Finland is hardly one of the top travel destinations in Europe, despite the charm of the Nordic countries in the past years. Nonetheless, long-time fans of oneworld airlines would know Finnair as a viable alternative to British Airways for transcontinental travel between Europe and Asia.
This flight came around as a surprise: I was originally booked in economy class from New York back to Singapore via Helsinki, but due to a change in plans, I had to reroute to return from Frankfurt, again via Helsinki. Fortunately or unfortunately, there were no more award availability in economy class (first time I’ve ever heard of this), but there were still available award space in business.
For this flight, I have used my Asia Miles for the seat. Finnair is a oneworld member, so there are plenty of options for redemption.
This itinerary cost me 70,000 miles, which was incredibly value for money given that a direct Singapore Airlines flight from Frankfurt to Singapore would have cost me 92,000 Krisflyer miles.
If you have points or miles in other oneworld FFPs, these are the redemption options you have between Singapore and Frankfurt. Additional fees and taxes vary between S$50 and S$160 depending on where you depart from and which programme you redeem from, with most itineraries falling under S$100.
|Frequent Flyer Programme||Between Singapore |
|Between Singapore |
Helsinki (HEL) – Singapore (SIN)
13 January 2022
Arrive: 5:15PM (+1 day)
Duration: 11hr 20min
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Seat: 8A (Business Class)
Helsinki Airport is not a terribly big airport, but it can still be pretty disorienting for a first visit.
The airport comprises two terminals, although in practice, the two terminals are linked both on the public and transit areas. The separation is clearer in the public areas, as the transit areas are seamlessly linked via a continuous walkway.
Within the public area, Terminal 1 serves all Star Alliance airlines (except Turkish Airlines), while all other airlines are in Terminal 2. Terminal 2 also serves all transcontinental services, which explains why Turkish Airlines operates out of the terminal.
Within the transit area, the demarcation is not as clear. As Finland is a Schengen country, Helsinki Airport divides the transit area into two parts, the Schengen and non-Schengen areas. Gates 5 to 36 serve Schengen flights, while gates 37 to 55 are for non-Schengen flights.
Finnair operates out of Terminal 2, which saw some expansion works back in 2019, including a larger non-Schengen area as well as new check-in and baggage facility at Terminal 2.
Transit in Helsinki
If you are transiting in Helsinki from a Schengen country, you will enter the Schengen transit area upon arrival. For those transferring to a long-haul flight, you will need to pass through passport control before making your way to your departure gate.
If you are doing tax refunds out of Helsinki airport, the customs office and the Global Blue counter is in a small corner before passport control, across from Gate 29.
Unfortuantely, flying Finnair out of Helsinki became somewhat of a hassle during the times of Covid.
I had the most unfortunate experience when flying through Helsinki. As a result of newly implemented restrictions to curb the spread of Omicron, Finland has decided to reimpose a curfew, requiring shops and restaurants to shut at 6pm. Unfortunately, this restriction extends to the airport as well, affecting all shops, restaurants and even lounges.
I had a pretty long layover of nine hours from my flight from Frankfurt, so I took some time earlier in the day to head into the city, expecting to come back to the airport to freshen up in the lounge. To my dismay, I found the entire airport dimmed as most shops are closed, and both lounges are also shut to passengers. Only a single restaurant within the non-Schengen area was open – for takeaways only.
What this meant was that for a 11.55pm flight, all guests had to dwell in the common areas for over six hours, with only vending machines at their disposal.
You would imagine what a relief was it for everyone when they started boarding calls!
As a VTL flight, there are plenty of document checks that need to be completed. Finnair decided to do this at the gate, and I suspect is due to the volume of transit passengers on the flight.
To facilitate a smooth boarding, Finnair uses one of those gates that has a sterile holding area, pretty much similar to what some airports have for US-bound flights. Document check started almost 90 minutes, and passengers are funneled into a segregated holding area to wait for boarding after having their documents checked.
If you require the use of the restrooms, you should use it before clearing the document check.
The actual boarding began about 40 minutes before the scheduled take off time. While there were group numbers printed on the boarding passes, the gate agent called for multiple groups at once to board, causing quite a big number of people heading to queue at the same time.
Boarding was through a single door, the second left door between the two business class sections. My seat for the day was 10L, which was in the second, smaller section of the business class cabin. Note that the smaller business class was after the second set of doors, so that means that all the economy class passengers will inevitably filter pass your seat if you are seated there.
A note about Finnair: the northern European carrier uses Airbus aircraft exclusively, plus a small fleet of Embraer 190s and ATR 72s for domestic and regional use.
Finnair operates the A350-900 as its main wide body workhorse, with 16 aircraft in its stable and another three on order. Of which, there are only two configurations: one with 12 rows of business class seats, while the other seats only 8 rows.
The aircraft I travelled on today was the one with 12 rows, for a total of 46 seats (row 9 is missing 2 seats).
