Tag Archives: trip report

Lounge Review: Finnair Premium Lounge Non-Schengen Helsinki Airport (HEL)

I had previously transited the Helsinki airport, but the Finnair Premium Lounge in the non-Schengen region did not exist at the time (the lounges I did visit include the Finnair lounge, the Almost@Home lounge, and the Aspire lounge). Finnair doesn’t have a first class product, so this lounge was opened essentially for oneworld emerald members.

The lounge was pretty crowded when I visited, but there were tons of seats and electrical outlets, and things were cleaned up quickly. Nothing felt particularly fancy, but I appreciated the general design and furnishings of the lounge.

Seating

Seating

More seats

More seats

Crowded seating area

Crowded seating area

The lounge has a bar with bartenders, as well as some self service champagne and wine options.

Bar menu

Bar menu

Bar

Bar

Champagne

Champagne

Wine

Wine

The food options were pretty decent. There were two soups, a bunch of meaty things (including herring, if you’re so inclined), some cold items (including Karelian pasties), desserts, and fruits. Everything that I tried was pretty good for lounge food.

Fruit and desserts

Fruit and desserts

Salad and cold food

Salad and cold appetizers

Cold foods

Cold foods

Soup and hot food

Soups and hot food

Perhaps the best part of the lounge is that they have a sauna. It’s small (maybe fits about 4 people comfortably?), but it’s an actual Finnish sauna. I’ve used a hot tub in an airport, but this was my first sauna experience in an airport. Now, in Finland, you’re supposed to be naked when you’re in the sauna, and everyone that used the sauna while I was there was naked, but everyone was also male, so I don’t know the norms for when women want to use it, since I only saw one sauna…

Overall, I thought that this was a solid lounge offering, and it’s cool that Finnair has this premium lounge even though they don’t have a first class product. The sauna is also a novel amenity that’s worth trying out if you have time during your visit. One thing that’s also nice about the Helsinki airport is that you can visit this lounge even if you’re arriving on a non-Schengen flight and connecting to a Schengen flight. You can wait to clear immigration and use this lounge prior to your flight, which is a great perk.

Flight Review: Finnair Business Class A330-300 KIX to HEL

I’ve flown Finnair before, but this was my first time flying Finnair in business class. Finnair doesn’t fly as much to North America (they used to fly to a number of destinations, but I believe only New York, Miami, and Chicago still have service, with San Francisco coming next year), but they seem to connect many people between Asia and Europe.

Finnair A330 taking me to Helsinki

Finnair A330 taking me to Helsinki

This A330-300 featured flat-bed seats business class in an alternating 1-2-1, 2-2-1 seating pattern. This seat is very similar to the product I’ve flown on Swiss and Austrian.

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

I was seated in seat 9L, which is a single window seat closer to the window in the second mini-cabin of business class. In the future, I’d probably try to go for a bulkhead seat, as the foot cutouts are larger for those seats.

My seat

My seat

The IFE screen was also on the smaller side and a bit hard to navigate, but I appreciate that the IFE was started on the ground. I also appreciated that announcements weren’t deafening if you have headphones in. As a trivial aside, there were ads before movies, and even though the movies had swear words dubbed, the ads had audible swear words that were not…

IFE screen and leg room

IFE screen and leg room

At each seat were slippers, an amenity kit, and headphones. I always appreciate slippers, but the slippers were actually pretty small, and I’m not sure if that’s because we were flying out of Japan. The amenity kit was designed by Marimekko, so it was colorful and playful. The contents were basic–ear plugs, eye mask, Clarins lip balm and lotion, toothbrush, and toothpaste–and there was a note saying that you could ask for a shaving kit, mouthwash, hair brush, and makeup remover wipe.

Marimekko amenity kit

Marimekko amenity kit

The menu offered both Western and Japanese options, but I had pre-ordered a special Asian vegetarian meal (AVML).

Menu

Menu

The AVML started off with raw vegetables. This is a major pet peeve of mine. I do not know many people who like eating cold raw vegetables, so I do not understand why they serve them. They could at least serve them with hummus or something.

AVML amuse bouche

AVML amuse bouche

For an appetizer, there was a cold spring/egg roll of sorts with some super hard bread, but I managed to snag some much better bread from the bread basket. The roll would have been tastier if it had been served warm, but it was edible.

