The Lufthansa subsidiary Swiss only introduced its premium economy as the fourth long-haul travel class last year. All the Star Alliance member’s 12 Boeing 777-300ERs are now equipped with 24 premium economy seats. In late November 2022, our editor Felix tested the Swiss airline’s new product on a flight from Zurich to Bangkok.
Let’s break the circumstances of the flight down to mere numbers:
- Flight: LX 180 Zurich
- Seat: 21A
- Plane: Boeing 777-300ER HB-JNK (delivered November 2019)
- Departure: 18:00
- Arrival: 10:40
- Flight duration: 11h 25min
- Month: November 2022
Check-In & Boarding
I checked in completely online because I was only travelling with hand luggage. For this, I used the browser version of SWISS’ Website, about which I have nothing bad to say. The process was clear, simple and quick. I was only able to choose my seat at check-in, as the airline charges €60 on their website if you want to select your seat earlier than 24 hours before departure.
The boarding process was efficient and amazingly organized, and boarding groups were respected. At the feeder flight in Düsseldorf, a crowd of confused to angry economy guests quickly formed and was brusquely turned away by the electric gates, while other (business and status) guests came through.
In Zurich there was no such phenomenon – right after the first class guests, it was the turn of boarding group 2, in which I quickly moved on board to take a few photos of the still empty aircraft. Normally, premium economy passengers are in group 3 (of 5), so my Star Alliance Gold status had a positive effect here.
I was greeted on board by an extremely friendly and approachable flight attendant, who asked me if I was already familiar with the premium economy seat. When I said no, he started with a lengthy explanation (which wasn’t really necessary, as everything is quite intuitive). Although this was still part of the boarding, it actually belongs in the next section.
At this point in the review, I must do my best not to overdo it with my praise. The first positive aspect was that the presentation of the seat was offered to every passenger in premium economy. Since I started taking photos pretty quickly, I had the suspicion that I would be treated particularly kindly – as I was assumed (not entirely without justification) to be a journalist or blogger.
However, I really could not identify any special treatment. The warm and authentic friendliness of the staff was extended to all guests around me. All my wishes for drinks were fulfilled quickly and sometimes with wit, all my questions about the on-board product and the plane were answered.
Meals were served quickly and at sensible times (about 70 minutes after departure and a good two hours before landing). While I’m usually not a fan of being woken up too early on red-eye flights, I found the time (08:30 local Bangkok time) quite plausible to get acclimated to the new time zone faster. Full points for SWISS in this category.
Cabin & Seats
The SWISS Boeing 777 has three premium economy rows, which are located between the business class and the economy cabin. While the front part of the cabin is separated from the premium eco by a wall and curtains, there is no privacy screen to the rear. This makes the cabin look more open and friendly. Since the washrooms and galleys are shared with economy class anyway, further differentiation doesn’t really make sense.
The seats are arranged in a 2-4-2 formation and are therefore significantly wider than the 3-4-3 in economy class. There are always two seats within a shell made of hard plastic. This ensures that you don’t notice anything when the person in front moves his seat back. If you press the button to adjust the seat yourself, only the plastic wall in front of you comes closer – the person behind has no disadvantage or reason to complain. This has a disadvantage for tall people in that the legroom quickly becomes tight when you move the seat to a more relaxed position. However, I (1.78 meters) couldn’t complain about the lack of space.
Regardless of that, I found the seat to be pleasantly wide and comfortably padded. The wide armrest and small plastic privacy screen give you a much higher sense of privacy than a regular economy seat. Even after the rather long flight, I could not complain about any tension. The seating comfort has completely convinced me. On its website, Swiss states the width of the seat as 46 cm wide, and the seat spacing is 99 cm.
Each seat has its own socket, a pair of which is located in the centre console between the footwells. There is also a USB port on the armrest of each seat. In addition to the ceiling light, which is operated via the screen, each seat has its own reading light. The connection for the headphones is located between the backrests.
The fold-out tables can be found below the entertainment screen. Because the table doesn’t take up any space there, there is some additional storage space in the armrest. The tables themselves are very spacious, even larger laptops will find enough space here. At the top of the armrest, there is an additional area on which each passenger can place a drink.
The position of the seat can be adjusted using two buttons: one operates the foot and calf support, the other the backrest and seat. The changes are mechanical and not electronic. Unfortunately, this leads to a problem: the seat is attached to a rail and seems to be constantly under tension in order to return to its original position. If you want to adjust the seat, you first have to press the button; push your butt and seat forward with some effort, and then release the button immediately. Otherwise, you will immediately snap back into an upright position.
When you’re awake, this trait is just annoying. However, since it was a night flight and the seat is wide enough to sleep on the side, I involuntarily hit the button twice and was rudely awakened by the jerky movement of the reclined seat. Which resulted in a rather cramped sleep.
The seat has many positive aspects that you would otherwise expect (in a much more detailed form) in business class. Unfortunately, it still struggles with a few problems, such as the very stubborn adjustment function, which leads to a significant point deduction: 3.5/5.
