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Monday 23 September 2013

Flying long haul with Finnair (NRT-HEL) Part 1


A big thank you to the Qualityhunter's team from Finnair and Helsinki Airport for making this trip very much possible. This trip is significant because it is not only my first time experiencing the airline's long haul flight, it's also my first time flying on J class to Europe. This would be my 2nd time flying out of Japan to Europe, the last time I did this was in 2005, Japan Airlines's Boeing 747-400 (NRT-AMS route).

Once the flights were confirmed, I had to settle the accommodation in Tokyo and Osaka and that was done quickly. Soon, I was ready to go! Attending the Qualityhunter's workshop is definitely an honour to be invited and I was very much looking forward to the workshop. If you are interested to take part in the next workshop (invitation only), do participate in the discussion either on Facebook or Twitter. Do follow @Qualityhunter, @Finnair and @HelsinkiAirport. Check out Qualityhunters to find out more about this. I think this is a great initiative by the airport and airline to understand travellers more and vice verse.

The downsides about this trip were I wasn't able to stay longer to enjoy the cities that I was visiting and also the trip turned out to be quite rush.

For part 2, click here.

                                            My flight route 

I will be describing my experience from the start to the end of this beautiful trip, so sit back - have a cup of coffee and some cakes and more importantly, please enjoy!

                                               My itinerary

Finnair's website is basic, nothing much to shout about. Basically, the functions you need are all there. The website could do with some updating though like a more attractive webpage and photos of business class meals similar to the one I had with Thai Airways, better seat map - seat map preferably on the same page. A mobile application would also be great! On the bright side, the website worked fine - no problems at all -even on my iPhone and Ipad and that's the most important thing.

On the day itself 

I woke up at around 5 in the morning, and checked out half an hour later. I did a quick check on my Flightradar24 (An application to check for aircraft's movement) to check what registration of the aircraft was I flying on and it was OH-LQB, Finnair's own Airbus A340-300. I was hoping for OH-LQD, better luck next time! Anyway, I didn't know how long I would take to reach Narita Airport, so I decided to leave earlier just to play safe. I took the JR line from Minami-Senju station to Nippori. I was very confused where the trains were going and I knew there were some trains that skipped certain stations, I wasn't sure about the one I took, but I decided to take the risk. Taking the trains in Japan for a foreigner like myself is not exactly easy until you are familiarized with the system. Fortunately, I took the right one and my train stopped at Nippori, just a 10-minutes ride. From there, I had to buy 2 tickets (Didn't know until someone explained to me) to board the Keisei Skyliner express train to Narita Airport. The cost of the tickets is about 4200 Yen, but the journey to Narita Airport was fast. The ride took only 36 minutes to get to the airport. When I got to the airport, it was 15 minutes to 8. I had plenty of time left as my flight only departed at 11.

I went to the Domestic terminal to collect my luggage then took the free shuttle bus to the International terminal.

                   Some photos of Narita Airport terminal 2's interior

Not much difference since the last time I was here in 2005. 

Simulator anyone? 

Checking in at the Finnair Counter

The counters were not opened at that time, but I decided to wait anyway, wanted to do explore the terminal before checking out the Qantas lounge. About 10 minutes later, my check-in was completed and was served by the wonderful Japanese staff who was quite chatty with me. A good start, that's for sure!

Got my boarding pass and even though I had the priority security, I ended up queuing the usual way. It didn't take long though and soon I was at the departure hall.  

Signs are everywhere so it was easy to get around. The next place I headed to was to the Qantas lounge. I heard that location is great for some plane-spotting. 

Almost there!

Underwhelming! I felt like I was in the 90s. 

It doesn't matter, when I went into the lounge, this was what that caught my attention! 

So it was, I had a fun 45 minutes or so spotting some planes. Here are some of the aircraft I caught. 

                                     Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8

                                 British Airways Boeing 777-300ER

                              Asia Atlantic Airlines Boeing 767-300ER

                                    Philippines Boeing 777-300ER

                                     Japan Airlines Boeing 767-300

                       American Airlines Boeing 777-200ER (Old livery)

                                   Cathay Pacific Boeing 777-300

                                    Japan Airlines Boeing 787-8

Japan Airlines Boeing 737-800 (Still prefer this livery)

                             Which flight would you like to be on?  

Qantas lounge at Tokyo Terminal 2 


The lounge itself was about 1/4 full. It's quite small compared to other major airports. The ambience is pleasant but what attracted me most is the ability to take great photos from this location. Free wifi is available over here, there is no need to log in or anything, just hooked onto it and you are online. There are AC plugs for you to do your work with your laptop or charge your handphone and you can do it in front of the window. That's what I basically did. I had 2 cameras and an Ipad (Flightradar) and some food and drink in front of me. So whenever a plane passed by, I will snap some shots of it. I was afraid of disturbing the others, but thank goodness the others were preoccupied with their own stuff. However, the food was a disappointment. The selection was lacking and when I tried it, it wasn't really that nice. I ate a bowl of cereal and some cakes plus a cup of Orange juice and that was it. 

Overall, I would give this lounge a rating of 6/10. 

