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March 24, 2010

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    SWISS

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Hello from the Zurich airport! We left off last week from the island of Lanai. From there I hopped a plane back to Los Angeles, where I caught up on some work, attended a couple Hollywood parties, and swapped my beach clothes for cold-weather gear. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be hanging out in Switzerland for long, just an hour or so, as I'm making a connection to a neighboring country. I will tell you all about it next week, but for now sit back and enjoy the 11-hour flight across the Atlantic on SWISS-I sure did.

P.S. If you are curious where I am in real time, you can always follow me on Twitter. As always, I will give a play by play here in our weekly newsletter as well.

I arrived at LAX at 5:20 p.m. for a 7:25 p.m. flight. As one of the roaming L.A. airport helpers confirmed, this is a great time of day to travel through the Tom Bradley International Terminal-it was nearly empty.

There was even no line to check in at any of SWISS counters. I went to the closest one and the agent was very pleasant and quick. He looked at my passport, and printed my boarding card while checking my bag (I didn't have to drop it off at TSA like some airlines require), all within a minute. The best news is that my long shot of an upgrade went through, so I was one happy camper. But thanks to my elite status on US Airways (one of SWISS's Star Alliance partners), I had already secured my favorite coach seat (exit row aisle), so I was mentally prepared for hopping the pond in coach.

I always have to stop myself from calling the airline Swiss Air. The official company name is Swiss International Air Lines Ltd., but Switzerland's national airline is just called SWISS. They serve 76 destinations in 40 countries around the world and have a fleet of 85 aircraft. From North America they fly out of Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, Montreal, Newark, New York, and San Francisco (as of June 2) to Switzerland.

Clearing security was not a hassle at all. It literally took seconds, as there was no line and the agents were friendly. When I commented on how quick it was, the agent said, Don't worry-it will change in a few hours when an influx of flights begins. I looked up at the departure board and saw there were only four flights taking off between 6 and 8 p.m., and one of them was to Los Angeles. That must have been a mistake-otherwise, Los Angeles to Los Angeles has to be the quickest flight ever. TIP: Always try and fly at off-peak times to get the best service and least hassle.

My business-class ticket gave me access to the club lounge. Right on the other side of security was the elevator to the Star and Sky Team Alliance Lounges. The Star Alliance recently (within the last few years) did a complete makeover, so it's really nice, with two sections past the check-in desk. To the left is for first-class passengers and to the right is for biz-class travelers. Inside were complimentary newspapers, drinks (soft and alcohol), an impressive spread of fresh fruit, some Asian hot food, comfortable seats, and most important, free Wi-Fi. Don't you hate when lounges charge for Internet? After a quick snack and a download of my emails I decided to roam the airport since it was too quiet and a bit stuffy. That's the way lounges should be, but I was feeling wired and wanted to talk on my cell while checking out if there's anything new in the terminal.

Those passengers back in the lounge got escorted to the gate in a group at 7 p.m. By then I was already at the gate (123-at the end, and a long walk) and learned SWISS boards economy passengers first, then first class, and then business. It's a much more civilized way to do it, so first and business classes don't have to wait on the jetway and can avoid jealous stares from passing coach passengers (I'm usually one of them). Just like their reputation for watches, through my experience at check-in and at the gate the Swiss had proven their efficiency.

My 11-hour-and-20-minute flight to Zurich was on an Airbus A340-300. I was in 6K, a bulkhead window seat in the second section of the business cabin. The seats have a plaid design and offer the same features as Air France's (I think). On the seat was a plastic-wrapped comfortable blanket, soft pillow, and an amenity kit that doubled as a shoe bag and was filled with earplugs, eye mask, lotion, socks, and lip balm. There were also headphones. I always love when a seat has an individual monitor to watch movies/TV shows in case I get bored, a snake light so I can read without disturbing everyone with the bright overhead lamp, and of course an electrical outlet (only three-prong plugs worked, but they provide adapters if yours just has two, like my cell phone charger).

After I took my seat pre-takeoff drinks were served, and we pushed back at 7:31 p.m. We were airborne at 7:45 p.m. The pilot said the flight would be rather long because of headwinds. Shortly after takeoff the well-dressed flight crew passed out menus (in English, German, and French, in that order). The menu was created by chef Johan Breedijk from the Art Decco Hotel Montana in Lucerne.