Food & Drinks
Drinks service began with a welcome drink, which included a choice of water, fruit juice, and rosé sparkling wine, all served in glasses (while SWISS’ partner Lufthansa offered orange juice in plastic or nothing at all). After departure, I felt like a gin and tonic, which promptly landed on my table.
Because printed menu cards were distributed before takeoff, I already knew what drinks to choose from and what to expect for dinner. Firstly, I’m a big fan of those cards on planes, so SWISS had already won me over with them. The content of the menu convinced me even more: Not only were there three dishes to choose from (instead of just two, as is usual in economy class), two of them were vegetarian.
I’m not vegetarian myself (that’s why I chose the chicken). My fiancée, on the other hand, is a vegetarian. For this reason, I also pay attention to how well meatless food requests can be fulfilled. That you have a choice without pre-ordering has never happened to me before. Both thumbs go up.
The quality and presentation of the food were also in a class of their own: the large tables allow the airline to use trays with more space. This pays off, as the individual menu components are so much easier to arrange in a visually appealing way. After my bad experience in AeroMexico’s business class, this was a meal I would have accepted in a higher travel class.
The chicken breast was good and – almost unbelievably for this cut of meat on a plane – not unbearably dry. The red wine jus was bold and rich, and the pumpkin and potato mash was an excellent combination that I’d like to try to replicate at home. I also liked the spinach, but I would have liked it to bring along a few friends – the portion was a bit small. The fresh bread rolls were a delight.
As I came out of the lounge well-fed, I returned the salad untouched. That fate was shared by the cheese, which, however, did not remain on the plates of other passengers. A sign of the quality of the cheese or the curiosity of my fellow travellers.
At breakfast, the spinach’s friends I missed the night before were found – and they didn’t taste any worse. The scrambled egg turned out to be the traitor in the otherwise perfect ensemble of dishes and disappointed with impressive boredom. I decided to scramble the egg into the hash browns after enjoying the spinach. A good decision that made both dishes tastier. Minimal point deduction for the boring scrambled eggs, but still 4.5 stars for Swiss.
Entertainment & Wi-Fi
The entertainment takes place on a 15.6-inch screen, one of the largest in this travel class. When the screen is so huge, there’s enough surface area to fumble around on it: presumably, one reason why there’s no remote control. This doesn’t usually bother me but led to a small oddity. Since the lamp could only be switched on and off via the touchscreen and the safety video was followed by an uninterrupted, long advertisement, I couldn’t turn off the light for a long time.
In addition to the screen, Swiss comes up with another goodie that is not part of the standard equipment in a premium economy: noise-cancelling headphones. These are also available at other airlines (e.g. Singapore Airlines), but with SAS and Lufthansa, you only get economy plugs. The headphones can be connected via a double plug with a normal 3.5 mm and a slightly thinner pin.
The best screen is useless if the selection on it is disappointing. The film selection was regrettably small and not up to date – at least for my taste, there were only a few attractive options. The selection of TV series wasn’t any better either, and there were only three games available. There was also no live television. That’s usually not a problem, but since Germany was in action at the soccer World Cup, I would have liked to have followed the game.
In the end, I decided on a classic movie and watched Dr. Strangelove by Stanley Kubrick. I recommend it: A great and stylistically enormously influential film. Otherwise, the flight map was the most entertaining thing that flickered across my screen.
The wireless internet offered on board also added to the list of disappointments. Swiss offers very small data packages at totally exorbitant prices. Still, I was willing to test the internet for you guys. Until, both of my credit cards were declined due to a connection error. Just imagine the zonk sound.
Overall, the weakest part of the Swiss onboard product, so I can only give it 2 stars.
In addition to the combination of pillow and blanket, which is also common in economy class, there was a small amenity kit made of environmentally friendly paper at the seat. However, its contents are hardly worth mentioning: A sleeping mask, earplugs, a toothbrush and a small tube of toothpaste. One of the few elements that were more reminiscent of economy class: no reason to upgrade, but also no reason to devalue.
- Check-in & Boarding
- Food & Drinks
- Entertainment & Wi-Fi
Swiss has brought out the heavy artillery to establish its premium economy as an independent travel class. The catering is fantastic and significantly more extensive than with other airlines in this travel class. The seat is large, comfortable and equipped with gimmicks that are actually reminiscent of business class. In combination with the fantastic service on this flight, this is a combination that allows us to overlook the weaknesses of the product.
However, once the initial euphoria of the good experience has evaporated, the weaknesses take on clearer contours. The cumbersome adjustability of the seat is a clear disadvantage and when it comes to entertainment, several small things add up to a clear depreciation. Nevertheless, when booking premium economy within the Lufthansa Group, I would always opt for a flight via Zurich if it is possible at the same price. Personally, I would rank Swiss’ premium economy above Singapore Airlines’.