Review: Swiss A321neo Business Class (LHR-ZRH)

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Review Overview
YTHK'S VERDICT

There's rarely anything special about intra-Europe business class, but Swiss' version is extreme, with no entertainment or WiFi whatsoever. The food was tasty, though.

3.0

Flights between Western Europe and East Asia have seen sky-high prices in recent past, particularly over the Christmas period. Amidst this time, it became all the more important to find cheap fares across a variety of airlines. The Lufthansa Group (Lufthansa/Swiss/Austrian) has had a few relatively good premium fares lately, so I took advantage of one this Christmas, involving a flight on Lufthansa’s A340 and Cathay Pacific’s A350 (marketed as a Swiss codeshare).

This post will focus on the positioning segment I flew from London to Zurich, which was operated by a Swiss A321neo. As is standard in the intra-European market, business class consisted of a blocked middle seat, as well as upgraded meals and amenities.

How I Booked Swiss’ A321neo Business Class

I booked a cash roundtrip itinerary between London and Hong Kong, consisting of flights in Swiss, Cathay Pacific (on a Swiss flight number) and Lufthansa business class. My itinerary cost a total of ~£2,720 (~HK$25,800 at time of writing). For context, this price was about on par with many premium economy one-stop itineraries, or even some direct flights in economy class during the 2022 post-COVID peak travel season – and far below the market average price for Christmas business class tickets this year.

My Experience Flying Swiss’ A321neo Business Class

My flight was departing from Heathrow at 6 AM, so I made it to the airport by 3:30 AM for good measure. I knew that Swiss would be impacted by baggage handler strikes, which my flight coincided with, though this didn’t end up being an issue for my particular flight (apart from a minor delay).

The economy class lines were absolutely packed at this hour, as all four Lufthansa Group airlines with flights departing at this hour were being checked in at the same desks. Furthermore, Lufthansa had cancelled one of their Frankfurt flights, which only complicated things.

Business class check-in desks were located behind the economy bag drop counters, which required some poorly signaged manouevering around some of the longest queues I’d ever seen at this hour in the morning. Once I got there the queue was much shorter, though also moved more slowly. I’d already checked in online, though I had my entry documents to Hong Kong briefly checked at this point – while my bag was tagged, I had to wait until 4 AM (about 10-15 minutes) to actually send my bag off, as the bag drop conveyor belts were only activated then.


Check-in at Heathrow Airport

The security lines weren’t any better, as the premium security lane hadn’t opened for the day yet. It took about 20 minutes to pass through immigration, a time significantly reduced by the airport staff opening an extra two lanes midway. I was through security by about 4:45 AM (I lingered around the departures hall with a friend so only started lining up at 4:25 AM), and I promptly made my way to the United Club, which I’ve reviewed here.

At around 5:30 AM I made my way down to gate B46, immediately outside the United Club, where the A321neo taking us to Zurich was parked. Boarding began at 5:35 AM as scheduled, starting with business class passengers.

Swiss A321neo at Heathrow Airport

This was my second time flying Swiss’ intra-European business class (read my review: Swiss’ A320 in business class from Zurich to Geneva), and shockingly my third ever flight in “standard” intra-European business class – all other times I managed to evade this product by flying a widebody. I wouldn’t consider myself a market expert on intra-European business class, though I did know exactly what to expect.

Swiss Flight LX345
Friday, December 16, 2022
Origin: London (LHR) Gate: B46 Dep: 06:00 (06:50)
Destination: Zurich (ZRH) Gate: B34 Arr: 08:40 (09:20)
Duration: 1 h 40 min (1 h 20 min)
Aircraft: Airbus A321neo Reg: HB-JPB
Seat: 5A (Business Class)

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Cabin and Seat

As is the norm, Swiss’ A321neo business class cabin features economy class seats with a blocked middle seat. In the case of my flight the partition between business and economy was positioned eight rows back, with the entire plane featuring 215 seats in a 3-3 configuration.


Swiss A321neo Business Class Cabin

While I found the seatbacks sleek, the cabin colours inoffensive, and the padding totally fine, I quickly noticed the lack of power of any sort, including USB ports. Seat pitch is supposedly 32″, though tapers towards 28″ the further back you go (all business class seats sit at a seat pitch of around 32″, whereas economy seat pitch ranges from 28-32″ depending on where you’re seated).


Swiss A321neo Business Class Legroom

In terms of seat features, the tray table was a good size and sturdy, though wasn’t bi-fold. I appreciated the tablet nook provided.


Swiss A321neo Business Class Tray Table

While this particular plane wasn’t in need of cooling (it wasn’t uncomfortably cold, though definitely on the cooler side given London’s weather conditions), those flying this plane in the summer would probably appreciate air nozzles provided at all seats.


Swiss A321neo Business Class Air Nozzles

The only form of entertainment provided on this aircraft were the TV screens which folded out of the ceiling (these showed the moving map throughout the flight, except for showing the safety video before takeoff).


Swiss A321neo Business Class Overhead Screen

I’d say that the lack of power was a bigger minus than the air nozzles were a plus – in addition, there was no headrest, audio jack for inflight entertainment, or any “frill” to set this seat apart from the competition. At this point in the day the most battery-drained device I had was my brain, so I settled into my seat, fairly happy about the fact that the window just about cradled my head.


Not necessarily in my most awake state on Swiss’ A321neo

I’m not sure what an “industry-leading intra-European business class hard product” looks like, but this seat wasn’t it. I don’t actually hate intra-European business class as much as the next person – I liked the extra shoulder space to work and spread out – though this hard product is as basic as intra-European business class gets.

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Amenities

Amenity kits aren’t a standard offering in intra-European business class. Blankets were provided on request, though all that was waiting at our seats were a bottle of water and an antiseptic wipe for each passenger.


