Finnair, which promotes its flights via Helsinki as “the shortest northern route between Europe and Asia”, invited ITTN’s Neil Steedman to check out the airline’s A350 XWB service to Singapore.
Look at an atlas and Finnair’s claim to offer the shortest routes from Dublin via Helsinki to Asia may seem incorrect, but look at a globe and its truth becomes clear, with Helsinki providing ‘Great Circle’ routes to Thailand (three destinations), Vietnam, Singapore, China (seven), South Korea, and Japan (four). Singapore is the longest at 9,272km, with a flight time of 11h30m from Helsinki.
Finnair is also the first European airline to fly the new Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, in which the fuselage is 33cm wider than A330/A340 aircraft. The A350 XWB is quieter inside and outside compared to previous generation aircraft and provides a 25% improvement in fuel efficiency.
Dublin – Helsinki
Check-in lanes at Dublin Airport’s T1 were for ‘Economy’ or ‘Priority’ (Oneworld Green, Blue and Red). As I was flying Economy Class to Helsinki and Business Class to Singapore I was given seats 9F and 1L respectively, with a lounge invitation for Helsinki, but not Dublin.
Boarding was due to commence at 17.30 but the aircraft arrived at 17.42, so we didn’t board until 17.58. The aircraft, which was not a Finnair one but an Embraer ERJ-190 operated by NoRRA (Nordic Regional Airlines), took off at 18.37 for the 3h10m flight to Helsinki, with some, myself included, wondering about our connections at Helsinki.
Onboard, the cabin crew offered salads or sandwiches for €7 or an antipasta platter (prawn, cheese, chutney and cracker) for €10, or for €13 with a 33cl can of 5.3% Karhu beer (which were fine, if a little pricey). Snacks, sweets and beverages were €2-€5, wines €7, spirits €6, and champagne €12.
Finnair claims: “Enjoy the compact and uncrowded Helsinki Airport. Connections are within 400 metres, about a 20-minute walk including passport control” – and it’s true!
All gates and services are under one roof in one terminal building and transits are swift: we touched down at 23.15, reached the stand at 23.21, were bussed to the terminal, and, after a quick toilet stop, I was at my departure gate by 23.35, just 30 minutes after landing.
Ten minutes later I was onboard my flight to Singapore – but need not have worried about missing the connection because Finnair had emailed notice of a delayed departure time: “as we are waiting for several European connecting flights”.
Helsinki – Singapore
Business Class on Finnair’s A350-900 has 46 seats in a 1x2x1 herringbone configuration, so my 1L seat was angled towards the window and quite private. The 40.6cm (16”) multi-touch screen swings out and water, slippers, a Marimekko amenity kit, and (excellent) Phitek noise-cancelling headphones are provided. Cabin crew offered champagne, fruit juices or water.
We were originally scheduled to depart at 23.55 but, having waited for those other incoming flights, eventually pulled back at 00.48 and took off at 01.03.
The inflight entertainment system is good (once I had got the cabin crew to find the English language version!) with a wide selection of films and music – although not as comprehensive as on some other airlines.
The signature midnight and breakfast menus are by Swedish top chef Tommy Myllymäki and offers Nordic flavours from Nordic ingredients, with main courses being Cod with Parsnip, Onions, Potatoes and Anchovies; Braised Ox Cheek with Baked Celery, Kale and Apple; Chicken Salad with Honey Marinated Oats; and Creamy Jerusalem Artichoke Soup with Cep Mushrooms and Pears.
There is a choice of five cocktails, champagne, three white wines, three red wines, and two dessert wines.
The fully-flat, wide and long Zodiac Cirrus III seat (with in-seat power and USB socket) is exceptionally comfortable and a great sleep was had before awakening to a hot towel and orange juice.
We touched down at Singapore’s Changi International Airport at 16.48 and 40 minutes later, after Immigration, baggage collection, toilet, Information Desk and Currency Exchange, I was in a taxi headed for the Hotel Jen Tanglin Singapore by Shangri-La (see: www.ittn.ie/news/hotel-check-hotel-jen-tanglin-singapore-by-shangri-la/).
Singapore – Helsinki
Changi has been declared ‘World’s Best Airport’ in the Skytrax Awards for the past six years – and it is easy to see why. It is spacious, clean, with numerous shops and restaurants. There is free wi-fi when you input a code provided by Information on production of your passport – allegedly free for three hours but I used it for 3.5 hours.
If you provided thumb prints at Immigration on arrival, you can use automated Immigration lanes on departure by scanning your passport and providing one thumb print.
My return sector to Helsinki was in Economy Class, which on the A350 XWB is in a 3x3x3 configuration. The smart interior has a sky blue ceiling, bigger windows, newly designed overhead storage bins, less curved sidewalls, and LED mood lighting.
A bottle of water is provided, but my aisle seat 33J was in front of a bulkhead and so did not recline as far as seats in other rows. The food was not exceptional and the sound on the inflight entertainment, at least at my seat, was not good, which was a little frustrating on an 11-hour flight. I suggest that travel agents recommend that clients pay the extra €60 for Economy Comfort (see below).
On the return I had time to visit the Business Lounge in Helsinki Airport. The Finnair Lounge, to which I was directed, is for Business Class travellers and Oneworld frequent flyer members, and there is also a Premium Lounge for Finnair Plus Gold, Platinum and Oneworld Emerald and Sapphire tier members. I presume the latter, which includes a Finnish sauna, is better.
Helsinki – Dublin
My Business Class return leg to Dublin was operated by a Finnair A319 and the service was excellent.
Finnair’s Economy Comfort seating option in the front rows of the Economy Class cabin will make Helsinki-Singapore-Helsinki sectors more pleasurable, with priority boarding and exit, 8-13cm (3-5”) more legroom, noise-cancelling headphones, personal amenity kit, and one-hour’s free wi-fi.
Economy Comfort can be booked when making the flight reservation or later through Manage booking. If the flight departs in less than 36 hours, Economy Comfort can be booked during check-in.