To HEL and back with Finnair (Part 1 of 2)

Telemachus

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This will be my first TR for AFF. It will relate the end-to-end experience (booking, rescheduling, airports, inflight) of a recent AY-ticketed trip on a revenue fare in J. The goal is more about informing than entertaining so apologies if what follows is a bit dry and falls short of the standard of some excellent TRs I have had the pleasure of reading here in recent months.

Itinerary flown
Outbound (mid-May): SYD-SIN-HEL-LHR with stopovers of ~24 hrs in both SIN & HEL. BA16 SYD-SIN, AY132 SIN-HEL, AY1335 HEL-LHR.

Inbound (mid-June): Reverse of above with transits of 1-2 hrs each at HEL & SIN.

Booking and rescheduling
I booked this trip before the Ukraine war began. I had found AY good value for money on previous trips: not the most premium J experience but good enough and quite compelling on price. Initially I had booked to have a stopover only at HEL on the outbound leg.

A week or so after the invasion AY began rerouting and rescheduling long haul services that had previously overflown Ukraine and Russia. In the first phase of changes notified to me in March, AY protected their HEL arr and dep slots and changed the SIN timings to accommodate the longer route and flight duration. Which meant that the outbound connection from BA16 to AY132 at SIN shrank to 45 mins, so I accepted the recommended switch from BA16 to QF81 for SYD-SIN, travelling a day later than my original booking. The later arrival of AY131 into SIN also reduced my connection time on the return leg but it was still legal and acceptable.

So far, so good enough. The geography has meant that AY has been hit particularly hard by the need to stop overflying Russia. I wasn’t overjoyed at the additional travel time but was sympathetic to AY’s situation, and exploration of other options found I would need to pay a lot more on other carriers.

In late April AY shifted the HEL STD and SIN STA for AY131 to 20 mins later, which further reduced the SIN connection time for my BA15 onward flight SIN-SYD. I couldn’t make my acceptance of this change stick in MMB so after trying and giving up on the AY online chat tool I phoned and spoke to an agent. She fixed the issue but then informed me there was a more serious problem with my QF81 booking (SYD-SIN) which she said had been ‘lost’ (despite previous confirmation and e-ticket) because of an unknown issue at the QF end. While she was consulting a supervisor about options the call dropped out. There was no call-back so I phoned and got another AY agent who offered options of travel in Y on same flight, J the next day or trip cancellation / refund. Having done my homework I proposed reinstating my original BA16 seat the previous day, and taking a 24 hr stopover at SIN before continuing on AY132 as per current booking: this was agreed after consultation with a supervisor.

I found the story about loss of the QF seat highly dubious and rather unsettling. There had been no clue to a problem in MMB so it only came to light because I phoned up about something else. Coincidentally, in a chance conversation while disembarking from AY132 at HEL I found I was not the only AY-ticketed traveller who had been offloaded from QF81 a couple of weeks pre-flight.

SYD check-in and pre-boarding
BA check-in was quick and simple. I had uploaded the required docs to BA in advance and the agent could see that my SGAC for entry to Singapore had been done. The entrance for Express Path to outbound ABF checks was closed and there was no separate priority lane for security screening either. Queue for screening took 45 mins but wait time was reducing while I was in the queue, as they opened more screening points. Still no auto-return of trays at SYD T1 and it was painful to watch while the staff member managing loading of bags walked to the other end of the screening point every few mins to pick up some trays to carry back for waiting pax to use.

With BA16 using Gate 57 or 59 the screening delay meant there was no time to go to the QF int J lounge so I made a brief visit to The House – the former EY lounge to which BA now steers its premium pax – and found it crowded and noisy.

BA16 SYD-SIN
Aircraft on this route remains the B789 with 12 yr old Club World seats in the yin-yang configuration that means for most seats you choose between a rear-facing window seat and have to climb over someone else’s legs, or else a forward-facing aisle seat and have a window pax climb over your feet. I had snared one of the window seats where there is no-one else’s feet to negotiate when getting in/out. Not a common opinion perhaps but I find the BA seats both comfortable and very private once the partition has gone up.

Meals were provided with everything arriving at once on one tray. I thought quality was OK and my only gripe was about the wine list which was vaguely worded and more limited than it used to be.

