CHECK-IN I arrived at Helsinki-Vantaa airport’s Terminal 2, which is about a 35-minute drive from the city centre, at 1800. (Terminal 1, the domestic facility, is connected by a pedestrian walkway.) Finnair City buses operate between platform 30 at Central station and the airport every 20 minutes, but you need to buy a ticket for €5.90 before you board.
There was no queue at Finnair’s business class check-in, which is located a short distance from the entrance and up an escalator, and I was swiftly processed and through security – passengers are asked to take laptops out of bags and take coats and belts off. My flight to London Heathrow was departing from Gate 30A at the far end of the terminal, so I was advised to go through passport control, turn left and head for Gate 33 where I would find the Finnair business class lounge about ten minutes’ away.
THE LOUNGE Once through the doors, the Gateway Fresh business class lounge is on the left while the Finnair Platinum and Finnair Plus Gold lounges are on the right. The business class area sports low brown/lime green angular armchairs, grey marble flooring and rather harsh lighting. Smokers can make use of an open-fronted room to one side to get one last nicotine hit before the flight, while those who are feeling peckish can help themselves to a small selection of freshly made salads or biscuits, nuts and kiwi fruit. The modest bar area also offers a range of soft and alcoholic drinks including wine, spirits, tea and coffee. A range of newspapers are also available, although when I was there they were all Finnish, and there is also a Playstation 3 console. As announcements are not made I kept an eye on the flight displays but knew I didn’t have to rush as the departure gate is less than 30 seconds away. There are five PC workstations for customer use ESB wireless internet access.
BOARDING My 1930 flight began boarding at 1910 with a single queue for all passengers. I was seated by 1920 and the cabin crew immediately came around with a selection of English papers including the Financial Times, the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. The flight proved to be almost full, with people continuing to board for at least another five to ten minutes.
THE SEAT I was sitting in aisle seat 3C on the A320. The plane is configured 3-3 (A, B, C – D, E, F) with five rows for business class divided from 22 rows in economy by a curtain. The seats, which are firm but comfortable for a short-haul flight, are upholstered in a blue fabric flecked with red, and are fitted with white headrest covers on A, C, D and F. (Finnair operates a middle seat-free policy in business.) The seat pitch in both economy and business is 29-31in/73-78cm, while the width is 18in/48cm and recline is 3in/8cm. There are small IFE screens which are lowered during the flight above two positions over each side of the cabin. (There was no mention of headsets so those watching did so in silence and read the subtitles.)
THE FLIGHT Before take-off, cabin crew came around with hot towels followed by pretzels and a choice of non-alcoholic and alcoholic drinks including Joseph Perrier champagne. While taxiing, the captain reminded us that Finnair operates a codeshare service with BA and the flight would take around two hours and 40 minutes. At around 2000 the meal service began. There was a choice of bread rolls and the dinner trays were laid out with metal cutlery wrapped in a napkin, a cold starter of prawn cocktail, some pickles, a hot main of lamb (the vegetarian option consisted of vegetable au gratin with potato and herb patties), and poached pear with vanilla cream for dessert. More drinks were offered during the meal and tea or coffee after. On the outbound flight the steward came around with a selection of brandy and liqueurs but on this service they didn’t although, when asked, they were happy to bring drinks on demand. I found myself watching a programme about Scandinavian cooking while I ate and for the rest of the flight read the paper.
ARRIVAL The plane landed at 2025 local time and we were disembarked efficiently. There was a short queue at immigration but as I didn’t have checked luggage I made my way out of the terminal quickly and headed to the underground station, getting there at around 2050.
VERDICT Finnair recently celebrated its 85th birthday, and continues to offer a decent business class short-haul product, with amenable, helpful crew.
PRICE Return business class flights from London to Helsinki start from £630 online.