Absentation, the hero leaves the security and comfort of home…
The first leg of my journey sees me travelling from Zürich to Hong Kong in First Class with Swiss International Air Lines. This is actually my first flight with SWISS this year. My last long-haul trip with them was in January last year, when I accidentally ended up flying SWISS after my original flight on British Airways was cancelled and the KLM flight I was subsequently rebooked to went tech and was then also cancelled...
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Departs from: Winterthur station
Frequency: six trains every hour, four of which are nonstop
Journey time: 13 minutes on the direct trains, 17 minutes on the regional train (S-Bahn)
Fare: CHF4.20 one way
My train from Winterthur pulls into Zürich Flughafen station just after eight, which gives me about two hours before the flight to Hong Kong is scheduled to depart.
The station is deep in the basement of the airport. The escalators up from the platforms will eject you in the retail area, which makes it a bit difficult to find the airport for all the shops if you’re unfamiliar with the place. This is also where you will find the Terminal 3 check-in counters. To reach Terminals 1 and 2 and to access the gates you need to go up one more floor. There are yet more shops here and it’s a bit of a schlep to the terminals, but at least the the signage at Zürich Airport is very good (Are you reading this, Vienna Airport?) so it is quite easy to find your way around.
Location: Terminal 1
Facilities: dedicated First Class check-in area with direct curb side access.
Check-in for SWISS flights is in Terminals 1 and 3. However, if you want to have the full on First Class experience, you will have to make your way to Terminal 1, because there is no dedicated First Class check-in available in Terminal 3. I can only assume that SWISS doesn’t expect any of its top tier passengers to condescend to use public transport.
First Class check-in is segregated from the rest of the terminal. There are no conveyor belts here, so if you’re checking in luggage, the valet will come and pick it up – once it has been tagged and labelled accordingly – to quickly whisk it away. There is something very old school about the process, which I rather like.
The lady at check in asks me if I’m really okay sitting on 1K. I answer that I am and in return ask her if there is a problem with 1K. She tells me 1K is as good as any other First Class seat, but apparently I have the entire First Class cabin to myself this evening and could have had 1A instead. Well in that case I think I might just have my meal in 1K, sleep in 1A and maybe try another one to watch a movie. Just for the heck of it, because their mine, all mine!
Location: Terminal 1, access is via a staircase in the forum housing the transfer desks
Type of Lounge: dedicated Swiss First Class lounge
Facilities: restaurant with à la carte dining, buffet with hot and cold dishes, showers, day room, office area
Internet: access code with a validity of 1 year, the internet connection is very slow and the PCs are even worse
From check-in I head straight for security. Admittedly, this part of the experience does not feel particularly exclusive ever since they introduced centralised security screening at Zürich Airport. There is a separate lane for premium passengers, but this includes status holders and Business Class passengers as well.
I’m feeling a bit peckish, after all my last meal was at noon. I choose the veal pie with Cumberland sauce, mushroom mouse and smoked trout with roe and sweet potato. And for something sweet I have a small piece of lemon cheesecake with raspberries.
Interdiction, the hero is warned against some action…
It’s time to give my mum a call to see how she’s doing. Today I passed out in the gym. I was working out my legs. I’ve had two weeks of intensive training and I think I may have overdone it a bit. I confess to my mum. I mean, what’s the point? Mothers have a way of prying out of you the things you’d actually rather not tell them. My mum starts telling me off, ‘you have to listen to your body young man’ – Ma I’m going to be forty – ‘don’t you try to change the subject, this is no laughing matter, it’s not healthy for you’ – yes Ma. Eventually I ring off, but the communication continues. My mum starts texting me. ‘You don’t want to end up sick in a foreign country you know…don’t forget to eat…’. Bless her!
Priority Boarding: available and implemented
At 22:05 I leave the lounge and I make my way to the meeting point for the shuttle to the E gates. The shuttle is a Mercedes mini van with room for five passengers.
Boarding has already started when I reach the gate, but by the looks of it they’ve only just made the call for the premium passengers. The gate agent scans my boarding pass. She makes a point of addressing me by name, thanks me for flying Swiss First Class and wishes me a pleasant flight. I’m a bit impressed I must admit.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: 8 seats – While this seat is obviously no longer the industry benchmark and does not offer the same level of privacy as some of the new generation products out there, as far as I’m concerned, it remains one of the most comfortable airplane seats around. Guaranteed to give you a few hours of restful slumber.
Pitch: 80 inches
Length as a bed: 83 inches
Width: 22 inches
Recline: 180 degrees
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp, overhead lamp
Audio and Video: AVOD, touch screen or remote controlled
The first thing that strikes me upon entering the cabin is that it is in mint condition. There are no signs of wear and tear, nor are there any marks or blemishes. Quite obviously Swiss has taken very good care of this bird.
Amenity kit: Bally
Content: toothbrush with Colgate toothpaste, comb, various cosmetics by Swiss brand La Prairie, Ricola sweets, tissues, eye shade, ear plugs, socks
Slippers: I wear a size 46 shoes. The slipper fit me comfortably, but I’m not sure they have them in smaller sizes
Pyjamas: Zimmerli (Swiss brand) in various sizes
The crew on this flight prove once again that it’s the people that make the airline. As a customer, our perception of what is a good flight and what not depends largely on the impression we receive from the crew. And by the looks of it, I’m in luck this evening. The crew up front consists of one senior cabin crew in his early fifties. He’s very outgoing and charming and gives you the feeling of being genuinely welcome on board. The other is a young man of South Asian descent with a broad Bernese accent. He comes across as being very nice, friendly and polite.
