Surprising Horizons

The Joy of Travel. The Realities of New Experiences.

Category: Airplanes

Flight Review: Finnair | Economy Class | Dublin – Helsinki | A319

I can see the future.

I can see myself flying this route quite a few times in the next few years.

The Departure

Dublin Airport is a secret shame of mine being Irish. It’s just not the best airport in the world. Or Ireland. Far from it. Terminal 2 has tried to up DUB’s game but it all still comes back to the infrastructure of Terminal 1 and the whole airport. It’s just not the best. An express train connection to Dublin or even Belfast straight from the airport? Hell no, line up for the buses or taxis. A stress free check in experience where open space is in abundance? No chance; it exudes franticness. This is DUB 2018 yo.

The Flight

AY 1382 departs from Dublin daily (apart from Tuesday and Thursday which doesn’t make it daily I guess) at 10:25 and arriving in Helsinki at 15:25. It is served by a mix of Airbus 319s and Embraer 190s. We had the A319 on our particular day. And this particular A319 was an A319-112 (OH-LVA) which was born in 1999; making it 19 years old.

Today we would be delayed by roughly 40 minutes by some late refueling of the aircraft. Shell happens.

The A319 is a squat little Airbus but seating room in Economy isn’t too bad on the knees and you end up thinking you’re on an A320 until you look back and see the fuselage ending quite abruptly and quite near.

Boarding was fuss free and flights attendants welcoming. Finnair’s A319s have little overhead monitors that drop from the ceiling to keep any eye on our flight progress and gate information at your arrival destination. The screens, sadly, are really hard to read and quite dim in the daylight of the cabin.

Food is available for purchase in Finnair Economy but for a 2hr 40min flight on average I tend to stock up on food before the flight (and in particular some Tayto from Ireland!) as I don’t want to take out a second mortgage on board.

The flight went by very quickly and if you’re given a clear sunny day on your way over from DUB to HEL you will get to see some beautiful white snowscapes and coastlines of Norway and Sweden as you come into the descent down to Finland.

The Arrival

HEL is not hell. It’s a very manageable and quiet airport to either arrive or transfer in. They have some major upgrades happening over the next few years which is increasing the number of gates available. Here’s hoping this will decrease the amount of times you have to hop onto a bus when you land (which was our experience) as that’s always a little bit annoying after a flight not to just walk directly into the terminal.

I’m looking forward to having HEL as my home airport for the foreseeable future as I believe it is a relaxing point of departure and arrival which doesn’t get the stress levels up too much. That’s always a help. Next time I experience HEL I will be arriving in my new home. A few days after I arrive I will be taking a short hop over to the Aland Islands on a Finnair ATR72 to scope out the main town Mariehamm. Watch this space.

Review: Singapore Airlines Business Class 787-10 Singapore – Bangkok

With Singapore Airlines miles to burn before I shuffle off this mortal coil island state I decided to experience SQ’s very new Boeing 787-10 business class offering on a local route. Bangkok was (and is) being used by SQ to ease the 787-10 into their network of flights. So Bangkok it was and it was quite fitting as Bangkok was my first introduction to Asia way back in 2006 and so it would be my last city to visit in Asia whilst living here. This time around.

On this journey, I was very happy to have TravelogyDepartment along for the ride.

Changi Departure

Our flight number was SQ982 (9V-SCB which is listed as Brand New on FlightRadar) and we would be taking off from Terminal 2 which meant a nice wait in the SilverKris Lounge Business Class area. This lounge has a very nice low key vibe in the quite large sitting area. Muted colours and comfortable chairs.

The food and beverages on offer are immense and I was happy with the chicken rendang that I had. Taittinger champagne was the order of the day (happy birthday to me) which was fine.

The three hours and > 3 Taittingers went by very quickly and before we knew it we were heading towards our departure gate of E11. We timed it perfectly to saunter on board without queuing and we veered off to the left to the awaiting cocoon-like business class section.

On Board

Welcoming us on board with a smile at the front door were our crew who would become friendlier at different parts of our flight individually…it just took some time for certain ones to warm up to some eager 787-10 fliers!

The seating in SQ’s 787-10 business class section is in a 1-2-1 configuration with alternating rows changing their specific layout a little bit as you can see in the below official layout diagram from SQ. It is worth noting when I booked this flight Seatguru didn’t have accurate seating map for the 787-10; they have since rectified that.

