Nordic flair and gourmet fare: Finnair A350-900 business class
Back in 2016, I flew Finnair economy comfort from Helsinki to New York. That flight gave me a great impression of Finnair and I still remember the premium drink I was treated to as a Oneworld Emerald during the departure meal service.
What cemented the memory in my mind was Finnair's iconic Iittala Ultima Thule glass that the drink came in. Finnair no longer offers this potable perk for Oneworld Emerald members traveling in economy, but the airline still uses the Iittala glassware I remember from 2016 in its business-class cabins.
Although I'd enjoyed my Finnair economy comfort flight in 2016, trying out Finnair business class has been high on my list for the last few years. So, when I needed to return from Europe this April, I was thrilled to find award availability on Finnair from Stockholm Arlanda Airport (ARN) to New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK).
Some flyers say that Finnair cabins look sterile or boring, but I love the light, airy cabin on most current Finnair planes. I think the light decor with a pop of color from pillows, blankets, amenity kits and blueberry drinks sets Finnair apart.
The new seats and cabin design that Finnair is rolling out to A330 and A350 aircraft in 2022 and 2023 will make its cabins darker, but my flight still featured the older, reverse herringbone seats. Here's what the rest of my experience on board was like.
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I redeemed 57,500 American Airlines AAdvantage miles and paid $61.47 in taxes and fees for my one-way award.
In comparison, paid one-way fares on this route start at around $4,764. Meanwhile, you can book round-trip fares on the same route starting in Europe from around $1,687.
Redeeming miles was an easy choice compared to one-way fares, especially since I have a sizable balance of American Airlines miles.
However, since I'm working toward earning American Airlines elite status this year via Loyalty Points, it may have made sense to book a round-trip paid fare from Europe if I could have done so for around $1,687 round trip.
Business-class award availability is relatively common on this route. For example, here's a look at availability this August:
If you need to earn more American Airlines AAdvantage miles for a redemption like this, remember you can transfer Marriott Bonvoy points to AAdvantage at a 3:1 ratio and Bilt Rewards points to AAdvantage at a 1:1 ratio. You can also book Finnair award tickets through other Oneworld partners, including Cathay Pacific Asia Miles and Alaska Mileage Plan.
Related: Quick Points: Earn American AAdvantage status quickly with partner flights
After arriving by bus at Arlanda's Terminal 4, I walked through Sky City Terminal 5. The airline check-in areas in Terminal 5 were busy, but I found the Finnair check-in area about halfway down the terminal.
There were no self-check-in kiosks, so passengers who needed to check in or drop bags all queued to see an agent and the standard line was long. Luckily, as a business-class passenger (or if I had been an economy flyer with Oneworld Ruby or higher status), I had access to the Priority Lane. This lane had a line, but it was significantly shorter than the standard line.
After a six-minute wait, I was in front of the check-in agent who quickly looked over my attestation form and COVID-19 test results and then printed a boarding pass. She encouraged me to head to security immediately, noting, "things are quite a mess today."
The security checkpoint had a long line that a sign indicated would take 16 minutes to clear. I was able to use the Fast Track lane as a Finnair business-class passenger, though.
I also would have been able to do so as a cardholder of The Platinum Card® from American Express or The Business Platinum Card® from American Express. After all, Fast Track security is offered as a Centurion and Platinum cardmember perk at several Nordic airports. Your boarding pass may not be coded with your cardmember information, though, so you may need to show your card to the security attendant to get access.
Unfortunately, I picked the wrong security line after that and ended up behind a slow group. Even so, I was through security in under nine minutes.
I headed to the lounge Finnair contracts with for its business-class and elite passengers to use in Stockholm: the Norrsken Lounge. It was difficult to find the lounge until I looked up directions online. In short, go to Gate 1 and then take the lift or stairs toward the SAS lounge and M lounge.
Once I found the lounge, a long line awaited me at the entrance. I learned from other guests in line that the lounge was full and was only letting travelers in as others left. My husband and I waited 14 minutes until the front desk agent said we could enter and assigned us a table by the entrance.