The forward cabin comprises 8 rows in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration, while the smaller business class section comprises 14 seats. Both sections are separated by a galley and lavatories, while the rear section is separated from economy class with only a partition and curtails.
The proximity to economy class may bother some people, so be sure to avoid rows 9-12 if that’s the case for you.
One other key thing to note: the forward cabin does not have any overhead compartments for the middle seats, so if you are seated there your bags will have to be stowed above the window seats. These may be cumbersome for some people, as they prefer not to have other people hovering above them mid-flight. I didn’t take a photo of the forward cabin, but you can see it from OMAAT’s photo below.
The rear section however has overhead storage for the middle seats, so those may be better options for those with plenty of carry-on bags.
Finnair has opted for the Zodiac Cirrus seats in a reverse herringbone configuration for its business class cabin, similar to Cathay Pacific and Japan Airlines. In a 1-2-1 configuration, this means every seat gets direct aisle access, which is pretty standard today.
The window seats are pointed towards the windows, while the middle seats face each other. If you are placed in the middle but are travelling alone, there’s a partition you could pull up to have a little more privacy and avoid the awkward eye contact moments with your neighbour.
However, if you are travelling with a partner, these seats are your best options. Nonetheless, despite the middle two seats facing each other, you will still need to stretch forward to talk with your seat partner.
The angled seat means that your seat reclines into a footwell. Unlike the Japan Airlines version, the foot well is relatively spacious, and I had no issues having a comfortable rest throughout my flight.
Underneath the foot well is another compartment, good for storage of your shoes during the flight. The good thing is that the seat doesn’t not have a calf rest segment, so as you recline whatever you left on the floor will not get crushed.
On the side of the seat closest to the aisle is also an adjustable armrest. During take off and landing this has to be stowed to seat level, but during the flight itself this can be brought up to your elbow level for your comfort.
The in-flight entertainment system screen is stowed to the back of the forward seat. To use it, you will have to press a release catch, and then swivel the screen towards you. As screens need to be stowed during take-off and landing, this means that you will be unable to use the screens at all during these times, which is a significant disadvantage of this configuration.
Another way to control the screen is to use the remote control stowed to the side of the seat. Along with it you will also find the headphone jacks, a USB socket and a power socket. There’s also a reading light should you need one.
Each seat is also provided with a pair of slippers, as well as a comforter. The slippers were trending towards the thin side, but comfortable nonetheless.
For the current season, Finnair partnered Marimekko for its amenity kit. In the kit was an eyeshade that’s of the same design as the pouch. You will also find a dental kit, ear plugs and a lip balm enclosed for your comfort during the flight.
Thankfully, Finnair has moved away from the previous loud and gaudy design for its in-flight amenities and opted for a classier finish.
The meal service
One little known fact: Finnair has cabin crew based in Singapore, and uses this set of crew for flights between Helsinki and Singapore. You will be hard pressed to find Finnish speaking crew on these flights, but of course, most Finns are fluent in English so the lack of Finnish language capabilities is hardly a problem.
Shortly after I have settled in, the cabin crew came around to offer a welcome drink of champagne, water or Finnair’s signature blueberry juice.
Finnair’s choice of champagne is the Joseph Perrier Brut NV, one of the lesser known champagne houses. It rates a paltry 3.9 on Vivino, and is also available for purchase in-flight for €27.
Similarly, all cabin crew were wearing face masks and rubber gloves when serving passengers. I can understand the nee for face masks and even shields, but I personally find the donning of rubber gloves very impersonal. It might be the type of gloves and even the way the gloves were worn that makes it look very shoddy, but it definitely doesn’t scream service.
Just before take off, the cabin crew serving my section came by to take my order for dinner. Seeing that I’m halfway through with my champagne, he offered to top it up for me, which I gladly obliged.
Physical menu cards were present, and for some people this is a semblance of pre-Covid normalcy and by extension, a new form of nostalgia.
Boarding was soon completed and the doors were closed. We remained at the aircraft stand for a long while as the cargo compartment was still busy with loading, and I fell asleep.
When I woke up again, I found that we were already in the air, with an hour past since the scheduled take off time. Almost like magic, my drinks – some water and a glass of champagne – which I ordered earlier were already served to me on the side console, along with a serve of salted almonds.
About 15 minutes later, dinner was served. I made my choice of dinner earlier before the flight took off, as my order was taken during the rounds of drinks before take-off.
For those who are interested, this is the full menu:
To my surprise, the meal was served in a single tray, with the appetiser and main course presented together. There was also a mini salt and pepper shaker on the tray, as well as another empty plate for bread along with cutleries rolled up in a napkin.
I took a while to visually digest what was presented to me. The crew came around again with a basket of bread, with a selection of white bread rolls, brown sliced bread, or breadsticks. I went with a bread roll, which was fortunately warm.
The appetiser was minute – there were two prawns and two slices of halloumi – but incredibly tasty. Seafood was scarce in Germany, so prawns were the most delightful and refreshing for me.
