To Finlonia with Finnair in Business Class (w/pics)
Back at the very end of January I took advantage of a good (and now much-exploited) BA fare to Tallinn via Helsinki on Finnair. The fare is still available as of May 2017 although with limited availability, and often requiring one to book via a travel agent in order to price correctly (as I did on this occasion through Amex Travel). I wasn’t able to enjoy the lowest fare for this trip due to restrictions on my availability, but was able to find a decent price earning 200 BA tier points for just one night away over a weekend. I had been able to select an itinerary that had no stopover in Tallinn, which made the most efficient use of my time as Helsinki is better served for short overnight connections, having a Hilton hotel right next to the terminal. LHR-HEL
I arrived at Heathrow Terminal 3 mid-morning with plenty of time until my afternoon departure to Helsinki, purposely timed to allow ample opportunity to enjoy the newly refurbished Cathay Pacific lounge. I had arrived in between AY check-in times with the result that only the service desk was open in the check-in area, but as I had used the pretty good AY app to get a mobile BP and with hand baggage only, I proceeded upstairs and straight through Fast Track security with only a handful of people ahead of me.
The refurbished Cathay Pacific lounges, in the style of The Pier at HKG, are in my view the most stylish at Heathrow and one of the best airline lounge concepts currently out there. The interior design is exactly to my taste, with well coordinated mid-tone woods and green finishes contrasting with brass touches. The attention to detail is outstanding, with even the lift car up to the lounge (located on the level above the gate area) having been refurbished in complementing materials.
I was welcomed at reception and proceeded up the slightly sloping corridor, past the entrance to the First Class lounge on the right, with washrooms off to the left and showers straight ahead. Last month I had the pleasure of spending some time in the First Class lounge; look out for that report coming soon as part of a wider review of AA’s Flagship Business Class service.
Just look at that attention to detail!
As I was oneworld Sapphire at the time of travelling, I settled in the Business Class portion of the lounge, a beautiful rectangular space broken into four main areas, the whole space having something of a swish city apartment living room feel. When the lounge was refurbished it was expanded to take the upper level of the former SQ lounge. I chose one of the new solus chairs by the window initially to enjoy the view with a cappuccino and The Economist; I find these chairs to be a little claustrophobic, and I don’t fancy the new fabric’s chances of withstanding the rigours of airline lounge life for long.
Just behind the solus chairs is a small study area with a few iMacs and a phone room, with the area then opening out into two principal seating areas with multiple armchair and sofa types arranged in small groups, smart houseplants, a newspaper and magazine rack and of course the quite impressive manned bar.
This area also features a small self-service coffee station, neatly integrated into the side of the bar. Almost all of the side tables feature power and USB sockets in a smartly designed drawer.
I popped out of the lounge briefly to take a look at the BA lounge, purely out of curiosity as I hadn’t visited for a few years, all of my flights having been from T5. The agent had to manually enter my class of travel and status details into the computer at reception as it appears BA’s systems aren’t up to automatically accepting a oneworld partner’s mobile BP details. Nothing much had changed, although more of the old Gatwick lounge furniture appears to have made the trip around the M25 to join the ramshackle mixture of original Galleries furniture and new Galleries Evolution pieces. The only saving grace of this lounge (compared to the T5 lounges) is that the washrooms are slightly less plastic. The lounge was heaving, so I made a hasty retreat back to the CX lounge for lunch.
The friendly staff welcomed me back (and had even offered to store my luggage for me whilst I was out) as I made a beeline for the dining area. This is probably my least favourite part of the lounge, as it lacks natural light or a view (in obvious contrast to the rest of the lounge) and features slightly restrictive fixed seating cubicles, vaguely reminiscent of an old fashioned work canteen. I was in the lounge mainly between CX departure times, and the staff were understandably using the moment of quiet to clean and unpack some new crockery, hence the boxes visible in the second image below.
Thankfully the catering available at the noodle bar (and the buffet area next door) is far from canteen-like. My stir-fried vegetable(s) with garlic, steamed vegetable dumplings and Hong Kong style wonton noodles in soup were all pretty good accompanied by a glass of Möet, although the steamed vegetables could’ve been hotter (temperature-wise).
The adjacent buffet area had a decent selection of Western alternatives, all very nicely presented.
