Flight Number: AY81/82
Route: Singapore to Helsinki
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Class: Economy Comfort
Duration: 11:15 hours (AY81) 12:00 (AY82)
The plane: Finnair has seven of the XWB (extra wide body) version in its fleet, all less than two years old, with a further 12 on order. The two-class configuration has 46 lie-flat Business Class seats, 43 Economy Comfort seats with up to 10cm of added legroom and 208 standard Economy Class seats.
The loyalty scheme: Native scheme is Finnair Plus, but as a oneworld member, passengers can earn points and status credits on qualifying flights with fellow members like Qantas.
Frequency: Five times a week during Northern Hemisphere winter and daily the rest of the year
The seat: Standard Economy seats are of the most modern Zodiac Z300 slimline design with a rugged, tight weave fabric and firm cushioning in a 3-3-3 layout with a 31-inch (79cm) pitch and 18-inch (46cm) width. The Economy Plus seats are essentially identical but add a ‘comfier’ headrest and four inches (10cm) to pitch and are located in the first five rows of the Economy cabin.
Baggage: Both Economy and Economy Comfort fares include a single bag up to 23kg and carry-on up to 8kg within size limits, plus ‘personal item’. Be aware of further restrictions if connecting to other European destinations. Economy Pro ticket type allows an extra bag as well as other priority services and flexibility.
The comfort: As a brand new aircraft with state-of-the-art seating, the Comfort section offers additional inflight goodies like noise-cancelling headphones and an amenity kit with eye mask, toothbrush, earplugs and socks in a cute Marimekko pouch. Regular economy still get blanket and pillow. The A350 introduces the latest in cabin comfort enhancements which Airbus calls ‘Airspace’ and includes anti-jetlag mood lighting, extra wide cabin, bigger windows, WiFi, expanded widescreen entertainment system as well as a super quiet cabin.
An unseen but nonetheless most welcome addition is the draft-free air recirculation and filtration that claims the entire cabin’s air is completely replaced every two to three minutes, while filters are claimed to remove 99.99 per cent of particulate and organic matter, quelling one of the biggest complaints from airline passengers. After nearly 12 hours in the cabin, I can attest to the combined beneficial effects of the air and lighting.
Entertainment: Even if you notice nothing else, the massive 11in (28cm) touchscreen IFE display will get your attention, and yes, it’s in every economy seat. You can also recharge your USB device and sign up for (extra cost) Wi-Fi. The movie, TV, games and music selection is broad and extensive, and more than sufficient to keep anyone occupied for the 12 hours. Should the pre-recorded material not be engaging enough, there’s a cockpit-style flight display and the external CCTV cameras will stream landings, approaches and takeoffs to thrill any geek (like me). During the flight, a timeline progresses across the screen, showing mealtimes and remaining flight time as well as Google Earth-style mapping.
Service: Sharply attired staff of numerous nationalities attend the cabin. My attendant, for example was Korean. English is not a problem and while service was a little impersonal at times, it was never rude or inefficient. I tried out some special requests during the flight, like an upgrade to my coffee, and it was solved promptly and cheerfully.
The food: The economy meal, identical in either regular or Comfort seats, is quite substantial and, after sneaking a peek up front, not too far behind Business Class offerings. Hot meal consisted of beans, mash and sauteed chicken in Korean chilli sauce with roll, crumble cake, cheese and crackers. The option was roasted basa in spicy tomato sauce. Complimentary alcohol is served at mealtimes. Breakfast, likewise stacked up favourably with yogurt, croissant, juice, hot savory crepe and veggies. Yes, for breakfast.
One more thing: Finnair is giving their stopover options to Europe a big push and the A350 to Helsinki via Singapore is an enticing option for leisure travellers wanting to break up their journey and still earn QF points and status on eligible flights via the oneworld alliance. From this writer’s experience, transiting through Helsinki is a relatively effortless affair compared to some of the more frenetic hubs, like Frankfurt, Heathrow or the dreaded Charles de Gaulle in Paris.
The verdict: With all else being equal, this modern aircraft and futuristic, streamlined hubs like Helsinki, Finnair’s A350 to Europe looks a lot like the future of travel.