In this review:
- getting conned by a lounge agent;
- having a shoe shoved into my face;
- weight gain.
Thanks to some kind of divine intervention, one day, someone found out that as long as you originate in Germany, have a flight operated by Norra, Finnair’s regional subsidiary, and have an overnight layover in Helsinki, you can get a Business Class roundtrip to Guangzhou or Hong Kong for 1 Euro. Yep, I sometimes also wonder if there is someone who just checks random combinations of conditions day and night just to find this kind of otherworldly deals. I am as cheap as the German mark in 1932, so I quickly nabbed 3 before Finnair noticed. However, do not be misguided, the ticket may be 1 Euro, the taxes and surcharges still apply. At the end, I had to shell out more than 500 Euros for each roundtrip between Stuttgart and Guangzhou. It was still a fantastic deal, and I could amass an enormous amount of Alaska Airlines miles, which can be very useful.
You might say: “Wait, where does Shanghai come from? And what is a Bologna?” Well, let me tell ya. This is a crazy story. I finished my EuroHop 19/20 trip in Zurich, and had to catch my beginning flight from Stuttgart to Helsinki. It was simply a 2 hour ride on the regional train which I had planned a long time ago, but as usual, I just have the worst luck possible: a small segment of tracks in German-Switzerland border had a power outage. After a 40-minute wait in Schaffhausen, I was told my train would be cancelled altogether, resulting in a trek to the German side via a local train+a local bus+a slower train. As we were chugging along the valleys of the Black Forest: I knew I was doomed. I rushed through the local transport in Stuttgart, and managed to arrive at the gate 13 minutes before departure, yet nobody was there: I watched my flight roll out of the remote station and took off. I could not belive me eyes as I missed my flight due to something I had absolutely no control of. After 4 days of being stranded in Stuttgart and having to call Finnair a dozen times, I was finally allowed to get the segments I did not miss back: from Guangzhou back to Stuttgart, as long as I purchase a one way ticket from Stuttgart to China on Finnair. That was the most absurd negotiation I have ever had: they should have rebooked me but they just abused my wallet because I offended their revenue management. As a result, I flew back to Shanghai in economy, and prepared for my flight back to Stuttgart from Guangzhou later in February.
Sike! Corona-virus is here! People were scrambling to run away from the disease-struck Wuhan, and a ton of them were heading to Shanghai. I was not gonna sit around and wait for my lung to collapse: someone is yet to take my breath away, and it damn would better not be a virus! I utilized a travel waiver issued by Finnair on all flights to China and promptly changed my flight to depart from Shanghai instead of Guangzhou, on the very next day the waiver takes effect. I quickly packed my bag and scrambled to get a taxi in the ghost-town Shanghai, and left before the virus exploded in infections in China.
Pudong T2 China Eastern Lounge
Everyone was in full alert mode: police forces tripled in almost every checkpoint, and everyone was wearing face masks. I walked into the slightly crowded Finnair check-in area: I was not the only epidemic-refugee, it seemed. Thankfully, the business class check in was mostly empty, so I quickly got hold of my boarding pass and proceeded to security. After a quick temperature test, and the premium security, I was through to airside. However, my lounge invitation printed on the boarding pass is the China Eastern lounge at gate 77, so I just took a little detour from my original plan of Cathay Pacific lounge and headed towards the designated spot.
I was welcomed to the lounge by the staff, and just wandered around this gigantic space one floor above the normal waiting area. Despite being in a terminal seldomly used by them, China Eastern has a flagship lounge so big that basically every single outstation airline contracted them for the lounge usage. British Airways, Finnair, and Iberia all abandon their supposedly in-alliance buddy Cathay Pacific and chose for the lower prices here in China Eastern, awkwardly putting all London-bound competing flights into one lounge: the double daily China Eastern ones, the double daily British Airways ones, and one daily Virgin Atlantic flight.
The lounge is gigantic, featuring a multitude of mostly not-so-user-friendly seating options. My favorite part of this style-over-substance lounge, however, are the hexagonal chairs that is supposedly designed for individual workers. Yet sadly, it was a surprise to no one that they were completely empty while the simple chairs next to the buffet spread were full of people: Chinese travel in groups, and they love eating free food.
