My family has always wanted to take a trip to Scandinavia, but we never had the chance to due to time constraints. During the summer of 2016, we intended to take a trip to China to see our relatives. It was also during this time that both of my parents thought it would be a good idea to take the "scenic route" to China, by adding a weeklong stopover in Scandinavia along the way. Understandably, I was extremely excited about the prospect of visiting Europe, which I have never visited before. However, what excited me even more was that certain sectors on our trip would be operated by Finnair's brand-new Airbus A350, which had entered service in December 2015. So long story short, we would be flying Finnair from New York to Helsinki, spend a week touring Scandinavia and Germany, and fly to Beijing from Helsinki on the A350. This sounded like a fairly ambitious trip, as we would be visiting at least 5 countries in the span of a week.
As we would be flying from Helsinki to Beijing, we decided to start our intra-Europe tour in Finland. From New York's JFK airport, Finnair operates one daily flight to Helsinki, using an Airbus A330-300. These aircraft feature 263 seats, which include 45 seats in business class, 45 economy comfort seats, and 178 regular economy seats. Like SWISS' A330, Finnair's A330 features an alternating 2-2-1 or 1-2-1 configuration in business (with the "throne" seats in even-numbered rows), while economy is in the standard 2-4-2 configuration. It's really not much different than your average A330.
Because this flight leaves at roughly 5PM New York time, it will arrive in Helsinki roughly 8 hours later, at 9:00 AM local time. This means that we would have a full day to explore the city of Helsinki. I read many interesting travel articles about how fabulous Helsinki is, and I was looking forward to spending some quality time there.
Before The Flight
Like most Europe flights, we would be departing in the late afternoon. We decided to go to Chinatown in Flushing, Queens and have lunch there, before driving to JFK Airport. This area of Queens is famous for its authentic Chinese and Korean food. There is truly something to satisfy everyone's palate here, and I would definitely recommend a visit if you are in the New York City area!
Fortunately, JFK airport is just 15 short minutes away from Flushing. Since Finnair is a member of OneWorld, we would be departing from Terminal 8, which serves the majority of OneWorld members departing out of JFK. With just one flight per day, the Finnair counter is never crowded. We checked two suitcases in each, and were handed our Nordic-themed boarding passes. Furthermore, we were also able to select seats here (Finnair charges for seat selection before check-in) and my dad and I took one of the two-person rows on the right of aircraft in the very back. Like many other airlines across the world, Finnair aims to preserve their traditional cultural spirit on their flights as much as possible, something I found really unique and enjoyable. All Finnair flights are Nordic-themed, with elements of traditional Finnish culture. Once through security, we proceeded straight to Gate 5, the gate essentially reserved for the daily flight to Helsinki. Finding the gate was relatively easy, with the Helsinki Apple located directly across from it. This is a large sculpture of an apple painted with scenes from Finland, celebrating the daily nonstop flight between Finland and the Big Apple.
August 3, 2016
Finnair flight # AY 6
JFK (New York-Kennedy) - HEL (Helsinki-Vantaa International)
Airbus A330-302 (OH-LTU)
Flight Time 08:35
During The Flight
Boarding commenced on time at 4:50 PM, with OneWorld elites and business class passengers boarding first. I boarded in Group 3, the second to last group I believe. We walked down a jet bridge shared with an American Airlines 737 that was going to Kingston, Jamaica. Boarding was through the L2 door, and I crossed via a galley to the next aisle and proceeded to head back to the rear economy cabin.
Once I boarded the aircraft, however, I wasn't too particularly impressed by the color scheme. These seats are light blue, with several hints of green and white here and there. It just seemed...somewhat odd, considering that the brand image of Finnair doesn't even involve this color scheme. It could be something related to the Nordic culture vibe that Finnair is known for, though.
Image Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Airbus_A330-300_inside.JPG
Seats in the Economy cabin are 18 inches wide, with around 30-31 inches of seat pitch. For some reason, SeatGuru notes that these seats have 32 inches of legroom, which is, unfortunately, not true. When I sat down as far back as I could, my knees were touching the seat in front of me. Not very good for a 5'9" guy, right? I'm not sure what model these seats were, but they were the extremely similar to the economy seats installed on SWISS' A330, and featured the same Panasonic eX2 9-inch entertainment system. These seats also offered a huge amount of recline, though because there is virtually no space between seats, when the person in front reclines you are basically confined in a very small amount of space, with the entertainment screen literally in front of your face. Thus, it was impossible to do any sort of work during the flight on the tray table. At least Finnair has a decent seat width on their A330, compared to KLM, which installed 17.2-inch wide seats on the economy cabins of their A330s - the same seat width you'll find on a 737 or a 10-abreast 777.
