AY A POSSIBLE NEW LOVE IN THE AIR?

This year in December I will experience for the first time a flight on an Airbus 350 with Finnair. And I got very excited about their business class product, especially after reading the reviews on https://www.airlineratings.com or http://www.airlinequality.com . But as I already learnt my lesson trusting 100% on-line reviews (most of them sponsored by the reviewed company) I decided to manage my expectations and get a pre-view of flying Business Class with Finnair. And here I am, booking a return ticket London – Oslo via Helsinki and ready to get a taste of “BUSINESS CLASS THE NORDIC WAY- the ultimate way to travel whether on business or for pleasure” .

Finnair’s Nordic Business Class is designed to make any travel an experience, which is why tickets include priority check-in, boarding and security, access to our business lounges, two or three pieces of baggage (maximum weight 23 kg/50 lb each), exclusive Business Class meals and drinks as well as other first-rate benefits depending on the flight route. On their website Finnair clearly states that “when it comes to travelling, we believe in quality service” which is not only a advertising slogan, but a reality on board Finnair flights! When flying Nordic Business Class within Europe and the Middle East, Finnair serves a delicious high-quality meal along with complementing beverages with menus vary depending on the flight duration and destination, all built around delightfully distinctive Nordic elements.

The Finnair fleet consists of over 70 aircraft, most of which are Airbuses being one the most modern in Europe, and thanks to it producing less emissions and offering even better travel comfort on our flights. On my round trip to Oslo via Helsinki I was flying with 3 A321s and one A320 enjoying the advantages of a new aircraft (the oldest one being manufactured in 2004)

But let’s unveil my experience with Finnair step by step:

Flight London Heathrow – Helsinki (on AY1340, seat 1A)

The boarding was a little bit chaotic; Finnair use the same system as British Airways, boarding the plane in groups. The difference is that if you travel in business with BA and you miss the boarding for your group (Group 1), the boarding gate has a channel open ONLY for Business class passengers. With Finnair, if you arrive later you must stay in a kind of a line with all the other passengers. But, I wasn’t in rush so wasn’t a problem to wait until the mad rush ended.

For my flight to Helsinki Finnair used a quite new A321 and  Business Class cabin is set out very like most short-haul Business Class cabins you’ll find flying around Europe – 3 seats either side of the central aisle with the centre seat blocked off. The seats on the Finnair A321 offer 18″ of width and 31″ of pitch (leg room) irrespective of which cabin you’re sitting in so, as British Airways’ comparable aircraft offer just 17″ of seat width and 29″-30″ of pitch, this is a step up in comfort….and it felt it.

Another notable negative is the lack of any kind of power supply around the seats. I appreciate that a lot of short-haul aircraft in Europe don’t yet have power outlets but, considering the London – Helsinki route is scheduled to take around 3 hours (so it’s not that short), power should be something the airline provides. Amenity-wise there was as little as you’d probably expect on a intra-Europe flight – just a small pillow and a blanket which were already on the seats when we boarded.

The safety demo and the moving map of the flight was projected on drop-down screens and alternated with promotional videos. Even though the boarding started in time the departure of the flight was delayed and I think punctuality is the major problem of Finnair. On my round trip all 4 flights were delayed, something between 20 to 45 minutes which can make eventual connections in Helsinki a nightmare

After take-off hot towels were offered with a very quick collection of the used ones – maybe BA can learn from this and collect the used towels before the crew will have their first coffee!

No menus were passed out, but the crew verbally offered a breakfast choice of a hot breakfast or cold cuts with yoghurt and muesli. The breakfast served on board was far much better than the one usual served by the partner airline British Airways. Goodbye green scramble eggs and bizarre sausages and hello tasty ham & cheese omelette and delicious polar bred! What was offered was perfectly ok (I particularly liked the dark bread) but if you’ve left home without eating and not eaten in the lounge this may not be enough for you, especially if you choose the cold cuts option (one piece of ham, one piece of cheese and 2 pieces of cucumber)

The service was impeccable with a crew always on duty and somebody in the galley coming in to the cabin almost every 10minutes to check, clear-in or offer more drinks. And everything was done with grace and a genuine smile

The rest of the flight was uneventful (just how I like my flights to be), with some bumpy moments, a quite hard touch down in Helsinki and some nice views of towns and villages encased in green background as we flew over various parts of Scandinavia….

Flight Helsinki – Oslo (on AY0195, seat 1A)

The boarding was decent and smooth and the departure … no surprises here, 25 minutes later than the EDT. The aircraft was an old-ish A320 with Business Class cabin usual configuration: 3 seats either side of the central aisle with the centre seat blocked off. The flight was very short: 1h 05minutes and the full Business cabin was served by a very attentive, friendly and polite crew – Finnair as its best. Maybe I will repeat myself during this review, but the standout feature of Finnair was the crew who were brilliant: positive, great customer service, helpful and professional. And once again during the flight I couldn’t stop thinking of a British Airways flight with the same length (let’s say Munich or Barcelona) when you can consider yourself lucky if you get a very sad salad with 3 halves of very depressed prawns.

Despite all its cost cutting measures, I was pleased to see that Finnair continues to serve all the drinks in Business in design glass ware. Lunch, with a single option, was served on a single tray, which for a short flight was fine. The food itself was decent, but nothing to write home about. Champagne, wines and after dinner drinks were kindly offered by the cabin attendants throughout the flight. One major downside, though; the instant coffee served after dinner was totally undrinkable and even the stewardess had to admit. In economy, where coffee is about the only thing served free of charge this could be acceptable, but in Business?! Despite the fact that was a short flight the crew was taking care non-stop about the drinks and the empty glasses.

