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.
A French Bee A359 on the taxiway at Orly Airport in Paris. It’s a very lovely livery, IMHO.
Can you have low-cost airfare and elegant service? French Bee definitely wants you to think so.
French Bee is a relatively new low-cost carrier, having begun operations in September of 2016. They’re based at Paris Orly Airport (ORY).
With a current fleet of three Airbus aircraft (one A330-300 and two A350-900s) flying to five destinations, they’re a relatively small player, and they’re France’s first LCC. They also have one A350-1000 on order, currently slated for delivery later this year.
From their ORY hub, they fly to San Francisco, Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, Papeete, Tahiti, and Saint Denis, Reunion, all of which are vacation destinations for French travelers.
French Bee’s A350-900 seat map
French Bee is part of the Dubreuil group, which also owns Air Caraïbes, a somewhat larger airline which primarily serves Caribbean holiday destinations from the same ORY base.
Interestingly, French Bee started out being named French Blue. When the airline applied for a U.S. air carrier permit in November 2017, JetBlue objected to the idea of allowing another airline to operate in the United States that had the word “blue” in its name. That eventually led to a rebrand as French Bee in January 2018.
With a target audience of budget-minded holidaymakers, the airline’s pricing is very competitive; fares typically run less than $700 return between SFO and ORY. An additional $250-ish buys you a premium-class seat (more on that later).
There are 411 seats on a French Bee A359: 35 Premium, 50 Cosy, and 326 in Eco Blue.
I flew with French Bee on their SFO-ORY-SFO route the first week of April, traveling in 10-abreast Smart Economy/Eco Blue on the outbound leg and in their Premium cabin on the return flight.
A Finnair Airbus A350-900 at Narita – Photo: Alec Wilson | FlickrCC
We love getting a glimpse behind the scenes at the people behind airline operations. So when we flew to Helsinki to learn about Finnair, we sat down for a chat with Sara Mosebar, the queen of the airline’s Airbus A350s! Well, formally her title is “A350 Program Manager.” But she may as well be aviation royalty based on her résumé. After getting her aerospace engineering degree at the University of Texas at Austin, she started her career at Boeing. And just a few years after joining Finnair’s A350 team as a Fleet Engineer, she was promoted to head the airline’s entire A350 program. It’s a big role, since the A350 is the flagship of Finnair’s long-haul fleet.
Here is Sara with one of Finnair’s A350s – Photo: Finnair
Here in part one of our interview, we discuss Sara’s responsibilities as person-in-charge of Finnair’s A350 fleet, her experience transitioning from Boeing to Airbus airplanes, and the highlights of the Finnair A350 passenger experience. We also see how her team tackled teething problems with new aircraft, as well as plans for expanding Finnair’s A350 route network. If you’re an AvGeek, consider it required reading!
One of the best parts of our job is learning about airlines on your behalf. Finnair has been on our radar after having a big few years, welcoming the Airbus A350 as the flagship of its fleet and announcing new routes to the U.S. and Asia. So when we got the chance to experience Finnair’s long-haul product for ourselves, of course we said yes!
We’ll have plenty of in-depth Finnair stories coming up, including a review of their A330-300 business class and an interview with their A350 Program Manager. For now, we wanted to share a few big-picture quick thoughts and observations we had about the airline. Read on for some highlights about what we learned from our Finnair adventure!
Photo: Manu Venkat | AirlineReporter