by Luigi Vallero
Flights: AY782 & AY077
Route: Rome [Roma] (IATA: FCO/ICAO: LIRF)–Helsinki-Vantaa (HEL/EFHK)–Osaka (Kansai) (KIX/RJBB)
Aircraft: Airbus A320 & MD-11
Departure times: 1125 & 1720
Arrival times: 1545 & 0950
Passenger: Luigi Vallero
PHOTOS: LUIGI VALLERO
With a light load—no more than 70 passengers—today’s flight was operated by an A320 (OH-LXM) in an all-economy layout. Finnish and international newspapers were available in the Jetway. Passengers were welcomed rather coolly by the flight attendants, although they did smile. The cabin was extremely clean with a bright décor featuring ice-white walls and seat covers in different shades of blue. Having the full row to myself, I settled in for this long intra-European sector of 3hr 20min. Announcements were made in Finnish, English, and Italian. We left the gate exactly on time and taxied to Runway 25 for a prompt departure.
After a rather circuitous climb to the southwest, over the sea, we headed north toward the Adriatic Sea and Croatia. Excellent weather conditions afforded spectacular views of central Italy.
About half an hour into the flight, a basic—although acceptable—hot meal was served. This consisted of minced beefsteak with peas and potato croquettes, plus a very small chocolate. A choice of drinks was offered. Clearly the catering, which originated in Helsinki, was the result of cost-cutting exercises because Finnair was once known for the quality and quantity of its food.
Service onboard was good, with the three flight attendants—one of them fluent in Italian—efficiently offering extra drinks to passengers. In-flight entertainment consisted of interesting short features and cartoons screened on the monitors.
After overflying Austria, Poland, and the Baltic republics, we started our descent into HEL, through solid clouds. Our approach was made through rain, wind, and moderate turbulence. Gate 31 was reached three minutes later than scheduled.
Connecting at the compact Vantaa is easy, and there was plenty of time to browse the many shops selling Finnish and Lappish handicrafts.
At the gate area, three MD-11s were being prepared for their respective treks across Asia, to Beijing, Shanghai, and Osaka (with OH-LGB). Profiting from the geographical position of Helsinki, almost exactly on the Great Circle routes between most major European and Far Eastern cities, Finnair has been able to develop an extremely efficient hub-and-spoke system.
This time we had a mixed Finnish and Japanese cabin crew (most passengers were Japanese), who welcomed us with smiles. A good selection of newspapers was available before boarding. On my seat I found the usual pillow, wool blanket, and headset, while in each seat pocket a small bottle of water had already been provided. Seating was adequate, with a fair pitch and reasonable recline for economy, but unfortunately no footrests. Cabin colors were very similar to those of the A320.
Pushback was slightly delayed, although no reason was given, and we began taxiing at 1744, taking off four minutes later. IFE on Finnair’s MD-11s is ‘old-fashioned’ when compared to what is available on most Asian carriers, There were no individual monitors, and for this 9hr 30min stage there was the standard selection of music channels, with two movies plus BBC News shown on the overhead screens.
Dinner was served soon after reaching cruising altitude. There was no choice of main course, which was meatballs and mashed potatoes, with soba noodles, a mixed salad, and a pre-packaged bite-size chocolate-coated cake. Drinks included green tea, characteristically poured from Japanese wicker-handled pots. Those who desired hard alcoholic drinks had to pay for them. The pleasant and mature female flight attendants delivered professional and ‘solid’ service, offering multiple drink refills.
After dinner, lights were dimmed and the flight proceeded in darkness across Russia and Mongolia, while the cabin crew periodically passed along the aisles offering water.
A nice sunrise welcomed us as we passed over Beijing, and hot towels appeared before a hot breakfast was served. This second meal was also reasonable and filling, although not memorable, consisting of an omelette with vegetables and yogurt.
After another hour we began our descent to the island airport of KIX (Airways, November/December 1997). We touched down at 0948, blocking at the gate at 0952, two minutes later than scheduled.
On both flights Finnair offered a pleasant (although sometimes perfunctory), consistent, and reliable service, with the bonus of one of the shortest travel times between Europe and the Far East, although improvements should be seriously considered with regard to the IFE system and seating comfort.
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