Flight check: Finnair business class to SE Asia - getting there in comfort
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Open jaw trip London to Bangkok and Hong Kong to London via Helsinki on Finnair (AY) in Business class.
HEL-BKK AY 95
HKG-HEL AY 62
LHR-HEL AY834 – Aircraft Airbus A320 – flight time 2h45m
I booked the flights through our corporate travel team. I chose because the price was quite competitive and although they were indirect flights, the timings & routeing were quite convenient.
CHECK-IN /AT THE AIRPORT
I was able to do an online check in through Finnair’s website where I simply confirmed my choice of seats, which I had already had the chance to choose at the time of booking.
At Heathrow (LHR) airport, the baggage check in at their designated business check in desk was swift and hassle free.
After completing the check-in process , I was invited to use the business class lounge airside. Being Finnair a non-incumbent airline at LHR, they do not have their own dedicated lounge therefore premium travellers are allowed to use Cathay Pacific’s lounge.
Cathay Pacific’s lounge although small in area is quite well appointed in facilities, offering free Wi-Fi, sitting and dining area, basic catering facilities with an open cooler containing soft drinks and an array of alcoholic beverages. However, one of its strong points is a unique and rather nice noodle bar, where a dedicated chef can prepare a noodle dish on demand. 7/10
There was a flight departure board inside the lounge, but the reception ladies also announced any relevant flight that was ready for boarding.
The journey between lounge and departure gate took no more than 7-8 minute walk.
When the time had come, boarding commenced in an orderly manner; Business class passengers as well as Gold and Silver members of OneWorld frequent flyer members were invited to board first together with families with small children.
The cabin crew greeted passengers at the aircraft door and I was shown to my seat. The purser offered to hang my jacket and once ensconced in my seat handed me the menu. 9/10
Being an aircraft used on European short-haul flights, the cabin setup is standard for both business and economy with a curtain separating the two cabins. Blue upholstery with pale cream panelling throughout the aircraft gives it an airy and spacious feel. Business class cabin has a 3x3 configuration with the middle seat empty for extra space. This particular flight had five rows. Legroom appropriate for what you can expect on a European short haul flight nowadays. 7/10
LET’S TAKE A SEAT
Same seat throughout the aircraft. Comfortable and adequate for a short flight. 7/10
There was a slight delay due to the usual traffic constraints at LHR at that time of the day (scheduled departure was 18.05). Announcements were made in Finnish, Swedish and English.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Once seated and boarding completed, the two dedicated crew in the business class cabin came around offering pre-take off drinks; water, juices or champagne.
Once airborne, and as indicated in the menu there was a three course meal with two options for starters and main course. The meal, a typical Scandinavian fare, was tasty and quite generous. Finished off with a selection of liquors and/or coffee/tea. 10/10
LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU
Other that Finnair’s in-flight magazine, the drop-down screens showed a couple of TV comedies in Finnish with English subtitles. Or was it the other way round? 7/10
ARE YOU WELL SERVED?
Service was courteous, friendly and laidback yet nonintrusive. Top up on the champagne or wine offered regularly. They were also eager to recommend or explain what liquors they had on offer. 9/10
Duty free trolley passed round the cabin shortly after dinner trays were collected.
Despite the slight delay for takeoff, we arrived a few minutes before schedule, which in my case was not a problem as I had decided to overnight in Helsinki before continuing to Bangkok. Deplaning and arrival experience at Vantaa airport were stress free and seamless. Immigration and baggage collection were completed in less than 15 minutes.
Impressive also was the fact that despite arriving at just after 11pm, it was still light in Helsinki. It was the beginning of June after all.
HEL-BKK AY95 – Aircraft Airbus A330 – flight time 9h 25m
CHECK-IN /AT THE AIRPORT
After spending a full day revisiting Helsinki, it was time to continue my onward journey to Bangkok.
As with my previous flight, I did my online check-in as soon as I arrived at my hotel the previous night.
