Date: 02 June 2016 Departure: 16:30 Arrival: 18:20 Flight time: 2 hours and fifty minutes Seat: 2D, aisle on the right side of the aircraft
The bus drops us off somewhere in the bowels of Helsinki airport’s terminal building. Immigration takes place on the ground floor and once more, the scanners for biometric passports work swiftly and efficiently.
From immigration I go one floor up, only to find myself – I think – landside again. But the security checkpoint is right next to the exit from immigration and there are no queues. So within a matter of five minutes after entering the terminal building, I am already airside again and on my way to the lounge.
I am already holding my boarding pass for the flight to Zürich.
The Finnair Business Class Lounge
Location: One level above the public airside area. The stairs are located near gate 22. Type of Lounge: Finnair Schengen lounge. Facilities: Toilets but no showers. Other than that, I must say the lounge does remind me a lot of an IKEA showroom… Catering: As in the non-Schengen lounge, the food options are not bad and here is a good selection of hot and cold dishes. Internet: Free wifi is available throughout the terminal. No password required.
The lounge is still quite empty when I arrive. Just after reception I make a right turn to get myself a seat near the window, figuring this is where I will have the best apron views. The only problem though, is that this is the side of the terminal that was facing the sun all day, so despite the air conditioning, this part of the lounge is starting to feel decidedly like a Finish sauna. Alas, by the time I give up and decide to look for a new, cooler place to sit, the lounge has filled up completely.
Priority boarding is ignored to speed up the boarding process.
Boarding for the flight starts with a delay of about fifty minutes. Apparently, our aircraft was struck by lightning and before we continue for Zürich, the aircraft’s avionics will need to be checked.
Configuration: 2 + 2. Classic set up for a European Business Class, with the middle seat on a row of three kept empty. Seat: On the Airbus A321, there is a row 1 on both the port and starboard side of the aircraft, contrary to the A320 which has no row 1 on the starboard side. Other than that, the seat is identical to that Finnair has on the Airbus A320. Seat pitch is good though, and even on row 2 I have enough space to stretch out and I can even open my MacBook Air without any problems.
According to the Finnair inflight magazine, their Airbus A321 has a seating capacity of between 196 and 209. As the passengers board the aircraft, the cabin crew announce that the flight will be nearly full. And indeed, there are four rows of Business Class on this aircraft, which makes a total of 16 seats, 12 of which are occupied. Pitch: 31 inches. Width: 18 inches. Facilities: No power outlets. Audio and Video: There are video screens which descend from out of the overhead bins. On this flight though, the screens are only used for the safety on board demonstration video.
The crew on this flight are truly excellent. The service in the Business Class section is done by the purser, a middle-aged lady with a very charming and endearing personality and a good sense of humour.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel. Pre-meal drink: Diet Coke, served with ice and a slice of lemon. Delivery: Tray service. Type of meal: Early supper.
Starter – sea buckthorn marinated Baltic herring and dill potatoes.
Main course – beef meatballs and turkey chorizo, gratin potatoes, red wine sauce and vegetables.
Dessert – chocolate brownie and strawberry coulis.
Selection from the breadbasket.
Tea or coffee.
The first part of the service goes well, right up until the glasses for the aperitif are removed. But then the turbulence kicks in and even the crew are obliged to remain seated. By the time the aircraft has climbed to a calmer level and the service resumes, we are only forty minutes out of Zürich. But still, the cabin crew do an excellent job and get everybody served without rushing.
At 18h20 Swiss local time, the pilot in command decides to check out the A321’s capabilities as a fighter jet. We start our approach into Zürich and what starts out as a shallow descent gradually turns into a nosedive. But still, like this we manage a straight in approach and land eventually only a few minutes behind schedule.
The aircraft comes to a stop on its parking stand at the A concourse at 18h50. By 19h05 I am already standing on the platform of the airport’s railway station waiting to catch the train home.
Date: 02 June 2016 Departure: 10:35 Arrival: 14:15 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. Cost: RMB500.
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.
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.
Salmon canapé and black olive tapenade canapé.
Orange flavoured pumpkin soup with croûtons and a side salad
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.
The Main Course
Salmon with shrimps in seafood juice, purée of peas, baked zucchini and asparagus.
Emmentaler and Camembert with cashews and crackers.
Black forest gâteau.
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.
The Inflight Snack
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.
Tea or coffee.
The second service begins about 90 minutes out of Helsinki. There is a choice between an Asian seafood noodle soup or 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!
