Guest article by Chris West, One World frequent flyer.
London to Singapore, via Helsinki on Finnair, a One World member airline, in Business Class, June 2022.
Before I tell you about the trip, I need to tell you about the route. Why did I choose this route?
It simply came down to cost. I was originally booked to fly with British Airways in March 2021, which was cancelled due to COVID. I spent about £2000 on that ticket. I requested a refund and decided to look again at the start of 2022 and found a dramatic change in pricing. Every route to Singapore I looked at, in Business Class, was over £5000. However, the Finnair Business Light ticket was less than £2000, so I went for that. Additionally, I’d always wanted to try Finnair and with their new seat to try out, I was sold.
Finnair offers 3 grades of tickets within each of the ticket types, in Business they have; Classic, Light and Flex. Most airlines offer a standard and a flexible option, but the Light option is something quite unique. The Light option allows you to travel in a business class seat, with all the trimmings onboard, but not benefit from all the business perks before boarding.
This means no: luggage, lounge access, priority check-in, fast track security or priority boarding. I added luggage which was quite a cheap option – £60 for 35kg. This ticket has two great uses. First, if you’re going on holiday, it’s a very economical way to get a nice seat on a long-haul flight, as long as you don’t mind not having all the perks before flying. Secondly, if you have One World Sapphire or Emerald status, you can get most of those perks back with your status anyway. I am a Sapphire member so I got the whole lot, priority check-in, free luggage, fast track through security, lounge access and priority boarding.
I saved money on my ticket and still had the same experience as someone paying for the Classic ticket. If you travel on a cash ticket, it’s always worth comparing the options and checking what your status (if you have any) includes.
Departure & lounge hopping
Now to the trip itself. It was a 6pm departure from Heathrow to Helsinki, with a reasonably short turn around in Helsinki to the Singapore flight.
At Heathrow I went straight to the Finnair priority check-in, no queue at all, checked my bag and was given an invite to the No. 1 Lounge. I proceeded straight to fast-track security where, after a short wait, I was airside. Terminal 3 at Heathrow is great for One World flights as there are many One World airline lounges, most of which you can visit if you are either flying in Business or First, or you are a One World Sapphire or Emerald member. Check out the One World website for more detail, look for the statement “Access for eligible customers travelling on any One World member airline.” The key word there being “Any”.
I started in the Qantas lounge as they have a great gin bar, and got myself a nice g&t. After that I headed to Cathay Pacific, as they do great food. Finally, I stopped into the BA lounge for snacks and champagne before heading to my gate. I didn’t even try the No.1 Lounge as I know they’re not as good as the airline lounges. I’ll write a separate piece one day on the concept of lounge hopping.
I had specifically chosen my flights as I wanted to experience the old and the new A350’s on this trip. Finnair fly an A350 to London a couple of times a day, on most days, the rest of the time it tends to be A321’s. Their new A350 is on the main, long haul routes from Helsinki, Singapore being one of them.
I chose the same seat for both flights as well (another frequent flyer perk by the way), so I could compare them. My seat on this “older” A350 was what you’d typically find on most airlines with a long-haul business seat. Big comfy chair, with reclining options, a cubby hole to put up your feet and to stretch out in when lying down, a pop out tv and some storage. Nothing special for Business Class anymore given that most airlines have started to standardise on the same Business Class seat. Also, when I say an old A350, this was only 3 years old. The seat was comfortable, the tv had some good entertainment on it and as this was a 3-hour flight, a meal was served. I was very pleased that this is the first flight I had taken since COVID with a return to full service. I was given the choice of a pre-flight drink, which included Champagne, it was even topped up pre-flight as loading was taking time. As soon as we were airborne there were hot towels and the bar trolly came down. Dinner was a simple choice of chicken or veg, I took the chicken option. It came with a starter, dessert, bread and the chicken itself which had spicy rice and veg. All very tasty as well. After that the bar trolley was never far away, you could probably get quite drunk if you wanted.
Helsinki transfer & lounge
When we landed in Helsinki, the international gates were all in the same place, with the Finnair lounge right in the middle. After heading to the transfer desk to collect my next boarding pass (they had to verify my Singapore COVID docs were correct) I headed straight to their lounge.
The lounge was elegant and well laid out. There were showers that you could book on a simple pad by each door, lots of seating, including a lot of private seating pods you could sit in to relax or do some work. Plenty of food and drink options, including a nice-looking bar in the middle.
Singapore sector (new A350)
All too soon it was time to head out to my gate to board the brand new A350 with the infamous “non-reclining” business class seat.