After I settled in and hooked my GoPro up to the window, I decided to take a closer look at the entertainment system. This was the thing that could have made the flight enjoyable or unbearable - there was nothing else for me to do on the flight since the extreme reclining capabilities of the seat in front of me would prevent me from doing any useful work. The screen was a first-generation eX2 model from Panasonic, a decent 9-inch diagonal width screen, but with terrible responsiveness. A newer and larger version of the screen, with much smaller bezels and better responsiveness, can be found on aircraft such as Singapore's A380. Generally, the way to gauge the responsiveness of these eX2 screens is to look for a small credit card reader on the bottom. If your screen doesn't have that reader, congratulations, you won't be constantly jabbing your finger at the seat in front of you and bothering the person in that seat. You could also use the remote located inside your armrest as an alternative solution.
With that being said, a video reminding passengers to stow their bags under the seat or in the overhead bins and buckle their seat belts for takeoff, etc. was playing on the IFE screens. While this would have been helpful to first-time flyers, I found it slightly unnecessary, especially as half of the video was dedicated to advertisements (upgrade to economy comfort or business while on the plane, join the Finnair Plus Frequent Flyer Program, etc.) I also placed the pillow, blanket (with traditional Finnish designs by Marimekko), and the complimentary bottle of water under the seat in front of me.
Boarding finished in about 30 minutes, and we even pushed back a couple of minutes early. After both engines were started up, the safety video was shown, and we began taxiing to the active runway behind an Air Berlin A330 heading to Düsseldorf. Moments later, the engines roared to TO/GA power and we leaped off the runway with a fairly steep climbout over Nassau County, Long Island. We made a turn northeast to intercept the Boston VOR, where we would then continue over the Atlantic Ocean to Helsinki.
Once the seatbelt sign turned off, a video was shown explaining the in-flight procedures, with items such as how the meal service would be conducted, how to buy gifts using the Finnair duty free shop, etc. Once this was done, the entertainment system was unlocked. I was pleased to find that Finnair installed downward-facing and forward-facing cameras just in front of the nose landing gear on their A330s. Although the image quality wasn't great, it would definitely be useful if you are stuck in the middle column of four seats and want to look outside at the terrain down below (which happened to me on the return flight). The entertainment selection itself was acceptable; it had a fair amount of English and international movies (around 80 total), as well as a similar amount of TV shows and games. Music, however, was grouped into channels, and it was not possible to select a specific song to listen to, unfortunately. Furthermore, each TV show only contained a few episodes, so it wouldn't be ideal for people who haven't seen these shows before.
30 minutes after takeoff, the meal service commenced. First, moist towels were distributed to every passenger. You could choose between chicken with pesto or potatoes or pasta with herbs and cheese. I decided to get the pasta, which came with a bread roll, salad, cheese with crackers, and chocolate as dessert. The portion of the pasta was small, but was very tasty for airplane food. After the trays were collected, each passenger was offered a selection of coffee, tea, or water. I apologize for wolfing down the food and not taking a picture of it before eating.
After the trays were cleared away for dinner, I decided to watch a short historical documentary on the beginnings of rocketry in Europe. I also played Bejeweled 2 (almost ALL eX2 IFE systems have this game for some reason) as well before taking a quick nap. I should mention that the blankets that Finnair provides in economy class are of a fairly high quality, and do a good job of keeping you warm despite the low cabin temperatures on Finnair flights. Despite the fact that the seat in front of me was reclined right in front of my face and my knees were jammed into the seat in front of me, I managed to sleep right until the start of the breakfast service. I should mention that there was a duty free shopping service while I slept, which consisted of flight attendants pushing carts of items for purchase down the aisle looking for potential buyers. Finnair is particularly aggressive when it comes to trying to sell everyday items as part of their duty-free collection onboard their international flights.