Complimentary airport shuttle coach collected me from my airport hotel and in 15 minutes, we were in Vantaa. At the airport, I checked in my bag and whisked through passport control, which was actually a breeze. After perusing briefly through the duty free and general airside area, I headed to Finnair’s Business class lounge. Once you pass through the very airy and Nordic style reception area you can try the spa room with sauna and massage area. This facility is free of charge for Gold or Platinum Finnair frequent flyer members flying business class and a fee that ranges from €30-50 for the rest of us mortals depending on the treatment. Or you can head straight to the lounge itself.
Well appointed in terms of seating, free Wi-Fi and three or four computer terminals and a buffet area well stocked with typical Finnish and other Nordic fare. Soft drink, a local brand of beer and a red and white house wine on tap are complementary. Other drinks however, have to be paid for.
Not what you expect for a business class lounge, not that one is thinking of drinking oneself to death before travelling, but the idea of paying for a drink after forking out a not so cheap business class ticket seems to defeat the purpose of an airline lounge.
On the plus side though, they do have private bathroom facilities with showers, which I made use of, and came in handy after a busy day in the capital in a sweltering June day.
In general, terms, despite not being one of the major airport hubs in the world, Vantaa offers easy, hassle-free connections in a compact yet very modern and relaxing atmosphere. Finnair’s schedules intertwine efficiently to offer minimum connection times where needed. 7/10 for the Lounge and 9/10 for the airport.
Finnair’s lounge is located within the long-haul boarding gates area so once it’s time to board, any given gate is no more than five-minute walk away.
Boarding for our flight was on time and just like in London, boarding of the aircraft was organised pretty much the same way. 10/10
All passengers boarded through the L2 door, meaning that business class passengers turned left once inside the aircraft. Cabin crew greeted passengers upon boarding. The manner was warm and very relaxed.
The cabin ambience impressed me as soon as I stepped in. Its pastel blue seat upholstery blended in harmoniously with the white and soft cream panelling.
These airbus A330-200s have the new refitted business class product with solo seats on the right side, double seats in the middle aisle and alternating double and solo seats on the left side of the cabin. This gives a 2x2x1 configuration for the odd numbered rows and a 1x2x1 for the even numbered rows.
I was lucky enough to be able to select a solo seat when doing my check-in. Finnair seemed to have hit the nail proper with this new product. Personal space is ample (even for the duo seats), both on the overhead bins as well as under the seat in front and the little cupboard under the seat’s side table. 10/10
LET’S TAKE A SEAT
The all-important item when flying in premium cabins. Seat in itself was very comfortable in a sitting position and the Solo seats are an absolute winner if travelling alone. The controls to adjust the different seat positions available, allow you to achieve different angles depending on what you find is more comfortable.
A slight drawback is the fact that although the seat turns into a flatbed, it does so almost at floor level. Unlike other carriers, like BA, SQ, EK, where the seat can turn into a flatbed at almost knee level. This gives the sensation of slight pressure and can be a bit awkward when trying to get up as you are practically at floor level. Other than that, the concept is good and I did get a few decent hours sleep. 9/10
We took off at 23.55, right on time, and again, the multi-lingual security messages were done in a relaxing and timed manner. Still impressive was the fact that it was still possible to appreciate some glimmer of daylight while taking off at midnight. Nothing to do with the flight but still worth mentioning.
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
Probably the area in which I was least impressed with. I would compare it with the best meal one can get in economy class on one of the top airlines.
All three coursed were served together in the same tray. I’m not sure whether this was a measure to ensure a speedier service on a night flight to allow more sleep for the passengers, or simply a cost cutting exercise. The food, as I mentioned was of good quality, but lacked the wow factor and presentation one would expect in business class.
The wine selection was quite good however, with at least three or four choices of red and white and they also boasted a great array of spirits and liquors for after dinner. Top up was always offered, they didn’t wait for anyone to request it. 6/10
LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU
A 12” screen tucked inside the side table-cum-arm rest can be retrieved and swivelled at an angle to suit depending on how you have positioned the seat.
Their entertainment system although AVOD (Audio Video on demand), wasn’t as comprehensive as those offered by the leading Asian carriers like Singapore airlines, Cathay Pacific or Emirates, Etihad or even the likes of BA and Virgin to name a few European carriers. Nevertheless, it still offered a decent enough selection of blockbusters, period films, local Finnish programs and leading international comedy and sitcoms. The music library was quite bland in terms of variety though.
