Trip report: Finnair Business Class Helsinki – Hong Kong (AY69) A350

Right, well I’m going to start with the worst Finnair flight of the trip, which unfortunately has left the most impact on me since it was so out of the ordinary.

Unfortunately, we were only transiting in Helsinki this time. Having fallen head over heels in love with Helsinki, we’d attempted to change our flights and stop over in Helsinki on the way back home from Amsterdam, but it wasn’t to be. The change fee to do so would have been more than our original business class round-trip ticket. Sigh. The flight from Amsterdam, the other city I’ve fallen head over heels with and have already planned my return to, was stellar. Fabulous crew, a great experience. I’ll detail that in a separate trip report soon.

Transiting at Helsinki airport is super easy and, arriving at around 10 pm, we found the Schengen area eerily quiet. We approached the staff member at the desk at the gate we arrived at and volunteered to be taken off the HKG flight should it be overbooked. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, oh well.

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A quiet Schengen departures area at HEL

Sadly, it was time to exit the EU and prepare for our return to Hong Kong. There were only two immigration officials on duty at the time, and we were the only passengers there, aside from a woman standing around rifling through something in her bag. At that time of night, there are only two flights: Finnair services to Hong Kong and Singapore. With one last kiitos (thank you in Finnish), I took my passport and found myself in a different airport. We had to walk through the duty free, and it was there that I was reacquainted with the joys of Chinese passengers. Shouting where inside voices would do, pushing and shoving, and complete lack of awareness of other people. It was both horrifying and amusing to see one mainland family swarm on the duty free cash register, while the previous customer, another mainland Chinese passenger, was still crouching down zipping up his bag. They were banging into him like he wasn’t there, and yet both parties seemed completely unfazed by it. I told myself to take a big deep breath, this is what I’m returning to! One thing I noticed in duty free land on the way to the lounge is that all the shop staff were all Asian, possibly Chinese speaking to lure those lucrative yet often poorly behaved travellers.

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Cool design in the non-Schengen departures area

On the way to the lounge we passed the tax refund desk, which had just closed. I wasn’t too bothered since the shopping I’d done in Greece would have only netted me a 20 Euro or so refund, but a bunch of Hong Kong women were looking royally pissed off. So, something to consider for anyone travelling to Singapore or Hong Kong on Finnair and wanting that tax back! Get there before 10pm.

At the entrance to the Finnair lounge, two Australian men who later entered the other lounge for elite Oneworld cardholders (I believe that one has the sauna?) were similarly bemused by the noise of passengers, remarking how it was suddenly so quiet inside the lounge. Thankfully it stayed that way, although I did witness some interesting behaviour. A woman who I later saw on our HKG flight walked up to one of the TV areas and attempted to change the channel, in spite of the fact that a passenger was already there watching one of the Olympic events. She told him, the one who was there first, that there were 3 TVs, and he could go watch it elsewhere! The nerve! In the end, another passenger piped up and said that he too was watching the Olympics, and she attempted to change the channel of another TV on the other side of the room, but it didn’t seem like she could find what she wanted to watch. What a pity. Am I a bad person for passing her on arrival and loudly commenting to my other half about there being 3 TVs? 😉

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The view from our seats in the lounge. I love the design. Note the ‘fireplaces’ next to the sofas. Wonder if they’re real?

I didn’t take a picture of the lounge offerings, but they were quite basic. The “midnight menu” or whatever it was called was a kind of cheesy pasta, plus there were crackers, fruit, etc. A sign directed passengers with dietary needs to approach the lounge staff. The staff member I approached for gluten free items was extremely helpful and quickly brought some delicious toasted bread and a sweet pastry, which I enjoyed with a cup of hot rooibos tea followed by a glass of Riesling.

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Note the Marimekko napkins and cup

As with all flights to Hong Kong, it was time for that game we call love to play called For the Love of God, Please Do Not Be On My Flight. I can’t be the only one who does this, surely. Spot a bunch of noisy so-and-sos, or a bunch of drunk bogans, or a crying baby? Please don’t be on my flight. Quiet, solo business traveller who you know will be in his pyjamas and out like a light on that flat bed, skipping the meal service? Please be on my flight. Thankfully, most people in the lounge were the latter type. In addition, there were many Finnish families or other Europeans. There were a few mainland Chinese wearing disposable hotel slippers (not the Marimekko ones from Finnair) in the lounge, which mystified me. Is that a thing in China?

