September 9, 2013

To HEL And Back: A Review Of Helsinki Airport

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Written by: Jason Rabinowitz
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Imagine all the negative aspects of your typical airport, lets say JFK. Old overcrowded terminal buildings, long customs lines, expensive wifi, and grumpy staff. Now take those aspects, and pretend they no longer existed. This is what being a passenger at Helsinki Airport in Finland feels like, and then some. This is a review of an airport where design and management reflect the idea that travel should be simple and enjoyable, rather than a hurdle to overcome.

Before landing at Helsinki to participate in Quality Hunters (post on this to come, but for now, imagine that as an #AvGeek focus group held by Helsinki Airport and Finnair), I was already hearing about how Helsinki Airport makes travel easy. On approach to the airport, the Finnair in-flight entertainment system played a video demonstrating that transferring to a connecting flight would only take roughly 30 minutes, which is a far cry from the unpredictability of American airports. The video showed a map with the layout of the airport, with a step-by-step guide on how to get where connecting passengers need to go.

A frame from the Finnair transfer video

A frame from the Finnair transfer video

I was not connecting, so after landing, I headed straight to customs. With no forms to fill out, the very friendly customs agent only asked me where I was staying during my visit to Helsinki, and after informing me that the hotel was quite nice, welcomed me to the country. A tired passenger after a nine hour flight can’t ask for a smoother entry into a country. No lines, no unnecessary forms, easy as pie.

For arriving passengers, there is only so much an airport can do to provide a pleasurable experience. For departing passengers, however, Helsinki Airport shines. Even before you get to the airport, things are pretty simple. Finnair offers shuttle bus service to and from downtown Helsinki every 20 minutes for about $10 US. In mid-2014, the airport should be connected to the city by rail with 30 minute trips and service every 10 minutes during peak hours.

Ticketing level  and security at Helsinki Airport

Ticketing level and security at Helsinki Airport

Upon entering the terminal, you immediately get a sense that the airport is working for you. A massive flight information display board looms over the ticketing concourse. At security, a screen displaying the approximate wait time gives passengers an idea of how long they will be waiting, which was all of five minutes when I was there. Large signs clearly communicate to passengers what they can and cannot bring through security. No guessing about shoes on or off.

Flight Information Display at HEL shows approximate walking time, and gate direction

Flight Information Display at HEL shows approximate walking time, and gate direction

Once through security, the fact that you are in a world-class airport really becomes evident. The concourses are bright, clean, and wide. Flight information screens not only inform passengers about how long it will take to walk to their gate, but provides an arrow with the direction they should walk. I never once found myself wondering which direction my gate was, or where I could find certain amenities like the lounge.

The international departures lounge at HEL. A very beautiful place, indeed.

The international departures lounge at HEL. A very beautiful place, indeed.

There are multiple lounges for Finnair passengers, and I had enough time to visit them. Before going through border control, there is the smaller of two lounges, but it provides great views of one of the two runways. I was there in the morning, and there was a buffet station of scrambled eggs, sausage, and some cereals, as well as an assortment of drinks such as champagne and beers on tap. There was plenty of seating, power outlets, and tables for everyone. The larger of the two lounges, however, can be considered a work of art.

The Finnair lounge for international departures is not your typical lounge. At the entry, staff members welcome you, and a shoe buffer, one of several, stands behind you. When passengers walk in, they enter a large, open space, with several different sections. To the right, there are comfy chairs with unique lighting and side tables. At center, 18 tables and chairs for working or eating. To the left, a buffet area, full-service bar, self-service drinks, and snacks. If you have ever wanted to drink wine on tap, this is your happy place. At the windows, there are two rows of extremely comfortable reclining chairs and ottomans, with glowing side tables. The design of the lounge is stunning, and it seems as if a lot of thought was put into it. The only thing I would have changed was the food selection during the lunch hours, which was cafeteria-style pizza squares. Really not much inspiration there. On the way out of the lounge, a small stand with four buttons asks passengers to rate their visit. I selected the green smiley face button.

Should we even ask about this little guy?

Should we even ask about this little guy?

Outside the lounges, shopping is plentiful, and restaurants look inviting and clean. The entire airport really seems to embrace an “open” design. Throughout the airport, WiFi is provided free of charge, and it is by far the fastest airport wifi I have ever used. Gate areas also have plentiful power outlets, different types of chairs, children play areas, and even racks with free magazines. There is even some…interesting… artwork that may rival that horse at Denver International. Somehwere at the airport, there is even an outdoor aircraft viewing deck, but I was unable to locate it.

Overall, Helsinki Airport is clean, efficient, and a shining beacon of how air travel should be worldwide. Yes, Helsinki has the advantage of not being one of the busiest airports in the world, but many of the features that make Helsinki Airport so wonderful can easily be replicated elsewhere.

About the Author

Jason Rabinowitz



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  • marika

    There’s one problem though. Airport information is hiding in a corridor between terminals and it’s tricky to find. In the arrival halls there’s basically no information to be found, except a tourist info that’s open only from 10am to 7pm. Often in the main arrival hall bus information display goes totally black and then it’s really hard to find timetables.