While I had taken a number of domestic flights around Japan throughout the year, it wasn’t until mid-September that I got to travel internationally for the first time in 2020. To be more precise, I flew from Tokyo Narita to Vienna via Zurich (to visit my family in Slovakia) before returning back to Tokyo Haneda via London.
In this article, I will review the first of the trip which took me from Tokyo to Zurich onboard a Swiss 777-300ER in business class.
COVID-19-Era Check-in at Narita Airport
After getting off the nearly empty Skyliner train at Narita airport’s terminal 1 shortly before 8AM, I headed straight to the departures hall.
While it was extremely sad to see the terminal deserted and the departures board full of red “CANCELLED” remarks, I was also excited to be getting on an international flight for the first time in months.
Considering that, as the check-in agent later told me, less than 50 passengers take the Tokyo – Zurich flight these days, there was no line at the check-in counters.
However, it still took more than 20 minutes to get my boarding passes as the staff wanted to make sure I was allowed to travel. Luckily, I brought printouts of the travel restrictions of all of the countries I was passing through which helped complement the information the check-in agents were looking up on their iPads.
One thing worth noting is that it was the first time that I had to show a bus ticket at check-in. The reason was that while it was OK for Japanese people to transit in Austria, it was not OK to stay without a COVID-19 test. No such restrictions were in place in Slovakia, my final destination.
With boarding passes in my hand, I headed through security and immigration. From that point onwards, the experience was not different from the pre-COVID-19 era. Except for the empty terminal, closed stores and lounges, and non-existent lines, of course.
As I still had some time before boarding would start, I headed to the only open lounge in the terminal, the ANA Suite Lounge. While it was nothing to write home about, it was still a decent place to get some work done.
You can read my detailed review of the lounge here.
Boarding, Pre-Flight Service & Departure
I left the lounge about ten minutes before the scheduled boarding time of 9:55AM and headed towards gate 31. With the lounge being located near gate 52, the walk took a few minutes and took me past countless closed stores and an open duty-free store.
At the gate, a handful of passengers was waiting for the boarding to start. Outside, the 777-300ER registered HB-JNK was almost ready to go.
Boarding started roughly on time and, after getting my boarding pass scanned and walking down the jetway, I was welcomed at the aircraft door by one of the flight attendants and provided a disinfectant wipe.
Not long after I settled in my seat, 14A, one of the flight attendants brought the menu, a pair of slippers, an amenity kit, and a noise-cancelling headset.
Shortly after, I was offered a welcome drink. I asked for a glass of orange juice which was then brought to me in no time.
It is also worth noting that a blanket and a pillow were waiting on the seat upon boarding.
Around 10:15AM, the captain welcomed us onboard via the PA and announced that we were expecting an on-time departure followed by an 11 hours and 35 minutes long flight. The cabin crew armed the doors a couple of minutes later with just six business class and a couple dozen economy class passengers onboard.
We were pushed back at 10:20AM, five minutes ahead of schedule, around which time one of the flight attendants came to take my lunch order. More about that later, though.
A few minutes of taxiing followed before we took off runway 34L at 10:30AM.
Swiss 777-300ER Business Class Cabin & Seat
Before continuing with the flight, let’s take a look at what the cabin and seat were like.
Swiss 777-300ERs are equipped with 62 staggered lie-flat business class seats in an alternating 1-2-2 and 2-2-1 layout. Those are split across two cabins: a mini-cabin with just 10 seats across two rows and a large cabin with the remaining 52 seats.
All of the “single” seats are “throne” seats offering an unbelievable amount of personal storage space. The middle section pairs of seats offer a decent amount of space as well since each seat comes with a large console table. The window-side pairs of seats offer less space as they share one console table.
If you are traveling alone, you should try to secure one of the “throne” seats. While they can cost up to $200 to pre-book, they can be chosen for free once online check-in opens. If you are traveling with someone, I would pick a pair of seats in the middle section for slightly more personal space compared to the window-side seats.
My seat, 14A, was one of the 12 “throne” seats on the aircraft. With a large counter on either side and a number of smaller storage compartments, it offered about as much storage space as one could wish for on a twelve-hour flight.
The downside of the layout, though, was that the seat was far from the window. It would also have been great if the counters were coated with some kind of anti-slippery material.
Looking at the seat closer, above the left-side counter, there was a small open storage compartment. Throughout the flight, I used it to store my iPhone, compact camera, etc. Under the counter, there was another, much larger compartment that I didn’t end up using.
Above the right-side counter, there were a closed sliding compartment (ideal for storing the headset, amenity kit, etc.) and a tray table which could be folded in half. There was also a hanger, a reading light, menu holder, and a bottle holder.
The right-side console was also where the seat and in-flight entertainment controls as well as a power outlet and a USB port could be found.
One thing the note here is that the position of the seat controls was quite unfortunate as I kept hitting the “upright position” button with my elbow throughout the flight.
In front of the seat, there was a decently sized high-resolution screen and another small closed storage compartment.
While the seat was great for working and relaxing, the footwell was very tight making the seat mediocre at best for sleeping. More about that later, though.
Swiss Long-Haul Business Class Lunch
About ten minutes after take-off, the seat belt signs were switched off and the cockpit crew announced “cabin crew released.” Not long after that, the cabin crew went around the cabin handing out bottles of water.
Around the same time, I paid a brief visit to the lavatory. It was small and featured no amenities beyond wet wipes. However, the sink and panels under it were quite nice.
When I got back to my seat, one of the flight attendants came to set up the table for lunch. Besides placing a table cloth on the table, she brought a small bowl of cold nuts as well. Presumably due to COVID-19, the bowl was covered with plastic wrap.