Date: 28 May 2016 Departure: 18:00 Arrival: 06:50 Flight time: 7 hours and fifty minutes Seat: 1A, window seat on the right side of the aircraft
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.
The Finnair Business Class Lounge
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.
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.
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.
Salad with whitefish roe, fennel, apple and peas.
The First Course
Roast beef and tartar sauce, spinach and nutmeg served with a side salad.
The Main Course
Pressed beef neck, celeriac purée, herb butter and spring vegetables.
Peltolan Blue, Viinitarhuri with rhubarb jam and crackers, I have a glass of Sauterne with that.
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.
Selection form the bread basket with butter, strawberry jam and cream cheese.
Tea or coffee.
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.
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.
Date: 28 May 2016 Departure: 10:55 Arrival: 14:15 Flight time: 2 hours and fifty minutes Seat: Initially 2D, aisle on the right side of the aircraft. Then 7F, window
Originally, I should have made this trip last year, in the week between Christmas and New Year. But by the time December rolled on, I had done so much travelling that I really did not fancy the idea of getting on a plane again, and so the trip was postponed. In hindsight, it probably would have been better had I taken the trip last December, given that I had an accident with my bike on boxing day and ended up cracking a few ribs, breaking my right shoulder and tearing a few ligaments…
But I digress. It is Saturday morning, just before eight o’clock. I have the ticket, money, passport and a pain au chocolat. I am good to go. I take the escalators down to platform eleven, from where my train will depart. Much to my surprise, this service to Zürich Main Station is operated by a German ICE high-speed train.
***Major train geek alert advisory***
ICE stands for ‘Inter City Express’. The trains have been in service with the Deutsche Bahn since 1985 and also operate to neighbouring countries, including Switzerland. From a purely aesthetic point of view, the round shapes and contours of the ICE’s exterior are no match for the elegantly sleek, lean and mean French TGV trains. And even as far as speed goes, the TGV’s world record remains uncontested at 574km/h.
As far as the passenger experience is concerned though, the German ICE definitely has the advantage. The finish of the passenger cabin is elegant. The carriages are spacious and have a wide, airy feel to them. There are a number of different seating options in every carriage. There are individual compartments with seating for up to six passengers as well as open space seating.
Pitch on the ICE is good, and the seat recline is adequate and comfortable. In addition, every seat has a small fold away table and a reading lamp. There is also ample space to store large items of luggage. Keep in mind though, that the transportation of bicycles is not permitted on the ICE train.
At Zürich Main Station the connecting train to the airport is waiting – rather conveniently – on the other side of the same platform.
Location: Check-in 2, row 3. Facilities: Airport check-in, web check-in. Counters: There are three dedicated Finnair counters – one for Economy Class passengers, one for baggage drop-off and one for passengers with priority.
I arrive at the airport at 09h20, ninety minutes before departure. In the mornings Zürich Airport is usually quite busy, with the majority of long-haul flights arriving and departing during the first half of the day.
The check-in agent issues my boarding pass for the flight to Helsinki as well as for the onward connection.
Finnair Business Class passengers have access to the priority lane at security.
The Aspire Business Class Lounge
Location: One floor up from the public area of the airside centre. Type of Lounge: Aspire contractor lounge. Facilities: Close to none. For seating options you can choose between small bistro tables with wooden chairs or leather sofas. There is a small coffee table next to every sofa, but they really are very small. Catering: Catering is rather limited at this time of day. To eat there are Cornflakes, croissants and yoghurt. The drinks selection is fairly good though, and despite the fact that it is not even ten yet, there are already a few pisspots milling about the champagne cooler who have decided to make an early start on the booze. Internet: The access code is issued for you at reception.
The good thing about this lounge, is that it provides excellent views of the apron and runway 16 beyond, which is the main departing runway for the heavy long-haul flights.
A call for priority boarding is made, but not really enforced. The flight is departing from gate A63. From what I can tell, the flight is not going to be that full this morning, after all it is the weekend.
Configuration: 2 + 2, the middle seat is kept empty in Business Class. Seat: On the Airbus A320, Finnair has a total of 165 seats installed. On today’s flight there are seven rows in Business Class, which makes for a total of 26 seats. On the starboard side of the aircraft row 2 is the bulkhead row. 15 of the 26 seats are occupied. Originally I am on 2D, the aisle seat. But then once boarding is completed, I move back to 7F, a window seat, and have the whole row to myself. Pitch: 31 inches throughout the cabin. Width: 18 inches. Audio and Video: Moving map and Charlie Chaplin short movies.
