Are you efficient, Switzerland?
June 17, 2014 12:58 PM   Subscribe

I have found an airfare deal that I am happy with that involves going through Zurich. Potentially short layover in Zurich. From what I can gather, the airport at Zurich is a breeze for short flight connections but the sources of that information are a little outdated. Will this be enough time?

I have a few different routes I could fly in order to get to my final destination in Europe, but traveling through Zurich makes the most sense as far as both price and convenient layovers go.

Flight #1 - USA-Zurich-Schengen destination: I would have 1h 15m to connect to my final destination, which is also in the Schengen Area. My only other option is having a 6h 25m layover.

Flight #2 - Schengen departure-Zurich-USA: I would have 2h 0m to connect from my arriving Schengen flight to my Zurich-USA departure. My only other option is having a 3h 55m layover.

It seems I should be OK on both ends, but while I have read nothing but praise for how easy it is to connect at Zurich Airport, I wanted to be sure as things can change at airports every few years. I also see that the city of Zurich is a quick train ride from the airport for exploration time, but I prefer efficiency of getting to my destination over that.

Where do I clear customs/passport control? Is making a connection at Zurich as easy as everyone says? Will this give me enough time, or should I go with the longer layovers?

Thanks in advance!
posted by signondiego to Travel & Transportation (12 answers total)
International flights outside of the EU arrive and depart ZHR from Gate(s) E while flights within the EU use Gate(s) A and B. Gate(s) E is a remote terminal where you take an underground train to get to the main area.

I wouldn't chance it.

1. Are you checking luggage? If no, I like your odds better. If yes, I wouldn't chance it.

2. Are you traveling the same airline for the entire itinerary? If so, then at least it's manageable because they wouldn't allow it otherwise. If you're changing carriers, I wouldn't chance it.

3. How hard would it be to get booked on the next flight to your ultimate destination if you miss your connection? If it's a typically full flight, and you're going from GenericAirline to RegionalAirline, GenericAirline has NO obligation to insure that you make your connection, as opposed to if it's a continuation on their airline, in which case, they do.

This is especially true if you land on time, but if it turns out that half the world is connecting through ZHR and customs is backed up, that could screw up your connection. There's a Train Strike in France which could account for more air traffic throughout the EU. A consideration.

I'd just have longer layovers.

There's a transit hotel in the airport. It's about $65 for 6 hours, and you have access to a shower. You can rest, freshen up, change clothes. Have a meal, get a newspaper.

That 2h return is slightly more comfortable, I might chance that one, but in the grand scheme of things, what's a few hours at the airport?
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2014

Are these Swiss connections? i.e. published flight connections from the same Airline? Or are you putting together your own itineraries with multiple airlines?

Flight #1:
I think, in normal cases you would make this connection. Are both flights with Swiss? They generally are very helpful with connections.

Flight #2:
Are both flights with Swiss? Again, I really see no problem here.

If you want to spend a few hours in Zürich:
1. Customs is easy. Best case is no wait. Worst case is 15 - 20 minute wait at Passport Control.
2. The train ride to the city takes 15 min. and there are about 8 to 10 train per hour. This should be no problem.
3. The Main Train station is in Downtown Zürich near plenty of interesting sites.
4. If you want some tips for 4 to 6 hours in Zürich, please let me know.

have a great trip!
posted by jazh at 1:30 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Do you have an EU passport? Processing through passport control/customs will be faster if you do.
posted by travelwithcats at 1:37 PM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: Sorry, I should have added those details. All flights are with Swiss under one itinerary, although the USA portions are with Edelweiss, so I'm not sure how that affects things since they are basically the same aside from being in a different section of the airport.

I am a US citizen, so no EU passport. It would be a big deal if I missed the return flight home to the States, but then I have 2 hours to make that.

