Finnair’s new business class Helsinki-Bangkok
In early 2010, Finnair launched their new business class product on long haul flights, with a seat that is completely horizontal when reclined. It is an innovative design that allows 90% of the seats have direct access to the aisle, while one in three seats has no neighbouring seat. BusinessClass.co.uk got to opportunity to try the new product on a flight from Helsinki to Bangkok.
At the Airport
I landed at Helsinki Vantaa airport at 10.30pm on a connecting flight from Gothenburg. Once inside the terminal, it was easy to follow the signs to the so-called “Asian Terminal”, a separate terminal building that is adjoined with the regular terminal via a bridge.
The Asian terminal is only used for long-haul flights and, in particular, Asian flights, a market that Finnair is aggressively focusing on. In the terminal, in addition to several shops, there is also a Finnair lounge specially designed for long-haul flights. Although I only had a one hour transfer time in Helsinki, I managed to fit in a short visit, mainly due to my early arrival and the fact the airport is very easy to navigate.
The lounge in the Asian terminal is relatively large with a warm and modern decor. It is divided into several sections. Along the window, facing towards the apron, are comfortable lounge chairs, and in the main lounge there are several different seating sections.
Boarding and First Impressions
Once in the lounge my departure was postponed from 11:40pm to 12:40am, there was something with the plane’s mechanics that needed to be checked. The friendly woman at the lounge reception promised to keep us updated on any changes, which she did.
At 12:15am, the screen indicated that it was time to head towards gate 33 where boarding had already begun. There was a separate entrance for passengers with a business class ticket or gold card without a queue. Only one passenger bridge was used, to the door at the back of the aircraft, which meant a left turn to get to the business class cabin and my seat, 05L, which was to become my home for the next ten hours.
The cabin gave a very good first impression with consistently light colours, as well as an intense blue to match Finnair’s business profile and the flight attendant’s uniforms. The load factor on this flight to Bangkok was around 70%, so there was plenty of room in the cabin. The crew was a mix of Finnish and Thai staff and working in the business class cabin were two Thai stewards.
The crew took care of jackets and coats and then offered a welcoming drink of champagne, orange juice or water. It had to be a glass of bubbly for me. I like the stylish design of the glasses on board. Newspapers were also offered.
After a safety video played on the screens, we took off at 12:55am and headed towards Bangkok, 1 hour and 15 minutes after the scheduled departure time.
There were seven rows in business class, with a total of 32 seats that were either in a 1-2-1 configuration or a 2-2-1 configuration. I had managed to book one of the most desirable seats, on the right side of the cabin, a window seat with aisle access and, of course, no passenger beside me. This seat is available in two versions, either a seat next to the aisle with a small table between the seat and the window, or a seat directly next to the window with the table between the seat and the aisle. The latter is the best because it provides the most privacy when sleeping. I managed to book such a seat on the return flight, seat 06L, which resulted in almost total seclusion from the aisle and my fellow travellers, but for now I had to settle for second best.
The seat was very comfortable and offered plenty of room, especially with the table creating plenty of space and storage. The design possible felt slightly plastic, but I liked the light colour combination of the interior. There was also an electrical socket, USB and Ethernet port in the seat.
Finnair’s in-flight entertainment system is an AVOD (Audio Video On Demand) system, with several films, television shows, music and information about Finnair and this specific flight. The range was a little different than many other entertainment systems I have experienced. Particularly noticeable was the fact that Finnair had attempted to adapt the options in conjunction with the destinations served and the passengers who travel with Finnair. For example, there was a wide selection of Asian movies and music as well as a number of Scandinavian titles.
The sound was completely satisfactory through the noise cancelling headphones which were distributed. To navigate the menus you could either use the remote control, which was in a small gap in the seat, or you could tap the screen.
Once in the air, hot towels were distributed followed by the menu and drink list. The menu was in four languages: English, Thai, Finnish and Swedish.
The whole meal was served at the same time, with soup (optional) and three choices of main course. This made for a pretty quick and efficient meal, which was appreciated considering that the time had already exceeded midnight.
As an appetiser, salad and a nice chanterelle soup were served. There were three choices of main course – roasted salmon with crayfish sauce, arugula ravioli, or fillet of Finnish pork. I chose the fillet, which came with potato and tasted superb. Warm bread was served by the cabin crew and both butter and olive oil were provided on the tray.
A good range of drinks were available on board and the wines were stored on a rack on the side of the serving cart so you could see for yourself which varieties were on offer. The drinks were, of course, also described in the drink list. I chose a good Italian Chianti wine and was later offered a refill.
Dessert was then served, a fruit mousse in the shape of a heart along with fresh fruit from a basket. The crew also offered coffee, tea and liqueurs. It was a vey pleasant meal and the food and drink was wholly satisfying. The fact that everything was served on a tray also meant the serving and clearing processes went quickly. All in all, it took no more than 45 minutes.
90 minutes before landing, the lights came on and preparations for breakfast began with white tablecloths laid on tables. The breakfast tasted great, with fresh fruit and yogurt and a hot main course of omelette and hash browns. Bread and croissants were offered along with juice, coffee and tea. There was heavy turbulence at times and service was twice halted. Hot drinks can especially cause problems during turbulence, a jug of scalding hot coffee over your lap is probably not a pleasant experience.
After departure, an amenity kit was handed out containing an eye mask, socks and various toiletries. One interesting thing I noticed was that I got different amenity bag on the return trip, which means there are at least two different versions.
It was close to 2am Finnish time when the meal was over and it was finally time for some sleep. Finnair’s new business class seat reclines to a completely horizontal position and was very spacious and comfortable to sleep in. A pillow was on the seat as I boarded and on the rear shelf above the seat was a soft, warm blanket that was produced when time to sleep.
I slept very well on the plane. I had slightly more than seven hours and felt surprisingly refreshed when I disembarked in Bangkok.
At 1pm Thailand time, just over 90 minutes before landing, the lights were turned on in the cabin and hot towels were offered by the crew. Breakfast was served and I then freshened myself up in the bathroom and changed back into my regular clothes. At 2:10pm Thailand time, we began our approach towards Bangkok.
The approach offered a fantastic view of downtown Bangkok and the old Don Muang Airport. At 2:40pm, we landed at Bangkok airport, an hour behind schedule. At the gate, fast-track cards were handed out to business class passengers, which meant that we could use the fast-track channel at passport control. Afternoons, around 2-3pm, are the peak times in Bangkok as many flights from Europe are landing. Therefore, the fast-track card came in use as there was only one person ahead of me in the queue.
The first piece of luggage appeared on the carousel the moment that I arrived at baggage claim and my priority tagged bag was the second to materialise, which, of course, was much appreciated.
Overall, this is a good business class product for travel to and from Asia. It is clear that Finnair have tried to create a product that appeals to what many business travellers desire. That means a flight experience with short travel times, short transfer times, friendly but efficient service, and as much sleep as possible on board. The new business class seat was very comfortable and pleasant to sleep offering impressive privacy. It is certainly one of the better seats on the market today.
If I was to mention something negative, it would be that the service was quite compressed and consequently felt somewhat unremarkable for business class. Of course, it is a strategic decision that Finnair have taken to reduce serving hours and allow more time for sleep on board, but people travel for pleasure and want to properly enjoy their food and drink. It would have been nice with a more comprehensive service.
If you travel alone, it is best to choose one of the seats, 2K, 4K or 6K, where the seat is next to the window and is detached from the aisle. Also, 2A, 4A and 6A, on the left side of the cabin, offer good privacy and plenty of space.