Either dine a la carte and enjoy each individual course, from appetizer to fruit and cheese - and then look forward to the morning and a refreshing breakfast. Or you may choose a more rapid repast. Simply let us know your request for our quick meal and/or Quick breakfast, and you can rest as long as you'd like.
DINNER A LA CARTE
Cocktails and mixed nuts
Mesclun with salad mix
White Balsamic vinaigrette
Tequila and basil-flavored smoked salmon
Cold roast veal with garnish
MAIN COURSE: YOU HAVE 3 CHOICES
Grilled tenderloin of beef with green pepper sauce
Sauteed red peppers
Yellow squash and salsify
Seared tuna fillet and Soya Sauce with ginger
Spring onions and carrots
Cheese and fruits
Coffee - Liqueurs - Praline
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DRINK?
We offer you a lavish selection of non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages- as an aperitif, with your meals, and even afterwards.
MINERAL WATER AND FRUIT JUICES
LIQUERS AND CORDIALS
You will find the complete selection in our wine and beverage list.
The tray was handed out with the appetizer and salad on it. A breadbasket was also presented with two kinds of warm bread. The bread was nicely warmed up and soft from the middle. To this day I have never been able to get bread as good as Swissair used to prepare. Not even on KLM, which is my current preferred European carrier. The appetizer was excellent, who would ever have thought that tequila and salmon would go together so nicely? The veal was equally scrumptious. The salad consisted of a small bowl on the side of fresh greens and tomatoes. The vinaigrette dressing added a nice lemony twist to the dish. The appetizer plate was collected every so gently by the Delta flight attendant. The main dish was brought around a short while later. The beef was soft and moist with a tiny hint of blood in the middle. Still too overcooked for my preference but what else could be done. The sauce was equal to what I would dine on in any restaurant on the ground. Instead of red peppers, there was spatzle, which was fine with me, as I hate bell peppers. For those of you not familiar with spatzle, it is pieces of dough steamed and sauteed with chives. I love the stuff and can never get enough of it.
Once that was done the tray was collected and the cheese, fruit and dessert cart was rolled down the isle by a gorgeous young blonde Swiss flight attendant.
“Today ve hav zom peach dezzert. I know ya vant som of dat, ya. You couldz also hav zom fuitz. Ve hav plenty fur ya to chooze from.”
In my ever so horrible German, with a smile on my face, I said, “Nur die dessert fur mich bitte.” To this day I do not know if I messed it up big time, but she smiled with a “keine problem Herr Tamboovala.”
She then placed the gateau on my tray with a sweet “guten appetite” and a small box of Swiss chocolates. Just like the rest of the meal, the dessert was excellent and the chocolates were an excellent way to finish this feast off.
At this point I was enjoying the AVOD too much and decided to plug into another movie. I decided on “The Peacemaker” just as the lights were shut off for the rest of the flight. An older looking flight attendant came by closing the window shades. I pulled mind down when she was in the row in front. She looked at me, smiled and winked.
I can never sleep on planes so I was up the entire way watching movies and sitcoms. I watched an episode of “Friends” and then went on to “Good Will Hunting.” The movie list for this month was the following:
One Fine Day
City of Angels
As Good As It Gets
My Best Friend's Wedding
Good Will Hunting
Wag the Dog
Shakespeare in Love
James Bond 007-Tomorrow Never Dies
I had no problems with this AVOD system, it performed flawlessly right form the start. Something I have not managed to experience since on SQ, CX, US, or NW. Throughout the flight the crew were constantly on their toes walking through the cabin. For a good while I was the only one awake and they all personally approached me and asked if I needed anything. My glass of water was constantly refreshed; in fact they actually left a bottle of water on my armrest half way though. This still did not stop them from coming around to check up on me.
Mid way though the flight I headed to the lavatory by door number 2. It was stocked with the normal shaving cream, razor, toothbrush and toothpaste. There was also a bottle of cologne, a bottle of hand cream and a can of “Evian Facial Spray.” No, don’t worry; no tampons were harmed during my trip to the loo. I am sure that Singapore_Air would have liked to know the consistency of this former Singapore Airlines alliance partner though!
While cruising over the English Channel I could smell the distinct aroma of those Swiss croissants heating up in the oven. Only half the cabin was awake at this point in time so dimmed lights were used in the business class cabin to serve the passengers that were awake. The tablecloths were laid out and a young French-speaking brunette brought around the tray. I distinctly remember the top of her shirt being unbuttoned. As a 15 year old at the time, I noticed these sort of things!
“Monsieur, would you lick coffee au tea?”
She poured a cup of coffee for me and laid it down on my armrest ever so gently with a beaming smile. The menu for the breakfast today was,
Cheese and fruits
Rolls - Croissants - Danish pastry
Butter - Honey - Preserves
Coffee - Tea - Herbal teas
A breadbasket was put forth and I opted for a Danish pasty, but the flight attendant added a croissant to it with a wink, “Bon Appetite.”