Arrival into SIN was only slightly late and immigration was efficient but then a very long wait before checked bags came through to the carousel.

AY132 SIN-HEL
The next day I arrived at SIN T1 departures to find the AY check-in desks had not yet opened but when they eventually did so, the queues were long. I had left myself plenty of time to enjoy the QF J lounge and after a shower I dined on prawn dumplings and a rather good chicken laksa. The lounge progressively emptied until only a handful of people remained, and I headed out before the lounge closed. Happily this meant only a short time hanging around the gate waiting for AY132 to start boarding.

AY132 was operated by an A359 with the new AirLounge seats in the J cabin. There have been divergent opinions on this non-adjustable seat. In brief I found it fine for sleeping, if a bit hard, but impossible to find a comfortable position I could sustain while reading or watching the IFE: despite provision of a pillow and a cushion there just isn’t enough support and I missed the variable adjustment options of conventional J seats. More positively, the seat has good privacy – good enough for me to change into and out of PJs in the seat and avoid an outrage to public decency.

Again it was the one-tray approach to meal service but I declined dinner having eaten well enough in the lounge.

Arrival at HEL was on time but I was delayed by a long non-EU immigration queue.

AY1335 HEL-LHR
Early pm the following day I checked in at the new T2 Departures hall. No queue at all at the AY priority check-in desk or for screening. And the new screening facilities include CT baggage scanners which mean no need to remove laptops and LAGs from bags. So I was through and heading for the Non-Schengen Lounge in a matter of minutes. The lounge was new to me and much larger than the one I recall using 4-5 years ago when I was last in transit at HEL. Large, well appointed, quiet and with excellent privacy; and, yes, the bar is rather good.

The flight itself was unmemorable except for a last minute gate change that led to a late departure. A short-haul flight on an A321 where the seats are the same for both J and Y pax, except that in the ‘J cabin’ the middle seat of 3 on each side is blocked off.

LHR T3 Arrival
A long queue for the passport e-gates but it moved quickly. There was then an extraordinary delay (~50 mins) in the baggage hall before I could leave the airport.

Part 2 of the TR will follow shortly, dealing with the return leg and some conclusions.
 

Telemachus

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Part 2 of 2
There were no further involuntary changes to my booked itinerary so at the end of my UK visit I headed to LHR T3 – this was in mid June – with a lingering concern about misconnection at SIN but armed with a list of SIN-SYD options that would be acceptable to me.

LHR check-in and pre-boarding
I had jumped through the DPD hoops, as extensively documented in others’ posts on AFF, with no major problems: just the irritation of the DHA system requiring a password reset each time I logged in. I also had the nonsense of the email saying ‘your DPD is incomplete’ a day or two after receiving a completed DPD Summary; but thanks to other AFF posts I felt able to ignore this.

For reasons too tedious to relate in detail (short version: because the AY booking engine accessible to the public couldn’t do open jaw at the date I booked) my LHR-HEL and HEL-SIN-SYD flights were on two separate PNRs. A rather surly AY agent at T3 check-in announced she didn’t know if she could through-check my suitcase to SYD and issue all 3 BPs. In practice she had no problem with the bag but could only provide BPs for LHR-HEL and HEL-SIN. I was told I would have to go to the AY transit desk at SIN to obtain my BP for BA15 to SYD. This was not welcome news, knowing that transit time at SIN was likely to be short.

Despite the horror stories I was through T3 security screening in <30 mins and looking forward to some quality lounge time. The QF lounge had stopped serving food downstairs by the time I arrived and the buffet options upstairs were unappealing. I decamped to the CX J lounge where the Noodle Bar did not disappoint.

The Departures board was not showing a gate for my flight until about 5 mins before STD. The gate area was packed with hundreds of people, including spillover from the adjacent gate from which two delayed BA flights were due to depart. No AY staff and no announcements for my flight, while the BA pax were kept regularly updated by gate staff. Eventually the AY inbound aircraft arrived at the gate, pax disembarked and boarding began.

AY1336 LHR-HEL
Another A321 flight though with a noticeably more engaged cabin crew. Captain apologised for the delay (we were nearly an hour late pushing back) and managed to make up some time so that arrival into HEL was only about 40 mins behind schedule. Not a problem for my connection though there were a few agitated other pax.

