Date: 02 June 2016.
Flight time: 8 hours and forty minutes.
Seat: 4L, window seat on the right side of the aircraft.
I wake up with a due sense of accomplishment, and as I slowly emerge into full consciousness I remember that yesterday I was able to strike another item from the bucket list: the terracotta warriors of Xi’an. So I guess I might as well go back home then…
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Transport: Hotel shuttle.
Journey time: Slightly over 30 minutes.
The flight to Helsinki will be departing at 10h30 this morning. I have ordered a car to take me back to the airport at 08h30, which means I have enough time for a leisurely breakfast before I head out to the airport.
Location: Terminal 3, row G.
Facilities: Online check-in is available, there is also a Finnair app.
Counters: There are eight dedicated counters open for this flight. One is for baggage drop off, two are for groups, three are for Economy Class and two are for Business Class passengers. As it turns out, there are only nine passengers in Business Class this morning, so the two counters do seem kind of over the top.
I have already check-in online. However, I can only download the boarding pass for my onward connection in Helsinki to add to Passbook. Electronic boarding passes are not possible departing from Xi’an, so I have to collect the boarding pass at the counter.
From check-in I head through immigration and then passport control. There are three counters open, two for passengers and one for staff and crew. Behind immigration is security and there is a separate lane for priority passengers.
I am always amazed at how creative they are in China when it comes to inventing jobs out of nothing and for no reason in particular (other than giving somebody something to do) – mostly in the checking and stamping industry. As I go through security for example, there is one young lady whose job it is to stamp my boarding pass – twice – just because…
Location: As you exit the duty free shop behind security, turn right.
Type of Lounge: General lounge operated by the airport authority.
Facilities: Three computers (inop at the time of my visit). There are no toilets in the lounge.
Catering: Catering is fairly limited, there are a few strange cold dishes – things like little bowls of cherry tomatoes – and instant noodles if you are after something warm.
Internet: Wifi is available in the lounge, the code is provided at reception.
The international terminal looks very new and modern. It is also very empty, given that the number of international departures from Xi’an is rather limited.
Probably the best way to describe the lounge is to say that it is very Chinese, for a loss of a better description. There are fake plants all over the place and the peacock figurine that doubles as a holder for wine glasses is just class! But the views of the runway are good.
Priority Boarding: There is a separate lane for priority passengers and they are invited to board the aircraft first.
The gate area does not look too crowded, so I guess it is going to be a fairly light load on the way to Helsinki. And indeed, fifteen minutes ahead of our departure time the purser already announces that boarding has been completed. There are only another eight passengers in the Business Class cabin with me.
I am the first passenger to head down the airbridge towards the aircraft. There is a female crew member standing outside the aircraft. She offers me a newspaper from the trolley near the door, hands me a bottle of still water and then welcomes me aboard.
There is also another professional checker standing by the door. His job is obviously to put a tick on my boarding pass – you know, the one with the two stamps from security – just because…
Configuration: 2 + 2 + 1 on uneven numbered rows, 1 + 2 + 1 on even numbered rows.
Seat: Finnair operates the Airbus A330-300 in three different seating configurations. Unfortunately, there is no way of knowing, at the time of booking, which configuration you are going to get lumbered with. Fortunately for me, I am in an aircraft today with the ‘better configuration’ in a staggered seating like the one SWISS has installed in its Business Class on the Airbus A330-300. The individual ‘throne’ seats are all located on the port side of the aircraft on the even numbered rows. On the starboard side, there is a single seat on every row, although these do not offer quite as much storage space as the ‘thrones’. One thing you may want to consider is that of the single seats on the starboard side, those in even numbered rows are a bit more private, because they are slightly removed from the aisle. The seat is fully flat when extended into a bed. In this configuration there are 45 seats in Business Class and 218 seats in Economy Class.
Pitch: 60 inches.
Width: 21 inches.
Facilities: AC power outlet. The Airbus A330-300 does not have wifi.
Audio and Video: AVOD.
This seat is only comfortable in the fully upright position. Other than that, it really is a nightmare, honestly. At 184cm, I consider myself pretty much average in size. Even so, I have trouble extending the seat into a bed without crushing my kneecaps in the process. It can be done, but as the seat unfolds you gradually need to move up to keep your legs out of the way. The alternative of course, is to stand up to extend the seat.
