Today we were invited to see the grand official reveal of SWISS’ latest product in an arsenal of improvements over the past few years. While the airline started with a range of improvements to its ground product and older A340 fleet a few years ago, the airline’s new Premium Economy has been a few years in the making. But why has the airline been the last in the group to adopt this mid-cabin class?
“We wanted to see how the Premium Economy product was performing with Austrian and Lufthansa, and the results were extraordinarily good,” Says Tamur Goudarzi Pour, CCO of SWISS. “We wanted to ensure there wouldn’t be much in the way of cannibalisation of the Business Class product, instead positioning this as an upsell for Economy Class passengers”
This is clear as the new cabin which sits neatly behind the Business Class compartment, taking away real estate from the economy class cabin, rather than eating into the existing, larger (and more lucrative) Business Class and First Class cabin which sits in front.
With just three rows, this semi-private cabin of 24 seats offers screams intimacy, with entirely different menus to those behind, as well as larger, fixed-shell reclining seats, priority boarding and a wave of additional perks, from discounted lounge access to additional baggage allowance.
Reflecting the emerging trend of both bleisure and premium leisure travellers, the airline couldn’t wait any longer to roll out the product, and should COVID not have halted proceedings, “the product would have come out a little sooner” hints Goudarzi Pour.
In an initial step, SWISS’s new Premium Economy Class will be successively installed in all 12 of its Boeing 777-300ERs. After Miami, the next SWISS destinations to be served with SWISS Premium Economy-equipped aircraft will be San Francisco on the US West Coast from mid-April and São Paulo in Brazil from the end of April. Premium Economy will be available on all of SWISS’s Boeing 777-300ER routes from the end of May onwards.
But it won’t stop there. The A340s are the next in the fleet to see this mini-cabin, albeit with a firm divider between Economy and Premium Economy, something the 777 doesn’t offer. The last seats to join the fleet will be on the A330s, but with that, Goudarzi Pour hints an entirely new cabin will be offered across all classes, with “many surprises” ahead. This hint at a full product renovation with the A330’s that will signal the start of a new product cycle for the carrier.
“We’re the only major carrier with First Class on all our long haul fleet” suggesting that this is part of the core make up of positioning SWISS as a premium global carrier with little chance of the airline opting to retire the product anytime soon.
But what of Premium Economy? The cabin is situated behind the 3rd doors, neatly positioned over the wings (reducing noise) and occupying rows 20-22 in a 2 x 4 x 2 configuration. Interestingly in walking into the cabin, you notice the very clear decision by the carrier not to divide the cabin at this stage from economy seats, albeit at the front of the cabin.
The airline has adopted a 39″ seat pitch for their ‘ZIM Privacy’ seats, which have a fixed shell, meaning no recline into the seat behind, something SWISS suggests over 70% of passengers wanted.
The seats are definitely more comfortable than the previous fixed-shell seat products operated by carriers such as Air France. In a nod to local talent, the checked-pattern fabrics have been provided by the Bern-based Lantal company. Although Lufthansa has also ordered these seats to make up their new Premium Economy proposition, it’s actually SWISS that is the first airline in the Lufthansa Group to offer its customers this newly-developed ZIM Premium Economy seat.
If you are looking for the perfect ‘throne seat’, there are also now clear winners in both Premium Economy and Economy cabins onboard the SWISS 777. The front row of Premium Economy, especially the window pairs (20A,B and J,K) have ample legroom, and although the monitors on the front row extend from the seat, they’re not exactly tiny.
But because there isn’t a partition between Premium Economy and Economy, passengers in row 27 of Economy also benefit from an unbelievable amount of personal space in front of them. This is THE row to get in economy, by any measure on these updated 777s (which will be fully rolled out by the end of May)
The rest of the Premium Economy seats are still a huge upgrade, albeit that in the fully reclined position a leg-rest would have been perfect for me (at 5’10) although probably restrictive for taller passengers. The recline is also maximised by offering 39″ of seat pitch, but at full recline it gave my shins just a centimetre or two of space from the seat in front. My only concern with this new product is in the fact I can’t help but feel that giving an extra inch for each seat and taking it from row 27 would have been a better game for all concerned. Maybe the following retrofits will take this into account.
“Our SWISS Premium Economy Class is a top-quality standout product against our international competitors. I am delighted that we can now offer our customers this new best-in-class air travel experience. Our Premium Economy Class should be especially appealing to travellers who have flown Economy Class to date and would like to enhance their inflight comfort and convenience. So it also helps us strengthen our premium-carrier positioning in the growing leisure travel market.”SWISS Chief Commercial Officer, Tamur Goudarzi Pour
But the product isn’t just about the seat. Large comfortable pillows, welcome drinks (a sore sight these days), a completely bespoke menu with three options, including a vegetarian option from the oldest vegetarian restaurant in the world, Hiltl. Real china plates and metal cutlery elevates the product, and thanks to a clever discount on lounge purchase too, the product is pitched as an affordable luxury over Economy.
As for amenities, it seems that the sustainability message is now at the forefront of every airline’s mind. At first – what seems like an unusual cardboard box – is actually a representation of the carrier’s ambitions to be so much more sustainable. Cutting through the noise, inside is a range of purely necessary products including gloriously padded eye mask, toothbrush, toothpaste and earplugs wrapped in kraft paper.
This matched with the airlines other fuel and weight saving initiatives such as the AeroShark paint finish that will also adorn the fleet of 777s and save 4.8k tonnes of fuel per annum, SAF, and the lack of plastics in the airline’s Business Class Alpine lounge, the airline is firmly addressing environmental issues.
SWISS have also considered elongating the product’s lifecycle. The seat already has wireless charging built in, but the carrier hasn’t switched it on yet, rather opting to future proof the seat and waiting for the other cabins to catch up, rather than over delivering in one cabin, while business class has to play catch up. This is a sensible approach, giving a second life to the cabin when the upgrades are underway, rather than having to retrofit at a later stage.
It seems that by leaving it that little bit longer, SWISS has been able to learn from the trials and errors of previous product launches and provide an elegant solution that reflects the carrier’s premium positioning. Sure, it could do with an extra inch of legroom in the second and third row, and it would have been great to have dedicated toilets, but there’s so much to love about this product. It’s certainly the result of listening, learning and delivering a product that passengers actually want. We look forward to seeing the product in the skies, and what the next few years will bring the carrier, starting with the A330.