The food and drinks were relatively limited in the lounge, but included cold salads, beer and wine. The coffee machine was malfunctioning and only dispensed black coffee instead of its normal range of beverages. The two bathroom stalls -- one male and one female -- seemed to have a line throughout our visit. The main positives of the lounge were ample power outlets and good Wi-Fi (21.1 Mbps upload and 25.1 Mbps download).
I didn't see any reason to linger there, so I began to head toward my gate. Along the way, though, I noticed the American Express Lounge by Pontus. I stopped by and found that it wasn't a lounge but a reserved space in a restaurant — and I had access as an Amex Platinum cardholder.
The combined line to enter the Pontus in the Air restaurant and the American Express Lounge seating area was relatively long. However, after a 16-minute wait, we got a table in the main restaurant since the Amex space was full. The hostess noted we'd still get access to the Amex menu and self-serve snack bar even though she seated us in the restaurant.
We ordered drinks and food as soon as a server came to our table, and our food arrived about 34 minutes after we were seated. I tried the linguine pasta while my husband ordered the veal burger. While my pasta was light and flavorful, I loved his meal, especially the creamy potatoes, and would order it instead next time.
Once at the gate, two agents were handling two lines: a modest priority line and a long economy line. However, the agent handling the economy line was moving passengers through quickly, while the agent at the priority line was going slowly. We likely would have reached the boarding area quicker using the long economy line.
When we arrived, no one was sitting in the boarding area. The area offered ample seating and power outlets, but passengers simply walked through this area and boarded through a jetway without any further checks.
Related: Cleared for Takeoff: A mini round-the-world trip to Sweden and South Africa
Cabin and seat
Finnair has several A350-900 configurations, including aircraft with the new AirLounge seat. Finnair used the older configuration with a forward and rear business-class cabin for my flight.
My A350-900 offered traditional reverse herringbone seats in a 1-2-1 configuration, so each passenger had direct aisle access. Window seats angle away from the aisles toward the windows, while seats in the middle section angle inward. Each seat measures about 19.5 inches in width.
In the upright position, the seat is quite comfortable. You can raise the aisle armrest by pushing the silver button on the top of it. I also liked the elbow nook on the side of the seat away from the aisle that provided extra arm room. However, the seatbelts have large airbags, which can be uncomfortable and bulky.
Each seat has a headrest. Mine wasn't originally on its track, so it fell off when I tried to raise it. Once I got it back on its track, though, I could raise and lower it. I could also bend the wings to cradle my head.
Unlike some other airlines, the seats aren't fully enclosed and don't have a door. So, some passengers may feel their seat is too exposed. But especially for a daytime flight such as I had, I appreciated the openness — a door likely would have made the seat feel too constrained.
I loved looking out both of the windows at my seat. Snag rows two, three, five, six, eight, 11 or 13 if you want a window seat with two windows. However, note that you'll see mostly the engine or wing in rows 11 and 13.
The seats are upholstered in a light gray fabric. They have started to show their age, but mine was in good condition (besides the disconnected headrest) and appeared clean. There's plenty of foot room, as even non-bulkhead seats have a large footwell. The footwell is 19 inches wide at its largest point but decreases to about 10 inches wide at its smallest point.
You can adjust the seat in several ways, moving the seatback and bottom cushion forward and back. And you can adjust the position and amount of lumbar support. You can also move the seat into preset flight, relax and bed positions.
The bed length is 76 inches long once you lie the seat flat. However, Finnair doesn't provide turn-down service or a mattress pad on the Stockholm to New York route.
Once in lie-flat mode, my seat had sizable gaps between the back and bottom of the seat and between the bottom of the seat and the footrest. I didn't mind the lower gap, but the upper gap wasn't comfortable when laying on my side until I put an extra blanket into it.
Unless you are 5 feet, 2 inches, or shorter, your knees will likely hit the wall if you try to sleep on your side facing the aisle. However, if you lay on your side facing the counter, you should be more comfortable. If you like to sleep on your back, you'll find the arm nook gives you enough space to sleep with your arms by your sides.