AVML appetizer

AVML appetizer

The main course had some cauliflower, chickpeas, mushrooms, and rice. It was passable for an AVML, but nothing special.

AVML entree

AVML entree

For dessert, I had some jello-like substance that came with my meal, as well as some tarts from the dessert menu.

Dessert

Dessert

One thing that I appreciated about the flight was that the cabin was kept quite cool. Too often, I find myself overheating on non-US carriers. The pillow and blanket were also pretty good for business class. I found the seat to be pretty comfortable for sleeping. I don’t think the seat is truly lie flat to the plane floor, but I don’t mind that since being flat to the plane floor would mean that you’re actually leaning back slightly.

Foot area when seat fully reclined

Foot area when seat fully reclined

Partway through the flight, I had a pretty delicious cinnamon roll of sorts. There was a small self-serve snack bar with packaged snacks and other things available.

Delicious pastry

Delicious pastry

Prior to arrival, I again had my AVML. This time, it was some green beans, lentils, and rice pilaf. Again, nothing great, but perfectly passable.

AVML pre-arrival meal

AVML pre-arrival meal

Overall, I thought this was a solid business class flight. The service was great (all of the flight attendants working the cabin appeared to be Japanese–not sure if that had any bearing on anything), the seat was comfortable, and the food was passable. I would happily fly Finnair again, and I’m big fan of transiting the Helsinki airport.

Lounge Review: Lounge Pacific Osaka Airport (KIX) North Terminal

Lounge Pacific is the lounge used by the non-JAL oneworld airlines at Osaka Kansai (KIX) airport in the North Terminal (although I think Malaysia Airlines may have since switched to the ANA lounge, but Cathay and Finnair still use Lounge Pacific). Unfortunately, there’s no JAL lounge available in the North Terminal.

Entrance to Lounge Pacific

Entrance to Lounge Pacific

The lounge is pretty basic, both in terms of amenities and furnishings. Depending on when your flight departs, the lounge can also get pretty crowded.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

The lounge offered some wine, sake, liquor, and beer from beer machines.

Drinks

Drinks

Drinks

Drinks

Beer machine

Beer machine

For food, there were some instant soups, cookies, sandwiches, and inari and crab stick sushi. In general, the service in the lounge was good, but it was very crowded, and the food wasn’t replenished quickly enough. The inari was the most popular item, but they only brought out five pieces at a time, so they were quickly snatched up.

Instant soups

Instant soups

Sandwiches and pastries

Sandwiches and pastries

Sushi

Sushi

It’s disappointing that Cathay Pacific and Finnair use this lounge rather than a JAL one, since the JAL lounges in Tokyo are some of my favorite lounges in the world. It’s fine to pass time prior to your flight, but there’s really nothing remarkable about this lounge.

Lounge Review: Korean Air Lounge Osaka (KIX)

The Korean Air lounge at Osaka Kansai (KIX) airport is located outside of security and is accessible via Priority Pass. Go down to the third floor, and look for the lounge sign near Uniqlo. Given that the lounge is located outside of security and immigration, make sure to leave plenty of time to get to your gate on time. On this visit, it took me about 30 minutes to get through security and immigration after leaving the lounge.

Signs to the lounge

Signs to the lounge

Entrance to the Korean Air lounge

Entrance to the Korean Air lounge

The Korean Air lounge offers some seating and some food (theoretically).

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

Alcohol

Alcohol

Drink fridge

Drink fridge

At breakfast, there were pastries, onigiri, instant soups, and instant noodles. But all of the food would disappear very quickly. As you can see from the below pictures, there was only one left of many of the items.

Sparse food options

Sparse food options

Some packaged snacks

Some packaged snacks

There’s also a meager assortment of beverages, but this lounge is really not worth a stop. It’s hard to find, the offerings are scant, and it’s located outside of security, so you can’t really relax until your flight.

Flight Review: Japan Airlines (JAL) Business Class Boeing 787 BKK to KIX

Prior to this flight, I used the JAL lounge in Bangkok, which is decent, but you should probably go to the Cathay Pacific lounge instead if it’s open. For this flight, only the JAL lounge was open.

This flight marked the third time I had flown on a Boeing 787, and the third airline’s 787 I had flown (the others being ANA and Qatar).

