Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Finnair, Part I – Manchester to Helsinki

The best part of flying out of Manchester's Terminal 1? I got to make my own coffee in my Espro Travel Press, grinding the beans (Grumpy Mule's Widescreen blend) with my Aergrind from Made by KnockWelcome to another Brian’s Travel Spot, quickly following on from the previous one, where I noted that I wasn’t writing many Travel Spots this year! This particular Travel Spot covers what is my fourth trip to Japan in a little over two years. However, whereas for each of the previous three trips, I’ve flown British Airways, this time I’m flying Finnair via Helsinki.

Wherever possible, I fly direct (it’s quicker and there’s less to go wrong). However, on this occasion, I was starting in Manchester, so I was going to have to change planes somewhere. Normally, I’d fly down to Heathrow with British Airways, taking a direct flight from there, but since Finnair is part of the One World alliance with British Airways, the Manchester-Helsinki-Tokyo route was shown as a (significantly cheaper) option, which prompted me to book it.

Since my Travel Spots run on the long-side, and since each flight is a considerable journey in its own right, I’ve split the trip over two posts. This first part covers the flight from Manchester to Helsinki, while Part II covers the onward flight to Tokyo. And hopefully there’ll be a Part III for my flight back from Tokyo with British Airways.

You can see how I got on after the gallery.

  • Step one: find my check-in desk. I'm looking for 66-68, so clearly not here!
  • Okay, this is looking more hopeful.
  • And here they are. Shame about the queue, although it's not too long.
  • But wait! What's this at the far end? The priority check-in desk? This is more like it!
Step one: find my check-in desk. I'm looking for 66-68, so clearly not here!1 Okay, this is looking more hopeful.2 And here they are. Shame about the queue, although it's not too long.3 But wait! What's this at the far end? The priority check-in desk? This is more like it!4
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

This was my first time flying with Finnair, which was part of the motivation for writing this Travel Spot (similar to my motivation in writing up my flights with Virgin Atlantic in the last two Travel Spots). For all that I’ve been captured by British Airways and it’s airmiles/status system, this is (I think) the 12th airline I’ve flown with in the past three years.

My flight was scheduled to leave Manchester at 10:25, so I decided to book a taxi from my Dad’s for 07:15, wanting to get to the airport in plenty of time and miss the commuter traffic around Manchester, which can be pretty awful at times. Sadly, I had a conference call the night before, which didn’t finish until 01:00, so by the time I’d packed everything up and gone to bed, it was almost 02:00 and I didn’t sleep well, getting in, at best, five hours of poor-quality sleep.

I rolled out of bed at 07:00, got dressed and rolled into the taxi right on time. Fortunately, the drive into the airport was as smooth as they come, plus it was done in glorious sunshine after two days of rain. My taxi dropped me off at 08:10 and I was ready to go.

Normally I fly with British Airways from Terminal 3, but Finnair flies from Terminal 1, which I’d only flown from once before, on the start of my round-the-world trip in 2016. On that occasion, I was flying with Emirates and I remember really disliking the terminal, so I can’t say I was looking forward to it this time around.

Let’s just say that the intervening three years has not done Terminal 1 any favours. I never thought I’d find myself writing this, but I’ve been spoilt flying from Terminal 3, particularly these days when I have lounge access, even when I’m flying economy. In comparison, Terminal 1 is much bigger and hence much busier.

The first challenge was to find the check-in desk. These are split over two levels, with the majority on the lower level, where there’s a split between left (1-30), right (31-60) and behind on the right (61+). I was looking for desks 66-68 (at the back on the right) which took me a little time to find. When I got there, I found a considerable queue, and was just about to resign myself to a long wait when I spotted a priority check-in zone at the far end.

It was hard to see whether there was just a single queue, but I took a chance and moved down, where I discovered that there were indeed two queues, with just a single person ahead of me in priority. As a result, I was checked in by 08:20, only to face my next challenge, dropping off my rucksack.

You can see how well that went after the gallery.

  • The queue for oversized baggage. Well, half of it.
  • And this is what we're all waiting for: a chance to drop off our bags to be security checked!
The queue for oversized baggage. Well, half of it.1 And this is what we're all waiting for: a chance to drop off our bags to be security checked!2
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

Like many older airports, Manchester can’t take rucksacks at the check-in desks, so instead there was the usual ritual of taking my bag to the oversized baggage area, which doubles as baggage inspection.

In all the times I’ve flown from Terminal 3, I’ve never had more than a couple of people in front of me, but here the queue was already pretty long (and by the time I’d dropped my bag off, it was twice the size it had been). It was also very slow-moving, with each person taking a minimum of two minutes.

