Flight review: Finnair’s business class on the Airbus A350 from Hong Kong to Helsinki
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During the COVID-19 crisis, our team has temporarily ceased taking review trips. However, we have resumed the publication of new flight, hotel and lounge reviews, from trips taken before the lockdown, like this one. We hope this will help you choose once we’re all ready to start booking trips again.
Bear in mind that the ground and inflight experience will be very different from what was reviewed here, as service is being severely curtailed during the pandemic. The flight between Hong Kong and Helsinki reviewed here is operating on a reduced schedule. Transit through the Hong Kong airport is permitted to foreigners, but entering the city itself is not.
Exceptional ground experience thanks to lounges in Hong Kong and easy transit in Helsinki; ease of using Avios; some parts of the meal service were superior.
Impersonal, while efficient, service; slow Wi-Fi.
Finnair has made a name for itself as a long-haul carrier by connecting Europe and East Asia through its hub in Helsinki, ideally located on the route to Japan and China. Its flagship is the Airbus A350, the most advanced long-haul jetliner, featuring a good business class.
The airline has increased its flights to Asia significantly over the years, and in the U.K. in particular it offers good connections from London Heathrow, Manchester and Edinburgh plus, seasonally, London Gatwick. Helsinki is certainly one of the easiest connection airports in Europe. Impressively, Finnair actually flies to five destinations in Japan and China each, and together with Oneworld partners JAL and British Airways offers codeshare options both to Japan and Asia beyond its own destinations.
Finnair is a Oneworld alliance member, so flights are available on miles via any of the Oneworld airlines and specifically for Avios via the British Airways Executive Club.
As part of this marketing push, Finnair has frequent sales from the UK to Asia and business-class seats can be had from just over £1.000. An added bonus is that the London to Helsinki (and vice versa) flight is one of the short-haul routes that earns 80 Tier Points each way which is great for those aiming for status with British Airways.
A further attraction, for those into experiencing Finish culture to the fullest, is that the Helsinki Finnair Lounge has one of the most unusual features in an airport lounge: a sauna that can be accessed in the Platinum Wing (access is for Oneworld and Finnair top status members).
My ticket was part of a cash fare to and from Australia which included the Hong Kong to Helsinki segment on Finnair being reviewed here. The ticket was an open-jaw ticket departing from Frankfurt and returning into London and given my dates were fixed, it was a relatively expensive ticket at £3,000. Finnair often though has good sales prices for flights in particularly to Asia and being flexible with dates (and potentially destination or routing) will help get a more reasonable price.
I connected from an inbound flight arriving at Hong Kong (HKG) three-and-a-half hours before my departure for Helsinki and already had my boarding passes for the flight.
Finnair allows passengers starting the journey in Hong Kong to check-in at both Hong Kong and Kowloon train stations up to one and a half hours before departure. At the airport, it uses area J and E in Terminal 1 for check-in, and there are dedicated counters for business class and status passengers as well as fast-track security lines.
Hong Kong airport is big and distances between security and gate can be significant. There are travelators as well as an Automated People Mover to help cover those distances. It’s worth noting that the APM only operates in one direction for departing passengers, and in the other direction for arriving passengers. I’ve been caught out by this in the past using it to get to a particular lounge and then finding that the way back in the other direction takes much longer.
Hong Kong has an abundance of lounge options most of which are very good. Given the choice, picking the right one is important. Location is definitely a factor, so depending how long you have, it might just be best to head to the closest option.
I first headed to The Bridge, one of the Cathay Pacific business-class lounges (Oneworld Sapphire members also get access). Just like Cathay’s The Pier lounges, it’s a level below the departure level which is slightly unusual, but means that one has great Avgeek ‘eye to eye’ views with planes.
Cathay Pacific’s lounges are well known for their class, style and finishings and The Bridge is no different. It is smaller though than some of the other Cathay lounges and it was packed with almost every seat taken. The food offering includes Western and Asian hot options prepared and served from a buffet. One of the well-known features of this lounge is The Long Bar which once laid claim to being the longest airport-lounge bar in the world.