There are four cabin crew. Three middle aged ladies and a gentleman – the purser – of the same age, if I had to guess. Once the doors are closed, the cabin crew pass through the cabin offering newspapers: there is a choice of English (Financial Times), German (Tages Anzeiger) and Finnish language paper.
The purser and one of the ladies are working the Business Class cabin and they are very attentive. Throughout the flight they make sure that all passengers have everything they need, topping up drinks etc.
At the end of the meal service, the purser passes through the cabin with coffee. As he reaches my row he notices that I have not finished my meal yet. So he tells me not to hurry and that he will be back with more coffee when I am ready. The crew also pay attention to make sure that the Economy Class passengers do not use the forward Business Class loo.
Towel before the meal: Scented hot towel. Pre-meal drink: Blueberry juice and still water. Delivery: Tray service. Type of meal: Lunch.
Smoked fish and smoked fish salad with an organic rye crisp which has not managed to remain quite so crisp after having travelled all the way from Helsinki to Zürich.
Pork patty in a red wine sauce with potato gratin and vegetables (broccoli, beans and carrot).
Selection from the bread basket, butter.
Chocolate brownie with artificial whipped cream.
Finnair is one of the few airlines I know that still distributes printed menus on European flights, which is a nice touch, I think. The first course is very tasty and the smoked fish has a nice smoky flavour. The main course is hearty and filling, the gratin in particular is rich and creamy. The brownie is so so. First of all, it is very greasy, presumably that is the only way to prevent it from drying up on the plane. And the artificial whipped cream is just weird.
Once the meal is over, the crew quickly remove the tray to allow passengers to stretch out and relax. One hour left to go to Helsinki.
At some point, Estonia’s capital city Tallinn comes into view, just as the captain announces that we have started our descent into Helsinki. Our route takes us on a routing due east of the city initially, before eventually we do a left turn on the downwind.
We touch down pretty much on time behind Japan Airlines’ Dreamliner. We taxi to our stand in the Schengen part of the apron. I take one last picture of my chariot once I disembark and then head for the non-Schengen area, from where my next flight will be leaving.
Nine boarding pass receipts later and I find myself in the contractor lounge at Milan’s Malpensa airport. I arrived earlier in the morning on a Thai Airways flight from Bangkok. You’re probably wondering why on earth I chose Milan to change planes from Thai Airways to Finnair, given that it’s neither a Star Alliance nor a Oneworld hub. Well, the simple fact is, I didn’t choose. I should have been heading for Zürich, but then my plane went tech. The details of that trip you can find in my Thai Airways post.
Date: 13 September 2012 Airline: Finnair Aircraft: A320 From: Milan Malpensa To: Helsinki Cabin: Business Class Seat: 4A
I haven’t got a boarding pass. Actually, for that matter I haven’t got a ticket either. All I have is a FIM – a Flight Interruption Manifest. Essentially it is a document permitting the transporting carrier, Finnair in this case, to accept me as a passenger without a ticket due to an involuntary rerouting. The FIM will ensure that Finnair get paid for providing transportation despite the lack of a coupon to prove they did.
I’m sitting in the contractor lounge provided for Finnair passengers. The Thai Airways representative brought me here to ensure they let me into the lounge without a boarding pass or ticket.
It’s a nice enough lounge but it’s a pity there aren’t any windows. It’s turning into a lovely early autumn day outside. Even so, the lack of any natural light does not prevent all the Italian business men here from donning their sunglasses.
About an hour before departure I head downstairs to the gate area. Downstairs I find a place with some good views of landing and departing aircraft. I was unaware of how many freighters Malpensa receives.
Once the gate opens, I approach the counter. I hand over my FIM and in return I am issued a boarding pass for seat 3F, a window seat on the right side of the aircraft. There are 20 seats in Business Class but only eight passengers today.
At the gate next door they’re getting an Air Malta flight ready to depart.
Boarding starts and status members, Business Class passengers and families with kids are requested to board first. I don’t think the flight is going to be full judging by the queue.
I like the Finnair cabin. The bulkhead is covered in this pattern that I assume is intended to look like snow flakes falling. It’s nice, but I think if you live in a country that sees so much snow anyway, you’d probably appreciate some bright and sunny design more.
