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A Rare Business Class Experience on Finnair

I’ve always wished that I was one of those people that could drop off to sleep anywhere. Unfortunately, I’m not. I’m the person sitting next to you on the airplane that is constantly wiggling, trying to find a place for my legs that isn’t in the back of the person in front of me (and being 6 feet tall, this is usually easier said than done). As a result, I nearly always arrive at my destination running on no sleep at all for at least the last 24 hours.

Marimekko Finnair Plane

My favourite Finnair plane (but not the one I flew on). An A340 with Marimekko livery, courtesy of Valentin Hintikka on Flickr.

On my extended European trip this summer, being able to arrive fresh and ready to start exploring Helsinki was even more important than usual. I only had a few brief days to get a feel for Helsinki in summer and photograph as many locations within the city as possible before flying up to Lapland. I definitely wasn’t looking forward to the idea of sitting in a middle seat in economy, which is what I’d been unlucky enough to have on my Singapore-Helsinki flight in January.

My excitement when I found out that I was being upgraded to Finnair business class — and therefore wouldn’t be flying in economy at all — doesn’t have to be explained to anybody that has ever flown on a plane. It turned something to be dreaded into something that I was actually looking forward to.

Looking Out Over the Wing

The view over the wing from my typical cramped economy seat on my Brisbane-Singapore flight. The mountain visible under the wing is one of the volcanoes near Bali.

However, I’ve had the luxury of flying in international business class twice before but have had mixed results. While both experiences were lavish to the point of ridiculousness compared to every other flight I’d taken, I would only call one of those trips restful; on the other trip, I still suffered just as much jet lag as usual. So which camp would a flight on Finnair fall into?

The Good

Tram in a Hurry

A tram rushes down Aleksanterinkatu in Helsinki, a town that is home to both Finnair and marimekko.

  • Decor – Stepping onto a Finnair plane was like walking onto Aleksanterinkatu, the main shopping street in Helsinki. Why’s that? Nearly everything on the plane seemed to have been decorated by marimekko, the famous Finnish design house that loves brightly-coloured prints. The napkins, blankets, and even the slippers feature these loud designs, and they are all perfectly at home on an airplane. After all, planes are a bland environment at the best of times; why not spice them up with a bit of colour and fun?
Finnair Business Class Dinner

Dinner, which was actually quite tasty. So much fresh fruit and veg too!

  • Food – If you mention the words “bland” and “airplane,” the next word most people would think of is “food.” Luckily, many international carriers are now trying to change that perception by hiring celebrity chefs to design their menus. Economy may not always see the results of this, but business class most definitely does.

    The thing that struck me most about my meals were just how many fresh items there were on the plate. Fruits, veg, and cheese all featured heavily. I found that it was a great appetiser for the fresh, simple, and natural cuisine I found all around Lapland.

  • Service – As you would expect from business class, the service on Finnair was individual and attentive. From the moment I stepped on board, it felt like I had a flight attendant assigned to me personally to make sure that I was as comfortable as possible. He was helpful without making me feel smothered; in fact, the service very much mirrored the service you will get on the ground throughout the Nordic countries.

    Regarding food service in particular, it makes such a huge difference to have your tray cleared as soon as you’ve finished eating, since you can immediately start getting comfortable and maximise possible sleeping time.

My Business Class Bed

My best attempt at making my bed. It’s great that the bed was so long that I couldn’t fit it all in the photo (since I couldn’t back up very far without hitting the bulkhead).

  • Space – You could take everything out of the business class experience except the seat and I’d still be happy. As I mentioned, I’m tall, but even with my legs fully stretched I could only just touch the bulkhead in front of me. That wasn’t how I spent most of my flight though; instead, I laid the seat down as far as it would go — into a near-flat position with a few degrees of incline and a few uncomfortable kinks — and stretched out.

    Even when I was in this position, my neighbour in the window seat could step over me and access the aisle when needed, thus stopping her from having to do the dreaded “hi there, I know you just fell asleep but I really need to go to the toilet” wake up call.

Marimekko Slippers

My funky marimekko slippers and, tucked into the bulkhead pocket, the matching toiletries bag.

  • Necessities – When I got to my seat, a number of necessities were already there waiting for me. I loved the cute little marimekko slippers, which saved me from having to put on my clunky hiking boots every time I needed to get up and move about the cabin.

    The eye mask was quite good quality, and being a bit oversized it blocked out even more light than usual. It was a perfect companion for my trip through the Arctic during the midnight sun, and I was probably more sad than I should have been when I realised I’d left it in my last hostel in Swedish Lapland!

    Also, it’s hard to describe how wonderful it feels to bundle up under a real blanket on a plane. The fleece blankets in economy do the job, but having a blanket that feels like a real duvet (and looks like one too, courtesy of its marimekko pattern) just makes it feel that much more like you’re in a real bed.

The Not-As-Good

Inside the Finnair Business Class Cabin

The Finnair Business Class cabin.

  • Age of the plane – I flew on an older A340 plane, which is one of only a few left in service with Finnair. These 4-engine gas guzzlers are gradually being retired from the fleet, so that means that the interiors have not been updated like those on some of Finnair’s newer planes. The result is an interior that feels a little more tired and worn than, say, the new Qantas A330 fit out (which I walked through on the way to my economy seat from Brisbane to Singapore).

    That said, you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. Even if it doesn’t live up to the hip new cabin layouts offered by the likes of Qantas or Emirates, it’s still perfectly comfortable, and the 2-2-2 layout is still spaced out enough that you don’t feel like you’re getting to know your neighbour better than you’d really like.

    In addition, Finnair is launching the first in their brand-new A350 fleet this month. The A340 on the Singapore-Helsinki route will eventually be replaced with one of these planes, featuring brand new cabins and fully-flat beds (among other luxuries). It was a shame that I went to Finland this year since I would have loved to fly on the A350 (especially since it would be interesting to compare it to the monster A380)!


The Colours of Helenankatu

Helenankatu near Senate Square in Helsinki. One of many spots I visited and photographed on my first day in Helsinki.

Even though I struggled to find anything to fault with my trip on Finnair, as I stated above, the real test was how rested I felt when I arrived in Helsinki bright and early on the morning of Helsinki Day (June 12).

The answer: while I felt a bit weary, I was able to power through an entire day of Helsinki Day festivities and tick off a number of photographic locations. Plus, jet lag only presented itself in the form of general tiredness for a few days rather than jolting me awake at 2am. It set me up as well as possible for the busy months that were ahead of me as I travelled around the Arctic Circle, and that was all I could really ask for!

Have you ever flown business class (on Finnair or any other airline)? What was your experience like?

My round-trip Qantas/Finnair ticket from Brisbane to Helsinki was sponsored by Finnair, but all opinions stated in this piece are my own. The flight from Singapore to Helsinki takes 12 hours and covers 9,750km. Connections from Helsinki to the rest of Europe are available on both Finnair and their oneworld partners (such as British Airways). Economy tickets for next summer are currently available for around US$875 round-trip; business class tickets are available for around US$4100 round-trip.

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