Hello everyone. We are back after being extremely busy and out of regular internet service.
We are taking you back to where we left off.
Part 1: Hopping around Helsinki
When we checked in to the Hilton Helsinki Airport last night, we were upgraded (the count is now 7) to a massive 1 bedroom suite, complete with separate sitting room. Thank you Hilton Honors gold status! This meant we could spread out and completely re-pack in advance of our flight. The Navigatrix is considering restoring this airport hotel as her favourite.
We have also learned to take the complimentary breakfast (for gold members) in the main restaurant, rather than the Executive Lounge. There is table service, more comfortable seating and the food selection is much larger, including a separate gluten free section away from any cross-contamination.
We discovered another Marimekko outlet! This one is in Tammisto, a suburb close to the hotel and near the Iittala outlet we visited a week ago. We caught the local bus again - the whole suburb seems to be an outlet area ranging from carpets to clothing to kitchens to sporting goods. Why did we know not about this before? "This shop has only been open for about a year," said the manager. More fabric and crockery were purchased - lucky we have plenty of baggage allowance.
Alas, we had to leave but it is only a short walk to the terminal. We checked in and breezed through priority security (we were almost the only people going through) but then wandered around trying to find the tax refund desk. Having walked past it once, we returned to find it closed and we did not have the correct documentation to get the refund anyway.
The Navigatrix opted to return through passport control in order to get the receipts stamped.
"I love Finland so much I decided I couldn't leave," she quipped to the passport officer.
Back in Finland, the Customs officer wanted to see the goods. A moment of panic ensued.
"But they're back on the other side of passport control with my husband," said The Navigatrix.
"Don't worry," said the Custom's officer. "This happens all the time. It's a silly system."
The Navigatrix returned to the same passport officer who originally cleared us.
"Are you collecting passport stamps?" he asked.
"Tax refund," she replied.
The passport officer nodded knowingly.
By the time The Navigatrix returned, the tax refund desk was almost due to open. The operator apologised for being three minutes late. Rightfully so - all of this was eating into our time in the Finnair lounge!
Indeed, we only managed about 15 minutes in the lounge, which is delightfully Scandinavian in design, décor and dining. Unfortunately there was not enough time to try the reindeer salad!
Having been yelled at in Denmark for taking photos in the lounge, this time The Navigator asked permission. There is even a sauna in the Finnair lounge, although we're not sure if that is something we want to partake in just before a flight. The Finns do - The Navigator poked his head in to discover naked people. He decided they probably did not wish that photo be taken.
Onto the flight. Every long distance travel itinerary has one bad leg in terms of flight time and layovers. This was ours.
Part 2: AY005 HEL-JFK
Airbus A330-300. We thought it curious that Finnair employs this older plane on what we considered a high profile flight. Our stewardess explained that Finnair's focus is on Asia so all the A350s are deployed on those routes. The A350 will not be deployed to USA routes until 2024.
Qantas Frequent Flyer (oneworld). This is the continuation of our oneworld Classic Flight Reward and is the third leg of the itinerary.
Business - seat 3A (window) and 3C (aisle).
8.5 hours. We push back on time and due to long periods of turbulence over the Atlantic Ocean we arrive about 15 minutes late.
On the A330, Finnair uses a curious 2+2+1 then an alternate row of 1+2+1. In this alternate row the window seat on the left is like a throne, with first class like expanses of tables and storage. Our stewardess told us Finnair will soon refit the A330 to have the reverse herringbone layout like the A350.
The seats can lie flat, with one's feet extending underneath the table area of the row in front. There was plenty of room for The Navigator's 182 cm frame. A soothing massage feature is available and the position can be adjusted to suit one's need.
We are in the 2+2+1 row, which means there is no direct aisle access for the passenger in the window seat. There is not as much room as on Qantas to step over the aisle seat - The Navigator is working on his flexibility!
An 11" touchscreen is mounted into the partition of the seat in front and can only be tilted up or down to suit sitting or reclining modes. We counted them this time: 104 new release and library movies in English, Scandinavian and Asian languages. There is a similar number of TV series, as well as plenty of music and games.
One hour's free internet is available for business class passengers. Longer access periods are available for purchase.
Our allowance is 3 bags per passenger at 23kgs each. We are currently at 2 bags each. On the A330 there are overhead lockers above all seats for carry on luggage.
