Review: Finnair (A330-300) Economy Comfort from Helsinki to JFK
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TO THE POINT: Finnair makes a great option for Oneworld elites traveling between the US and Europe. The pros: 3-5 more inches of leg room than regular economy, noise-canceling headphones, an amenity kit and a different headrest. The cons: limited complimentary in-flight snacks, lack of complimentary wine and beer throughout the flight and no Wi-Fi on the Finnair A330-300.
On her way back from Europe, TPG Contributor Katie Genter flew on Finnair’s A330-300 from Helsinki (HEL) to New York (JFK). As a Oneworld Emerald flyer, she got to upgrade her experience by flying in Finnair’s Economy Comfort at no additional charge. Here’s her review of Finnair’s Economy Comfort experience. (All photos are by the author).
Oneworld alliance member Finnair isn’t an airline I’d usually consider when flying between the US and Europe. However, with a well-respected safety record, perks for Oneworld elites and increasingly frequent flights to New York (JFK), Miami (MIA) and Chicago (ORD), Finnair’s starting to look like a pretty decent option for hopping the pond.
I needed to travel to Leipzig, Germany, on a set date to compete in RoboCup 2016, but since I was planning to travel more after the competition, I was very flexible on both the date and departure location of my return flight. Since I needed to transport robots to and from the competition, I only considered Oneworld airlines since I get three free checked bags on AA ticketed and marketed flights as an American Airlines Executive Platinum.
I tracked prices on Oneworld carriers for months, but they never dropped significantly. I eventually opted to fly into Nuremberg (NUE) and return from Copenhagen (CPH) for $1,481 round-trip, and used my Business Gold Rewards Card from American Express to make the purchase. Although I’d selected gas as my 3x bonus category last year, I eventually switched my 3x bonus category to airfare, so this $1,481 purchase earned me 4,443 Membership Reward points, about $84 in value based on the latest TPG valuation.
I called American Airlines to obtain my Finnair record locator, which is needed to check in online and allows Oneworld Sapphires and Emeralds to select seats for free. Oneworld Emeralds can select any economy seat — including Economy Comfort seats — for free while Oneworld Sapphires can select any economy seat except Economy Comfort seats for free.
Other passengers can purchase various seats before and during check-in, with prices ranging from 6-20 euros (~$7-22) for a window or aisle seat in regular economy to 60-75 euros (~$67-83) for an Economy Comfort seat. All economy-level seats — except for Economy Comfort, “extra legroom” and “front row” seats — can be selected free of charge by any passenger during check-in, which opens 24 hours before departure for flights traveling to the US.
I started my day by taking a regional train from Copenhagen Central Station to CPH airport. These trains run every 10 minutes during peak times, cost about $5 for a one-way trip and take about 15 minutes to go from the city center to the airport.
Finnair check-in was located in CPH’s Terminal 2. There were three agents — two who were working the baggage drop line and one stationed at the Priority desk. Both lines were empty, and one of the baggage drop agents motioned for me to come over from the Priority line.
Once I reached Helsinki (HEL), I headed toward the Finnair lounge and found the premium side — accessible by Oneworld Emerald members — to be completely empty when I arrived. The lounge was spacious and featured a variety of seating options like relaxing, comfortable chairs as well as dining and bar areas that worked well for laptop use. Except in the dining area, all seating options had a power outlet nearby.
The buffet bar near the entrance was well stocked and I easily made a plate of tasty options. The ‘Mexican Potatoes’ and blueberry crepes were particularly tasty. Juice, water and coffee options were self-serve, but you need to ask one of the attendants if you want any alcohol.
The lounge featured private shower rooms called “shower cabinets” as well as a sauna that had communal showers. The individual shower cabinet I used was well-stocked. Although it seemed like my shower doors formed a good seal, the floor outside it still flooded, so be wary of what you leave on the floor.
There were advertisements to buy upgrades to Economy Comfort and business class at the gate, but I didn’t inquire about the cost. Boarding started a few minutes later than scheduled — business-class passengers and Oneworld Emerald members both boarded during Zone 1. Once on board, settling in was quite a slow process. It surprised me how many passengers seemed confused about where their seats were located.
Cabin and Seat
Seats in the Finnair A330-300 economy cabin are arranged in a 2-4-2 configuration with the first five rows of the cabin being Economy Comfort seats. While the seats themselves are identical to the others you’ll find in economy, you’ll also be getting: (1) 3-5 more inches of leg room, (2) noise-canceling headphones, (3) an amenity kit and (4) a different headrest.
There are two sections to the economy cabin, with bathrooms situated in between them. Both sections felt airy and light. The seats featured a light blue pattern that was well-accented by the green and beige packaged flannel blanket and green pillow that were placed on each seat. There was also a water bottle tucked into each seat-back pocket. Economy Comfort seats also came with a small amenity kit and noise-canceling headphones while the other economy seats came with regular earbuds.
I chose seat 24H — an aisle seat in the middle section of Economy Comfort. The seat itself was comfortable enough but the armrests were too high and uncomfortable because of the cut-out for the in-flight entertainment remote. Interestingly, there were two armrests between the middle seats throughout the economy cabin.
The Economy Comfort headrest could raise and lower, but didn’t have adjustable wings for head support and instead featured angled cushions that were positioned too far to each side to provide proper head support. There were overhead air vents, but I never needed to adjust mine as the cabin stayed at a comfortable temperature throughout the entire flight.
When the passenger in front of me fully reclined, I found it barely possible to continue using my 14-inch laptop — and this was even with the 35-37 inch seat pitch in Economy Comfort! Fully reclined, the top of the seat extended back about eight inches. From my experience, I assume it’d be impossible to use a large laptop in standard economy if the passenger in front of you reclines.
