I am not a nervous flyer. Never have been. Still, there are some times where an agent says or does something which makes me wonder if climbing into a metal tube and hurtling 500+ miles/hour across the sky might not be the best idea I’ve ever had. Welcome to my recent flight from JFK to Helsinki on Finnair.
Flying as an economy class passenger with no lounge access at JFK wasn’t really all that bad. The security lines were horrid (even priority access was 20+ minutes) but I found a corner to tuck myself in to near the gate and did a bit of work before our scheduled departure time approached. The inbound aircraft arrived and things seemed to be moving well so I packed up my stuff and got ready to board. But boarding didn’t start. About 20 minutes prior to our scheduled departure time I noted that we hadn’t begun boarding. That’s usually a pretty good indication of a delay. And, in this case, it was also where the customer inspiration troubles began.
The first announcement we received was that the TSA was inspecting the plane. A bit far-fetched, but I’ll go with it. Roughly 20 minutes later – now 15 minutes past scheduled departure time – they admitted the problem was a mechanical fault in the aircraft. No additional details but they promised they had people working on it and they’d let us know something as soon as they could. At this point they also sent business class passengers back to the lounge and the duty free guy walked his stash of purchases back to the store. Time to grab a Snickers (or, in my case, a salad for dinner).
After an hour with no updates I approached the gate agent to inquire about the status of the crew. If they were going to time out on us I wanted to make sure I had alternate plans available. The agent I spoke with said they had only about one hour left. In that maintenance was still working the flight I essentially knew there was no way we’d be off the ground in an hour. Fortunately the gate agent was wrong – the crew had three hours left – but it was decidedly uninspiring to be told that the crew was about to time out but no rebookings were yet being considered.
And then things became even more bizarre. Roughly 80 minutes into the delay the manager came on the PA to update us all on the status of the situation. We were finally informed that it was “an electrical issue” on the aircraft causing the delay. Moreover, she reminded us that there are lots of wires and such on board so solving the issue “is like trying to find a needle in the haystack.” And if that wasn’t inspiring enough, she finished with, “Keep your fingers and toes crossed.” Ummm….yeah. Because what you really want your customers thinking when boarding a 7 hour flight across the ocean is that crossing their fingers (and toes!) is the key to a safe trip.
Another 45 minutes passes (we’re now about 2 hours past scheduled departure) and the agent announced “great news” for us. They finally found the problem and fixed it. You could feel the relief in the gate area as passengers got ready to board. And then the agent finished the announcement. It would only be another hour or so until they had put everything back together, tested it again and would be ready to board the aircraft. The groans from passengers were audible as that relief redoubled into annoyance and frustration. Oopsie.
The good news at this point is that the problem actually was fixed and we did board not too much later, getting out of JFK only about 3 hours late. The jet stream was strong at our back and we made it to Helsinki only two hours late meaning my three hour connection survived. In that sense the flight was just fine. But there were certainly a number of opportunities along the way for Finnair to say things which would have inspired confidence in their passengers. And they seemed to take the alternate tack every time.
As to the flight itself, it was like most other economy class red-eye trips I’ve ever taken, which is to say not especially restful nor spectacularly comfortable, but it got the job done. The seats were reasonably comfortable, though the guy next to me was very much a large Finn (I’m guessing 6’3″/220#) so when he got up or sat down the arm rest between us jostled. That was mildly annoying.
Slightly more annoying was that the overhead lights in the cabin remained on the whole flight. I do not know if that was typical for Finnair or a function of the electrical systems issues which delayed our departure. And I travel with my own eye mask so it didn’t keep me awake. But I did find it a strange situation.
Shortly before arrival breakfast was served. It seems that the turkey puck shall live on forever in the world of airline catering.
The IFE was nice, with a nifty moving map option and nose camera which makes takeoff and landing a bit more fun. Some movies and such available on demand as well, though I was asleep throughout the flight.
The flight itself was almost entirely unremarkable, just like I’d expect it to be. I actually probably would not have bothered to write up a trip report on it had the communications during the delay not been so laughable. And yet they went and said all those funny things. Such is life.
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