Dinner service was slow, which is the European way, and it helped pass the time. I started watching The Blind Side as they came down the aisle with the drink cart. They use sleek tall designer glasses and offer a choice of Dijon mustard chips or something else (sorry, I didn't catch the name, since it was in German and I chose the former). I started with the air-dried beef on frisée with mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and blanched asparagus. I passed on the smoked salmon. For my main I had spinach and ricotta gnocchi (other options were grilled beef tenderloin, seared chicken breast, and pan-fried halibut with sautéed shrimp). All trays came with a side salad, choice of bread, and the best butter around. For dessert I couldn't let myself do the cheese plate, and the fresh fruit didn't entice me, but the raspberry mousse did.

Just as they collected the tray and linens, we crossed the border into Canada near Thunder Bay and the movie ended. Perfect time to do a little work and call it a night. My Danish seatmate's first words to me were, "Excuse me-you are not allowed to use a wireless mouse on the plane." I had heard that once before out of the hundreds of times I've used one, and had stopped immediately-until later a pilot told me that's nonsense. But if that's the rule, or makes people uncomfortable, why take a chance. I turned it off and we chatted a bit. He turned out to be a good guy and came from the same town as my grandfather.

I love talking to seatmates (usually), as I get to learn about their lives and travels. This guy has been to over 40 countries for his work as an airport consultant (to protect his identity I can't give you his real job title, since it's so unique). He said in terms of cleanliness and security, America is the worst. The WORST! He said Pakistan airports make America's look bad-now that's just sad. He said the maintenance facility of United and American where he was working was so dirty that he's never even seen such horrors. He went on to say that all the workers there were just there for a paycheck and had no love of the job.

What really disturbed me, and I've heard it before, is that he said to get onto the tarmac in the U.S. all he had to show was a drivers license. In every other country, he has to send his passport details in advance and go through a security check. In America no one checks him, or his tool-box, which he says is not small. He also told me how he had seen an A380 parked nearby and wanted to get a better look since he'd never seen one. When he got closer and no one stopped him, he decided to just walk up the stairs, the whole time saying, I can't believe no one has stopped me. On the plane were just a bunch of Mexican cleaners and no one said anything to him. He even went into the cockpit. Now that's frightening.

Besides his insights on how bad our airport security is (I already knew), I remember this tip I learned from him: He always gets a room on the backside of a hotel in sketchy places like Pakistan and Indonesia, just in case of a car bomb. I never thought of that.

Even though SWISS business seats are on a slight angle and do not lie completely flat, I got used to it and slept for a good three hours. Part of the reason was because the flight was so smooth. The first time it got bumpy was when we were over Iceland, and it was only light turbulence. The seat-belt sign only went on during takeoff and landing. Now that's impressive! When I woke up to use the loo, I looked at the local time in Switzerland and it was noon, so I forced myself to stay awake so I would be able to sleep the following night. It was difficult to keep my eyes open because the cabin was pitch dark and my legs were raised up. I so wanted to open the shade to look out and get the bright sun to trick my body clock since it's equivalent to Superman's Kryptonite, but I didn't want to be everyone's worst enemy. The plane has two cameras mounted on it-one facing forward and the other down-so you can see what's going on without disturbing your seatmates. I love this feature, but I still like looking out the window better.

Of course, I raided the mid-flight snack bar, which was one of the best I've ever seen. It had banana chips, dried pineapple, raisins, Toblerone bars, M&Ms, Evian water, and more goodies I can't think of. I just kept filling my pockets and belly.

The breakfast service started 90 minutes out, and just like at dinner they served the first section of business class (rows 4 and 5) first and then went to the back of the second cabin, so my row, 6, was served last-but they still had all the choices available. Breakfast was a selection of hot and cold items (eggs, muesli, deli meats, yogurt, fruit, cheese, bread). Those who felt like sleeping longer could order just 40 minutes before landing, but most people were up since people had started opening the shades. My shade was the first to go up, as I was so excited to be flying over mainland Europe I couldn't wait any longer. It seemed surreal when the captain got on the PA and said we were flying over Amsterdam, and I looked out the window and there it was.

Overall, the 11-plus-hour flight was like a dream, definitely not a chore. The seats in business are in a shell, so they don't encroach the person's space behind you, and the flight attendants were very professional (they aren't overly warm, but pleasant). For more info about SWISS, click on, call 1-877-FLY-SWISS, or contact your local travel agent.

