Finnair has 11 A350-900s in its fleet and will have 19 by 2022. It uses them predominantly for long haul routes to Asia.
This review is for the short haul flight from London Heathrow to Helsinki, a flight time of only two hours and twenty-five minutes.
Finnair uses the A350 on this one flight of the five daily departures from London Heathrow because it is one of the busiest flights of the day.
Using this larger aircraft also allows for cargo to be carried in greater amounts, and the rotation of the aircraft allows this.
For the traveller, it allows some lucky passengers to fly to Helsinki on an A350, and then connect on to Asia from there also on an A350.
As such, although the seat and the aircraft is the long haul one that you would normally see on routes from Helsinki down to Asia, here it is accompanied by the short haul business class service you would normally see on Finnair’s narrow body short haul services which make up all the other departures from Heathrow to Helsinki.
I have previously flown on this aircraft, but again on a short flight, this time the inaugural delivery flight of the A350 to Finnair from Toulouse to Helsinki in 2015.
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 at 0900 for the 1025 departure.
There was no queue at check-in in Zone B and I used fast track security to be airside by 0920.
From there I could have used the Cathay Pacific Lounge or No 1 Lounge, but instead went straight to the gate to board and film the business class cabin (see below).
The aircraft is an A350-900 configured with 297-seats in three classes with 208 seats in economy, 43 in Economy Comfort and 46 in business. Note that there are two different configurations of the A350, and newer deliveries have fewer business class seats (32 in one cabin of 8 rows of 4 (1-2-1) and a total capacity of 336 seats
The interior has a clean white, blue and silver/grey colour scheme by design firm dSign Vertti Kivi & Co. During longer flights the LED lighting can be configured in various ways, including a setting called “Northern Lights”. On this shorter flight we didn’t see any of that, and there was no amenity bag, no welcome drinks for business class, and the headphones were ear buds rather than noise cancelling.
In this configuration, business class is in two cabins, with a front cabin of eight rows (32 seats) and then a smaller rear cabin of three full rows of four seats and two seats in the middle at the front (14 seats in total). Between the two there is a galley with two washrooms.
The business seats are spacious. The 1-2-1 configuration means everyone has direct access to the aisle, as well as more privacy since you don’t meet anyone’s eyes when sitting down.
The design is elegant white with grey detailing and makes the interior seem airy, although some might say it lacks character.
Splashes of colour come from the amenity bag and the pillow and bedding, in white and blue and white and green respectively.
The IFE screen comes out from the side of the seat in front and has a 16-inch screen which can be tilted in various ways, depending on the angle you are at when watching.
The tray table is removed from the armrest and then folds out to a decent, if not generous, size. As you’d expect on a brand new aircraft, it was firm and I had no trouble using it to work on my laptop.
There is in-seat power with capability for US, EU and UK plugs. In addition, you can charge your phone or other devices using the USB power. However, this is very slow and would take most of a long-haul flight to recharge an empty device.
Economy seating is nine-abreast in slimline seats with a 31-32 inch seat pitch, while Economy Comfort seats are also nine-abreast and have an increased legroom of 35 inches.
Business class passengers, Finnair Plus Gold and Platinum members and Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald members have complimentary full internet access, while economy passengers can purchase wifi either by the hour (€5) or for the duration of the flight (€15).
This flight was too short and too busy to assess the seat for sleeping, but I reclined it fully-flat and there was plenty of room to turn around and get comfortable.
The armrest goes down for take-off and landing, and also to make room when the seat is fully-reclined, but comes up if you want the armrest when you work. There’s also an extra storage compartment in this area.
There are steps in the side of the seats for reaching overhead lockers, though actually there are no overhead lockers above the central seats.
The Panasonic IFE system has a wide choice of films and TV programmes but I was working and so did not get a chance to try it out.
There is also a good flight map options and two angles of external cameras for those who enjoy watching take-off and landings. I recorded both and they are in the video posted with this review.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
For individual flyers, probably the window seat, if only because of the larger windows that are fitted on new generation aircraft such as the A350 and B787.
One point, though, that the front cabin has overhead lockers only over the window seats – not above the central seats. The plus side is you get more headroom in this cabin, but if you have a lot of luggage you might be better in the rear cabin where all seats have overhead lockers.
We had about a 15-minute taxi before taking off. Once the seatbelt sign was off I tried to log into the wifi. This was possible on my phone, but impossible on my laptop.
Food and drink was served from the front of the aircraft, so the front cabin was served first. Note that Finnair (like British Airways) has buy on board on short haul. I don’t know if the decision was also followed up in the press by headlines declaring it was the final straw and the end of the airline. The Skybistro menu is available online.
The staff wear a deep blue uniform, speak excellent English, and were very helpful. In the rear cabin, when one aisle had been served long before the other, the flight attendants came through the galley and served us to help speed things up. By the time the food came to us the tortellini had all gone, and so our only choice was pork. My colleague does not eat meat, so the crew found a couple of starter salads for him (I ate the pork, which was fine). Choice of drinks included Joseph Perrier Champagne and red and white table wines, as well as beers, soft drinks, spirits and liqueurs.
The meal was attractively presented on the tray, and also present was a salmon starter (I gave that to my colleague) and some chocolates for dessert. When the trays were collected we were again offered drinks and also tea and coffee. All tableware and textiles in business class are designed by Marimekko.
There were no delays and we arrived in Helsinki on time. Immigration was swift and I had no bags to collect so I was quickly through the airport and ready for the journey into Helsinki.
An excellent service. Of course you have to choose the right flight to get the A350-900 on short haul. It works best if you schedule an all-A350 flight down to Asia; check the schedules for this.