Flying Finnair’s all-new and controversial “no-recline” Business Class seat was at the top of my #FlyingBucketList for 2023. Having never flown Finnair before, I was excited to both try out this all-new seat type and experience a brand-new airline.
Known as the AirLounge seat and designed by Collins Aerospace, Finnair’s refreshed long-haul Business Class will be the first to its kind and be found across their entire fleet of A350 and A330s. The rollout has been gradual, starting in 2022 and continuing through the end of 2023. Having created a bit of a buzz around the aviation industry, you can imagine how excited I was to see it for myself.
This flight was booked on a cash fare, which I’ve consistently found great fares from Milan to the West Coast flying a combination of Oneworld airlines. I booked via AMEX Travel Portal and chose to offset the cost with Membership Rewards points using my American Express Business Platinum.
With my AMEX card, 100,000 points is equal to $1,000. There was also a 35% rebate with the card, so I only needed to use 65,000 points for the same $1,000. The total price of the ticket including tax was $1,986.55. By using points from my AMEX Business Platinum card, I only paid $986.55 in cash. I will be crediting the flights to Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, as Finnair is a member of Oneworld. For those looking to redeem this flight entirely on points, I'd recommend going through Alaska's Mileage Plan program for 70,000 Alaska Miles.
Airline: Finnair (AY)
Route: Helsinki (HEL) - Los Angeles (LAX)
Aircraft: Airbus A350
Duration: 10h 33m
Service: Business Class
Helsinki-Vantaa International Airport (HEL) continues to rank among the best in the world and for good reason. Though on the small side, the International or non-Schengen side has high ceilings and glass walls which feels extra spacious, while the Schengen side has much lower ceilings with tighter gate areas similar to what you'd find around most of Europe.
Overall, the airport is modern, clean, and efficient—everything you’d expect from a Nordic establishment. Lots of amenities, including a grocery store where you can find more than typical airport fare.
Due to a tight connection from Milan, I unfortunately did not have enough time to visit the Finnair Business Class Lounge although I imagine the space to look equally modern and visually pleasing, as the aircraft cabin.
I researched lounge options after my flight and found that it was right next to my gate, Gate 52. It’s open from 6AM to 1AM and offers all the conveniences you’d expect in a business lounge: food and drinks, free internet access, USB and charging docks next to seats, and a private phone booth. While I’m disappointed I couldn’t experience it, you can check out Finnair’s lounge page to read more about access and lounge locations around the world.
The Boarding I boarded from Gate 52 at 2:45PM, conveniently around the corner from Finnair’s Business Class Lounge . And that’s where the convenience ended. After handing over my boarding pass, everyone was held in a tiny space until we all boarded together in droves without designated groups or cabin classes. It was too reminiscent of the boarding process of my Air France flight, simply uncomfortable and awful. Ideally, the lounge-gate-seat transition should be seamless and uninterrupted.
The Aircraft Finnair operates an entire fleet of Airbus planes, including the modern, state-of-the-art A350. This is Finnair’s flagship aircraft used exclusively on long-haul routes, with the occasional visit to London-Heathrow (LHR), Amsterdam (AMS), and Brussels (BRU). It’s slightly smaller than the Boeing 777-300ER, but boasts two equally massive engines that are quieter and more fuel efficient than their size implies. For casual travelers, the new A350 is quiet, powerful, and eco-efficient.
The Welcome After a subpar boarding, I was looking forward to the welcome service and finally to the seat.
My seat was set with lots of treats, as well as two pillows, two blankets, an amenity kit, slippers, and a menu. They continued their partnership with Marimekko for the amenity kit featuring Marimekko’s signature bold pattern. I was happy to add this to my collection.
Once I settled in my seat, the cabin crew offered Finnair’s signature blueberry juice and champagne as a welcome drink - which forewarned will be raving about throughout this entire review. The flight filled up, with Business Class nearly booked to capacity minus a few open seats, including the aisle seat across from mine.
The Cabin + Seat
The new cabin design is classic, simple Nordic design. The dark blues are really calming rather than cold. With 43 total seats, in a 1-2-1 configuration, the cabin is laid-out in a reverse herringbone pattern with overhead storage along the window seats, leaving the center seats open and making the whole cabin feel more open. The cabin is also divided into two sections, the main one between Doors 1 and 2, and the mini-cabin with 3 rows behind Door 2.
I chose seat 7L, toward the back and facing a window. To my surprise, this seat was incredible. A lot has been said about the no recline AirLounge seat and I can honestly say that it may be Europe’s Best Business Class. The shell is completely padded and slightly reclines so passengers can travel in a lounging position, at all times. It’s so comfortable and spacious. I especially noticed the space around the shoulders.
