Flight Review: Finnair A330 From New York to Helsinki
Last week, I flew to and from Finland out of New York City on Finnair business class to participate in Quality Hunters (full post on that to come). Finnair is not a particularly huge airline, with only 15 total longhaul aircraft, comprised of the Airbus A330-300 and A340-300. So how does Finnair stack up to the big boys, and what stands out about them?
As a member of the One World alliance, Finnair operates out of the American Airlines Terminal 8 at JFK. This immediately puts Finnair a step above many other airlines at JFK who use the overcrowded terminals 1, 4, and 7. At JFK, Finnair business class customers have access to the Admirals Club, which provides great views of the terminal ramp from the third floor of the building. While the physical lounge is lovely, the staff at the American Air operated lounge drag things down a bit. Right off the bat, visitors are handed “drink coupons” which must be handed over to the bartender to receive drinks. I was handed two of these tickets, and made my way into the lounge.
To my surprise, WiFi in the lounge was quite fast, and there was ample seating while I was there. After a few minutes, I decided to get a beer from the bar. After I was served, the bar tender stuck out his hand without saying a word, automatically assuming every passenger knew of the drink coupon nonsense. I handed him the coupon, and returned to my seat. Later on in the visit, I ordered another beer, but this time a separate bartender handed me the beer, and said “$7.60.” Forgetting for a moment that this price is insane, why did he not ask for my coupon? I handed over my last remaining coupon, and once again returned to my seat. I searched for some food along the way, but found that the lounge only offered some pretzels and fruit free of charge.
Before boarding and being handed over to a Finnair crew, I arrived at an overflowing gate and a chaotic scene. There simply was not enough seating to accommodate a full A330 worth of passengers, so everyone just crowded the gate area. After a bit of a delay, boarding was finally called, and I was on the aircraft. The sub-par lounge and terminal experience had no elements of the fantastic Finnair ride that was waiting for me just down the jet bridge.
Once on board the Finnair Airbus A330-300 (registration OH-LTU), I was instantly transported to Helsinki, or at least the level or service made it seem that way. Flanking either side of the the boarding door were two cheery flight attendants welcoming me on board. Just inside the cabin, a roll down cover with the Finnair logo covered the unsightly galley equipment, an interesting touch to limit the industrial nature of the boarding process. Once guided to my seat, 6L, a flight attendant wearing black gloves handed me a glass of champagne, and once again welcomed me on board. Those black gloves, they were a touch I had never seen on any other flight. All flight attendants wore them during the boarding process, and they stood out quite a bit, as if to demonstrate cleanliness, or a soft touch.
After a brief safety demonstration, the in-flight entertainment system came to life, and surprised me with a nose camera, one of my favorite on-board features. The camera showed our journey from terminal 8 to the active runway, 04L. We rotated into the sky, and only moments later the seat belt light turned off, probably the earliest I have ever seen that happen. I always appreciate when a flight crew remembers to turn off the seat belt sign, and doesn’t leave it on all the way up to 32,000 feet.
Shortly after reaching cruising altitude, it was time for the drink and meal service. The menu provided did not have a drinks section, so I had to guess at what I wanted. Since everyone was doing the same, this significantly slowed down the process. Once the cart made its way down to me, I asked for a beer, and was presented with Karhu, a Finnish bear which translates into “Bear.” I absolutely love finding native products on an inbound flight, that the inclusion of a Finnish beer was a nice touch.
Our flight was served two meals, a dinner after takeoff, and breakfast once closer to Finland. The dinner menu had a choice for pretty much the most picky of eaters. For an appetizer, I selected a cream of tomato and basil soup, which was fantastic. For the main course, a filet of beef with creamed spinach and potato gratin. While the meal was tasty, the presentation left a bit to be desired, but that did not stop me from finishing the entire thing. To finish off the meal, I had a delicious strawberry cheesecake.
After the full meal service, which took a considerable amount of time, it was time to check out some entertainment options. The screen in the business class seats is quite large, and the system responded very quickly to all commands. The movie selection was a tad on the limited side, and I seriously disliked that the movie Iron Man 3 was edited for content revolving around aircraft, while other movies allowed full nudity. It seems that the Finnair standards and practices team might want to rethink their priorities a bit.
Once sufficiently tired, I got myself a blanket and pillow, and set the seat in the full-flat bed mode. Oddly, both items were not of the trademark Marimekko design, which is a Finnish design house that has created a collection of items just for Finnair. While not the Marimekko design, they did the trick, and I actually found myself getting a few hours of sleep. The only thing I would have changed in the cabin was the lighting, as the fluorescent tubes protruded beyond the curtain, and lit the cabin a bit too much.
Drawing nearer to Finland, the cabin crew served a breakfast consisting of a cheese omelette, bacon, and potato pancakes which sufficiently woke me up for our arrival. About 30 minutes prior to landing, passengers are locked out of the in-flight entertainment system, and a few promotional videos about Finnair’s 90th anniversary were presented, followed by the live map. Sadly, the nose cam was never switched on for landing. I really did not like being locked out of the entertainment system, especially with half an hour remaining in the flight. Surely, there must be a better way.
My return flight was fairly similar to the the first flight, with the notable addition of all the Marimekko accessories, and better presentation of the meals. I would have, however, preferred a choice for the second meal on the return flight, as not every passenger will want fish. Both the first and second meals included reindeer, which was superb!
Overall, the Finnair experience was wonderful. The on-board crew really shined from boarding to deplaning, and it is amazing how much their attitude can elevate the entire flight experience. While not perfect, I greatly enjoyed the flight, and would absolutely fly with Finnair again. Yes, JFK does seem to be a bit of a weak point for the airline, but there is only so much they can do about that. Just wait until you hear about Helsinki Airport and the lounge (coming next week), you won’t be disappointed. I know I wasn’t.