The problem with combining oversized baggage with baggage inspection is that those of us who are dropping off regular bags, are grouped in with those like the people two ahead of me, who were trying to take a chainsaw on the plane with them. And, no, I’m not making this up. They had a holdall with a chainsaw in it, the inspection of which took around five minutes, including the confiscation of a can of lubricating oil. When it came to my turn, my computer stand caused some excitement, but fortunately I wasn’t required to haul it out for manual inspection.

In all, it took me 35 minutes to drop off my bag, after which, security was a breeze, helped immensely by having priority access. Even so, there was a queue, but it moved quickly and I was through in 20 minutes, despite my bag being pulled aside for a closer look which resulted in nothing more than it being put back through the x-ray machine without being opened.And let me just say, for all my moans about Manchester Airport, the security staff there are some of the most thorough and courteous I’ve met anywhere in the world.

You can see what I made of the rest of Terminal 1 after the gallery.

  • And here's Terminal 1, looking a lot more jazzed up than Terminal 3.
  • However, this is what I'm looking for: the lounges (premium, no less).
  • Down here you say? Right you are then.
  • Further encourgement! Up the stairs we go...
  • ... turn right at the top...
  • ... and there it is, the Aspire Lounge.
  • There's a wide variety of seating, from conventional tables and chairs...
  • ... to secluded corners...
  • ... and strange oval seats for, well, lounging on I guess.
  • There's also a quiet zone at the other end, which was the only place...
  • ... I found with at-seat power, other than the...
  • ... computer desks by the windows, which afforded a great view...
  • ... of all the planes coming and going.
  • Am I the only one who wonders how the pilot can see to park the front wheel so precisely?
  • The lounge also has a bar. You can tell because it says 'bar' on it.
  • There's a small food service area off to the left...
  • ... serving breakfast when I was there.
  • There were also these coffee machines, which had one redeeming feature: hot water...
  • ... which meant that I was able to make my own coffee! Hurrah!
  • Okay, that's my flight to Helsinki on the board. Time to go to the gate.
And here's Terminal 1, looking a lot more jazzed up than Terminal 3.1 However, this is what I'm looking for: the lounges (premium, no less).2 Down here you say? Right you are then.3 Further encourgement! Up the stairs we go...4 ... turn right at the top...5 ... and there it is, the Aspire Lounge.6 There's a wide variety of seating, from conventional tables and chairs...7 ... to secluded corners...8 ... and strange oval seats for, well, lounging on I guess.9 There's also a quiet zone at the other end, which was the only place...10 ... I found with at-seat power, other than the...11 ... computer desks by the windows, which afforded a great view...12 ... of all the planes coming and going.13 Am I the only one who wonders how the pilot can see to park the front wheel so precisely?14 The lounge also has a bar. You can tell because it says 'bar' on it.15 There's a small food service area off to the left...16 ... serving breakfast when I was there. 17 There were also these coffee machines, which had one redeeming feature: hot water...18 ... which meant that I was able to make my own coffee! Hurrah!19 Okay, that's my flight to Helsinki on the board. Time to go to the gate.20
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

By 09:15 I was in the terminal, which, I have to say, is much bigger and nicer than Terminal 3, although the duty-free area is huge (I’m only exaggerating slightly when I say it took me five minutes to walk through it, something I commented on the last time I flew from Terminal 1). The free Wifi also didn’t, something else that hadn’t changed in three years!

Although the main terminal area looks much nicer than Terminal 3, with more seats and many more options, since I was flying business class, I made straight for the Aspire Lounge. It’s churlish to complain too much, since a lounge is undoubtably better than waiting in the terminal, but I’ve really been spoilt by the British Airways lounge in Terminal 3. Not that there was anything wrong with the Aspire Lounge, which is much bigger and busier than its British Airways equivalent, it’s just not as good, particularly not the food, and especially not the coffee.

The lounge is T-shaped, with the doors at bottom of the T. Off to the left is a quiet zone, by far the noisiest part of the lounge thanks to the group of four who had decided to sit there and hold an animated conversation, involving plenty of shouting. The food is just to the right, where there’s also a bar and coffee machine, which had one redeeming feature: it provided hot water. Beyond this is more seating, while the front of the lounge (the long part at the top of the T) is all windows, looking out over the gates at Terminal 1, ideal if you like plane spotting. The seating, by the way, is a good mix of computer desks, open lounge seating and more booth-like sets for four and six people. There’s also free Wifi (which worked), plus at seat power at the computer desks and, bizarrely, in the quiet zone, but not in the main zone.