It was soon time to board, and wow – what a shock again. It was CHAOTIC. The signage was very, very clear – premium passengers this queue; economy passengers the other one. However, the reality was different. I couldn’t see where the business class queue actually was, since it was just one mob of humanity. Humanity that smelt of stale garlic. An announcement in Cantonese did nothing to create order. The gate agent, however, was obviously much more accustomed to this than we were after 5 weeks away from Hong Kong, and picked us and a few other passengers out of the rubble and allowed us to board. Please note that whether travelling in first, business or economy class, I would have found that sight unpleasant. I just don’t know why it has to be that unpleasant, and why when flying particular routes it’s so much harder to get on a bloody plane.

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The view from my seat

On board, we were welcomed by the Hong Kong-based crew that my Finnair flight attendant had told me about on the Amsterdam flight. Cheaper than Finland-based crew, they are outsourced and work the Hong Kong and Singapore routes. I scanned the cabin and saw an eclectic mix of passengers – families, some louder than others, mainlanders, Hong Kongers and some who appeared to be doing the ‘reindeer route’ to Australia. Like on the flight to Helsinki, waiting at my seat were slippers, a blanket, Bose headphones, menus and arrival documents in a stylish Marimekko folder, and a Marimekko amenity kit (this time in a different pattern – I’m starting a collection!) Boarding was completed at 23:34. I like Finnair’s hotel room service-style breakfast order card, which you fill out at the start of the flight, which gives you the option of being woken up for breakfast and the choice between a quick or full breakfast. I filled out my card as we were waiting on the ground.

 

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I had blueberry juice for the welcome drink

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Welcome drinks were served, and I was surprised when the crew collected my glass that they thanked me in Cantonese. I’m clearly not Chinese and, since I live in Hong Kong, I knew what they were saying, but not all non-Chinese passengers would. Some of the crew members could have performed their pre-takeoff safety checks in a more polished way. For example, they instructed passengers to not charge their phones on takeoff, but this was barked unintelligably as the crew member was walking along (“Nochargingphonefortakeoff”), rather than softly and politely explained, as I had seen our crew do on the flight to Helsinki. However, one crew member really stood out with her cute smile and positive energy, and it seemed like she really wanted to be there.

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Before takeoff, Finnair showcased its new destinations, including my beautiful Fukuoka

 

The family in front of us, consisting of a father in the single aisle seat and two primary school aged sisters in the seats in front of us, were rather loud. The father was intent on sleeping, and loudly instructed his daughters to get ready to sleep, then proceeded to put in his earplugs as his children got louder and more giggly. Thankfully they ended up skipping the midnight meal and went to sleep for most of the flight. The family behind us was much more sedate and, other than one of them snoring, we didn’t notice them at all.

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Home screen (I’d selected the language to Japanese). The timeline details the different stages of the flight, and the password for the free WIFI is given.

I scanned the entertainment options and was disappointed to discover that, halfway into August, they hadn’t been updated from July. Another minus for Finnair’s entertainment is that unlike, say, Emirates, there are no box sets of TV series. Just as you get into a show, you’ve finished the 3-5 episodes they have.

A male flight attendant made the boarding announcements, and unfortunately his English pronunciation wasn’t very clear. The flight attendant serving my row, while possessing superior linguistic competence, seriously needed to work on her pragmatic and intercultural competence. Simply answering “no” and failing to offer an alternative when a passenger asks if they have such-and-such a drink is unacceptable in business class. Additionally, while the bubbly flight attendant with positive energy was serving my husband’s row and kneeling down to speak to passengers and take their drink orders, this one didn’t.

After takeoff, a very long video was played in English and Finnish, which advertised the shopping options, etc. It would be the only Finnish announcement, other than the Captain’s announcement before landing. I wonder how a Finn would feel, not being able to speak their own language on their national carrier?

I started watching a light crime series called The Mysteries of Laura, which I’d got up to episode 3 on my Helsinki flight, when BOOM! Out of nowhere, my tray table is extended and a table cloth is unceremoniously dumped on top of it. It was the rude flight attendant. Whoosh, she’s gone, to do the same to the other passengers. Again, in comparison to my previous A350 flight, this was quite obtrusive. Even when a passenger is watching TV, there are ways of doing it graciously, and it was done with so much more panache on my other flight. Is this really the same airline, Finnair?

Hot towels were handed out by the bubbly flight attendant. Unfortunately, that same towel sat by my arm rest for most of the flight, uncollected. It was only collected when the second hot towel, served before breakfast, was.

The “midnight menu” concept allows passengers to maximise their sleep time, so it is served on one tray without any canapés. Trays are served by hand, with no cart. Drink orders also materialised on these trays. Finnair offers passengers extra options by preordering online, and I had chosen the ‘wellness’ option which was a kind of tangy prawns with cashews and rice. I took a photo of it, but unfortunately it turned out blurry. On the tray was also a salad, bread, cheese and Godiva chocolates. I asked a flight attendant if there was any gluten free bread, which there wasn’t. I wasn’t too fussed since I’d brought my own just in case (there was GF on our intra-Europe sectors), but he was very sweet and well-intentioned, and offered me a vegetarian sandwich and a few other things that were full of gluten 😉 I said not to worry, and gave him my bread to toast for the breakfast service. Later on he came back with a small tray laden with fruit in gorgeous Marimekko tableware, which was really sweet. He and the bubbly flight attendand were the only standout crew on this flight, and I wish I had got their names because they both really shone against their lacklustre colleagues.

