While the flight was pleasant and the crew were superb, this reminded me of economy class back in the day, with no blocked seat, no WiFi, and an economy class-style hot meal
After spending many hours at the Star Alliance lounge in Rome, my next stop was Helsinki. This three-hour flight was operated by a Finnair Embraer 190. Well, technically Nordic Regional Airlines (or NoRRA) operated the flight, but they have the same seats as Finnair, and we were served by a Finnair crew with Finnair catering on a plane with Finnair livery on a Finnair-marketed flight, so I’m reviewing this as a Finnair flight. I was seated in business class on this flight.
It’s worth noting that this flight was originally scheduled to be operated by an A321, though it was switched to an E190 a couple of weeks before departure. The E190 is a cute little aircraft that can be a joy to fly, though unfortunately Finnair doesn’t block any seats in business class for their E190s, and doesn’t have WiFi on these jets either. This meant that the experience on the E190 was a far inferior experience than I was expecting on their A321.
It was still a new aircraft (and airline) for me, though, and I was excited to fly this three-hour flight from Rome to Helsinki. Here’s my review of the flight.
Booking Finnair’s E190 Business Class
I booked a one-way business class ticket from Rome to London via Helsinki using 30,000 Asia Miles + HK$373 (~£38) in taxes. The itinerary was as follows:
09/04 AY1764 Rome Fiumicino – Helsinki dep. 19:45 arr. 00.05 (+1)
10/04 AY1331 Helsinki – London Heathrow dep. 08:00 arr. 09:10
The main reason I booked this flight was to position myself to Helsinki, so I could try Finnair’s new A350 business class to London (I’ll be reviewing that in a future post). This means I would’ve taken this positioning flight to Helsinki either way. It was still a bit annoying that the plane for this flight was downgraded from an A321 (with WiFi and blocked seats in business class) to an E190 with neither, though.
My Experience Flying Finnair’s E190 Business Class
Despite the fact that my flight was leaving at 7:45 PM, I arrived at the airport at 12 PM. Overexcited? Not quite. In fact, my parents were departing on a Lufthansa flight at 2:55 PM, so I got to give them a proper send off. It helped that both Finnair and Lufthansa use the Star Alliance Lounge at Rome Airport (review here), for whatever reason.
Getting this epic picture of my sister at Rome Fiumicino Airport
Finnair had emailed me prior suggesting that our flight would be operated by a smaller aircraft, and to consider checking in any larger bags. Despite this, I decided to bring my roller bag through security. Finnair’s check-in desk opened three hours before departure at 4:45 PM, which would mean I couldn’t have sent my family off. I’ve also never gate checked a bag before, so figured it would be an experience if it did happen. (I also considered leaving the sterile area to check my bag at around 5 PM, though decided against it.)
Turns out I was antsy for nothing, since my roller bag fit in the overhead bin on the E190 with room to spare. The gate was filled with people with roller bags, none of which had to be gate-checked (this is in stark contrast to my British Airways A321 flight, where almost everybody with a roller bag was asked to gate-check their bag).
However, when I went to gate A8 at around 7 PM ahead of a 7:15 PM boarding time, I was surprised to learn that I’d been paged, with two paper boarding passes waiting for me. Turns out that since I had a one-way ticket and don’t have a British passport, Finnair needed to ensure that I had documents to stay in the UK (I knew checks were standard, but assumed they’d happen during online check-in, as opposed to at the gate).
The gate agent was paged to begin boarding after I received my boarding pass, and to my surprise I was let through…even before those that needed help! I had to wait a couple of minutes by the jetbridge before boarding the Finnair E190, though was on the plane by 7:05 PM, ahead of our scheduled boarding time of 7:15 PM.
Waiting on the Jetbridge at Rome Fiumicino Airport
Unfortunately neither the gate nor the jetbridge featured amazing views of our E190, so the best I could do was a picture by the jetbridge (you can see how beautiful of a day it is outside, though).
