I wanted to visit a good friend in Thailand this February (2020). Getting there by air means a non-stop flight of around 12/13 hours from the UK, or, as often advertised, by one of the major Middle Eastern airlines, with an average 3 hour transit. Both have advantages and disadvantages…the non-stop carriers are far more expensive but somewhat less tiring, while the one-stoppers pattern is about 6 hours to first stop and the disembarkation, followed by the transit time, the re-boarding of aircraft number two and another 6 plus hours to Bangkok.
In my mid eighties and disabled, doing either in an economy seat would not be possible, so my only alternative was to save-up my pennies, live more frugally for 9 months, search for an airline which could both lessen the overall flight times, with a minimal transit and offer a business class ticket at a competitive price.
My searches and recommendations from travel agencies, was to consider Swiss Air, because it had flights from London to Zurich in 1hr 45 minutes, then less than 2 hour transit onto aircraft number two, then non-stop from Zurich to Bangkok. The price was competitive…not the cheapest…but just within my planned budget.
So, booked the flights for all four legs in Business Class, selected aisle seats because of my walking problem, arranged for Special Assistance (wheelchair) throughout and paid in full.
Fast forward now to departure day…11th February 2020.
After a 3 hour car journey to Heathrow Terminal 2, check-in went smoothly. I asked if the flight was on time…the answer was “As far as we know.” On reflection, I did think that was rather an odd response.
Anyway, wheelchair to the Lufthansa Lounge. Nice, spacious and relaxing with enough variety of food and drink to satisfy most appetites. Flight was due to take off at 13.45 hrs, so I had plenty of time to sit and read. Boarding was due to take place at 13.10hrs. When that time came – and went – I enquired at the desk. “Oh, the plane hasn’t even landed yet, the information board will keep you updated.” It did…to a point!
Many a disgruntled passenger was overheard as to what was going on. Eventually, boarding was announced at around 14.25hrs and the rush to the gate began (me being in a wheelchair). Boarding passes checked and passengers sent down the ramp to the aircraft’s door. What then? OOPS!!! door barred because cleaning staff were still trying to make the plane ready for its new passengers. They failed. The plane’s cleanliness was far from satisfactory.
After boarding and door closed, the Captain made an announcement to the effect of ‘we should not worry, because there was a 250kph tail wind, which would get us to Zurich in good time for our varying flight connections.’ What a forecast that turned out to be. More about that soon.
Surprise, surprise, there was NO Business Class cabin in this A320, only row upon row of triple economy seats without entertainment screens, virtually no seat adjustment…and…to make matters really bad for me…all aisle seats were taken, so I had to squeeze across to take a window seat. This so-called Business Class area was separated from the rear of the aircraft by a fabric curtain. Is this what I had paid for and been suckered into by false advertising as to the WONDERFULL Swiss Air Business Class offering?
The cabin crew acted in what I would say ‘in a robotic fashion’…certainly their body language demonstrated that fact. For us, it was a case of grin and bear it.
On nearing Zurich it was certainly obvious to me (an ex Private Pilot), that our aircraft was merely circling in a holding pattern. So, folk, guess what? Round and round – and round – and round for over 30 minutes.
A screen attached to the ceiling sprang into life warning passengers that the new estimated landing time would mean many connecting flights would be missed. THEY WERE. Of course by the very fact that I am writing this, proves that we did land.
As to my onward flight to Bangkok…it was from another terminal. My wheelchair pusher was great (thank you man) and rushed me off the plane, along the corridors, onto the electric train and to the boarding gate. I was the LAST passenger to reach there and boarded only because that aircraft’s departure time had been delayed by 10 minutes.
Talk about stress! Had my luggage been off loaded and reloaded? Another worrying factor but one over which I had no control.
To sum up Swiss Air’s product from Heathrow to Zurich, was more like a script from a Fred Carno silent movie.
Now to the flight from Zurich to Bangkok.
The aircraft was a Boeing 777. It DID have a separate Business Class Cabin, with the accoutrements expected. A very good entertainment system, good quality and nicely served food and plenty of storage space around the seat. That itself, however, was a disappointment. Although a press button control system allow it to be positioned in many formats, the padding was well worn and uncomfortable to the point one’s posterior was constantly aware of the metal structure beneath it.
The overall cabin design, I would say was hard edged, boxy with lighting not conducive to total relaxation or attempted sleep. When compared to the likes of the product such airlines as Emirates, Etihad, Thai and Qatar offer, Swiss Air pales into insignificance. The cabin staff worked as efficiently as they could but were certainly hampered by the lack of numbers. An example of this was. that there was some 30 minutes wait between the serving of appetisers to the main course and a similar wait to the sipping of a coffee or a liqueur.
The above is the account of my first two flights. True to say, I was relieved to reach my hotel in Bangkok.
MY RETURN TURNED OUT TO BE VERY DIFFERENT STORY.
Four days later, after arriving at my friend’s retreat, I, suddenly and in his presence, suffered a severe pain in my upper left chest. Unfortunately my location was over a 100 miles from the nearest Bangkok hospital. He, and other persons present, strongly advised me to cut my planned 21 day visit short and get my flight changed to the next day. It was a no brainer. My own common sense and logic shouted that such a decision was right.
My friend immediately phoned Swiss Air in Bangkok, who confirmed my credentials and booking references, also stating that space was available for the two flights back to the UK the next day. However, they stated, even such a simple administration alteration would have to be made through the travel agent with whom I had made the booking. Such was agreed.
My friend then contacted that agency, Business Class International and explained the emergency and requested the change of return date to the next day.
That agency’s response almost caused the owner of the retreat to throw-up in anger. It was…Yes we can do that but the client will have to pay us UP FRONT, the fee to do so. It will be… £1145.00.
Yes folk, that was the figure demanded. There was NO words of sympathy, no understanding. It was a case of pay NOW or don’t fly.
Having no alternative, I paid. That means that Swiss Air have now charged me the full price EXTRA for a single leg when I had already paid for BOTH legs.
Is this a perfect example of Corporate Greed at it’s very worst?
I won’t say too much about the return flights, except that the final leg from Zurich to Heathrow saw me once again cramped into an economy seat when I had paid for Business Class.
Finally, I want to say that this true account is meant to advise any UK passenger thinking of using Swiss Air to be very, very careful not to be misled by incorrect and glowing advertisements of its products.