19 Years Old: The History Of SWISS International Air Lines

SWISS International Air Lines serves as the flag carrier of Switzerland from its hub at Zürich Airport. A key member of the Lufthansa Group and Star Alliance, SWISS flies more than 100 aircraft to a range of short and long-haul destinations. Also sporting an operating base in Geneva, it will celebrate its 20th anniversary in March 2022.

19 Years Old: The History Of SWISS International Air Lines
There are presently 102 aircraft in SWISS’s fleet. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

SWISS came into existence just under two decades ago, in March 2002, although its roots can be traced back further to a regional operator. With its headquarters in Basel, it took over from Swissair as the national airline of Switzerland. Having initially planned to join oneworld, it ended up in the Star Alliance following its takeover by Lufthansa in 2007.

Formed 19 years ago

SWISS International Air Lines came into existence following the bankruptcy of former flag carrier Swissair in 2002. Swissair dated back to before the Second World War, and had flown the likes of the Boeing 747. 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 had been Swissair’s regional subsidiary before the former flag carrier’s collapse, and dated back to 1975. The airline became SWISS after Swissair’s creditors sold the majority of the failed carrier’s assets to Crossair, and it commenced operations on March 31st, 2002.

Swissair 747
Swissair was Switzerland’s national airline for more than 70 years. Photo: Getty Images

Stay informed: Sign up for our daily and weekly aviation news digests.

Failed BA/oneworld partnership

Before long, the newly formed SWISS International Air Lines began considering the idea of joining forces with other carriers. The idea of this was to help it grow, and avoid one of two other fates foreseen by directors at the time. Without a partnership, they feared SWISS would either have to refocus as a niche carrier, or unrecognizably shrink as an airline.

As such, it began discussions with several leading European airline groups. After not getting anywhere with Air France-KLM, SWISS turned its attention instead to UK flag carrier British Airways. In turn, it also spent a year trying to get into oneworld, the alliance of which BA was a founding member. However, this ended up causing tension with British Airways.

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

The reason for the tension was the fact that SWISS and BA competed on several key routes. Nonetheless, despite the UK flag carrier’s objections, SWISS was eventually granted permission to join the alliance. However, in the end, the airline turned down the opportunity, citing what it believed would be a one-sided relationship with BA in terms of benefits.

Slowly acquired by Lufthansa

SWISS announced that it wouldn’t be joining oneworld in June 2004. Just nine months later, it had secured a fresh deal with Lufthansa. The result of this was a gradual takeover that eventually integrated SWISS into the Lufthansa Group and its ‘Miles & More’ frequent flyer program. Lufthansa gained an initial 11% share in SWISS in March 2005.

Over the next two years, Lufthansa gained more and more control of SWISS, gradually integrating its operations into the group. In April 2006, SWISS became a member of both the aforementioned Miles & More scheme and the Star Alliance. By July 2007, the takeover was officially complete, and SWISS remains a Lufthansa Group member today.

Lufthansa SWISS
Lufthansa’s takeover of SWISS took around two years to complete. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Subsidiaries and acquisitions

The mid-2000s also saw SWISS expand its operations in the form of the establishment of a regional subsidiary. Furthermore, it also acquired multiple carriers in the years that followed. In terms of SWISS’s regional subsidiary, this came into existence in September 2005 as Swiss European Airlines. It commenced operations two months later, in November 2005.

While initially a regional carrier, the subsidiary was rebranded as Swiss Global Airlines in 2015. This reflected the fact that it had begun operating certain long-haul services on behalf of its parent company, using the Boeing 777. In April 2018, SWISS merged the carrier back into its own mainline operations, following a new harmonized labor agreement.

Meanwhile, in 2008, SWISS also acquired Edelweiss Air and Servair. Edelweiss now serves as the carrier’s leisure arm, flying to various holiday destinations both within and outside of Europe. Servair, on the other hand, focused on executive travel. Renamed Swiss Private Aviation following its acquisition, it ceased operations three years later due to restructuring.

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

Brand history

Throughout its history, SWISS has retained a simple but smart approach to its brand identity. Its early livery featured the Swiss flag on the aircraft’s tail. Meanwhile, the fuselage was almost entirely plain white. Towards the front of the aircraft, the airline’s name was printed in lower case, with the country’s name in various languages listed next to it.

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

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

Recent developments

In recent years, SWISS has come to operate a diverse and modern fleet, which Simple Flying took a closer look at earlier this year. While data from ch-aviation.com shows that certain older aircraft from the Airbus A320 and A340 families do remain present, the airline is also a significant 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. Moving forward, with a new premium economy cabin set to be installed on its whole 777 fleet in 2022, next year looks set to be a big one for SWISS.

What do you make of SWISS? Do you have any particular memories of flying with the 19-year-old airlines? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.