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Finnair A320 business class July 2008
Published: 30/03/2009 RSS
Shorthaul Connection London-Helsinki
CHECK-IN I arrived at London Heathrow Terminal 1 at 0820 for my 1020 departure to Helsinki and then Hong Kong. Check-in for Finnair is in Zone R, which is where BA’s premium passengers used to check in, and where all British Airways passengers now check in, along with Air New Zealand passengers, since the latter moved from Terminal 3.
Finnair’s business class check-in is at the far end of the room on the left. Internet check-in had not been available for this flight but in only a couple of minutes I was checked right the way through to Hong Kong, starting with the AY832, 1020 departure to Helsinki (arriving at 1515). I went quickly through security (shoes off but laptop stayed in bag).
THE LOUNGE As a member of Oneworld, Finnair uses British Airways’ Terraces lounge by Gate 5. It was reasonably full on the Sunday morning I was travelling, with BA passengers heading off for Nice, Madrid, Barcelona and Helsinki. My flight wasn’t visible on all screens in the lounge but I was assured that it would be called, and so had a late breakfast of cereals and fresh fruit from the buffet, along with a couple of lattes. I used the BT wifi internet access, now offered free in all of BA’s UK lounges, and then at around 1000 I walked down to Gate 31. There were two queues for boarding, one for business and one for economy, and an airbridge took us straight onto the two-class A320 aircraft.
THE FLIGHT Finnair has 12 A320s in its fleet, seating between 111 and 159 passengers. On this flight, the first six rows of the aircraft were sectioned off as business class. I was in an aisle seat 5C. The configuration is the same (3-3) but in business class the middle row is blocked off, giving you a bit of room to put papers etc.
The seats look lovely, with bright blue upholstery to match the paler blue of the flight attendants’ uniform. However, legroom is poor (as in economy) so although the seats are comfortable, tall passengers will have their knees against the seat in front.
We were offered drinks, and both English and Finnish newspapers, before the flight pushed back 15 minutes after the scheduled time. We then waited a further 15 minutes, taking off around half an hour late, although we did make up most of this time on the way.
Shortly after take-off, there was a drinks service, and then a full hot meal with a starter of perch (which I didn’t sample), beef in some kind of barbecue sauce (which was delicious) and a chocolate pudding (which I also resisted). Beverages included beer, soft drinks and a choice of red or white wine, all presented in rather attractive Seventies-style glasses. There was no in-flight entertainment, although screens overhead showed the progress of the flight and, shortly before arrival, some of the onward connections including my 1650 departure to Hong Kong. When this disappeared, we got a very clear view of the ground and then the pilot’s view as we came into land.
ARRIVAL We arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa at around 1530, and were disembarked using a bus, which took us quickly up to the international departures terminal (small enough to explore in a five-minute stroll). I could see that the Hong Kong flight departed from the second floor (at Gate 31) and the business class lounge was opposite, close to Gate 33, so I went in there to wait.
THE LOUNGE The business class lounge was busy, although there were enough seats for everyone. I wanted to work and, after finding a voucher for free internet access, used this to get online, wondering if it was my lucky day to get this much free wifi access. After 20 minutes, I got a seat near a plug socket, and found that a normal European adapter fitted.
I could hear flights being called in several languages, but about five minutes before departure time, I looked at a screen to see my flight to Hong Kong was on its final call. I asked the attendant at the front desk when she would announce the flight, and she told me they didn’t call them.
I gathered my belongings, ran to the desk and received a very frosty reception from the staff, who asked me why I was so late. They weren’t impressed with my excuse and were so annoyed they didn’t notice when I gave them the wrong ticket (the one for the London to Helsinki leg). This was only spotted on board, after an innocent traveller was challenged by a member of the cabin crew for sitting in “my” seat, 5C. In fact, for this longer sector, I was in 4A, a window seat.
Thankfully, I wasn’t last to board – a couple more business class passengers came after me, alerted either by the screens or by the sight of me running out of the lounge.
THE SEAT Finnair’s angled lie-flat product has five pre-set positions for eating, sitting (two of these), take-off/landing and dining make the seat easy to use, and there’s a large adjustable table which folds out of the armrest. There is also a laptop power socket between the seats for keeping electrical devices charged.
ENTERTAINMENT The IFE option featured AVOD and had a good choice of films, TV programmes and music. You can even chat with other seats on the plane using the telephone or, more usefully, call or send SMS messages to the ground.
FOOD AND WINE A three-course dinner was offered with choices including pork, bamboo and Chinese mushrooms in soy sauce, and a good choice of wines including Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Vintage 2003, and a Château Ferrand Lartigue St Emilion 2001.
COMFORT There was a toiletry bag with essentials including earplugs and eye masks for those wanting to sleep. It was a day flight, so I worked on my laptop and watched a couple of films.
ARRIVAL About two hours before we arrived, I was offered a choice of a hot or cold breakfast. The cabin was then tidied and we landed in Hong Kong about 30 minutes late.
We disembarked via an airbridge, and then queued for 20 minutes for immigration. By the time I reached the baggage reclaim hall, my luggage had already appeared.
VERDICT A good service, although considering so many passengers are transiting from northern Europe to Asia (Finnair is number one for this in terms of passenger numbers), perhaps giving more help and direction might be useful. The seat was a typical business class lie-flat, the food was good but service was a little severe.
Why fly via Helsinki?
Helsinki is on the Great Circle Route between Europe and Asia. Finnair is a number-one choice for European passengers heading down to Asia, and there are good connections to Tokyo, Osaka, Nagoya, Mumbai, Delhi, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing, Guangzhou, Bangkok and Seoul. The gates for both incoming short-haul flights and long-haul to Asia are only yards apart, and there are wine bars, cafés and restaurants to relax or work in. There’s even a specific website (viahelsinki.com) to help you compare flight distances and times, and book tickets with Finnair.
CONFIGURATION Business class seats are in a 2-2-2 layout, while economy is configured 2-4-2.
SEAT STATS Pitch is 63 inches, width is 20.5 inches, recline angle is 169 degrees.
IFE SCREEN 10.6 inches.
PRICE Return fares from London to Hong Kong (via Helsinki) with Finnair for early September started from £2,386 for business class and £570 for economy online. (Fares are quoted midweek to midweek including a Saturday-night stay.)
To read the return economy class review, click here