This article is part of the Flight Reviews series, in which I review the onboard product offered by airlines across a variety of aircraft types and routes. These first-person reports review a particular flight — a unique combination of factors including operating airline, aircraft type, route and class of service.
Last summer, I took a monthlong trip to Europe for a few speaking engagements and some much-needed vacation time. My first stop was Riga, Latvia, making the trip a perfect opportunity to fly Finnair’s new business class product. Here are some basic flight details to get started:
Airline/Flight: Finnair, AY20
Route: DFW-HEL — Dallas, Texas to Helsinki, Finland
Flight Date: May 1, 2022
Scheduled Departure: 4:55 p.m.
Scheduled Arrival: 11:10 a.m.
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900 XWB
Most of Finnair’s Airbus A350 and A330 aircraft feature the new business class product reviewed in this article. Interior modifications on those long-haul aircraft that have not yet received the updated business class will be completed by the end of 2023, according to Finnair.
How I booked the flight
This flight was part of a larger itinerary that took me from Gainesville, Florida to Riga, Latvia, with connections in Dallas and Helsinki. I purchased the ticket with American Airlines frequent flyer miles — The total cost was 57,500 AAdvantage miles plus $12.10 in taxes and fees.
Flying in business class from the United States to Europe for some airline miles and a few bucks is an incredible deal. If you haven’t joined a frequent flyer program yet, it’s never too late to start — start earning miles towards an elevated travel experience.
Finnair Airbus A350 Seating Layout
Finnair currently has four different seating configurations on its Airbus A350-900 aircraft type, two with the new “Airlounge” business class seats and a premium economy cabin, and two without.
This particular flight featured 30 Airlounge business class seats arranged in a 1-2-1 configuration, 26 Haeco Vector Premium premium economy seats in a 2-4-2 configuration, and 265 Zodiac Z300 slimline economy class seats arranged 9-abreast in a 3-3-3 configuration. A high-quality seat map of the Finnair A350 is available from aeroLOPA.
Business Class Seat on the Finnair Airbus A350
Finnair’s Airlounge business class seat, developed on the Collins Aerospace platform, is a significant departure from recent business class seat designs. While the seat lays flat into a comfortable bed, it does not recline.
In promotional material introducing the seat, Finnair describes the lack of recline as a benefit, suggesting that “With no recline and a fixed, contoured design, the new AirLounge is designed to look and feel more like a piece of classic Nordic furniture than a simple airline seat.” The seat design allows many passengers to “sit cross legged on the wide seat, as well as lie flat comfortably, slide into a more relaxed position or use the two pillows to sit upright and create a working environment using the movable table.”
The seat has received mixed reviews from travelers of all types and many debates have occurred among frequent flyers, centered around questions of the seat’s comfort, and whether a business class seat that doesn’t recline actually provides business class passengers a premium experience. My perspective on these questions is that the removal of seat padding in premium cabins, including Finnair’s new business class, has made them less comfortable. The lack of a reclining seat back, together with other accessibility barriers included in the seat’s design, has made this a seating product I will try to avoid in the future. I’ll discuss the seat’s accessibility, or lack thereof, in the following section.
Examining the seat in more detail, there are some impressive features to highlight.
An 18″ touch screen display provides passengers with access to a large entertainment library with movies and TV shows, a moving map to track flight progress, and one of my favorite features of the Airbus A350 — a tail camera feed, suitable for viewing the exterior of the aircraft during takeoff, flight and landing. Finnair provides business class passengers with a wired Bose headset for use during the flight.
Overhead lighting can be controlled using buttons near the retractable tray table and nordic wood surface/armrest near the window (or center console if not in a window seat). A button to extend a portion of the seat for bed mode is located on this control panel as well. There is no recline feature, so that is the only power seat adjustment feature.
Cable-free charging of smartphones, AirPods and other Qi-enabled devices is possible using the wireless charging pad built-in to the wooden console. It was by no means a fast charge, though it was convenient not to have to mess with a charging cable.
A Universal AC power socket, together with USB-A and USB-C charging ports are provided in a small headphone storage cabinet recessed within the seat back. A remote to control the entertainment features is also stored in this space.
Additional storage is located next to the seat, with space to hold a water bottle, headphones and laptop — the laptop storage bin safely held my 14″ MacBook Pro while I ate and took a nap. Don’t forget to collect your items from the various storage cubbies upon arrival to your destination!
