Founded as Aero O/Y (Ltd) in 1923 with a single seaplane the airline made its maiden flight from Helsinki to Estonia’s capital Tallinn. The airline retired seaplanes in 1936. During WWII Aero O/Y continued international services to Sweden and in 1946 the airline became majority government owned and was rebranded as Finnair in 1953. With 57% government ownership it remains one of Europe’s few state owned flag carriers. Finnair joined the jet-age early with British and French jets that proved problematic and in 1968 the airline switched to US jets. In 1969 the airline launched its first service to the US by flying to New York. In 1975 Finnair took delivery of its first McDonnell Douglas DC10 and the airline remained a fan of this aircraft. Finnair was the launch customer for McDonnell Douglas’ last aircraft the MD11 in 1990. In 1983 Finnair became the first carrier offering direct flights between Europe with Japan by flying across the North Pole and in 1988 they also became the first European airline to serve Beijing. Finnair also owns shares in numerous subsidiaries and complimentary airlines. In 2011 the airline sold its ground services division to ground handling operatior Swissport. In 1999 they joined OneWorld but in recent years the airline’s reputation for Scandinavian efficiency have not been enough when competing against discount rivals and prestigious Arab airlines.
Finnair is both modern and classical at the same time. The interiors of a Finnair flight will make IKEA customers feel at home as designs are simple, elegant and practical with more than a hint of retro coming from the Marimekko designed uniforms and interior features. Crew tend to be formal and respectful rather than fun and familiar. Meals are served efficiently and crew answer call buttons promptly. Passengers used to other carriers may find the interiors of Finnair sterile if not boring with its plain predominantly white color palette. Crew are dressed in classically formal blue and white uniform with few looking sexy in them.
Finnair has an comprehensive domestic network linking practically every corner of Finland with its capital Helsinki. They also have an extensive network connecting Helsinki to many tourist destinations and large cities around Europe, particularly eastern destinations in Russia, Ukraine and Poland. Long distance international flights stretch from New York to Delhi. Finnair is particularly interested in taking a slice of the Asian market. They also provide services between Hong Kong and Bangkok. As part of OneWorld they offer convenient connections to other countries they do not serve, such as Australia and more widely in the US.
Finnair is seldom the cheapest offer and rarely do they try to fill their planes by offering super discounted fares, but rarely are they over-priced. Finnair is a mid priced airline and by offering services to some ‘remote’ destinations they are sometimes the best option. For example Finnair flies between New York and Yekaterinburg in Russia with only one stop making it a better connection than any other airline which is worth paying for. Finnair is super reliable and baggage security is assured which does compare favourably with other cheaper airlines. Connecting through Helsinki’s modern and efficient terminal can be an interesting experience for seasoned travellers.
Finnair is a classic airline that continues to feed passengers free of charge on all flights. Western meals include hints of Finnish cuisine while on Asian routes passengers will have a choice of Western or Asian styles to pick from. Meal sizes are not huge but are nicely presented and tasty in all classes. Finnair provides complementary alcohol and in Business class their wine lists are impressive. Business passengers will also enjoy coffee made from an on-board espresso machine. Cutlery, crockery and linen, are produced by iconic designer Marimekko and are simple and elegant while not being luxurious.
Larger Finnair jet services all have their own individual IFE (in-flight entertainment) units built into seat backs. They have a standard number of movies, TV shows, audio channels and games to pick from and language choices is wide. Only a few choices are in Finnish, with English being the main language. Finnairs inflight magazine Blue Wings is also an interesting read. Domestic flights and smaller jet flights to neighbouring countries like Norway or Latvia do not have individual entertainment screens available.
Finnairs ground services are efficient rather than friendly. The airline enforces their baggage allowances strictly so if your bags are too heavy expect to pay for them. Finland’s airports are modern and functional and service is quick and efficient. Finnair’s check-in is done by Swissport in Finland while in other countries local ground handlers will do the job with varying degrees of efficiency and/or leniency. Baggage is handled efficiently and theft from bags in Finland is totally unknown.
Finnair’s premium product is targeted at business passengers rather than celebrities. While interiors are spacious and comfortable they are not exactly luxurious. Meal service is very nicely presented but again meals are not indulgent or banquet standard. Crew are smiling and efficient; not subservient. Finnair’s Business Class lounges are functional and resemble high class cafes with a free buffet. Many of the luxurious extras such as a free limosine service and curb side check-in that Middle Eastern airlines now offer are absent from Finnair. Outside Finland, Finnair premium passengers will use partner lounges which are often superior to their own.
Finnair’s economy cabin is functional and perhaps a little dull. The airport experience is unlikely to be memorable and generally matched by the on-board experience. Seat sizes are standard, meals nice and the entertainment options average. There is nothing particularly Finnish about the overall experience and for frequent passengers the memory of the flight might fade quickly due to its overall averageness. However while the experience is unlikely to prompt you to write a postcard economy passengers may value the punctuality and efficiency of connections and they likelihood of no mishap over baggage.
Finnair Plus is the name of the airline’s frequent flyer programme which is very good. As a OneWorld member this card can be used the world over and passengers do not need to have multiple cards or even redeem flights exclusively with Finnair. Members will be pleased to know that redemption flights and upgrades are easier to get than some other OneWorld airlines. Finnair Plus can also be used to earn points on other travel products, hotels, rental cars etc in Finland.
Making money out of the airline business is difficult and many airline’s corporate teams resort to all sorts of shortcuts to save money. However Finnair has a decidedly ethical quality about its decision making that is not just a marketing ploy. While some airlines like Ryanair and Qantas attract despicable managers to senior positions, Finnair does not seem to stand for unethical behaviour. Finnair is certainly a rare breed in a cut-throat industry.
Finnair maintains its aircraft to the highest standards. Typically they buy their aircraft new and maintain them themselves and keep them flying for longer than other airlines do. The airline was a big fan of McDonnell Douglas jets and they still retain many for short distance flights. Second hand Finnair aircraft fetch a higher price because the new owners know they have been cared for by safety conscious staff. Flying in Finland’s often extreme weather has also given its pilots skills that other crews on other airlines seldom achieve. In its long history the airline has experienced two fatal accidents, both in the 1960’s.
Finnair is safe, reliable and ordinary in almost every way and lacks a touch of luxury.
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