Finnair E190 at Rome Fiumicino Airport
Finnair Flight AY1764
Sunday, April 9, 2023
Origin: Rome Fiumicino (FCO) Gate: A8 Dep: 19:45 (19:30)
Destination: Helsinki-Vantaa (HEL) Gate: 34 Arr: 00:05+1 (23:55)
Duration: 3 hr 20 min (3 hr 25 min)
Aircraft: Embraer 190 Reg: OH-LKK
Seat: 4A (Business Class)
I was given a (hasty) welcome by the friendly cabin manager, and headed to my seat on the Finnair E190.
Finnair E190 Business Class Cabin and Seat
Finnair’s E190s feature 100 seats in a 2-2 configuration, with the first four rows set apart for business class. As you can probably already tell, there’s no difference between business and economy – even the legroom is identical, except for those sitting in the first row.
Finnair E190 Business Class
Since I was sat in the last row of business class, I had a good view of the economy class cabin – not that it looked any different. While as a business class passenger I wasn’t super enthusiastic about the aircraft swap, this is a fairly nice ride for economy class passengers, since there are no middle seats.
Finnair E190 Economy Class
These planes have 31″ of seat pitch and 18″ of seat width, which is perfectly fine as far as short flights go.
Finnair E190 Business Class Legroom
Each seat featured a large and sturdy tray table, though unfortunately it wasn’t bi-fold.
Finnair E190 Business Class Tray Table
On the plus side, the cabin did feature air nozzles. I was very sleepy at this point, so despite not feeling particularly warm, I used the air nozzles to keep myself awake.
Finnair E190 Business Class Overhead Panels and Air Nozzles
Here’s the game changer for me on this flight – the seat next to me stayed empty. This meant that I had more personal space that I’d typically get in intra-European business class, as I had two seats to myself. Apparently Finnair does try and space people out in business class (they opened up row 4 as business class during check-in, when originally the cabin only had three rows) so that two solo business class travelers aren’t sitting side by side, though this isn’t a guarantee. If this flight were operated by an A320, I would’ve had three seats to myself, which would’ve been even more brilliant.
It’s worth noting that this was a fairly unlucky equipment swap though, since only two of the past 90 AY1764 flights have been operated by Embraer 190s – the rest have been operated by A319s or A321s.
In terms of seat comfort, there aren’t any power ports and the padding isn’t great, and there aren’t any adjustable headrests either. I don’t need any of these on a three-hour flight, though it isn’t competitive.
Finnair E190 Business Class Amenities
Pillows and blankets were available on request, though weren’t proactively given. The only amenity given was a bottle of water, which proved helpful, especially after the coffees and alcoholic beverages I’d had in the lounge.
Finnair E190 Business Class Bottled Water
Taking Off from Rome Fiumicino Airport
Up until this point in the trip, most of the flights I’d taken had run late, to the point where I almost missed a train connection. This flight seemed determined to break the pattern – by 7:20 PM the cabin manager had notified ground staff that only one passenger was missing. The door closed within seconds after the passenger arrived at 7:25 PM, and even when keeping us updated, the cabin manager spoke very, very quickly.
Both cabins seemed to be pretty full. I’m not sure if Finnair assigned seats intentionally, but the left side of the business class cabin was filled with single passengers with two seats to themselves (except the seat pair in front of me, which was empty), whereas the four pairs on the right were filled with passengers travelling together. The five empty seats on the left were some of the only empty seats on the plane when the door was closed. The couple sitting in seats 3D and 3F spread out, and one of them moved to the aisle seat in front of me.
The captain came onto the PA briefly to inform us of our 3h 10m flight time. A manual safety demonstration was done, and we were on our way, pushing back by 7:35 PM.
The weather during our time in Italy was superb, and this evening was no exception.
View at Rome Fiumicino Airport
Once we pushed back, we had a great view of a Ryanair 737 (I’d love to write a really solid review of them one day, though haven’t had the chance yet!).
Ryanair 737 at Rome Airport
The sun was just beginning to set during our taxi, so I knew that takeoff views would be stunning. Our taxi took all of 10 minutes, and we departed from runway 25.
