Finnair's 'Premium Lounge' in Helsinki is perhaps the airport's most exclusive, positioned as better-than-business-class by an airline that doesn't actually offer first class.
That sees Finnair rolling out the red carpet only for top-tier Finnair Plus and Oneworld frequent flyers, meaning there's no ticket you can buy to get inside this lounge: whether flying up the front or down the back, you also need to be an established frequent flyer to 'turn left' at reception.
But once inside, it's clear this isn't any 'ordinary' business class lounge: it's one that certainly justifies an early check-in.
Location & Impressions
You'll find the Premium Lounge near gates 36 and 37 in the non-Schengen area of Helsinki Airport, opposite the business class 'Finnair Lounge'.
That means it's used by travellers jetting outside of the European Schengen zone such as to Singapore, Hong Kong, London and Russia, rather than on shorter flights to Italy, Germany and Austria, for example.
There's no directional lounge signage throughout the terminal, but those gate numbers are fortunately marked on the boarding passes of eligible travellers, with gate number signage adequate enough.
Once inside, this is a space like no other – it could be the set for a sci-fi movie if not for enough 'real' elements to bring you back to the present.
Often when airlines and hotels try to be quirky they do so at the expense of regular functionality, but which isn't a problem we encountered here.
- Finnair Plus Platinum members travelling with Finnair or another Oneworld airline
- Qantas Platinum, Platinum One and Chairmans Lounge members booked on the same
- Other Oneworld Emerald frequent flyers departing on a Oneworld flight
Outside of peak hours (typically 3-5pm), the Premium Lounge also welcomes Qantas Gold, Finnair Plus Gold and other Oneworld Sapphire travellers, but when it's full or close to it, these passengers are the first to be pointed to the regular Finnair Lounge next door.
Business class passengers have no access to this lounge unless also holding one of the frequent flyer cards above, regardless of their fare type or ticket price.
You'll pleasingly find a dedicated dining room over in the lounge's far left corner, with the food here all buffet- and counter-service rather than delivered straight to your table. We'd of course not expect that outside of true first class lounges – which the Premium Lounge doesn't pretend to be – although you'll still spot a few 'first class' touches for the airline's top flyers.
Most noticeable is the Champagne with Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Réserve in abundance: France's top-selling label and a drop that sits between sweet and acidic, and which the staff offer to pour for you... ... joined by gorgeous Ultima Thule glassware by Tapio Wirkkala, used by Finnair since the 1960s. We've not seen simple water look as elegant elsewhere, that's for sure. Heck, even the lounge's other glassware makes a Diet Coke look exciting... ... and if you fancy a tea, patterned Marimekko mugs await: But order a latte and you'll be less-impressed: although made by the staff, the push-button machine they use misses that hand-crafted touch, particularly as the volume of the latte glasses hasn't been programmed correctly: Other drinks including beers, wines, spirits and liqueurs are served up at this tended bar... ... with the bench between serving as the buffet counter. We enjoyed the forest mushroom rillette plus feta cheese and olives to start... ... a serve of the surprisingly tasty wild boar pâté with cranberry sauce to continue... ... and a more traditional pairing of chicken tenders with potato and coleslaw for the main course, plus a cheesy Margherita-style tomato. The nice dark brown bread also warrants a mention: For dessert, we weren't disappointed with a chocolate and blueberry mouse aside squares of chocolate cake... ... and of course, a glass of Champagne in that stylish glassware.
This lounge is well-equipped for working business travellers with well-lit benches right near the entrance... ... complete with traditional power points along with a nifty wireless charging system for low-power gadgets like smartphones.
Your device doesn't need to support wireless charging for this to work – plug the black disc below into your phone's regular charging port, and then sit that disc over the magic charging circle: It's a nice idea until you have to make a phone call, in which case we'd like to see handy USB power ports added as well.
Serious work can also be completed in the almost-hidden business centre with four iMac computers tucked away behind the curtains... ... or for more casual browsing or the odd email, most of the cocktail tables between seats come armed with power outlets to keep you recharged: WiFi is available, but Finnair doesn't offer its own network – you instead connect to the public hotspot ('Free WiFi - Open your browser'), which would usually mean time limits and sluggish speeds.
That's not the case in Helsinki, however, with our tests revealing impressive downloads of 59.10Mbps, uploads of 57.97Mbps and pings of just 2ms.
While work is certainly doable here, the big focus of this lounge is on relaxing: particularly before the late evening flights to Hong Kong and Singapore.
For starters, the centre space comes with some rather impressive mood themes, simulating anything from a warm sunrise... ... through to a cool cloudy day... ... a moon-lit night... ... and even the dancing Northern Lights: However, the moods abruptly changed every 15-odd minutes, going from a calm blue setting to a bright orange tank without much transition, which feels a bit strange, and frankly, disorientating.
We'd like to see these moods better-aligned with the current time of day and the overall ambience in the lounge: orange in the bustlingly busy mornings, blues throughout the day and both the moon and Northern Lights as you unwind before a late evening flight.
If that's not your thing, take the stairs upward to find another relaxation space, with boxed seats for solo travellers, cool white leather seats with power points at the side... ... and some which face the windows: Our tip: head for the chair on the far right (pictured above), on its lonesome rather than in a duo as with all others, giving you the most privacy with a curtain to the left.
It also offers the best view, as many of the other seats here are behind darker shades of window tint that blocks not only the sun from coming in, but also travellers from glancing out.
Also up here are four relaxation chairs behind a closing door, each with their own privacy curtains and with pillows and blankets at the ready. Just remember to set an alarm as there's no wake-up service here: Otherwise, you'll find a selection of reading material including a number of English titles along this literature wall... ... and six private shower suites used by guests of both Finnair lounges: Oh, and there's also a mixed-gender, towels-optional-but-recommended sauna. Yes, a full sauna in an airport lounge. We tried it out – like the lounge itself the sauna remained otherwise-empty and certainly proved a unique way to unwind before our flight.
You'll find (separate gender) changing rooms nearby, and while the sauna has two of its own open showers, you might prefer one of the six regular suites for privacy.
If they're all busy, there's also a convenient waiting area with water offered nearby: All up, this space is vastly different to what you'd expect of a typical airport lounge, and for somebody who's seen more than 20 of them in the last month alone, is incredibly refreshing.
Whether it was the sauna, watching a recreation of the Northern Lights or the broader mood lighting, we boarded our midnight flight relaxed and ready to sleep, after a very enjoyable lounge visit.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Helsinki as a guest of Finnair.
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