Sunday, 7 August 2016

2016 Japanese Travels - Day 0, Of Lounges and Layovers

Hello reader, it’s that time again! (I already hear your groaning) It’s time for Dan’s Japan travel blog, also known as “the comedy of errors, with poor spelling and grammar).
Firstly, we have a little difference with this trip. Having saved up for longer than usual and with the price being lower than I was expecting, I was introduced to the wonders of “business class” travel. So be warned, as well as the usual travel writing, this blog now includes various “nyah, nyah! I’m travelling business class!” type coverage. The trip was booked with Finnair, an airline I’ve already used a few times and the most efficient I’ve encountered.
During past trips I aimed to arrive at the airport with plenty of time to spare, in case security takes longer than anticipated. As expected, there was something I forgot to factor in this time. I completely forgot that priority security was available at Manchester Airport (their “fast track” lane). Priority security turned out to be a great time saver and negated the need to queue for 20 or 30 minutes. Fortunately, my ticket also included an invitation to the Aspire Lounge or the Escape Lounge (as Finnair do not operate their own lounge at Manchester). It was a struggle to decide which lounge would be the better option, after much deliberation I opted for Aspire. Truth be told, the deciding factor was “runway views” listed in their available facilities (total aviation nerd!).
View from the lounge

With an unlimited supply of coffee available, it became abundantly clear that I would be boarding my flight fully caffeinated! (not to mention a full bladder)
Bacon sandwich and a cup of tea
The first leg of the business class trip was quite pleasant. Finnair use Embraer’s between Manchester and Helsinki. The business class seats are the same as the economy class, except that the legroom is improved. With priority boarding and complimentary food, the trip definitely got off to a good start. I was fond of the (Marimekko designed) glasses that the drinks were served in (by glasses, I mean glasses – not the plastic cups of economy class).
In accordance with my new policy on “trying to be less antisocial”, I got chatting to my seatmate. My seatmate was an older lady who was travelling to Finland to visit her son and daughter in law who had settled in Finland a number of years ago.
In flight catering, MAN-HEL
Arrival and transfer was as efficient as I’ve come to expect from Finnair and Helsinki Airport. After landing at one of the more remote areas of the airport, we were bussed to the terminal and were able to go straight to departures. This provided me with well over hour to sample the hospitality of Finnair’s lounge. They had free coffee, they had free beer – Dan was very happy!
Snacks in Helsinki
When getting ready to board, I noticed a slight change in aircraft, for this flight the A340 had been replaced by the A330. It seems Finnair only have 4 A340-300’s left in their fleet, with 19 A350’s on order it’s not hard to see why the old A340 is on the way out. When I boarded the flight to Tokyo, I entered “antisocial mode” again. I’d previously selected one of the seats that eliminate the “seat mate”, simply put; it’s an aisle seat and a window seat.

The fortress of solitude
Let me tell you, compared to economy, the seating arrangement is palatial! I’ve got:
·         Lots of legroom
·         A seat that turns in to a bed
·         Two massive “armrests”
The “armrests” would be better described as “tables” and with one on each side (2A, 4A etc. are the ones to choose for this!), I could easily leave my trusty laptop on the side (in fact, during dinner service, I did a little typing this way). While I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get to fly on the new A350, my chosen seat appears to provide more space so it’s a trade-off I’m happy with.
We weren’t in the air all that long before it was time for dinner service. The flight attendants went around asking passengers for their menu choices, which were then brought over. It was different from what I was used to, having only flown economy class; I was used to selecting an option from the tray as it was going around. Business class felt more like being in a restaurant at 10,000ft.
Glass of champagne when boarding - I'm a fan of the Marimekko glasses
I’ve flown long haul with a few airlines: Lufthansa, ANA, Finnair, JAL and Virgin Atlantic. This has always been in economy class (I’m not made of money!). Finnair’s business class catering blows them all away! I think this may be, in part, due to the signature menu created by renowned Finnish chef Sasu Laukkonen.
Signature menu
Airline food has come a long way in the past 20 years. Thinking back, my lowest point for an airline meal was what I can only describe as an “inedible” lasagne courtesy of American Airlines (when I was a child and we were visiting some family in the states). It was probably merciful that the low air pressure was preventing my taste buds from working properly, eating that with a full sense of taste would probably have violated the Geneva Convention!  In the last few years I’ve found the standard of catering to be “ok” in economy class. Business class is a whole other ball game.
Firstly, we had table cloths (how civilized!). Secondly, the different courses came at different times (a starter, a main course and a desert). Thirdly, the quality of the food was much better than I’ve experienced before. My starter was smoked turkey with a wild mushroom salad (and side of salad). The main was a nice piece of char. For me, the starter was the highlight of the meal. I have to say, the experience was a definite first, I actually enjoyed an on board meal!
Starters
The rest of the slight was spent resting. I wasn’t really able to get much sleep but being able to lie down was much more comfortable so I felt much more rested at the end of it than with other flights.
I have to admit, I chose Finnair because they were cheap (well… cheaper than other business class options). They don’t have the glitz and glamour of airlines like Emirates but I had the money, I think I’d still pick Finnair. The cabin has a nice, relaxing, understated décor (none of the gaudy wood and gold you get with certain airlines), the seats are comfy and the service is good. I don’t think I need anything more than that.

In a way, flying business class was a bad thing – a very bad thing. I don’t think I can go back to economy after this!
Anyway, time to enjoy Japan!

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