Plane spotting at BKK

Plane spotting at BKK

In spite of being a relatively new plane, JAL installed a 2x2x2 angled-flat business class product on these 787s. Why angled flat? I have no idea. They also do have 787s that have lie-flat seats, and you can tell if your plane should have lie-flat seats by the presence of a premium economy cabin. That being said, the plane felt very new. The seats looked great, as did the bathrooms, and I love the giant windows on the 787. There were also personal air nozzles on this plane.

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Seats in a 2x2x2 configuration

Seats in a 2x2x2 configuration

Business class seat

Business class seat

Seat controls

Seat controls

I sat in the bulkhead, which I would recommend for the extra legroom. There were only 8 passengers in business class for this flight, so the load was quite light.

Lots of space at the bulkhead

Lots of space at the bulkhead

Less space in other seats

Less space in other seats

At my seat, I found a sleep kit (which contained an eye mask, ear plugs, face mask, and eye refresher–more airlines should provide face masks), slippers (one of my favorite airplane amenities), headphones, a pillow, blanket, and meal order sheet. JAL also has helpful guides to the seat, so you can figure out all of the different functionality. They even have a screen with information on the location of the lavatories!

Slippers, headphones, amenities

Slippers, headphones, amenities

Guide to the seat

Guide to the seat

Guide to the bathrooms

Guide to the bathrooms

A flight attendant came around offering a “relaxing wear” top (i.e. pajamas). It was a little thick, and JAL has notoriously warm cabins, so wear it at your own risk. I was also offered a bottle of water and customs and immigration forms, but no hot towel or pre-departure beverage. I’ve read that people have had issues with English proficiency on JAL, but I’ve never had any issues. One thing that I appreciated was the meal order sheet before arrival. Given that the flight was a short red eye, you could specify whether you wanted to be woken up for breakfast or not, as well as what you wanted to eat.

Meal order form

Meal order form

Given that the actual flight time for this flight was less than 5 hours and that it was an overnight flight, the menu was super abbreviated.

Food menu

Food menu

Drink menu

Drink menu

The angled flat seats are not great, and the pillow and blanket were a bit flimsy. I slept for a bit, but I ended up getting woken up by loud and long announcements about 1h 15m prior to landing. On some airlines, they really try to let you sleep for as long as possible and make very few announcements, but that was not the case on this flight.

Given that I was awake, I decided to have some breakfast. JAL posts their in-flight menus on their website, and based on looking at the menu prior to the flight, I thought I’d find something that I’d be okay eating (e.g., “plain omelette”), so I didn’t pre-order a special meal (partly because past special meals on JAL have been terrible). Little did I know that there was lots of meat in the “plain omelette with bechamel mushroom sauce”: the plate was covered in bacon, and there was chicken and shrimp in the bechamel. Also, the orange sauce on the fruit plate was actually a gazpacho.

Breakfast

Breakfast

In addition the overly early announcement, the flight attendant was extremely persistent that I be buckled in starting 30 minutes prior to landing. Like to the point of being rude. I get that it’s for my safety, but I’ve never had a flight attendant want people sitting down so early prior to landing.

Anyway, while I enjoy flying 787s, and it’s probably my favorite plane to fly if I’m in economy, I would avoid the angled-flat seats on some of JAL’s 787s. And besides the barking at me for being out of my seat 30 minutes prior to landing, the service was impeccable.

Flight Review: Qatar Airways Business Class Boeing 77W Doha (DOH) to Bangkok (BKK)

My flight from Doha to Bangkok was on a Boeing 77W on Qatar Airways. Qatar now flies an A380 on this route, but it can be hit or miss on whether your flight is actually operated by an A380 (Qatar likes to swap aircraft). On the plus side, in business class, the seats are fully flat, unlike on the A330.

Plane to take me to BKK

Plane to take me to BKK

This was a 2-class plane. The business class cabin was very similar to the A330–still a 2x2x2 configuration–but this time, the seats are fully flat. In general, the plane felt a bit newer than the A330 that I had flown to get to Doha.

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Business class seat

Business class seat

IFE screen

IFE screen

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Hidden beverage compartment

Hidden beverage compartment

Reclined seat

Reclined seat

Waiting at my seat were an amenity kit and noise-canceling headphones. There was also a water bottle hidden in the armrest. I was then offered a choice of pre-departure beverage, a cold or hot towel, and a newspaper. From this first interaction, I could tell that the flight attendant was on her game.