HEL transit
Terminal was virtually deserted (this was after 22:00 local time) and, having confirmed the service desks were closed, I headed to the AY Non-Schengen lounge. At the AY131 departure gate, however, I found a helpful agent who issued my BP for the SIN-SYD sector on BA15: unfortunately my selected seat had already been allocated to someone else but I was content with the alternative provided.

AY131 HEL-SIN
Again an A359 with the AirLounge seat. I had the one-tray dinner at about 01:00 local time and it was actually quite good. Tried to stay awake in the interests of time zone adjustment but eventually had to admit defeat and get some sleep. Same verdict on the seat as stated in Part 1: also found that getting up to go to the toilet required much care to avoid having to remake the bedding completely on return to the seat.

SIN transit
Flight arrived ahead of schedule at SIN which was a great relief as I had logged several days in preceding weeks when AY131 arrived so late that pax connecting to BA15 must have been hard pressed to make the connection. As it was, I had time for a quick shower in the QF J lounge before heading to the gate.

BA15 SIN-SYD
Flight departed on time. After eating the BA one-tray meal I watched something forgettable on the IFE and then slept for several hours. A really good cabin crew who patrolled the cabin regularly and provided drinks for pax like me trying to keep up hydration levels.

SYD Arrival
Arrival was a bit ahead of schedule and I was through immigration quickly. Mentally prepared for my checked bag to have gone astray at some point but it was one of the first to appear on the carousel after a wait of 20 mins or so. No queue for biosecurity, a glance by the staff at my IPC and I was through.

Conclusions
There were several opportunities for this trip to go very wrong before it started and again while travelling. In the end it mostly worked out but I had some luck and did not experience anything like the disruption and misery described in others’ AFF posts. So I’m trying to keep a sense of proportion and factor in the broader context of the challenges to all RPT services at the moment: it seems to me the key questions are about what was within the ticketing/operating carrier’s control and how well they handled problems.

I have comparatively trivial causes of dissatisfaction with the inflight experience. Both AY and BA were fine, and I was fortunate to have particularly good crews for all three inbound sectors. Reading about the mayhem affecting BA’s intra-Europe flights currently I know this positive evaluation of my BA experience is out of step with the widespread online damnation of BA.

Which brings me to AY. From my several interactions with AY Customer Service (not all described in this TR) I formed the strong impression that yield management was driving decisions about the options offered in response to breaches of MCT caused by AY’s rescheduling. AY would clearly have been happy for me to cancel the trip altogether so that they could resell the seat at a higher price than I had paid. I was able to keep things on track only through being flexible about day of travel, opting for an unplanned SIN stopover, and proposing a substitute flight that AY had not offered. All six of my sectors had to be changed and most of them more than once.

The various IT glitches increased my anxiety about whether the trip would run into a major issue. Some of these issues were comparatively minor but what really dented my confidence in AY was the unexplained cancellation of a ticketed QF seat (about which I learned only by chance). From following relevant threads on FT I have concluded that my experience with AY IT and Customer Service has not been unusual. Consequently I will be avoiding flying AY again for at least the next 12 months, and will need convincing indications that things have improved. It won’t be a tough decision as AY pricing has for the moment lost its competitive advantage.

For those who have stuck with me through to the end of this account, thanks for reading and I hope you find some of the content helpful to your own travel plans.
 

OATEK

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Thanks for sharing @Telemachus. The absence of the open jaw/multi-city option on the AY website has been enough to deter us so far, and hoping it comes back in time to consider for or March 2023 trip to LHR.
 

Telemachus

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Thanks for sharing @Telemachus. The absence of the open jaw/multi-city option on the AY website has been enough to deter us so far, and hoping it comes back in time to consider for or March 2023 trip to LHR.
Multi-city is available again on Finnair.com, as of 22 June I understand. Not immediately obvious but you click on Trip Type on the home page and options including Multi-city appear in a pop-out box. From discussion on FT it seems to be v limited in functionality i.e. not true multi-city but capable of dealing with basic open jaw itineraries.
 