As I reach my seat, it’s quite apparent that I am already being expected, which is a nice feeling when you’re going on a journey abroad. Within short sequence I receive the slippers, vanity kit and pyjamas.
Welcome drink on the ground:
Mimosa – freshly squeezed orange juice and champagne
Hot towel before the meal:
the hot towel is distributed just as we push back; it's a scented towel and its very large, fluffy and soft
Quöllfrisch beer, it’s okay but generally speaking Swiss beers are not really very good
There is a huge selection of first and main courses, note however that there are no Asian or Chinese dishes. The menu is obviously focussed on traditional Swiss cuisine.
the food is brought out from the galley and served from an elegant wooden tray
Type of meal:
dinner, hot meal
- Amuse bouche of fish with peas and butter flûtes from Sprüngli (served on the ground)
- Bowl of nuts with the beer
- Balik salmon with crème fraîche and chives
- Soup of corn and lemongrass with popcorn
- Mixed salad
- Herb coated veal loin with rosemary sauce, macaroni gratin, artichoke and olives; with a side order of peppers and grilled zucchini
- Selection of cheese served with mustard seed chutney, pear bread, fruit and crackers
- Apricot and thyme slice with pistachio crumble, quark sorbet, apricot and vanilla coulis
- Bread basket with a choice of olive oil or butter
The Balik salmon is very tasty. I think I may perhaps have been a bit overly enthusiastic in demolishing it though, because the next thing I know the steward comes along and asks me if I’d like some more. Oh go on then, if you force me…!
Next up it’s the soup, which is outstanding. It’s incredibly flavourful; the taste of the lemongrass is well balanced with that of the corn. It’s a combination that works surprisingly well. The presentation of the dish is elegant; I really like the large and deep plates in which Swiss serve their soups. The plate arrives only with the popcorn in it. The actual soup is poured out into the dish at the passenger’s seat. As a finishing touch the steward adds a bit of cream to the dish and a few sprigs of thyme.
The soup is followed by the salad, which is nice and crisp even though it looks like a bit of a mess. There is a choice of Italian or French dressing. I go with the Italian, which is much better than that vile stuff in a Heinz jar Lufthansa serve in First Class and which is inedible.
And then comes the main dish. This is just okay. The combination of flavours is all right, but somehow the veal just tastes bland.
Next I have some cheese, and again I’m quite taken by the presentation of the plate. It all just looks so nice. I particularly like the mustard seed chutney, it’s spicy in the same way that wasabi is, the kind of strength that literally gets up you nose and makes you wince and your eyes water.
By this time I’m already quite full but somehow the description in the menu of the dessert has kindled my curiosity. And I’m not disappointed. This is another well presented dish with lots of flavour. It’s very refreshing.
To conclude the meal I have some Moroccan mint tea.
While I’m eating, the steward made up the seat opposite into my bed, so once the meal is over I just cross the aisle, lay down and go off to bed. I even receive a small little soft toy airplane to keep my company during the night.
The crew’s attention to detail is really something else. During the night I leave my bed twice, to find that it’s been redone by the time I return. They even give my pillow a good shake!
I awake just under five hours out of Hong Kong and figure I might as well make a start with the trip report. The friendly young man immediately notices I’m awake and comes to ask me if here’s anything I’d like. I ask for a coffee and an orange juice. While I wait he brings me a warm scented towel and a vitamin booster.
- Bowl of Birchermüsli
- Plate of fresh fruit – melon, mango, kiwi and strawberries
- Various breads with butter and jam
- An egg dish with ham, sausage, mushrooms, beans, tomato – served with mustard
- Orange juice and coffee
About ninety minutes out of Hong Kong breakfast is served. The second service is not quite as elaborate as the main meal but it hits the spot nicely. By this time I’m also seriously wondering just exactly how much cutlery and how many dishes they actually have on board on a flight like this.
Our arrival into Hong Kong is beautiful. First of all there’s the light. I don’t think I’ve ever been to Hong Kong when the weather has been so nice. It’s clear day, with only a bit of haze. We approach the city from the north, flying out over the South China Sea with the city on our left hand side. We execute a number of turns around the entire city until eventually we’ve done a full 360 as we come out of the last turn to line up with the runway. Hong Kong is quite hilly, and on our descent we pass very close to the peaks of some of the hills and mountains that surround the area. It’s very spectacular.
There is a lady expecting me as I disembark. Her job is to guide me through immigration and baggage claim as quickly and smoothly as possible. And indeed, within nine minutes from getting off the plane I find myself standing by the baggage reclaim carousel waiting for my suitcase to appear.
GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport: train and bus
Departs from: Hong Kong Airport
Frequency: every 12 minutes
Journey time: 24 minutes to Hong Kong Island
Fare: HKD82 one way
The most convenient way to get from the airport into town is by train. At the station in Kowloon and at the terminus on Hong Kong Island there is a complimentary bus service available that will take you to most of the mayor hotels. There are different routes. If you’re not sure which bus to take, just ask one of the many staff for directions.