Sunday, October 26, 2014
   
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First Class Male... extra leg room every time!

PATRIC BAIRD checks out Swiss International’s First Class service on a flight from Tokyo to Zurich...

Swiss International Airlines - Tokyo/Zurich, First Class

AFTER a three-week long trip around the world with my wife, involving fourteen flights on six different airlines, any sadness I felt at embarking on the final leg of our journey was tempered by the knowledge that we would be spending the next thirteen hours or so enjoying one of the best experiences it is possible to have in the sky - flying in the First Class cabin with Swiss International Airlines.

Following an all-too-brief stop over in Tokyo, we made an early start for Narita Airport, arriving a good three hours before departure in order to sample the all thrills of first class travel, but were disappointed to find that the Swiss check-in opened 2.5 hours before departure. There's worse things to do than explore the quirky shops in Tokyo's largest airport and very soon there was an announcement that check-in had opened slightly ahead of schedule.

There is a dedicated First and Business Class check-in area at Narita for all Star Alliance member airlines, so we had a queue-free check-in, with our bags going straight through to Belfast, via Zurich and London Heathrow. After checking-in, a member of staff (who insisted on wheeling our carry-on luggage herself), escorted us through security, via the crew channel, and onward to the All Nippon Airways (ANA) First Class lounge which can be used by Premium passengers on any Star Alliance flight. Our escort had given us a choice of using the nearby lounge operated by US carrier United instead, but we politely declined as we were keen on absorbing as much of the authentic Japanese experience before heading home.

Whilst exploring ANA's luxurious lounge, I discovered a 'hatch', from which a friendly lady was dispensing bowls of hot noodles to order, so that was breakfast taken care of. Just off the main lounge, there was a room with computers and self-contained 'suites', complete with individual televisions, a work station and a seat to stretch out on. Shortly afterwards, platters of hot food were laid out with both tasty-looking Asian and European dishes to choose from, as well as small plates of amazing Japanese desserts.

All too soon, our escort arrived to take us to the departure gate where we breezed past the long queue, trying to avoid eye contact with those less fortunate passengers, had our passports checked and boarded the aircraft via the dedicated First Class jet bridge.

Although some of Swiss Airlines' fleet have been re-fitted with ultra-modern seats in First Class, I saw that the cabin on the Airbus 340 still had the old-style seats, in a two-row, 1-2-1 configuration. The seat and its controls were showing their age a little bit, although all was in good working order. Later, the cabin steward informed me that, even though our aircraft was due for a refit in Business over the next few months, with flat beds replacing the angled lie-flat seats, First Class will retain the old-style seats. There were only three other passengers, two Japanese businessmen and a teenager who was returning to school in Geneva. I wish I had a dad like hers!

I was immediately welcomed and served with an amuse bouche of a filled pastry bun and chicken yakitori, as well as a glass of Laurent Perrier Grand Siecle champagne.

Although the flight departed more or less on time, we were informed that we would be arriving into Zurich slightly late, so I was a bit concerned about the rather tight connection to Heathrow, but was determined not to let it spoil the flight.

About an hour into the flight, lunch was served and my wife joined me on the ottoman beside my table and we dined on venison and guinea fowl, whilst watching the snowy mountains of Siberia drifting by the window - a truly magical and unforgettable experience.

After lunch, I flicked through the entertainment options, although nothing particularly appealed. I asked for the seat to be converted into a bed, which was done quickly and I settled down to one of the best sleeps I have ever had on an aeroplane - probably about seven hours solid. It was amazingly comfortable and quiet and it was only the lure of the pre-arrival snack which got me upright again.

Offered a choice between veal cordon bleu or spinach quiche, I decided on the meat option, as well as a couple more glasses of the fizzy stuff. Arrival into Zurich was, as advised, about 10 minutes late but the efficiency of transferring between terminals ensured we easily made our connection to London. In conclusion, consistently great service and comfort from Swiss and the perfect way to end such an amazing trip.

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