Traffic and Sunset at Rome Airport
Wheels-up was at 7:45 PM, right at our scheduled departure time. Apart from having beautiful views of the airport, I was also treated to spectacular views of the coastline as we veered left and did a U-turn. It was my first time going abroad for a proper holiday since pre-COVID (not counting direct turns for flight review purposes and/or dashes out of the airport during a 9-hour layover), and these takeoff views out of Rome made for a momentous end to a brilliant trip.
Stunning takeoff views from Rome Airport
Our climbout felt steep, presumably due to the small size of our aircraft.
Finnair E190 Business Class Lavatory
The seatbelt sign was turned off about 10 minutes after wheels-up. I checked out the one bathroom located at the front of the cabin (I asked the cabin manager whether the bathroom was there, and he opened the door for me). The bathroom itself was nothing special, though did feature Horsley’s hand soap.
Finnair E190 Business Class Lavatory
Finnair E190 Business Class Meal
Not long after I returned to my seat I was given a hot towel. The cabin manager made one run through the cabin to give out hot towels, and another run through a couple of minutes later to collect them.
Finnair E190 Business Class Hot Towel
Around 15 minutes after this, the cabin manager came back with a drinks cart. I kind of did want to have some Joseph Perrier champagne, though also wanted to try their signature blueberry juice. I must’ve sounded uncertain when ordering the champagne, because the cabin manager said “there’s plenty of time if you change your mind, sir”. Really what I wanted was both, so I sheepishly asked, and the cabin manager said “of course”.
While I appreciated not having one but two pieces of Finnair’s gorgeous glassware, they’re really missing out by not serving a cocktail mixing their champagne with their blueberry juice. The Joseph Perrier champagne was drinkable, and the blueberry juice was good, though I far preferred my self-made concoction when I mixed the two.
Note: In order to save on costs, Finnair has replaced champagne with sparkling wine on shorthaul flights.
Finnair E190 Business Class Drinks Service
20 minutes later the cabin manager came back with the main meals. I wasn’t given a choice of meal, and there were no menus, though my meal was intricately described to me: “for your appetiser you have the beef with mushrooms, for the main course you have tortellini with ricotta cheese and primavera sauce, and for dessert you have a double chocolate cookie”. I peered over my shoulder and saw that a chicken dish of sorts was also on offer, though it wasn’t offered to me (presumably because they had run out).
The appetiser was very tasty. While the main course was alright, I can’t help but feel like it was on par with I’d otherwise find when flying economy class intra-Asia/longhaul – it wasn’t particularly refined, from the presentation to the taste. The packaged cookie was delicious, though not particularly premium either…
Finnair E190 Business Class Dinner – Tortellini with Ricotta Cheese and Primavera Sauce, Beef with Mushrooms, Double Chocolate Cookie
The cabin manager came by with a breadbasket with a couple of bread types as well. I chose rye bread, which was lukewarm, but tasty.
Finnair E190 Business Class Rye Bread
I enjoyed the meal, though did feel it resembled flying economy class in the “good old days”, or intra-Asia. I’d say the quality of food didn’t stack up to airlines using DO&CO catering, including British Airways, Iberia, and Turkish Airlines. I’d say catering was neck-and-neck with Lufthansa or Swiss‘ shorthaul catering, at least as far as dinner went – these airlines typically feature better-executed meals, though they’re often cold. Breakfast on my flight the next morning felt more competitive, though still not spectacular.
Finnair E190 Business Class Service
I was almost exclusively served by the cabin manager, who was a delight – he struck up conversation with everybody, while still providing efficient service. He got along particularly well with Finnish couples and families, though as a solo non-Finnish speaking traveler, I felt well taken care of as well.
Regarding service structure, I found it quite curious that the hot towel service, drinks run, and meal service were done as separate runs through the cabin. The cabin manager must’ve passed through the cabin (with a tray, trolley, or to clear plates, etc.) on at least five separate occasions. While personally I didn’t mind, I felt like from a workload perspective this could’ve been streamlined further.
