Beijing to Helsinki
Racing just ahead of the sunset from Helsinki to London we’re locked in a permanent Golden Hour, turning the clouds a warm orange colour.
This time I was flying in for the World Travel Market to speak regarding the creation of websites for the United Nations WTO Silk Road Project. The UNWTO gave me access to a ministerial summit, where 70 Ministers of Tourism debated ways and benefits of easing travel to boost visitor numbers.
The methods centred on easing visa applications, reducing airport taxes and providing clear and relevant information (via some soon to be created websites). For example, the Maldives cut visa requirements and saw a 300% rise in (Chinese) visitors, and a corresponding rise in GDP.
Many of the ministers used the opportunity to voice their disdain of the UK policies, including unhelpful visa rules (the Zimbabwean Minister’s entire delegation had been declined a visa) and our unfair airport taxes (Heathrow is among the most taxed, and none of the £2.8bn ‘environmental’ tax raised has been used for green projects).
Finnair generously flew me to London to attend WTM and the Social Travel Market. It’s not a route I’d tried before, but in retrospect it makes perfect sense. The route from Beijing to London passes over Russia with a stop in Helsinki. Flying over the top of the world allows a very straight route so it’s much faster than the comparably priced Middle Eastern Airlines (14h vs 17h), cheaper than flying via central Europe (£700 vs £800) or direct (£1000). The cheapest flights tend to be with Aeroflot, for around £600, but these include an 18-hour stopover in Moscow airport and have minimal on-board facilities.
Arriving on board I was upgraded, and the little comfort bag was actually a recyclable brown paper envelope, the outside of which detailed their impeccable green credentials.
Food was selected from an excellent menu and despite being a very infrequent drinker I tried their award winning wine selection, which included a very good Port.The seat was comfortable, as you’d expect, but had a mildly bewildering array of adjustment buttons.
These moved the seat in nearly every possible direction, including upwards. It’s a little disconcerting watching the person next door gliding forwards and backwards, up and down. For the lazy there are five pre-sets – take off, eating, sitting comfortably, reclining and sleeping.
There’s also a button with what looks like a Wi-Fi logo on it. Not sure what it would do I was surprised to feel the seat start to swell. It then contracted and paused before swelling again, pushing me forward, providing a decent massage.
Having easy access to fuzzy downloaded versions of the latest films in China means I’ve seen most of the recent releases. As with an 11 hour flight to Istanbul last month there was a depressing moment when I realised there were no films I wanted to watch. Here I had ample space to set up a laptop and watch my own movies. Unlike most of the laptop-watching passengers on Air China, I used headphones rather than speakers…
In contrast to the cool uniformed efficiency of so many airlines, the attendants on Finnair are a breath of fresh air. Wearing smart but comfortable looking tracksuits, they are more like a collection of doting aunts. Everything is done with a smile and a gentle encouragement to have a little more: an extra bread roll, an additional drink, just like eating with family.
Dinner was antipasti, another rare dish in China, so I was happy to accept their additional portions.
The Finnair lounge in Helsinki in an ultramodern style room with a comforting array of snacks including this hot dog. As is obvious from the pic I assembled it myself from the ingredients available. Next time I’ll leave it to them.
There’s also a spa and sauna, but all the Finnair connections seem to be under 90 minutes so there’s not really time (I guess – I’ve no idea how long a sauna takes?)
Helsinki to London
This time I had the whole front row of business class to myself . I felt special for a bit, but Finnair seem to have a policy of keeping the middle seat free to provide more room to those in the aisle and window seats.
Overall I arrived in London ready to get on with some work, which is the main point of business class. Not being a fan of long flights it’s a decent route as it breaks it up into two legs, without taking much longer than a direct flight, as well as being nearly half the price.
The screen protector on my laptop is so dirty that it’s pulled aside as a bomb threat. This would be a traveller badge of honour coming out of Somalia or Guyana. In Heathrow, it’s just embarrassing.This time on the plane I had the entire business-class exit row. This is a pair of seats next to the door, with about a meter of legroom. The hatred of the passengers filing past into economy was palpable.
One guy pushed forward from economy and sat next to me, explaining that he was tall so should get an upgrade. The attendant smiled and sent him back down the plane. As a fellow tall person, I tried to show sympathy by waggling my legs about in all the free room. He didn’t smile.
Numerous thanks for the trip – Sarah at Tree and Finnair for flying me, Travel Perspective for the invite to speak and a fun night of table football and the UNWTO for the extended press pass privileges.