The seat is the standard RECARO slimline variety. The middle seat is kept empty in Business Class for more personal space and comfort. Once boarding is completed, I move across to 4A. I’m hoping to get at least one picture of the Thai Airways bird that brought me here earlier in the day. When we left Bangkok it was gone midnight and simply too dark for any decent pictures.
Departure is to the north and unfortunately we’re on the outer one of the two parallel runways. This means that even with the zoom I’ll be too far away to take any decent photos of the Thai bird. To reach the runway we pass behind the threshold of the inner runway. This still leaves enough height clearance for approaching aircraft passing overhead for landing.
Having spent the last two weeks flying mainly on heavy widebodies, I’m somewhat taken aback by the force and acceleration of the A320. We rocket into the sky and climb out past the low cost terminal.
We do a sharp right turn to fly along the Alps. In the distance I can make out the airfield of Lugano Agno. The mountains look so nice today, quite as though you could reach out and touch them.
We stay on an easterly track and maintain a rather steep rate of climb for a while until we’re clear of the mountains. Then we bank left again to point the aircraft towards Finland.
Oh I know, stereotypes and all that. But what will you do? Today’s crew really consists of four severely blond female flights attendants in their dark blue uniforms. They’re quite a contrast to the colourful Thai Airways crew from the previous flight. But they’re nice enough.
Before we depart the crew come round distributing Finnish, Italian and English newspapers. Once we’re airborne, service begins with the distribution of the menu and hot towels. They’re not scented.
After that comes a drinks round. I have a Diet Coke and a packet of Pretzels.
And then comes the meal. For starters we have a shrimp and potato salad with dill on some kind of rye bread toast. The main course is marinated and tremendously tender beef in a horseradish sauce with broccoli and some root vegetable mash, I mean purée. Dessert is some creamy thing with berries. With the meal the crew also pass round a basket of warm bread. I have a sparkling water to drink with that.
Generally speaking the quality of the meal is good, in fact it’s rather tasty. But the presentation is somewhat lacking. First of all, would it really cost so much more to serve the hot meal in a real dish, rather than that unsightly tin? Secondly, it would be nice to have the plastic lids removed from the dishes before the meal is served. And thirdly, the tray is too big. The meal looks a bit forlorn, quite as though there were a few items missing. But the meal hits the spot alright.
I’m starting to feel sleepy, but in a good way. Once the meal is removed I lean back, close my eyes and in that warm, oh so comfortable space before sleep overcomes me, the memories of my trip to Vietnam unfold before my eyes. It’s as though I am there again, but of course it is only a dreamtime. I think I will long remember Vietnam.
North of the Alps the weather is rather cloudy. It stays like that all the way to Helsinki. When we land the temperature is a mere 17 degrees Celsius.
We turn off the active runway and do one quick and short taxi to the gate.
We park next to this Icelandair B757-200 with a familiar sounding name…
The airport is busy when I arrive. Basically the development of the facility has not kept pace with the ambitions of its hub carrier Finnair. There are people everywhere. There are not enough places to sit, so in addition to the passengers actually going somewhere, there are also those passengers standing around for a loss of any better place to stand and wait. The fact that arriving and departing passengers are not segregated does not help either.
I exit the terminal building and it strikes me just how cold it is here, I’m definitely wearing the wrong clothes. Still, it feels like autumn already and I like that. So I shan’t complain.
Just one thing remains. I guess those of you who have followed this series from the start are wondering if things did work out all right in the end. No, they did not. When I arrive at the hotel I log in to my KLM account to check if my flights for the next day from Helsinki to Basel via Amsterdam are still there, just as the Thai Airways lady had promised. Of course they are not. A quick call to KLM establishes that Thai Airways did not actually do anything about the booking. As a result, I no-showed on the original Zürich-Amsterdam-Helsinki legs so the return was cancelled.
I ask the friendly KLM agent if she can reinstate the flights or something. But she tells me that the flights I was booked on are completely sold out, even with my Platinum status she cannot even get me on the wait list. So I have no other choice but to buy a new ticket with Lufthansa via Munich. Their flight leaves 15 minutes later than the original booking with KLM and arrives in Basel 30 minutes after the KLM flight. Just in case you’re wondering, a full fare Y class oneway from Helsinki to Basel will cost you in excess of CHF1000. But I am not angry. I guess I should have known better, having worked in ticketing for an airline myself for many years. Still, I give the Thai Airways lady full marks for trying. And I’m certainly not going to let this hiccup at the end ruin what has been a fantastic trip and really good fun.