The food selection is about on par with most other contract business class lounges, and do not stand out much from various airline flagship lounges, sadly. There is a myriad of hot food on offer, in accordance with the Chinese love of cooked things even during breakfast, so my eastern stomach extended its gratitude, especially for the noodle bar.
The sign at the noodle bar said: China Eastern Internet Famous noodles, and there was a small line queueing for the apparently-acclaimed bowls. I begrudgingly lined up, thinking that I would soon get to have some nice dim sum on the other side of the airport in the Cathay Pacific lounge. I requested a fishball noodle and then added my own toppings. It was quite delicious, given that it was freshly cooked, and most importantly, free.
On the drinks front, it is nothing worth bragging about. Huge amounts of emphasis was put into hot beverages as Chinese love to inhale boiling water flavored with all kinds of leaves, so it was not surprising to see very subpar alcoholic beverage choices. This is especially true given the fact that most Chinese are not familiar with wines and bubblies, as just a few days prior, I was drinking wine from a tea mug during a social gathering. After inhaling the noodle, I walked a bit more to see everything in this lounge, and to burn down the calorie count of this pre-meal before I head off to the next lounge to eat the real breakfast. There are a few other small “alcoves” (I really have no better way to call them) for families and other social groups to be together, and they seemed to be constantly occupied with large Chinese middle class families.
Interestingly, despite there was no Virgin Atlantic flight departing anytime soon, a section of the lounge with separate dining and seating facilities was still sectioned off from the rest of the lounge. I took a small glimpse and it seemed like the food was more western there, but not necessarily better. I finally decided to call it a day here in this mediocre lounge, and was ready to proceed to the truly good place: Cathay Pacific business class lounge, my favorite in the airport.
I quickly walked inside the lounge, and presented my boarding pass to the Cathay Pacific agent, wearing a thick mask. “You should go to the lounge at 77.” She told me. I was prepared, and quickly fired back with a OneWorld lounge policy:”Wait, Finnair is OneWorld and I am flying business class.” She replied that I was “only” flying business and was not an elite member, so I would not be able to access the lounge. This is a blatant contradiction against the alliance policy, yet after a few rounds of friendly debate, I was still kicked out of the entrance. What the fuck Cathay Pacific? Didn’t you educate your own receptionists with OneWorld lounge access policies? I was very disappointed, and just wandered in the airport for the remainder of time: I did not want to go back to the China Eastern lounge simply out of spite.
AY88 PVG-HEL Finnair A359 Business Class
I was one of the first to board the flight. After being greeted by the flight attendant who was the first non-masked person I interacted with the whole day, I proceeded to my seat, 2L, by myself. Finnair’s A350-900 is configured with 1-2-1 reverse herringbone seats for 12 rows, with the first 8 between doors 1 and 2, and a mini cabin behind door 2. I took my seat and quickly realized this is one of the most basic and barebone reverse herringbone seats. The width is noticeably smaller than the good seats chosen by Cathay Pacific, for example, and the decorations are just typically Nordic: minimalistic. It is still a good seat, however, as Confucius once said, no reverse herringbone seat is a bad seat.
The footwell is reasonably sized, so it was not particularly cramped. My blanket and flip flop was waiting for me in the carpeted cubbie, and I took a quick feel-test. The blanket is a bit on the small side, yet is perfectly manageable, and the flip flop is not as flimsy as it seems on the photo. Both are bearing the Finnair signature Marimekko patterns, which I can never understand. Seriously, what do those large blue spots arranged in an array even mean? My lack of cultural understanding aside, the quality and comfort of both were rather impressive. I also took a look at the magazine rack at the side, which features a delightful hole for a small water bottle. However, they are located quite low and that meant I forgot the water bottle’s existence once I finished taking the above photo, as it was quite hidden from normal view. I then looked towards left, where two buttons indicated a raise-able arm rest and a tiny storage space. The arm rest is on the small side, but typical of these movable pieces, and inside the storage I found the Bose noise-cancelling earphones. They are of superb quality, as I could be isolated from the world once I plugged it inside, and they might be the best on-board headphones I had ever got.