Given how busy the lounge was, it was an easy decision to move on and also try out the business-class section of The Pier. It actually isn’t one lounge split into sections but two separate lounges, one for first-class passengers and Oneworld Emerald status holders and one for business class or Sapphire-status passengers.
Again, the lounge is a floor down below the departure level and only a relatively short walk from The Bridge.
I was delighted to find a calm, quiet, peaceful and huge space. I was genuinely blown away by the awesome AvGeek-view lounge seating and by the showers and amenities including a fully-fledged dining room. Add to that a noodle bar and also a ‘Teehouse’ room and a yoga section!
I grabbed both some breakfast and a shower and enjoyed the views from the lounge over the nearby parked planes. This is one of the best business class lounges I’ve been to.
If they work for you location-wise, my recommendation is The Pier followed by The Wing with The Bridge in third place. The list of options also includes a Qantas lounge, and Hong Kong also has an Amex Centurion lounge which can be accessed by Amex Platinum cardholders.
I left The Pier early to make my way to my gate, where I found the beautiful Finnair A350 in Oneworld livery waiting for its passengers for the flight back to Helsinki.
Boarding started at 9:45 a.m. and was done by group numbers, with business class passengers being directed down the first jetty and economy class passengers down the second jetty. We pushed back right on time at 10:25 a.m. and were airborne 10 minutes later for the nine-hour, 45-minute journey.
Cabin and Seat
Finnair has been flying the Airbus A350 since 2015, having been the first airline to order it in 2007. My particular aircraft, OH-LWB, was four years old. Finnair flies two versions of this aircraft and I was on the one with the larger business class cabin split with 46 seats in a 1-2-1 layout over two sections.
The immediate first impression was one of freshness, helped by the cool white and grey colour scheme, blue pillows and light blue lighting.
Though the smaller business class cabin might be a bit more private given there are only 14 seats compared to the forward section with eight rows and 32 seats, I actually preferred the more open and spacious feel of the forward cabin.
The middle seats angle towards each other and are more suited for couples travelling together.
I had picked seat 4A in the middle of the forward cabin to be away from both sets of galleys and toilets to avoid any noise issues. On modern aircraft, such as the A350, ambient noise is much more noticeable over the engines.
The seat was comfortable for eating, working, lounging and sleeping.
The seat itself is a Zodiac Cirrus III — a standard modern seat that turns into a 78-inch flatbed. It did strike me that the cubby hole for one’s feet when the seat is reclined into bed mode was smaller than on other airlines (e.g. Cathay Pacific). The cubby hole itself had also not been cleaned properly before my flight.
Everything around the seat itself is functional and in obvious places making it easy to find things and store personal items. There are a USB port and standard international power socket, a reading light as well as the standard overhead light, relatively simple seat controls and a remote control for the TV and entertainment system. There’s a storage space in the armrest (where the headrest is stored at the beginning of the flight) as well as a hole for a bottle of water. During the flight, the storage next to the seat controls is perfect for things like headphones. Some other airlines have a door to enclose this space.
The crew were adamant that for take-off and landing nothing could be stored anywhere apart from under the footrest, which was both unusual and slightly annoying.
The foldable tray table swings out of the side and allows getting out of the seat relatively easily, even when extended.
In total, there are four bathrooms for the 46 business passengers, two at the front of the cabin and two in the middle galley. Some of them have a window — which we do like — and, though plastic, the green ‘flowers’ were a nice touch that brightened up the toilets.
Amenities and IFE
The entertainment system on this A350 can be controlled both via the small moveable remote control in the side panel or via the touchscreen that folds out from the seat in front. It is easy to navigate and there was a good selection of 100+ films as well as 80+ TV shows. The headphones were relatively standard noise-cancellation ones, by no means industry-leading, but they did the job.
The IFE system further had a good customisable airshow displaying the routing as well as a tail camera and a down-camera, which are always exciting for us AvGeeks.
I loved how the messages on the screen were adapted throughout the flight — from welcoming me on board with a cheery “It’s nice to see you” to a message later in the flight, advising that lunch was about to be served.
To the side of each seat, together with the seat control and remote control, are a USB port as well as standard international power outlet that both worked fine during the flight and were easily accessible.