As you can see for couples the even numbered rows in the middle would be more suited. Or the other rows; depending on how your relationship is going. For solo travellers or for a couple who both like to sit by the window the side seats on the odd numbered rows are best and also have the feeling of more privacy and cosiness (see video report for more seat antics).
The seat itself is comfortable and testing the lie flat feature led me to believe it would be a very good seat for long haul flights and trying to get some shut eye. Around the seat you have a crazy amount of nooks and crannies to store everything you could possibly need. USB ports and power port are also part and parcel with this seat.

As a business class flyer you can “Book the Cook” which gives you a wide variety of meals up to a few days before the flight departure. I went Singaporean and opted for the chicken rice. As I stuffed my face in the lounge beforehand it still was very tasty but I was pretty full. Before the meal I was presented with a very nice birthday cake from the head purser Mr. Pan (pre-arranged by the travelogydepartment guru). Much appreciated for the gesture on both SQ’s and TD’s behalf. Also more champagne was had.

There are two toilets at the front of the business cabin and two economy toilets behind the iron curtain. I went to the both of them and the business class one is only slightly bigger.

So a word on the crew. They were nice just not overly chatty. We got in to a nice long conversation about the plane and staffing duties with a female attendant at the start of the flight who was more than happy to give us more details about her role and the planes she flies. Mr. Pan as head purser was attentive but not overly so; but he brought the cake so there’s that. The other female attendant didn’t really make herself available for chatting or inquiring into if we needed anything until I offered the rest of my birthday cake to the crew. She was pretty happy after that..
To compare this to my return flight on the A330 service I was being called by my last name with every question put to me; it just came across nicer like they really appreciated me more. Has to be said too, that the 787-10 business class was nearly empty and the return A330 was completely full so it wasn’t down to passenger load.

In flight entertainment by SQ is probably the best there is on any airplane. Ever. A never ending supply of movies and TV. Screens are touch screen with this new business class setup but with the option of using the remote in your armrest also. It’s only when I fly on other so-called top class airlines that I realise how much Singapore Airlines cram into their in-flight entertainment; other airlines’ offerings just pale in comparison.

So what else? I’m not sure. It is certainly an amazing hard product on offer. The seats are fabulous and the rest of the Singapore Airlines experience that comes along with it just makes it a top class business class offering.

Arrival

Nothing too much to report here apart from the Priority/Express lane pass you get as a business class passenger that allows you to skip the general throng of tourists at immigration and head to the indicated express lanes. A nice welcome after a flight. It was my first time to grab the Airport Express train from BKK and it was very convenient and cheap (40 Baht). Staying at a hotel near one of the stations on this line is highly recommended. No more taxi scrambles…unless you have a tonne of luggage I guess.

Get yourself on a 787-10 to experience what it’s like! As of writing only Singapore Airlines have the 787-10 in service with 4 aircraft in service (9V-SCA, 9V-SCB, 9V-SCC, and 9V-SCD) servicing Bangkok, Perth, Osaka, and Kuala Lumpur (not sure for how long though).

 

Finnair Economy Comfort Helsinki to Singapore Airbus 350-900

As Finland will be our new home come June we planned a trip to check out our proposed city of dreams (Helsinki) with Finnair. People are surprised when they find out Finnair fly direct to Singapore daily but it’s a pretty popular route nonetheless. It takes about 11 hours and 30 minutes SIN-HEL and 10 hours 40 minutes HEL-SIN.

The Booking Details

Finnair’s website is fine; nothing to complain about. The upsell of Economy Comfort is not too “in your face” but on first glance there is not too much difference seat-wise and once you get on the plane and sitting down you realise how little a difference your experience is from the “normies” in normal Economy seating. Do not expect Singapore Airlines level of Premium Economy on Finnair’s fleet! This is what Finnair offers with their Economy Comfort model:

Our Economy Comfort seating option in the front section of the Economy Class cabin makes your intercontinental travel even more pleasurable.