I then turned my attention towards further up to the right. The small surface above the water bottle and magazine rack was relatively large, and provided convenient space to place items temporarily as it had to be cleared for take off and landing. Tray table swings from underneath the said surface with the push of a button, and folds in half. It is very sturdy and can be pushed more forward for easy exit of the seat even when the table is deployed. There was also a small cubby used to store headphones, as there was a hanging rack to put them on, yet for some reasons the headphones were placed in the side storage space while I boarded. This area also has to be cleared for take off and landing. Then to the right of my shoulder was what I call the “switchboard”, where all the necessary buttons were located. They are easy to use and clearly marked. Sadly this is not one of the most advanced versions of the reverse herringbone seats, so you do not get a touchscreen mini-phone connected to the system, just a button-based controller, which is perfectly fine. Here is also where you find the power outlet, USB port, and headphone jack.
To the side of the seat is a coat hook, and also a tiny area where the
inferior shorter passengers can step on in order to access the overhead bins. However, as an extraordinarily tall Chinese person or a Canadian of average height, I can tell you that it is almost not necessary for most people reading this review. And finally, I opened up the amenity kit sitting on top of the table. This is a special edition from Marimekko designed just for Chinese New Year, and is deployed on Chinese routes during this month only. Betraying its normal blue-dot styles, these kits breathed an almost-incoherently vibrant red hue into the cabin, as everything else was an icy grey. The special introduction written on a cardboard wrapped around the kit tells the whole story, yet sadly, inside the seemingly-special kit was a surprisingly low amount of goods for a long haul flight. Some basic creams, ear plugs, an eye shadow, and a dental kit, and that was it. As you can see from the introduction of the kit, you have to request for combs and socks. This is just cheap, and there was not another word about it. I have seen premium economy amenity kits better than this.
Next up, I swang open the inflight entertainment screen by pushing a latch. Luckily, this does not have to be stowed during take off, and I could indulge my horrible movie taste any time. What I really like about Finnair’s planning is that they always put up a service flow chart on the main screen, which indicates how far we are away from landing and what the crew is planning to do. This empowers the fliers to better-manage their time and do not have to second guess the time of caterings. There is a wide selection of movies, but most of them are at the perfect range of undesirable since they are not old enough to be classic but definitely not new enough for you to remember someone trashtalking about it on the streets. Think of those animated movies made during early 2010s, or a crime thriller starring Nicholas Cage before he decided “fuck it”. So for me personally, the amount of actually watchable movies are quite low. There is also a narrow selection of international movies, so it may be a good opportunity to explore non-Hollywood productions. Most unfortunately, however, the system is prone to failure. Yes, the in flight entertainment of a plane built in the late 2010s was already failing on this new A350. WHAT.THE.FUCK. My screen sometimes froze when I exited a movie, and that would take it a few minutes to recover. Yet, during the entire flight, there were two instances when I had to ask a flight attendant to manually restart my system from the mainframe because it was stuck for more than 10 minutes. The flight attendents also seemed to be quite used to this procedure, as they did not even bother raising an eyebrow upon my request. Remember: THIS IS A PLANE BUILT AFTER JUSTIN BIEBER TURNED INTO AN ADULT.
At least the camera of both the tail and underneath the body were functional, unlike the flight I took the other way just a few days prior. I settled down and turned on the camera to watch the ground crew disengaging the pipes and ground power.
FOOD AND BEVERAGES
I was offered a choice between water, juice, and champagne by the crew as a pre-flight beverage. I gladly chose the bubbly one, and it came in a designed glass, which surely pissed off some French somewhere. I did not mind and just slowly enjoyed it.
After the standard 20 minute delay per Chinese flight traditions, we took off towards the East China Sea. A mere 20 minutes later, the service began with a choice of drinks with amuse bouche. I was rather surprised as not many airlines offer amuse bouche in business class, as most opt for warm nuts. I was completely oblivious, however, to the fact that my food intake was about to increase dramatically. After serving me the amuse bouche, the flight attendent asked me about my choice of my lunch. The menu reads as the following:
And the drink menu is much longer, so brace yourself:
I began my meal with the drunken shrimp as the starter. They were excellent, as they were marinated perfectly and the potato chips complimented their texture harmoniously. And who does not like munching on large shrimps without a worry in the world?