Next week we travel to you will just have to log on to find out. Hint: It's in Europe and a neighbor of Switzerland, with a capital city that doesn't have nonstop flights from LAX. Too easy, I know.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Note: This trip was sponsored in part by SWISS

Copyright 2010 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip




SWISS Check-In


LAX's Star Alliance Lounge


Boarding Time!


My Plane


My PHAT seat!




Bathroom Amenities


I'll Take One of Those




Drinks Are Served










Flight Route


Snack Bar


Breakfast Tray




Landing in Zurich




  • I love seeing your pictures! Shelli G - New York, NY

  • Love the pics Johnny D. keep living the dream and keep the pics coming! John K - Redondo Beach, CA

  • Loved your segments on Lana'i. We stayed at Manele Bay shortly after it opened. We loved it and have wanted to get back there ever since. It's amazing how many people have never even heard of the island. Monica - Erie, PA

  • Hi Johnny - I've been reading your newsletter for almost 10 years and love it but I have to say that this week's new format does not work at all. I love how the photos break up the writing and show me a pictorial play by play of your trips. With this format I had to read the whole thing and then go back and look at the pics or vice versa. If I read first I forget what the pictures are of by the time I get to them. If I look at pics first I don't know what I'm looking at. I don't care which format you go back to but please pick one! Thank you. Christine - Boston

  • In your latest newsletter you mentioned Rick Steves and what is new in Venice and Rome as reported in: His first comment regarding Venice is: "Venice is crowded, expensive, and confusing." He must be talking about a different Venice that we visit. We were there last year at the end of February and the beginning of March. No crowds to speak of. Don't go there at high toruist season! I can't imagine being there in the summer. We were in Paris and London the first week of March and the last week of February this year. Now these cities were crowded with tourists. Euro Disney was swarming with Italian school kids on Spring break two weeks ago today (Wednesday March, 3rd) when we were there. This is the same time frame holiday-wise in terms of the beginning of Lent as when were in Italy last year. Our experience with Venice is that if you go right after Ash Wednesday the crowds have thinned out. We had a huge Grand Canal-view room in a 4-Star hotel two blocks from the train station for 195 Euro/night with breakfast. One of the hotel's front desk staff mentioned that if it wasn't for tour groups that stayed there then they would really have been suffering money-wise. We paid 215 Euro/night and 205 GBP for rooms that were tiny in comparison to that in Venice for a 3-Star hotel in Paris and a 4-Star boutique hotel in London two weeks ago. Also I don't understand why Rick tells tourists in Paris to buy carnets of 10 Metro/Bus tickets. If you are going to be there for 5 or more days and provided you arrive between a Monday and Wednesday you are better off with a Navigo Decouverte pass. We bought weekly Zone 1-5 passes for 33 Euro plus a 5 Euro fee for the Decouverte (residents of the Ile de France don't have to pay the fee). That got us on the RER to Euro Disney and back and to CDG on our way home. We probably did at least 8 bus, Metro and RER each day while we were in Paris. The Decouverte photo ID is good forever (like the old Carte Orange) and the Navigo card is rechargeable at any of the terminals in the stations in Paris. The convenience of the electronic Navigo pass is so much better than fiddling with the paper tickets. Only tourists and what seemed to be Parisians who only infrequently take public transportation use paper tickets. We saw what appeared to be an older Parisian couple with a grand kid or two in tow trying to figure out how to stuff a paper ticket into a Navigo-only turnstyle in the Madeleine metro station one day. The hardest part about getting the Navigo Decouverte is waiting for the sales clerk to place your photo on the ID card part and manage not to mess up the clear plastic adhesive-backed clear cover and not minding the line of people behind you while he is doing this. The same is true for London transport. You are better off with an Oyster weekly Travel Card than either individual tickets or the pay-per-ride rate-capped Oyster card. We paid 28 GBP plus a 3 GBP deposit for a Zones 1-2 London Transport weekly Oyster Travel Card. The Brits are kind enough to refund your 3 GBPs if you turn in the card before you leave. Johnny, keep up the excellent newsletter. Richard Milberg - Easton, PA

  • In my next lifetime, I want to be Johnny Jet!! Safe travels! Linda B - Tokyo

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