Storage is seriously lacking on Finnair's A350, though. There are no overhead bins above the middle section of the seats, and there's limited storage at the seats themselves. A small triangle-shaped compartment along the aisle is the only compartment available. It's big enough to hold a book, cell phone and chargers, but is too small to hold a tablet. There are also no overhead air nozzles for passengers to use to adjust the temperature in their personal space.
The seats have an open headphone compartment, a magazine pocket and a water bottle holder. There's no dedicated shoe storage, but the counter space to the side of the seat is relatively ample.
Seats have a bi-fold tray table that swings out from below the counter space. The table is 18 inches wide by 11 inches deep and was stable enough to work on my laptop and eat. The tray table swivels, but you can't slide it closer to you for eating or working.
There are four bathrooms for the 46-seat business-class section: two at the front of the cabin and two between the two cabins that comprise business class. I found the bathrooms consistently clean, but there weren't any special amenities besides sanitizer and hand lotion. However, the bathrooms at the front of the forward business cabin have a window, which I always enjoy.
Related: How to save money on Oneworld redemptions to Europe
Amenities and inflight entertainment
At boarding, a pillow was on each seat and a Marimekko for Finnair collection blanket was under the leg rest of each seat. This was the only bedding available for the flight -- no mattress pads or other pillows were on offer -- but since this flight wasn't full, you could easily pick up more pillows or blankets from other seats. I found the blanket soft and warm. While the pillow provided good back support, it was a bit too lumpy for sleeping.
Finnair didn't offer any pajamas on this flight, but slippers awaited business-class passengers on each footrest at boarding.
A blue Marimekko for Finnair amenity kit also awaited business-class passengers at each seat. My amenity kit included a mask, earplugs, a dental kit and La Bruket lip balm.
As for entertainment, a screen folds out from the seat's shell via a silver button. The touchscreen has a 15.75-inch diagonal and the image quality is crisp and clear.
It's easy to navigate the inflight entertainment system from the home screen, which offers a summary of the flight, including the expected arrival time and approximately when the meal services will occur. You can easily get information about Wi-Fi from the home screen, see the route map and view the flight cameras. You can also click on attractions or zoom in on the route map via the screen.
You can quickly access movies, TV shows, music playlists, games and inflight shopping by clicking the menu button. There's plenty to keep you busy on your flight — I counted 115 movies in total. However, I found it somewhat strange that instead of offering albums or individual songs you could only listen to 30 set playlists such as "Nordic waves," "Purely pop" and "Headbangers."
The IFE remote, universal power outlet, USB outlet, headphone jack, seat controls and a small light are on a panel next to each seat. The universal power outlet is conveniently located and features twist-to-lock functionality so that your charger won't fall out.
Speaking of headphones, Finnair provides Phitek noise-canceling headphones at each business-class seat. These headphones are two-prong to match the two-prong jack, so bring an adaptor if you plan to use your own. However, I found the Phitek headphones comfortable and of good quality. And unlike American Airlines, Finnair didn't collect the business class headphones before landing, so you could use the headphones from gate to gate.
If you connect to the Wi-Fi, you can play an aviation game, read magazines and listen to ebooks even if you don't pay for internet access. Business classic and flex passengers get one hour of internet access for free, while Finnair Plus Platinum and Platinum Lumo members get access for the entire flight free of charge. Prices are relatively modest if you need to pay, though, at 19.95 euros (about $21) for the entire flight, 11.95 euros (about $13) for three hours and 7.95 euros (about $8) for one hour.
I found the Wi-Fi fast enough to use email and write the first draft of this review in WordPress. A speed test showed that the Wi-Fi ran at 1.18 Mbps upload, 5.96 Mbps download and 791 ms ping midflight.
There's no live inflight TV or streaming entertainment and you can't order anything via the inflight entertainment screen (although you can order some duty-free items via the Wi-Fi).
Related: Alaska Airlines and Finnair expanding partnership, but it’s not all good news for Alaska customers
Food and beverage
When I boarded, separate food and drink menus awaited me at my seat. I was surprised to only find two options for the departure meal and just one option for the arrival meal. After all, most long-haul business class products offer three or four entree choices for the departure meal.