An interesting plus is the outside cameras on the belly, tail and under the cockpit, which show the flight path in real time from the outside. The 3D flight-map is also a nice source of entertainment for those who like to be up to date with the flight stats in real time. 7/10
ARE YOU WELL SERVED?
The all female business class cabin crew were a mix of mature Finnish women and two Oriental younger females. Service was very efficient and courteous (probably warmer from the Oriental crew) although discrete. I noticed though, they seemed to be friendlier with Finnish speaking passengers. I’d like to believe it was more a language issue than any preference towards the local passengers.
Before I made myself comfortable, one of the cabin crew offered to hang my jacket. Once most passengers had been seated, welcome drinks (water, juices, champagne served directly from the bottle!) and hot scented towels were offered around. Just before the security announcements, the dinner and breakfast menus were handed out as well as the wine and liquor list.
After take-off, dinner orders were taken and shortly after, a trolley with pre-dinner drinks and either warm nuts or pretzels and crackers were on offer.
During the flight, after the tables were cleared, the cabin crew did their regular rounds checking passengers were ok and if any were awake, asking if they could be of any assistance, offering water.
In general, I couldn’t fault the service onboard. Without any great expectations, I was pleasantly pleased with the way any request was handled. I probably found the service though a bit too corporate for my taste. 8/10
Touch down at Bangkok Suvarnabhumi airport was on time. Deplaning, which usually comes with a measure of organised chaos, well, after spending nine hours enclosed, it is only natural that passengers want out, was handled very efficiently. Business class passengers were allowed out first and at the door given a Fast Track card so we could use the fast track facilities to clear immigration.
I still have my doubts about this Fast track ‘facility’ as I had to walk almost fifteen minutes to get to that area, and although the process was queue-less and quick, by the time I had arrived I still had to wait a couple of minutes for my breath to catch up with me.
The plus side however, was that my bag was already well acquainted with the carousel and awaiting its rescue. 7/10
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HKG-HEL AY62 – Aircraft Airbus A340 – Flight time 9h 45m
HEL-LHR AY833 – Aircraft Airbus A320 – Flight time 3h 10m
CHECK-IN /AT THE AIRPORT
HKG-HEL – Again, checked in from the comfort of my hotel room for both flights. Finnair honoured seat selection for both trips.
Before taking the Hong Kong Express to the airport, I was able to check in my bag at Hong Kong Station. Finnair is one of the many carriers that have that facility at this downtown train station. It not only allows passengers to travel free of weight to the airport, but boarding pass in hand one can go through security as soon as you arrive at the airport, saving heaps of time.
Mine was an early morning flight (ETA 09.20 hrs) so I took the opportunity to visit the airside lounge that AY use as they do not have a dedicated lounge themselves.
To be an airport-managed lounge, I found it very well equipped. Clean toilets, ample space for sitting or lounging, free Wi-Fi facilities, a relatively sedate atmosphere despite the high number of passengers already using the facilities and a generously well-appointed buffet area with great Oriental, Western and Middle Eastern breakfast options. Not having had the opportunity to take my breakfast as I left the hotel at 05.00 am, it was most welcome.
Close to boarding time, I made my way out and traversed the impressive expanse of HKG towards my boarding gate, a journey that took in excess of ten minutes as the aircraft was parked at probably the furthest boarding gate you could find at the airport. All in all a fantastic airport, nice lounge and a hassle free departure experience. 10/10
HEL-LHR – We arrived in time, deplaned first, and had to go through security clearance before entering the EU bound flights zone. Being a 45 minute connection, I just about had time to visit the Lounge, quickly log into a computer and email home advising I had at least reached Europe. Didn’t have much time to wait for a reply though. A visit to the toilet completed my swift passage through the lounge and before I knew it, I was queuing for my onward flight back to London. Again, impressed at how an airport can so efficiently effect a tight 45-minute connection. 10/10
HKG-HEL - Despite most passengers, yours truly included wearing sleepy faces, we were summoned to board again giving preference to premium class passengers, those holding Silver or Gold OneWorld card membership and families with young kids.
This time, business class passengers were able to board through L1 door, meaning there was not the usual rush to get out of the way and it facilitated the process of putting your belongings away and getting comfortable in an easier manner.