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A kind and proactive gesture

Case in point – as I reach for my Riesling, half way through my meal, a hand juts out and attempts to take my tray. What the hell! No excuse me, no attempt to get into my line of vision. It was the same flight attendant who had thrown the table cloth at me. I indicated that I was still eating, but this happened a further THREE TIMES. Every time she passed, I felt like I had to guard my food, lest it be snatched away mid-bite. I eventually acquiesced as her hand darted toward my tray as I was on my last bite of cheese. Now, I am a very slow eater, but is it a crime to take my time with my food, especially when in business class? Other passengers had clearly eaten quickly and then gone to sleep, but it was blindingly obvious I wasn’t that sort of passenger. It was daytime in Hong Kong time for one, and I just wasn’t in the mood to sleep. I’d managed to rescue my half-drunk glass of Riesling as she’d swooped on my tray, which she quickly came back for as well as the tablecloth. Extremely irritated by this point, I putd my hand on the tablecloth and said “No! Leave it!” Unsurprisingly, no refills of wine were offered, or tea and coffee, though the bubbly flight attendant serving my husband, who also wasn’t sleeping, gave him ice cream.

The bubbly flight attendant delivered my pre-ordered Marimekko and Iitala products, which I’m really glad I bought. As I was getting my credit card from my bag, she proactively closed the windowshades of passengers who were asleep. As she rung up the items (I like how Finnair don’t require you to pay until your return flight – I’d changed my mind about a Marimekko teapot I’d preordered and it was no problem), we chatted about where she was based and she said Hong Kong based crew do 2 days and 1 night each time in Helsinki, and said it’s not a lot of time to learn about Finland. What did impress me is her use of Kiitos (thank you), perhaps she thought I was Finnish (happened all the time in Finland, which was cool. A great complement to be mistaken for someone who comes from such a wonderful country), but again showed her commitment. I wish she could have transferred some of her commitment and positive energy to the other crew members, especially the impatient one.

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After some minor turbulence, lights were off at 01:25 Helsinki time, at which time we were flying over Russia. The lights were still on in economy class, which made me remember a recent overnight flight in economy in Singapore Airlines, when it felt like the lights would never be turned off. Some passengers opted to use the overhead reading light rather than the gentler one at their seat, which made the cabin somewhat bright.

I got up to visit the lavatory, and discovered there was no soap. On my previous flight to HEL, the lavatgory soap dispenser hadn’t been filled and instead a presumably ‘nicer’ brand of Finnish pump hand soap was on the sink. I guess this hadn’t been placed, and I informed a crew member. I used my hand sanitiser if you’re curious 😉 but when I visited the lavatory again at around 3am HEL time, the soap was there. At that point in the flight, we were over Omsk and it was light outside.

Even though I was in row 3, I could hear the crew talking in Cantonese in the rear. For a night flight, they really should lower their voices! Nevertheless, I slept for about 90 minutes and woke up on my side, facing the still uncollected towel on the armrest. I used the inflight WIFI for a little to check social media (yes I know, I’m still a hypocrite but I’d seen all the TV series that interested me!), which worked until we were over Chinese airspace.

By this point, I started to regret not planning my sleep a bit more. It’s a weird flight time – an overnight flight on Finnish time, yet a mostly morning/day flight on Hong Kong time. I struggle enough with adjusting to the time when coming back from Europe as it is; I guess I thought sleeping too much would make getting to sleep at a decent hour in Hong Kong difficult. Ho hum, I accepted my tired state and started watching a new (for me) comedy series called Sirens, again unfortunately only 3 episodes.

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Breakfast time

Hot towels were distributed 90 minutes before landing, and the first one was finally collected. For breakfast I chose the egg option, and it came with my toasted gluten free bread. I’d asked for the sausage to be removed, and thankfully it was.

 

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As I was tucking into my meal a flight attendant approached me – and thank goodness it wasn’t the aggressive one coming to poach my meal! It was the kind FA who had given me all that lovely fruit hours earlier. He wanted to know if I was going back to HEL and if he could order me a gluten-free meal for the return journey. What a sweetheart, I really appreciated this proactive gesture. I explained that I live in HKG and don’t eat meat, which means I can’t order the gluten free meal. He then apologised profusely – “You’re in business class and I can’t offer you any of our bread. Can I get you anything else? Would you like me to toast more of your bread?” I accepted his offer, and more yummy toast came with a variety of preserves and a cold towel.