While there were small entertainment boxes located near the seat supports that occupied some of the under-seat space for window seats and the middle section aisle seats, I didn’t find it to be intrusive at all.
I was lucky enough to have one of three unoccupied Economy Comfort seats available next to me. Hence, the 18-inch seat width allowed plenty of elbow space for me on this flight. With a neighbor, I suppose it’d be comfortable to sleep or watch TV, but not to type on a computer.
In hindsight, an Economy Comfort bulkhead seat would’ve been better for me. These seats had significant legroom and removed the possibility of being reclined into. As someone who usually spends a large portion of my flights using a laptop, these bulkhead seats would’ve been a better choice. However, don’t choose the bulkhead seats if you’d be bothered by (1) the entertainment screen being on a retractable arm, (2) a smaller table or (3) some immovable armrests.
Amenities and In-Flight Entertainment
The Economy Comfort seats featured small amenity kits including the basics — an eye mask, socks, earplugs and a toothbrush with toothpaste. Marimekko designed the amenity kits, blankets, pillows and the napkins used at meals. This consistency in design provided a classy feel to the flight.
Although no Wi-Fi was offered on this flight, there was an in-flight entertainment screen located in each seat-back. Each screen was crisp and clear, and had brightness levels and a tilt you could easily adjust. Unfortunately, the screens themselves required firm touches in order to get a response. There was a remote control located under a cover in the armrest, but I didn’t see anyone else using it.
In-flight entertainment consisted of a variety of movies, short series, music playlists and games. None of these were sortable by type — you needed to scan through all the choices until you found something you wanted to watch or listen to. Overall, I was satisfied with the options provided. There was also a map feature, as well as two exterior camera views.
The noise-canceling headphones provided to Economy Comfort passengers were tri-pronged, with one small prong and two larger prongs. I used these headphones and was impressed by their noise-canceling abilities, sound quality and comfort.
There were universal power outlets positioned between seats such that every two seats shared an outlet. Unfortunately, the power outlet at my seat didn’t work — even after being reset by a flight attendant.
Food and Beverage
Shortly after take-off, the economy purser announced that the departure meal was a choice of chicken with pepper sauce and pasta or beef chili con carne with beans and rice. She also said beer and wine were complimentary only during the first meal service but that non-alcoholic drinks were complimentary for the duration of the flight. She also noted that snacks would be available after the departure meal service for purchase in the rear galley and that a small meal would be served two hours before landing.
I chose the chicken meal during the departure meal service and it came with cabbage and berry salad — which was surprisingly fresh and tasty — a cold wheat bread roll, saltine crackers, cheese and a chocolate bar. The cheese was surprisingly mild given its appearance. The chicken entrée was quite tasty. The pasta was well-cooked and the sauce accented the pasta nicely. Although the chicken tasted fine, it strangely had the flaky consistency of fish. Coffee and tea — as well as complimentary wine refills — were offered when the departure meal trays were removed.
I was offered a complimentary ‘additional’ beverage from the drinks that normally cost extra — like Champagne or liquor — during the dinner service because of my Oneworld Emerald status — I chose to have Champagne and the flight attendant fetched a special glass from the business-class cabin to serve it in.
There were juices, water bottles and a few leftover cheese packs and saltine crackers available for self-service in the rear galley after the meal. After these run out, passengers would have needed to buy snacks from the flight attendants if they were still hungry.
A warm towel was offered before the arrival meal was served about 1.5 hours before we landed — a pre-packaged chicken salad sandwich served with a choice of coffee, tea or juice. Surprisingly, for a pre-packaged sandwich, it wasn’t soggy at all and tasted pretty good. It was a bit difficult to eat the sandwich though, due to the thin stringy greens scattered throughout it.
The flight attendants on this Finnair flight were generally friendly and responsive. When those around me rang their call buttons, a flight attendant always arrived within a minute or so. Additionally, it seemed that they’d memorized which seats in the economy cabin contained top-tier Oneworld elites. I noticed that I received special care and attention during the flight without them obviously referencing a list. It was also nice how special benefits — like Champagne with dinner — were offered quietly so as to not make other passengers feel slighted.
The crew pushed duty-free items multiple times during the flight and I noticed many passengers buying things. Although it became annoying to me, perhaps others on the flight appreciated the multiple buying opportunities.
About once an hour, a flight attendant would walk through the cabin with a stack of cups and a bottle of cold water. Unfortunately, they weren’t as proactive about coming through to collect trash.
For children on board, the cabin crew offered packets containing coloring books and other entertainment shortly after the departure meal. I noticed that there was an unaccompanied minor seated near the rear galley and the flight attendants paid special attention to him when he came to visit. It was nice to see them being so welcoming and friendly to him.
Most of my transatlantic flights have been on either American Airlines or British Airways. Compared to these, Finnair’s service and meals were better than I’ve received on AA flights — and about on par with my experiences on British Airways. However, the limited complimentary in-flight snacks, lack of complimentary wine and beer throughout the flight and unavailability of Wi-Fi on the Finnair A330-300 might bother some passengers. Additionally, I found it more difficult to work on a large laptop in Finnair’s Economy Comfort than when I flew in AA’s Main Cabin Extra.
Overall, I was satisfied with the flight. Depending on the mileage earning situation, I’d certainly consider booking another Finnair economy flight — although I’d definitely try to get a bulkhead Economy Comfort seat next time around.
Have you ever flown in Economy Comfort on Finnair? Tell us about your experience, below.