*** Please see update at end of review.
Originally I was just going to review Finnair’s Embraer 190 Business Class between Moscow SVO and HEL from a flight I took earlier this year (May 2017). At that time they had two flights a day, both operated by Nordic Air using E190’s. However, when I went to look at their current service, I saw that one of the flights is back to an A319, which I flew in May 2016 from HEL to SVO. The flight time is only 1 hour & 30 minutes between the two Capital’s so the service is basically the same and for the most part so are the seats. Further, I am sure that the service on these routes is the same to other European destinations Finnair services from Helsinki. So I thought I would review both flights.
Finnair flies out of Sheremetyevo Airport despite their oneworld partners operating out of Domodedovo (DME) airport. They codeshare on several Aeroflot flights to and from HEL so I would imagine this is the reason for them choosing SVO. I first flew out of SVO in 1998 so it is always nostalgic for me departing Moscow from here. Both Sheremetyevo and Moscow have changed a lot since then (for the better) and is now a modern airport like any other European Capital. I arrived at the airport more than two hours before my evening flight so I had to wait a little while for the desk to open up. Aeroflot dominates SVO and because Finnair is not a Skyteam member they had a separate check-in area. Once open, check-in was quick using the priority lane and passport was not as bad as it can be. In the past I have used a separate passport lane for Business Class, but I did not see it this time. After security you had your choices of two lounges. Either Aeroflot’s Jazz or Blue’s Lounge. There is no difference in lounges, just reversed in their set-up. In Helsinki, I also checked-in using the priority lane (I was only person in line) and used the Finnair Lounge. The Jazz Lounge was nice with lots of food options and the Finnair Lounge is one of my favorite Lounges. Great food & beverage choices, plenty of seats, several computers, and a bowl of Fazer Chocolates at the entrance.
As I said, there are many similarities between flights and aircraft. On both flights a pre-departure drink was not offered nor was a hot towel given after take-off. In addition, neither flight had WiFi or power ports at the seats. Each flight had one flight attendant focus on Business Class (they did help out in Economy as well) and in both cases they were very friendly and professional. Announcements were only in English & Finnish.
While there were many similarities, now that I go back and read my notes and look at some photo’s there were actually a few differences between the flights and seats (should be as one of the flights was operated by Nordic Air). My A319 flight was a morning flight out of Helsinki and boarding was very quick using the Business/Priority lane. Most flights out of HEL use bus gates, but our plane was actually at a gate. I was seated in 2F which is a bulkhead window. On the left side of the aircraft there were four rows with three seats (bulkhead row 1) and on the right, three rows with three seats. Like most other European carriers the center seat is blocked and left free for additional space (but no table attached to the center seat – just an empty seat). There were only four passengers in Business so space was not a problem and there was plenty of room in the overhead for my roller bag. As I have stated in several other reviews of Intra-European flights, flying Business Class and sitting in an Economy seat is always a little bothersome to me. But in most cases this lack of space is offset by the Business Class cabins being less than full (like four passengers). The bulkhead did not provide that much more leg room (maybe more knee room). In fact, you couldn’t stretch your legs at all. Also the tray tables are in the armrest making them immovable, thus reducing the seat width (the outer armrest in the window seat is normal – providing a little more room) . In addition, sitting in the bulkhead reduces the benefit of having the middle seat free as you can not encroach into that seat. Now it is still way better not having someone sitting next to you and the seat does provide an area to place your personal items. This comes in handy in the bulkhead as the seatback pockets are a little smaller than the other rows.
There were pillows left between the seats that were to be occupied. I had both a blanket and pillow at my seat (maybe others did too). I do not remember if newspapers were offered. There was overhead screens that played the safety video and had a moving map for the beginning and end of the flight. In-between it played Charlie Chaplin comedies with no audio. Since these are from the 1920’s and were silent I guess that it didn’t matter that there was no audio at each seat. Breakfast was served shortly after takeoff. The only option was a plain omelet served with potatoes, and some spinach concoction. The omelet was simple, but tasty, as were the potatoes. Can’t say the same of the spinach. The fruit was also disappointing, but the roll, croissant and jam made up for that. I was finished eating 30 minutes after take off.