As a result of the delay when dropping my bag off, I didn’t have long in the lounge, just enough time to get some breakfast (on a par with a below-average hotel buffet), something which I desperately needed, not having eaten since getting up at 07:00. At this point, my flight, which was showing as delayed five minutes to 10:30, had a “go to gate in five minutes” message up on the boards. Had I been settled, with a table and my laptop out, I would probably have waited until it showed “boarding”, but as it was, I decided to make use of the coffee machine to get some hot water.

I used this, naturally enough to make my own coffee, using my Travel Press and grinding the beans (Grumpy Mule’s Widescreen espresso blend) with my Aergrind. I then popped it into my Therma Cup and took it down to the gate with me.

You can see how I got on after the gallery.

  • Welll, there's my plane, so where's the gate?
  • No, this is not a gate. It's a corridor. Just sticking a sign on it does not make it a gate!
  • If it weren't for the fact I could see the plane from the window, I'd have gone elsewhere.
  • And here we go, finally, boarding the old-fashioned way. Thankfully it's not raining!
  • At least you get a good view of the plane this way. That's my window, first one down!
Welll, there's my plane, so where's the gate?1 No, this is not a gate. It's a corridor. Just sticking a sign on it does not make it a gate!2 If it weren't for the fact I could see the plane from the window, I'd have gone elsewhere.3 And here we go, finally, boarding the old-fashioned way. Thankfully it's not raining!4 At least you get a good view of the plane this way. That's my window, first one down!5
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

The one area where Manchester Airport really, really lets itself down is at the gates. To me, a gate is somewhere to you wait in relative comfort before you board your flight. As a minimum, it needs to have enough seats for the expected number of passengers.

A good example of how to do this is Boston Logan, where the gates at Terminal E on my flight back from New England two weeks previously, had been exemplary (although these were all gates serving long-haul, international flights). In contrast, Manchester Airport seems to reserve gate seating for its long-haul flights, although even there it’s fairly basic. When it comes to short-haul, its idea of a gate is a corridor where we can all stand around, waiting for the flight to board, with a handful of seats along the sides which don’t seem to be associated with any particular gate.

Gate 6, where I was departing, was a classic example. By the time I got there at 10:00, the corridor was full, the flight showing no signs of boarding. Indeed, had I not seen a Finnair Airbus A321 parked outside, I would have wondered if I was in the right place. Boarding was announced at 10:05 and there was the usual scrum. I joined the priority queue, which was much shorter than the economy queue, although both were fairly long.

And then nothing happened.

We stood there, two long, fairly orderly lines, completely blocking access for anyone who needed to get to the other gates further along the corridor. And we waited. And waited. The most ridiculous moment was when the flight was announced as final call for boarding, which raised a few laughs from the queue since no-one had actually boarded the plane!

After ten minutes of this, I was just about ready to give up. My plan was to take a seat, reverting to my old policy of not boarding until there was no-one left in the queue. However, we suddenly started moving, so I stayed in the queue. Once we got going, we boarded surprisingly quickly, using the old school method of walking across the tarmac and up a flight of steps to the door. For once, Manchester cooperated by not raining, otherwise it would have been quite miserable.

By 10:20 I was on the plane and ready to go. You can see how things went after the gallery.

  • From my seat, I could watch everyone else boarding the plane.
  • Looks like we're done.
  • Yup, that's it. Boarding complete!
  • Next step, push back into the middle of the tarmac while we do the safety briefing.
  • Off goes our tractor, so we must be good to go.
  • And indeed we are! Next stop Helsinki.
  • Well, actually, next stop the north runway...
  • ... waiting while this fellow lands...
  • And the plane (from Norweigan) is safely on the ground.
  • We cross the runway...
  • ... and straight onto the south runway...
  • ... and off we go!
  • Gathering speed...
  • .. and we're airborne!
  • The familiar countryside south of the airport...
  • ... and old friend Jodrell Bank (a world famous radio telescope).
  • And then cloud.
  • And 20 seconds later, we're above the cloud.
  • I never tire of looking down on the tops of clouds. There's a city somewhere down there.
  • It could be Manchester, as we circle around to head off to the north east.
  • The cloud soon broke and there were some great views as we flew over the Pennines...
  • ... although there was no in-flight map, so it was hard to tell where we were.
  • That, however, is Newcastle (I worked it out afterwards).
  • So many bridges.
  • The mighty River Tyne.
  • And here it is, flowing into the North Sea at Tynemouth.
  • ... with the Northumbrian coast stretchng off into the distance.
  • A wider angle view as we leave the coast behind.
  • And now nothing but blue as we head out over the North Sea.
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

Boarding was complete by 10:30, which was only five minutes after we scheduled to depart, so that wasn’t too bad. There were the usual pre-departure checks before we pushed back at 10:35. This included the cabin crew politely telling me to put my laptop in the overhead locker which is unusual; normally the cabin crew are happy to let me keep it in the seat-back pocket. The purser also came and introduced herself to me and one other passenger in business class, which was a nice touch, although it was a little disconcerting to be singled out like that. She also reassured me that I’d make my connection.