Where the seat lacks a trendy, albeit pony-height, suite door like you'll find on many other airlines (Qatar Airways Business Class Qsuite and Etihad Airways Business Class Suite), the seat's high, padded shell adds a lot of privacy and separation from other passengers. There’s also plenty of personal storage space, potentially limiting what you may need to grab from the overhead compartments. Finnair’s innovative seat was cozy, comfortable, and very Nordic.
The middle aisle seat across the aisle from me was open, so I enjoyed a part of my flight from that vantage point. As I imagined, the middle seats allow you to really appreciate the open space overhead since the only storage compartments are along the windows.
The Departure Despite a lengthy boarding process, the flight departed just 10 minutes past the scheduled departure at 4:10PM, with a flight time of 10h33m. We were first in-line and the flight took off from runway 4R. I had beautiful views of Helsinki from my window and the exterior camera view on my screen, which I was glued to for most of the flight. The climb was also really smooth. Oh, the joys of flying on an A350!
The Meals Inflight service started 30 minutes after climbout, starting with warm nuts and another round of blueberry juice and champagne. I used the time to take way too many selfies, although what’s nice is the seat design has a shelf around the seatback perfect to hold a camera.
Dinner was incredible! I pre-ordered the pork belly with roasted potatoes, chimichurri beans, and a mustard sauce. It came with two sides: roast beef in a nice ponzu sauce and a lovely, creamy green pea puree with mustard potatoes and pickled red onion. Very impressed by the quality of the meat and how well it was cooked. The meal also came with a side of Finnair’s signature rye bread, which may be an acquired taste unless you prefer a dense drier bread.
To cap off the meal, I had a lemon tartlet and a selection of cheeses. The dessert and cheese plate portions were small, but delicious. Long time readers will know I love to end the meal on a Bailey’s on the rocks. Here's something unique: Finnair does not carry Bailey’s, but the crew offered me a Nordic alternative called Kyrö Dairy Cream, which was quite tasty.
Dinner service finished with 8.5 hours left in the flight. I had plenty of time to watch a movie and rest before touching down in Los Angeles.
Quick note about the service. I felt like the attendants could have been more proactive with serving water and other drinks midflight. The crew may still be downsized since reducing staff late 2022, but overall, the crew were beyond welcoming.
With about two hours before landing, I was served a veggie quiche meal. Another homerun. Seriously, the food was delicious from beginning to end. It was full of flavor and the crust was flaky, which I imagine is difficult to achieve at 35,000 feet.
The Entertainment + WiFi
The 18-inch, high-definition IFE was great, and loaded with plenty of movies and TV series. I chose Last Christmas with Emilia Clarke and Henry Golding, which was pretty good, even in June.
However, the Wi-Fi service was spotty and unreliable. After attempting to go online for an hour for € 7.95, I decided not to buy an additional three hours. To the left is the full price list, topping off at € 24.95 for the entire flight.
For those in a shopping mood, unfortunately you won't get your shopping fix as I learned that Finnair discontinued onboard duty free shopping as of February 2023.
The Rest What makes this seat controversial is the no-recline feature, which opens up the question of sleeping in a lay-flat position. I’ve received this question a number of times, and I’m happy to share that sleep comfort was not compromised, as the leg rest adjusts up to fill in the seat and create a flat surface.
I found the sleeping surface to be generous and ideal for extra-tall travelers, as recline mechanics have been removed. I was able to sleep for about three hours before waking up with 3.5 hours left of the flight.
The Arrival With my eyes glued to the exterior camera, we glided West over downtown Los Angeles and into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). The weather was sub-par with cloudy, overcast skies. The flight touched down at 5:03PM and we spent half an hour waiting for Gate 157 to become unoccupied at 5:28PM.
The Takeaway Finnair’s new Business Class may just be Europe’s Best Business Class experience. From the calming color scheme, food service, and attention to comfort and privacy, it’s apparent that Finnair has designed an innovative premium service.
The food quality was a definite high point. From the blueberry juice and champagne welcome drink to every plate afterward, I was impressed by how well everything was prepared and the dishes were full of flavor. And the new controversial business class seat—the main attraction for the flight—was chic and comfortable. Very minimalist and Nordic. I had all the comforts of a lounge sofa or chaise flying through the air.
The crew could have been more proactive with serving drinks mid-flight, but this is only a mild critique.
All in all, I highly recommend Finnair’s new Business Class. Like me, you’ll be raving about the seat and food well after the plane lands.