I had the starter with a blueberry mocktail, one of the signature drinks on offer. I had always been curious to try Finnair’s signature drinks as they are plastered all over their promotional materials. It was absolutely delicious, and it was the only drink I ordered three times during the flight. I would try the alcoholic versions soon on my other flights, but I will stick to normal bottled alcohol first on this journey. Interestingly, all three times, the flight attendant seemed to be clueless in regards to what I wanted to order, and had to read the ingredient list on the menu before heading back to the galley for preparation. I thought these drinks are super popular? Granted, Chinese mostly do not drink cocktails, as we are more of a chugging industrial-alcohol-level-shots-down-the-throat kind of people. Next up was my main course. I chose the steak, a visible mistake(or you can say misteak). It was more of a meat patty than steak, as the texture of fully cooked steak is just not yummy, even though everything else is executed perfectly. The vegetable puree, the caramelized onions, and the sauce were all great, but the default thorough cooking for all airplane food just renders the steak not attractive. A for effort though.
After taking my main course off the table, I was asked if I wanted anything else. That is a strange way to ask for dessert options, and I took both the cheese plate and the fruit plate, along with a Port dessert wine. The cheese course is excellent, hitting all the tartiness, sweetness and savory parts of my tongue, completing the entire journey of cheese aftertastes in just a few minutes. Except the blue cheese, fuck you blue cheese. Seriously, what kind of sick mind thinks growing mold on spoiled milk is yummy? Oh right, the French. A fruit plate is always appreciated as a substitute for carb bombs such as ice creams or cakes, and Finnair specifically added extra blueberries to make it more Nordic, nice! Yet, the journey towards obesity was not over yet, as it turned out, Finnair had the most intense weight-gain catering program of every airline I have ever taken. (Qatar’s buffet style does not count, as they do not proactively offer you all the dishes all the time.) In the remaining 7 hours of the flight, I was offered food on a nearly hourly basis. Seriously. First up was the large trays of juicy candies and chips placed in the front and the back of cabins. They are noticeably Finnish and delicious.
Then after about 2 hours after the termination of lunch service, the crew rolled down a cart filled to the brink with muffins, cakes, and other baked goods for the Finnish coffee break. Similar to the Swedish fika I experienced before, this is called kahvikustut in Finnish. How could I say no to the typical Finnish tradition? And just an hour after that, the crew proceeded with even more calories, a fruit cup. How do they know I am a sucker for fruits?
Just another hour later, we were handed freshly made sandwiches, no questions asked. Nope, not even “are you sure you are not hungry after we have been consistently feeding you for the past 6 hours like a foie gras duck ready to be harvested?” I slowly chowed down on the ham and cheese, while weeping tears of struggle: I am not gonna lose any weight in 2020, am I? Finally, 90 minutes before landing, the nail in the coffin came: pre-landing meal. It was served on one tray, and turned out to be surprisingly good. The main course was significantly better than the previous one. The Chinese black peppercorn beef was very juicy and tender, and the rice tasted perfect and not overcooked. The watercress was also not stale and yellow, but a lush green.
Wait, you say I missed talking about sleeping on board? What sleep? Ah you mean lying down in the comfy lie-flat seat underneath a blanket while struggling to hold back the urge to punch those children playing tag using my shoes?
Yes, children, the only thing worse than a baby you can encounter on an airplane, or in your life in general. I was surprised upon boarding that there was an alarmingly large number of kids around me. The first three rows, excepe me, were all a group of mother-child pairs seemingly traveling together. No dads were involved, probably because the upper class Chinese husbands need to work over the holidays, so the mommies decided to go on a group vacation: ALL IN BUSINESS CLASS. How rich can they be? It turned out that the entire mini-cabin in the back was also theirs, so that meant they took over nearly 25 seats in the business class cabin, with kids no older than 6 years old each taking up a seat. While waiting for the plane to depart, one boy, gnawing on the tray table, told his 6-year-old seatmate: “I only fly business class, how can people even fly in economy?” The other replied, while demolishing the entertainment screen with a dinosaur toy: “Yeah, I don’t understand, how can you sit with another person touching you? Next time we should try first class.” I decided to put on my earphones after that, as I was silently weeping for the fact that when I was their age, I was literally chewing dirt in the mountain behind my house in Taiwan.