Additionally, the flight attendant took my drink order. I asked for a glass of Coke Zero which was brought shortly.
Shortly after, contact tracing cards were distributed and an announcement saying that the crew would come to collect them and forward them to the Swiss government was made.
Continuing with the meal service, as mentioned earlier, the order itself was taken before take-off. Of the selection of two appetizers and four main dishes, I went with the “sauteed prawns and grilled scallop” and “roasted chicken with garlic sauce” options.
Below is the lunch and drinks menu.
Twenty-five minutes after take-off, one of the flight attendants came to offer me bread from the bread basket. We had a little laugh after she realized there was no tray to put it on on my table yet. That was fixed when her colleague brought the appetizer together with a cheese plate not long after.
Then the first flight attendant returned with a bread basket. After I chose a bread roll, she noted “that’s better, you need butter,” and left. A minute later she returned with the butter saying “voila, now you have it all.”
It’s worth noting here that while the bread was served from a basket as usual, the other parts of the meal came either covered in plastic covers or wrap.
As soon as I was finished with the starter – which I enjoyed – one of the flight attendants came to clear the plate. She also asked if I wanted more Coke Zero which was then refilled from a 1.5 liter bottle (personally, I prefer cans).
Shortly after, the main was placed on the tray. While the presentation was OK and the chicken tasted alright, it was far from being the most appetizing meal I’ve had in the sky.
I was offered another piece of bread as well which I politely declined.
To finish off the meal, I was offered a dessert which I gladly accepted. I also asked for a cup of mint tea to go with it.
Without a doubt, the cake was my favorite part of the meal.
Swiss 777-300ER In-Flight Entertainment System
With the meal finished, I decided to look at the in-flight entertainment offering.
Before continuing to the actual content, though, let me note that the noise-cancelling headset was decent.
The in-flight entertainment system offered a selection of more than 80 movies, a couple dozen TV programs including some shows with multiple episodes, as well as the usual selection of music and games.
While the selection was not as extensive as on Emirates or Turkish Airlines for example, it was more than large enough to keep one busy even on a twelve-hour long-haul flight.
The airshow, provided by Panasonic, allowed one to not only track the position of the aircraft but also to move around and zoom in and out of the map.
Cruising Towards Europe
For a couple of hours after having lunch and exploring the in-flight entertainment system, I watched a few episodes of Young Sheldon while getting some work done. I also filled out the contact tracing form.
Then, I decided to try to sleep for a few hours and so I turned the seat into the lie-flat mode. Unfortunately, unlike the type of staggered seats that Thai Airways uses on its 777-300ERs for example, the ones on Swiss 777-300ERs are nowhere near as comfortable.
While the seats are great for working and relaxing, when in lie-flat mode, the footwell is too small and the space around legs too restricted to allow for comfortable sleep. In fact, I’d even go as far as saying that a row of three or four economy class seats is more comfortable when it comes to sleeping.
That combined with the fact that it was still early afternoon Japan time meant that I could barely get any sleep. I decided to put the seat back up in less than an hour and got some more work done.
Around the same time, at about 7AM Swiss time, one of the flight attendants went around the cabin offering snacks and drinks. The selection of snacks included potato chips, Haagen-Dazs ice cream, popcorn, and chocolate bars.
I decided to get a pack of chips and a cup of mint tea.
Not feeling sleeping even several hours into the flight, at around 10AM swiss time, I decided to watch Green Book. A movie I’d seen before and a movie I highly recommend.
While watching the movie, the cabin crew passed through the cabin offering drinks and snacks (this time including rice balls) a couple of times. The first time, I asked for a glass of Coke Zero, and the second time, I opted for another cup of mint tea and a Lindt chocolate ball.
By the time I finished watching the movie, we were flying above Yaroslav, a city located about 250 kilometers away from Moscow, and we were about three hours away from landing.
I got some more work done (mainly writing an article about my trouble with Turkish Airlines’ call center) and waited for the pre-landing meal.
Pre-Landing Meal & Arrival at Zurich Airport
One of the flight attendants came to take my meal order about 90 minutes before landing. There were two options: coleslaw with fried chicken or spinach and ricotta cannelloni with cream and tomato sauce.
I asked for the former, water, and orange juice.
Besides the coleslaw and chicken (which was served separately a few minutes after the tray was served), the meal also included bread and fruit salad.
Overall, I liked this meal more than the lunch main served shortly after take-off.
Just a couple of minutes after the table was cleared, around 2PM, the flight attendants handed out “Thank you for flying SWISS” chocolates. Ten minutes later, they went around the cabin collecting the contact tracing forms.
Another ten minutes minutes later, the captain announced that we were expecting to land in another 40 minutes and that it was 16 degrees Celsius in Zurich.
At 2:45PM, the cockpit crew asked the cabin crew to prepare for landing and the seatbelt signs were switched on. Twelve minutes later, the landing gear was lowered.
We landed at Zurich airport at 2:59PM and reached our gate, B38, at 3:07PM – almost half an hour before the scheduled arrival time.
As soon as we came to a full stop, one of the flight attendants announced “ladies and gentlemen when disembarking please keep the principle of social distancing.”
Not long after that, I got off the aircraft and headed through immigration to spend a couple of hours in the Swiss Senator Lounge before catching my connecting flight to Vienna. More about that in the upcoming parts of this trip report, though.
Swiss A340-300 Business Class Summary
Overall, I found Swiss business class to be nothing exceptional. While the crew was friendly and professional, the meals were mediocre at best. Similarly, while the seat offered tons of storage space and was comfortable for sitting, I found it terrible for sleeping.
All that said, I still enjoyed the flight a lot and was excited to be back on a long-haul flight after my longest break in years.