To HEL and back – two more (almost) Heavenly Finnair flights!

Three years ago, I had four pretty nice flights with Finnair. On this occasion, I was particularly looking forward to trying their Airbus 350  for what would be my 1201st flight ever!
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Booking: 9/10

Finnair runs the only direct service from Bangkok to Helsinki (HEL). During the Finnish winter, the airline offers 16 services a week -mostly for Finns escaping the Northern hemisphere’s cold. From April, the number of flights runs a daily service with a morning departure from Bangkok at 0855 arriving Helsinki at 15:05. The return flight is an overnighter departing HEL at 17:35 and arriving into Bangkok at 07:15 the next day.

Finnair prides itself on its European connections meaning that customers can fly onto forty European cities. Finnair shuttles passengers between those cities and Hong Kong, Singapore, Phuket, and several Chinese and Japanese destinations. The airline has been pursuing this strategy for several years now.

Price wise I notice Finnair are not the cheapest option on this leg. That distinction seems to go to Qatar, Etihad, Aeroflot and Ukrainian. I also noticed that on this occasion, the cheapest fares could be sourced from Finnair directly. Some airlines quietly offer cheaper fares via third party websites. This did not seem to be the case with Finnair. There were a couple of dates on which the fare could be found for $5 to $15 cheaper. The rest of the time booking directly was the best option.

Their website is a joy to behold. Simple and uncluttered. Unlike some airlines where you are searching all over their website for the check-in link! The same neat design follows through the rest of the booking pages. Such a joy!

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Cabin and Fare Classes

Finnair offers Economy, Economy Comfort and Business Class seating on their long distance routes. Economy Comfort is not a Premium economy cabin per se. They are dedicated seats at the front of Economy with 3 to 5″ more leg room. Passengers also get an amenity kit, Noise-cancelling headphones and early boarding.

Taking the cue from Scoot/Air Asia/Norwegian, Finnair offers four types of Economy fares and two types of Business fares with differing benefits:

  • Saver- Restricted starting-from fares in the lowest booking classes
  • Basic-  The best bargain with all the basic services for a convenient journey: Fare Classes L, N, O, R, Q, S, V, Z
  • Value- Flexibility for the leisure or commuter traveller flying in Economy.  Fare Classes: K, M, P, T
  • Pro- Business travellers priority services and fully flexible terms in Economy.  Fare Classes: B, H, Y
  • Business Saver: Ideal for leisure travellers wishing to be pampered and for business travellers. Fare Class:  I
  • Business: The premium choice for Business Class service and full flexibility.  Fare Classes: C,D, J

A summary of benefits is listed here:

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It is not possible to pull up all the fares to make an easy comparison between Economy and business fares.  On my travel dates, the cheapest Saver fare without choosing a seat in advance cost $US945.80 round trip. Adding seat choices in the Exit row bumped the fare up to $US1099. The most expensive Pro fare was $2360. A Business Saver cost $US2827. I wondered if on some dates the Economy Pro fare might ever be cheaper than a Business Saver. Searching ahead, I did not see this option eventuate.
Choosing a seat was very easy.  As a One World Emerald Customer, I found there was not charge for any of the Premium seats in Economy.  I also placed a minimin bid for an upgrade to Business Class not expecting success.

Check-in: 10/10

I checked in online for both legs. This was a very simple and straightforward process compared to some airlines. At Bangkok airport, check in staff were outsourced whereas at Helsinki they were Finnair in-house staff. On both occasions, the check-ins were warm, friendly and efficient. There was a bit of a line at the Helsinki Business Check in but none in Bangkok.

At Bangkok, I was given an Express Pass to clear immigration and security. At Helsinki, I placed my Boarding pass onto a reader which then automatically gave me access to the Priority Lane. On the outward journey, the process took 35 minutes from airport arrival to the lounge via Immigration and security.

In Helsinki, I was impressed that I could board a train at 14:31h in the centre of the city and be in the lounge at 15:32h having completed check in, security and immigration. Finnish efficiency at its best!

 

Lounge: 8/10

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I was given an access card to a CIP Louis Lounge at Bangkok airport.  This is the same lounge I used on my last Finnair flight which leans towards a very basic business lounge. As a One World Emerald, however, I can use any One World Lounge. There are two such lounges at Bangkok: Cathay Pacific and JAL. As the JAL one had been newly renovated, I decided to give it a go.

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The lounge looks fresh and uncluttered with a good mix of areas. It was not at all busy while I was there. WiFi was fast and easy to connect to.

