Thursday, March 7, 2013

Swiss: Tel-Aviv to Toronto Route Review: March 2013

Flying Over Switzerland - From Inside Swiss plane
Over my three years of travelling back and forth between Toronto and Tel-Aviv, I have managed to sample most of the Star Alliance partners that travel this route.  Travelling Star Alliance allows me to collect Aeroplan points, which seems like the best option for this route.

I have reviewed the various options in different blog posts, which are all listed in the Contents By Topic page.  While I try to take a direct flight as often as I can, the price difference is often so significant that it is worthwhile trying a different route.

Most recently, I flew on Swiss.  The price on Expedia was about $800 cheaper than flying on the available Air Canada flight for the dates I needed.  So I decided to save the money and take the roundabout route.

Most of the Swiss flights (if not all of them) fly from Zurich to Montreal, rather than Toronto.  So this is a major drawback.  I had to fly Tel-Aviv-Zurich-Montreal-Toronto (in order to save all that money).  I would  have spent the day travelling anyways, even with a direct flight, so although it was an inconvenience, it did not cause me to lose extra work time.

Like most of the other European flights from Tel-Aviv, the Swiss flights leave early in the morning, in this case 5:30 a.m.  That is just not that fun.  It means you have to arrive at the airport at about 3:30 a.m.  this is exhausting.  The highways were empty at 3:30 a.m. but Ben Gurion airport was completely packed.  Since so many of the flights to Europe leave early in the morning, the check-in area was wall to wall people.  It took quite a bit longer than usual to get through everything.  By contrast, the direct flight to Toronto on Air Canada leaves at 12:30 p.m. and the aiport is usually quite empty at that time.

The flight from Tel-Aviv to Zurich was uneventful.  The planes were similar to those used by Austrian and Lufthansa.  But I have to say that Swiss had the best in-flight entertainment selection that I have seen, by far, rivalled perhaps only by United, which would be a distant second.  There were hundreds of movies, and hundreds of musical choices in many different musical genres.  By contrast, for example, Austrian Air does not even have an entertainment system for its route between Tel-Aviv and Vienna.  Of course, I was too tired to watch a movie, having left at 5:30 a.m., but I listened to a bunch of new pop and rock albums while trying to catch up on some sleep.

Regretfully I went back to Kosher meals - since I didn't want to get stuck being served some kind of breakfast wurst or other meat which I would not have been able to eat.  So I had to make do with a hideous omelette look-alike that tasted like a hunk of rubber.  I jealously watched my seat neighbour enjoying a fresh salad and some fresh fruit even though his hunk of mystery meat that accompanied the healthy food did not tempt me at all.

In Zurich, I had about four hours to kill until the flight to Montreal.  I was able to hang out in the "Panorama Lounge" for a while.  This chintzy lounge only offered one hour of free wireless internet (I think it was one of the only lounges that I have been in that has this restriction).  There was a bit of food, some decent coffee and other items.  It was largely empty when I first arrived but as time passed, the lounge became completely overcrowed.  Apparently, there are not many lounge choices in Zurich so seats were at a real premium.

I also spent a bit of time poking around in the duty free stores, but the prices were really quite high.  I decided I had to buy a few bars of chocolate but that was really about it.

The flight from Zurich to Montreal was fine.  The plane featured the same great in-flight entertainment system so I was able to catch up on a few recent movies.  I actually quite enjoyed watching Silver Linings Playbook and I also checked out some more new music selections.  The kosher mystery beef dish that was served for lunch was quite questionable.  Probably should have ordered vegetarian...Near the end of the flight I was served some kind of deli sandwhich, which was equally less than appetizing.

The real problem with this flight was the extra delay of having to travel through Montreal.  Of course I love Montreal (I was born there after all) but this stop simply added an extra three or four hours to my travel time.  Fortunately, I was able to get on a standby list to leave on an earlier flight than scheduled (on Air Canada) and I wound up in Toronto about 2 hours earlier than scheduled at 5:30 p.m.  Total Travel time - 19 hours - including travel time, lounge time and everything in between.   It would have been 21 if I had not been able to get the earlier flight. 

Most Swiss flights award full Aeroplan points (unlike Austrian and many Lufthansa) and you get to see some really great scenery travelling into and out of Switzerland, if you have a window seat.  All in all, I would say that this was probably a preferable flight over Austrian and maybe even over Lufthansa but it wasn't as good as flying via United or US Air, if you have to make a stopover.

I won't rule it out for the future, particularly if I can save hundreds of dollars (not just one or two hundred...), but there is no doubt that it is preferable to fly direct if at all possible.

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