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TPG Contributor Michael Spelfogel recently flew Finnair’s A350 on the way home from Helsinki to New York (JFK). Here’s his review of the new aircraft.
While skiing out west over MLK weekend in January seemed like a great idea, when American Airlines published a fare on its partner, Finnair, to Helsinki for $409, it gave me the perfect opportunity to go on a mileage run and visit a new country — for less.
While perusing Google Flights one day last summer, I stumbled upon a sale on flights from the US to Finland. Thinking the fare would not stick around, I quickly found a potential weekend that worked for my group of friends who wanted to ski and see the Northern Lights. Helsinki worked perfectly and for $409 per person we were able to book our trip from San Francisco (SFO) to Helsinki-Vantaa (HEL) via London (LHR) on a British Airways A380, with a return trip via New York (JFK) on Finnair’s brand new A350.
I used my Citi AAdvantage Executive World Elite MasterCard to get 2x AAdvantage miles per dollar on the entire transaction. My American Airlines Platinum status also gave us access to economy comfort seats and the business-class lounge on all legs of the journey. Better yet, I also got a 100% bonus on all redeemable miles and signed up for a special AA promotion at the time that gave us a bonus of at least 1,000 AAdvantage miles for every Atlantic Ocean crossing (12,500 miles each way for business or first class). In total, I ended up with just under 27,000 AAdvantage miles from this trip alone!
Airport and Lounge
Helsinki-Vantaa Airport (HEL) has a super-convenient train connection that takes about 30 minutes to get to and from the downtown area, with trains departing for the city every five minutes.
Once we were in the airport, the Finnair check-in counters were extremely crowded — luckily, my friends had Oneworld Sapphire status and I had Oneworld Emerald status so there was an elite counter we could use instead. Clearing security was easy thanks to priority access, but it was a long walk to the non-Schengen zone departure area — before entering that area we also had to go through European border control. At least the terminal was very modern and had more than enough shops to keep us busy.
The airport also has three completely remodeled Finnair Lounges, one in the Schengen area of the terminal near gate 22 and two in the non-Schengen area between gates 36 and 37. Thanks to my Oneworld Emerald status, I had access to all of them.
The Finnair lounge past passport control was one of the nicest I have ever visited. The décor is modern and has a distinctly Finnish flair. The afternoon I was there, Finnair had laid out a decadent buffet next to the open bar.
I felt the amenities and food here surpassed the quality of both Cathay Pacific’s business-class lounge we’d visited at SFO and the British Airways Galleries Lounge we’d encountered at LHR. From the spa services and showers to the dedicated kids’ rooms and business center, Finnair put together an impressive display at their rapidly expanding Nordic hub.
Cabin and Seat
Boarding was surprisingly quick and we later learned that the plane was half-full. The new Finnair A350 has five rows of economy comfort seats near the middle of the plane where each seat has extra legroom and passengers receive an amenity kit, headphones and a welcome drink in funky glasses, one of which is pictured below.
I was sitting in seat 22C, which does not have another seat in front of it. I did not, however, need to take advantage of the unlimited legroom because my row was completely empty! The armrests rise completely, so I essentially turned my entire row into a bed.
Before pushback, the captain came on and touted the A350: “As you know, the Airbus A350 is the most modern and sophisticated aircraft in the sky.” The pilots were very proud to be flying Finnair’s flagship aircraft during its inaugural week.
The Finnair flight crew were very attentive to passengers’ needs, so much so that when I mentioned I had a very close connection at JFK, they offered me a seat next to the exit door so I could disembark first. The exit door happened to be in business class, so I actually sat up in the business-class cabin for the last hour of the flight!
That was certainly one of the most unexpected and polite gestures a flight attendant has ever offered me. The seats themselves reminded me of American Airlines’ first-class product on the A321 transcons.
The seats were very comfortable and on par with most lie-flat business-class products I’ve seen internationally. The business-class cabin had a 1-2-1 configuration so everyone had direct aisle access.
Every seat onboard has a personal TV and USB charging port and there were dozens of free movies and TV shows available to choose from. The A350 also has an overhead camera, which is great to watch during take off, landing or basically anytime during the flight.
One feature that distinguishes Finnair from its competitors is its onboard high-speed Wi-Fi. For economy passengers, the price is 15 euros (~$17) for the entire flight — note that this service is free in business class. When I asked the flight attendant how to connect my device, she brought over a free Wi-Fi code! The Internet works as advertised and I was actually able to stream Netflix and watch YouTube videos from 39,000 feet.
Food and Beverage
Finnair served two meals during our nine-hour flight. The first was a full lunch with the choice of a salmon, meatloaf and a vegetarian option with pasta, shown below.
In addition to soft drinks, there was also a complimentary selection of wine and beer. The meal also came with a piece of chocolate cake for dessert.
About an hour before landing, the crew served a light meal that consisted of a hot panini. I thought this was actually better than lunch, and I especially appreciated it because I would not have time to grab something to eat at JFK before catching my connecting flight to SFO. Overall, the food was adequate but the fact that they served a second meal as well as complimentary alcoholic beverages was unusual, even for international service.
The bathroom in the premium cabin was about twice the size of a normal airplane bathroom.
Each seat also had an amenity kit filled with pretty much any product one could desire during a transatlantic flight. Before the flight was over, a flight attendant also offered me a “landing drink” which was contained in a cool Finnish frosted glass.
Extra: Video Trip Report
In addition to my written report, my travel companion Kevin Hsu put together a comprehensive 23-minute video report of the trip, which can be found below.
For Oneworld loyalists, Finnair should be your default carrier when crossing the Atlantic, not only because of the great quality in both the economy and business-class cabins, but also because of the mileage earnings on its partner, American Airlines. Finnair’s new A350 has a spectacular hard product coupled with a tremendous soft product for economy. From the mood lighting to the larger bathrooms and exceptionally trained crew, the flight exceeded all my expectations. The business-class product was also great and I hope to try it out in the future.
Have you ever flown on Finnair? Tell us about it below.