  • 8–13 cm (3–5 inches) more legroom
  • Seats are located on the first four or five rows in the Economy Class cabin (depending on the aircraft type)
  • Better headrests (excl. A350)
  • Boarding and exit among the first customers
  • Only on intercontinental flights: Noise-cancelling headphones
  • Only on intercontinental flights: Personal amenity kit: earplugs, eye shades, socks, toothbrush & toothpaste in cotton bag with Marimekko “Kivet” pattern
  • Free Wi-Fi for 1h in widebodies

On Board

The 3-5 inches of legroom are welcomed, surely. On our flight from SIN-HEL we did not get an amenity kit but on this return route we did. Odd. The EC seats are part of the main cabin; there is no feel of this being anything more than a few inches legroom offer. They are the same seats and they don’t offer any more width than normal economy seats. Economy Comfort seats also get noise cancelling headphones which is good. Personally, I’m an ear buds person due to over-ear headphones pressing against my glasses making them uncomfortable after a few hours.
The seats.
Bare bones. Thinnest seats evar. I know this is becoming the thing to do to cut costs and weight on A350s and 787s but, man, these seats are minimalistic. Every movement from one passenger moves the row. Comfortable they are not. The headrest is fine and adjustable.
Foodwise, yeah, it’s airplane food. It was edible. Nothing at all to commend or to vilify here.
Flight attendants are cordial and communicable and on this route tend to be Singaporean based. I know this as I had a chat with one of them in the galley (swaying back and forth in the un-ending chop). They do the route, take two days off, and do the return route. Rinse and repeat.
One nice feature of Finnair’s A350 fleet are the two in-flight cameras; one on the tail and one underneath which gives some stunning views of the planet as you zoom along. On this particular route the camera underneath was not working but the top one was and it was interesting to see how the plane reacted to the turbulence; it actually was more reassuring to see how little the plane was moving when it felt as if we were bumping around quite a bit.
The in-flight entertainment is ok with a range of movies and TV shows but after flying Singapore Airlines a lot over the last seven years I found the range to be quite limited. I guess I will have to get used to that. The TV screens are big with a USB port situated underneath for phone/tablet charging.
Free wifi for one hour is available to Economy Comfort customers. It didn’t work. I tried several times.

Finnair own two versions of the A350 and we had the pleasure of flying both versions on this trip:

Version 1 Version 2

Version 2 is slightly more favourable to flying in Economy Comfort due to the bathroom proximity although if you are flying as a couple and you want a two seater then row 1 in version 1 is for you. The problem is you never know which one you’re going to get (just like chocolates so you could find yourself in a version 2 instead of version 1 and you will have the extra seat beside you in row 21.

The Flight

Roughly an hour shorter than SIN-HEL but it is still a double digit flight time at 10h 46min (which mentally makes it looooongggggg). We were lucky I guess as some days this route takes up to 11h 30mins.

The route is pretty straightforward. Unfortunately for us, on this particular day, no matter what altitude (we were at 37k, 39k, and finally 41k feet) we were at there was light chop nearly throughout the entire flight. There might have been maybe a half an hour when it was silky smooth. It made for an annoying flight experience to say the least.
With a departure at 23:55 from HEL; this flight suits people who can sleep during the night. So that counts me out. It took me 3 or 4 days to get back to normal once back in Singapore; that’s even with the A350’s extra technology bits to help combat jet lag.

End Result

It’s a unique route; one that might attract inquisitive travellers from each country. Obviously with Finnair using the latest and greatest plane it’s an attractive flight package for the average flyer. Looking closer though and you will see some distinct flaws in the flight package. The seats have to be the highest concern; too hard and too thin. In-flight entertainment needs to be more comprehensive; with the price and size of SSD drives these days Finnair must be able to get more movies and TVs squeezed in their platform.

On Flying

It starts with the journey to the airport. You know you’re about to experience humanity at its worst and you won’t be able to escape it. You ride along in grim determination and simmering resignation to what’s about to unfold.

The terminal. Lost fingers point in different directions. Children with wide eyes follow along because that’s what they do. Check in. Eyes up. Blue screens answer with numbers and letters and it makes sense. Line up.
Too close.
Too slow.
Too far.
Too smelly.
Too loud.
Pay attention, alright?!! The world is happening outside of your bubble of ignorant existence!! How many suitcases can one person check in?! And why are they always in front of me?!
They have a Ming Dynasty vase that needs taken care of. Naturally.
They have a passport from the South Sandwich Islands. Needs to be telegraphed there for proof of citizenship. Naturally.
“Do you have any of the illustrated banned items in your suitcase?”
“No” Hell no.
Not the time for bleating simperish humour directed at an audience of one followed by an audience of heavily armed police.
Checked in.
Line up. Just go. Security. Pockets. Check. Again. Laptop gymnastics. Shoes on or shoes off? How paranoid is this country?! Sidle through the portal through to the other dimension where having all your stuff back in your pockets and bag is a fundamental right of existence.

