Review: Finnair Non-reclining “Air Lounge” Business Class Seats AY132 SIN-HEL + HEL-AMS

Background

In February of this year, Finnair announced and unveiled their new cabin offerings and revamped soft products for long-haul flights which officially launched on May 11, though by my experience the full soft product offerings are slowly being rolled out. In addition to introducing premium economy, the airline unveiled a brand new business class seat concept, a non-reclining seat, named “Air Lounge.” Designed to be a lounge/living room space in the air. It drew a lot of attention in the avgeek world with many divisive takes. So far the reviews online and from what the crew have gathered are mostly positive. And I have to say I agree.

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In planning my journey home to Taipei, I opted to fly through Singapore to do some avgeek flying. From the world’s longest flight with Singapore Airlines, to experiencing Starlux Airlines to taking advantage of Finnair putting the new products on their SIN route.

I booked a cash ticket as Finnair actually had some very competitive fares from Singapore to Europe.

Overall

The seat is very well thought out and designed. It is minimalist, and despite not having doors, it is very private and does feel enclosed. It is quite comfortable, I am about 5’10 and found many comfortable positions to relax in while upright, and yes the 2 pillows are much needed as cushions. I chatted with a much taller passenger who found it a bit uncomfortable though. It is a very spacious seat, I could sit upright, cross-legged, and the foot well is nice and deep and not overly narrow either. Because it doesnt recline, it does not require a lot of additional parts as such more space for storage, it also means lighter seats and fuel savings for the airline. It is intuitive and easy to extend the two leg rests that merge to form the lie flat bed surface. I also loved the wireless charging. So, kudos to Finnair for an innovative and unique design. Food and beverage was fine, nothing amazing but nothing bad either. Entertainment system was very nicely designed but selection could be improved. Service is where the experience on SIN-HEL long-haul flight fell short, which seems to be a common thought amongst the reviews I’ve read thus far including a recent one from the Points Guy. Service from the HEL based crew on the shorter HEL-AMS flight was far better.

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Booking

I booked directly on Finnair.com, which annoyingly does not allow you to book multi-city itineraries. Their website is also a little too minimalist and lacks true functionality, same with their app. The annoying part is Finnair charges for seat selection even on a business classic fare, I wasnt even on business lite. I was able to select my SIN-HEL seat, window 12A last row of business in the mini aft cabin, and it saved despite showing a charge for it, oddly for my HEL-AMS when I selected my seat it wouldnt save/confirm until I paid the $90 fee, so I just opted to wait until check-in. All fine and dandy right? No. 36 hours before departure when check-in opened, I checked-in on the app and to my annoyance and surprise my SIN-HEL seat got changed to a middle aisle 4H and I could not select any other seat as they were all blocked or unavailable. I quickly checked expertflyer and found many seats open including my original 12A. After failing to get anywhere with the useless Finnair.com chat bot, I called Finnair Singapore reservations, they at first were unable to select 12A as well, but the agent was very nice and said she would try a backend way and was finally able to put me back into 12A. This was a very frustrating process in my opinion. Either let business class passengers choose their seats for free on long-haul flight, make them pay in order to save the selection like you did for HEL-AMS, or just make it clear what exactly the policy is. Regardless, thankfully I had the time to call Finnair reservations. All this to say, while innovative in seat design, the airline seems to not care about their online / direct channel customer experience.

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AY 132 Flight Details

Date: May 25, 2022

Flight: AY 132

Route: SIN-HEL, 5,769 miles

Plane: A350-900 OH-LWE (278 seat configuration with mini aft Business cabin)

Seat: 12A, window, business class

Duration: 13 Hours 15 Minutes; Dep 21:50PM, Arr 6:05AM +1 (a bit longer than usual from reroute due to Russian airspace closure)

