Greetings from San Francisco. I came up this week for a couple of reasons, but most interesting was the launch of SWISS service to Zurich. I don’t usually travel for route launches, but this had several interesting aspects that made it worth the trip, including my first look at the new seat (see the video below).
So what was so special about this? Well, I was offered the chance to interview SWISS CEO Harry Hohmeister (I’ll have the Across the Aisle interview next week), but there was more than that. They painted an airplane in a special San Francisco livery just for this launch and they introduced their new business class seat on the A340 on this route. Why was it getting so much attention? I had to find out.
When the flight arrived, SWISS had a viewing set up in the reflection room at SFO. The airplane was specifically parked at gate 91 so that people in the room would have a perfect view of the airplane. Then the reception continued in the excellent SFO museum on the other side of the terminal.
It was there that I found out a lot of the rationale behind this route. Apparently, the ties between Zurich and San Francisco are big, but not necessarily big enough to support a flight historically. That being said, companies like Google and Novartis have large travel needs between the two and expressed a strong desire for the flight.
Ultimately, however, it was Roche that made it happen. Roche, the pharmaceutical giant, purchased Bay Area-based Genentech. They wanted a flight to connect the two cities, and in fact, they signed a guarantee with the airline on one condition: they wanted the new business class seats.
I think Chris McGinnis got this one right when he dubbed the flight, the “Roche Coach.”
It all makes sense, right? The new business class is excellent and this is the first A340 refitted with it. I had the chance to go onboard yesterday after they cleaned the airplane and took this video tour.
Pretty cool. For what it’s worth, I did lie down on the seat and used the controls to feel the cushion getting firmer and softer. It’s fairly remarkable what a difference that makes. The massage function was nice as well. I can see why a company would want this.
Right now, all the A330-300 airplanes have the new seats and they fly to New York and I believe, Dubai. The A330-200s are being phased out and will be gone by January. The A340s will be refitted by next June, so at that point, all long haul will have these new seats.
So, those of you in the Bay Area have a new, rock star option if you’re flying in business to Europe. Coach ain’t too shabby either, but it’s effectively the same as what you’ll find on other airlines with in-seat video.
Even though it’s a new route, don’t expect to see any amazing deals right now. The summer is booking very well, and I was told that in some months it’s already outperforming the long-established Los Angeles route. That’s music to their ears, I’m sure.