Flying into HEL

I’ve long wanted to fly Finnair. I always envisaged them as clean and smooth, but will they meet my expectations?

After a buffet breakfast at the Hatago Inn we packed our bags and checked out. On the way to the Rinkutown train station we stopped in at the Trial Super centre, a combination of a supermarket and cheap department store. Picked up a few last minute items, then caught the train back to the airport.

Check in is smooth, my backpack encased in a Finnair plastic bag. Then more shopping at the airport, except it was mostly browsing.

Our Finnair Airbus A350 sits waiting for us at Gate 6. Once I stepped inside I am delighted to see that the interior was just as good as I imagined it to be. The A350 cabin felt more spacious than the 787-8 we’d flown up in (it’s wider). The colours are white, with pale grey fabric seats with light green pillows and blankets.

The crew are dressed smartly, some older, some younger, but all very friendly. Announcements are made in Finnish, English and Japanese.

There are decent sized setback screens running their Nordic Sky entertainment system. It has an interactive flight map and forward facing camera views from the tail and belly of the aircraft, along with a decent range of entertainment. I don’t watch any movies on this flight, just stick to the map and views.

My external view from the window is mostly blocked by the large wing with its curved wing tip. It’s not as flexible as the 787 wing and I suspect it transfers more force into the cabin during turbulence.

Our take-off is to the north and we are soon above the clouds. Unlike yesterday’s too familiar route this is my first time flying this path and in this aircraft, so I’m a bit on edge, despite the relaxing cabin.

According to the map we head north through Japan before making a left turn to cross the Sea of Japan. I think we are avoiding China, for our path seems to be solely across Finland’s erstwhile enemy Russia.

The seatbelt lights flash on briefly as he hit a bit of turbulence over the ocean, nothing major. I feel that the 787 handles it better, but it’s always hard to tell if that’s just me, my location in the aircraft, or the actual truth, because the ride is mostly smooth.

I catch glimpses of the Siberian coastline as we cross it. The cameras forewarn me of interesting sights ahead. There are amazing views of the icy Amur River, of white mountain ranges and snowbound lands. Little evidence of people except for the very rare city and town.

A generous lunch is served, the food catered from Japan. The options are sukiyaki chicken or a hamburger patty, which is what I go for, along with a cold noodle side, crackers, cake slice and lovely soft roll. It’s not bad, but neither is the main amazing either.

I try the blueberry juice and am an immediate convert.

Then we just settle in for the 10 hours of flight. The others watch movies, I listen to music and a podcast about music. I do play a few rounds of Bejewelled on the screen, but staring at it makes me feel queasy.

After passing across northern Siberia the sun sets, but it’s never completely dark, there’s always a glow from the south. Then as we approach Europe it rises again! It is a very short night!

We are fed a hot supper, a choice of carbonara linguine or  gluggy Japanese style salmon rice. I choose the latter and regret it, but Alex doesn’t want his pasta so I have some of his. Very nice.

With an hour to go the Northern Lights show commences, with the cabin mood lighting displaying patterns of blue, green and purple.

It’s time to make our descent down towards the flat blanket of clouds that has been beneath us for much of the last hour and a half. I wonder what weather lies beneath them.

Down, down, down. The sequence becomes more urgent, the gear is down. But surely we’ve got a way to go?

Suddenly the snow capped pine trees appear, grey white fields, roads and we land. Just like that. This cloud layer is just above the ground!

Wow! This is snow. This is a very different landscape that we’ve only experienced once in Japan and even that we wasn’t the same as here.

It’s a bit scary to discover that we’ll be disembarking from a remote gate, meaning that we will be walking out into the minus temperatures and snow.

Fortunately there’s no slipping on the ice in my gripless shoes and we are soon inside the warm bus driving us to the terminal.

Vantaa’s terminal building is overcrowded. We have to make our way through security and immigration before heading past the shops to our transfer gate.

Though I have some Euros in my wallet we don’t want to buy anything, tempting though some of design products look.

We have a couple of ours to wait for our flight to Copenhagen, unfortunately moving from a bridge gate to another remote stand bus trip. It’s evening again now, though the sky glows with reflected light.

Our next Finnair aircraft is another Airbus A321. This one is a bit old and a little worn, though the cabin still retains the Finnish freshness.

Little screens above us display the flight map and Finnair videos.

Alex is soon asleep and I fall asleep as we taxi, missing the safety demonstration. Fortunately I awake in time to watch the de-icing process at the remote stand, the mechanical arms moving up and down spraying billowing clouds of steam and liquid across the wings and tails of the waiting aircraft.

I watch as other aircraft lift up above the runway and suddenly disappear into the cloud as if swallowed up by some magic process. Then it is our turn.

The one hour forty flight is mostly smooth, just a few bumps on descent. Initially there is the Hellish glow of cities beneath the snow clouds, then blackness as we cross the sea.

Free blueberry juice is served, other food can be purchased during the flight.

We descend into Copenhagen’s airport, this time going to an air bridge gate. I’ve really enjoyed our Finnair flights, the airline even better than I’d dreamed of.

Copenhagen’s Kastrup Airport is very modern and much less crowded than Vantaa. I withdraw some Krone, but we make our way straight to the baggage reclaim. It’s past midnight in Sydney and we are all utterly exhausted.

We catch the train to the Copenhagen’s Central station, then walk out into the bitter cold, a degree over freezing, to our hotel.

The Cabinn City is an utter disappointment. They need to learn from the Japanese when it comes to small hotel rooms. A bunk with a trundle bed. A shower that sprays on to the toilet floor. No luxury at all for three exhausted travellers. At least it’s cheap, but I wish it was a bit more.

Despite being so tired, almost hallucinating with exhaustion, we head out for dinner. We end up in the old town, then back to the station, acceding to Alex’s demand for McDonald’s, which did an even finer impression of cardboard than in Australia.

So a disappointing end to a long day. Or was it two? Welcome to Scandinavia!

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