**** For an update on Finnair’s A350 Business Class and quick review of Helsinki to Los Angeles see bottom of page after this initial review.
I recently flew from Bangkok BKK to Moscow and had a choice of a few airlines to fly. Aeroflot was the best choice, but since American is my preferred airline I really just looked into flying either Qatar, Etihad, or Finnair. As much as I would prefer to fly on the Gulf Carriers, the lure of flying on a new Airbus 350 (Finnair is the first European Airline to fly the A350) was the deciding factor (that and the fare was slightly less).
The Finnair flight departs Bangkok fairly early in the morning (a little before 9) which forced me to overnight at the Novotel at BKK. Check-in was very easy as there were no other passengers in the priority line, while the other lines were actually quite long. Great way to start off the morning! The agent told me I had the choice of using three lounges, but advised me the Cathay lounge was the closest to our gate. The Cathay lounge was empty and of decent size, but a Cathay flight must have recently departed because the lounge was very dirty. The breakfast options were minimal. In fact, there wasn’t much to eat in the lounge at all. That said, there is a very nice Noodle Bar and eating area that looked great. I just wasn’t in the mood for noodles at 7am.
I arrived at the gate area less than 30 minutes prior to departure, but unfortunately there was a slight delay in boarding our flight. The delay was 15 minutes at most, but it was very warm and crowded in the boarding area making it uncomfortable and felt much longer than 15 minutes. Once boarding finally started, Business Class passengers were allowed to board first. After being met with a friendly greeting as I entered the aircraft, I felt like I was back in the gate area, as it was quite warm on the airplane as well. As I was getting situated in my seat I noticed that there was a rise where your feet would be and the plastic covering was already broken, At this point I regretted not flying Qatar directly from Phuket. Upon arrival, there was a small pillow at the seat along with the menu, a small amenity kit with a few Clarins products (but no socks), Bose headphones, a bottle of water and slippers. Newspapers were offered (mostly Finnish) along with a pre-departure drink. There was a choice of champagne, water, or blueberry juice. Now, while blueberry juice would not be my first choice of juices, it was refreshing and a unique choice for a pre-departure beverage. We pushed just a few minutes behind schedule and as we started to taxi to the runway the cabin temperature cooled considerably and my irritation started to wane. After take off, a small hot towel was handed out (a cold towel would have been more welcomed) and shortly thereafter, a flight attendant came by to take the lunch order and to explain how to gain access to the inflight Wi-Fi. I knew complimentary Wi-Fi was offered to Business Class passengers on Finnair and that was another deciding factor to fly Finnair to Moscow. After the flight attendant finished with her explanation of the Wi-Fi the purser stopped by to introduce herself, acknowledged my One World Emerald status, and ask if I had any questions. She was very engaging, talked to me about American Airlines and re-explained the inflight Wi-Fi (I am not very tech savvy). By this point I was relaxed and no longer regretting my decision.
There are two cabins in Business Class in a 1x2x1 configuration. Eight rows in the forward cabin and four (three on aisle) in a smaller more intimate cabin to the rear. I was seated in 4L, a single seat on the right side of the aircraft. The seats are not staggered, rather turned in at a slight angle facing the window, so all the single aisles seats are also window seats. I really liked this layout, especially if flying by one’s self. The two middle seats are both angled in, so there is also privacy if flying alone. A unique aspect of Finnair’s new A350’s is there are no overheads over the center seats in Business Class. This makes for a more open and spacious feel. The overheads are plenty big and I had no problem storing my suitcase and briefcase, but the cabin was only 3/4’s full. Could be a problem if Business Class was fully booked. The color scheme is very minimalistic (I thought bland was too harsh). Off white (maybe egg-shell) with light grey cloth seats with green & white pillows adding a splash of color. While I certainly didn’t love the look, I didn’t dislike it either. I just feel it may age quicker with use. Besides the 46 seats in Business Class, Finnair’s A350’s also have 43 seats in Economy Comfort, and 208 in Economy.
