A - Z 2020 Switzerland - Swiss and Swissair

Photo Credit: Patrick Wirth

Welcome back to my Swiss themed A - Z challenge. The letter S is dedicated to our airlines Swissair and Swiss, I will get into the difference in a minute.

Throughout my very first A - Z challenge in 2015 I was talking about my life as a new (part-time) working Mom. I was looking back at my first job after my maternity leave. 

I worked for Swiss, our airline, which had always been a dream of mine. I love the international, busy atmosphere at airports. Even if I'm not flying anywhere myself, I like to people-watch at departure and arrival gates, trying to figure out who these people are, where they are coming from, where they are going, and why they are crying happy or sad tears.  

For a short but intense two years, I had the opportunity – and the access card – to go beyond customs and security and walk along the gates to the „line maintenance“ which is basically the pit stop for airplanes.  I learned tons about airworthiness, procedures, checks, and how to avoid AOG (aircraft on ground), and I met some wonderful people. 

So what is the difference between Swissair and Swiss?

Here's some 30 years of my country's airline history:

Due to the liberalization of Europe's airline market (and the fact that Switzerland is not part of the European Union), Swissair was forced to look for partners to remain competitive. In 1989 Swissair signed up for a partnership with Delta and Singapore Arilines. In 1990, together with SAS, Austrian Airlines and FinnAir they formed the Qualiflyer Alliance. 

Due to a weak economy and the gulf war, Swissair suffered losses in the early 1990s and had to use their financial reserves. Project Alcazar in 1993 called for an alliance between Swissair, KLM, SAS and Austrian Airlines. However, this deal fell through. 

One of the major causes of the downfall was initiated during this time as well: the so-called Hunter Strategy. As advised by a consultancy firm, this strategy entailed the purchase of large stakes of various airlines, such as Sabena, Air Liberté and Turkish Airlines, some of which were hugely unprofitable. Unfortunately they were not able to turn things around and were still making losses. 

Sadly, in 1998, Swissair flight 111 crashed in Halifax, New Foundland. Smoke in the cockpit caused an all systems failure. A devastating day for our country and the entire airline industry. 

Almost everybody knew somebody (who knew somebody) of the 229 people who were on board of that aircraft, crew members or passengers.

When I started to work for Swiss, I met people who worked on that aircraft on this very day or were part of the investigations team that had been active for a period of five years after the crash. 

There were no survivors, so the priorities were to retrieve the flight recorder, the bodies and the largest parts of the wreckage.

Even though years had passed since the plane crash, when we arrived at Peggy's Cove, a cute little fishing community, where a memorial site is set up, we felt very concerned. There was an icy wind blowing that contributed to the goosebumps we already had.

Visiting this memorial and spending some time to pay our respects certainly left an unforgettable impression.

For our airline, the 1998 Halifax accident caused a severe blow to customer confidence. Prior to this, Swissair had been considered to be one of the safest airlines.

The rise of low-cost carriers such as Ryanair and EasyJet, the 9/11 attacks and the aforementioned Hunter Strategy, combined with corporate mismanagement, led to the grounding of the Swissair fleet on October 2nd, 2001.

Passengers and crews alike were stranded not only at Zurich airport, but literally anywhere in the world. Coworkers told me since suppliers insisted in cash compensation, they had to ask everyone who wanted to get home, to pitch in and pay for kerosene and airport taxes at the respective destination. Crew hotels refused to host our pilots and flight attendants because their credit cards were frozen.

A government loan managed to keep Swissair flying until April 2002, when their successor airline Swiss International airlinebased on the existing short-haul airline Crossair, started operations. 

In 2005, Swiss was taken over by the German Lufthansa. Therefore it became a Star Alliance member, along with Air Canada, United Airlines, Thai Airways and Air New Zealand, and it was slowly building up their network in terms of profitable destinations. 

During my tenure with Swiss, two notable things happened:

Volcanic eruptions at Eyjafjallajökull, Iceland, created an ash cloud that led to the disruption and closure of the majority of the European airspace for at least a week in April 2010. 

In other words: grounded aircrafts, stranded passengers. Déjà vu. 

San Francisco was officially to become a destination, and the airline decided to make the Airbus A340-300's inaugural flight a special one. See for yourself:

So today, here we are, ten years later.

Again, our planes are grounded, no thanks to Covid 19. 

Some 65 millions of people worldwide, not only direct airline employees, but ground personnel, catering, vendors, and many more depending on airlines' operations, are siting at home, hoping that this, too, shall pass, that they'll get to keep their jobs and pursue their dreams, because for any decent airline employee, working for an airline is much more than a job.

Photo Credit: flyguler

I want to take this opportunity to thank my dear airline friend Markus (whom, I'm proud to say, I hired with Swiss back then) and his buddy Patrick. They took these fantastic airplane pictures and let me use them. 

Have you ever flown with Swissair or Swiss at some point in your life? Have you worked for an airline? 

Let me know in the comments below and please check in tomorrow for the letter T. It'll be about Wilhelm Tell, a very different chapter in Switzerland's history.

PS: I'm not the only family member who has kerosene running through her veins. Look at my youngster's birthday party a few years back:


  1. Every flight companies have a crash in their history... I used to fligh a lot with Air France, Air Tahiti Nui, and Vueling for traveling to Spain.
    I'm glad to use a word you know ;) S is for Scherenschnitte

  2. Unfortunately, your profession has a flip side of the coin, this is when a crash occurs ... It is very difficult, I think after that to focus on flying ...

  3. What an interesting post. The history of airlines and mergers and tragedies and economics is complex. While I've never flown Swiss/Swissair, I do love people watch at airports, and always wonder about their stories as well. Looks like your son had a wonderful party - how fun.

  4. I love airports too. They are so full of energy and happy people (for the most part). It's one of the reasons I don't mind long layovers. I enjoy the people watching opportunity. I wonder how much will change with airlines/airports once life starts up again. I'm sure there will be some lingering impacts. Weekends In Maine

  5. I have flown Swissair once in the 70s from Singapore to Bombay. But I didn't know that Swissair was grounded and restarted as Swiss. This was an interesting post.

  6. I used to love everything aircraft as a teenager and I enjoyed your account and your personal enthusiasm - great post!


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