Nine boarding pass receipts later and I find myself in the contractor lounge at Milan’s Malpensa airport. I arrived earlier in the morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. You’re probably wondering why on earth I chose Milan to change planes from Thai Airways to Finnair, given that it’s neither a Star Alliance nor a Oneworld hub. Well, the simple fact is, I didn’t choose. I should have been heading for Zürich, but then my plane went tech.
You can find all the pictures for this report here:
Date: 13. September 2012
From: Milan Malpensa
Cabin: Business Class
I haven’t got a boarding pass. Actually, for that matter I haven’t even got a ticket either. All I have is a FIM – a Flight Interruption Manifest. Essentially it is a document permitting the transporting carrier, Finnair in this case, to accept me as a passenger without a ticket due to an involuntary rerouting. The FIM will ensure that Finnair get paid for providing transportation despite the lack of a coupon to prove they did.
I’m sitting in the contractor lounge provided for Finnair passengers. The Thai Airways representative brought me here to ensure they let me into the lounge without a boarding pass or ticket. It’s a nice enough lounge but it’s a pity there aren’t any windows. It’s turning into a lovely early autumn day outside. Even so, the lack of any natural light does not prevent all the Italian business men here from donning their sunglasses.
About an hour before departure I head downstairs to the gate area. Downstairs I find a place with some good views of landing and departing aircraft. I was unaware of how many freighters Malpensa receives. Once the gate opens, I approach the counter. I hand over my FIM and in return I am issued a boarding pass for seat 3F, an window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are 20 seats in Business Class but only eight passengers today.
At the gate next door they’re getting an Air Malta flight ready to depart.
Boarding starts and status members, Business Class passengers and families with kids are requested to board first. I don’t think the flight is going to be full judging by the queue.
I like the Finnair cabin. The bulkhead is covered in this pattern that I assume is intended to look like snow flakes falling. It’s nice, but I think if you live in a country that sees so much snow anyway, you’d probably appreciate some bright and sunny design more.
The seat is the standard RECARO slimline variety. The middle seat is kept empty in Business Class for more private space and comfort. Once boarding is completed, I move across to 4A. I’m hoping to get at least one picture of the Thai Airways bird that brought me here earlier in the day. When we left Bangkok it was gone midnight and simply too dark for any decent pictures.
Departure is to the north and unfortunately we’re on the outer one of the two parallel runways. This means that even with the zoom I’ll be too far away to take any decent photos of the Thai bird. To reach the runway we pass behind the threshold of the inner runway. This still leaves enough height clearance for approaching aircraft passing overhead for landing.
Having spent the last two week flying mainly on heavy widebodies, I’m somewhat taken aback by the force and acceleration of the A320. We rocket into the sky and climb out past the low cost terminal. We do a sharp right turn to fly along the Alps. In the distance I can make out the airfield of Lugano Agno. The mountains look so nice today, quite as though you could reach out and touch them. We stay on an easterly track for quite a while and maintain rather a steep rate of climb for a while until we’re clear of the mountains. Then we bank left again to point the aircraft towards Finland.
Oh I know, stereotypes and all that. But what will you do? Today’s crew really consists of four severely blond female flights attendants in their dark blue uniforms. They’re quite a contrast to the colourful Thai Airways crew from the previous flight. But they’re nice enough.
Before we depart the crew come round distributing Finnish, Italian and English newspapers. Once we’re airborne, service begins with the distribution of the menu and hot towels. They’re not scented. After that comes a drink round. I have a Diet Coke and a packet of Pretzels.
And then comes the meal. For starters we have a shrimp and potato salad with dill on some kind of rye bread toast. The main course is marinated and tremendously tender beef in a horseradish sauce with broccoli and some root vegetable mash, I mean purée. Dessert is some creamy thing with berries. With the meal the crew also pass round a basket of warm bread. I have a sparkling water to drink with that.
Generally speaking the quality of the meal is good, in fact it’s rather tasty. But the presentation is somewhat lacking. First of all, would it really cost so much more to serve the hot meal in a real dish, rather than that unsightly tin? Secondly, it would be nice to have the plastic lids removed from the dishes before the meal is served. And thirdly, the tray is too big. The meal looks a bit forlorn, quite as though there were a few items missing. But the meal hits the spot alright.
I’m starting to feel sleepy, but in a good way. Once the meal is removed I lean back, close my eyes and in that warm, oh so comfortable space before sleep overcomes me, the memories of my trip to Vietnam unfold before my eyes. It’s a though I am there again, but of course it is only a dreamtime. One way or another, I think I will long remember Vietnam.
North of the Alps the weather is rather cloudy. It stays like that all the way to Helsinki. When we land the temperature is a mere 17 degrees Celsius. We turn off the active runway, do one quick and short taxi to the gate and park next to this Icelandair B757-200 with a familiar name…
The airport is busy when I arrive. Basically the development of the facility has not kept pace with the ambitions of its hub carrier Finnair. There are people everywhere. There are not enough places to sit, so in addition to the passengers actually going somewhere, there are also those passengers standing around for a loss of any better place to stand and wait. The fact that arriving and departing passengers are not segregated does not help either.
I exit the terminal building and it strikes me just how cold it is here, I’m definitely wearing the wrong clothes. Still, it feels like autumn already and I like that. So I shan’t complain.
Just one thing remains. I guess those of you who have followed this series from the start are wondering if things did work out all right in the end - No, they did not actually. When I arrive at the hotel I login to my KLM account to check if my flights for the next day from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam are still there, just as the Thai Airways lady had promised. Of course they are not. A quick call to KLM establishes that Thai Airways did not actually do anything about the booking. As a result, I no-showed on the original Zürich-Amsterdam-Helsinki legs so the return was cancelled.
I ask the friendly KLM agent if she can reinstate the flights or something. But she tells me that the flights I was booked on are completely sold out, even with my Platinum status she cannot even get me on the waitlist. So I have no other choice but to buy a new ticket with Lufthansa via Munich. Their flight leaves 15 minutes later than the original booking with KLM and arrives in Basel 30 minutes after the KLM flight. Just in case you’re wondering, a full fare Y class oneway from Helsinki to Basel will cost you in excess of CHF1000. But I am not angry. I guess I should have known better, having worked in ticketing for an airline myself for many years. Still, I give the Thai Airways lady full marks for trying. And I’m certainly not going to let this hiccup at the end ruin what has been a fantastic trip and really good fun.
I hope you've enjoyed this series and apologise for the delay in getting this last part uploaded. You comments, as ever, are very welcome!
[Edited 2012-10-19 07:35:05]