One thing that is always a nice treat is when they attach two air bridges to the aircraft, meaning the cabins board separately. This means you can be a little more relaxed in sorting yourself out and settling into your seat without the entire rest of the plane squeezing past you to board. Yes, I know that sounds a little snobbish, but it’s one of those things that makes spending all the extra money on business class worthwhile. I headed down the business air bridge and turned immediately right to see my seat. I was in 2A, (there’s no 1A on these as row 1 is only in the middle 1D and 1H).
My first impression was “wow”, it looked great, very appealing, it was huge. Like having a little pod to yourself. As soon as I sat down the seat cushion was soft and comfy and I immediately found out how private these “pods” were. From sitting down, you cannot see anyone else and you can’t even see other people’s screens, nice touch. My screen was huge, fixed in position on the bulkhead in front of me. Below and slightly offset to the left was the cubby hole for my feet, it was big and roomy.
The curved wall of my pod was padded all the way round, meaning I could sit or lean against any part of it, there seemed to be no right way to sit. Next to me at shoulder height was a panel that opened to reveal a nice little storage space. Inside were USB ports, both old A type and new C type. Next to that was the remote control. Above was the headphone socket, and I noticed the door had been well designed to close and still allow room for cables to pass under it. The headphone socket is designed to create a hook to hang your headphones nicely away when not in use.
When flying, I always swear by my own Bose noise cancelling headphones, but no need on this trip as Finnair provides you with Bose noise cancelling headphones, my own headphones didn’t even come out of their case for the whole trip. Next to me was a large table area (this is covering the footwell for the person sitting behind me) with plenty of space to put things out the way or have a drink and it had a built-in pad with rubber grips on it for wireless charging, I just left my phone there permanently on charge for the flight. Underneath this was a slide out table which would fold in half, so it’s nice to hold an iPad or a drink, or unfolded it made a full size fairly solid wooden table. In the front footwell is a small storage area underneath a padded door, meaning that when it’s closed is just another part of the bed. Inside was a bottle of water and plenty of space to store my headphones, iPad and the amenity kit.
There are two movable functions to this seat, one is a wide and narrow padded bar about 5 centimetres thick that folds up on the front edge of my foot well. It fills a gap when you go into bed mode and it provides a nice comfy soft surface to put your feet up onto if you want to. Underneath my seat was a larger padded panel that was motorised, and would fold up to provide leg support or would go up all the way to make a fully flat bed. I was also provided with two cushions, one quite soft and fluffy, the other was quite firm. I found that by using these in different combinations and different places you could sit, curl up, lie, semi lie down, squat or position yourself in many different positions and be very comfortable. Think of it like your armchair at home, you don’t always sit just straight facing forwards you quite often sit in many different positions, it was just like that. This made for a very comfortable flight as I could regularly change my position so I didn’t get too stiff or uncomfortable sitting in the same position all the time.
I should mention the meal, which was served following the drinks service. There was a good choice of options, I chose the beef rib. It came with a starter, salad, bread and a choice of desserts. The food was top class and very tasty. The entertainment was good too, I watched 2 films before going to sleep. The crew were all very friendly and helpful. If you had a question about a drink or the food they were more than happy to take time out to talk to you and help you make a choice.
Later on, when it came to sleeping, I had been provided with bedding which included a mattress topper and a huge duvet like blanket. As the pod is so much bigger than normal business class seats, because they removed all the mechanics to make the seat recline, this makes for a very large single bed sleeping. I could sleep on my side, I could tuck my knees up and I could turn over without discomfort. The seat belts are also interesting, there’s the seat belt for when you’re sitting up, which includes a shoulder harness for take-off and landing. But there is a second seat belt that’s placed lower down designed to go over your waist when you’re lying down flat. This seat belt is spring loaded, like a car seat belt, so it wasn’t fixed like normal airline belts are. It meant that when moving around in the night you weren’t clamped to your bed, you could move around, and the spring would let you move as much as you like.
The flight from Helsinki to Singapore would not normally be 13 hours, but with the Ukraine conflict and airlines not flying over Russia, we had to go the long way round. So I had plenty of time for a nice long sleep, I think I got over 7 hours. The larger bed space certainly made a difference. Just before they turned the lights out for sleep, they put an announcement on the screens that as they dim the lights there will be a light display on the ceiling simulating the northern lights, which was a very nice touch.
I woke up naturally about 2 hours before landing and we were served with a light meal and drink options. More hot towels were issued, and we were ready for landing, which you could watch on screen via the 2 external cameras on the plane.
I’ve travelled all over the world on many different airlines, in many different classes, and I can honestly say I’ve never come off a long-haul flight feeling quite as relaxed, rested and fresh as I did on this flight. The only thing missing that I think they could add to this is flight pyjamas. It would have been nice to sleep in something other than my clothes for 13 hours, plus the 3 from London was quite a long time. But that aside, the value of the Light Business ticket, combined with my frequent flyer status made for an amazing trip, next time I’d happily choose this over a direct flight just for the comfort of that seat.