In July 2009, I journeyed to Israel and Egypt with my brother and uncle. My uncle and I traveled together in first class and the trip report below will highlight some of the flights we sampled.
New York to Zürich in Swiss International Air Lines First Class
Zurich to Tel Aviv in EL AL Israel Airlines Business Class
Cairo to Frankfurt in Lufthansa First Class
Frankfurt to Denver in Lufthansa First Class
I had checked in for my flight earlier in the day with United in Los Angeles, but wanted to change my seat assignment on the Zürich-Tel Aviv leg to the first class section. Swiss operates an A340 on that route as a two-cabin plane and allocates the first class seats to elites. Two youngish looking women were sitting at the first class check in desk at JFK and quickly assigned me two seats in first class for the flight and directed me to the lounge.
The lounge is landside (prior to security) and is divided into a first class and business class section. My uncle and I were early and had the lounge to ourselves for the first 45 minutes. It was small, but featured a seating area, a buffet with a selection of hot and cold items as well as self-serve beverages, a dining area with tables and chairs, two bathrooms, and two shower rooms.
Slowly, the lounge filled up and about 35 minutes prior to scheduled departure a lounge attendant gathered the first class passengers (only one other besides us on the early flight to ZRH) and led us downstairs to the security checkpoint. Lines were extremely long and there was no premium line. Embarrassingly, we were escorted to the front of the line and quickly whisked through security.
Once on the secure side, we were led to the plane where boarding has just begun. We were led all the way to our first class seats where the lounge attendant introduced us to the purser (Maître de Cabine on Swiss Air) and wished us a pleasant flight. The purser, named Jeff was a young man who shared that it was first flight as purser. While on some carriers this might be cause for alarm, Swiss flight attendants are so well-trained that I was excited to have an energetic young FA rather than an older one who may not have gone out of her way as much to insure our comfort.
The A333 featured Swiss’s then-new first and business class cabins. I was extremely impressed by the size and comfort of the first class suites and used the time prior to boarding to snap a few pictures of the cabin. Everything was immaculately clean and it was great to have only one other person to share the 8-seat cabin with. A choice of beverage and small snack was offered prior to pushback.
Pushback was on time and after a personal safety briefing from Jeff, he distributed pajamas and menus for the flight. It was apparent something was wrong, however, when the aircraft pulled off the taxiway and came to a halt. 15 minutes later, the captain got on and first in German, then in English explained that there was a technical problem—one of the electrical systems was not registering—and the plane would have to return to the gate.
We were tugged back to the gate and sat for the next two hours. Some of the passengers in the back demanded to be let off the plane, prompting the captain to plead with the passengers over the loudspeaker that the problem was not serious and there was nothing to worry about. Nevertheless, about ten passengers insisted on getting off the plane and were obliged. During the delay, Jeff offered some potato chips as an appetizer. Unfortunately, the IFE was not turned on during the delay, but my uncle and I had a nice chat with Jeff during the delay. I am sure he felt a little uncomfortable responding to my uncle’s interrogation (I sure would have) but he never showed it: he was perfectly polished, polite, friendly, and poised. Never have I been on a flight with service as polished as this one. Without exaggeration, the service was perfect. Simply perfect.
Finally we took off, but Jeff and his colleagues were in no hurry to rush through dinner service so they could take a break. The table was scrupulously set, with each utensil carefully placed in the proper location. A bread basket and assortment of appetizers was followed by a green salad, sliced slamon, tomato soup (not on the menu, but by request), then the best filet mignon I have ever had on airplane. It was cooked perfectly and served sizzling, with delicious herb butter on top and a side of mashed potatoes and al-dente vegetables. Seriously, I have never had an airline meal as scrumptious as my dinner that night. And it wasn’t over yet! Fruit and cheese then delicious chocolate cake with strawberries followed.
After polishing off the last bite of the cake, I was thoroughly stuffed, but very content. I went up to the lavatory to change into my pajamas and returned to see my bed made up. I had dined with my uncle in his “guest seat” for dinner and finally had a chance to check out Swiss’s new AVOD system. I am sorry to say that it was actually quite disappointing. The selection was limited and nothing caught my eye. It was midnight by now, though, and I just turned in.
I awoke three hours later drenched in sweat. The cabin had become stiflingly hot and there were no individual air nozzles in the first class suites. I was only semi-coherent and simply kicked away the heavy duvet, downed a bottle of water, and was thankfully able to fall asleep for another hour and a half.
About an hour outside of Zürich I awoke to sunlight streaming through the cabin. I was still filled from dinner, but Jeff noticed that I was awake and immediately inquired if I wanted breakfast. He also informed me that due to the delay we would miss our connection to Tel Aviv on Swiss but we had been rebooked on EL AL. After insuring that we were comfortable with the new flight plan (it was either that or wait till evening to fly on Swiss) I ordered a couple poached eggs, bircher museli, and fresh fruit for breakfast. I got up to change out of my pajamas and returned to find my bed mad up.
After sitting down, a tablecloth was laid and utensils were laid out for breakfast. The eggs were freshly prepared and tasted great and the museli and fruit were nice accompaniments.
Upon landing in Zurich, a black Mercedes Benz was waiting for us below the jetbridge to take us over to the first class lounge. A Swiss representative greeted us at the jebridge, insisted on carrying my heavy duffel bag, and led us downstairs to the car.
Despite the mechanical delay and the hot cabin, I will always fondly remember my first flight in Swiss First. The food, service, and seat were spectacular and though I love Lufthansa, Swiss was even better.
Once again, we see that flight delays, warm cabins, and mediocre IFE can be more then compensated by good service.