Drink orders were taken with the lunch orders and were brought out with a small appetizer of a cold Chicken Teriyaki Skewer. Wasn’t much there, but what was, was quite tasty. This was followed by a choice of two starters. Smoked Duck Breast or Creamy Tomato Soup. I ordered the soup which was brought out on a tray and accompanied by a side salad. Shortly after, another flight attendant came by with a bread basket. There was a nice choice of breads and I luckily (this was the only offering of bread) took two different rolls. The soup was great as was the bread (the salad was ok). There was some confusion (well, with me) as the flight attendant removed the starter, he took the entire tray. I still had my silverware on the tray and a roll I wanted to eat with my entrée. I was able to grab the dish with my roll on it, but was not able to keep my silverware (and napkin). So once the main course arrived I had to ask for a new set of silverware. There were three choices for the main course; Grilled Chicken Breast and potato gratin, Thai style Stir Fried Beef (basil & chili) with steamed rice, and Mushroom Ravioli. I chose the chicken, which was good, however, the stir fried beef smelled very good and I wished I had ordered that. After the main course, a choice of Gruyere and Danish Blue Cheese was offered. I skipped on the cheese and waited for dessert. I decided to try both desserts of Haagen-Dazs Vanilla ice cream and a couple of Petit Fours. I also ordered a hot chocolate that came with two pieces of Fazer chocolate’s (maybe my favorite chocolate). That more than satisfied my sweet tooth. A hot towel was given after the lunch service (which took almost two hours).
Finnair’s In-Flight Entertainment system (IFE) is called Nordic Sky, and as expected on a new aircraft, is on-demand (AVOD). Since the seats are at an angle the screen is not directly in front of you, rather it opens up from the side of the shell from the seat in front of you. The screen (not sure exact size, but I’m sure bigger than the 12″ of Finnair’s A330 & A340 business class seats) was touch screen and the picture quality was great. You could open the monitor and start the programming on the ground. The handset was conveniently located on your side along with the headphone jack, USB port, power plug, and seat controls. One of the benefits of having the screen come out from the side is that it is much closer to you and you can access the menu via the screen rather than the handset. As I have experienced with most airlines it is much easier to navigate programming using the screen. There is a good selection of entertainment and information on the A350. The usual Hollywood hits along with classic movies, Finnish movies, International films and short programs (including sitcoms & serials). Surprisingly the music selection was not from CD’s, but rather, pre-selected channels by genre (how music used to be available on planes). I can not remember if the Bose headphones were noise-canceling, but my guess is they are as I used those rather than my own. The moving map was great and as an added plus there is a camera mounted on the tail. In addition, when in the “home mode” the screen displayed flight information as well as the service schedule. Finnair’s Wi-Fi is free to Business Class passengers, Finnair Plus Gold & Platinum members, as well as oneworld Sapphire & Emerald members. Otherwise the cost is 5 Euro’s for 1 hour or 15 Euro’s for the entire flight (not bad for 10 hours). While the connection speed wasn’t great, it was certainly better than what I expected and I was able to keep connected from my phone.
The flight attendants brought out blankets (in the same white and green color pattern as the pillow) as soon as the meal service had ended, and after I watched a movie and utilized the Wi-Fi, I decided to get some sleep. The seats are 180 degree lie-flat and while I usually find Business Class seats that are in a herringbone position to feel cramped, Finnair’s seat width is a comfortable 21 inches and to add to that, the armrest on the aisle can be lowered providing even more space. But even with this, I can not get comfortable when the seat is in the lie-flat position. This is not a knock on the seat, I just feel claustrophobic when the seat is in that position. Luckily the seat control was easy to use and I found a comfortable cradle position and had a nice two hour nap. The seat pitch is misleading because it is listed as 78 inches, but that is when the seat is converted to a bed. When seated you would struggle to reach the ottoman. Which leads us to this plastic covering on the floor. I am not sure why it is there but my guess is they will all have cracks in them because it is situated where most people’s feet will come to rest. Outside of that, I liked the seats very much (very similar to American Airlines new seats on their 777’s). What I didn’t like is that there is not an air vent overhead. Sadly, (I am always hot on airplanes) this is the case with most non US carrier’s twin-aisle aircraft. There is a light overhead as well as one on the side next to the plugs, handset, and seat control. Another nice component of the seat is there is actually a storage area next to the armrest (providing even more width).
Between meals you could order a snack of cup noodles or sandwiches. In addition, there was a self-serve area of potato chips, nuts, fresh fruit, pastries, chocolates and the same petit fours as dessert situated between cabins. Ninety minutes before arrival a 2nd light meal was served. There were three choices; A Salad with Chicken Galantine and Roast Beef (served cold), Pad Thai, or Club Sandwich. None of these appealed to me so I ordered the Cup Noodle from the snack menu. They managed to serve it in a nice presentation with a roll and fruit. Wasn’t the best cup of noodles I have had, but it did hit the spot and I appreciated that it did come with bread and fruit.