SIN Ground

Unfortunately due to document and vaccination checks I was unable to obtain a mobile boarding pass. This made me nervous because Finnair has a rather strict carry-on bag policy that is neither enforced nor consistent. I didnt want to check my carry-on because I had a separate ticket connection in AMS that was rather tight. On the app and website for business class passengers it is 1 personal item + 2 carry-ons weighing a total of 10KG (22lbs), which is nothing, heck some suitcases weigh half of that empty. At the airport check-in counters, the displays said 14KG, so which is it Finnair? Check-in opens 3 hours prior to departure, I approached the counter, and when asked if I had any checked bags, I said no, and only had carry-on, that was it, no more questions asked nor were any of my bags weighed. It was also not weighed or measured at the gate in SIN or in HEL for my connecting flight. As someone who works in the airline industry, I find these policies and inconsistent enforcement frustrating, this is why the general public often get nervous and unsure when they fly because it can be so confusing and then you get there and no one actually cares.

Anyways, onwards we went. I had arrived at SIN T1 earlier to not only check out the Jewel with the waterfall but also to hop around OneWorld lounges. Only Qantas Business Lounge and British Airways Lounge were open, Qatar Airways is still closed and as a business class passenger you cannot access Qantas First Lounge.

I started at the Qantas Business Lounge which is quite large with ample seating, a nice food selection and a nice bar with made to order cocktails. I enjoyed my bowl of Laksa with a spiced Americano cocktail. While a nice lounge, I thought it was a bit bland over all. I like the design and aesthetics, but I think a bit too open and seating too close together to be honest.

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I then hopped on over to the British Airways lounge, which had just recently reopened. Food wasnt bad, Qantas has a bit better, but BA has chicken satay. They also have QR Code menu that you can order Champagne from, and it arrives rather quickly too! I actually preferred the vibes at BA lounge more than QF, which I think is the opposite of most people.

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I then headed to the gate and arrived just as it opened for security screening. Finnair blocks off the front section of the gatehouse area for premium passengers. Special assistance/ kids still get to board first though, so thats nice to see. at around 21:15 we began boarding.

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The Seat, Cabin and Amenities

These seats are functional, beautifully designed, have ample storage and are private. Though despite it being a new product, my seat panel was already coming lose and my footwell light kept flickering on and off and eventually just died.

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This A350 had 2 business class cabins. I was in 12A last row in the mini aft cabin with 3-4 rows (3 on A side and 4 on L window side). Interestingly, the main forward cabin has no central bins, but the mini aft cabin has central bins. The cabin is nice and had mainly navy blue and grey/white tones, true to Finnair color scheme and in a Finnish minimalist aesthetic. The seat had some nice wood and gold finishes as well adding to a soothing atmosphere. The self-serve bar area was also nicely designed in wood, blue and black tones and nicely lit too. I particularly liked the “Northern Lights” mood lighting used throughout the flight. The 2 forward lavatories also have windows, always appreciate a loo with a view on planes.

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At my seat were 2 pillows (one larger softer one, and one slightly smaller firmer one which was the ideal one for sleep), slippers, wrapped blanket, wrapped mattress pad (thats really thin), Merimekko amenity kit, in one of the storage compartments was a water bottle, in the other was Bose noise cancelling headsets (I believe QC-35).

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There is a large wooden surface with wireless phone charger and underneath are simple seat controls that control the reading light, the footwell ambient light, the main footrest, the tray table and the do not disturb sign. Blended into the seat is the storage for entertainment control, headset and USB + USB-C ports. To the side and built into the broader ottoman surface is a very deep storage with plenty of room. On the side beneath this is your regular power outlet for laptop chargers. Under the footwell and the smaller, manually extended footrest is a very deep and wide storage space for shoes and even handbags or thin laptop/messenger bags.

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The TV monitor is large, and touchscreen. I do wish it was adjustable, but for the most part it was easily viewed at a variety of seated/lounging positions, just cant watch while laying down.