I was a little surprised at the lack of a hot breakfast but it was not really needed after such a big dinner. The cold cuts consisted turkey, ham and salami with slices of cheese. Long gone are the days of a hearty hot breakfast being served on flights from the Northeast to Europe. I remember not too long ago I had done a Boston-Zurich flight on a 743 and despite the shorter flying time, I had still received a hot breakfast before landing. Regardless, the meat was fresh and the bread was excellent once again. I was happy the flight attendant had put the extra croissant in for me. I had strawberry jam on my tray, which was my preferred flavor and a great companion to the croissant. The muesli was fresh and crunchy but I was never one for the stuff so I left it alone.
The blonde Swiss flight attendant rolled a cart down the isle few minutes’ later refilling coffee and tea. She saw I had not touched my muesli.
“Ya don’tz lik thatz stuff eitherz huh? Take thiz, it iz muzz besser,” handing me a carton of Dannon strawberry yogurt.
“Bitte Herr Tamboowala.”
This is what I call service!
The brunette came by to collect the tray and made sure to check with me if I needed anything else. Once she was satisfied that I needed nothing more she took the tray and refilled my cup of coffee.
The sun was already up and I opened my window shade ever so lightly to catch a glimpse of the French countryside. Despite the persistent “harsh” glares from my mother who was attempting to take a nap after breakfast, no one else seemed to mind. In fact others started opening their window shades as well and I could tell my mother was not happy by the even harsher look she was giving me now. Decent began a few minutes later into a very sunny and pleasant Switzerland.
Arrival & Transit: The MD-11 was placed ever so smoothly onto the concrete at 10:10. Taxi was quick and we were parked at Terminal A. As we all disembarked every cabin crewmember was smiling and clearly said bye to each and every passenger, no matter if they made eye contact or not. Even the lone Delta flight attendant was smiling with a loud “buh-bye.” Walked off the plane and 5 minutes later were at the Qualiflyer/Delta lounge counter on the second floor.
Boarding passes were checked and we entered the Swissair Business Class lounge, one of the three that were there at the time. The other two were First Class and Travel Club, though neither provided views like this one. The lounge was not overly crowded as most of the morning European flights had left. The usual snack and drinks were available ranging from cereal, fruit, croissants, sandwiches and much more. KLM, do you see this? Swissair had your so called lounges beat back in 1998!
I picked up a glass of apple juice and sat down by the window. The usual suspects were right outside.
Delta 767-300 from Cincinnati
Delta 767-300 from Atlanta
Air Canada 767-300 from Toronto
American Airlines 767-300 from Chicago O’Hare
United 767-300 from Washington Dulles
Thai Airways MD-11 from Bangkok (remote stand)
Singapore Airlines 747-400 from Singapore (remote stand)
Cathay Pacific A340-300 (remote stand)
The usual European airlines were coming in and out. KLM, SAS, Lufthansa, Air France, British Airways, and Alitalia were but a few of them.
11:15 rolled around too quickly and it was time to head to the gate. Our gate today would be one of the hardstand gates on the lower level.
August 17 1998
Swissair 3534 (Operated by Crossair)
SAAB 2000 (HB-IZE)
Scheduled Departure Time: 11:55
Scheduled Arrival Time: 13:00
Actual Departure Time: 12:05
Actual Arrival Time: 13:00
Boarding Time: 11:35
Business Class Seat: 3F
Photo © Peter Unmuth - VAP
Photo © Árpád Gordos
Photo © PixAir
Photo © Peter Unmuth - VAP
Boarding: After no more than five minutes of waiting a bus pulled up to our gate and the boarding announcement commenced. Nothing by rows or such which was fine as we were all boarding a bus anyway. Once the bus was loaded we headed on out to the remote stands situated behind the corner of Terminal A.
We pulled up to one of the multitude of SAAB resting in a row. We were greeted at the door by a smiling Crossair flight attendant in the typical grey suit. She had a distinct Italian accent which was ever so easy on the ears. Boarding was completed in five minutes and the door was closed.
The seat was soft and covered in dark blue leather. Even though the legroom was standard, the seatback was thin which provided the illusion of space. I have to say the interior reminded me of a modern day ERJ-135/145. The plane looked extremely clean and modern from the interior, absolutely no signs of aging, inside or out.
The Flight: The safety demonstration was performed by our Italian speaking flight attendant while the Swiss one read it out of a book, first in German followed by English and French. As you can imagine it took quit a while to finish. The engines were started and we taxied to the runway amidst a number of Swissair and Crossair narrow-bodies.
The SAAB 2000 is a very silent plane, especially when compared to the SAAB 340. With such a short flying time the flight attendants swung into action almost immediately. First she went over to the cockpit and when she came out the door was left open. Oh man those were the days! The service commenced with the Swiss flight attendant serving the front section of the aircraft. Our drink orders were taken and my coke was delivered from the galley with a glass. Each passengers drink was delivered this way. Once the flight attendant had served half the passengers on the plane, which took a mere ten minutes, she brought around a tray full of sandwiches. There were three types of open faced sandwiches; they consisted of smoked salmon, roast beef, and cheese.
