Trip report: SFO-ZRH on Swiss A340

July 19th 2012, 01:41 | Written by Konstantin Koll

This trip report is about my recent flight SFO-ZRH on the Swiss Airbus A340-300 “Fürstentum Lichtenstein”, registered as HB-JMF. Contrary to Lufthansa's A340 with Rolls Royce Trent 500 engines, Swiss has opted for CFM56 engines.

On my recent Miles&More award trip to the USA (including Washington D.C, Memphis and San Francisco), I've chosen LX 39 from SFO to ZRH as my return flight to Europe. Although I am a very loyal Lufthansa customer, I like to mix in a flight on Swiss every once in a while for good measure.

Also the late departure time of 19:35 appealed to me, as this flight arrives late into ZRH. This makes me arrive home in the evening, exhausted and ready for bed, thus avoiding any jetlag on the next day. LH 459 from SFO to MUC is another great option with the same benefits, by the way, and my usual choice on this route. Block time in MUC is 17:15.

Departure

The San Francisco International Airport can be easily reached from downtown by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit). The fare from Montgomery Street is $8.25 one way, a hefty surcharge to other stations in the BART system. Transport is quick and efficient, though, and the BART station is located just outside the International Terminal.

Unfortunately, the checkin area designated for LX 39 was deserted when I arrived. It took another hour that I used for lunch until I could get rid of my rather bulky luggage. Neither Lufthansa's checkin kiosks nor the Lufthansa staff at the opposite counters could perfrom the checkin, though I was travelling on a Lufthansa itinerary. Something similar has happened to me in YYZ—Star Alliance should sort this out!

SFO is definately the turf of Swiss' Star Alliance partner United Airlines, with United planes crowding the entire ramp. Just next to the gate my flight was about to depart from, a United B777 bound for FRA was docked. It's great that United Airlines adopted the old Continental livery after the merger, and just updated the font. In my opinion, this is the best mix they could have come up with, and I sincerely hope that this livery stays for decades to come. You hear that, Jeff Smisek?

After some spotting and surfing the Web (SFO offers complimentary WiFi—after all, it's Silicon Valley!), the Swiss Airbus A340 HB-JMF was arriving. About 90 minutes later and on time, the quick and efficient boarding process for my flight LX 39 to ZRH started. The load factor in Economy was near 100%, with almost no empty seats.

The aircraft was equipped with rather old-looking Recaro seats in Economy, which are definately 1.5 generations behind the brand new seats on Lufthansa's Boeing 747-8i. The color scheme is pleasing, although I prefer the black leather seats on Swiss' Europe fleet. The wall panels appeared to be new and shiny. Overall, the cabin was an improvement compared to an older Swiss Airbus A330 I travelled on 4 years ago.

In flight

We pushed back on time, and Cpt. Schneider started the engines. Spinup was rather loud compared to Trent engines, but then again CFM56 engines also provide greater power. After taxiing, we departed SFO on runway 28R, with a camera in the tail providing a great view on the screens. The takeoff on runway 28R, leading out to the Pacific, was followed by the usual steep right curve, taking us over downtown San Francisco. Unfortunately, the day was very cloudy, so it was no real scenic departure, which I've greatly enjoyed on past flights out of SFO.

About 10 minutes into the flight, the crew noticed that about half of the inseat screens weren't working properly. As it was still very early into the flight, the crew rebooted the entire entertainment system, which solved the issue. The selection of movies and other media was satisfactory—I definately can't recommend the new Spiderman movie, though…

The crew on this flight was exceptionally friendly and well-groomed. Aperitif (the usual pack of pretzels) was served right after the takeoff, followed by an excellent dinner, consisting of a cheese roll and a delicious and well-spiced salad. My option of entree was chicken with mashed potatoes and assorted seasonal vegetables (zucchini, carrots, beans and coliflower) in a light and creamy sauce. This meal definately ranks up very high on my list of airline food. I had an excellent Kozy Shack Tapioca pudding for dessert, and was lucky enough to snatch up a second one when asking for it. Tapioca is rather exotic in European cuisine, but I'll make sure to get some more on my next trip to America.

Frequent rounds of drinks during the “night” on this flight (daybreak occured just on the coast of Canada, where we went oceanic near waypoint RESNO) were followed by a continental breakfast and the usual complimentary chocolate about an hour before our decent into ZRH. In my opinion, cutting the chocolate at the end of the flight would instantly destroy the whole brand, and make Swiss just another carrier.

To wrap up the flight, Swiss really lives up to its new claim “Our sign is a promise”. It was a great flight with an exceptionally friendly crew—maybe I'll throw in even more Swiss flights in future itineraries!

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