Aircraft Type: A321
Class: Business Class
Date: November 2014
Best for: Affordable, one stop flights to a whole host of Asian destinations.
Most likely to sit next to: Designers, Architects and super cool Asian-techie travellers.
Business or pleasure: No Wi-Fi, or IFE on this shorter flights, but with a seat left open between your fellow passenger, there is plenty of space to work.
Routes: A huge and well connected European short haul network, that predominantly acts as a feeder network to a renovated long haul fleet great for travelling east.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Finnair Plus, very powerful as connected to the One World alliance, but with excellent availability for upgrades and reward flights.
Best bits: The clean designer aircraft, excellent food, lounges and frequencies.
Worst bits: Seat Pitch on short haul isn’t any better than economy.
Finnair A321 Business Class Report
Flying as a guest of Finnair part of the way on a trip over to Hawaii (the long way around from the UK) we were excited to try out the airline’s new fully flat bed product launched last year. As part of this trip we headed over to Helsinki from London Heathrow, which originally was going to be on an A320, but was upgraded to an A321. Even as a pilot, you forget the length of this journey, so we were excited to be travelling in their business class cabin. The carrier promotes Helsinki as one of the fastest hubs to connect through in Europe, and whilst this is a great selling point, even if we weren’t connecting on to Osaka from Helsinki, we would recommend this carrier when travelling through Europe. A lesser flown carrier for us, we were pleasantly surprised by the offerings onboard.
On the Ground
Finnair operates from Terminal 3 in London’s Heathrow airport, which had a facelift a few years ago. Easily connected to public transport options at the airport, this terminal is usually very easy to get to and from, however, with a signal failure on the London Underground, we ended up having to take the rather expensive Heathrow Express from Paddington to ensure making our connection.
Checking in was painless, and we were the only ones at the Finnair desks, situated in Zone C. The business class check in desks face the entrance doors, whilst the economy and bag drop desks are situated behind. As I was connecting on to Osaka, the bags were quickly and efficiently checked all the way through, and boarding passes printed for both legs, both seat requests originally selected on the website were honoured as well. We were informed that Finnair utilises their One World Partner Cathay Pacific’s lounge, a lounge we have used in the past on a Cathay Pacific trip, and an excellent place to relax before a flight.
The lounge, situated after security and passport control, is perfectly appointed with a large seating area, self service buffet bar and even has a noodle bar where fresh noodles are made for you before your flight. Even at 8am, there was a wide selection of breakfast choices, including cereal, hot cooked breakfast and pastries. Wine and spirits were also available, as well as Prosecco (perfect with orange juice!) There was an announcement made to board approximately 35 minutes before departure, and as there was a 5 minute walk, we promptly made our way to the gate.
On arrival at the gate, there were many people already prescreened and waiting to board, however business class and premium passengers were ushered straight to the jet bridge where a final check of our documents allowed us to board.
On boarding, we were greeted by friendly, smartly dressed cabin crew. The cabin itself was light and airy and had a light powder-blue colour to it. The business class cabin is situated to the front of the aircraft, utilising the first 9 rows of economy on this flight. The partition can be moved depending on the demand on each flight. The best seats would have been row 8, as these were the emergency exit row and would have offered increased legroom.
That said, even the pseudo economy seats offer ample leg room for all 5’10” of us. In the business class cabin, the middle seats are blocked off to allow more space per passenger. On sitting down we were immediately offered newspapers, magazines, our coat was taken and menus were distributed. Service was efficient, friendly and warm. The flight itself was about 80% full and the business class cabin was almost full, although after boarding was finished some passengers shuffled themselves around, including our neighbour who repositioned themselves to the emergency exit row.
The seats onboard are slimline economy seats, however the colour and fabrication is both contemporary and comfortable. Whilst we aren’t sure if the aircraft was new, the cabin felt as if it had only just been installed. There were no scuffs no wear and tear on the seats. The seat itself had a fixed headrest, a generous recline and an injection of style from their design partner Marimekko, who have brought their prints and patterns to the airline at every opportunity.
The seat backs don’t have entertainment, but the hard backs have both netted seat pockets under the table and literature pocket situated at eye-level. The advantage of this is increased knee room without compromising on seat pitch. The literature pocket can also be used to support your own tablet, if it has a screen protector, which can slide down the pocket, and suspend your iPad or other divice at a suitable level without encroaching on valuable table space.
The 2 x 2 seating arrangement makes for a much more spacious feel, and the advantage of a shared seat between passengers means putting down a newspaper or book whilst eating becomes less of a hassle. Whilst it would be lovely to see a first class seat like in North American carriers, on short haul flights such as these, the seats are perfectly comfortable.
One of the best elements to Finnair and a noticeable advantage over competitors if the quality of the catering onboard. There is definitely a feel of Scandinavian cuisine here, and the menu even on this short flight was filling and appetising. To start with there was a drinks service, which started just minutes after take off, and small snacks were offered. We chose a Bloody Mary, which came with a large (40cl) personal bottle of Vodka.
The glasswear which looks glacial, is beautiful and is a welcome change to the boring glasswear found on carriers that normally falls into the ‘one style fits all’ category. It’s these small touches that really help lift the carrier to a ‘designer airline’ status.
After the initial drinks service, the food was delivered, whilst all on one tray, it consisted of a Wild Duck Pate starter, which came with a large selection of bread from a bread basket, followed by a delightfully tasty Swedish meatball main course, with a side of mashed potato, beetroot and savoy cabbage.
There was more Marimekko design touches on the meal tray, including napkins, placemat, cup and serving pots of coffee which were offered after a further drinks service. For desert, small godiva chocolates perfectly finished the meal, the only problem being we wanted more!
Throughout the meal, very attentive cabin crew continued to top up glasses, and opting for champagne, the crew member continually topped up my glass, even though the bottle was beside my seat.
All in all, the food was perfect, and we even thought to ourselves did we need another meal a few hours later on our second flight, but being greedy, that thought was short lived, and quite lucky too, as the food on the following flight was even more impressive. (Stay tuned for that!)
Sadly, there could have been entertainment on a 3 hour flight, as the aircraft are equipped with TV screens, but on closer inspection, there are no jacks for headphones in the seats, meaning these screens only offered flight information, interspersed with visual imagery of Finland, or small slapstick comedy shows that required no sound. Also at take off and landing, the cockpit crew turned on the camera at the front of the aircraft, allowing passengers to watch the take off roll and landing… very #avgeek! There was sadly also no WiFi, however, most travellers like ourselves, amused themselves with their own pre-loaded electronic entertainment.
There was a large selection of reading material on offer to business class passengers however, with a wide range of newspapers, to compliment the in-flight magazine ‘Blue Wings’ and shopping catalogue. The airline has also introduced a Finnair Sky Bistro for economy passengers, offering a greater pay-for selection, compared to their older complimentary snack service.
This airline, even for their short haul product has made a niche as a premium carrier around Europe. With excellent lounge access, reliable schedules, modern planes and unparalleled short haul catering, there is a quiet glamour on offer with Finnair. Whilst there are many direct flights to Asia from Europe with a variety of carriers, Finnair with it’s easy one stop connections is worth a try. On landing we were in the airport lounge within 10 minutes with plenty of time to spare before our connecting flight on to Osaka. Even though this was a press trip, it is easy for us to say, when not ‘on the job’ we would snap up a flight with Finnair if the price was right. Although almost 3 hours had passed, it had felt like 30 minutes, and we were hoping for a few orbits in the hold just to experience it a little bit longer. Stay tuned for our long haul flight to Osaka!
The Big Picture