I opted for a smoked salmon one. It consisted of a slice of French bread with cream cheese, a piece of lettuce and a slice of smoked salmon. It took at least five bites to finish; it was not minuscule like so many of the sandwiches served on airlines today. Once everyone finished off their munchies, surprise, surprise, the flight attendant popped around with another tray for everyone to take seconds, and I took a roast beef one this time. Glasses were refilled if need be, and I was offered another Coke, but as I was stuffed; declined. The trash was cleared and the first officer reduced the throttles for our quick decent. About five minutes after the flight attendant came around with Swiss chocolates, in the shape of gold coin. This was not ordinary chocolate coin; it was at least 4 inches in diameter. I decided to save it for later.
Arrival: All too soon we could hear voices from the cockpit; 50, 40, 30, 20, 10, 5. Touchdown was only a second later. It was great to be able to see the procedures in the cockpit, watching the pilots worked together in the cockpit really makes you appreciate the job they have to perform.
We taxied on out to a remote stand to the side of Terminal two, I am sure all you Frankfurt guys know where that is. All too soon the doors were opened and the flight attendants were at the door smiling with “auf wiedersen” and “tschuss.” We all boarded a bus and were transported the short distance to a ground gate in Terminal two. A quick escalator up and we were in the main terminal, walked down another flight of stairs to a relatively deserted immigration area. A quick “Guten Tag,” and our passports were stamped within no time. Of course with such a speedy exit the bag were not on the carousel yet. No more than two minutes later the carousel started and all 20 bags that had been checked in rolled out. Customs was a joke as we had come in from Zurich, none of the officers cared and just waved us through. My father was standing in the waiting area with an “I saw you come in from McDonalds.”
Verdict: As one can always expect, it was yet another flawless trip with Swissair and Crossair. The service on both flights was excellent. Swissair definitely deserved the reputation they had for their quality of in flight service. What I most loved about the flight was the AVOD system. No other airline was offering AVOD at the time and it certainly got me hooked. The crew were excellent, even the single Delta flight attendant worked extra hard to be like her Swiss colleagues. Her actions were most certainly noted by the passengers in the cabin. The food was good, which was the norm for Swissair and their innovative “organic food” program started back in the mid 90’s. Crossair also deserves a special note for providing the service that they did on a 45-minute flight to Frankfurt. The Flight Attendant was all smiles the entire way, no matter how fast she worked; she never lost her composure.
The shock came two weeks later on September third when I woke up in morning to find out that Swissair flight 111 crashed off the coast of Nova Scotia killing 229 passengers and crew. It was even more shocking to find out that it had been none other than the plane I had been on two weeks earlier, HB-IWF.
Check In: 8 (Professional but nothing more. DL agent)
Boarding: 10 (Done by rows with priority boarding for F & C)
Aircraft: 10 (The MD-11 was clean and comfortable)
Seating: 10 (For its time, it was very comfortable)
Crew: 10 (A very genuine and caring bunch of flight attendants)
Food: 10 (Everything was perfect)
Entertainment: 10 (IFE was AVOD way before many airlines. Performed without a glitch)
Transit: 9 (Lounge could be bigger, otherwise no flaws)
Swissair 3534 (Operated by Crossair)
Boarding: 10 (One door for the SAAB. No way to do it orderly, but they did it fast)
Aircraft: 10 (Looked brand new inside and out)
Seating: 10 (Some of the best regional seats I have ever had the pleasure of sitting in)
Crew: 10 (Amazingly efficient and courteous with the time constraints they were faced with)
Food: 10 (For such a short flight, perfect)
Arrival: 10 (T2 at Frankfurt can always be counted upon for fast exit)
Total Score: 137/140 = .9785 = 98%
Post Note: If you had told me when I did this Trans Atlantic crossing that Swissair would go bankrupt in three years, I would have said you were crazy! How could an airline with such an excellent reputation for in-flight service ever have anything but a glorious future?
Swissair had some of the best employees in the airline industry and I thank them from the bottom of my heart for making my long journeys across the globe memorable ones. Swissair was an airline with class and charm, along with a unique sophistication that can only come from the Swiss. Every flight I took with Swissair and Crossair was a pleasure. No matter where it was, I knew my flight would be great. From the smile I used to see on the check-in staff’s face in Manila to the graceful manner the Swiss flight attendant dunked a scoop of Movenpick ice cream into my waffle cone while crossing the Atlantic. Swissair had class.
Swissair thank you for the memories you have given me. Thank you for some of the best hours I ever spent in the sky, and most of all thank you to all the employees that made Swissair such a special airline to fly, I know I shall continue to keep you in my heart and mind. Swissair, you are sorely being missed by us all.
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages