A tale of two airports

February 16, 2011, 6 Comments

Fifteen minutes. That’s all it took yesterday for me to get through Zurich airport. And that was including having to take a shuttle bus from the plane to the gate because my flight from London City airport was on such a small plane that it couldn’t reach the air bridge. Now that’s efficient, even by Swiss standards. We landed on time (of course), whizzed through passport control, and the luggage was already dawdling around the carousel by the time I got there. No frustrating waiting for someone else to do their job properly. From landing to walking out through the green channel in 900 seconds. Not bad at all.  

All that was light years away from my ordeal at Heathrow the week before. No snow, no strikes and no school holidays but still it was a dog’s breakfast from the moment we arrived above the airport. The Swiss Airlines’ captain tried to sound cheery as he informed us that due to ‘overcrowding’ we would have to circle aimlessly over London for 45 minutes. That’s almost as long as the flight time itself! What I failed to grasp is how could it be overcrowded down there? Isn’t that what flightplans and timetables are for? Or did nine flights all suddenly decide to land at 1pm on a Monday afternoon without telling anyone? Someone somewhere needs to go to planning school.

If that wasn’t annoying enough, after landing we taxied around the whole airport past dozens of empty gates to the one farthest away from anywhere useful, meaning we all had to walk back once inside. Then passport control with only one desk open, despite a queue that any Brit would normally be proud of, and the dreaded ‘Please Wait’ on the baggage information screen. In fact I waited longer for my bags at Heathrow than the whole time I was in Zurich airport.

BAA, who ‘run’ Heathrow, would probably say that it’s Europe’s largest airport and handles trillions of people every minute, and so on. But after last week, when it was relatively quiet and normal but was still one endless pain, it’s no wonder that a few snowflakes brought the whole place to a standstill last year. Thank God for Swiss efficiency. It may give the whole country a reputation for being slightly unexciting and slow but at least it works. I love it! I just hope I never get to love it as much as the Swiss man behind me in the check-in queue at Las Palmas airport last November. He was on the verge of exploding at the inefficiency of the staff there. True, they did have just two speeds (Slow and Stop), and liked to chat more than work, but that’s what Spain – and being on holiday – is all about.

Unbelievable punctuality and efficiency aside, the thing I love most of all about landing at a Swiss airport is that little info screen at the luggage carousel, the one that tells you when the next trains are leaving. Such a great example of attention to detail. So simple, so helpful, so Swiss.

6 Comments on "A tale of two airports"

  1. jofurniss Wednesday February 16th, 2011 at 10:47 PM · Reply

    Interesting that you mention Spanish airport ‘efficiency’ when Heathrow is owned, of course, by a Spanish company. How could anyone have been convinced that that takeover was a good idea? I have a better one – just GIVE all the airports (and trains and buses and the underground) to the Swiss state as a big present. The Swiss would have a whale of a time sorting it out and the UK would get a functioning transport system. Lovely.

  2. Ingrid Wednesday February 16th, 2011 at 11:39 PM · Reply

    Once again…you are spot on! It is amazing how you manage to put into words what so many of us feel when we travel. Imagine travelling with kids…Kloten airport kids’ lounge beats any other airport I know!!!

  3. Stephan Monday February 21st, 2011 at 12:08 PM · Reply

    I remember waiting in Heathrow for a connecting flight to Zurich two years ago. We came through the passport control and had to wait about 1,5h for boarding time in the terminal. There were signs all over the place that remembered you to be on time for boarding and plan enough time to get to your gate as it may take some. They listed three ranges of gate numbers: It took you 5, 10 or 20 minutes to get to your gate, depending on the range was in, if I remember correctly.

    So that’s how you stress Swiss passengers: Do not announce the gate number (or even the range) earlier than 8 minutes before boarding time, if it will be in the 5 min. range. We were closely watching that display every 3 minutes almost for half an hour, getting more and more nervous as it also showed “On Time” for our flight 😀

  4. Frank Tuesday February 22nd, 2011 at 04:21 PM · Reply

    Whilst overall the is a huge gap between LHR and ZRH, I would be interested to know at what time of the day you arrived. Perhaps you have never arrived at ZRH from a longhaul flight at 6-8 o’clock in the morning, together with all the other longhaul flights, it is like a zoo trying to get on to the transfer train or bus when transferring to another flight. But LCY is a delight almost any time of day, but much smaller than LHR or ZRH of course. As for GVA, that is not a model of Swiss efficiency, but the typical arrogant Romande “can’t be bothered” attitude. Suisse Romandi would simply fall apart if it were not for the intervention of the Swiss Germans, thank goodness for them!

  5. LX Monday February 28th, 2011 at 01:56 PM · Reply

    Agree about Heathrow, best avoid.

    Also, sorry to be so pedantic, but the “Jumbolino” you flew in on can have a jetty attached to it.
    The reason it didn’t is because at present the non-Schengen European Gates are all bus-served at Zurich Airport.

    Don’t worry, that’s changing soon, the new Pier B will be completed and will feature a Visitor’s Terrace (something that LHR could learn from)

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