I just got in to Helsinki. I wrote the following on the flight:
29 June 2010, 18:33 EDT, 10,500 m over the Maine-New Hampshire border
Finnair’s A330 business class is the most comfortable experience I’ve ever had on an airplane. First off, the plane is brand-new. It’s quiet, clean, and (not surprisingly) very European-looking. But this isn’t your grandfather’s Airbus.
- Finnair has introduced new seats in business class. The left side alternate 2-1-2, the middle are all paired, and the right side—where I sat—is a staggered single column. The staggering allows them to put more seats in the cabin while also allowing the seats to fold completely flat, which is the whole point of upgrading on an overnight flight. But the arrangement also means every seat but four are aisle seats. (Seats 1A, 3A, 5A, and 7A are trapped window seats.)
- The business class seats also have universal power outlets (fits North American, British, European, and I think Russian plugs), a 5v USB connector for recharging electronics, and an RJ-45 network connection. I didn’t have an RJ-45 cable with me so I have no idea what network it connects to.
- The airplane has a freaking nose camera that the pilots turned on for the takeoff and landing rolls. It also has a belly camera that allows you to look straight down. Both are accessible in flight through the entertainment center. When the nose camera came on as we taxied into position on the departure runway, I just boggled. This was the coolest thing I had ever seen on a commercial airplane. The belly camera, while also a seriously cool feature, has less practical benefit because the field of view almost exactly the wrong scale. At 10.5 km up it shows an area probably no larger than 1km across—too big to see anything in detail but too small to see a more complete picture.
- Finnair’s in-flight navigation software is the best I’ve seen, except for one of the screens where the animators got clever. Oddly, at one of the scales it shows, it depicts shipwrecks. As we passed over New England it highlighted the wrecks of the Andrea Doria and the Thresher, which I suppose is an advertisement for the safety of air travel over sea travel, but still.
- Outboard washrooms have windows. It seems silly when you read it, but it’s actually kind of cool.
- What a yummy wine list—in 9 languages. Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut 2003 to start, a white Burgundy from Rully, a lovely Douro, and a 1995 Niepoort Colheita for dessert. And, of course, Finlandia.
I’m almost disappointed I’ll be asleep for a several hours.
There is no reason I can see that American Airlines can’t do this as well. Or British Airways for that matter. Maybe the two largest carriers in the oneworld alliance are just too big. Maybe Finland just has higher standards of comfort than the U.S. and U.K. Or maybe my experience flying back to the U.S.—in coach—will change my mind.
I will ponder these things over dinner...
 Finnish, Swedish, English, Russian, Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Hindi, and (I think) Urdu. (I’ll confirm the last one with a classmate when I get to St. Petersburg.)
Update, 00:46 UTC, about 1,700 km southwest of Iceland:
The dinner service done, the cabin crew dimmed the lights, but so gently one might worry he was going blind. Also, because we’re so far north, the left side of the plane looks to be in a permanent sunset. The flight map shows us skimming the dark side of the terminator without ever quite diving in all the way. Plus, the local time in Helsinki is 3:50: just 30 minutes or so before sunrise. I might not get much sleep after all.
Later update, 00:51 UTC
I wrote too soon. They just killed the lights with a switch. It’s suddenly dark in the cabin. I shall therefore dim my laptop, which, because it has an ambient light sensor, is fighting me on this...
Still later update, 00:57 UTC
The almost-full moon just popped above the horizon. It’s still not completely dark out there though.