Male amenity kit contents

Male amenity kit contents

Female amenity kit contents

Female amenity kit contents

Beyond the seats and the in-flight entertainment, the bathrooms also felt nicer than they did on the A330. They had an automatic sensor faucet, which is a small but helpful amenity.

Menu

Menu

On this flight, for some reason, they had catered two special meals for me. Perhaps because I had changed my meal preferences relatively close to departure. But they had both an AVML (usually an Indian meal that’s vegetarian and includes dairy) and a JVML (Jain vegetarian meal which is vegan and doesn’t include items like garlic or onions). The AVML features rice with a curry sauce, carrots, asparagus, and paneer. The sauce reminded me of tikka masala, and it was pretty delicious.

AVML of rice, curry sauce, carrots, asparagus, and paneer

AVML of rice, curry sauce, carrots, asparagus, and paneer

The Jain vegetarian meal was peas and cauliflower served with rice and a potato curry. Also delicious.

Jain vegetarian meal of peas and cauliflower, rice, and potato sauce

Jain vegetarian meal of peas and cauliflower, rice, and potato sauce

Below is a picture of how the seats go lie flat. It’s not the best business class seat out there, but it’s fully flat, and I slept pretty well on the flight.

Seat fully reclined

Seat fully reclined

Prior to landing, they handed out immigration cards, but they did not hand out fast track cards.

Overall, it was a good flight. The seat was comfortable, I had plenty of space (partly because the cabin was again only half full), the food was great, and the service was on point.

Lounge Review: Bangkok Airways Domestic Lounge BKK Airport

To get from Bangkok to Chiang Mai, I flew Bangkok Airways. I’ve also taken the overnight train, which is a decent way to get between the two cities as well.

Bangkok Airways markets itself as a boutique airline, and one cool amenity is that all passengers get “lounge” access. In some airports, this doesn’t mean much (e.g., Koh Samui, where Bangkok Airways has close to a monopoly), but at BKK, there was a proper lounge.

Friendly bear at the entrance

Friendly bear at the entrance

The lounge is essentially a long room with lots of seats. There were plentiful electrical outlets for the counter seats along the edges of the lounge. When you enter, you get a wifi code printout, and the wifi was decently fast for an airport lounge in Southeast Asia.

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Lounge seating

Beyond the typical lounge seating, there was also a children’s play area, although I didn’t see any children using it.

Children's area

Children’s area

In terms of food and beverages, there are lots of small desserts, popcorn, coffee, and drinks. One thing that I do appreciate is that some of the snacks are foods that are more common to the local area like sticky rice in banana leaves. Really, I just like sticky rice.

Coffee machines

Coffee machines

Thai desserts

Thai desserts

Desserts

Desserts

Drinks and snacks

Drinks and snacks

Popcorn and coffee

Popcorn and coffee

Overall, there’s nothing fancy about this lounge, but it’s a place to sit, eat some snacks, charge devices, and get on wifi. Surprisingly, even though all Bangkok Airways passengers get lounge access, it’s not completely overrun like some other lounges that I’ve been to. Perhaps not all passengers realize that it’s a perk that everyone can enjoy!

Lounge Review: Qatar Airways Al Mourjan Lounge Doha Airport (DOH)

At the time I visited the Al Mourjan lounge in Doha, the first class Al Safwa lounge had not yet opened (I have since visited the Al Safwa lounge, but at the rate I’m posting trip reports, it’ll probably take me another… let’s say 6 months to write about it).

The Al Mourjan lounge is quite massive. To the point where maps are genuinely needed to navigate the lounge. There are lots of different spaces (e.g. multiple dining areas, showers, quiet rooms, business center, family spaces) which you might want to check out.

Lounge map

Lounge map

First impressions were very positive. It’s a massive space that’s well decorated. There are a variety of different seating options, although in spite of the size of the space, I can see how crowding can be an issue.

Seating

Seating

More seating

More seating

More seating

More seating

View of apron

View of apron

The lounge has most amenities you can think of. There’s a pretty massive business center with computers and workstations, and there was even a game room with video games, foosball, and arcade machines.

