How not to inspire passenger confidence, by Finnair


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.

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The A330-300 which would (eventually) take me to Helsinki

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.

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Business class on board. Not my seats and didn’t look worth too much of a premium.

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.

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Economy class; at least I was near the front of the plane which helped make my connection possible.
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I like the two seats option on the A330 and 767s.

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.

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A quite mediocre breakfast

Shortly before arrival breakfast was served. It seems that the turkey puck shall live on forever in the world of airline catering.

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Flight details on the moving map
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Looking out the nose cam on final approach into Helsinki

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.

Read more from this trip here.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and .

9 Comments

  1. Really appreciate the input. We were thinking about flying it this summer. Great to have a heads up on the connections time.

    1. The connection in Helsinki was incredibly easy. Just a quick passport stamp and no more than 20 minutes walking to the furthest gate, at least at NYC resident walking speeds. Everything was really quite fine – even the delay I’m not too upset about. But those announcements were just awful.

  2. I was on a CO flight a few years ago EWR-LIS where the overhead lights were left on…I consider that a capital offense. Kind of like when FA’s do the post-take off announcements on a redeye instead of doing them before takeoff so as to not bother pax who are trying to eek-out a few hours of sleep. Unacceptable and the FA’s were indifferent when I brought it up with them. :rolleyes:

  3. 15th of Jan? I was at the next gate and thought it was odd that the London flight scheduled after was boarding first. The Finnair team just didn’t seem to make anyone aware of what was going on.

  4. Maybe Finnair just favors bright cabins for some reason. I haven’t flown them eastbound, but I flew HEL-JFK a couple of months ago, and I absolutely loved the fact that they kept all the lights on and shades up on the day flight. US carriers seem to insist on darkness, even during the day, and it’s one of my pet peeves. (That being said, I completely agree that on an overnight flight the lights should be off.)

  5. I had a mildly similar, less than inspiring pilot on my flight to BQN last weekend who welcomed us on board about 20 minutes into the flight and closed his comments by stating “what I hope will be a successful arrival in Aguadilla”.

    You can hear the buzz in the cabin after that veiled threat….

  6. How does Finnair Y compare to other US carrier Y classes?
    DL? AA? UA?
    Is AY an airline I want to seek out or seek to avoid? Or are they comfortably uneventful and it won’t matter one bit? Unless of course you have a mechanical like you

    1. I flew AA coming home from Europe and I’ve flown UA several times TATL recently in Y. I’d say that they’re all similar enough that I wouldn’t shy away from one over the others. AA had no in-seat IFE (on the 752) while UA, DL and AY do. And UA E+ (or DL EC or AA MCE) is definitely more legroom. But that extra leg room is probably the only place I can see a difference, and there may be a cost component to that depending on your elite status.

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