Thursday, June 12, 2014

Zurich Airport

Flight #87 - Swiss Air 256
Zurich (ZRH) – Tel Aviv (TLV)
Tuesday, June 10, 2014
Depart: 10:45PM / Arrive: 3:30AM
Duration: 3hr 45min
Aircraft: Airbus 330
Seat: 28E, 28F and 28G (Economy) 
Earned: 1,747 miles
Lifetime Miles: 169,636 miles

After our 14 hour layover in Switzerland where we took an overly long powernap and checked out the city center, we made our way back to Zurich Airport for our connecting flight to Israel.

Our flight was chosen to maximize the time we had on the ground, but it meant that we'd be arriving at a very odd hour in Tel Aviv, 3:30AM. The flight was really too short to get meaningful sleep, so we just played it by ear - a first for my anal Asian father (Great. Now, I think my LCD blog will show up when people Google search for "anal" and "Asian".)

Background Context
Many years ago, my father took a connecting flight through Madrid on his way to visit my mother in Israel. He had previously been in London before Spain, so I'm not surprised that the El Al security team took notice of my father when the boarding passengers had to line up to be interviewed at the gate. Let's review the facts.

1. Single male traveling solo.
2. Asian descent but an American passport.
3. American citizen, but his ticket originated in London.
4. Traveling to Israel to visit someone he barely knew.

As a result of their fact pattern assessment, my father was taken downstairs to the secure area where the entire contents of his carry on were opened so that each individual item could be placed on the table and inspected. Worried that he would miss his flight, he was told that the flight would wait until they were finished with their search. Sure enough, the flight was held for my father (and the other Hasidic rabbi being searched alongside him). But the lesson was that you should arrive to the departure gate with plenty of extra time.

Back to Zurich Airport
We arrived at the airport just after 8PM. We checked in and dropped off our luggage at the front counter and proceeded to the security checkpoint. Interestingly enough, there was no line at all and we were through in a matter of seconds.

My father found a map of the Zurich Airport (seen here) and the layout looked simple enough - one long L shaped hallway with an upstairs. He checked both the boarding pass and the television monitors to see which gate they'd be departing from, but the gate had not yet been assigned.

Since most of the retail stores in the airport were closed for the evening, we decided to go upstairs to the closest Swiss Lounge so we could relax a bit with the extra time we had.

Remember, flyers with Star Alliance Gold Status get lounge access. My father had gold status on United and Turkish Airlines. My mother had gold status on Aegean Airlines. And I was about to get Aegean Gold status as well. Of course, only one passenger needed gold status to get the rest of us in, but the Songer Family is always prepared.

The Swiss Lounge was actually 2 lounges. One was the Business Lounge (for those traveling on business class fares) and the other was the Senator Lounge. Given there were probably more business class passengers in the world than Senators, we opted for the latter in hopes that it would be modestly better appointed and less crowded.

We didn't have a chance to see the Business Lounge to compare, but the Senator Lounge was exactly what we hoped for. It was pretty stylish, clean and had two levels. There were so few passengers there - unlike the overly crowded United lounges back stateside. We quickly found a comfortable area to sit on the 1st floor, and my mother went off to get us some snacks before our flight.

My father passed on the free hard alcohol and went for some local beer while my mother had some coffee. The food at this downstairs station, however left a lot to be desired - mostly pretzels, peanuts and small sandwiches. Not quite enough for a make-shift dinner before our flight, but you really can't complain too much when everything is complimentary.

My mother and I made the most of it and celebrated our successful Zurich adventure. But then my father decided to check out upstairs to see what else the lounge had.

And sure enough, his instincts were spot on. There he found even more seating and even more food. But not just more of the same snacks. There was hot food (beef with potato dumplings and cheese ziti) as well as several different salad options. Jackpot!

After we ate, my father decided to check the departure gate in case we had time to check out the other Swiss Lounge, but he noticed the TV monitor had Gate E46. He didn't see Gate E on the map prior, so he then pulled up an airport map he found online.

Sure enough, there was actually a Gate E that was actually pretty far from the Main Terminal we were at. The Lounge attendant said it would take about 20 minutes to walk over and that we'd have to take the shuttle train. Oddly enough, that was the section we arrived in 14 hours earlier, but we hadn't been paying attention.

Normally, we would have waited til just 5 minutes before boarding started before leaving the lounge. Thankfully, since we had asked her early enough, my family had enough time to pack up and prepare for our long walk over to Gate E.

After two different sets of escalators, a crowded shuttle train, another few escalators and an elevator, we finally found ourselves in Gate E with enough time to spare that my father picked up a Zurich magnet and postcard as souvenirs. Disaster avoided and lesson learned.

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