Sadly, the rest of the flight was just filled with kids running around playing tag in the cabin, or them shouting “I don’t want it!!!” whenever presented with anything. The moms were clearly on vacation mode, so they did not bother parenting those already-spoiled kids at all when presented with a large list of free alcohol. While the lights were dimmed, the kids were screaming and yelling loudly while throwing things at each other, and obviously my frustration reached a peak when a shoe flew straight into my face. I quietly told the kids to fuck off while the moms were just casually chatting up about the newest handbag trend, so I got no apology whatsoever. It was also hilarious that sometimes the hostesses had to do the parenting for them, as they repeatedly told the kids not to try crushing their toys in the seat-relcining mechanisms, and not to throw food off the table as it could be hard to clean. The kids, however, were quite well versed in English, and they usually agreed to the terms without much complaints. So yeah, sleep, what is that? I stared my bloodshot eyes into the void the entire flight, while hoping that nothing lethal comes flying my way.
I will spare you the trouble of words: the service is not polished. I am not sure how or why, but I felt like the flight attendants do not care sometimes, and some other times they do. Why? Well, after I sat down on my seat, while offering choices of pre-departure beverages, the flight attendants took all those moms’ coats and jackets to hang them in the galley, and did not offer me the same. I requested for my coat to be hanged, and she said “sure, be right back.” And guess what, like many fathers, she never came back, so I had my jacket lying around the entire flight. The same thing applied to the champagne glass, so I held onto the glass as we took off and I had to eventually put it back to the galley myself once seat belt sign had come off. This is not even the way you treat economy passengers, let alone someone who paid less than economy sitting in business class, like myself. Wait, that does not help with my argument. But you get what I mean right?
Some other times, the flight attendants really wanted to talk to me and ask me about my experiences, even though they were kept busy constantly with kids pushing call buttons for fun. One even asked me why I did not touch the blue cheese, and we had a laugh about the concept of cheese. I guess they have good attention but not good training, so I am a bit torn on the quality of service I got. Yet, objectively, ignoring customers is not good, even though there are unruly little demons running about, so I think I should not give credit where it is not due.
I watched a few movies and tried to keep my blood pressure low, and we finally reached Helsinki after seemingly an eternity. I do not dislike kids, but I abhor spoiled and uncontrolled kids. As the small humans were finally getting tired, I turned on the camera and watched our plane slowly descend into the snowy Helsinki.
We quickly parked next to a Sichuan A330, avoiding the huge bank of incoming flights on the horizon. I thanked the crew as I disembarked the plane, and decided to check out the international side lounge. I had visited it multiple times during the Voyager series, but I heard it had recently got a facelift, so why not?
Finnair International Lounge Helsinki
The entrance of the lounge is near Gate 50, and you can access it even if you are like me, transiting from a long haul international flight into an intra-EU one. Just remember that the immigration line can be long sometimes and prepare accordingly, you can be fine.
Interestingly, this is not Finnair’s best lounge, even though I was already flying on the highest possible cabin class. This is because there is a separate entrance to a different area for OneWorld Emerald members, where there is a sauna and a-la-carte dining. What!? Finnair is probably the only airline giving alliance members better treatment than their own highest cabin passengers. Yet this newly improved lounge is very good, in a Nordic sense, and you shall see why. A ton of seating options are available, and per Finnish traditions of avoiding contact with strangers at all costs, the privacy is rather good with a lot of these chairs. There are even self-served entrance and an unmanned exit: you do not have to talk to anyone if you don’t want to.
Sadly my old home that I visited so many times, the lone sleeping pod in the corner, was gone, and now there is no option to nap any more, which is a shame. I especially adore the clothing racks to hang coats, which really makes this a homey place. There is a snack bar in the front and then a large seating area in the back, where it is sub-divided into a dining area, a bar area, and finally a darker deep end for relaxing. No large sofas or huge tables, just as expected for Finnish minimalism.
The bar is especially beautiful, and formed as the centerpiece of this establishment. There is constantly a flow of people coming to and fro from the bar, as it is the only source of non-beer alcohol. The lighting fixture above it warmly complemented the cold interior, like a heart powering the space, pumping light throughout. I then took a look at the bathrooms and shower rooms, which are incredibly high-tech. There is an indicator showing the vacancy situation of each shower room, and that is really cool. You can avoid all necessary panic if you are in a suit and hear someone trying to open your door!