The washrooms, shared with the First Class lounge, carry on the high quality design through copious use of marble. Amenities by Aesop complete the experience.
Boarding was already in progress as I reached Gate 9, just a minute’s walk from the CX lounge. Whilst there was priority boarding in place for the BP and passport check, once inside the gateroom there was no discernible attempt at separating classes or status. This gate shares part of its departures route with the arrivals route from the adjacent Gate 11, and as a flight had just arrived onto that gate there was a ten minute wait to continue boarding as the flight disembarked.
OH-LXM was my ride to Helsinki this afternoon, an A320 delivered to Finnair in 2004 a few months after its first flight the previous year. AY offer a standard European product on their narrowbody fleet; 3-3 seating throughout the aircraft, with the middle seat unoccupied in J. Whilst there is no middle table as on BA, AY do offer increased pitch in the forward rows (I guess at 34”), and my bulkhead seat 2F (in a 4 row cabin today) offered a decent if not spectacular amount of space, enhanced by the lack of anybody else in the entirety of Row 2.
A small cushion and blanket were pre-placed on each middle seat, although there only appeared to be one cushion and blanket between two seats which could’ve been interesting had I had a seatmate. As much as I joke about BA’s love of mood lighting when advertising their onboard product, I missed it on this flight as the cabin lighting was pretty harsh, accentuating what is a rather drab and bland interior.
The smartly dressed professional crew commenced service on the ground by hanging jackets and wheeling out a small trolley with newspapers and magazines. A flight time of 2h25 was announced as we commenced pushback and taxied out to Runway 27R, past the now closed T1 where demolition of Pier 4 had almost completed, exposing an interesting cross-section through the building showing just how many buildings T1 is made up of.
Hot towels were passed around after takeoff, although as I was in the washroom at the time I missed them. The washrooms are pretty basic, with no special Business Class amenities.
Service commenced with a bar service from the trolley accompanied by a bag of pretzels.
Just the one choice (which I guess makes it not a choice) was available for dinner; some form of beef stew, presented on a tray alongside a small fish starter and cheesecake dessert. Warm bread was offered from a basket, but there was no plate on which to place it; AY and BA clearly have plenty in common! I enjoyed this dinner; the presentation was good (or as good as a hearty stew can be presented), and the flavours worked well together.
The meal service concluded with tea and coffee, which would’ve been nicely complemented by a chocolate. Whilst the crew were professional, I would’ve liked slightly more attention placed on prompter clearing of empties and drinks refills, although when my tray was cleared the crew member noticed a historical coffee stain and swiftly cleaned it away without prompting which was appreciated.
Arriving into a cold, dark Finnish capital, it was a fairly long walk through shops and duty free to immigration (where there was no queue), and a fresh 5 minute walk along covered outdoor walkways through the slush to the Hilton for the night.Hilton Helsinki Airport
I was welcomed at reception with an acknowledgment of my HHonors Gold status, which has since lapsed as IHG (specifically InterContinental properties) are my usual chain hotels of choice. The agent acknowledged my pillow request, and informed me I’d been upgraded from a standard room to an Executive, which sounds nice but offers minimal extra benefits in terms of the room itself; a higher floor (although there is no view to speak of), complimentary mineral water and a bathrobe and slippers seem to be the only in-room extras, although I do value the water and slippers.
My room on the top (5th) floor was of a decent size and cleanly decorated in typical Scandinavian style - not quite my taste, but inoffensive and a perfectly adequate base for a short overnight stay. I wasn’t a huge fan of the bedside tables integrated into the cabinets, however, particularly as one of the bedside lights didn’t work.
The bathroom was spacious, and featured an oversize basin, bath and separate walk-in shower, and the usual Hilton Peter Thomas Roth amenities. A thoughtful design touch in the bathroom was the inclusion of dimmer lighting, which was great for use as a night light.
The Executive lounge just down the corridor from my room is quite possibly the most pointless hotel lounge I’ve ever seen; a tiny room with a few bottles of plonk, confusingly home to plenty of guests sprawled all over the place hoovering up the two bowls of crisps and nuts. A moment’s glance was quite enough and I retired to my room for the evening.