Another unique aspect of Finnair’s A350 Business Class is there is a dedicated “ladies only” lavatory stocked with cosmetics. I never saw this lavatory and I’m not sure if it is enforced (I may have accidently used it as I have one photo that has more cosmetic products than the other). But either way the lavatories I did use were very clean and had a window. There were cloth towels which is always a nice touch plus lotion and soap from Clean.
Most of the announcements were in English with a few in Finnish and Thai. The pilots kept their comments to a minimum and despite reading a few negative things about Finnair’s flight attendants they remained friendly, professional and available throughout the flight. Four flight attendants were assigned to the Business Class cabin and all spoke perfect English. The flight arrived on time and we parked at a bus gate (which is a pet peeve of mine). I did notice that their other long-haul flights had also parked there.
The Airbus A350 is definitely a nice aircraft and one I look forward to flying on for many years to come. Like the B787, the A350 will be able to fly routes that have never been served before because of its size and fuel efficiency (Bangkok to Helsinki is not one of these routes as Finnair used to fly an A340 on this route). Also like the Dreamliner, the cabin air of the A350 is pressurized to 6000 feet and the air is re-filtered more often to lessen dry skin and jet lag. I have never had a problem with the air on any aircraft (well, after smoking was banned that is) so I honestly could not tell the difference (I can’t on the B787 either). The A350 also has the LED lighting, but as there was daylight the entire 10 hours I did not see it in use. Lastly the windows on the A350 are not nearly as large as the B787. For what it is worth, as nice as the A350 is, I personally didn’t feel the same “wow” factor as I do on Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Maybe it is because I have flown on the 787 several times before this flight (and twice after on this trip with JAL) and seen more of its new technological advancements or simply because of the size of the windows. But either way I certainly enjoyed my flight with Finnair and was impressed with their Business Class. I would assume at some point Finnair will update the seats on their A330’s and A340’s, but as of now they are not the same as these seats. The service and catering on their long-haul flights however, should would be very similar to this flight.
**** I recently had the pleasure of flying on Finnair’s inaugural flight from Helsinki to LAX. I would like to say I was invited by Finnair, but this was a coincidence and pleasant surprise. I was actually in the Finnair Lounge and saw an ad for their new service to Los Angeles starting March 31st. Thinking this was an old ad (and not conscious of the date) I asked the agent if it was really a year since this service started. She then told me that the flight I was on was the inaugural flight. I realized there would be a lot of fanfare at the gate so I quickly headed down there as boarding would start soon anyway. Plus as much as I like the Finnair Lounge it was crowded (the Premium section is being renovated). By the time I got to the gate boarding had already started so I took about 5 minutes to see the festivities. There was food (hamburgers of course) and some models taking photo’s of passengers. They also gave out a pair of sunglasses (novelty) as you boarded.
Most of what I wrote in the review above still applies. The main differences are the step at your feet has been reinforced and is now carpeted. So it is a huge improvement visually. The amenity kit is smaller and no longer has Clarins products. This time L A Bruket lip balm and face cream along with an eye-mask and ear plug (still no socks, but I just read you may be able to request socks and additional items found in their old amenity kits). Blankets and pillows were blue instead of green. Only 1 hour of free Wi-Fi for Business Class Passengers and Finnair Plus Elite this time unlike the entire flight from BKK to HEL. The IFE is the same and kept me entertained, but Phitek headphones replaced the Bose (they were great). Lastly, the meal service was slightly different. At 10.5 hours, both flight times are similar. The appetizer was served alone without a salad and there wasn’t a mid-flight snack option. Again, there was some small snacks placed in galley between cabins and in front of forward galley. The pre-arrival meal was nicer than the same on the BKK – HEL flight. The food was once again very good as was the service. In fact, as this was the inaugural flight I think they had their A team servicing the flight.
I was supposed to fly on the A330 from LHR to HEL (downgrade in equipment) and was curious how the product differentiated between the two aircraft. Unfortunately, we had a downgrade in equipment (to an A321 http://patstravelreviews.com/finnair-e190-a319-business-class-review-helsinki-moscow-svo/ ) so I can not comment on that other than the service would be the same. I have become a big fan of Finnair’s long-haul service and enjoy Finnair Lounges and flying thru the Helsinki Airport (I love Fazer Chocolate 🙂 ) Besides Los Angeles they have also added a few more cities in North American including SFO on the West Coast.