Travel news: Swissair proves surprise hit at box office

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The Independent Travel

Some 19,000 travellers were left stranded; 262 flights were cancelled; and the good name of a nation was in jeopardy. That was how 2 October 2001 played out in Switzerland, when Swissair went bust. Now, a new film about the death of the airline is proving surprisingly popular.

Grounding - the Last Days of Swissair is a 120-minute drama-documentary that combines archive material with re-enactments and fictional human-interest characters. In its first weekend of release - in German-speaking Switzerland only - it took the equivalent of £330,000, easily beating the record set by another transport-disaster movie, Titanic.

All airlines saw passengers dwindle in the wake of the attacks on America three weeks earlier. But for Swissair - which had become expensively entangled with financially troubled airlines - it appeared that the cash simply ran out.

The film, released in Francophone Switzerland on 22 February, has caused great controversy. Swissair's chief executive, Mario Corti, is portrayed as a hero desperately trying to save the airline, whereas Marcel Ospel, president of the UBS bank, is cast as the arrogant villain. Some of the bank's customers have closed their accounts after seeing the film, prompting UBS to issue a statement emphasising the element of fiction in Grounding.

The downfall of this Swiss institution generated feelings of shame - an airline synonymous with what the Swiss regard as their national characteristics of integrity, reliability and punctuality was no more. Grounding has re-opened the wounds, with accusations of mismanagement. The liquidator, Karl Wüthrich, has revealed that Swissair had Sfr123 million (around £50m) in cash, but airline bosses did not know about its existence.

In the wake of the collapse, a new airline called Swiss picked up most of Swissair's routes, staff and aircraft. After heavy losses, it was taken over by Lufthansa of Germany. Now, the biggest carrier in Switzerland - and de facto national airline - is easyJet.

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