At the same time, his hostile colleague was swooping on other passengers’ meal trays. It had only been about 10 minutes since the service began. If some passengers eat that quickly, sure, take it away, but I found her rushed and forceful presence really annoying. The crew on all our other Finnair flights were so unobtrusive. Later, as she approached me I instinctively put my hand over my food and said “I’m still eating”… a bit awkward when she tersely replied with “I was going to ask if you wanted any tea or coffee”. OK, fine, I’ll have a coffee then!

Perhaps you’re familiar with Hong Kong coffee shops, otherwise known as cha chaa teng. Turnover of customers is quick and waiters are known for their short temper and brusque service. This is honestly what that FA reminded me of. Hardly what you expect in business class, and appalling given the phenomenal FAs we’d had on other AY flights, as well as the example of great service from the two shining crew members on this flight.

38 minutes before landing, there was some turbulence and cabin service was suspended (which gave me time to finish my food without that FA hovering). Of course, it said 38 minutes on the screen but anyone who flies into HKG even occasionally knows how rare it is to land on time without being stuck in a holding pattern!

A little while later, an FA announced we were getting closer to landing and a video was screened – is a video about stopping over in Finland really necessary on a flight to HKG? Not long after, the Captain addressed the passengers and notified us of the weather (a balmy 31 degrees) and that we’d be in a holding pattern. He also made the same announcement in Finnish.

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The cabin before landing

We eventually landed at 14:10 HKG time, still before schedule, but then were stuck on the tarmac for a bit as we waited for our gate to be ready. Finally it was, and we swiftly disembarked, passing the rude FA who had her back to the disembarking passengers.

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Arriving? No, no they’re not.

As usual, the luggage collection area was a circus with constant pushing and shoving. If there is nothing on the carousel, there’s no point jostling, is there? Aiyaa, welcome back to HKG. On shorter trips I try to travel with carry-on luggage only, to avoid the ridiculous wait times for luggage at HKG. However, this was the worst experience yet. After around 30 minutes’ wait, the AY luggage finally started to appear, but there did not seem to be a system. A few priority tags were visible, but it was mostly economy luggage, much of which was in bright yellow luggage straps from a Chinese tour company. We started getting worried when we didn’t recognise anyone from our flight and the bags started thinning out. Eventually, other flights appeared on the screen at our carousel, and our luggage still hadn’t appeared. We approached a member of the ground staff, who radioed someone and then told us there was one more container that hadn’t been unloaded.

“No need to wait here, we can send it to you in Hong Kong.”

I’ve lived in Hong Kong long enough to know that’s total bullshit and is code for “we have no idea what’s going on, please go away”, so I politely refused. I enquired why our priority tagged luggage hadn’t been delivered when everyone else’s had, and if they knew its exact whereabouts and if it could be hurried up. Then the story changed.

“I will ask my colleague to check the computer, it might be in Helsinki.”

Ten minutes later, we were told it wasn’t and it was in fact somewhere in HKG. So when would our bags be coming? If they were under the plane, as we were told, then why were they not being sent to the carousel?

At this point, we were the only people to not receive our bags, along with a very tired couple with a baby from New Zealand who had flown from Heathrow. They had received all but one of their bags. The fact that they were travelling with a very young child and were not given any assistance is also disappointing. One of our bags was filled with vacuum-sealed Dutch cheese, and we wondered if we’d be reunited with our bags before it went off!

Long story short, it took another hour for our bags to turn up, with no explanation. I’m not surprised – it’s always a hassle at HKG and airports like SIN (and probably some mainland Chinese ones) put it to shame. HKG is basically just a big shopping centre where planes go. The basic business of reuniting passengers with their luggage doesn’t seem to be a priority. This, of course, had nothing to do with Finnair.

So, back to Finnair. It’s become one of my favourite airlines, and my next trip reports will show you why. The crew were consistently phenomenal. This is why I was so disappointed with my flight to HKG. With the exception of two individuals, the cabin service was sloppy and, in the case of the FA who I dealt with most, was downright rude and aggressive. I did not feel like I was on Finnair; I felt like I was on a completely different airline. This is not because the outsourced crew were from Hong Kong – please don’t read this as anything like that – but they were clearly not of the same calibre as those based in Finland who actually work for Finnair. Yes, this might be saving Finnair money, but such crew members definitely cheapened the experience on what is usually a fantastic product. I can’t wait till my next flight in business class on Finnair and next trip to beautiful Finland (next year – I’m already planning it!), but I won’t be choosing any of their routes with outsourced crew.

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