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.
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.
Seat plan for Finnair's A340-300E