It isn’t every day that you have the chance to hitch a ride on a “first flight”—the history-making inaugural flight of an airline to a new and exciting destination. My chance came with a recent departure from Tampa to Zurich, Switzerland, on Edelweiss Air.
The launch of this new nonstop flight was months in the making for Tampa International Airport and a host of Bay area tourism agencies, who had all lobbied Edelweiss to add to the airport’s international flight roster (TIA also offers flights back and forth to London, Cancun, Grand Cayman and four Canadian cities). In fact, Edelweiss’ twice weekly nonstop service (cutting back to once a week during the winter months) marks the first new flight to Europe for TIA in 15 years.
So the May 25 takeoff was a cause for celebration, and a few journalists were allowed to tag along for the occasion. At the international terminal, airport officials had set up a welcome area for the passengers coming into Tampa from Zurich, those brave pioneers who had preceded us on the transatlantic voyage. Kids and their parents stumbling off the 9 ½-hour flight (Edelweiss caters to tourists and holiday passengers, while still flying business types, along with its partner, Swiss International Air) were greeted by steel drum music and fresh oranges and quickly awarded both a green umbrella and a flamingo hat—hello, Florida.
That may have seemed strange to those Alpine arrivals, coming straight from the land of yodeling and Heidi. But consider what awaited those of us making the trip in reverse: In the departure area, against a backdrop of Alpine scenery and Swiss and American flags, an oompah band serenaded us with relentlessly upbeat music, often accompanied by that incredibly long, traditional wooden alphorn. Plus, hot chocolate, a variety of cheeses and a huge cake with green frosting were on offer.
It was all about getting us in the spirit, even if that spirit flagged a little as our flight departure time was delayed—and delayed again—and again. The band struggled valiantly on, surely nearly exhausting its repertoire; a woman strolled around distributing free red TIA/Edelweiss tote bags; the journalists snapped pictures of the Edelweiss plane we glimpsed wistfully through the windows, wondering when our moment to board it would arrive. So much for Swiss punctuality.
But all was forgiven when, after a 90-minute wait, we began to board. In business class, two impeccably made-up flight attendants, one blonde, one brunette, hovered, proffering glasses of champagne. In our passenger care kit were nestled a pair of travel socks, a sleep mask, a mini toothbrush. Outside, fire trucks waited to spray our Airbus A330 with the good-luck shower traditional for first flights. (Who knew?)
Meanwhile, at the Zurich airport, our Swiss greeters would soon be readying the glasses of Pommery for our arrival—that, and cueing the alphorns. Hello, Switzerland.