Of course, if you are in Economy cabin a wide and interesting selection of snacks and drinks are available at quite decent prices

Flight Oslo – Helsinki (on AY0194, seat 1A)

There are no announcements in the OSL lounge for boarding the next flights, so you should have your own time or scoreboard in mind. Helsinki Airport. I was checking the screen but no information about my flight, despite that the boarding time passed. So, I decided to go to the gate, which was very close to the lounge. Arrived at the gate I discover a very chaotic atmosphere, with everybody waiting in different lines, no aircraft at the end of the jetty and guess what – the boarding time was still the same on the screen, with no changes and no I formation about a possible delay. I asked the staff at the gate but instead of the answer I got a just a “ice cold” look and one word: “WAIT!”. Finally after 10 minutes I saw the plane arriving and I decided to return to the lounge and wait for boarding information to be changed on the screen. After one coffee no changes on the information board so, I decided to have a “wait a little bit more” G&T. And guess what: suddenly from “go to gate” the screen changed to “gate closing”. I run to the gate just to discover that the boarding just started in a very hectic manner with no priority line and no group assignment. Definitely Finnair is not a beloved airline at Oslo airport.

The aircraft for the flight to Helsinki was an old A320 and my seat was 1A.  On-board seating in business class was standard economy class seats with the middle seat blocked. Legroom was not any more generous, but was sufficient for the brief journey to Helsinki. The flight time was a little bit more than one hour but I was still a anxious about the connecting time and the delay (which in the moment of take-off reached almost 55 minutes). The excellent on-board experience was repeated between Oslo and Helsinki with very friendly and professional cabin crew and a product which exceeded the expectation for a very short flight: a wide range of drinks and a 3 course lunch with a not very appealing look but quite tasty.

I really loved the glasses that they use in-flight  and at home I discovered that Finnair have collaborated with the Finnish design house Marrimeko, which was established in Helsinki back in 1951, to create a range of in-flight service wear as well as amenity kits and pillows and blankets.

I landed in Helsinki with a 45 minutes delay and, bad luck, was a remote parking position so more stress waiting for the bus and transfer to the terminal. But Finnair scored again: I was very pleasantly surprised to get to arrival gate to find a Finnair member of staff waiting with new boarding passes for everyone who had missed their connections plus an express escorted connection service for those passengers who could still make their next flight. I was genuinely impressed with this (and it’s not something I’ve ever noticed on BA) because I think most people accept that things go wrong on planes and sometimes they’re late but it’s how the airline handles it that makes all the difference.

Flight Helsinki – Oslo (on AY1341, seat 1A)

Due to the previous flight delay my connecting time was very short and I had to run across Helsinki airport from Schengen to Non-Schengen zone but the electronic passport control speed up the process and I arrived in time in the departure area. Unfortunately, no time for lounge, just enough time for a “technical”, a cigarette and an adventurous slalom between the hoards trying to locate the Far-East departure gates.

My gate was located in a new wing of the Non-Schengen area, at a lower level, so a bus was needed again. When I arrived at the boarding point, looking from the top of the gate, the scene remind me once again of a Ryanair flight to Malaga: no groups for boarding, no priority line for Business Class passengers, no clear announcements – just a hectic crowd pushing to get a place in a long line waiting for the bus. Just I decided to return to the smoking area and arrive at the gate before the flight was closing.

After a long ride around Helsinki airport, which now looks like a construction site due to an expansion project, finally I stepped in to the plane ready to take me home. It was a new A321 and the on-board experience show me again that Finnair is better in the air than on the ground. The 2 hours 45 minutes flight brought back the memories of British Airways golden age on a band 3 flight with an excellent menu and a great service.

I was again on 1A and the seat itself was clean but the light grey material was showing definite signs of wear. Business class was in a 3 x 3 format with the middle seats blocked out. There were 6 rows in business class and it was about 90% full. There were a few drop-down screens in the cabin showing the flight path and some news programmes, but we were not offered earphones and I didn’t ask

The cabin crew made an announcement that passengers in economy class were allowed free water and blueberry juice, but other food and drink items had to be paid for. I think this is a lot better than the BA buy on board offering where you don’t even get that.

Right after take-off, the cabin crew came through to offer drinks and a small snack. Finnair has one thing going for it in its intra-Europe business class: hot meals. For the late lunch no printed menus but the flight attendant was giving an extended explanation of the two options available: chicken with a deconstructed polenta or pork stew with beans broccoli and mashed potato. Excellent dark rye bread as well. How lovely this meal was! Not only from a taste point of view, but it wasn’t too heavy at all, and just the right amount of food. A full drinks service, including champagne, was offered and tea and coffee followed. I had a coffee and enjoyed the chocolates but unfortunately the coffee was again instant. The service was elegant and attentive and during the entire flight, after clearing-in the crew was coming back regularly to offer more hot drinks or alcoholic beverages.

After landing in Heathrow I was quite surprise to see my suitcase arriving after a short wait by the luggage bet despite the short connection time available. Another star for Finnair service.

After my 4 flights with Finnair within Europe, I am quite excited about my next trip on December 28th on the so admired A350. I don’t think that there’s an awful lot of difference between Finnair and BA on short haul business class, but the product for short flights and the high standards of the service from the cabin crew made Finnair a winner.

Verdict: An efficient and friendly service with a comfortable business class offering at competitive prices.

 

 

~ by leonard69 on August 14, 2018.

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