Late last year we spent a fun couple of days flying long-haul with Finnair and interviewing the head of their flagship Airbus A350 fleet. But we never actually flew the A350 ourselves, since Finnair’s US routes were all handled by their older A330s. That changed a month ago, when Finnair re-launched flights to LAX after a long hiatus and gave the honor to the A350. Obviously we weren’t going to miss the chance to cover the inaugural, and the folks at Finnair gave us the chance.

The onboard product lived up to the hype, with universal aisle access, lie-flat seats, Nordic style, and even a northern lights simulation on the ceiling. And it was just as fun covering Finnair’s pre-flight festivities on the ground. Clearly this route was a big deal for the Finnair team, getting the honorific flight numbers AY01 and AY02.

Read on for the full scoop on Finnair’s (re)inaugural celebration of its service from Los Angeles to Helsinki.

I had barely walked through the doors at LAX’s Thomas Bradley International Terminal when I saw signs of the day’s celebrations: white and blue balloons around Finnair’s check-in counters.

Compared with most of LAX’s other terminals, TBIT is fresher and airier.

BONUS: LAX’s H Hotel is a Spotter’s Paradise

Finnair’s business class passengers get access to the OneWorld Alliance lounge — a solid place to recharge and relax with a drink and maybe grab a bite to eat.

BONUS: The Private Suite @ LAX – Going Inside Los Angeles’ Brand-New Ultra-Exclusive Terminal

Pre-Flight Festivities

I walked up to the gate and — BAM — the Finnair A350’s bandit mask cockpit was staring me in the face.

BONUS: A Quick Take On Flying Long-Haul With Finnair

The ribbon cutting ceremony started with some words from Ossi Karuvaara, Finnair’s Director of US Airports.

And the short ceremony ended the way ribbon cuttings always do: with a big pair of golden scissors.

BONUS: Opinion – Why the LAX Terminal 4 Connector Matters For You

Passengers got to enjoy a hearty cake, fruit, and snack spread.

With that, it was time to head down the jetway!

Onboard the Finnair A350

Consider me dazzled. Finnair’s A350 cabin design looked great and did the airline’s Nordic roots justice. There’s lots of light tones with deep blue accents — in line with the fleet’s exterior paint job.

The reverse-herringbone seat layout gives every passenger direct aisle access.

All of Finnair’s A350s have eight rows of business class seats between the first and second set of doors. The cabin feels extra spacious since Finnair eliminated storage bins over the center section. The bins on the side of the cabin were plenty large enough to handle everyone’s carry-on bags.

Some of the airline’s A350s have a second business class mini-cabin behind the main one. That cabin has a more secluded feel, but it gets all the economy class foot traffic during boarding.

I was assigned one of the window seats in the mini-cabin — seat 11A. I had two windows to myself and plenty of personal space.

It’s not as private as “suites” with doors like Qatar’s QSuites or Delta’s A350 suites. But compared with most business class seats the privacy factor was still pretty good. I could easily see the person seated across the aisle from me but otherwise nobody else. Anyways Finnair seems like it was going for an open, airy cabin feel over total privacy.

Be aware: these seats’ lap belts are bulky.

The panel beside each seat has a nook with a hook for hanging headphones as well as a reading light, USB port, power outlet, seat controls, and a remote for the entertainment system.

Size-wise the footwell was generous. Relative to the seat it curved slightly to one side, which made sleeping on my side easier when facing the window than when facing the aisle.

BONUS: Hong Kong Airlines’ Impressive A350 Business Class, SFO-HKG

The center section of the lie-flat bed is broad. Since these planes are new the seat padding is still on the firm side.

Taking a peek back at economy, the 18-inch-wide seats looked fresh. In particular the seatback entertainment screens were high-res and relatively large. Also the space under the seat wasn’t cluttered by misaligned seat pylons or big boxes for the entertainment systems.

Finnair’s first few rows of economy are an “Economy Comfort” product with a bit of extra legroom. There’s no true long-haul premium economy product on Finnair’s long-haul fleet … yet.

BONUS: A Tale of Two Airlines – British Airlines vs Iberia in Economy

Finnair scheduled its LAX flights with less than two hours turnaround time on the ground. Given the congestion and frequent delays at LAX, that’s ambitious. Our flight ended up leaving a bit late, but it (and most of Finnair’s LAX-HEL flights since) made up most of the time in the air.