Finnair E190 Business Class Inflight Entertainment (or Lack Thereof)
As mentioned earlier, Finnair’s E190s have no WiFi, and they certainly have no personal TV screens. I’d downloaded work on my laptop, though it ran low on battery halfway. With still over two hours to go after the meal service, this flight definitely felt long, especially with the workaholic habits I’ve picked up over my university days. I also couldn’t really properly admire the views out of the window, since it was dark out. I also wasn’t travelling with anyone.
I was feeling too low on sleep to be properly productive, though I struggled to fall asleep. The fact that the cabin lights stayed on didn’t help, though even putting a coat over my head didn’t help me drift off.
The cabin manager came around about an hour before landing to do a second drinks run. While initially all I asked for was some water, I saw that almost the entire cabin was going for a gin and tonic. I decided to press the call button and follow suit, mainly because I noticed the gin was Helsinki Dry Gin and wanted to try it. I was presented with Fever Tree Indian tonic water and a Helsinki Dry Gin mini. The passenger across the aisle from me actually drank some of his gin straight from the bottle…
Finnair E190 Business Class Gin and Tonic
I also found it interesting that throughout the 3.5-hour journey, nobody from economy class came to use the business class bathrooms.
Landing into Helsinki Airport
Since this flight didn’t feature an airshow, there was no way to really know whether we were still running early. This would’ve been valuable information, since I’d booked myself an airport hotel during my 8-hour overnight layover at Helsinki Airport, and wanted to spend as much time asleep as I could.
At 11:20 PM the captain came onto the PA for a landing announcement, giving us a low-down on the weather in Helsinki. After a while, the cabin manager came back and advised we’d be landing in about 20 minutes. He asked “you go to London tomorrow morning, yes?” I acknowledged, and he advised that I’d be departing from gate 46. It’s nice that he personally came to tell me my onward flight’s gate number. We had a brief chat about where I was staying, and he recognised the name of the hotel that I was staying at (which I didn’t stay at for long enough to write a full review, though I’ll dedicate a post to it).
I was able to spot Helsinki-Vantaa Airport about 10 minutes before we actually landed, though we did another massive U-turn prior to landing and lined up to land at runway 15. I was sure excited to be in another new country, albeit briefly!
Landing into Helsinki Airport
After we touched down at 11:55 PM, the captain came to welcome us to Helsinki, and wish us a happy Easter.
Taxiing into Gate at Helsinki Airport
We parked at gate 34 just around midnight, and the jetbridge was quite quickly deployed. I made a beeline to the airport hotel that I’d booked myself, which included about a five-minute walk past baggage claim and out of the “sterile” area of the airport, and a further 25-minute walk through an indoor car park and through a few other pedestrian walks. Any guesses as to where I spent my quick overnight in Helsinki?
Helsinki Airport Arrivals Hall
Conclusion: Finnair E190 Business Class
Obviously I’ve rehashed multiple times that the downgrade to a Finnair E190 wasn’t a particularly pleasant one – even though I had an empty seat next to me, the lack of WiFi made this flight uneventful to a fault. I think Finnair does well in some places, but not others – the drinks list (champagne, gin and tonic, blueberry juice, etc.) is strong and the crew did a great job, though the seat is rudimentary with no power ports, and the food really does feel quite economy class-style.
The big downer of the product is really the lack of seat blocking in Finnair’s E190 business class, which means you could potentially have a seatmate on fuller flights. Having a seat quite literally the same as economy (seatmate, etc.) is quite uncompetitive on a three-hour flight, though as I understand SAS does something similar on their shorthaul aircraft, levelling the Nordic playing field.
Otherwise I’d be quite happy flying the product, and do want to try Finnair’s business class on one of their A320s. Finnair operates quite a few longhaul aircraft on intra-Europe flights, though, which I’d go out of my way to fly. I’d guess that with all else being equal on this flight, with a blocked middle seat and working WiFi, I’d have given the originally scheduled A321 a four-star review.
Read more from this trip:
Have you flown Finnair’s E190 business class? How was your experience?