A flight attendant came through as I was settling into my seat to offer a choice of champagne, blueberry juice or water. I went with Finnair's iconic blueberry juice.
16 minutes after take-off, flight attendants distributed warm, moist towels. Then, nine minutes later, a flight attendant brought me a glass of Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Champagne (which retails for about $38 per bottle), a glass of water and a bowl of mixed nuts.
13 minutes later, a flight attendant inquired about my meal choice. The menu listed a choice of trout or chicken, but the flight attendant clarified that the fish would be salmon. I typically enjoy salmon, so my choice was easy.
Some travelers may be disappointed to see their business-class meal served on a tray, but what it lacked in presentation, it made up for in flavor. The scampi and smoked salmon appetizer was fresh, the bread was warm and the salmon flaked nicely. I appreciated the selection of vegetables served around the salmon and enjoyed the creamy yet not too rich sauce.
After finishing my meal, a flight attendant asked if I'd like dessert. She said I could try both the mousse and the tart since the airline had loaded extra desserts, but I just went for the mousse and a latte. After all, I love Finnair's Marimekko coffee cups almost as much as the Iittala glassware.
Once the dinner service was complete, the flight attendants set up a basket of snacks at the front of the business-class cabin, which they replenished multiple times during the flight. I appreciated the fresh fruit cups with apples and blueberries that were usually available in the basket along with branded, packaged snacks.
As many passengers remained awake for much of the daytime transatlantic flight, the cabin crew would periodically walk through the cabin, asking passengers who were awake if they'd like anything.
I tried most of Finnair's signature drinks, including blueberry juice, the Blue Sky drink with Lapponia Blueberry Liqueur and Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut Champagne, and the Arctic Blue gin and tonic.
Have I mentioned it already? I love Finnair's glassware and mugs — if I ever settle down and have a home, I'll have to buy some Iittala Ultima Thule glassware. I also appreciate that Finnair serves fresh blueberries in many of its signature drinks.
About 80 minutes before landing, a flight attendant came to ask if I'd like an arrival meal. She noted that the meal would be a cheese lasagna instead of the avocado pasta listed on the menu. I said that was fine, so she went to the galley to get my tray.
It's not great that the meals loaded didn't match the menu. However, the cheese lasagna was good comfort food. Once again, the bread was warm. And I enjoyed getting one last taste of blueberries on the fruit plate. After having so many blueberries on this flight, I now associate blueberries with Finnair.
Related: How will inflight meals change after the pandemic? 4 things I learned from touring an airline catering facility
The service on this flight was excellent. The cabin crew was friendly, efficient and personable — I'd like to have this cabin crew on every flight.
The flight attendants walked through the cabins frequently during meals and periodically throughout the rest of the flight, proactively offering more drinks or food. I don't remember ever being offered so many drinks on a flight.
The flight didn't officially offer dine on-demand service. But when one passenger wanted a meal about four hours before arrival, flight attendants served it to him without any questions or hesitation.
Finally, when I rang the call button midflight for assistance with my seat, a flight attendant appeared in about 20 seconds.
Related: Embrace the future: Why I won’t miss inflight beverage cart service
Flying Finnair's business class isn't particularly aspirational, and there were some negatives to this flight experience. For example, it's disappointing to only get two choices for the departure meal and no choice for the arrival meal. Plus, the ground experience in Stockholm was rough, from an overcrowded lounge to an exceptionally slow priority line at boarding.
However, I loved the actual flight experience. I appreciated the clean cabin and was able to work and relax comfortably. Distinctly Finnair elements, such as blueberry juice, blueberries in cocktails, the light-colored cabin, Iittala Ultima Thule glassware and friendly flight attendants made for a memorable experience.
I'm sad Finnair's new business-class cabin that's started rolling out to Finnair's A330 and A350 fleets will feature different glassware and a darker design. However, I'm curious to try out the new no-recline (yet still lie-flat) business-class seat.