Swiss Riviera GF Travel Guide, Part I, The Flights

2 October 2012

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 October 2, 2012
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My annual trip to Montreux and Geneva, while always wonderful, someone exceeded all of my expectations this trip.  Perhaps it was because we mixed it up a bit this time trying a new airline on this particular route; tried a new hotel in Geneva; and visited some new locales on this trip.  As always, the focus was on traveling gluten-free from a luxury p.o.v.

I decided to keep the same format as I did with my Lima, Peru GF travel guide from my trip earlier this year and divide the guide into three main parts:

Part I: The Flights
Part II: The Hotels
Part III: The Food

So fasten, your seatbelts.  Make sure those seats are in the full upright and locked position and join me as we visit the Gluten-Free Swiss Riviera.

Part I: The Flights

We typically fly United (when it was Continental) on the New York to Geneva (GVA) nonstop run out of Newark Liberty.  However, this time we decided to try SWISS International Airlines JFK to GVA because the timing worked out to be much more agreeable and I, ever the aviation geek, wanted to try out the new SWISS business class on their A330-300 aircraft.

As always, I am warning you that this is a pretty comprehensive report on the flights as I am also sharing with some travel boards I frequent where like-minded travel enthusiasts congregate to read exactly these types of in-depth travelogues.  So here we go…

Check-in at JFK was extremely painless.  We had already pre-checked-in online prior to arriving at the airport so already had our boarding passes.  SWISS Business had two dedicated check-in lanes and the entire process took five minutes at the most.  All of our checked bags were priority tagged and then taken by a porter to the TSA bag drop.

The SWISS Business lounge, like many in Terminal 4, is pre-security which I always find strange but this is just something to keep in mind because even with a separate line for Business/First at the security checkpoint, it basically still requires a bit of queuing to get through screening.

The lounge itself is divided into two sections: First and Business.  The business section is the larger of the two and is actually quite nicely designed albeit if it did feel a bit crowded when we first arrived – though finding a comfortable place to sit was not a problem.

There are two self-serve bars with an okay range of spirits and wines – though nothing quite earth shattering.  There is also a selection of nibbles on hand (hot and cold) and as our flight was leaving around dinnertime there were a few more substantial choices on hand.  Most of the items were off limits to me as a food allergic traveler but I always prefer liquid nourishment over food at a lounge so was fine with a couple of glasses of red wine (the vodka selection left a bit to be desired).  My partner did sample a few of the items on-hand and said they were pretty meh.  It is just a lounge and we are not talking about full pre-flight dining as offered by other airlines – this was really just nibbles which was fine.

The lounge does afford a great view of the tarmac so I was a happy camper watching all the flight movements taking place – which was quite a bit given the time of day.

We eventually made our way to security and were through in about 15 minutes or so.  As mentioned earlier the lounge is pre-security so give yourself a bit of extra time.  The Business/First lane basically feeds into the main line closer to the actual checkpoint so there will be a bit of wait time regardless.

LX 23
JFK-GVA
A330-300
Seats: 10K and 11K (SWISS Business)

Boarding was on-time and very orderly.  We were greeted at the aircraft door with a smile and directed to our seats.  I had selected the single K seats for both legs of this trip.  The SWISS Business cabin is pretty much what you would expect from SWISS – clean, well-laid out, and very functional.  The staggered seating is, depending on row, 1-2-1 or 2-2-1 and the single A seats offer even more space on either side than the K seats but the K seats felt far more private.

Already at our seats was an amenity kit, blanket, noise canceling headphones, and pillow.  Being a Celiac traveler, I always confirm that my meal was loaded prior to departure and a very nice flight attendant checked with the galley and confirmed that my meal was in fact on-board.  Coats or jackets were swiftly placed on hangers and stowed in the closet.  While boarding was still taking place we were offered pre-departure drinks (water, orange juice, or champagne) served in proper glasses.  Once boarding was complete the flight attendants took to the aisles and offered a selection of reading materials and distributed menus.  The crew worked like a well-oiled machine and were extremely efficient and welcoming but not overly intrusive.  Meal requests were taking prior to departure.

Once airborne, pre-dinner cocktails were served along with a choice of cashews or chips.  Dinner service started soon thereafter and was served in appetizer/salad, then main course, then cheese and/or dessert order – so not a single tray service but not as drawn out as other airlines as most people just want to sleep anyway.  An expedited single-tray quick option was offered to those who really wanted to maximize their sleep time.  Breakfast was ordered at the same time as dinner and passengers simply checked off the items they wanted for breakfast and whether or not they wanted to be woken 2-hours prior to landing for a full service or opt for an express option 45 minutes prior to landing.

My gluten-free meal consisted of: a cold meat starter and then salad, served with a main course of white fish with mixed vegetables and rice along with two wrapped rice-cakes.  Now, I also happen to be hyper-allergic to shellfish which only manifested itself about 15 years ago after a lifetime of enjoying shellfish without any issues.  Therefore, I tend not to eat any fish because I am fearful the same thing will happen.  As fish is sometimes braised with clam juice or seafood stock, I decided I did not want to take the chance at 35,000 feet so bypassed the main course.  I was not really that hungry and was able to supplement my main with other items so this was not a major issue and something I am completely used to.  After the main course a cheese course and dessert was offered along with a selection of Swiss chocolates and after dinner drinks, coffee, tea, or espresso.

