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A very poor experience with Swiss

Last Monday, I decided at the last minute to take off to Barcelona for a few days.

Barcelona is a lovely city and I will be reviewing it in the coming days, but getting there and back was far from straightforward.

I was booked on a direct flight from Zürich to Barcelona on Swiss, returning via Munich on Lufthansa.

I got to Zürich a few hours early and checked out a couple of the Priority Pass lounges, which again I will review in the next few days.

Around an hour before the scheduled departure, I got the dreaded cancellation SMS from Swiss. I had been rebooked on a connecting flight via Frankfurt, with a 28-hour delay. Needless to say, on a 4-day trip, this was totally unacceptable.

By this stage, Zürich Airport had descended into chaos, with many Swiss and Lufthansa flights cancelled. As I waited in the 2-hour queue for the transfer desk, I researched other available options.

I found a Vueling flight some 4 hours later, bookable under an Iberia codeshare, which I know that Swiss are capable of booking. Mindful that there were very few seats left on this flight, I called Swiss Customer Service while standing in the queue.

Unfortunately, Swiss flatly refused to rebook me on that flight, regardless of their obligation under the EU261 Regulation to rebook passengers in the most expeditious manner possible.

As this was clearly in contravention of that condition, I took matters into my own hands and booked myself on the Vueling flight at a cost of €329.79.

The last step was to make sure my return was not cancelled when I no-showed the unacceptable rebooking option. This was done when I finally reached the transfer desk.

The final insult was delivered when I was informed that the cancellation was due to “weather”.

Forgive me if I am somewhat sceptical of this, when the only cancellations were from Swiss and their parent company Lufthansa, but every other airline was flying with short delays.

Are Swiss claiming they were subject to different weather conditions than British Airways, Finnair, SAS, Tailwind, Sun Express and Vueling?

Either way, a reasonable attempt to mitigate the delay was clearly not made, as I managed to beat their rebooking option by 24 hours.

As it happened, I arrived at my hotel in Barcelona at 1am, a delay of around 5 hours. Actually not a disastrous result, but only because I fixed the issue on my own initiative.

Naturally, this required me to pay upfront for the replacement flight, but this is recoverable under the relevant regulations, when the airline has failed to provide a reasonable alternative.

Most Ombudsman services and regulatory bodies will generally back up your claim if the airline has refused to rebook a clearly available same day alternative.

I will write an update with the result of my claim from Swiss, which will include the cost of the replacement flight plus €250 cancellation compensation.

As a side note, the Vueling flight, which I will also review in the coming days, was a pleasant experience and exceeded my expectations.

Swiss however, which is usually a very good airline, left a lot to be desired on this occasion.

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Trip review – Lake Constance

Lake Constance, nestled between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, encapsulates the contrast between the rugged landscape of the Alps and the gentle serenity of the lake waters. It is truly area of stunning natural beauty and I consider myself privileged to have lived there for nine years.

However, over the last two years, the region has been subject to some of the most brutal covid restrictions in Europe, leading me to spend much of that time away from home. Those restrictions ended in Switzerland several weeks ago and on June 1, Austria finally let go of one of the last hangovers of the covid panic, the mask mandate for public transport and everyday shopping.

I decided to fly down from my temporary base in Stockholm to see how fully this new found freedom was being embraced. I was pleasantly surprised.

My trip started with a flight to Zürich on Swiss, which no longer forces passengers to wear a mask. The airport in Zürich was also mask free, as was the 80-minute train journey to my home in Bregenz, Austria.

During my visit, I checked out the situation in all three countries bordering the lake, beginning with a walk along the Austrian shoreline, from Bregenz to Lochau.

This section is one of the more picturesque walks in the region and hugs the shoreline for several kilometres.

Lake Constance at Bregenz

The rigours of the last two years seemed a lifetime away.

My next stop was the Swiss lakeside town of Rorschach, an easy 35 minute train journey away. The journey was entirely mask free and there were no formalities required to enter Switzerland.

Rorschach was exactly as I remembered it from the pre-covid days.

I then headed off to visit my former workplace in Lindau, Germany. This is a relaxing one-hour cruise on one of the famous Lake Constance ships, which ply many routes around the lake to ports in all three countries.

Lindau was as charming as ever, with the rigours of the last two years seemingly forgotten.

Technically, the Bavarian mask mandate still applies to the first five minutes or so of the train journey back to Austria, but I observed only around 50% compliance and zero enforcement by the Austrian train crew.

On my last day of the trip, with one of the infamous Lake Constance thunderstorms rolling in, I headed off on the excellent new Swiss InterCity train to spend the day in Zürich before my flight back to Stockholm.

Overall, this was a successful and enjoyable trip. Switzerland has been restriction free for several weeks now and has returned entirely to pre-covid normality. Austria has now returned to every day normality and Germany seems not to be far behind.

However, it remains to be seen how long the new found freedom in this region will last.

Switzerland has generally been the least restricted of the three countries throughout the pandemic, and I am now reasonably confident that they, at least, have finally emerged from the panic and will not slip back into the restrictions.

Austria and Germany, however, have been somewhat stricter throughout and witnessing first hand how fully the restrictions were accepted and even embraced on a societal level was unsettling, to say the least. With that said, there seems, at least currently, little appetite in the general populations for a return to those restrictions. I remain optimistic, at least for the summer months.

In conclusion, I would highly recommend a visit to this stunning region, to which no written account can do full justice. Unfortunately, I did not have time on this short trip to enjoy the many other delightful areas of the lakeside, such as the pretty sailing town of Langenargen, the castle and wine region around Meersburg and the eponymous historical town of Konstanz. Hopefully I can cover those areas later in the summer.

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