IMG_0985Food selection was an interesting mix of Japanese, Thai and Western options. IMG_0986 IMG_0990

Staff hovered around cleaning constantly and helping guests with almost anything that they might need! It was almost overwhelming so I escaped for a shower!

Even though it was early-ish in the morning and I had mostly been inside air-conditioned facilities, I still felt sticky from the high humidity and summer temperatures of Bangkok so a refreshing shower to clean myself up before boarding was greatly appreciated. They had a great shower in the lounge.

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On the return leg, I used the Finnair lounge which is discreetly hidden near gate 36 at Helsinki airport. My Finnair Boarding Passes clearly stated where the lounge is located which was handy. The centrepiece of this lounge is a bar which has the food tables in front of it. The food was immaculately presented and there is a good range of drinks served in beautiful glassware.

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View from the Helsinki lounge

The last time I was in this lounge, I complained it felt crowded and claustrophobic. This was the case on this visit too. I struggled (like many others ) to find a seat as it was very full and busy. Seats through the lounge are very close together. The airport is currently being extended and I hope that means the lounge will be expanded too!

The Finnair Lounge has its own Sauna which I did not use.  One day, I will have to! It just feels a bit weird to be ducking into a sauna at an airport! I think it’s pretty appealing for most Finns especially when they come in from a -12 degree Helsinki day in winter!

I was excited when talking to one of the Lounge staff, to find she was from El Salvador. I have spent a lot of time in that country. She was stunned to find an Australian in a lounge in Finland who could talk in Spanish about El Salvadoran food! I think we both made each others days! I left wondering how does someone get all the way from Central America to Northern Europe?

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WiFi is accessed through the airport’s public network which is actually really fast!

I gave the JAL lounge in Bangkok 9/10 and the Finnair in Helsinki just 7/10, averaging out at 8/10.

 

Boarding: 7/10

It was a short walk from the JAL lounge at Bangkok to my gate. This was also the case in the compact and well organised Helsinki airport.

IMG_1012When Business Class passengers were called to Board, the gate staff played a recorded Finnair message boarding message. The volume was so soft that people did not hear what was being said and there was a general surge for the gate. At that point,  harassed staff turned back the people without business or priority Boarding Cards. I  managed, through that process, to be the first into the rear of the beautiful A350, my first ever 350. Finnair’s layout is clean and beautiful. IMG_1025

On both sectors, I got a very warm welcome from the staff as I moved through the plane.
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On Board: 9/10

The 350 is a vast improvement from the ageing 330 I flew on last time I travelled on this sector. One immediate benefit was that I felt my hydration levels were much better. One flight attendant on the Helsinki bound flight told me that she comfortably wears her contacts on board and her eyes do not feel any discomfort.  I chose to wear my contacts on the way home and found she was right. It was a very pleasant experience

The A350’s lighting effects were very cool.

Business Class has 46 flat-bed seats with 180-degree recline. Each seat has a pitch of 78 to 81″ and a width of 21″. The seats are angled in a 1-2-1 arrangement.

In the rear of the plane, seats are arranged 3-3-3. There are 43 Economy Comfort seats with a seat pitch of 35″ and a width of 18″. The 208 Standard Economy seats have a 31″ seat pitch which is a little tight for a 10-hour flight. Width is, of course, also 18″.

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Each seat in Economy had a pillow and a blanket.

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I highly recommend my seats in Row 41.

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IMG_1875The first flight to Helsinki was completely full. Staff told me the flight was almost “oversold”. I cannot imagine Finnair dragging a passenger off, however, unlike United’s recent well publicised over booking! The return flight had some Economy comfort seats available which staff tried to sell over the intercom twice. a woman near me was interested in moving but when she was told the price chose not to move.

There are four lavatories for 46 passengers in Business Class and six for the 251 Economy Class passengers. There were no little fancy “extras” in the lavatories but they were kept spotless for the whole flight.

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Half of the cabin crew were Thai nationals working for the airline. The other half were Finnish. I learnt that there are now no Finnish cabin crew on Finnair’s Hong Kong and Singapore flights. These moves which are clearly aimed at cost cutting have not won support from the Finnish crew. There is considerable bitterness over the Hong Kong move. It seems odd that one can fly on the national airline of a country and not encounter any citizens from that country.

All announcements on my flights were made in English, Finnish and Thai.

I was personally welcomed aboard as a One World Emerald member by the Cabin Manager. When she found out it was my first time to be stopping in Helsinki, she gave me some great suggestions for exploring the city. I did not get personally welcomed on the return flight.

 

Take off

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Returning from HEL

We left the gate, on the flight going to Helsinki, 31 minutes late due to an electrical fault on board. We made up good time because we were just 14 minutes late arriving.