The amenity kit was by Finnish design brand Marimekko (as were the napkins) and had a sleeve which also listed items that were available on demand. Other airlines often have some items also available on demand but I had not seen this spelled out so clearly before. The content itself was pretty standard with an eye mask, earplugs, toothbrush as well as lip and facial cream. Socks, unlike with many other airlines, were on demand which I support in the effort of reducing waste.
As passengers boarded, bedding, as well as slippers, were on each seat. The bedding was comfortable though not the most luxurious business class bedding out there. I slept well on it for a few hours.
Business-class passengers received an hour of free Wi-Fi and whilst it was very competitively priced at EUR 19.95 for the whole flight, it was very slow with download speeds of 2.47mbps and upload speeds of 0.11mbps.
Food and Beverage
Dine on Demand
Shortly after boarding, food and drinks menus were handed out and sparkling wine, orange juice and water was offered to all business-class passengers. The menu included a rib-eye steak, salmon and the day’s special which was described as chicken with noodles. I was torn between trying the special and the rib-eye purely because I was curious to see what a rib-eye on a plane would be like. The wine list included, as usual in business, a selection of red and white wines as well as standard spirits, soft drinks and selection of teas. The only vegetarian dish was a cold salad (that either came with beef or feta cheese) which I thought was poor for a vegetarian offering.
After takeoff, at the same time as taking my lunch order, I was also asked to choose the second meal which felt very early. I suspect it was done to allocate meals and ensure status passengers got their first choice.
An amuse-bouche was served after the lunch order had been taken and this consisted of a small piece of cheese with some cured ham. Given how early it was still in the day, I had asked for a coffee after takeoff so ended up with the somewhat strange pairing of my coffee, the amuse-bouche and some chocolate (which the crew brought with every coffee).
For the starter, I had gone for the drunken prawns which were delicious and a very good portion size. The crew came around with a basket offering a wide choice of breads.
The beef neither looked nor tasted particularly ‘rib-eye’ (I was expecting to the somewhat more fatty or marbled) and could have passed for any old plane beef. It looked sort of rare, but was on the tough side and rather dry. The sides and sauce carried the dish. I am still not convinced it actually was a rib-eye.
For dessert, I was expecting a chocolate truffle and almond cherry cake but instead, it was a piece of chocolate truffle and a small piece of almond cherry cake. I wasn’t complaining at that point but it was probably the smallest dessert I have seen in business class.
I had to ask for a spoon as the crew had cleared the tray by then —there hadn’t been a spoon on it anyway — and the crew member was also very keen to take my napkin at this point, before I had even started the dessert.
About four-and-a-half hours into the flight, the crew served what the menu described as a “kahvikutsut”, or a “traditional Finnish coffee service with sweet and savoury treats”. I had two different types of cakes which were both tasty and spot on. I loved the presentation on a serving trolley, a reminder of the good old days of air travel.
The second meal service, described as a light meal, was served 90 minutes before arrival into Helsinki. I had gone for the braised chicken, both tasty and reasonably substantial. On such a long flight it is good to be offered something bigger than a sandwich or so, which is what many other airlines will offer as the second meal.
The cabin service manager introduced herself to me prior to takeoff welcoming me on board and using my name.
When the USB port wasn’t charging my phone at the beginning of the flight, the purser was at my seat seconds after I pressed the call bell button and reset the whole system at my seat, which fixed the charging issue.
My meal order was taken before other passengers’, implying that they were doing so based on passenger status.
Generally, I found the service efficient though lacking much warmth or banter.
We landed a few minutes ahead of schedule and de-planing was efficient. Both transit, as well as arrival procedures at Helsinki, are easy and smooth.
This was a good, comfortable flight. Neither the seat nor service nor the main meals particularly stood out, but there were certain small aspects of the flight that I loved — the bread choice from the basket, the timely messages on the IFE system and the afternoon snack served on a service display trolley.
That, combined with great lounges in Hong Kong (and Helsinki), easy transit at Helsinki, and Finnair being a Oneworld airline that allows earning of British Airways Executive Club Avios and Tier Points (as well as of course using Avios or miles to book flights), means I’d be flying Finnair again, in particular to Asia, without any hesitation.
All photos by the author.
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