The width is also a bit of a problem with this seat. Lying on your back feels pretty tight. As I lie there on my back, doing my best impression of a sardine, one of Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories comes to mind – The Fall of the House of Usher – and I am compelled to sit up temporarily to avoid what I can only describe as a claustrophobia induced panic attack. Okay, very well, perhaps I am exaggerating a bit, but I think you get my point now. It is very tight.
But at least the loos all have a window…
There is only a pillow on the seat when I arrive. Blankets are in the overhead bins and the vanity kit, earphones, slippers and menus are distributed once boarding has been completed.
Welcome drink on the ground: Blueberry juice.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Pre-meal drink: Sparkling water.
Choice: There are two choices for the starter and three choices for the main dish.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Early lunch.
- Amuse bouche – salmon canapé and black olive tapenade canapé.
- Starter – orange flavoured pumpkin soup with croûtons.
- Main course – salmon with shrimps in seafood juice, purée of peas, baked zucchini and asparagus.
- Cheese – Emmentaler and Camembert with cashews and crackers.
- Dessert – Black forest gâteau.
- Tea or coffee.
- Selection from the breadbasket.
The service sequence on this leg is slightly different to that on the outbound flight to Beijing. First the amuse bouche is served with the aperitif. Then the first course and salad are served together on a tray. The tray is subsequently removed and the hot meal is served individually with a new set of cutlery. After the main dish come the cheese course and then dessert.
All in all the meal is not bad. The soup is good but a bit too sweet. It might have been good to have some salt and pepper, but neither is on the tray.
The salad is nice and big, much better than that pathetic puny excuse for a salad Lufthansa tends to serve up in Business Class these days. However, as far as the dressing is concerned, quite frankly I would not bother. It does not taste particularly good.
The main dish is okay, although the zucchini filled with a minced meat sauce is a bit strange and does not really go well with the rest of the dish.
With the cheese you obviously cannot go wrong. Probably the worst part of the meal is the Black forest cake, which is absolutely atrocious and tastes of something that should not be food.
The service is swift and efficient. By the time everything has been cleared away, we are just over six hours out of Helsinki.
Our routing today sees us skirting the north-easterly fringe of the Gobi desert. It is a very poetic landscape below. The land is barren and flat. Occasionally there is a road or railway line that runs in a straight line towards the horizon. And there are isolated clouds wafting across the scene, casting fluffy shadows across the sand.
Eventually though, I start to get tired. I twist and turn until eventually I find a position which is not too uncomfortable and then I escape to the Land of Noddy for a couple of hours.
When I awake, I am feeling a bit hungry again. It has been at least three hours since the last feed! I head back to the galley and ask the cabin crew about those sandwiches they mention in the menu. She tells me she will put something together for me and instructs me to return to my set. A short while later, one of the crew appears at my seat with a Diet Coke, finger sandwiches, roasted almonds and two of those rather tasty chocolates they had at the lounge in Helsinki.
THE SECOND SERVICE
Hot towel before the meal: Scented hot towel.
Choice: There is one Asian and one Western choice.
Delivery: Tray service.
Type of meal: Extended snack.
- Jacket potato with pieces of beef.
- Served with steamed vegetables and another zucchini filled with minced beef.
- Selection from the breadbasket.
- Strawberry cheesecake.
- Tea or coffee.
The second service begins about 90 minutes out of Helsinki. There is a choice between an Asian seafood noodle soup of the potato, which I have.
Generally speaking, one of the things I already noticed on the outbound flight is that Finnair do not seem to provide any special dishes to cater specifically to its Asian clientele. Also, if you are not an out and proud carnivore, you may want to consider ordering a special meal. Despite there being options on the menu, there is not a single dish without meat.
Once the meal is over, I start collecting my stuff in preparation for the landing in Helsinki.
Thirty minutes before arrival our aircraft dips its nose and we start our descent. The captain comes on the loudspeaker. He sounds very surprised as he informs us that the temperature on the ground in Helsinki is around 27 degrees Celsius when we arrive.
Luckily, ours is one of the first long-haul arrivals this afternoon. So immigration and transfer security should not be too bad. However, as the aircraft turns off the runway behind us, I can see four wide-bodies lined up on the approach for arrival behind us.
And the icing on the cake? Our aircraft parks on a remote stand and we are obliged to disembark via the stairs. I just love it when that happens, because it gives you a sense of the sheer size of the aircraft you have just travelled on. I also think the Airbus A 330-300 is rather a handsome looking bird. Just look at the size of those engines!