A lovely Chinese flight attendant who was to be serving on my side of the cabin later during the flight, welcomed me on board offering to take and hang my jacket and explaining what to expect in terms of dining experience during the flight. This she did while engaging in a friendly yet very courteous manner. At the same time, she offered me a pre-takeoff drink as well. 10/10
HEL-LHR – Bussed to the aircraft and boarding uneventful. Didn’t mind too much this short outdoor excursion as the June weather in Helsinki was very pleasant. 10/10
A refreshingly light, sedate and relaxed cabin ambience, with pastel blue and grey seating combined with white panelling. However, this A340 aircraft still has the older business class seating, with lie-flat (angled) seating in a 2x2x2 configuration. A slight disappointment after experiencing their newer design on their A330 a few days back. 7/10
LET’S TAKE A SEAT
HKG- HEL - The seat is quite comfortable in a seating or lounging position, but I would struggle to get a decent sleep if I had to do so in a slope, which is how you would end up should you position the seat in a flat position. I reckon that the final incline would be close to 20 ̊. The only way I was able to get some sort of sleep was in a lounge-like position, close to fully inclined dentist chair recline. At least, this being a daylight flight, general comfort was not hugely compromised.
Personal space, although adequate, was nowhere near the ample possibilities offered in their new product. A full upgrade on the rest of their longhaul fleet should be high on their agenda. 7/10
HEL-LHR – Again, an A320 used on intra-European services, seating adequate for a short flight. Business class in a 3x3 configuration with the middle seat empty.
HKG-HEL- On time pullback from terminal building, security announcements made in Finnish, Swedish, English and Cantonese while taxiing to the runway, take off on schedule. 10/10
HEL-LHR- No major delays in the onward connection. Take off in time as well. 10/10
FOOD GLORIOUS FOOD
HKG-HEL – After my initial criticism on the HEL-BKK flight, they definitely revindicated themselves on this flight. After reaching our cruising altitude, pre-lunch canapés were served with a drink or cocktail of choice. Despite being just after 10 am, well, no one seemed to turn down the offer. That’s what you do when you fly anyway!
The lunch service was a difficult choice, as the fare on offer seemed mouth-watering. Each course was served individually, and passengers were not rushed into the next one. Definitely, what one expects from a business-class meal service. Presentation, quantity and quality were well above average. Like in my previous flight, the wine selection was interesting to say the least. The stewardess even gave me the chance to do some tasting while at the same time suggested the best wine to accompany the meal. 10/10
HEL-LHR – Again, for a three-hour flight, the meal was more than adequate, tasty and well presented. Emphasis on Finnish cuisine in all three courses. 10/10
LET ME ENTERTAIN YOU
HKG-HEL- Same system as in the A330.
HEL-LHR – Same as the A320, overhead screens with subtitled programs, as well as in-flight magazine.
ARE YOU WELL SERVED?
Like the HEL-BKK flight, service on board very much what is expected in a premium class, courteous, helpful, and engaging without being intrusive. An interesting balance of Finnish and Oriental crew. Slightly more animated than the one I had going to Bangkok, although a couple at times gave the impression of being too stiff.
On the Helsinki-London leg as well, the two attendants were very much on the ball with things and offered a very pleasant service. 9/10
At my final destination, London-Heathrow, we had to circle around for almost half an hour due to heavy traffic. This of course, was beyond the airline’s control. Once we landed, a ten-minute walk arrived us to Immigration and the usual melee at baggage collection. Again something beyond Finnair’s control.
CONCLUSIONS – OVERALL IMPRESSIONS
Although when flying and weighing the cost, efficiency, convenience of times with the service received, flight comfort and overall satisfaction, it is fair to say you get what you pay for.
On this occasion however, the balance between ticket price and satisfaction was quite above expectations. Despite having heard, before and after my trip with them, some mixed opinions, I think Finnair, at least as far as business class travel is concerned is a good choice when trying to keep down costs without compromising comfort, good service and convenient schedules between Europe and Asia.
If they do manage to upgrade their latest business class product across their longhaul fleet, they could confidently compete with some of the well-established big players. But overall, they are definitely a choice to consider. 8/10
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