Tried & Tested

Finnair A321 Business class

7 Oct 2010 by AndrewGough

BACKGROUND Finnair effectively flies from Helsinki Vantaa Terminal 2 to London Heathrow Terminal 3 four-times daily. One of these flights is a codeshare with British Airways on particular days only. There’s also another evening flight that runs from Monday-Saturday, a late-morning service on Sundays only, and an evening service on Monday’s and Sundays only. My flight, AY833, an Airbus A321, departs at 1600 and arrives at 1710.

This is the return leg of my journey from LHR-HEL. To see the outbound review, click here.

CHECK-IN From my hotel room I checked in online the night before, opting for mobile check-in as there was no printer, but also because I wanted to give it a try. Rather than send a link to a downloadable barcode-type boarding pass, I was sent a standard SMS that just had passenger and boarding details, with instructions that this was that was required. Feeling apprehensive, I decided to allow a bit more time, in case I needed to have a paper boarding pass printed. As it turns out, it was a very smooth process, requiring only a quick glance at the SMS from airport staff. The only inconvenience was for the lady that served me at the airside shop, she had to put her glasses on.

I stayed at the Hilton Helsinki-Vantaa Airport hotel (for a review click here), only a short walk away from T2 and connected by a covered walkway. As such, I didn’t have to worry about transfer times. I did have some meetings at the airport itself, but I made my excuses at 1500 and was soon through security, where the queue was long but moved quickly. There was, at the time, a priority queue for premium passengers.

I should mention now that I did not check my seat number when checking online, because I had already done so a week before using Finnair’s online “manage my booking” facility. I went for seat 9F, a window seat at the very back of the business class section.

THE LOUNGE I had about 20 minutes to spare before boarding was due to begin, not a lot of time but I wanted to quickly check out Finnair’s ‘Via’ executive lounge, with its new spa facilities (for a closer look, click here). A word of warning though, it is quite a walk from security – it must have taken me at least  15 minutes meaning I only really had time for a quick look around, and a go in one of the extremely comfortable loungers that overlook the runway. The lounge itself is in the modern, minimalist Nordic style, all in white with a mixture of flowing lines and geometric chairs. There is a great variety of a cold food (salad, cheese, bread etc) but little in the way of warm other than some soup. There are some typically Nordic offerings, such as rye crackers with cream cheese, which tasted delicious with a little rocket salad.

Alcohol was free for the first two drinks only (vouchers given at entry), so I had a glass of sparkling wine and felt lucky for it. I only had time for one, the other voucher is still sitting in my drawer. Unfortunately I didn’t have time (or money) to try out the spa.

BOARDING Gate 30 was called at 1530, pretty much the time specified on my boarding SMS. I knew it was about half way back to security, so from the lounge I estimated a five minute walk and a fast pace. I hoped there’d be a priority lane for business class, and there was, meaning I didn’t have to worry about the sizeable queue I was at first confronted with. I was quickly onboard and in my seat.

THE SEAT I’d opted for 9F, a window seat in the very last row of business, just in front of the curtain. The seat map shown here indicates that business ends at Row 7, which is probably true most times. But as with many airlines operating the smaller A319s, A320s and A321s, the curtain dividing economy and business is moved according to demand and on flights that are expected to be busy, presumably such as this one. I would say though, that Finnair’s judgement was a little off, the business class section was full for the first five rows and empty thereafter.

I assumed that there weren’t a great number of frequent flyers on this flight either, as no-one had opted for any of the exit row seats, other than me.

As for the seat itself, it was much the same as on my outbound leg. Exactly the same seat as in economy, but with the middle seat unsold and the armrests adjusted to give more width.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE The whole of Row 8 is on an exit, which means all these seats have a lot of legroom. But for the most legroom of all, go for 9A or 9F, as there is no 8A/8F in the row in front (to allow for space in an emergency). There is a cabin crew jump seat in front of 9F and facing towards it, which is always occupied during take-off and landing.

If you’re on this flight and business class ends at Row 7, as it is supposed to, I would choose a seat in Row 1, any will do. There is a bulkhead but there’s more room, and you’ll be first off.

THE FLIGHT We pushed back about ten minutes before our scheduled departure, before taking off on time. A rather rushed-looking flight attendant then began the drinks service, about ten minutes into the flight.

Because I was so far back, and there were a goof few rows between me and the nearest other neighbour, I often felt as I might be overlooked by the cabin crew. One seemed to be particularly annoyed at having to walk down just for me, though I soon realised that this was just her default expression. About 20 minutes later, food was served. This consisted of a very Nordic meatballs with mashed potatoes, gravy and loganberry sauce, which was absolutely delicious. Like on the outbound, this was served with cheese but also a bit of ham, which went nicely with the warm rolls.

I must admit that I felt a little isolated, and as I was being kicked by the person sat behind me, I moved to seat 8E. This had ample legroom, being on an exit row, and I was able to put down the table in front of and next to me, giving me lots of room to spread out my food and newspaper (the Financial Times was on offer from Finnair).

ARRIVAL We landed a little behind schedule but nothing to cause any panic. With no luggage to collect, I was off the plane and through immigration within 20 minutes, and on my way to the tube station by 1730.

VERDICT A very smooth flight, with plenty of seat options for the canny frequent traveller. Mediocre service but excellent food.

PRICE A mid-week return in November, from Finnair’s website, starts at £781.


Andrew Gough

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