19 years: the history of SWISS International Air Lines



SWISS International Air Lines is the national airline of Switzerland from its hub at Zurich airport. A key member of the Lufthansa Group and of the Star Alliance, SWISS flies more than 100 aircraft to a range of short and long-haul destinations. Also with a base of operations in Geneva, it will celebrate its 20th anniversary in March 2002.

The SWISS fleet currently consists of 102 aircraft. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple theft

SWISS was founded just under twenty years ago, in March 2002, although its roots go further back to a regional operator. With its headquarters in Basel, it succeeded Swissair as the national airline of Switzerland. Having originally planned to join aworld, it ended up in the Star Alliance after its takeover by Lufthansa in 2007.

Formed 19 years ago

SWISS International Air Lines came into being following the bankruptcy of the former national airline Swissair in 2002. Swissair predated World War II and had flown Boeing 747s. Needing a new national airline , a carrier named Crossair stepped in to pick up the pieces of what the now bankrupt Swissair had left behind.

Crossair was the regional subsidiary of Swissair before the collapse of the former national carrier and dates back to 1975. The airline became SWISS after Swissair’s creditors sold the majority of the bankrupt carrier’s assets to Crossair, and it has began operations on March 31, 2002.

Swissair 747
Swissair has been the national airline of Switzerland for over 70 years. Photo: Getty Images

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BA / oneworld partnership failure

In a short time, the brand new SWISS International Air Lines began to consider the idea of ​​joining forces with other carriers. The idea was to help him grow and avoid one of the two other fates that the directors of the time had planned. Without a partnership, they feared that SWISS would either have to refocus as a niche carrier or shrink beyond recognition as an airline.

As such, it has initiated discussions with several major European airline groups. After not having achieved anything with Air France-KLM, SWISS turned instead to the British airline British Airways. In turn, he also spent a year trying to get into aworld, the alliance of which BA was a founding member. However, this ended up causing tensions with British Airways.

British Airways Boeing 757
SWISS and BA were unable to follow through on their plans. Photo: Aero Icare via Wikimedia Commons

The reason for the tension was the fact that SWISS and BA were competing on several key routes. Nevertheless, despite the objections of the British national carrier, SWISS finally obtained permission to join the alliance. However, the airline ultimately turned down the opportunity, citing what it believed to be a one-sided relationship with BA in terms of benefits.

Slowly acquired by Lufthansa

SWISS has announced that it will not join aworld in June 2004. Nine months later, it had concluded a new agreement with Lufthansa. This resulted in a gradual takeover which finally integrated SWISS into the Lufthansa group and its “Miles & More” loyalty program. Lufthansa took an initial 11% stake in SWISS in March 2005.

Over the next two years, Lufthansa increasingly took control of SWISS, gradually integrating its operations into the group. In April 2006 SWISS became a member of both the aforementioned Miles & More program and the Star Alliance. In July 2007, the takeover was officially completed and SWISS remains a member of the Lufthansa group today.

Lufthansa SWITZERLAND
The takeover of SWISS by Lufthansa took around two years. Photo: Aero Icare via Flickr

Subsidiaries and acquisitions

The mid-2000s also saw SWISS expand its activities in the form of the creation of a regional subsidiary. In addition, it also acquired several carriers in the years that followed. As regards the regional branch of SWISS, this was founded in September 2005 under the name Swiss European Airlines. It started its activities two months later, in November 2005.

While initially a regional carrier, the subsidiary was renamed Swiss Global Airlines in 2015. This reflects the fact that it had started to operate some long-haul services on behalf of its parent company, using the Boeing 777. In April 2018, SWISS merged the carrier into its own mainline operations, following a new harmonized working agreement.

At the same time, in 2008, SWISS also acquired Edelweiss Air and Servair. Edelweiss now serves as the leisure arm of the carrier, serving various holiday destinations both within and outside of Europe. Servair, meanwhile, focused on business travel. Renamed Swiss Private Aviation following its acquisition, it ceased operations three years later due to restructuring.

Edelweiss A330
Edelweiss was one of SWISS ‘two acquisitions in 2008. Photo: Getty Images

History of the brand

Throughout its history, SWISS has maintained a simple but intelligent approach to its brand identity. Its first livery featured the Swiss flag on the tail of the aircraft. During this time, the fuselage was almost completely white. Towards the front of the plane, the name of the airline was printed in lowercase, with the name of the country in different languages ​​beside it.

Since 2011, SWISS has painted its planes with a slightly different take on this simple but effective paint scheme. The airline’s name is now printed in large red capital letters on the front of the fuselage, with the list of Swiss names in French, German, Italian and Romansh (the country’s four official languages) no longer present at its ratings.

SWITZERLAND, Boeing 777, Premium Economy
SWISS underwent a rebranding in 2011. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple theft

Recent developments

In recent years, SWISS has managed to operate a diverse and modern fleet, which Simple Flying took a closer look at earlier this year. While the data from ch-aviation.com shows that some older aircraft of the Airbus A320 and A340 families remain present, the airline is also an important operator of the new A220 series, which it has now flown for five years.

In recent months, SWISS has championed sustainability initiatives involving sustainable aviation fuel and reducing food waste. The airline has also had to deal with the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Going forward, with a new premium economy cabin to be installed across its entire 777 fleet in 2022, next year promises to be a big year for SWISS.

What do you think of SWITZERLAND? Do you have any special memories of flying with the 19 year old airlines? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.


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