Though perhaps not the most well-known European airline, Finnair has a surprisingly large reach off the continent, flying into seven cities in the United States and 19 more across Asia via a growing fleet of more than 80 aircraft. The airline, which is part of the Oneworld alliance, also serves more than 100 cities in Europe, offering passengers from the U.S. and Asia connections via Helsinki. (On flights from Asia, specifically, the airline offers a stopover program that lets travelers visit Finland for up to five days.) On a recent trip to the Finnish capital, I was able to try out the airline’s business-class product, flying from Helsinki-Vantaa (HEL) to John F. Kennedy (JFK) in New York aboard an A330.
Helsinki-Vantaa Airport is Finnair’s home base, and the airline uses both terminals: Terminal 1 is for domestic and Schengen flights, and Terminal 2 for all other international flights. As I was flying to New York, I departed from Terminal 2, which has large dedicated check-in area for Finnair passengers. The priority desks, which business-class passengers, Economy Pro passengers, and anyone with Oneworld status could use, were located on the right side of the departures hall, and they were not crowded at all in the late morning on a weekday. Two of the desks were reserved for Finnair’s Platinum Lumo and Plus Platinum status fliers. Though I planned to use a mobile boarding pass, I wanted to see if I could switch my seat, which I wasn’t able to do online or on the app — it was a seamless change at the desk. My business-class ticket afforded me access to a priority security line in theory, but I couldn’t find it easily and just went through the regular line.
Once through security, it does take a little bit of time to walk from security to the Finnair lounge (about 10 minutes at a not-so-hurried pace), which is located outside of gates 50A and 50B. Upon checking in to the lounge, the agent at the front desk let me know that even though my boarding pass indicated that boarding would start at 11:30 a.m. for my 12:45 p.m. flight, I wouldn’t have to head over until noon, as the long lead time is for extra security checks, and business-class passengers had a dedicated line to expedite the process. I found that to be an extremely helpful tip — passengers who did arrive at the gate early were stuck in a small holding room with limited seating.
The lounge was undergoing renovations during my visit in May 2019 (they should wrap up in fall 2019), but it didn’t feel like a chaotic construction site during my visit. That said, there was no natural light in the space because of the renovations, which did make the space feel a little cramped. Like the rest of the terminal, the lounge features quintessential Nordic design, meaning minimalism meets natural wood. There are two main seating areas: tables and chairs in the center with loungers (including two GoSleep pods) on a mezzanine surrounding them. Because of the renovations, food was limited to a hot and cold buffet, and beverages were self-service. Perhaps the most disappointing things about visiting during the renovation was that the sauna — yes, of course there’s one here! — was not open.
The Cabin and Seat
On the Airbus A330, Finnair has an unusual [2/1]-2-1 layout in business class, which is split into two sections, a front one with seven rows and a back one with three, which are divided by the galley and a lavatory. Seats on the left side of the cabin in the front alternate between being a pair and a single seat — those single seats (2A, 4A, and 6A) are known as “throne seats,” as the seat has surface and storage space on both sides of it. If you’re a solo traveler, definitely aim for one of these, but otherwise take a single window seat on the right hand side of the aircraft. Avoid the window seats of the pairs on the left (the odd-numbered A seats), as you’ll have to awkwardly climb over your neighbor to exit if they’re in lie-flat mode. But traveling companions would do well in any of the double seats. In addition to the lavatory in the middle of the cabin, there are two additional ones up near the cockpit, at least one of which has a window inside. While the (rather small) facilities were kept clean throughout the entire flight, there are few toiletries available — just Dermosil hand soap and lotion, plus some air freshener.
I initially chose one of the throne seats via the app, but when I checked in, I discovered I had been bumped to one of the seats in the middle. But thanks to the check-in agent, I ended up in 10L, a single window seat on the right side of the cabin. My seat felt reasonably roomy, if on the narrow side, with 60 inches of pitch and 21 inches of width. When in lie-flat mode, the seat measures 79 inches long, which allowed me to stretch out comfortably. Storage space was relatively limited, with just a cubby above the armrest (where the universal power outlet, headphone jack, USB port, and an ethernet port were located) and an extendable pocket that holds the safety card and in-flight magazine. There is, however, a dedicated slot for shoes, which was a welcome touch. In addition to the overhead lights — which are next to adjustable vents for temperature control — there’s an over-the-shoulder reading light. Overall, the seat was comfortable and well laid-out for a transatlantic flight, though my particular one was showing a few signs of normal wear and tear, with some dings and scratches on the hardware. A little more storage would be helpful for things like passports and laptops.