After a comfortable night’s sleep I showered (both myself and the bathroom floor thanks to the ill-fitting cubicle door) and headed down to the restaurant for an early breakfast, which was included thanks to my status. The Executive lounge at this property doesn’t do breakfast, so all guests on the Executive floor have to use the main restaurant which is no bad thing. The buffet was generous, although the OJ wasn’t fresh and the pastries didn't look the most appetising. The waiting staff seemed to miss me sitting down initially, as I wasn’t offered tea or coffee, unlike other tables.
Check-out was prompt and as equally efficient as check-in, and before long I was heading back through the slush to the terminal building for what would be the shortest flight I’d ever taken. HEL-TLL
From the hotel walkway I headed straight upstairs inside the attractive terminal building to Finnair’s excellent priority security area, where there was just a handful of staff and no other passengers at this early hour on a Sunday morning. Through in just moments, it was back downstairs and a short stroll to the nearby Finnair lounge in the Schengen part of the terminal, one of three AY lounges at the airport (the other two being in the non-Schengen area).
Arranged in a rough L shape on a mezzanine above gate level, this lounge is flanked on two sides by floor to ceiling windows offering airfield views, and is broken into numerous different areas (some at times slightly awkwardly shaped) all decked out in quirky Scandinavian style. I was warmly welcomed at the reception desk and initially took a seat in a quiet space at the far left hand end of the lounge, although moved on a couple of occasions to try out different views as dawn slowly broke. The lounge was pretty quiet throughout the 90 minutes or so I was there, and waiting staff were constantly roving to clear empties and ensure the lounge was looking its best. The washrooms were spartan but functional.
Gate 20A was deserted when I arrived (probably a little too early) at 35 minutes before SDT, although before long an agent arrived and beckoned me over. I was first on the bus and was joined over the next few minutes by just 14 other passengers. We boarded OH-ATF through the rear door, an ATR-72 delivered originally to Finncomm Airlines in 2007, before a brief stint with the newly formed Flybe Nordic, the predecessor to Nordic Regional Airlines who assumed operation of this aircraft in 2015 and would operate this flight today on behalf of Finnair.
I settled into 17A of this single-class aircraft, in the last row and strategically close to the main door used for boarding and disembarkation. This was the smallest aircraft I’d been on for some time, so I amused myself for the short time before pushback by studying the cabin environment, noting the tiny overhead lockers that had only just about accommodated my cabin suitcase, together with the safety equipment lodged behind the pair of seats opposite me. Legroom was surprisingly decent, and certainly no worse than BA’s shorthaul Airbus fleet (front and exit rows excluded, of course). With just 14 other passengers onboard and nobody in my row, the cabin felt almost private jet-like, had it not been for the alarmingly noisy propellers.
A manual safety demonstration was performed before pushback, and an incredibly short 20 minute flight time announced by the cabin crew, who were smartly dressed and professional, if a little loud in their galley chatter. Checking on the Flight Radar app post-flight, the average altitude attained was just 10,000ft. Sadly the view out of the window was marred by the significant amount of slush caked over the rear half of the aircraft, although the grey skies wouldn’t have made for much of a view in any case.
The flight was over in a jiffy, with no service at all. I was hoping for perhaps a bottle of water or a token chocolate or something, but I guess it’s not really necessary on such a short flight. On arrival at TLL at Gate 5 it was a short walk across the apron to the terminal building and to find the lounge to await my return to HEL in a few hours.TLL-HEL
Tallinn’s airport is a nice little facility, with each of the gate seating areas sponsored by a different company, each seemingly trying to outdo the adjacent gate. This has the happy effect of creating multiple different seating options for passengers, much nicer than the regimented rows of hard seating found at larger airports (although no doubt an architect’s or interior designer’s nightmare!).
Finnair use the airport-operated Business lounge at TLL, located a level above the gates just after security. I had a roughly 3.5 hour layover before my return flight, sadly not long enough to leave the airport and see any of the city this time around. My first attempt at accessing the lounge was refused on the basis that access is only permitted up to 3 hours before departure time, so I headed to one of the nearby gates to wait out the half hour or so. Exactly 3 hours before SDT I made my second attempt, and was granted entry on production of my frequent flyer card, which the agent studied in some detail with a rather perplexed expression.
