After enjoying exploring Helsinki for 48 hours, it was time to get myself to Barcelona from where I would head home flying Alitalia business class. The best option in terms of timing and value was a nonstop Finnair A321 economy itinerary between the two oneworld hubs. Finnair has a monopoly on their HEL-BCN route, typically offering up to two flights per day. I opted for the evening flight, as it provided me the longest visit possible in Helsinki.
Booking an award all the way to Barcelona had been the original plan, which would have scratched a visit to Helsinki altogether. But this wasn’t in the cards. I ended up booking a nonstop Finnair A321 economy ticket between Helsinki and Barcelona for ~$177 USD. Ticket prices actually dropped slightly within the last 3-4 weeks before departure.
Previously, the one-way trip was ~$234, which is really steep for an intra-Europe flight. I was not too thrilled booking the trip for what I paid, but all the inexpensive options had layovers and took far longer.
The same flight would have cost 11,000 Avios and ~$30, had there been award space. This would have been my preferred option, but I never saw availability open up. Anecdotally, at least from my search efforts, award space is really poor on this route (maybe due to the Finnair monopoly?). The flight did earn me 817 Alaska Airlines miles which I value at ~$16.
Arrival and Airport Experience
The train from Helsinki Vantaa to the city center was so easy and convenient that I did the exact same trip in reverse to return to the airport. A one-way ticket costs €4.60, and it takes about 30 minutes to transit between the city and airport.
It took me only 10 minutes to clear security, which was far quicker than I expected. Because I was flying between Schengen countries, there was no passport control to worry about. No one even checked my identification, which I found odd as a U.S. traveler.
I spent over an hour and a half at the Aspire Lounge, which is a decent lounge for an international airport. The food is limited, but there is a nice selection of drinks and a variety of seating. My one complaint is the lack of power outlets at much of the seating. Later I headed downstairs to watch the aircraft coming and going before heading over to the A321 parked at our gate.
Boarding and Departure
Boarding started on time for my Finnair flight to Barcelona. Many of the gates at Helsinki Airport use the automated ticket-scanning machines for boarding, similar to the ones that are initially used to enter security at Helsinki Vantaa airport.
I managed to snag seat 6A, which I did not expect. My seat was assigned at check-in, but when I pulled up the reservation and checked what else was available, there was this single window seat available near the front of the economy cabin.
The safety demonstration explanation was offered in English. There was a welcome announcement in Spanish, but that was the extent the language was used. One of the benefits of being an English-speaker is how easy it is to visit many countries in Europe, as English is widely spoken. Nearly every Finn I interacted with in Helsinki spoke very good English.
One thing I like about flying in Europe is that the window shades must be up for takeoff and landing. Mine stays up anyway as much as possible (i.e. as long as there is anything interesting to see). What I can’t stand is when people leave them down for landing, so I’m actually glad that this is a requirement.
The turbulence was moderate after takeoff, and the captain kept the seat belt light on and the cabin crew seated for an extra 15 minutes. Once we got off the runway, there was nothing except a blanket of white outside, which was a bummer sitting at the window.
Finnair A321 Economy Seat
The Finnair A321 cabin is rather plain, with a white and grey color scheme. The pillows and blankets add a splash of color. What I found puzzling was why the few rows I saw only had a blanket and pillow in the middle seat. Is it some sort of consolation prize for being seated in the worst seats available on the aircraft?
I was very happy with seat 6A, which is well-placed as far as the window-spacing goes.
I mean, why bother flying if you’re not maximizing your time looking out the window?
The seats offer 31 inches of pitch, and are a slim design, which makes it feel like there is plenty of room. With my bag in the overhead and nothing under the seat, I had more than enough space. Finnair A321 economy seats are also 18 inches wide.
There is no at-seat in-flight entertainment, which is what I expected. However, the piece around the tray table latch and the clasp at the top are designed to hold a tablet or phone in place for you to watch your own device. There isn’t any at-seat power.
As far as the economy hard product goes, I was entirely satisfied. Finnair met all expectations. The aircraft also felt pretty new. Finnair’s Airbus A321s have an average age of less than 9 years, which is better than their A319 and A320 aircraft.
Finnair Economy Service
While I was checking in for my flight, Finnair gave me the option of preordering my meal. You can certainly order food while on the aircraft, but I went ahead and ordered a sandwich ahead of time for €8. As you’d expect, the options are Nordic, with a cold smoked salmon rye sandwich and smoked reindeer flatbread among the offerings. I went with the former.
The sandwich was quite good, one of the better economy sandwiches I’ve had. I found it curious that the smoked reindeer flatbread isn’t on the menu, which makes me wonder if it is only available for pre-order.
The complimentary drink selection in Finnair economy on domestic and intra-Europe flights is limited. Only coffee, tea, water and juice are offered free of charge. Keep that in mind if you’re used to your soda. It’ll set you back €3.
Although the Finns are known for being reserved, I never experienced a bit of unfriendliness during my time in the capital, and this rang true of our Finnish crew as well. They were courteous and professional.
My Finnair A321 flight offered Nordic Sky WiFi. This included complimentary e-magazines, e-newspapers and audiobooks. There didn’t appear to be other in-flight entertainment to stream to your own device, which I found odd, especially on a flight of this length. You can purchase internet access with potentially sufficient speed for streaming, which is impressive. Prices weren’t all that unreasonable for a 3.5-hour flight.
What I liked about the onboard WiFi is that you can see how many other users are online. The number of connections will obviously make a big difference on the experience, and I would be hesitant to purchase access if there were lots of people already online.
I used my laptop to write for a while until the battery finally died. By that point, we were most of the way to Barcelona.
Finnair A321 economy is a solid product, offering fresh food, friendly service, good WiFi, and seats comparable to most other products in the industry. The pitch is slightly better than a number of other airlines’ intra-Europe products. I would absolutely fly short-haul with Finnair again.
That being said, the price of my particular flight was rather steep, which would make me consider other options had there been more flexibility.
Finnair is making investments in its fleet as the airline seeks to make their Helsinki hub one of the prime connection points for travelers making the trek between Europe and Asia. They offer flights to over 20 destinations in East and South Asia. Soon they’ll have a total of 19 Airbus A350 aircraft with an excellent business class.