The sun had set just before we pushed back, but LA looks amazing from the air whether it’s day or nighttime.

Inflight Service Begins

In lieu of printed menus — which didn’t get to LA in time for this inaugural flight — flight attendants took a knee by each passenger and explained the meal options.

I love Finnair’s Tapio Wirkkala glasses, which add a beautiful textured appearance to the meal service. They look like something out of Disney’s Frozen, which seems right for an airline whose home country straddles the Arctic Circle.

After a light amuse-bouche I was served a grilled chicken starter. It tasted simple but the plating was beautiful.

The white fish in creamy sauce with rice and vegetables was nice and light, though the flavor factor was light too.

Dessert totally knocked it out of the park. The chocolate cheesecake, chocolates, ice cream, and fruit brought the sweetness. And the cheese plate and port balanced them out well.

Taking a Closer Look at the Finnair A350 Cabin

The cabin lights were a simple white during boarding, but that all changed when we hit cruise altitude and the crew turned on the mood lighting. Finnair and Airbus designed a unique northern lights effect on the overhead panels. The result is honestly gorgeous. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

This time-lapse exaggerates the effect, but you get the idea.

The home page of Finnair’s A350 inflight entertainment system features a timeline of the flight. In the rush to prepare this inaugural flight someone had flipped the arrival and departure times. So the timeline showed a hilariously long 22-hour flight time. Oops. But inaugural flight mistakes aside, the timeline is a really practical IFE feature.

Finnair’s A350 lavatory design and amenities are straightforward. The lav was spacious and kept clean throughout the flight, which is what counts.

Done with my exploring and full from the meal, I flattened out my seat and conked out.

Approaching Helsinki

I woke up after five hours of restful sleep, just in time for breakfast. The frittata, potato cake, coffee, juice, fruit, bread, jam, and yogurt hit the spot.

Just before our descent, the flight attendants came around with a Polaroid and props so that passengers could have a memento from the flight.

BONUS: The “Bandit” Sneaks Into YVR – Cathay Pacific Begins A350 Service to Vancouver

It was a clear day with great visibility as we started the approach into Helsinki.

I also took a deeper dive into the entertainment system and found lots for an AvGeek to love. For one, the inflight map was sleek and responsive.

It even had a cockpit mode.

Of course, the real star of the show was the A350 tail and nose cams, which I enjoyed all the way through descent, approach, and landing.

BONUS: Come Fly With Me, On the Delta A350, Domestically!

The Verdict

This flight didn’t feel like any old inaugural. Finnair already had a pretty extensive long-haul route network across Asia and North America. But the re-inauguration of service to Los Angeles was an especially big moment for the airline. The flight jumps to the second-longest route in the network, just 150 miles shy of the longest (Helsinki-Singapore). It gets flight numbers #01 and #02, which symbolically is a big deal.

Most of all, it’s the first North American route that Finnair gave to its flagship A350, which (as we can now confirm first-hand) makes for a really nice ride. There’s all the benefits of the A350 design — big windows, better cabin pressurization, less noise. And Finnair did well to pick a great premium cabin seat design and go for a bright and airy Nordic vibe.

BONUS: Reactions After My First Airbus A350 Flight

Based on this experience, Finnair’s A350 is one of the better ways to get from Southern California to Europe in style. These inaugural flights aren’t great for real “reviews” since they involve a lot of one-off positive and negative factors. We were focused on all the fun the Finnair team was having with this celebratory flight. We’ll be back later with a report from our return flight, which was more reflective of the airline’s usual ops.

Now it’s time for us to hear from you! Share your thoughts in the comments section below. 

Note: Finnair provided us with a premium cabin itinerary for the purpose of this story. All opinions remain our own. 

SENIOR CORRESPONDENT - NEW YORK, NY. Manu is an avid air traveler, private pilot, and a dedicated AvGeek. He enjoys writing about aviation from a millennial's perspective, and co-manages AirlineReporter's social media and video projects. His day job is as a doctor in NYC.
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1 Comment

What’s the beverage in the last pic? Cool looking glass.

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