Bathrooms are equally elegant as the lounging area, as it truly seems like a top notch dressing room for the top 1%. Then let’s take a look at the food offerings and see how the top 1% of Finland eat. At the snack bar sat a large coffee machine, and as a tea drinker, I surveyed the lady next to me getting cappuccino, and she said it is “good”. There is also a large selection of carb-heavy items on a surface next to it, which includes freshly baked cookies and some chips. There is also a selection of cold dishes like olives and egg salad. They both tasted great.
If you want something a bit more substantial, or healthier, then you have to head to the dining area, where a large row of items was on display as a buffet. A large salad bar and a bunch of freshly cooked potted food under heat lamps formed the main attraction of the selections. Salads included pre-mixed fruit and pasta salads, and also the strangely Nordic favorite lentil salad. Hot food includes sauce-cooked fish, pork cheeks, and a rotating selection of casserole vegetables and meats. The Asian noodle was atrocious though, as it was ghastly overcooked and dry. Most of them are of high quality and cooked in the cleanest kitchen I have ever seen right in the back.
There was also a myriad of cakes and fruits, which were beautifully presented. Drinks are the usual beers on tap, coffee from machine, juices from dispenser, and a rotating fruit smoothie selection. Sadly today it was just mango smoothies, not my favorite blueberry. I ate very little as I had no intention of eating for 20 hours straight. After a 2 hour relaxation, I headed towards the emptry immigration and approached my departure gate for Stuttgart.
AY1453 HEL-STR E190 “Business Class”
The flight to Stuttgart was operated by the regional branch of Finnair called Norra, and used a bus gate. The tiny gate area crammed 3 diferent flights, all to German destinations, so it was incredibly hard to move around. But finally, after 20 minutes of shuffling, I boarded the bus that carried me to the tiny regional Embraer 190 jet.
The business class seat is literally economy class. Like, literally the same. Not even a blocked middle seat, as the plane is already in a 2-2 configuration. There were 2 rows designated as business class on this flight, and only 4 business class passengers. That meant we each got 2 seats to ourselves. The bulkhead seat I was at had good legroom, but that was about it. I received the blanket and pillow from the sole attendant working the business cabin, and watched the de-icing trucks do their work as we were getting ready to depart. Interestingly, in Helsinki the trucks do not come to the planes, but the other way: there is an area where half a dozen de-icing trucks stay put and airplanes go in and out like a conveyer belt to get the work done, which I think improves the efficiency greatly. We took off from Helsinki right on time given the light load.
Once airbourne, I was asked if I would like to have dinner, about 20 minutes after take off. The flight attendant pushed out a cart and offered beef or chicken, and I chose the latter. It is not particularly bad for short haul business class, but honestly nothing on this kind of flight is worth noting about. Maybe except that time British Airways stunned me with their Do&Co late night snack from London to Barcelona, that beef presentation was something! I devoured the food and fell into a much-needed nap.
We landed nearly half an hour before schedule, and I quickly disembarked. I have stood exactly here merely a few weeks ago, being extremely frustrated for missing my flights, so I did not want to stay here one minute more than necessary. I hopped onto a local train and disappeared into the night.
Conclusion and Grading
Finnair is actually pretty good. The seat is relatively modern, crew needs a bit work, but the food offerings and its sheer amount is almost unchallenged. Given the great value it usually presents for many Asia-Europe travellers, I think it is a very good product given that they do not over promise or under-deliver, and in 21st century, that is already a blessing. The airline has extensive coverage in Europe and Asia, especially Japan and China, so the targeted audience is obvious. And for those first time tourists and middle class vacationers, this is more than sufficient.
Finnair A350 Business Class Grading
(Note: I am using the Finnair lounge in Helsinki as ground experience)
- Ground Services: 160
- Hard Product: 160
- Soft Product: 120
- Food and Beverage: 170
- Value: 160
- TOTAL: 770 【GOOD】
Finnair E190 Business Class Grading
(graded using this flight and previous experiences on the ground)
- Ground Services: 130
- Hard Product: 40
- Soft Product: 100
- Food and Beverage: 120
- Value: 90
- TOTAL: 480 【BAD】