Finnair promotes itself as the short and impliedly fast mode of transportation between Asia and Europe. From or to Hong Kong that is misleading: for many European destinations, there are shorter direct flights. However, Finnair does sometimes have competitive pricing. Their offers from Hong Kong are on their clear and helpfully straightforward website.
Finnair has a long history and excellent safety record (although this very flight hit a jetbridge last year) but I rarely fly with them. Their treatment of Hong Kong based cabin crew a couple of years ago did nothing to improve their image locally and rather put me off. It demonstrated the airline’s adoption of ruthless cost control which was to become obvious in this flight.
I was planning a trip over a holiday period and the options were mostly expensive. Finnair came into play as it was thousands of dollars cheaper than the next decent alternative. I bought the ticket on the Finnair website a couple of months before departure. It was an open jaw ticket, from Hong Kong into Edinburgh via Helsinki and back out from Paris to Bangkok via Helsinki, lessening the United Kingdom’s heavy air passenger duty. The total cost was $7,021. It booked into a combination of Z and O classes – the Hong Kong to Helsinki flight was in Z class.
We previously discussed that this flight is a comparatively cheap use of Asia Miles if you want to travel between Hong Kong and Europe.
Earning Asia Miles on Finnair
Although these classes do not earn Asia Miles on Marco Polo, they do earn at least some miles on some other One World airlines, so I was glad I checked which programme to use on the “Where to Credit” website. Even on this discounted fare, for example, a Hong Kong to Helsinki return trip earns 2,434 miles on British Airways’ Executive Club. This is over half of what one needs to redeem through the BA programme for a one way Cathay flight between Hanoi and Hong Kong, for example, as we pointed out in our list of good value redemptions. One could credit a future Cathay flight to the BA account to make up the extra miles. So if you are a Marco Polo member and book a Finnair flight in ticket classes like this one, it may be worth considering signing up to the BA programme if you are not already a member.
Before the Flight
I received what I felt was an irritating amount of long communication from Finnair before the flight –emails on four separate occasions between ticketing and the departure date. Mostly these seemed to be advertising the chance to give Finnair money for extra services. I found so much email a waste of my time and I also dislike such communication when it comes to travel information as it makes it easier to miss something important.
At the Airport
As I wanted to spend some hours at the airport and Finnair’s desk only opens some (unspecified) time before its daily flight, I checked in online. This was simple though meant that at boarding my boarding pass needed to be checked for longer at the gate.
The gate was 23. Finnair uses an American-style group boarding system which I find unnecessarily complicated, but it slowed this boarding down less than seems to be the case in the United States.
This was operated by a new feeling A350. The interior was very neutral, with a sparse decoration scheme. It looked and felt very clean.
The seat was okay but felt a bit narrow and some more recline would have been welcome. There was very little space between it and the seat in front – I had to get out every time my neighbour wanted to pass. As she was travelling with a relative, that was quite often. I had been allocated seats automatically and only learnt from her frequently moving that for some economy class tickets Finnair charges for seat allocation, which in this case meant that I was disturbed including in the middle of a night’s sleep so she could check up on her relative. Finnair’s financial gain levying seat allocation charges translated to my loss as a passenger. In ways like this, Finnair feels more like a budget carrier than the full service carrier it purports to be.
The seatback screen was large, with good definition. It had a good selection of entertainment such as films. The music choice was limited and also only available as channels – one could not select individual items. The screen had a graphic of the service schedule for the flight, which updated during the flight to show progress – quite a useful feature. There was a USB port but no power socket. The headphone socket was under the screen, so trailed inconveniently over the table disrupting the meal service and passengers getting in and out of the row.
At the seat upon boarding was a comfortable blankets and decent sized pillow, as well as a diminutive bottle of distilled water. The blankets, like a lot of Finnair’s service items, are in a design by Marimekko. Other items like eyemasks and earplugs are for sale. For those plus a small cream in a Marimekko pouch they charge 23 euros ($210), so consider packing your own.
The flight was and felt full in economy. A majority of the passengers were Asian but there was a decent smattering of Europeans.
After boarding the pilot informed us that there would be a delay due to air traffic congestion over China. We pushed back about an hour after schedule. Aside from some mild turbulence a couple of hours out, it was a very smooth flight. We touched down around half an hour after schedule.
For much of the flight the cabin lights were almost completely turned off so the cabin was dark.
The first thing to note about service on this flight is that all of the cabin crew I saw in economy class were Asian, I suspect from Hong Kong. I found that odd for a European airline, though it did not make my flight any worse. The staff are neatly attired in uniforms designed by Ritva-Liisa Pohjalainen, including wearing hats and leather gloves on boarding which I found a classy touch.
Finnair’s service is a pretty straightforward affair. There was a meal service following take off and a breakfast service prior to landing. Meals and non-alcoholic drinks were free of charge. House wine and beer were free of charge only during the first meal, which felt mean spirited to me. Outside of those times, items were for sale at the galley.
The cabin crew were efficient and polite. I hardly saw them in the cabin outside of the meal service. One thing that did strike me as odd was how they leant over me to pour hot drinks directly into a cup, rather than using a tray in the aisle. Maybe they rarely encounter sudden turbulence.
Food and Drink
There was no menu. The dinner was a choice between chicken and fish, while for breakfast there was no choice and a western breakfast was served. Both meals were tasty and solid in size.
I wanted to like this flight – Finnair has a storied history and well regarded safety record. However, the flight had an austere feel and one had a strong sense that commerce was emphasised over hospitality. On the other hand, this flight was much cheaper than alternatives – I had had a choice to pay more for the hospitality of an Asian carrier and declined, so I got what I paid for.