The regular meal service consisted of:

First Course: Seasonal salad with balsamic vinaigrette

Main Course, choice of:
Seared beef filet with red wine demi-glace
Roasted potatoes, buttered broccolini and carrots
or
Chicken Dijon, mushroom sauce
Shallot bread pudding, grilled peppers and zucchini
or
Honey-glazed salmon filet, mustard cream sauce
Horseradish mashed potato, yellow and green beans
or
Smoke mozzarella tortellini with tomato sauce
Olives and pine nuts

Cheese Course: Selection of cheeses

Dessert: Vanilla mousse with Bourbon butter peaches
Crumbled almond biscotti
Swiss Chocolates

Breakfast prior to landing.

 

LX 22
GVA-JFK
A330-300
Seats: 9K and 10K (SWISS Business)

Check in at Geneva was a bit chaotic given a very large party in front of the SWISS Business check-in lines was literally checking at the very least a minimum of 60 pieces of luggage.  I had never seen flatbed trollies being used for transporting piles of baggage within the terminal.  The agents clearly had their hands full with this group so I spied the Web check-in desk a few counters down and headed over there (which is likely where I should have gone originally as I had already pre-checked-in).  A very pleasant agent (who was in clear sight of the large luggage situation) quickly checked us in, priority tagged our bags, and re-printed boarding passes to be sure that the barcodes would work on the fast track security lane.

The priority security lanes are amazing.  Scan your boarding pass, gates open, and you are routed to a truly dedicated lane that took all of two minutes to get through (unlike JFK).  We proceeded to the SWISS Business Lounge which I had actually been to before which is quite nice with plenty of seating, and self-service food and beverages.  My only tiny issue with this lounge is that the restrooms are outside of the lounge and down the hallway – not a major issue but just noting it.

As you need to clear passport control before getting to the gate area, we gave ourselves a bit of extra time to do some last minute duty free shopping and make it to the gate on-time.  We just had a coffee and my partner had a pastry in the lounge.  Once through passport control you must then give your passport to SWISS agents that are behind small stations (grouped Economy, Business, and First) for review and complete an emergency contact form.  There was then some random secondary screening for a few people while the majority of us filed into a rather tight waiting area that eventually became very crowded.  Boarding was a bit delayed but we were soon welcomed aboard by another very nice crew.

We took our seats and I once again asked about my gluten-free meal to which the flight attendant said they had been alerted during their briefing that there was a gluten-free meal in business but she would double-check – very nice follow through indeed – and it was, of course on-board.

Once again all the in-flight amenities were already neatly waiting for us at our seat.  Pre-departure cocktails were offered and menus distributed prior to taxi along with a selection of reading materials.  Departure was swift and we were soon on our way to JFK.

My gluten-free meal on this flight consisted of lunch and pre-arrival snack.  The gluten-free lunch was a cold meat starter complete with Bündnerfleisch and a selection of vegetable sticks and green salad.  The main course was a grilled chicken breast served with carrots, zucchini, broccoli, and spinach.  It was actually all very good but perhaps the piece de résistance was the two slices of gluten-free bread – yes gluten-free bread – that accompanied my meal.  One of the terrific flight attendants even asked if I wanted the bread heated – wow!  The main course was followed by a cheese selection and dessert (mine was fruit salad) that came complete with a freshly made espresso.  The pre-arrival snack was a sliced cold chicken breast with different mixed vegetables.  My fight attendant was more concerned than I was that there was no bread to accompany it – and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it so no biggie there.  While remarkable similar to my main course chicken breast, it did hit the spot and I can safely say that I did not go hungry on this flight.

The regular meal service consisted of:

First Course: Air-dried beef with potato and Trögligen Alpine goats cheese timbale; Smoked tout tartlet with pearl barley salad and vegetables with Horseradish vinaigrette; Seasonal Salad with egg and croutons

Main Course, choice of:
Grilled beef filet with truffle jus
Celeriac pureé, glazed yellow beetroot
or
Chicken breast with almond cranberry crust, port wine jus
Sweet potato and mascarpone pureé, baked apple
or
Filet of sole with Swabian potato dumplings and saffron sauce
Creamed Savoy cabbage, artichokes with olives
or
Pumpkin ravioli with cream sauce, tomato confit

Cheese Course: Selection of cheese from Switzerland and the canton of Solothurn

Dessert: Solothurn hazelnut and almond mousse with raspberry coulis
Fresh fruit salad

The new SWISS Business is the epitome of style with the traditional focus on service excellence.  The crews on both of my flights were both professional but took the time to engage their guests on a more personal level.  Both Maître de Cabine ran extremely efficient ships but they too took time to chat with guests and really made sure that guests were well taken care of.  The new business seats are extremely comfortable, inclusive of massage function, and are proper full-flat beds.  Power and USB connections were available and on-demand IFE was also very good with a range of programming options.

On arrival our we were through immigration, picked up our bags, and cleared customs in 15 minutes tops. The fastest I have ever managed at JFK. Priority tagged bags actually arrived first on the belt in both GVA and JFK which I have found to be hit or miss with other airlines. SWISS service is most definitely consistent on both sides of the Atlantic.

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