Thank you for the tips on Zurich airport in general. What's the verdict now, with that information? I also will have no checked baggage, just a carry-on.
posted by signondiego at 2:00 PM on June 17, 2014

I'm a US citizen. I've flown Swiss Air through Zurich as a connection between Heathrow and Boston a few times. It has always been a hike and once I was quite sure I was going to miss my flight (I just barely made it). These were all 1 hour or so connections. It's doable, but only if you are healthy, mobile, and good at navigating airports.
posted by olinerd at 2:53 PM on June 17, 2014

When flying out from ZRH, I usually arrive at the airport with around the margins you have here (and luggage to check in), and always have plenty of time. However, getting off a train takes less time than getting off a plane...

For #1, I'd be more worried about the incoming flight being late than delays once you're at the airport. As jazh says, it'll work unless something goes wrong, but you don't have a lot of margin there.

#2 is less of a problem; you'll have time to pick up some luxemburgerli, and chances are that your longest wait will be the extra US checks near the gate in terminal E.

(for #1, killing a couple of hours in ZRH is no problem; e.g. train to hauptbahnhof, then stroll along the bahnhofstrasse until you get to the lake, follow it to the left and cross the river, then loop back through the old town. Grab something to drink or eat if you see something interesting, or do some shopping. Most people speak at least a little English, so just ask for directions if you feel lost. Then take the train back.)
posted by effbot at 2:54 PM on June 17, 2014

Response by poster: Alright, thank you for those follow-up responses. Regarding flight #1 - there is a later flight Swiss could put me on if my flight did get delayed or something, but not so for flight #2, but I feel pretty comfortable doing this.
posted by signondiego at 3:02 PM on June 17, 2014

I have flown to dozens of airports on 4 continents and Zurich is the cleanest, nicest, most organized, best run airport I have ever seen in the entire world. If you are going to make a 2-hour connection anywhere, you'll make it there.

That said, you don't specifically say what any of your other several options are, besides that 6+ hour layover (which seems overkill to me). Presumably you are looking to keep a reasonable layover duration, like less than 3 hours; if that is your qualifier I would definitely not pick any other US-connecting airport over Zurich. Certainly not Frankfurt or Paris CDG, if those are some of your alternatives.
posted by Joey Buttafoucault at 3:04 PM on June 17, 2014

I live in Zurich and arrive/depart from ZRH quite frequently and it has never taken me more than 30 mins to get from the airport train station to my gate including checking luggage and clearing security and any airside train rides. Likewise on arrival I normally turn on my phone and look up connections into the city as I am waiting to be let off the plane and I aim for a connection in the next 20-30 minutes. That's normally enough time to clear immigration and pick up my luggage and leg it to the airport train station (I have a season ticket so I don't need to buy train tickets).

So all in all it is a very smoothly operating machine. However I will say is that I once got stuck at passport control for half an hr, with my Schengen passport, because it was gone 10pm, they only had two people checking passports and they took their good old time over checking even the EU passports…because that's another trait of the Swiss, the need to do everything 'properly', including scanning EU passports any which way the machines allow them to scan them.
posted by koahiatamadl at 9:13 PM on June 17, 2014

As others have mentioned transfers thru Zurich airport can be a hike. That said, assuming your flights are all on the same airline/itinerary, I would book the shorter connections. It has been my experience that if you miss your connection your airline will simply rebook you on the later flight.
posted by ista at 9:36 PM on June 17, 2014

Some things to do in Zürich if you decide:

For just a few hours, I would recommend this:

A very easy walking tour is this map:

There are a couple of great highlights (both may be open only during working days):

1. A scale model of the city built by the Zurich planning department and kept updated.
2. A scale model of the city from 200 years ago

If you have a second and you are interested, buy a Bratwurst at the Sternen Grill. and take a short walk on the lake.

Also note this controversial public art project (site in German):
posted by jazh at 12:47 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks everyone! Great answers from all of you. I booked the shorter connections on both ends, with the worst case scenario for flight #1 is that I'm put on the later flight.
posted by signondiego at 4:25 AM on June 18, 2014

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