OZDUCK

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Thanks for the write-up. When I was booking our trip to Germany a month or so back AY J was at least 60% dearer than SQ or QR. As you said their J class is "not the most premium J experience but good enough and quite compelling on price". Once the price advantage was gone they fell out of contention.

I was interested in what you wrote about their new seats as I have seen at least on 'you tuber' say the same. The more complete range of adjustment in other J seats seems to be more my style as well.
 

RooFlyer

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Very disappointing to hear about AY's performance. I usually hold them up as an example of how an airline should function. Thanks for the write-up.
 

Telemachus

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Very disappointing to hear about AY's performance. I usually hold them up as an example of how an airline should function. Thanks for the write-up.
Yes, I was taken aback at the change for the worse in AY and, in particular, their apparent willingness to throw passengers under the bus. They may be in real financial trouble (sold aircraft during pandemic, currently wet leasing to BA, taken up new government loan facility etc) but some of the ways in which they are dealing with the crisis are counter-productive in alienating customers, certainly this one!
 

Telemachus

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Weren’t the e-Gates working? AU passports are accepted.
No e-gate option on that day, all being done manually with requirement to show ICVC and state how long I was staying in Finland.
 

ausfox

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I flew SIN HEL on July 2 and agree fully regarding the terrible sitting position on the new J seat. The squab is flat and the backrest is almost upright. It is like a suburban train seat. OK to sleep on though. I was able to decline the main course on the tray meal and replaced it with the cheese plate.
It appears that Finnair are staffing from Singapore. Competent and keen but not very Finnish.
 

OATEK

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Multi-city is available again on Finnair.com, as of 22 June I understand. Not immediately obvious but you click on Trip Type on the home page and options including Multi-city appear in a pop-out box. From discussion on FT it seems to be v limited in functionality i.e. not true multi-city but capable of dealing with basic open jaw itineraries.
Yes, had a look and it does do open jaw (eg SYD-LHR/CDG-SYD) but not multi-city with stopovers.
 

Princess Fiona

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Excellent report @Telemachus !!
I am a massive fan of the new AY J seat. Absolutely wonderful in every respect.
I have just flown JFK-HEL and HEL-ORD on it.

I loved the lounge concept and didn’t miss the recline at all. Love being able to put your feet on the ottoman from take off to landing even if you are a shortie like me.
I agree with you about the privacy it’s phenomenal.
In fact if it had the addition of a sliding door and they put a mirror inside the headphone cabinet, it would give Q Suites a fair contest for hard product.
I will be preferentially picking long hauls with this product from now on.

Also the Platinum Wing is a superb lounge.
 

Telemachus

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I am a massive fan of the new AY J seat. Absolutely wonderful in every respect.
I have just flown JFK-HEL and HEL-ORD on it.

I loved the lounge concept and didn’t miss the recline at all. Love being able to put your feet on the ottoman from take off to landing even if you are a shortie like me.
I agree with you about the privacy it’s phenomenal.
In fact if it had the addition of a sliding door and they put a mirror inside the headphone cabinet, it would give Q Suites a fair contest for hard product.
I will be preferentially picking long hauls with this product from now on.
Your Royal Highness:),
That new J seat does seem to produce a range of views. We are all different shapes and sizes with idiosyncratic preferences about position and comfort, so there is no absolute right or wrong verdict. Some of the reservations, including mine, are really about lower back support (or lack thereof). Glad you found the AirLounge seat more to your liking than I did: I didn’t loathe it but I won’t go out of my way to book it in future. As per the TR, my dissatisfaction with AY was for other reasons.

I have to agree of course that the QR Q-Suite is the benchmark to beat. A bit OT but I’m keeping an eye on BA’s roll-out of the new Club Suite in 1-2-1 configuration, though it seems it won't be deployed on aircraft operating to Australia this year: as you probably know, Club Suite has the sliding door AND the mirror in the headphone compartment.
 

Seat0B

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Thanks @Telemachus for this report. I have been investigating Finnair RTW options for a trip to Dubai via wherever I have to go via to get a better deal than flying direct to Dubai planned for the the end of this year and can confirm that their pricing is not as sharp as it used to be - in fact for the route I want to fly it is only $400 less than flying Qantas (on emirates metal) all the way.
 
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