Wheelchair Accessibility of the Finnair Airlounge Business Class Seat
Privacy is all the rage in premium airplane cabins these days and, although Finnair did not opt to install doors in its new business class, an immovable shell encloses the seat to restrict print eyes.
Like privacy doors, the seat enclosure sacrifices accessibility to attain that level of privacy. The shell blocks the seat cushion, preventing passengers who rely on an aisle wheelchair for boarding from executing a safe, unassisted lateral transfer into the seat.
In both Dallas and Helsinki, I asked the assistance contractors working on behalf of Finnair if they had received any specialized training for assisting immobile passengers into and out of the Airlounge business class seat. None of them had, and no additional tools such as a slide board were available.
The traditional method of an assisted transfer, lifting the passenger under the arms and knees, was not possible given the seat shell — they’d have needed arms twice the normal length to extend over the seat’s enclosure! I instead opted to go it alone, essentially climbing into the seat from the cabin floor.
Once seated, I found it extremely difficult to move around and adjust myself — there is no armrest on the aisle-facing side of the seat! It’s a terrible oversight and, coupled with the lack of a seat recline, made it extremely difficult to relieve pressure during the flight. If I had to describe the 10-hour journey from Dallas to Helsinki with just one word, I would say that it was “painful.”
Food & Beverage Service
The first of two meal services began shortly after the flight’s departure and upon reaching cruising altitude of 41,000 feet.
I selected the main course of chicken, rice, spinach and green beans — it was a solid offering that hit the spot, though the chicken breast was a bit dry.
The meal’s starter had been a selection of prawns, and I concluded with a piece of delicious cake. Though the main course was forgettable, the meal service started and ended on a positive note!
Prior to arrival in Helsinki, breakfast was served — it was a sampling of many different breakfast foods, including fruit and yoghurt, cheese, sliced salmon, sausage, juices and more.
Menus for some of Finnair’s long-haul business class flights are published online, so you may wish to consult them before booking a flight.
Accessible Lavatory on the Finnair Airbus A350
The “accessible” lavatory suitable for passengers using the aisle chair on Finnair’s Airbus A350 is located at the center of the economy class cabin, behind row 38. A slightly larger lavatory behind boarding door 2L and row 8 is available, but it isn’t large enough to close the door with the aisle chair inside.
After meal service had concluded, I rang the call bell and told the flight attendant that I needed to use the bathroom. Some minutes later, he returned with the onboard aisle wheelchair and assisted in maneuvering me to the larger accessible lavatory.
Given the location of the lavatory far behind business class, I had to pass through both the premium economy and economy class cabins to access it. Even for passengers not seated in business class, the lavatory is 17 seating rows away from the nearest boarding door — a failure in planning and design.
Accessible lavatories come in a number of shapes and sizes, and some are much more accessible than others. If I were to rank the various styles, this one would be at the bottom of the list. Two standard lavatories are effectively combined into one, by opening the wall between the two. Although this does provide additional space for the aisle chair and a companion or care assistant, accessibility features are lacking. The aisle chair must be parked perpendicular to the toilet and there are no horizontal grab bars in the space. A vertical grab bar is useful for those who can stand, but that isn’t my situation.
Pro-tip: When a flight attendant is assisting you to the lavatory using an aisle chair, advise them to pull you backwards — it’s safer, much easier to maneuver and will prevent your knees from bumping into seats.
For more information on getting to and using the bathroom on the airplane as a wheelchair user, read the article on wheelchair accessible airplane lavatories, which contains photos and descriptions of the various lavatory styles.
Bottom Line: Is Finnair’s New Business Class Accessible?
No, not by a long shot.
Simply put, I don’t view Finnair’s business class as an accessible or safe seating product for full-time wheelchair users. The inability to adjust the seat for comfort places an undue burden on disabled travelers who lack the strength or ability to adjust themselves.
In my view, the accessibility barriers inherent in the Finnair seat design make it one of the least accessible premium cabin products in the transatlantic air travel market. Disabled travelers would be better off trying their luck with more accessible products, such as American Airlines Business Class, the British Airways Club Suite, and KLM’s World Business Class.
Without a doubt, Finnair has created a visually appealing business class cabin to reflect Nordic design principles and aesthetics — I just wish they had put some effort, any effort, into providing equal access for airline passengers with disabilities.