Finnair fly Airbus A321s on this route, the biggest of the narrow-body Airbus models, and one which I’m very familiar with, having flown on lots of them with British Airways. However, this was an older plane with no TV monitors, so we had a manual safety demo, only the second time that’s happened to me in a good few years. I did not that it was a lot of quicker than the usual video, so we were still on the tarmac during our five-minute wait when the cabin crew finished.

There was a short taxi from the terminal to the end of the south runway, with a short pause while a Norwegian flight landed on the north runway, which we had to cross. That out of the way, we then just rolled onto the south runway and immediately accelerated towards take-off, leaving the ground at 10:45. Within two minutes, we were in cloud, then, 20 seconds later, we were above it, turning right in a big loop that probably took us over Manchester (I could see some big conurbation through breaks in the cloud).

The seat-belt signs came off five minutes after we took off and, with an estimated flight time of 2¼ hours, it looked like we would be landing around 13:00 (15:00 Helsinki time), which is slightly earlier than scheduled. The clouds soon broke up and we had some lovely views as we flew northeast over the Pennines. Our flight path took us just south of Newcastle, and then over Tynemouth and out over the North Sea at 11:05, although since we had no inflight map (I felt very lost without it, I had to work all this out afterwards).

You can see what I made of Finnair’s business class after the gallery.

  • I was in Seat 1A, right at the front. The middle seat is left vacant in business class.
  • The seat itself.
  • And behold my legroom. Not much, but more than enough!
  • This is how close I was to the front.
  • During the flight, the curtain was pulled across.
  • The only other thing to talk about is the table. It's in the armrest.
  • The top flips up...
  • ... and the table lifts out...
  • .. .then folds over...
  • ... and then folds over once more to double its size.
  • You can slide it back and forwards a decent amount...
  • ... and it's just the right size for my laptop.
  • Although, sadly, it wasn't very stable for typing on.
I was in Seat 1A, right at the front. The middle seat is left vacant in business class.1 The seat itself.2 And behold my legroom. Not much, but more than enough!3 This is how close I was to the front.4 During the flight, the curtain was pulled across.5 The only other thing to talk about is the table. It's in the armrest.6 The top flips up...7 ... and the table lifts out...8 .. .then folds over...9 ... and then folds over once more to double its size.10 You can slide it back and forwards a decent amount...11 ... and it's just the right size for my laptop.12 Although, sadly, it wasn't very stable for typing on.13
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

The cabin layout is slightly different from what I’m used to when flying business class. There’s the usual six seats a row, with three seats on either side of a central aisle, but unlike British Airways, where the middle seat is explicitly put out of use, here it is just used as a place to keep the cushions/blanket for the other two seats. I suppose that’s done to help flexibility, since all you have to do to expand business class is move the divider back an extra row. Indeed, when I booked the flight, several months before, I recall only being offered the first two rows as business class, whereas here the business class extended back to the fifth row.

Other than that, the seats were fairly standard economy seats. I managed to get seat 1A, the front row, bulkhead seat by the window, and, as an added bonus, the other seat wasn’t taken, so I had the row to myself. This meant that I could spread out into the middle seat, using it as an extra table effectively, without worrying about clashing with the other person.

Since I was in the bulkhead row, my table folded out of the armrest, in this case to my right. There’s a single large hinge, then the table folds out in two, although it’s not quite wide enough to reach the armrest on the other side. However, it does have good travel forwards and backwards. While it’s more than adequate for my laptop when it comes to suffers from the usual problem of hinged tables like these: it’s not very stable. Unless I rest the far side of the table on my knee (which is uncomfortable) it bounces when I type, so in many ways I prefer having it on my lap.

You can read about the rest of the flight after the gallery.

