Finnair may not be the first option that comes to mind for Australians heading to Europe, particularly as the airline doesn't actually fly Down Under, but its Oneworld partnerships with Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific make the journey easy and very practical.
It works like this: you'll first fly to Asia with one of those three airlines in business class, and then hop aboard a Finnair flight for the rest of the trip. Better yet, make Hong Kong your transit point and you'll be treated to Finnair's new Airbus A350s en route to Helsinki, Finland.
From there it's an easy and reasonably short flight to major destinations like London, Paris and Rome, and if the country you've visiting is part of the Schengen zone, you'll clear passport control in Finland and arrive at your destination just like a domestic passenger.
Australian Business Traveller stepped aboard Finnair's Airbus A350 on a return journey between Hong Kong and Helsinki – here's what awaits you at the pointy end.
- Frequent flyer program: Finnair Plus, Oneworld. Australians can also earn points and status credits via Qantas Frequent Flyer.
- Priority check-in: Dedicated business class counters at the airport, or use Hong Kong's CBD check-in counters instead.
- Priority boarding: Strictly enforced – ineligible travellers were directed to the general queue.
- Checked baggage allowance: 3x32kg bags, plus one extra bag for Oneworld Sapphire and Emerald frequent flyers and Finnair Plus Silver, Gold and Platinum members. Finnair Gold and Platinum flyers can too check a further golf, skiing or diving bag at no charge.
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x126cm bags plus one personal item at a maximum combined weight of up to 10kg.
- Priority airport services: No business class fast-track facilities in Hong Kong, although registered frequent travellers can use the e-Channel at HKIA. In Helsinki, EU electronic passport holders can use the automated gates, while a business class priority security lane on departure proved a godsend in an otherwise-crowded terminal.
Check-in staff suggested we use the Qantas Hong Kong Lounge with its high ceilings and bartender service... ... joined by a tasty 'plate of the day' in the char siu barbequed pork (below) and a generous buffet offering, including a number of healthy 'hero salads'. Finnair being a Oneworld airline, you're also free to visit any of the Cathay Pacific lounges throughout the terminal, including the superb new Pier Business Class Lounge.
On the return from Helsinki, you'll have access to the standard Finnair Lounge with buffet dining, showers and a sauna too... ... while Gold- and Platinum-grade frequent flyers can relax in the nicer Finnair Premium Lounge next door:
AusBT review: Finnair international Premium Lounge, Helsinki Airport
Finnair's business class seats come in a passenger-pleasing 1-2-1 layout, giving each traveller direct access to the aisle... ... but at the same time, being angled away from that aisle for more privacy and less distraction throughout your flight: It's a customisation of the same business class seat found aboard Cathay Pacific and American Airlines, with a handy shelf to the side for writing on or resting your gear, particularly during meal times... ... joined by a reading light, easy-to-operate seat controls, the inflight entertainment remote and both AC and USB power outlets to keep your gadgets juiced up. Next to that, a nook in which to hang your headphones when not in use, but because there's no closing door here, you can't use this area during take-off and landing: Storage is also limited down by your legs where you'd typically find a larger bin, instead offering space enough only for a water bottle and thin reading material: Ironically, the literature pocket is too small for the menu folder distributed by the crew, which you'll need to stash somewhere else.
There's extra space within the triangular panel on the aisle side of your seat – just press the button to release the padded lid... ... and slip your stuff in there. The pocket is large enough for that menu folder and other A4-sized documents, while the rectangle next to it (above) is your arm rest which you can raise after take-off. There's also a fixed ottoman, under which you can slide your shoes... ... and which later forms the end of your 200-205cm fully-flat bed. Taller travellers, aim for the bulkhead seats in rows 1, 9 and 10 for that extra 5cm of space.
Just watch out for a sizeable gap between the upper and centre seat cushions, just visible under the blanket below, which can prove uncomfortable until you position your hip either above or below that gap: There's a decent feeling of privacy when you recline – although you can peer into the aisle, each seat has a wrap-around shell so everybody else remains hidden... ... although as to your foot space, the width of the bed tapers towards the end which makes things feel a little tight – but no so much that we couldn't enjoy a solid sleep of 7-8 hours in each direction.
