Date: 28 May 2016.
Flight time: 7 hours and fifty minutes.
Seat: 1A, window seat on the right side of the aircraft.
***My apologies for posting so late. Censorship in China is fairly strict.***
I just arrived in Helsinki on a Finnair flight from Zürich. It is now 14h30, which means I have another three hours before my flight to Beijing starts boarding. I am rather excited about this next flight, because it will be my first trip on the mighty Airbus A350.
The non-Schengen gates at Helsinki airport are designated 32 to 40. The terminal is fairly straightforward in its design. But it is not so easy to navigate through the facility, what with all the passengers pushing and shoving. Over the last few years, Finnair has worked hard to establish Helsinki as a hub between Europe and the Far East. So far the plan seems to be working, judging by the number of passengers in the terminal. However, if this goes on like this, I think very soon the terminal will not be large enough to handle all the traffic.
Immigration is fairly easy, and there are many self-service kiosks for passengers with biometric passports. There is no further security check if you are transferring from a Schengen to a non-Schengen flight.
Location: Finnair has one lounge in the Schengen area and another in the non-Schengen area. The one in the non-Schengen area is located near gate 37.
Type of Lounge: Dedicated Finnair and oneworld partners lounge.
Facilities: Toilets, showers and a Finish sauna, three workstations with iMacs, newspaper stand.
Catering: Catering in the lounge is good. There is a hot dish (beef Stroganoff with rice) and a selection of salads and sweets.
Internet: Wifi is available throughout the terminal, no password required. Just turn on the wifi and open your browser.
The lounge is rather nice. Call it a stereotype but it has what I would call a very cool Nordic design. All in all, the lounge is not actually that big and at times it can become just a little bit crowded. Fortunately, I reach the place just before the afternoon rush really kicks in.
Priority Boarding: There is a separate queue for passengers with priority, who are also invited to board the aircraft first.
There are two guys ahead of me in the queue for boarding. The older one of the two is obviously completely smashed, totally wasted. Seriously, he can barely keep upright. The gate agent takes one look at him and simply says to him: ‘Right that’s it, you’re way too drunk. You’re not getting on’. The younger one tries to tell her his friend is okay – meanwhile the person in question is swaying precariously as he tries to maintain his balance. He also keeps blinking, making me wonder just how many gate agents he can actually see talking to him at the same time right now. Obviously he had not bargained on gate lady, because she is obviously not taking any shit from him. ‘No, it is not okay. Not getting on. Step aside for the other passengers’. And with that she confiscates his boarding pass and hands him his passport.
Configuration: 1 + 2 + 1
Seat: On the Airbus A350, Finnair has a total of 46 seats installed. There are eight rows located between the L1 and L2 doors and another three rows in a mini cabin after the L2 door galley. The seat is fully flat when turned into a bed. The configuration of the seat is in a reverse herringbone and very similar to Cathay Pacific’s seat. The advantage of this configuration obviously being that every passenger has direct aisle access. I am sitting on 1A, which is the bulkhead seat in the forward cabin. Seatguru has this marked as a yellow seat, warning that some passengers may find the proximity to the forward toilets bothersome. Personally, I do not think this is an issue because it really is not as though the toilets are particularly close. Storage space is good – next to the right armrest there is a compartment that is large enough to hold an 11’ MacBook Air and a Kindle.
Pitch: 81 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: Every seat has its own power outlet and USB port. Wifi connectivity should be available throughout the aircraft. The wifi code is displayed on the video screen. However, the wifi does not work once during the flight.
Audio and Video: AVOD.
The crew on this flight are a lot more reserved than on the previous flight. But they are very professional and efficient.
As on the previous flight, there is a wide selection of newspapers available on board.
A pillow, earphones, slippers and a vanity kit have already been placed at every seat before the passengers board the aircraft. The earphones are noise cancelling BOSE phones and they are excellent. The slippers are nice and fluffy. Blankets are distributed after the meal service has been completed.
The vanity kit contains an eyeshade, toothbrush and Colgate toothpaste, earplugs and Clarins cosmetics.
There is also a compendium with the menu, wine list as well as an embarkation card for the People’s Republic.
Welcome drink on the ground: Blueberry juice.
Towel before the meal: Hot scented towel.
Pre-meal drink: Diet Coke.
Choice: Three choices for the main course.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Dinner.
- Amuse bouche – salad with whitefish roe, fennel, apple and peas.
- Salad of lettuce and ruccola.
- First course – roast beef and tartar sauce, spinach and nutmeg.
- Main course – pressed beef neck, celeriac purée, herb butter and spring vegetables.
- Cheese – Peltolan Blue, Viinitarhuri with rhubarb jam and crackers, I have a glass of Sauterne with that.
- Selection from the breadbasket.
- Coffee and a chocolate.
The meal is very well timed. The amuse bouche is served separately with the apéritif. However, the salad, first course and the main are served together on one tray. Afterwards, the tray is removed and the cheese and the dessert are served separately again. Interestingly, they have a choice of vanilla or licorice ice cream. By this time though, I am already full. So I just settle for a cup of coffee.
Once the meal is cleared away, the crew pass through the cabin distributing bottles of still water and collecting orders for the breakfast service.
The service may perhaps seem a little lacking in style by serving all the dishes at the same time on one tray. Personally though, I must say I rather like it like this because it makes the whole meal service a lot faster, which leaves the passengers with more time to relax.
THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice: American or continental breakfast.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Breakfast.
- Scrambled eggs, bacon, chicken sausage, roesti, baked beans.
- Apple and cherry yoghurt.
- Fresh fruit – apple, pineapple, orange.
- Selection form the bread basket with butter, strawberry jam and cream cheese.
- Tea or coffee.
- Orange juice.
Ninety minutes before arrival in Beijing the second service begins. I am quite surprised that this is again a full meal. Once more, the service is efficient and the crew make various rounds with coffee and the breadbasket.
It is a bright, sunny day here in Beijing today. For a change the sky is fairly clear, providing some good views of the city as we approach.
Finnair uses the impressive Terminal 3 in Beijing. Our flight arrives at the E concourse. If, like me, you are catching a domestic connection, you will first need to go through immigration. From there take the automated people mover to the main concourse, which is also where transfer check-in is located. From the main concourse take another train back to the D concourse, which is reserved for domestic flights. The security check takes place there.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE AIRBUS A350?
At the end of the day, I would probably have to agree with my friend, the wiry R., that the Airbus A350 is just another airplane. Okay, so they do not use bleed air to heat the cabin, which is apparently so much better for you. But to be honest, I hardly notice the difference as a passenger. But I would definitely fly Finnair’s Airbus A350 again. The Business Class cabin configuration is great and the seat they have installed feels cosy and private.