Tried & Tested

Finnair A340-400 economy class

30 Jul 2008 by Tom Otley

FIRST
IMPRESSIONS
Finnair has internet check-in available for most of its flights 24
hours before departure, so I made use of this facility, selecting seat 55A at
the back of what looked like a very busy aircraft. The departure time for
flight AY068 was 0930 but I was awake early so, wanting to avoid queues,
checked my luggage in at the Airport Express station in Central at 0600, which
meant I then had time to have breakfast and get the Airport Express train out
to Chek Lap Kok. (For those checking in at the airport, you need to head for
Zone F.)

BOARDING
There were no hold-ups at the airport and I was through security in less than
ten minutes (laptop out but shoes stayed on). Business class passengers and
Finnair Plus members can use the Dragonair lounge in the seventh-floor
departure hall. I was at the gate early, and since they boarded the rear of
economy first, I was one of the first on board.

THE SEAT The
plane used on the route is one of Finnair’s new A340-300Es. The economy seating
is in two cabins with a 2-4-2 configuration. Towards the back, as the plane
narrows, this becomes 2-3-2, although strangely, on this flight, at row 54
where you would expect the four seats in the middle to become three, there is
one row of only two seats in the middle, giving the row behind – 55, which has
three seats – extra legroom in seat 55D.

The economy
seats are comfortable but the armrests have a hollowed-out section for the AVOD
in-flight entertainment system control. While this is useful, it also means it
is uncomfortable to rest your elbows there, so I used the blanket provided as
an extra cushion during the journey. On the plus side, there was a plug socket
on the leg between the seats, so I could work during the flight.

THE FLIGHT
Shortly after take-off, the first of two hot meals were provided, along with a
choice of soft and alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, by the time they got to the
back of the plane, the chicken choice had finished, so the only option was
beef, but it was tasty nevertheless. The crew then went through the plane
lowering the blinds because, although this was a day flight, it was a long
sector of ten hours and many were obviously connecting onwards (there were
several tour groups on board).

About three
hours before landing, a message flashed up on the screen that a further meal
would be served in 30 minutes, which typified the efficiency of the flight
crew. For the last half an hour, details of the connecting flights also
appeared on the screens, and I could see people noting the gate they would have
to make for.

ARRIVAL
Landing was slightly ahead of time, giving me more than the rather worrying 45
minutes’ connection time for the onward flight. It is a help, though, that the
airport is compact and all these gates have obviously been put close to one
another. We left the plane via an airbridge and, after a short walk, we had a
further security check (laptops out, shoes left on) and then a 30-minute wait
in the airport before the flight to Heathrow was called at Gate 31.
(This gate is divided into five smaller ones – a, b, c, d and e – meaning that
once you are on the tarmac you are then bussed to your plane.)

Short-haul
connection Helsinki-London

THE FLIGHT
The plane was probably three-quarters full, although my row was fully occupied.
As with all Finnair’s short-haul Airbus services, this was in a 3-3
configuration, and on this flight the first six rows were marked off for
business with the middle seat blocked. There was then one row of economy (row
seven) and the emergency exit. The best seats are obviously row eight emergency
exit, but also 9A and 9F, which have no seat in front of them. I was in 11F,
and fell asleep at take-off but woke for the hot meal and the drinks (again, both
soft and alcoholic were available). The meal was some sort of beef in gravy
with rice and carrots. I didn’t like it, but the man next to me finished it, so
perhaps I wasn’t hungry enough.

I worked on
my laptop during the flight (there is enough room if the person in front of you
doesn’t recline their seat, and luckily on my flight, she didn’t), and after
circling for a while (this was Friday afternoon) we landed only ten minutes
late). It was a long walk from the gate, but there was no queue at immigration
in Terminal 3 and having used the Iris machine, my bag was waiting for me down
on the carousel.

VERDICT For
those looking for an indirect option for getting to Asia, Finnair is a
compelling proposition – it is less expensive than the direct options, it is on
a direct routing (the Great Circle Route between Europe and Asia) and because
the airport is small and well designed, transferring is very easy.

The product
on board the long-haul sectors is similar to that on many European competitors
(ie: angled lie-flat, not fully-flat in business, and with a comfortable
economy product), and as a member of Oneworld, it will appeal to many British
Airways members who want to keep earning Executive Club points. It is also a
good bet for those who want to take advantage of the direct links from Helsinki
to Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya in Japan, Mumbai and Delhi in India, Hong Kong,
Shanghai, Beijing and Guangzhou in China, Bangkok in Thailand and as its newest
destination, Seoul in South Korea.

PRICE

The lead in
fare for a return ticket London-Helsinki-Hong Kong in economy is £518 (high
season until September 30), and £398 (low season from October 1). At the
time of checking, a return economy class fare from London
to Hong Kong booked at finnair.com, departing
Sunday August 10 and returning Thursday August 14, was £948.20.

CONTACT
finnair.com.

Tom Otley

Seat plan for Finnair’s A340-300E

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