I woke up as we flew above the United Kingdom, where the Flight Attendants were starting to give out bagel sandwiches and drinks as part of the breakfast service. Although there was no choice, the bagel sandwich contained peppers, lettuce, cucumbers, and cheese. Not only did it seem very healthy, but it was very tasty as well. I had a hot tea to go along with the sandwich, and it was more than filling for me.
As we cruised over Scandinavia, I could not help but look out at the sprawling fields that make up much of this land. Those lush green fields stand out in contrast to the busy city life I experience every day back in New York. It was just really refreshing to take my mind away from the "hustle and bustle" of New York.
We started out descent into Helsinki not long after. I really enjoyed seeing the Finnish landscape from above - small towns separated by vast fields really started off the European adventure in the right spirit. 10 minutes before landing, the seatbelt sign turned on, and connecting flight information was displayed on the entertainment screens. Shortly after, we made a U-turn and landed 8 minutes ahead of schedule on runway 22L. From there, it was a short 2-minute taxi to terminal 2, which was fairly empty considering none of Finnair's international aircraft (other than flights from Chicago, Miami, and now San Francisco as of June 2017) are at the airport in the morning. I bid farewell to the crew, and stepped into the mostly-empty and bright terminal 2 at Helsinki-Vantaa airport. Passport control was extremely efficient, and I was at the baggage drop within 15 minutes of deplaning (this process was faster than some of the domestic flights that I have taken back in the states!) I went right outside to the bus terminal, and took the 615 bus straight into Hakaniemi, a popular tourist district within walking distance of downtown Helsinki.
Immediately after we arrived at the Cumulus Hakaniemi hotel (Siltasaarenkatu 14, Helsinki, Finland), a chic, inviting property featuring modern Finnish decor, we decided to explore the surrounding neighborhood of Hakaniemi. This district has a really antique feeling to it, with most buildings built in the traditional European style. Furthermore, it also features some cobblestone-paved streets, a rarity in the Continental United States. I was taken aback by how Helsinki's antique vibe juxtaposed directly to the intimidating and busy feeling New York gives off. We walked from Hakaniemi to downtown Helsinki, essentially a sprawling shopping district lined with shops and malls here and there, for dinner.
The next morning, we kicked off our Helsinki adventure by going to Senate Square and visiting the Helsinki Cathedral in Kruununhaka, the largest of its kind in Finland. We then went to the Kauppatori ("market square" in Finnish) to try some authentic Finnish foods. Kauppatori is located near the Finnish Presidential Palace, and right next to the Baltic Sea, offering some impressive views. It's also located at the eastern end of Esplanadi, a large urban park that I deem to be the "Central Park of Helsinki."
After this, we visited the Temppeliaukio church, a Lutheran church in the Töölö district of Helsinki. This church is very unique in that it was built directly into a giant slab of solid rock.
Our next destination was Sibelius Park, also located in Töölö. This park, which contains the Sibelius monument (a series of metal pipes welded in a wave-like pattern), pays homage to Jean Sibelius, the composer of Finland's national anthem.
We wrapped up today's Helsinki tour by heading back to the downtown area to grab some dinner. Along the way, we visited a fairly luxurious neighborhood that consisted of many hotels similar to what you would find in a high-end residential district of New York, as well as many exotic cars parked on the sidewalk. I wonder who lives here...
I was fairly impressed with what Finnair had to offer on this transatlantic flight. Sure, the seat pitch was not ideal, but what really stood out to me was how proud the Flight Attendants, and the airline itself in general, were of their Finnish heritage. Stepping onboard the aircraft, I felt like I was already in Finland, with all sorts of decor arranged in the aircraft to induce a sense of Finnish cultural pride. Although the seat pitch was very small and the large recline meant that the seat in front of me would be directly in my face, I still managed to sleep comfortable throughout the 8.5-hour flight. The entertainment contained a fairly decent selection of movies, TV shows, and games. The exterior cameras that Finnair has decided to install was a fairly creative idea, especially since I don't know of any other airline that has exterior cameras on their A330s. Furthermore, the food itself was delicious, compared to what U.S. airlines and transatlantic giants such as British Airways and Air France are serving onboard its flights. Although I wouldn't go out of my way to fly Finnair's A330, it is definitely a very solid product and I wouldn't recommend not flying with Finnair. However, I will reiterate that if you are extremely tall, you should opt for a bulkhead economy comfort or business class seat. Overall, I though this flight was very enjoyable, and I look forward to flying again with Finnair in the future.