Saturday, November 14, 2009

Swiss Air: In the Air and in the Lounge

BARCELONA - Swiss Air - full name: Swiss International Air Lines - was new to me before this trip. I'd heard of it, of course, but had not flown with Swiss, a Star Alliance member, until my current round the world journey.

I am glad I got to make their acquaintance. I rode with Swiss to Barcelona from Rome via Zurich. After taking the Leonardo Express train at dawn to Rome's Leonardo da Vinci International Airport, I checked in smoothly and headed off to the Swiss lounge, located upstairs from departures.

It is a large lounge, featuring a spacious central area with abundant seating and sockets along the outer wall for plugging in laptops. I didn't feel like hauling out my laptop, so I plopped down in one of the three free PCs the lounge has to offer. Here, I encountered something new: I and other passengers were required to ask permission of a lounge staff member to use a PC (it is swiftly granted), then hand over our passports for photocopying (the original passport is promptly returned). Formalities taken care of, I sat down at my work station, a staff-made espresso on the desk along with a mini-croissant, and pecked away industriously, tweeting on Twitter and working my e-mail.

Then I had a look around. Unique to airport lounges I have seen, the Swiss lounge in Rome has a Wellness Company Technogym - several pieces of workout equipment - to go with a good selection of international newspapers and magazines and a full bar. It being ungodly early, no one was working out, or drinking, but it was nice to know that you could. I looked some more. Wrapped around an interior wall are two quiet zones. In one of them, a glamourous-looking lady was sitting alone. She was the spitting image of Sophia Loren.

A few minutes later, at the gate, the sophisticated lady, escorted to the boarding gate by no fewer than three Swiss lounge workers, boarded first, several minutes before anyone else. I could have sworn it was Sophia Loren. Once on the plane, I got a better look. A definite resemblance, but I don't think so.

I settled in to my bulkhead business-class seat. I liked the distinctively Swiss touches on-board: announcements in German, French and English, the white cross on a red background (the Swiss flag) on the tailfin of the Airbus A320, the pieces of Swiss chocolate offered by the flight attendants at the end of the meal. We crossed the Alps and I saw from my window seat that they had a satisfactorily thick-looking blanket of snow. No time to check out the lounge in Zurich airport, as congestion in Rome mandated a delayed takeoff. I went straight to the gate. Again, the flight went smoothly, we followed the rugged coastline of Spain after leaving Switzerland and put down in Barcelona airport's gigantic new-ish international terminal: a true cathedral of flight.

I was safe. I was comfortable. I was on-time, like one of those fine Swiss timepieces. I was in Barcelona.

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