Waiting. Wait. Waiting. Ignore life. Ignore some more. Delaying the inevitable. Time doesn’t change its gait.
Gate. Time to guess which person is on your flight and sitting in very close proximity to you. With elbows of granite and phlegmy affirmations.
Boarding. Let us all gather en masse and ignore all directions. First class and business class please prance your way through the commoner yokels waving your golden tickets. Just push them out of your way at your leisurrrrre. We’ll wait. We have to. That’s how it is.

Boarding. The initial joy of freedom past the boarding counter dissipates into a line of people who struggle with luggage calisthenics in the aisles. No you probably can’t fit your grand piano in the overhead. But, by all means, block the aisle for 10 minutes trying to do so. And yes, it’s absolutely necessary for you to take your jacket off in the aisle before sitting. Fold it twenty times and place it in the overhead locker for good measure.

Seats. Planes. Hell. Every stitch sewed by satan. Every nut and bolt placed by a maniac. Armrests measured precisely by psychotic cave dwelling bat people. Yes, person in front of me, it IS more pleasurable for you to recline your seat 1 inch into my knees to watch your movie. It’s also pleasurable for me to bang my knees into your reclined seat every 10 seconds.

Food. Prisons in Guatemala have better food than airplanes. Fact. There’s always chicken. And a sprig of broccoli. And some vague sauce. Never fear, there’s always a bucket of fish heads if they run out of options by the time they come to you. Alcohol elevates the taste by making you care less about life and your tastebuds.

Turbulence is the opposite of fun. I used to stare at the sky in wonderment at clouds. Some even look like old cartoon characters. Merely joyous yet duplicitous disguises. Now I know. Now I know. Some clouds are jerks. Some clouds reach up high with their scuffy appendages and roughly tickle passing airplanes for pure enjoyment. Jerks.

Landed. Joy of joyous joys. Yes why don’t you stand up and take your bag out of the overhead whilst the reverse thrusters are still countering Newton’s 3rd Law along the runway. Stuck behind Diana Ross who has 50 suitcases and a chandelier to extract before the whole plane can trundle out of the plane weeping.

“Thank you for travelling with us. See you again.”

“Yes. Yes you will.”

7 Ways To Cope With Flying

Here’s how I barely survive the hell that is flying in the “cheap” seats in airplanes.

1. PLANNING

My plan of survival starts with planning my travel months beforehand. Fact: some airlines have better planes, seats, and in-flight entertainment than others. I pay more for a better plane and a better airline and start from there. If it’s a route I haven’t taken before I check out a number of third party websites (Zuji, Expedia, Google Flights) to see which airlines travel there. I usually never book on these websites and always go through the airline’s own website. Just a little simpler and there never really is any difference in price and probably slightly cheaper this way. If I know that budget airlines fly in that area and they’re not appearing on the third party websites I will go to their website and check it out.

Tip: If you type in to Google “flights singapore-hong kong” Google will give you a quick summary of what airlines fly that route which will give you a good summary:
Screen Shot 2016-01-20 at 10.51.23 AM

If you have connections, you need to scope out how long it might take you to transfer ( Do you need to pick up the bags from the carousel and place them in a transfer area? Do you have to travel 20 miles between terminals *cough Heathrow* ?) Having a longer connection sometimes is less stressful. I find 3 hours in between international flights is usually a comfortable timeframe.

