This is a review of Finnair’s business class onboard its Airbus A320 on its Helsinki-London route. Finnair uses single-aisle A320s for many of its short-haul flights around Europe. These are all-economy seating, requiring some “reimagining” of the business class product.
I caught a taxi from downtown Helsinki to the airport’s Terminal 2 (from where all Finnair’s flights depart) – a 30-45 minute ride costing a set fee of €39 (US$45). Arriving, I tried to find an airport trolley since on this trip I happened to have two large holdall bags without wheels… Amazingly, there were none to be found anywhere. The airport was hectically busy – it was 3pm on a Sunday in June – but even so, this was a poor showing.
Inside the terminal, the priority check-in section (with six counters) was struggling to cope; a long line meant I waited 15 minutes to check my bags in, and once that was done I had another 25 minutes of queueing to get through security screening. Finally airside, I headed for the Finnair Lounge near gate 50 (conveniently, my boarding gate was 50A), but this turned out to be another ten-minute walk (with yet again no trolleys for my briefcase and backpack). In total it took me 50 minutes to get to the lounge after arriving at the airport – an unwanted record for me (excluding US airports, of course).
The “Premium” section of the Finnair Lounge is to the left of the entrance, but I only had access to the main area, a large rectangular space with high ceilings and, up two sets of steps, a raised gallery of chairs, sofa benches and tables on two sides. The F&B area is to the left: during my visit it was offering four tasty hot dish options (tom yum soup, game and potato casserole, vegetarian lasagne and a vegetable “stir-fry” with tortilla bread). The salad bar, fruits and desserts were acceptable but uninspiring, though the strawberry smoothie was delicious.
I was disappointed to find no USB ports or international power sockets at or near my chosen seating – only the European twin round-pin sockets with a circular recessed design, which my multi-adapter could not fit. (Luckily I had a power charger with me.) Additional amenities in this lounge include two sleep pods, a selection of international newspapers and TV screens. It was packed during my visit and quite noisy, but the staff worked hard to keep food available and tables cleared.
Boarding for the 1700 flight was scheduled for 1630 at gate 50A (gates 50A-M are all bus-to-plane gates). I walked the few minutes to get there at 1640 – only to find crowds of people waiting; apparently the air control tower had stopped the buses temporarily because of the high-volume traffic at the airport. At 1650 we boarded a bus and were on the plane by 1700. However, we then sat for 50 minutes until the plane was cleared to leave – plastic cups of water or champagne were offered to business passengers by apologetic staff – and eventually we took off just after 1800. The pilot announced that he would do his best to make up time.
As this plane has nothing but economy seats, the front four rows (three rows on the starboard side, and partitioned by thin walls and a curtain from the main cabin) are used for business class passengers by blocking off the middle seat of each set of three. This effectively creates 14 “business” seats that at least mean you have plenty of shoulder room and can put your gear in the seat beside you (sharing the space with your neighbour).
As this is a fairly old plane, the seats are very basic, with merely a coat hook but no power points, no private screens (a tiny drop-down TV is all you get above the front row, but no earphones) – it is in fact an old-style economy seat and nothing more. I was in seat 2F, which is a bulkhead seat, offering slightly greater legroom but nowhere to put a bag. The work table was in the armrest and was small and bouncy, but serviceable. The seat itself was fairly hard but fine for a short-haul trip of a few hours.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE
One might suggest being farther back away from the galley and toilet, but to be honest the plane was so noisy I could not hear any sound from either. I struggle to find a reason to recommend any one over another in this relatively small cabin space.
Thirty minutes after take-off the food trolley was brought round. Dinner was a choice of “beef with mash” or “chicken with risotto” – I chose the latter, along with some bilberry juice and water. It was certainly replete with “robust” flavours, the yellow risotto overlaid by spinach with raisins and a heavy mushroom sauce, upon which lay a roast chicken breast. I’m not too sure they worked well together, but to be fair I ate the lot (I was hungry). Add to this a spicy tiger prawn with some sort of cauliflower-based accompaniment as an appetizer, and a blueberry muffin cake as a dessert, and I was stuffed by the end of the meal.
Tea and coffee were brought round, and for the remainder of the flight the attendants constantly patrolled the short aisle space, serving drinks. I worked with my computer on my lap for half an hour, then placed it on the seat next to me, plugged myself in and listened to my own music until it was time to pack it away.
We began our descent around 1800 local time and landed at 1830, so the pilot was true to his word and made up half the time – in the end we were only 25 minutes late. (Perhaps the noisiness on board was due to the pilot really gunning the engines?) The plane arrived into Heathrow’s Terminal 3; leaving the aircraft it was a five-minute walk to immigration, which amazingly was empty, and my baggage arrived on the carousel within ten minutes.
If you’re used to Asian legacy carriers using full business class cabins and products for short-haul journeys you may raise your eyebrows at Finnair’s version here. However, within the limitations of the hardware on offer, the staff did as good a job as possible, and I have no real complaints (except to advise being wary of Helsinki airport at the weekend in summer!).
- BEST FOR… Making the most of an old aircraft product.
- DEPARTURE 1700
- FLIGHT TIME 3 hours 5 minutes
- SEAT WIDTH 18in/46cm
- SEAT PITCH 31in/79cm
- PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Helsinki to London Heathrow in mid-August start from €986 (US$1,167) including taxes and surcharges.
- CONTACT finnair.com