                                   Screens at the departure hall

Screens at the lounge

Have to keep track of my flight! Can't afford to miss it. 

                                  Observation deck (Terminal 2)

It was back-lit at this time (morning), so it would be better to photograph at terminal 1 instead. For this deck, you are able to photography mostly the Oneworld members and of course one of the local airlines, Japan Airlines. I saw a few aircraft such as the 787 and 777. Gone were the days where many Boeing 747s were sighted.

Almost time to board, I couldn't wait to settle down for my 10 hours flight to Helsinki! 

My ride, OH-LQB, an Airbus A340-300.

I never like flying the Airbus A340-300, it is one of the most under-powered aircraft in the market. However, for this trip, I was glad I was flying on it because it would be my first time sitting at the very front of the aircraft. I wanted to observe how quiet it is compared to sitting behind the wings. 

Happy to be on board this flight!

Carrier: Finnair
Flight: AY74
Route: NRT-HEL
Aircraft: Airbus A340-313X
Configuration: C42Y227
MSN: 835
Registration: OH-LQB
Delivered: 25th May 2007
Flight time: 10 hrs 
Engines: 4X CFM56-5C4/P
Seat number: 3L 
Departure time:1100 
Actual departure: 1110 
Take off: 1126
Scheduled arrival: 1520
Actual arrival: 1510
Gate: 94
Departure runway: 16R 
Arrival runway: 04R 

Finnair's J class seat 

I was able to stretch my leg fully! 

A nice little window in the J class toilet

Y class cabin 

Unfortunately, I only had J class shots on this aircraft, so here are some shots from other photographers. This cabin is Finnair's product with its own configuration. At this point, the airline is also operating 3 2nd-hand A340-300s. They are OH-LQA, OH-LQF and OH-LQG. OH-LQA used to operate for Virgin Atlantic, whilst LQF and LQG used to operate for Air France. The configuration of the cabins is different. For more info on the configuration, please check it out at Finnair's fleet webpage.

My in-flight experience

The queue to board the aircraft was a bit messy, luckily I didn't have to wait long to board the aircraft. Both J and Y class were full, no wonder the A340-300 is used on this route during this period. Once boarding started, the Business passengers and the Economy class passengers that need special assistance boarded first. Heading down the aerobridge and entering the first cabin. I was welcomed by a set of crew, both Finnish and Japanese crew. Looking at my ticket and showed me where my seat was with a big smile. That's a good start! Always great to feel welcome from the start of the flight! Once I made my way to my seat, most of the business class passengers were there, so I couldn't take many photos. I settled down on my seat and started looking around to get myself familiar with the system. The seat was comfortable and I had no problem stretching out my legs. It was a great feeling to have ample room of leg space for a long trip like this, I couldn't wait to get started! Once boarding was completed, our welcome drink was served. I had a glass of champagne to celebrate this moment and soon the aircraft was pushed back. The safety video was played and both the food and drink menu was distributed. Since I had already selected my meal via the website, I would just order the drink. 

I always find the airline food served outbound of Japan to be nicer than most places, so hopefully this time around, I won't be disappointed.

We took around 10 minutes to reach the threshold of runway 16R. We had a few aircraft in front of us and in no time, we took off from the runway in the usual A340 style! The cabin noise of the take-off was definitely quieter in front but the take-off power of the aircraft was very sluggish but it was very gentle and comfortable. Once we reached to a certain attitude, the aircraft made a change in heading and we were in the direction of North-west to our destination, Helsinki. As far as I know, flying the Airbus or Boeing aircraft plane is pretty easy now, the auto-pilot does all the work. What the pilots need to do is to monitor the system, ensuring that the aircraft is following instructions from them.

Once the aircraft passed FL100, the seat belt sign was switch off and the in-flight crew were in action. While waiting for the crew to serve us lunch, I took some photos of the seat pocket in front and the PTV.

                                The magazines and the safety card

The J class seat

I played around with the seat, setting it to a full recline mode, it is an angled bed so you don't actually lie completely flat. It is fine for me actually. I managed to get a couple of hours of sleep during the flight, so that was pretty good. The buttons on the side were easy to recognize so adjusting it to whatever you want is not a problem. There is also a laptop power socket in between the seats, very useful for business travellers. However, there is no USB cable port for your mobile phones or tablets.

In-flight entertainment

I love the moving map and the flight info.

This IFE system comes with AVOD. So if you want to pause, rewind and forward the movie you are watching, no problem with that. The system is easy to use and it won't take long for you to figure out and that is a good thing.  However, the size of the PTV is small, its quite hard to see especially when the cabin lights are on. Watching movies with a dark background was a problem for me, as I saw more of the reflection of the cabin light than the movie itself.  Using the remote control to check out the content of the PTV, it was not a problem. This PTV is touch-screen, another way to adjust the settings if you need to. The movie selection was disappointing as there were not many choices. The airline should consider upgrading its system perhaps adding in more features like a Gate-to-Gate system where users can enjoy using it before take-off until arrival at the gate, more in-flight movies, music to its current portfolio, nose camera ...etc So that this would make the flying experience with the airline even better especially on day-flights like mine.