Entertainment and In-Flight Amenities
Business-class passengers are treated to 11-inch touchscreen monitors that function well, along with a tethered remote. The screens aren't the largest in the industry, and the entertainment library paled in comparison to major carriers but there were a few dozen movies, including recent blockbusters and numerous foreign language films from countries around the world; TV shows; music; and games. You can also get a pilot's-eye or bird's-eye view via two live camera feeds. In business class, passengers are offered Phitek noise-canceling headphones, which block out just enough ambient noise for decent sound quality.
While Wi-Fi is available on most A330s in Finnair’s fleet, satellite malfunctions caused coverage to be extremely limited during my flight — a flight attendant did warn me shortly after boarding. Under normal circumstances, business-class passengers are treated to one hour of free Wi-Fi, while Plus Platinum members and above can connect for free for the duration of the flight. Beyond that, it costs 7.95 euros for one hour, 11.95 euros for three hours, and 19.95 euros for the full flight.
For fans of Finnish design, the amenity kit and the bedding (a pillow and duvet) stand out — they feature beloved Finnish brand Marimekko’s funky textile patterns. The goods inside the kit, however, are limited to an eye mask, a toothbrush and toothpaste, earplugs, and Rituals lotion and lip balm. But there is a card that says additional products like socks, shavers, mouthwash, hairbrushes, and makeup remover are available on request. And slippers were provided in the aforementioned shoe storage slot.
Food and Beverage
For my pre-departure beverage, a flight attendant offered me a choice of Joseph Perrier NV Cuvée Royale Brut (which retails for around $45), water, or blueberry juice. Soon after we reached cruising altitude, we were served aperitifs (I picked the blueberry cocktail, as the fruit is a Finnish delicacy) and an amuse bouche, in my case a savory spread with toasted bread. The drinks menu is extensive, offering three specialty cocktails, one Champagne, three white wines, three red wines, two dessert wines, and four beers, including a blueberry saison made exclusively for Finnair by Maku Brewing. There’s also a mocktail and a non-alcoholic beer available, plus a standard assortment of spirits, soft drinks, juices, teas, and coffee.
On my daytime flight, we were served lunch, light snacks, and a pre-arrival light meal. The menu, with special dishes created by Swedish chef Tommy Myllymäki offered the following: for the appetizer, cold smoked salmon or roasted carrots; for the main, arctic char, braised beef cheek, roasted chicken breast, a cold salad, or Jerusalem artichoke soup; a cheese course; then strawberry cheesecake or Finnish Jymy organic ice cream for dessert. I started with the surprisingly flavorful roasted carrots, then moved onto the beef cheek — both captured the new Nordic style that’s popular across Northern Europe, where ingredients are foraged and kept quite pure within their dishes. The beef cheek portion size was larger than I had anticipated, which didn’t stop me from ordering the cheese course, but did make me pick a lighter dessert: the ice cream. It was served in its branded paper carton, but I was grateful to be given a proper spoon so I didn’t have to use the tiny plastic one in the lid. I loved trying the local Finnish flavor, milk, which was akin to a rich vanilla, but far less sweet.
After the meal service, flight attendants continued to serve drinks — I had the blueberry saison, and it was a great light beer that was by no means overly sweet — and they brought out warm nuts for snacks. You could also grab quick bites like cookies and crackers in the galley during the flight. The pre-arrival meal was able to be ordered any time after lunch and before landing and comprised two options; a cold platter with shrimp, vendace, and reindeer tartar or an open-faced smoked salmon sandwich. Overall, the food was tasty and certainly represented Nordic cuisine quite well. It was also beautifully presented on Marimekko tableware, adding to the very Finnish experience.
The service was by far the best part of my experience on Finnair. The cabin crew did an excellent job of being attentive without being intrusive — a drink refill was always at the ready when my glass ran low, for instance — and they preempted any situations that might arise, like informing me about the spotty Wi-Fi prior to takeoff. I had genuinely pleasant interactions with every crew member on board. I’ve also flown Finnair in economy, and I found the service to be equally as great.
The business-class cabin on Finnair’s A330 isn’t about the glitz and glam you might find on other airlines, given the modest amenities and slightly older cabins, but for a relatively short transatlantic flight, it’s comfortable. (I would, however, love to fly Finnair’s new Airbus A350, which primarily covers the longer-haul routes like Helsinki to Singapore, to see how it compares.) Where Finnair really stands out is the service — the Finnish sense of hospitality is worth flying this airline any day.