On that flight, the woman behind me was terrified of flying and as we took off tightly gripped the hands of the husband and son sitting on either side of her. I could feel her sharp intake of breath and she looked visibly scared when we began our descent. I really felt for her. When we encountered some turbulence, one of the cabin crew kindly spoke to her and reassured her that all was normal.

The return flight was also late. There is no explanation this time.

Soon after take off, the crew brought around a refreshing towel. Any airline that does that has my heart!

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Meals: 7/10

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HEL bound meal: Chicken and potato with really good broccoli (a rarity on a plane), a dry bread roll, a nice enough salad and a cake for dessert. Quite respectable.

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It does not look appetising but it was delicious.

Compared with my last flights, I thought meal quality was a little better on this flight. The airline served a meal after take off and a light refreshment just before landing on both flights. On the Bangkok to Helsinki flight, we were given some sort of a pizza roll mid-flight. Even so, I am glad I ate in the lounge because the servings were not enough for a ten-hour flight.

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Snack Box on the return flight with some of the amazing Karl Frazer chocolate.

Alcohol is served to Economy class passengers with meals. Any additional alcohol must be purchased. Soft drinks, water and juices were available throughout the flight from a self-service station outside the galley. The crew made several passes handing out glasses of water.

Entertainment: 7/10

The most astounding thing about the Finnair 350 is that there are no power outlets on board, There are WiFi outlets but no power outlets. I brought my laptop for the ten-hour trip expecting to be able to charge it as I went. I asked the cabin attendant who was new on this type of plane and she looked very carefully for a power outlet. We both found out there are no power outlets on the whole plane. Who equips a modern plane for long distance travel and includes no power outlets anywhere? There are USB ports for charging.

The system itself operates very smoothly; There is an ad wich is repeated twice at the start of each and every show. I got adept at working out when and how I could skip the ads. The range of TV shows was okay and movies good.

The WiFi on the trip going out did not work at all. On the return flight, I discovered that Finnair have just changed theWiFi access rules. Previously One World Emerald customers could access the wifi for the whole flight for free. Now that privilege is reserved only for Finnair Platinum customers. Even Business class customers have to pay for wifi after the first hour.   One of the cabin attendants who broke the news to me that I had to pay, shook her head dolefully noting that a number of Business Class customers were very unhappy with the change. I think that is a very poor effort by Finnair for Business Class passengers who have spent $3,000 for a ticket have to fork out a few more Euro for WiFi.  (Of course, I was also annoyed that while Finnair Platinums get WiFi for free, I as a Qantas Platinum have to pay for it! What happened to One World?

WiFi access for is  €7.95 for one hour for or €11.95  for three hours or €19.95 for the whole flight. I  forked out €11.95 for WiFi but found I could not connect at all! I am now trying to get a refund. That process is just adding salt to the wound!

UPDATE: 3rd May, 2017: Finnair advised me they are refunding my WiFi payment. Thanks Finnair.

 

Landing

The moment came that I had been looking forward to as the cabin exploded into a light display reminiscent of the Northern Lights. A very cool finish t a very cool flight.

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The Airbus 350 glided smoothly onto the runway. It was an absolute delight to travel in.  I still marvel considering I started my international flights on a BOAC Viscount VC10 almost 50 years ago. On both legs, passengers unbuckled their seat belts and stood up as we were taxiing off the runway. One gentleman stood up and collected his bags from the overhead locker.

At Helsinki, we were loaded into buses when we arrived. This made the people with tight connections very nervous. You will find if you transit through HEL that the connections too feel very close.

IMG_1070 (1)Luggage arrived very promptly at Helsinki. It took a little longer to arrive at Bangkok but it was still pretty quick.

The Verdict

My Flight Rating: Overall 81% (4 out of 5). My last set of Finnair flights I rated as 76%.

My overall Rating of Finnair: 76% (3.8 out of 5).

Skytrax: Finnair has a 4-star rating from Skytrax – I would say it is the lower end of the 4-star airlines. It feels more like a 3.5-star experience when compared to 4 star Emirates. Skytrax customers rate them at 63%.

Safety Rating: Airline ratings gives the carrier 7 out of 7.

Frequent Flyer Program: Finnair Plus. I earnt miles with Qantas but the miles take a long time to come through. Qantas said to expect up to 28 days before the miles are credited to my account.

Positives:  New plane, nice meals, smooth flight

Negatives:  The wifi

Would I fly them again? Yes, especially between Asia and Europe. Their option works. This was one of the nicest Economy flights I have had.

 

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