2. SEATS

You’ve booked the flights. Seats time. I’m an economy guy unless I find an amazing business class deal (Air India Business Class is sometimes cheaper than Singapore Airlines Economy to Mumbai on 787 and KLM Singapore-Bali sometimes has some good Business Class deals). Does the airline offer Premium Economy? You may as well take it if it’s within your budget. What type of plane is it? You must check out SeatGuru.
Travelling as a couple?
On an Airbus 330/340? Choose the two seats on the side option.
Travelling on a Boeing 777/747/ or Airbus 380/350? Choose two seats in the middle three/four as nobody will be clambering over you then or vice versa on the side three seats.
Travelling on a narrow body? Choose two aisle seats across from each other. That way you each have at least some space on one side of you with the chance that the middle seat is empty.
Travelling alone?
On long haul wide body airplane flights choose the aisle seat in middle seating. That way only one person can bother you getting up to the toilet. When choosing your seat online look for empty seats in the middle of the middle section and empty seats in front of you. Maybe, just maybe, nobody will take them up and you wont have a seat in your lap and somebody fighting for elbow room beside you. On short hop flights on narrow body airplanes, choose the window seat if you think you can make it without toilet breaks.

Avoid seats near toilets (bulk row seats are commonly near toilets); the line of people is annoying. And the smell sometimes…well…

Bothered by turbulence? Center seats over the wings are preferable. Seats at the back of the plane tend to move side to side and have a different, more unsettling feeling in turbulence. Let’s face it though, turbulence happens and even though the B787/A350 is said to have a turbulence detection and dampening system, you’ll still ride through it more often than not no matter where you sit.

On a related note; KEEP YOUR SEATBELT ON! It beggars belief that there are still injuries occurring in those cases of severe turbulence because people are smashing their heads on the roof because they’re not strapped in.

3. STAY ALERT

Plane looking a bit empty and boarding is well under way? Always ask the flight attendant about the load and about moving to a more spacious area. I’ve often won the race to get 3 side seats to myself by asking early. Sit on the aisle/middle seat until after cruising so nobody gets an idea to share the three seats with you!

4. NOT DYING OF BOREDOM

I can’t sleep on planes. So I watch a lot of in flight entertainment. Start with short episodes, then move on to movies, then end with short episodes. Your brain won’t want to invest too much energy in Gone With The Wind near the end of a long haul flight. Short and snappy episodes are better. If you have a tablet/laptop load it up with your favourite movies/TV shows; you never know when the in-flight movie/TV choices will be pretty lame. Netflix now allows you to download shows so get to it!

I can’t sleep on planes so sometimes I drink alcohol. Yeah, that’s right. Everybody says don’t do it. I say I’ll handle my own dilemmas thanks very much.A couple of wines/beers puts you in to a more sedate mode; you might even nod off for a bit. If you are a violent and miscreant drunk then please skip over this paragraph. I find that I never lose any sense of common sense with alcohol on planes no matter how much I drink; I’ve tried. Believe me. Ethiopian Airlines from Addis Ababa to Bangkok; I may have depleted their weekly allowance of Heineken. There was no in-flight entertainment…I had to do something…
Anyway, it works for me but it might not work for you and I tend not to drink on narrow bodies as access to toilets is less..accessible.

5. FOOD

Bring snacks on board. If at all possible put a carry-on under the seat in front of you for easy access. You will never know how inedible the food they serve you will be.

6. COMFORT

Economy Comfort/Premium Economy I’ll pay for within economic reason. Extra leg room like bulkhead row or emergency exit? I don’t go for it. More often than not at the bulkhead it’s beside a family with newly borns (not their fault etc.). Bulkheads usually go hand in hand with being beside the toilets too. With the evolution of in-flight entertainment being available the minute you get on board with some airlines (eg. Singapore Airlines or Emirates) you will be stuck until cruising altitude until you can take the screen out of the armrest.

Person in front has reclined in to your knee caps? Nothing much you can do about it unless you buy this which might just end up with you in a 40,000 feet fist fight. You can make a big deal about forcefully changing the angle of your TV and making sure you let the flight attendant know to tell them to push it forward when meals are served. When you are getting out to go to the bathroom make sure you bump as much as you can in to their seat; it actually will probably happen naturally anyway due to your confined space.
I just get really irked if they aren’t sleeping and are just watching TV. How much more comfortable are you right now? You are now reclined a few inches back. Congratulations.

7. LOSE TRACK OF TIME

A watched pot never boils. I always try and ignore flight maps and flight time left. Just pile on the TV shows and movies and embrace the inner couch potato you have inside you. You’ll know when you’re getting closer when they either a) start serving the final meal or b) the captain comes on and mumbles on about descending soon, thanking you for flying with us and hoping to see you soon mumble mumble mumble.

