I have never booked a flight to HEL before!
Re-assuredly, I was also able to book flights out of HELsinki, the capital of Finland quite easily. I was bemused that one of my flights was AY 666 (Biblical number of evil) from Copenhangen to HEL. None of the crew or passengers were sprouting horns and the only non human creatures we encountered were popular Finnish Comic Moomin family products which the airline was selling on board.
Old Finnair DC 10 with Moomin characters
Of the 15 One World member airlines, I have now flown 11 of them (and two ex members!) for about 1.1 million kilometres ( 700 000 miles) on every continent from Australia to Zimbabwe, Aberdeen to Zurich and several spots in between!
Somehow, Finnair had eluded me. The fifth oldest airline in the world, it has had planes in the air (with various logos) since 1923 covering Europe, Asia and three cities in the USA.
In 2014, I flew Finnair four times, two short haul within Europe and two long haul between Asia and Europe. We flew in all three classes:
- Business- all planes are converting to flat beds but be warned some of the older planes not there yet, amenity kit, headphones
- Economy Comfort- 34″ to 35″ legroom, quality headphones, priority boarding and fast exit
- Economy- 31″ to 32″ legroom
For the price, I would highly encourage booking in Economy Comfort on the long haul sectors if you do not want to fork out for business. Those extra inches do make a difference! I am also glad we went for the exit seats on the European sectors.
Finnair have been marketing heavily their connections between Europe and Asia. With good connections in Helsinki, a traveller can shave off three to four hours on a journey from Asia to Europe compared to going through Dubai, Doha, London and even Moscow or Zurich.
Finnair.com’s booking process takes eight steps. It is visually generally clear in presenting all of the different fare and flight options. It was also easy to back track and make changes. I ended up finding the same fares on Skyscanner for several hundred dollars less and booked through an on-line travel agent.
Finnair charges for advance seating. It makes exceptions for Full fare economy, Business Class, and high status Frequent Flyers. We arranged our seats through the efficient call centre as Sapphire and Emerald passengers from other One World airlines cannot choose seats online without the fee.
Check in: 9/10
Finnair opens on line check in 36 hours before departure. At this time, there are no charges for seats. On line check in was sporadic. It worked for two of our flights and not for the other two. There was no logic or explanation to this.
Face to face, check in was very friendly, very welcoming and very efficient at all airports.
There are self service kiosks at many airports in Europe that you can use to check in. The ones in Helsinki, Oulu and Stockholm will print bag tags. They did not appear to be extensively used and could be a faster option for airport check in.
Finnair use a mix of lounges so we found ourselves in a generic lounge run by an airport lounge operators, a One World partner lounge and Finnair’s own lounges. The result was a very inconsistent product.
The Helsinki International lounge which was renovated in mid 2014 is, as you would expect, top class. It even boasts its own sauna (clothing required) which I did not get to sample due to our short connection times! Food and drink selection were excellent. My only criticism is that the space felt very claustrophobic and crowded.
No lounges were worth the 48 Euro fee, Finnair charges for casual users (which we did not pay).
We got priority boarding on all sectors, so we were spared the worst of the scrum! Helsinki seemed particularly chaotic with a lot of people crowded into the gate area.
Cabin crew were very welcoming. On Asian sectors, a Finnish and “local” staff member were at the doors so you got a welcome in English, Finnish or the local language. The Cabin crew were astounding on all sectors. They were friendly, energetic and helpful on all of our flights.The airline works them hard.
On the Asian long haul flights, the crews are split 50/5o between Asian crews and Finnish staff. The Asian staff are paid less than a third of the rate of the Finish staff. I noticed that the two staff groups did not socialise with the other, staying within their national groups.
Passengers on the Asian flights were a 60/40 mixture of Europeans fleeing winter for the beaches and shops of Asia and Asian nationals travelling to Europe for business or work. The flight out of Bangkok had many exhausted Finns many nursing fresh tattoos, burnt skin and hangovers who slept for most of the flight!
On board: 8/10
Finnair use rather dated Airbus 330s and 340s on their long haul sectors and 319, 320 and 321s on short haul. A350s are coming in the third quarter of 2015.