Swiss A321neo Business Class Water Bottle and Antiseptic Towels

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Pre-Departure Service

A friendly crewmember went down the aisle after boarding was completed to pass out some chocolates. This isn’t the most elaborate pre-departure service ever (there was no pre-departure beverage or anything), though the chocolate was high-quality and had a great “snap” (i.e. was well-tempered).

Swiss A321neo Business Class Pre-Takeoff Chocolates

Taking Off from Heathrow Airport

At around 5:50 AM, a very energetic Captain Ronaldo introduced himself on the PA, and announced that boarding was finishing up, and they were just dealing with a few passenger double seatings.

At 6:05 AM the captain returned onto the PA to announce that because of baggage handler strikes, baggage was just starting to be loaded onto the plane, which he estimated would take about 20-30 minutes. He suggested a new pushback time of 6:30 AM. I was amused that the captain specifically said that they were loading our bags “and skis” into the baggage hold (and couldn’t relate, as a passenger connecting onto southeast Asia).

In reality loading bags took slightly longer than this, and we faced a rolling departure delay to 6:45 AM. This flight was chock full, and the guy seated next to me was also headed to Hong Kong (he slept the entire flight, and we only exchanged words right after he anxiously asked the crew how much longer our delay would be). Upon our pushback, we had a great view of the Thai Airways 777 parked next to us, only hindered by the filthy windows on this brand new A321neo.


Thai Airways 777 at Heathrow Airport

It was a short taxi to runway 27R, and with virtually no wait, we were airborne by 7 AM, with views over Surrey (hi, Woking!). It was a short flight, and we reached a calibrated altitude of 29,000 feet. I was treated to a gorgeous sunrise as we crossed the English Channel, about 15 minutes into our liftoff.


Taking off at Heathrow Airport

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Entertainment and WiFi

Here’s what sets Swiss’ intra-European product apart, and not in a good way, in my opinion. Swiss’ A321neos feature no streaming entertainment, WiFi, or even power ports, with no plans to introduce any of these in the future. There also isn’t an audio jack for any meaningful entertainment to be played on the overhead screens.

While these features aren’t the industry standard as of yet, even Lufthansa has WiFi on a majority on their short-haul fleet, so it’s perplexing why these new planes aren’t being delivered with consistent amenities. Swiss’ A220s don’t feature WiFi or power ports either, and their longhaul fleet are known for having some of the most expensive onboard WiFi on the market.

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Meal Service

Breakfast was served on this flight, and I appreciated that it was a hot meal. I declined a drink, which was between a choice of tea, coffee, juice or a few alcoholic beverages. The meal was served via trolley less than 20 minutes after takeoff, which was an impressive speed.

There was no choice of breakfast, and it was a cheese pie of sorts. On the plus side it was delicious, though on the minus side I wasn’t sure how much good it was doing to my body at this time of day…


Swiss A321neo Business Class Meal Service

The meal was also served with a selection from a bread basket, and I chose a croissant (not pictured).

I’d say this meal was on the simplistic side for a business class offering, though at least it was hot and delicious. If this is a traditional Swiss breakfast, I can’t find it on Wikipedia – does anybody know?

Swiss’ A321neo Business Class Service

Service on this flight was friendly across the board. The crew were in good spirits throughout the flight despite the early departure time, and handled concerns regarding delays very well. Ultimately there’s only so much a crew can shine on an hour-long intra-European business class flight, though I felt like they executed well, seemed like they wanted to be there, and were a pleasure to fly with.

Landing into Zurich Airport

Almost immediately after finishing breakfast, I napped very soundly for 45 minutes and woke up to an empty tray table, with my meal tray having been collected. It was a very snowy morning in northern Switzerland and visibility was fairly limited, though once we descended further we were treated to gorgeous views of snow-capped houses.


Landing into Zurich Airport

Touchdown on runway 14 occurred at 9:15 AM local time, and it was time to say hi to a plethora of narrowbody aircraft parked at Zurich Airport, including Vueling, Eurowings, and Swiss A320s.


Traffic at snowy Zurich Airport

We pulled into gate B34 after a short taxi, and parked next to a Swiss A220 (preparing to head to Dublin later in the morning).


Swiss A220 at Zurich Airport

Doors opened at 9:25 AM, 45 minutes after our scheduled arrival time. I was one of the first off the aircraft, and still had plenty of time to make my 11:55 AM connection to Hong Kong. I was also happy to finally have a good view of our sleek A321neo by the gate area.


Swiss A321neo at Zurich Airport

While we were let out straight into the departures zone, I still had to undergo separate security screening to board my flight to Hong Kong, as that flight was departing from the E concourse (a satellite concourse for long-haul international departures).

Conclusion: Swiss’ A321neo Business Class

Intra-Europe business class is never anything to write home about, but Swiss is beginning to lag behind. While other airlines are pursuing seats that at least have USB power ports, onboard WiFi, or streaming entertainment, Swiss has no plans to install any of these on their intra-European fleet. Having a real business class seat within Europe is “pie-in-the-sky” thinking, though I don’t think planning to install the same amenities as a modern bus would have in 2022 is a big ask.

As a member of the Lufthansa Group, I’m also confused by the brand inconsistency – most of Lufthansa’s shorthaul fleet has WiFi, whereas brand new Swiss planes are being delivered with no plans to install WiFi in the near future.

I don’t think anyone reading this review is dying to purchase a Swiss ticket intra-Europe without a good reason. I wouldn’t be deterred from flying Swiss longhaul with an intra-Europe connection purely because of this product (it’s perfectly fine in that regard), though unfortunately Swiss’ longhaul business class isn’t particularly competitive either.

Have you flown Swiss’ A321neo business class before? What’s your favourite narrowbody aircraft on Swiss?

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