Finnair provides a blanket and pillow decked out in Marimekko prints. There is also an amenity bag full of Lumene cosmetics.
Finnair service is wonderful, with just the right mix of politeness and chattiness. There was much discussion about our Marimekko and Iittala purchases and that next time we should buy Arabia crockery.
Service was disrupted by the long periods of turbulence but the staff did their best to keep us fed.
Champagne was served before take-off. Yum.
Then The Navigator had Napue gin and tonic, served with a sprig of rosemary. Napue gin is distilled with Finnish botanicals such as birch leaves, seabuckthorn, cranberries and meadowsweet. Double yum.
Unfortunately lunch was not quite as good as the food on our previous Finnair flight from Bangkok. We both chose the roasted pork belly with autumn vegetables. It was nice... but not wow.
However, dessert was Finnish organic ice-cream which was delicious - light and creamy but without the sugar-sweet taste.
"Have you tried the blackcurrant flavour?" asked the stewardess.
"Later," replied The Navigatrix.
"Why not now?"
"Indeed - why not?"
A snack of Scandinavian tapas or shrimp toast is offered about 90 minutes before landing. We both choose the tapas which has reindeer tartar, rabbit pate and roast beef.
We love Finnair and will fly with them any time. They provide plenty of route options for us to use frequent flyer points to Europe and beyond without the expense and long flight times of flying through London.
The lack of direct aisle access will be solved when the A330 is refitted with the herringbone layout. The only let down on this flight was the not-quite-perfect meal but we are now being really picky.
9.5 out of 10
Part 3: AA1240 JFK-MCO (Orlando)
Every landing into the USA requires one to cross Immigration and collect luggage, even if transiting to a final stop. For us this meant having to clear security to go back to the airside of the airport. We anticipated this could be problematic but we cleared Customs, collected and rechecked our bags and were through security within an hour.
The American Airlines lounge in the satellite terminal is nothing to write about so we will not.
One sees many things when travelling. We have twice witnessed firearms being checked in. It is quite unnerving to see guns in an airport but it is better them being checked in than not. In JFK we saw someone carrying a kettle in their hand luggage and plenty of people having water and other liquids confiscated. We also saw a little Shih Tzu carried onto our plane in a soft carry case.
"Does he fly well?" asked The Navigator.
"He doesn't have wings, so no," replied the passenger. "I have to drug him."
The dog and his owner sat two rows behind us and indeed the dog did fly well. He let out a whimper as the plane revved for take-off and then there were a few little yelps as the plane came into land.
Boeing 737-800. This is the same plane Qantas uses for short haul domestic flights.
Qantas (oneworld). The HEL-JFK-MCO leg is the third part of our itinerary.
Business - seat 4A (window) and 4B (aisle).
2.5 hours. We push back on time and arrive about 15 minutes early. The rising harvest moon is on display as we take-off.
The difference between international business class and domestic first/business is stark. This is a very unspectacular seat.
Each of the eight rows in business are arranged in a 2+2 configuration. The seat is leather lined but the padding is quite thin and hard. There is 20 inches of width and 40 inches of pitch, so plenty of knee room.
The seat only reclines approximately 30 cms and does not have a legrest or footrest. This made it difficult to get completely comfortable given our increasingly desperate need for sleep.
The familiar screen fold downs from underneath the overhead lockers. 'Finding Dory" is played but one has to bring their own headphones.
Otherwise, plenty of movies and TV shows available on the AA mobile app. The app must be downloaded before boarding but once on your device all content is free.
AA's allowance for business class is 2 bags per passenger at 32kgs each. We are still operating to Finnair's allowance.
Not much because we had found the end of the tether and broken it. The overhead cabins are smaller so there is only enough room for one carry on bag. However the other carry on luggage easily fitted underneath the seat in front.
A drink is offered before take-off but once airborne we put on eyeshades so the cabin staff left us alone. The staff then decided to camp out in the forward cabin and talk very loudly. They continued to do so after The Navigatrix asked them to lower their voices. Frankly this is what we have come to expect from AA staff.
Nuts were offered but declined. Through semi-sleep The Navigator heard cookies being offered but that was it.
In the lounge we heard an announcement for a flight "with service" so we assume it is only the trans continental flights that have food.
We managed both managed a little more than an hour's sleep so things were not too bad. It was good to be in business class so as not to fight for overhead locker space or be crammed in 3+3 in economy. However beyond that there is little premium attached to business/first.
3 out of 10.