The E190 was a late evening (20:30) departure from SVO. I was one of the last to board, but having flown out of SVO before I am sure that Business Class & Priority boarded first. There was only one row of Business Class on this flight and I was seated in 1F, a bulkhead window. Like other European Carriers, Finnair can adjust the number of rows in Business based on load factors. Again, as with the A319 (and their entire narrow body fleet), the seats in Business Class are the same as the seats in Economy. However, on the E190 or E170 (which Finn also flies) with the 2×2 configuration there is no free middle seat option and potentially making for some cramped seating. I was aware of this before I booked my ticket and was counting on this flight not being very full. I guessed correctly and was the only passenger in the cabin 🙂 Like the E170 & E175, the E190 is the most comfortable of the regional jets. The overheads are large enough to fit a carry-on suitcase (sideways), ceiling is high enough that most will not have to bend as they walk down the aisle and the windows are nice and big (if you like to enjoy the view). The bulkhead had very good leg room and these seats had a clever way the tray table was stored. It was not in the armrest, rather along side it. This provided a touch more seat width. If given the option, sitting in the bulkhead is much more comfortable than any rows behind.
Unlike the other flight, there was no pillow or blanket on the seats (nor was one offered) and there wasn’t any form of entertainment. But, to my delight, a hot meal was offered. Only one choice again (not sure if on longer routes if there is more than one choice), but it was a very appealing Chicken dish with Green Beans and Potatoes. The meal was served at once with a beverage, rolls and a small piece of Fazer Chocolate. I was very pleased with meal. It was hot and very good. I would have liked more for dessert, but the Flight Attendant did come back and offer coffee or tea.
Overall, while Finnair doesn’t overwhelm you with their short-haul Business Class I definitely was satisfied with my two flights. The experience is similar to what you would find with most European Carriers but I was more impressed with their meals than most other airlines I have flown within Europe, plus the Finnair Lounge is awesome. Helsinki is also a great airport to connect to and from Asia or North America and their long-haul business class fares are very competitive. I have flown their long-haul Business Class on the A350 ( http://patstravelreviews.com/finnair-a350-business-class-review-bangkok-to-helsinki/ ) and was also pleased with that flight.
**** I have flown on this route a few more times since I published this review. For the most part there is not much to update other than a pillow and blanket was offered on one flight and meal choices (still one choice). But what compelled me to update this review was on my most recent flight from HEL to SVO (May 2019) Business once again only consisted of one row, but this time all four seats were occupied. The flight was 100% booked and my guess is this is the only circumstances this will occur, but I must say it was a very disappointing Business Class experience. While there is plenty of leg room in row one, the E190 is still a regional jet and with someone sitting next to you it is very cramped. Further, they once again served an impressive hot meal on a 1.5 hour flight (Lufthansa should take note) but it was hard to eat in such a confined space. Luckily my seatmate didn’t eat (if he did would have probably made it even more uncomfortable). Also with the four passengers there is not enough overhead space. Fortunately this is a short flight and again, I think they try not to fill these seats. I flew on the E190 from SVO to HEL a month earlier and the first three rows were designated as Business Class and there was one passenger for each seat pair (so 6 passengers in Business).
As an update to the A319 review I also flew from LHR to HEL on an A321 in May (was downgraded from an A330 🙁 ). On this aircraft eight rows were designated as Business Class with the middle seat being blocked (Economy Seats). Business was full (not surprising with downgrade) and no pillows nor blankets were at your seats (but could request one). There was no power port nor overhead TV, but this aircraft did provide Wi-Fi. Business Class passengers get 30 minutes free but unfortunately I started my session shortly after take-off and there is no coverage over the North Sea. By the time we were over Denmark my 30 minutes were up. So I got all of 5 minutes of Wi-Fi. I later found out that there is a coverage map. The seat pitch is 31 inches, but felt like more. The one interesting feature the A321 has is a clever device holder on the seatback. Many US carriers are installing these, but I had never seen this on a European airline. The Wi-Fi cost was 12.95 Euros for streaming (no IFE included) or 6.95 for browsing. Moving map and some other services were no charge. The service from London is different. A warm towel is handed out after take off (was on E190 too), a small bag of flavored pretzels was given with drinks and there was two choices for dinner. Salmon with Pasta or Beef with some mushed peas (I had this same meal on SVO to HEL in March). I was looking forward to flying the A330 so that was disappointing but was offset by the fact I visited all four Lounges I had access to at LHR Terminal 3 (4 hr layover). As a Oneworld Emerald Member I visited the Cathay Pacific & Qantas Lounges, BA’s Galleries First Lounge and American’s Flagship Lounge. Finnair Business Class passengers also have access to The No 1 Lounge in Terminal 3 at LHR. In Helsinki The Finnair Lounge are among my favorite lounges to visit (both lounges – Shengen and non).