Airline Review: Miami to Tokyo on Swiss

This was one of the stranger tickets that I’ve bought. Starting in mid-March, I had been searching for passage to Asia from various major Florida airports as well as Atlanta. The prices returned didn’t particularly excite me – $1,300 for a one-way economy ticket. Pfft. That’s a fair sum to hand over to a mediocre American carrier for trans-Pacific torture.


I began playing with Google Flights on various ex-Miami itineraries. What about routing through Europe? Swiss returned tickets at $580 to Bangkok and $662 to Tokyo. Bangkok could wait, but Tokyo was new to me. Total travel time via Switzerland was about 2-3 hours longer than via the US West Coast, yet was half the price. How could I resist? Well, I couldn’t. After booking, I called up my contact with Lufthansa (Swiss’ owner) – my personal Q in the airline world. The fare confused me – an ultra-discounted K fare for high summer travel. (Note my earlier explanation of fare buckets)


It was something of a mystery for him, too. Q and a trusted colleague wondered if it was an error fare or some sort of super-incentive (“steering”) to get people on the Tokyo flight. Oh well. Q suspected that I had the cheapest ticket on the planes. You have no idea how bloody pleased I was (and am) with myself. Much teasing has followed in the vein of “Sorry about the lack of a Christmas bonus this year Q, but you know…”


Check-in, Security, and Boarding


Check-in at Miami went without much to comment on. I turned up absurdly early (by 5 hours) out of a desire to drop off my rental car before Miami rush hour.


Security was tediously slow. Only one scanner was in use, and the TSA staff seemed to be ground-down into the apotheosis of apathy.


After quitting the lounge to head towards the gate, I was put-off by the enormous queue. 

Boarding queue at Miami airport for my swiss airlines flight


Onboard: A330 to Zurich


Amazingly, boarding wasn’t nearly as chaotic or tedious as I imagined. Even better, overhead room seemed readily available when I at last got onto the plane (row 31). I’ve become accustomed to watching economy passengers gate-checking bags because the overhead lockers & under-seat spaces are packed to capacity. 


My legroom was acceptable, and I miraculously had no one in the seat next to mine on an otherwise-packed flight. Their mishap or misconnect was my good luck.Picture showing legroom on board my flight


I declined dinner (chicken & rice or penne with marinara and veggies) and stuck to water. My time was split between cat-napping and watching a Hong Kong film Chasing the Dragon that dealt with endemic corruption in the colony during the late 60s-to-70s. It fascinated this HK-phile to see the Kowloon Walled City in action (it was demolished in 1993, as it made Mos Eisley look respectable).


Before landing, we humble passengers were treated to a bar of Swiss chocolate. I ate that with gusto.


Transiting in Zurich was a pleasure. I walked off my plane at gate E 36 and was immediately in the terminal. Certain “clean” destinations (such as Miami, apparently), do not need to go through a second screening in Zurich. As I wasn’t entering Switzerland or going to another Schengen country, there was no passport check, either. I immediately hurried to the lounge for a shower and a snack.


Onboard: A340 to Tokyo


Boarding LX 160 for Tokyo proved even more efficient than the Miami boarding. On this 11 hr 20 minute leg, I was quite fortunate to snag an exit row seat during online check-in. Normally, those seats cost $100 to reserve in advance, but are free of charge at check-in if still available.


When I realized that my seatmate + our counterparts on the opposite end of the plane were all very much in the “Social Security” years, I realized that it would be up to me to do the heavy lifting in an emergency.


Fortunately, that never occurred. My main “problem” was the tendency for my neighbour’s water to end up on my knee when receiving it from the flight attendant. On this sector, I took lunch – soy & ginger beef with Japanese rice or Swiss macaroni gratin. I opted for the beef. 


Upon receiving my meal, I noticed that my utensil baggie was unusually heavy – it contained metal silverware. Good Lord, I did not know that any carrier did that in Steerage these days!


After dinner, I engaged in more catnapping in addition to watching Destiny: The Tale of Kamakura. That was a cool story and will appeal to fans of Spirited Away.


By the time we landed, my first international economy flight since 2011 hadn’t made me its bitch quite as much as I expected, but I was ready for it to end.  Blessedly, there was more chocolate. Holding a bar of swiss chocolate

As is the case for a developed country that isn’t the USA, immigration was swift and pleasant. Shockingly, our bags were already appearing on the reclaim carousel. I remembered coming home from university and enduring JFK’s arrival procedures – why can’t we (Americans) have nice things?


After a brief chat with a curious but polite customs officer, I was on my way.


Overall, well done, Swiss. The price:value relationship here was excellent. The A330 I flew ex-MIA with newer seats/in-flight entertainment was an excellent aircraft. The A340 from Zurich did the job, but my heavens, do they show their age. They rattle like a particularly abused used car from the 1990s. On both aircraft, I loved that 2-4-2 seating – more choices for aisle seats.