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To convert to a flat bed surface you manual lift up the smaller front foot rest that extends the footwell/ottoman surface, and then using the seat controls you bring up the larger seat footrest, they merge and form a seamless flat bed surface. There is separate seatbelt at the front of the ottoman surface you should use that goes over your hips/upper legs when you are laying down, it is also more adjustable so doesnt feel constraining. I slept fairly comfortable, my first 3 hours or so not so great becuase I used the softer, thinner larger pillow, I then switched to the slightly smaller but firmer pillow and it was so much more comfortable. The mattress pad is thin and really just smooths out the surface more than anything. It is decently spacious but depending on your height you may find your knees in awkward or uncomfortable situations at times. Almost all surfaces of the seat is padded which adds to the comfort.

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Service

Finnair has a Singapore crew base and their long-haul flights to/from SIN are crewed entirely with Singaporean crew members. You would think, wow, great, should be fantastic Singapore Airlines level service, but not really. Dont get me wrong, it was still better service than you’re to get on most U.S. Carriers, but despite their smiles and “welcome onboards” there was a lack of engagement/excitement from the crew, it almost felt like they did not want to be there at all. I hate to say it, but it almost felt like these were SQ rejects who had to settle for their last choice of employment offer. Are they paid less than HEL based crew? Is this a cost saving move by AY? Or does AY think having Asian flight attendants service Asian routes will increase customer satisfaction? Not sure, but my customer satisfaction was higher with my HEL based crew on my connecting short-haul Europe flight.

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While the crew were all very professional and friendly enough, over all the service was very distant, robotic and a bit cold. The flight attendant on my aisle was relatively speaking quite good when she did interact and speak to passengers. They did do things like kneel to get to eye level to take meal orders. But other than that were not overly proactive, and as mentioned in other reviews, they could care less about the new seats and products offered onboard, in fact they had no idea there was a new signature cocktail, but my flight attendant was genuinely curious how if I liked it as she had yet to try it herself. This being said, they did respond quickly to call buttons rings and were polite in addressing requests and needs throughout the flight.

I was barely offered refills of any of my beverages, ok maybe one water refill. Once things were cleared away, I was not asked if I wanted or needed anything else. Turn down service was also not offered. It was very 1, 2, 3 go by the books and be done service.

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Food and Beverage

Pre-departure started with beverage offerings of water, blueberry juice and champagne served in the iconic Finnair Litalla glassware, I ordered both blueberry juice and champagne.

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There was no menu. Flight attendants used their mobile devices to read options.
For wine there was 3 whites: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling. No idea where they from as bottles were not brought out to be poured. 3 Red options: Cabernet Sauvignon, Sangiovese, and a Portuguese red (which I was not offered as a choice until I asked for the Cabernet for my meal and they said they ran out).

Main meal options were: Butter Chicken with rice, Beer and Honey glazed beef, and some sort of lemongrass pasta. You were then asked if you wanted to be woken up for breakfast and if you wanted coffee or tea. No choice for breakfast.

Dessert choices were: Raspberry Panna Cotta or Mango tart with chocolate mouse

Post-takeoff came hot towel service followed by some nuts and post-departure beverge, I ordered the Chardonnay and a glass of water, these were served in the new opaque blue Litalla glassware due to replace the iconic “ice” Litalla glassware. I had originally forgotten about the Northern Blush, gin based, new canned signature cocktail, but I remembered shortly after takeoff and asked the flight attendant if I could have a glass. At first she was confused when I said Northern Blush signature cocktail, she said we have a gin cocktail and began to read the other cocktails available, she then showed me her phone and I pointed at “Northern Blush” on her phone. She promptly brought it over. The gin based cocktail is quite good, refreshing and doesnt taste overly strong, the colors are meant to evoke Nordic sunsets.

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Then tray tables were laid for table cloth and followed by one-tray service of the meal. I ordered the short ribs, which was actually very good. It came with a shrimp quiche tart of sorts, as a beef and potato salad, which was redundant. Bread was then brought out and offered, I chose some Finnish bread. This was also when I asked for a glass of Cabernet only to be told they ran out but suddenly there was a Portuguese red option that was not read to me pre-departure. I ordered that, and it was fine. My tray was then cleared and dessert order was taken and brought out, I had the mango tart and chocolate mousse, again fine.