  • The meal service started with drinks and pretzels...
  • ... and was followed by a rather excellent main meal, including starter, main and dessert.
  • I even had hummus!
  • I rounded things off with coffee which was actually better than it looked!
  • The meal service took place as we flew over the North Sea. Mostly it was uneventful...
  • ... but every now and then, something caught my eye. I think that this is...
  • a Lufthansa Airbus A340, but I'm not sure it should be smoking like that!
  • And there it goes.
  • Other planes were harder to spot. Believe it or not, that dot in the middle is a plane...
  • ... although even at maximum zoom, I can't tell who it belongs to.
  • More dots, this time on the North Sea. They look like oil rigs to me.
  • I think that might be just the second time I've seen an oil rig from the air!
  • There was also the occasional ship down below.
  • As we approached what I think was the tip of Norway, the cloud started up again.
  • Whatever coast it was, this is as much of it as we were going to see!
  • Then it was all cloud until we...
  • ... began our descent into Helsinki, at which point the cloud began to clear.
  • The countryside had that familiar patch-work look that I'm used to from the UK.
  • That could be many, many places in the UK down there, but it's Finland!
  • And, of course, there were lakes. Lots of lakes.
  • As we got closer to Helsinki, roads started to appear...
  • ... as well as more lakes.
  • The Finnish countryside looking moody under the cloud.
  • More lakes.
  • There was the occasional industrial building...
  • ... and more roads.
  • By now we were starting to get close, with plenty of urban areas.
  • I'm assuming that's the city centre in the distance.If so, we're approaching from the east.
  • Almost there.
  • And there's the airport!
  • And we're down!
  • Now just to taxi to our gate...
  • ... which took no time at all!
  • All that's left is for the air bridge to be attached. Only the ground crew attached it to...
  • ... the wrong door! Here it is coming back again. Finally we can get off!
  • Welcome to Helsinki Airport, although since that's another story, I'll leave you here for now.
Slider Script by WOWSlider.com v4.6

I’m used to taking the short hop down to London, so in comparison, the service was much more relaxed. Drinks arrived, along with a packet of pretzels, as we passed over the North Sea Coast, 20 minutes into the flight. If we’d been going to Heathrow, we’d have been getting ready to land at that point!

The meal arrived at 11:25, and was lunch, rather than breakfast, so I was glad that I ate in the lounge, although by the time I’d finished my lunch, I was feeling rather full! It was excellent though, a small starter of guacamole and potato salad, a main of hot spinach and ricotta cannelloni and a moist blueberry sponge for dessert. There was also bread and hummus, all of which was really tasty and well-cooked. The service was excellent, by the way, and my tray was cleared away by 11:45.

I also tried the coffee which was really thick and syrupy when poured from the pot. I turned down the offer of milk, which may well have been a mistake, since this was a really dark, robusta-laced brew. However, it was surprisingly not too bad, a very old school taste, but well-made and definitely a cut above most of the insipid airline coffee I’ve had (British Airways/Union notwithstanding).

The whole meal service took place as we flew over the North Sea. I saw a couple of other planes, a few ships down below and one line of what I assume were oil rigs, but otherwise it was just a clear blue sea to match the sky above.

We reached what I think was the southwestern coast of Norway at 12:05, but immediately flew over cloud, so it was hard to tell exactly where we were from then on. We ran into some turbulence at 12:10 and the seat belt sign came on for about 15 minutes. After another 20 minutes of flying over cloud, we started our descent at 12:45, the purser once again coming to say hello and to let me know that my onward flight to Tokyo would be departing from Gate 50G, another nice touch.

The seat-belt signs came on at 12:55, by which time the clouds were starting to break and I got my first detailed views of the Finnish countryside around Helsinki, although I had no idea exactly what I was looking at. We made quite a few turns, so I suspect we were holding for a little while, since we didn’t land until 13:15 (15:15 local time), but then went straight to gate, the quickest I’ve ever got to a gate from landing. However, we were then kept waiting for 10 minutes while the gate staff attached the airbridge to the wrong door, realised their mistake and moved it!

And then it was time to disembark, check out the airport and catch my onward flight. That, however, is another story, which is covered in Part II of this Travel Spot.


I have been rather rude about Manchester Airport in this post, although I don’t think that anything I’ve said has been inaccurate or unfair. However, in the airport’s defence, it has said that it is spending over £1 billion to improve the facilities there, so I look forward to that since I’m likely to be using Manchester Airport for some time to come.


If you liked this post, please let me know by clicking the “Like” button. If you have a WordPress account and you don’t mind everyone knowing that you liked this post, you can use the “Like this” button right at the bottom instead.

Don’t forget that you can share this post with your friends using buttons below.

2 thoughts on “Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Finnair, Part I – Manchester to Helsinki

  1. Pingback: Brian’s Travel Spot: Flying Finnair, Part II –Helsinki to Tokyo | Brian's Coffee Spot

  2. Pingback: Brian’s Travel Spot: Narita Airport and the Keisei Skyliner | Brian's Coffee Spot

Please let me know what you think. Guidelines for comments are in the "Posts" drop-down menu.