Every business class passenger would be provided with a toiletry bag which includes earplugs and eye masks if you need. Sorry, I don't have a photo of it.

After finishing exploring the J class in-flight products, I  watched some movies while waiting for lunch to be served. The flight was very smooth throughout very little bits of bumps in between but I remembered the seat belt sign didn't come on until final approach.

Soon, the Japanese crew came and served us our appetizer and drink!

 I wanted to eat it together with the full meal so that I could take a photo all together, but I changed my mind after that. I am not too sure what is this call. Does anyone know what this appetizer is called?

I had a choice of Amuse Bouche Rolled Pancetta and semi-dried tomato pinchos, Shrimp salad and mango with roast beef and beef consomme. 

Shrimp Salad with Mango and Roast Beef was my choice

The roast beef is absolutely delicious, I wished I could ask for a 2nd serving. The others are quite good as well, I have to say this has to be one of my favourite appetizers (comparing to other J class flights I had) so far. 

After about 10 minutes, the main course was served with the table set up by the crew. This Japanese crew was professional and like the others, she served my partner and I with a smile on her face. That's what I am talking about!

As for the main course, I had a choice of Nordic style salmon potato layer cake with lemon butter sauce,
Oven-baked marinated pork with ginger sauce, steamed rice and sauteed mixed vegetables and
Japanese Style Chicken with steamed rice
                  I chose the Japanese style Chicken with Steamed Rice

Well, this meal was a bit disappointing. The chicken sauce was quite saltish, but eating it with the rice wasn't too bad. The plus was the meal was warm (just nice) and the portion was just right, not too much or too little.

As for dessert, I had a choice of either Assorted petit fours (cake) or Vanilla ice-cream. I feel there should be more options like Japanese dessert or maybe another ice-cream flavour instead of Vanilla.

                                       Assorted petit fours

It was not enough for me, I wanted more to be honest. Anyway, I can't be too greedy. In addition to this, I had a cup of green tea before settling down and enjoying a movie before taking a short nap.

The cabin noise of the aircraft was a bit loud, so I used the headphone to sleep, it doesn't shut off all the noise, but good enough for me to block out most of it and therefore able to catch some quality rest.

In-flight service

A set of  Finnish and Japanese crew worked together in my section. The Japanese crew did the serving while the Finnish crew helped out the other areas. I was told that the Japanese passengers prefer to be served by the local crew and therefore the Japanese crew does the serving on this flight, I guess the Finnish crew will do the serving on the HEL-NRT sector. My crew on this flight were professional and helpful. No complaints about any of them. They were helpful and did their jobs well. Throughout the flight, the crew walked around from time to time to check whether we needed an assistant and that was great. I told a few of my friends working for certain airlines that if your airline loses out to others in term of hardware, make it up by having better in-flight service. For me, that comes first before IFE. I want to be treated well and with respect. Equality is the word - All passengers to be treated fairly regardless of skin colours and I judge the crew heavily on this area. This set of crew passed the test with flying colours.

After the short nap, I watched another movie and after that, it was time for the 2nd meal of the flight.

I had a choice of Penne Bolognese, bell pepper and parmesan cheese, panna cotta with fresh fruits and mango sauce or Bento Box containing assorted sushi, green tea soba, grilled horse mackerel and grapefruit jelly served with fresh fruits and coffee or tea.

                                       I chose the Bento Box

It tasted quite nice, I enjoyed having a Japanese meal like this at FL350. At this point in time, I was engaged in a conversation with my seatmate who took an interest in what I was doing. It was quite a pleasant chatting session and now we are in touch via email. It's nice to make some new friends while flying. 

For the rest of the flight, I spent my time chatting with my seatmate and before I knew it was time to land. The usual checks by the cabin crew to ensure that all of us followed the safety regulation of flying and we touched down smoothly on runway 04R. Once the aircraft reached the gate, I bid farewell to my seatmate and the crew then I made my way to town not long after.

For more of Helsinki, a glimpse of Quality Hunter's workshop and Helsinki Airport, stay tuned for my part 2.

                 Took some window shots of the A340-300 at work.

                          Slow climb but it was steady and smooth.

Lovely weather in Helsinki

A smooth touch-down by the flight crew

My rating

Website: 6/10

On-ground service at NRT: 8/10
Qantas lounge: 8/10
In-flight service: 8/10
Seat comfort: 8/10
Aircraft cleanliness: 10/10
Cabin Ambiance: 10/10
In-flight meal: 7/10
PTV: 6/10
Punctuality: 10/10
Total score: 81/100


Finnair may not have the best Business Class product out there, but the in-flight service is good, its better than most European Airlines that I had flown before. One of the top airlines in Europe, that's for sure. Of course, there is room for improvement in certain areas like the in-flight product, but the airline would look at this definitely when it introduces the A340-300 replacement, the A350-900 which will arrive in the near future. For the price that this airline is offering from Asia to Europe, its certainly worth it even on Economy class. I give this airline a thumb up!

Thank you for reading my part 1 of my "Flying long haul with Finnair (NRT-HEL)!

Click here for part 2.

Thanks for reading. 

Charles Ryan Teo