I arrived at LAX at 5:20pm for a 7:25pm flight. As one of the roaming L.A. airport helpers confirmed, this is a great time of day to travel through the Tom Bradley International Terminal-it was nearly empty.
Swiss International Air Lines
There was even no line to check in at any of Swiss counters. I went to the closest one and the agent was very pleasant and quick. He looked at my passport, and printed my boarding card while checking my bag (I didn't have to drop it off at TSA like some airlines at LAX require), all within a minute. Thanks to my elite status on US Airways (one of Swiss's Star Alliance partners), I had secured my favorite coach seat (exit row aisle).
I always have to stop myself from calling the airline Swiss Air. The official company name is Swiss International Air Lines Ltd., but Switzerland's national airline is just called Swiss. They serve 76 destinations in 40 countries around the world and have a fleet of 85 aircraft. From North America they fly out of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, Newark, New York, and San Francisco (as of June 2) to Switzerland.
Clearing security was not a hassle at all. It literally took seconds, as there was no line and the agents were friendly. When I commented on how quick it was, the agent said, "Don't worry-it will change in a few hours when an influx of flights begins". I looked up at the departure board and saw there were only four flights taking off between 6 and 8 p.m., and one of them was to Los Angeles. That must have been a mistake-otherwise, Los Angeles to Los Angeles has to be the quickest flight ever. Tip: Always try and fly at off-peak times to get the best service and least hassle.
The gate was 123 (at the end and a long walk) and there I learned Swiss boards economy passengers first, then first class, and then business. It's a much more civilized way to do it, so people don't have to wait on the jetway as long and premium passengers can avoid jealous stares from passing coach fliers.
L.A. to Zurich (LAX-ZRH)
The 11-hour-and-20-minute flight to Zurich was on an Airbus A340-300. We pushed back at 7:31pm and we were airborne at 7:45pm. The pilot said the flight would be rather long because of headwinds and shortly after takeoff the well-dressed flight came down the aisles with the drink cart. FYI: The flight attendants are required to speak at least two languages, and some even speak five.
In the coach cabin the 172 seats are configured 2-4-2. They have a 32 inch pitch and a 17.3 inch width. The back rests of the seats are 5 cm (almost 2 inches) thinner than usual which means more room. They also come with lumbar support and flexible wings so you can rest your head without ending up one your neighbor's shoulder while passed out.
The best part is each screen has a nine inch entertainment system screen with 22 movies (I watched the Blind Side), 40 TV programs, 16 channels of music, 300 plus music CDs and 15 games. There's even a wide selection of films, music and games for younger passengers to keep them busy which might've been why I didn't hear any screaming or running up and down the aisle. FYI: Unfortunately, the seats don't have electrical plugs except in First and Business class.
Dinner Is Served
The flight was so smooth. The first time it got bumpy was when we were over Iceland, and it was only light turbulence. The seat-belt sign only went on during takeoff and landing. Now that's impressive! When I woke up to use the loo, I looked at the local time in Switzerland and it was noon, so I forced myself to stay awake so I would be able to sleep the following night. It was difficult to keep my eyes open because the cabin was pitch dark. I so wanted to open the shade to look out and get the bright sun to trick my body clock since it's equivalent to Superman's Kryptonite, but I didn't want to be everyone's worst enemy. The plane does have two cameras mounted on it-one facing forward and the other down-so you can see what's going on without disturbing your seatmates. I love this feature, but I still like looking out the window better.
During the breakfast service the captain got on the PA and said we were flying over Amsterdam, and I looked out the window and there it was. It seemed surreal.
It was so cool (pun intended) to land in Switzerland and see all the Swiss chalets neatly covered by a dusting of snow. It felt as if I was in a Hollywood movie. What's really handy is that Swiss posts departure gates and alerts on the in-flight entertainment screens, so those passengers making connections knew exactly where to go. That was especially handy since we arrived an hour late, so they provided information on new flight times so the passengers who had missed their connections could relax. I was just happy that when I booked my ticket I chose not to take the flight with only a 40-minute connection, so I didn't have to rush. Instead I went with the following flight, which was an hour later, and even with the delay I didn't get rebooked and lose my coveted aisle seat.
Passport Control Tips
To get to passport control, passengers have to take a three-minute tram ride. If you want to beat the crowds, go to the very first car and stay by the door. The moment you arrive, make a bee line to the escalator or better yet start walking up the stairs. Passport control took about 10 minutes for me, and I was the first in line from our tram load. Some passengers who had really tight connections kindly pushed their way to the front. I would too if I were them.
Overall, the 11-plus-hour flight was like a dream, definitely not a chore. The seats are generous in space and the flight attendants were very professional (they aren't overly warm, but pleasant). Just like their reputation for their trains being on time and their watches, the Swiss had proven their efficiency.
Swiss, tel. 877/FLY-SWIS; www.swiss.com.
John E. DiScala (a.k.a. Johnny Jet) travels around 150,000 miles and visits over 20 countries each year. He and his website JohnnyJet.com have been featured in USA Today, Time, Fortune and The New York Times, and he has appeared on ABC, CBS, CNBC, CNN, MSNBC, NBC, FOX News Channel and PBS. JohnnyJet.com has been named "one of the top best money-saving web sites for travel" by Budget Travel Magazine, while the L.A. Times calls it "one of the top 10 essential travel resources on the internet." Sign up today for Johnny Jet's free weekly travel newsletter at JohnnyJet.com.