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Finnair A330-300 business class
CHECK-IN As I was travelling from London to Seoul via Helsinki, I had already checked in and received my boarding passes. To read the review of the London-Helsinki leg, click here.
THE LOUNGE The non-Schengen Finnair lounge was a short walk away from where I arrived on my flight from London and also very close to my gate (38), from where I would be departing. The facility was busy but there was a good range of comfortable seating including recliners looking out on to the aircraft stands through floor-to-ceiling windows, plus armchairs, dining tables and sit-up counters.
The look was smart, contemporary and Scandinavian, with a subtle palette of grey, white and cream. There was a bar serving cocktails and champagne at set times throughout the day and at a fee, along with free beer and Blossom Hill wine on tap, juices, crisps, crackers, salads and meatballs. There was also attractive china by Finnish designer Marimekko. Wifi is free throughout the airport and no password is needed. There were showers and, when I asked at reception, I was provided with some toothpaste and a toothbrush to freshen up.
BOARDING There were no announcements in the lounge so I kept an eye on the screens for when boarding started. When it got to 1640 (the process was scheduled to begin at 1645) I decided to go to the gate to see if they could give me a window seat on the off-chance someone hadn't shown up, but they were all taken. However, the friendly agent did offer me the option of moving to 3H (from my preassigned 1H), which had no one booked in it, and I accepted.
THE SEAT Once on board at 1650, newspapers were brought around and my jacket promptly taken and hung up. I was also offered a choice of champagne, orange juice or water. I took my shoes off and placed them in the cubbyhole by the floor to my right. Finnair’s new fully-flat business product was well designed and felt more like a living room armchair than an aircraft seat. I particularly liked the chunky pale grey plastic surround that allowed for a sizeable side table to my left and right so I could easily place a laptop and magazine there, as well as a drink and snacks. The IFE screen is built into the seat-back in front and there was a slot adjacent for magazines.
No amenity kits were left on the seat or bottles of water or blankets but I assumed these would be provided later. There was a well-designed compartment near my right shoulder where I could place small valuables, a universal plug for electrical devices and a USB slot. There was also a reading light. For sleeping, the bed is good as it goes fully flat, which I always value, but found the dark space your legs extend into in some seats could be rather claustrophobic. For this reason, it might be better to choose one of the open-sided seats if you have the choice. (See below for details.)
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Overall, I liked the design of my particular seat as it felt more cosy and private with the shell coming around both sides of my legs when the bed is fully extended. This is the case with A and H in row five, and A, D and L in row four, and so on, alternating. I was in seat 3H in a row configured 2-2-1. There were seven rows in this business class cabin. Open-sided seats are 3C, 3D and 3L, 2H, 1C, 1D and 1L etc. Avoid seats in row one as too close to the galley and washrooms.
THE FLIGHT The plane pushed back at 1730 and take-off was seven minutes later. Noise-cancelling headphones, slippers and brown paper amenity kits (containing earplugs, grey socks and an eyemask) were handed out once at cruising altitude. (Dental kits and hand lotion were in the washrooms.) Customs declaration and arrival cards were also handed out, along with menus and a wine list, with all those that had won awards (including those given by Business Traveller's Cellars in the Sky), listed at the back. There was a lot of detail given in five different languages about each vintage – and these included Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royal Brut champagne (2000), Fabrizio Bianchi Chardonnay (2009) and Chateux Vieux Robin (2003).
I was served an aperitif at 1840, of a G&T and a small glass bowl of vegetable chips. As I had ordered the vegetarian special meal (lacto-ovo), I was served something independent of the menu – a slice of rye bread with sundried tomato, mushroom cream cheese, and a bowl of Emmenthal and blue cheese. This was followed by a rice, chickpea curry and spinach and potatoes. Dessert was of a sickly strawberry cheesecake. The menu listed regular starters as fresh salad, Finnish sapas (similar to tapas) of smoked vendace, Blatic herring roe, smoked roast elk and Lappish baked cheese, and creamy chanterelle soup. The mains were Baked salmon with crayfish sauce, asparagus puree and spinach; rucola ravioli with chevre plum tomato sauce and bibimbap Korean-style beef.
The choice of films and TV shows on the IFE was a little disappointing – divided into family, comedy, drama, action, classic and international, there was hardy anything new and many were repeated across the categories. Most were quite dated such as There's Something About Mary (the latest in the comedy section was Dark Shadows), and in drama, Prometheus. Lights went out at about 2030, but there was a duty-free shopping service at 2050, which I thought odd as most people had already hunkered down to go to sleep.
Comfy navy blue cotton-back duvets were provided but no sheets. Tray tables are confusing to release and stow – I had to get a member of crew to do it for me. A 500ml bottle of water was handed to me before I went to sleep, but I got through this quickly, so it was fortunate I had bought own additional 750ml bottle of Evian. No sleep suits were provided.
I managed to get about three hours’ sleep, but the cabin was very hot and stuffy and dry, which didn’t help. The lights went back on at 2355, and breakfast was served shortly after. I woke up at this point in a bit of a daze and accepted the food even though I wasn't hungry. There was a mozzarella omelette with potato rosti, fresh apple, grapes and blueberries, a croissant, rolls, a slice of cheese, jam, and a pot of berry yoghurt. There was also tea, coffee and Tropicana juice. I ate a few mouthfuls and topped up on liquids, leaving the rest. At 0020 I asked a member of crew what the remaining flight time was as the IFE said three hours 42 minutes, which I knew must be wrong. She said 90 minutes, meaning landing would be at 0150. I wished I had slept for longer.
ARRIVAL The plane landed earlier than scheduled at 0750 local time with a short taxi to the gate, where passengers were promptly disembarked via an airbridge. It was a ten-minute walk to the transfer train to the main terminal and, although I was one of the first off the plane, I managed to be on the of the last of the train, which was packed with passengers arriving off another flight. This meant that by the time I got to immigration another five minutes away, I was near the back of a long, slow-moving queue.
It took 45 minutes to be seen and when, I got to baggage reclaim, my case was waiting for me on the conveyor belt. I took a taxi to my hotel in Songdo, 20 minutes away, and was charged 55,000 won/£31 (I later discovered it should have been about 30,000 won/£17). There was a sign saying 20 per cent would be added to the fare because of a bridge toll so obviously inflating the price is a common ruse.
VERDICT A comfortable seat that converts to a fully-flat bed in a well-designed cabin that felt light and spacious. I was disappointed with the selection of films on the IFE, but was pleased the flight arrived early and my vegetarian food was enjoyable. The crew were also helpful and pleasant.
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from London to Seoul via Helsinki in December ranged between £2,360 and £3,109 depending on flexibility.
CONFIGURATION 2-2-1 (A-C, D-H, L) / 1-2-1 (A, D-H, L)
RECLINE 180 degrees