The journey begins with a drink before take-off, such a glass of the Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Crande Réserve Champagne served in stylish Ultima Thule glassware by Tapio Wirkkala... ... while Finnair's signature Blue Sky cocktail can also be ordered up, mixing that Champagne with blueberries and also blueberry liqueur: With a near-midnight departure time in each direction, the aptly-named Midnight Menu comes into play after take-off, delivering a salad, main course and cheese plate all together on the one tray.
On one hand, that means no delay in between courses and an earlier sleep, but on the other, the overall presentation lacks finesse and also loses the 'restaurant' vibe travellers are coming to expect in business class.
Out of Hong Kong, we opted for the steamed halibut with Chinese vegetables and rice: tasty without being a standout... ... joined by Red Leicester and Camembert cheeses and accompaniments, but only one cracker: Come morning, you're given a choice between a typical airline omelette dish and a Chinese breakfast. The latter was an easy choice with stir fried noodles in a dark soya sauce with dim sum... ... again with a good mix of flavours but lacking in presentation, plus a selection of fresh fruits, yoghurts, breads and filtered coffee.
We like that breakfast cards are supplied as you take your seat as you can maximise your rest and wake only when your meal is ready, although the lack of an espresso machine is surprising on a brand new aircraft, particularly a flagship Airbus A350.
On the return from Helsinki, you're again given a choice between four main courses – but if you're organised and pre-order your meal ahead of the flight you can also select from three further dishes.
Among them, a delicious and typically Finnish roasted fillet of reindeer with ale-cranberry sauce, potato gratin and grilled vegetables... ... joined again by a salad, Godiva chocolate pralines and cheeses – Peltolan Blue and Viinitarhuri with rhubarb jam, yet crackers were absent.
You can also order up a yummy JYMY liquorice ice cream at any time throughout the flight, or stop past the snack trolley in the galley for fresh fruit, potato chips, noodles, nuts, almonds and chocolates. Closer to arrival back in Hong Kong, we opted for the more lunch-like crêpe and found it satisfying ahead of our 2:30pm touch down. Again, breakfast is served with your choice of accompaniments which you select before heading to bed via the supplied ordering card.
Entertainment & Service
Enjoy a variety of movies, TV shows and music via a fold-out 16-inch HD screen with supplied Bose noise-cancelling headphones.
You'll find the monitor clipped away as you board (below) but which can still be deployed during take-off and landing. The interface is responsive and very intuitive with a 'journey manager' helping to plan your flight... ... access to the A350's inflight cameras – particularly enjoyable when cruising up high... ... free inflight Internet (except over China) and a good selection of entertainment content, particularly in the music area. Top marks for the tasteful classical and Chinese vocal playlists.
Cabin crew stop by to deliver Marimekko slippers and an amenity kit with an eye shade, ear plugs, dental kit, lip balm and moisturiser, with other handy amenities like socks and a shaving kit available by request: We found the crew welcoming, efficient and friendly without being intrusively so, displaying initiative wherever they could.
For instance, we went to sleep atop our blanket rather than underneath as it makes the seat more comfortable in lieu of a proper mattress pad, and awoke to find a second blanket draped over us.
We also appreciated that on both flights, breakfast was served individually and quietly to all of the passengers who were already awake, before the crew then woke us to eat.
They're small touches, but which allowed us to maximise our rest en route and head straight into meetings on arrival without feeling groggy or jet lagged.
Less impressive, however, were the ongoing and almost-intrusive promotions for 'Finnair Shop' – the airline's duty-free service.
Leaflets were distributed, joined by cabin announcements, compulsory video recordings, reminders and pop-up messages on the inflight entertainment system and crew walking the aisles with the catalogue, which reminds us more of a busy marketplace than a serene business class cabin.
But overall, Finnair's Airbus A350s remain a relatively comfortable way to fly between Asia and Europe in connection with Qantas, British Airways and Cathay Pacific flights from Australia.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Helsinki as a guest of Finnair.
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