The main on the other hand left much to be desired. I was craving rice (you can’t take me out of Asia but you can’t take the Asian out of me), and went for the grilled chicken and eggplant on rice, which turned out pretty disappointing. The grilled chicken was not the offending one although the portion was pretty minuscule, but the rice was definitely overheated to the point of being hard and dried out. Definitely a wrong bet.
When I was done with the meal, my tray along with the tablecloth was cleared promptly, before the crew brought around a tiny serve of the apple tart dessert i chose beforehand. Again, I was rather disappointed, I must say, having had excellent apple pies during my stay in Deutscheland.
Overall, the meal was a little underwhelming in all aspects, from taste, to portion and presentation. I definitely didn’t feel well fed.
I can imagine for hearty eaters, the portion will definitely be insufficient. Normally this wouldn’t pose a problem given that most travellers would have eaten something in the lounge, but if the lounge was going to be closed during the interim, more food would have been appreciated.
For my drink, I went with the Riesling, which tasted pretty tart in the cabin. I didn’t finish my wine.
Exhausted and tired, I fell asleep almost immediately after the meal and slept for a good 4-5 hours.
As i woke up mid-flight so as to start adjusting my body clock to the Singapore time zone, I went to the galley to stretch my legs and hoping to get a coffee. Unfortunately I found no one there, so I returned to my seat and hit the call button instead.
Another crew member came around within the minute. I asked for a cappuccino and also asked what snacks were available, to which he told me he wasn’t sure what’s on board and he had to check. He went to the galley, and returned with my cappuccino shortly as well as a small selection of snacks, comprising gummy bears, a granola bar, Pringles potato chips and peanuts.
Based on anecdotal feedback, they used to carry cup noodles on this flight but not in recent months. Hence, there wasn’t any hot food available, so you might be out of luck if you need something warm to munch on.
I do have a gripe about this particular crew member though. He was probably standing in while the first crew member went for his shift rest. Each time I made an order, he was really quick to want to walk away to fetch the drink, but always before I had finished my order. More than once I had to stop him from leaving, and it increasingly became annoying because it made me felt like I was bothering him.
Thankfully, the first crew member came back in time for breakfast service, and I was most happy to see him again. Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. Before food, the cheery crew – obviously refreshed from his rest – came by with a hot towel, as well as a glass of finnair’s famed blueberry juice. I took a sip and was blown away, and probably had three servings of it throughout breakfast.
Breakfast was served about 90 minutes before landing. As a result of Covid, Finnair has moved away from a customised breakfast service where you get a breakfast card and select whether you want to wake up for a full breakfast or an express breakfast, but instead chooses to serve the same for all passengers.
Breakfast was a simple platter, with fruits, cold cuts, cheeses, scrambled eggs, hashbrown and sauteed vegetables. In my opinion this was probably a bigger meal than supper.
On board internet
Finnair provides in-flight internet across its entire fleet, including its single aisle aircraft, which makes it one of the leading European carriers in terms of wifi provision.
The airline has gone with Viasat as its provider, which I understand has better speeds than both SITA OnAir and Panasonic, which Singapore Airlines uses on its fleet. The downside is that the coverage is not as good, so there are significant parts of the journey where wifi coverage is not available.
Pay per use rates are not expensive, with three options to choose from:
- €7.95 for 1 hour
- €11.95 for 3 hours
- €19.95 for the entire flight
Needless to say, the pricing is best for the entire flight, averaging €1.7 per hour.
Business class passengers, along with Finnair Plus Gold members get an hour’s internet for free, while Finnair Plus Platinum and Platinum Lumo gets free internet for the entire flight. Beyond the complimentary provisions you will have to pay for a new allowance.
Finnair’s entertainment system was pretty functional. I made a rough count and there are about 100 movies and 70 TV shows, so definitely sufficient content to last you through one flight. As with most European carriers they don’t carry a lot of Asian content, so that might be a downside for some travellers.
There is also a good selection of music and games, as well as an online shopping screen to browse the limited selection Finnair carries on their flights.
Overall the flight was okay. The Finnair’s A350 business class seat is functional and fit for a long journey, but with this seat type being found on so many other carriers, it is practically nothing memorable.
Nonetheless, if you compare it to other European airlines, the seat definitely ranks far higher, and has good ancillary services such as good (and free!) wifi, and a fairly functional entertainment system.
Catering is passable, but lacking in both quantity and presentation for a business class product on a long haul flight if you compare them to what some Asian carriers offer. Service from the Singapore-based cabin crew is also rather inconsistent, and really boils down to the luck of the draw.
Nonetheless, Finnair is still a strong option particularly, if you are looking to burn some frequent flyer points out of Asia. The sweet spot it seats geographically also means that you can potential save quite a bit of miles or points when flying between Asia and Europe, so remember to do your homework. Finnair also run very compelling sale offers even in Business class from time to time, so that also makes it a strong contender for transcontinental travel.