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Breakfast commenced around 2 hour prior to arrival with hot towel and a beverage service, I of course had more blueberry juice. Tablecloth laid and one tray service. Breakfast was yogurt, fruits, bread from bread basket served (I had croissant and a Danish), a Waldorf salad of sorts, and plate of I think a overly salty egg frittata, hash browns and thick cut ham. It was not that great.

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On descent, the crew came through with dark chocolates.

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Inflight Entertainment

The new Finnair inflight entertainment system is innovative, smart and has a good user interface but selection could use improvement. While limited in selection, it is nicely organized and even includes a “popular on this route” category. It is informative of the seat functions, amenities such a WiFi, which business class and elite members get 1 hour free use of. Though the dining information was less than useful, if you arent going to provide a paper menu either have it available on the app or on the entertainment system. I did really like how pre-arrival it showed connections and it shows your connecting flight in bolded and larger fonts and has it displayed at the top even if its not the earliest connecting flight, smart design.

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HEL Ground

Upon landing, I walked to clear immigration to connect to my Schengen flight to AMS. Sadly this meant I would not be able to experience the non-Schengen Finnair lounge as access is only for departing flights. I then proceeded to the Schengen lounge, which was an absolute zoo at 7AM. I could barely find a seat, thankfully the furthest room in the “quiet zone” had plenty of seats and nice window views. I was not hungry so did not eat from the buffet, but did have some coffee and lingonberry juice.

The lounge starts to empty by around 8AM after the morning Schengen bank departs. I then proceeded to my gate for my connecting flight to AMS.

AY 1301 Flight Details

Date: May 26, 2022

Flight: AY 1301

Route: HEL-AMS, 946 miles

Plane: A350-900 OH-LWS (321 seat configuration with only front business class cabin)

Seat: 3L, window, business class

Duration: 2 Hours 10 Minutes; Dep 8:35AM, Arr 9:45AM

HEL-AMS Flight

To my surprise upon boarding, my A350 on this flight was also a refitted one but with only a front section of business class.

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The HEL based crew on this flight were far better. Very engaging, still professional and attentive. They were excited about the new cabin and service offerings and explained the seats/ engaged with passengers to get feedback. No pre-departure beverage offerings on this flight, and no noise cancelling headsets. Still 2 pillows, but blankets only by request.

Service commenced shortly after takeoff with hot towel service. Meal service was with carts. One-tray simple breakfast service of yogurt, granola, fruits and a cheese / ham plate. I had coffee and water at first. I then asked if they carried the Northern Blush on short-haul flights, my flight attendant said she would check and later came back to inform me its a long-haul only item. I then order a champagne instead.

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I then stopped by the galley and asked for a glass of blueberry juice. The crew both said it was their favorite as well and were smiley and passionate about it and Finnair. One even suggested I have it with Champagne, “our version of the Mimosa, its my favorite,” so I did, and my flight attendant poured it and offered to take it to my seat instead of just handing it to me. They were also curious about the Northern Blush as neither had had it yet. Again, a contrast to my crew on the SIN-HEL leg.

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Shortly thereafter, we began our descent and approach to AMS, and I enjoyed watching the landing on the nose camera.

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Conclusion

The Air Lounge seat is an innovative and creative seat design that is actually quite comfortable despite it not being able to recline and offers great privacy without “suite doors.” It is intuitive and easy to convert to a bed and is very spacious. Lot of great storage compartments, wireless charging, USB-C port all well thought out for the modern traveler and gadgets. Bose headsets are a nice touch as well. Wish the TV could be adjusted and a nice selection would be appreciated. Food was mediocre, but nothing bad either. Service really is where things can be improved on the SIN leg at least. And the booking experience has lots of room for improvement. Otherwise I wouldnt hesitate to book a journey in Air Lounge business class seats again.

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BonVoyage!

TheGastronomicTraveler

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