Finnair A321 business class
CHECK-IN I checked in online the day before for my flight from London to Seoul via Helsinki. Although I had requested window seats, when I went to the seat selection page of finnair.com I found I had been assigned a middle aisle seat (1H) on the Helsinki-Seoul sector and was unable to change it as all the other seats had been taken. I had, nevertheless, been assigned windows seat 1F on the London-Helsinki leg. I printed my boarding passes and filled in my passport details as requested.
I got to Heathrow Terminal 3 at 0815 and made the ten-minute walk from the underground station to departure Zone G. There were four desks open – one for business passengers, two for economy and one for bag-drop. There were about half a dozen people waiting and only one at the business desk so I was seen to quickly. My case was tagged and through-checked to Seoul, and I was instructed to head for lounge C and use the fast-track security lane upstairs. When I got there, I found about 15 people in a line for two security channels but it moved quickly. (Laptops and liquids out, shoes, belts and jackets off as usual.) I was airside by 0835 and stopped at a Travelex to buy some foreign currency.
THE LOUNGE My Finnair flight (AY832) was set to depart at 1020 so I had plenty of time to spare in the lounge. The facility is shared with Cathay Pacific and is accessed via a lift from the main departure floor. It was quiet so there was plenty of free seating, and I chose a nice spot by the floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on to the runway. There was a decent selection of newspapers (The Independent, The Times etc) and lots of Asia magazines. Wifi was free throughout with a password provided. The décor was neutral and modern, and there was a reasonable breakfast buffet offering a selection of fresh pastries, yoghurt, cereal, juice, granola and less-appetising hot options including baked beans, scrambled egg and mini sausages. Coffee was self-service from a machine and there were a few bottles of spirits out for anyone who wanted to start the day with a bloody Mary. I noticed there were also showers available.
BOARDING Although I was told by a member of staff that announcements would be made for flight departures, I kept an eye on the screen for my gate (17) status. It opened on time at 0945 and I headed down there – the walk was no more than five minutes. There was a couple of minutes' wait as boarding passes were checked before being let into the waiting lounge, and boarding (via an airbridge) started shortly after at 1005, with business class passengers and those sitting in the back rows of the plane called first.
THE SEAT I was in my seat at the front of the plane by 1008. The business section is curtained off from the main economy cabin, and on this flight went up to row four. Upholstery was Finnair's trademark royal blue and there was plenty of legroom in row one. Seats were comfortable and supportive. I was asked to put my bags in the wardrobe at the front before take-off.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE? Personally, I prefer row two to row one as it means I can stow my bag under the seat in front and don't have to get up and down to put it away before take-off and landing. As I am only five-foot two, I also don't need the extra legroom you get in one so am happy to let others benefit from that. But on this occasion, when I checked in online, there were no other seats in business to choose from. I also don't like the tables you get in row one that fold-out from the armrest – they are bouncy, too small and too high to type on easily with a laptop. The benefits of being at the front are that you get served food and drink first, and get to disembark before anyone else.
THE FLIGHT A video safety demonstration was played via overhead screens once boarding had been completed at 1020. The plane pushed back at 1025, taking off at 1035. Flight time was estimated to be two hours, ten minutes. Once at cruising altitude, a member of crew handed out menus and cold towels. This was followed by a drinks service at 1105 but was interrupted for a couple of minutes almost as soon as it had started because of a bit of turbulence. I ordered a tomato juice, which came with a small pack of “Skybite” savoury pretzels, which I didn't bother eating. There was also the option of wine, champagne and other alcoholic drinks.
The menu listed a lunch of “toast archipelago”, prawns on toast, tender brisket of beef with horseradish sauce and root vegetable purée. Dessert was currant cake “of the harvest season”. My meal (served under plastic and foil but on china, with metal cutlery and proper glasses) arrived at 1130. It consisted of a starter of cold, finely chopped potato, onion and cucumber salad with sun-blushed tomatoes, and a main of potato and swede butter mash, steamed broccoli and four spiced chickpea triangles that were surprisingly tasty considering they were (I guessed) partly made with potato starch that gives that unique light, fluffy texture. Dessert was of three-melon salad topped with dessicated coconut. I enjoyed the lunch, which went down nicely with a 200ml bottle of Perrier Jouët champagne. Tea and coffee was served after. Crew were friendly and attentive. I spent the rest of the flight reading and working.
ARRIVAL The plane landed early at 1250 (1445 local time) and then spent ten minutes taxiing to a stand. Disembarkation down steps from the front and back was quick, and I was one of the first off and then on to one of the awaiting transfer buses that took us to the terminal a couple of minutes' away. I then followed the signs for the transfer gates, stopping on the upstairs level to go to the lounge as I had a connection to Seoul at 1730 and still had two hours to spare.
VERDICT A very good, punctual, short-haul flight with enjoyable food and champagne. The crew were efficient and helpful.
PRICE Internet rates for a return flight to Helsinki in business started from £796 in December.
CONFIGURATION 2-2 (middle seats kept free in business) A-C, D-F
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