Grim was my first impression of the lounge; a largish poorly lit square space separated into two areas and seemingly last decorated in the 1980s, with copious use of grey and orange. Perhaps the single saving grace of the lounge was its view of the apron along one side and small outdoor terrace area (for those wishing to smoke). Seating options were limited, mostly comprising uncomfortable dining chairs or poorly shaped armchairs. Having washrooms located within the lounge is always an advantage, particularly for a third party offering, so it was nice to see these present.
The small buffet area was far from terrible however, and featured a nice enough soup along with individual salad and sandwich options of surprisingly decent quality. I enjoyed a beetroot salad and chicken sandwich whilst watching the latest episode of The Grand Tour on my laptop.
I headed down to Gate 5, just a minute away from the lounge, around 15 minutes before gate closure time. There was no attempt at any form of priority boarding despite an almost completely full flight for this sector, but I was third down the stairs and across the apron to OH-ATM, an ATR-72 with a similar operating history as the previous sector’s aircraft, although slightly newer at just under 6 years old.
A 25 minute flight time was announced by the cabin crew as pushback commenced, a quite uncomfortable 25 minutes due to the fullness of the aircraft and the proximity of the passenger in 15C next to me. It was a bus once again upon landing at HEL, and a short walk to passport control before heading through to the non-Schengen part of the terminal and a new Finnair lounge to add to my collection.HEL-LHR
Finnair operate two lounges in the non-Schengen area, both within the same complex. To the left of reception is the Premium lounge, available to Finnair’s own Sapphire members and all oneworld Emerald members, whilst the main lounge accommodates other airlines’ Sapphire members and business class passengers. As I was Sapphire (through BA) at the time of travelling, I was directed to the right into the main lounge.
Nowhere near as characterful as the Schengen lounge, this lounge is a spartan square, with a large buffet area to the left, an expansive central seating area and wraparound mezzanine on two sides, this latter area offering a partial apron view. The lounge was rather crowded for almost the whole duration of my couple of hours there, largely due to a Japan Airlines departure looming. I settled on the mezzanine with a couple of sweet snacks from the buffet and a cappuccino, but could well have been better off going for a walk around the terminal as it was not the most comfortable of lounges to pass the time in. This was a disappointing experience for a home hub lounge, but I look forward to returning to review the Premium lounge on my next visit.
It had begun to lightly snow as I arrived at Gate 36A, just opposite and downstairs from the lounge. No priority boarding for this flight was announced, not that it would’ve made much difference as this was a bus gate (although a separate bus for J would’ve been nice). My aircraft for the final flight of this trip was the same A320 as on the outbound sector, and I would be sitting in the same seat as before, this time in a larger and fuller 8 row Business Class cabin with a neighbour in 2D. In contrast to the outbound flight, no cushions or blankets were in the cabin for this sector, although I did spot some in an overhead locker so I presume they were available on request. Jackets were taken and newspapers offered before pushback. A flight time of 2h45 was announced as we made our way to a taxi-through de-icing pad, marking what I think is the first time I’ve been on an aircraft whilst being de-iced.
After takeoff, hot towels made an appearance and a bar service accompanied by pretzels commenced from the rear of the cabin, oddly with one passenger being passed his choice by the crew on the way down to the last row.
This was followed in good time by the dinner service, again served from the rear accompanied by further drinks. Perhaps AY do things the AA way with service alternating between front and rear depending on flight number? The crew described each element of the dinner tray as they presented it, which was a nice touch although I can’t recall what exactly the monstrosity was (or was meant to be) that was placed before me. Whilst the fish starter and cake dessert were passable, the beef main course left a lot to be desired; terribly presented with inedible liquified potato. A hot drinks service concluded dinner; no green tea had been loaded so I settled for English breakfast.
As BA have now moved to a buy on board operation in shorthaul economy class, I find I’m taking more interest in other carriers’ economy class product for similar length flights. Browsing the Finnair magazine at my seat, it was interesting to note that Finnair offer complimentary tea, coffee, still water and - this is a nice touch - blueberry juice to all passengers. BA take note!
We arrived back at Heathrow Terminal 3 on time, docking at a Pier 5 stand a few minutes’ walk from immigration.
I enjoyed this trip, which very much served its purpose of providing a healthy tier point haul with minimal time spent travelling. The novelty of the two propeller aircraft sectors made the trip all the more interesting. Thanks for reading, and as always I welcome comments and questions.