That’s about it. There’s not a lot you can do to actually immensely enjoy economy class flying. Especially on long haul flights. See you in 45D. Weeping.

Flying Premium Economy on Singapore Airlines A380


Fate and circumstance led me to recently purchase Premium Economy seats on Singapore Airlines’ A380 from Singapore to Zurich return. Fate and circumstance being that I was booking stuff last minute.

I’m a bit anal about airplane seats. I know what I want. I want First Class. But I can’t. It’s all about the Benjamins.
So I have Economy or Premium Economy (or whatever the airline is calling it) to choose from. Flying is hell, especially long haul. So any sense of added comfort or service can be very welcome. I will choose different airlines based on what seats and seat configurations are available. Yeah, that’s right.

Singapore Airlines’ Premium Economy is pretty expensive. Take for example, a flight in June 2017 to London below:

I would estimate you probably will be paying double-ish the price of Economy seats on any of the airlines (obviously that will go up as the months go on towards flight date). If you’re lucky. Seatguru has made a comparison list of all Premium Economy seats available on airlines worldwide which I have embedded at the end of this document. It’s an interesting read.

So what do you get with the extra (EXTRA) money spent on your seat? Inches yo, inches.
38″ inches seat recline instead of 32″ in Economy.
19.5″ instead of 19″ seat width in Economy. Now that may not read as much but the armrests in between seats in Premium Economy are huge and puts an end to the great elbow wars of the 21st century.
You also get two USB ports instead of one! Along with the standard power port too. Food wise, the only advantage is you can pre-book a set meal before you fly. Still the same airline food quality. Although I got a good piece of beef tenderloin on one of the legs.
The in-flight entertainment, naturally, is the same but the screen is 13.3 inches as opposed to 10.6/11.1 inches in Economy and they also give you over-ear noise cancelling headphones.
There is also a small amenity kit handed out with socks, toothbrush and toothpaste.

Boarding wise, you can avail of priority boarding and separate check-in counters (at least in Zurich we walked straight up to Premium Economy Check-In whilst guffawing at the throngs of Economy class passengers queuing up, I didn’t see a specific Premium Economy check-in at Singapore but it was quick anyways).

Specific experiences on these flights?

It was fine. On the way over SIN-ZRH the screens would flake out once in a while and on the way back we saw some passengers’ screens never work at all. So I think they have an issue there. I would not have been happy if my screen didn’t work at all!
I’m in two minds about non touchscreen displays which Singapore Airlines A380 has. On the one hand it stops people from banging your head with their excellent film choices from the seat behind you but on the other hand it’s cumbersome to twist your hand down to the remote every time to adjust volume or change what you’re watching.
The headphone sockets are pretty inconveniently located (behind and in between seats) and every time you take your tray out of the armrest your headphone cable gets caught up. Bad design in my opinion.
I didn’t find the leg rest and the foot rest added any comfort to my 5’11” skeleton, if I was a little shorter, maybe. Stretching out without them in place was good.
It also seems that the aisle seats C and D (not sure about H on the other side) have an inconvenient seat support from the seat in front that greatly restricts on foot space (see above video).
I guess the feeling of the small Premium Economy cabin space is nice, it doesn’t feel as mooooo cattle cart-esque as the seats behind. Although you have to walk all the way back to the Economy toilets so there’s that traipse through all that humanity has to offer.

Is it all worth it?

The A380 is a spacious plane as it is. It’s probably the best Economy seat experience you will get anyway so you really have to figure out what you want and what you can handle. Are you traveling as a couple? The two seat format by the window in Premium Economy can be nice (not having to deal with anybody else in your “area”) and the 28 seat cabin area can feel a little more spacious than the rest of Economy. When the person in front reclines fully it really does invade your space quite a bit though.
Service wise, there’s no real difference. Singapore Airlines is always going to have a very attentive and high level of service throughout. Don’t expect anything on the level of First Class Suites!

Would I choose Premium Economy again? Yes, of course, anything to alleviate the torture of long haul economy class flying will be entertained. IF it’s within economical boundaries ie. would it be cheaper to pay my way through flight school, rent a plane, and fly myself?

Here’s Seatguru’s Premium Economy Seating comparison which is pretty informative:

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