I found the colour scheme on board a little confusing. The airline’s colours are blue and white which is reflected in the cabin but they used a green and white theme on board craft with pillows, and duvets (quilts). Every long haul economy seat has a small pillow and blanket. In Business and Economy Comfort, we got a very nice duvet/quilt and pillow.
Business class passengers were given a very miniature cardboard eco friendly amenity kit along with menu (see below). It felt cheap.
A “New amenity kit with high-quality brand products” is currently being introduced to Finnair and will have to be an improvement on the current non-event. The new amenity kits are also being offered to Economy Comfort passengers. There were additional supplies in the business class lavatory such as razors and toothbrushes which economy comfort passengers had access to. I am still using the toothbrush in my travel bag!
Dated Business Class but comfortable
Finnair have had no fatal or hull-loss accidents since 1963 and is ranked one of the safest airlines in the world. Briefing was conducted in English (not Finnish). In fact, we rarely heard Finnish on board. Cabin crew were strict about safety and checked passenger seat belts and insisted on putting laptops away in storage.
Finnair meals were disappointing in quality, quantity and presentation- in all classes.
On the long haul flights, a meal is served after take off and a light meal before landing. Economy passengers are given a choice of two main meals and in Business, there are three. Business Class meals can be pre ordered.
For Economy and Economy Comfort, there are no free snacks provided mid flight. You have to purchase chips, fruit and peanuts which Business Class customers can help themselves to. On short haul, there are options to buy food on sectors of two hours plus. Bring your own snacks is my advice!
Long Haul Economy Meal
The airline’s alcohol policy is a little confusing. On flights to all destinations except North America and Thailand, beer and wine are all served free of charge and other alcoholic beverages are available for purchase. On North America and Thailand bound flights beer and wine were only available during meals. If you wanted more, then you had to pay for them. This illogical penny pinching left a sour taste in my mouth!
You can order a bottle of champagne (42.90 Eruos) or box of Godiva chocolates to celebrate an occasion mid air!
Business Long Haul Meal
Entertainment system: 4/10
It would be fair to say that the Finnair system on international flights comes a distant last when compared with almost any of their major competitors between Europe and Asia . The system itself was clunky (I kept trying to touch the screen to change channels to no avail!), the screens are small and the selection very limited. A couple of episodes of a few TV shows and a lot of older movies. I know things will be much improved with the A350s next year but it means if on board entertainment is a priority, Finnair will disappoint. Suffice to say, I finished a book on both long haul flights.
They provided an excellent range of Finnish and European papers in Economy Comfort and Business. I am not sure about Economy.
On short haul, there was only a main screen.
The feature that I most loved, is the camera mounted on the front of the aeroplane, which allowed me to watch take off and landing.
Finnair Business Class Screens
Finnair does not yet offer WiFi. They have promised it as standard on their new Airbus A350s which will be delivered form next year. Interestingly, their competitor Norwegian who fly the 787 from Bangkok to Scandinavia offer WiFi for free.
Finnair would have to be the most aggressive airline I have ever seen with their on board shopping. They made Korean, Ryanair and Air Asia who seem to spend most of their flights selling, look like they were standing still! On the long haul flights, the duty free trolley passed the aisles twice and we had three announcements about options and purchases.
European efficiency was at work on all flights into HEL with connecting gates clearly announced and explained. Staff were very friendly on plane departure wishing us all a good day. I walked off all flights feeling I was a valued guest.
Transit at Helsinki
On through flights, Finnair offer what appear to be fairly tight connections. The system works. The airport is small, customs and immigration relatively efficient and the airline holds flights to ensure connections.
When there, look for the Book Exchange in the Schengen part of the airport. Its a great idea. I left and took a book!
My Flight Rating: Overall 76% (3.8 out of 5).
Skytrax: Finnair has a 4 star rating from Skytrax – which I think is a little generous when compared to 4star Emirates or LAN. Skytrax customers rate them at 65%.
Positives: Staff friendliness, good connections at Helsinki, shortest journey times between Europe and Asia,
Negatives: Entertainment, meals
Would I fly them again? Yes, especially between Asia and Europe. Their option works. It will be interesting to see their future. The Finnish government owns more than half of the airline but have considered selling its share to under 50%. They face stiff competition from the Middle Eastern airlines and discount operator Norwegian is starting to encroach on their space.
Reviewing 2014-How do you measure your travel?
My Top Five Airlines of 2014