Business center

Business center

Game room

Game room

Games

Games

Games

Games

Pinball

Pinball

Foosball

Foosball

There’s also a family area, which I can imagine is helpful if you have small children.

Family area

Family area

Family area

Family area

iPads everywhere

iPads everywhere

I took a shower in the lounge on my layover. The shower rooms are less grand than the rest of the lounge, but it was perfectly functional. The shower amenities were from Rituals.

Shower

Shower

Shower amenities

Shower amenities

Staircase up to the dining room

Staircase up to the dining room

At 6am when I first arrived at the lounge, most of the lounge wasn’t too busy, except the dining room was packed. I had to sit at the bar (which I didn’t mind). At the bar, they were still serving Krug upon request (I believe this has changed), although they were very hush hush about it.

Breakfast menu

Breakfast menu

Wines

Wines

The breakfast buffet had two sides for food, plus a small made-to-order menu (I am not sure if they still have the made-to-order menu). One side was mostly sweet (e.g., crepes, waffles, porridge, oatmeal, fruit, yogurt), while the other side was mostly savory (meats, cheeses, foul medames, omelettes, frittatas, hashbrowns).

Breakfast buffet

Breakfast buffet

Dining room

Dining room

Cold foods

Cold foods

The food was decidedly mediocre. I ordered some shakshuka off the menu imagining poached eggs in tomato sauce, but instead received scrambled eggs with some diced tomatoes and peppers. I’ve since tried a number of food items at the Al Safwa lounge as well, and the food ranges from bad to meh. This is one area where the Qatar Airways ground experience is a huge letdown in my opinion.

Shakshuka?

Shakshuka?

If you don’t want to deal with the main dining room, there’s a separate food area that has things like sandwiches and antipasti (i.e. cold foods).

Non-dining room buffet

Non-dining room buffet

Other food room

Other food room

Finally, the lounge does offer some quiet rooms, which are a nice idea. I found the quiet rooms to be not particularly effective in practice because they were quite loud. Lots of talking, alarms going off, snoring, and people watching TV too loudly. But you might be able to sleep for a bit if you wear ear plugs.

Private resting room

Private resting room

Screen in private resting room

Screen in private resting room

Overall, it’s a large, well-appointed, attractive lounge. The service can be a bit strange at times (e.g., there were three attendants in the bathroom, but only two bartenders in the much busier dining room), and the food is generally a letdown. But there are lots of objectively nice amenities, and it’s an impressive space that’s worth checking out. Of note, you only get access to this lounge if you’re flying in business class on Qatar Airways–oneworld status will NOT get you in the door if you’re flying economy.

Flight Review: Qatar Airways Business Class A330-200 Berlin Tegel (TXL) to Doha (DOH)

To get from Central Europe to Thailand, I ended up flying on Qatar Airways. This was also partially to visit the relatively new (at the time) Al Mourjan lounge in Doha (the Al Safwa lounge had not yet opened at the time of this trip).

At Berlin Tegel airport, there was passport control and security at each gate. And then we took a bus to the plane (an A330-200).

Walking up to the plane

Walking up to the plane

Business class on these planes is not great. It’s a 2x2x2 configuration, and the seats aren’t lie flat. They’re angled-flat with 165 degrees of recline. On the upside for this flight, the business class cabin was only about half full, so I had two seats to myself on this segment.

Business class cabin

Business class cabin

Business class seat

Business class seat

The in-flight entertainment system (Oryx) had a pretty good selection of movies, but as might be apparent from the picture, it’s a somewhat older hard product, and it had an inelegant user interface. This is mostly just a function of the age of the plane, though, as I’ve flown Qatar’s A350, which has a much nicer interface.

IFE screen

IFE screen

Side storage

Side storage

Seat + IFE controls

Seat + IFE controls

Waiting at each seat was an amenity kit by Armani. Each kit had a giant bottle of aftershave, a small bit of eau de cologne, some lip balm, ear plugs, an eye shade, and socks. I was a bit surprised to not find a toothbrush and toothpaste in the bag, or at least some mouthwash. In the bathrooms, there were Ritual products, which are also featured in the lounge at Doha.

Amenity kit

Amenity kit

One perk of Qatar Airways business class that you don’t often find in business class is pajamas. They were unwrapped as they were handed to me. I liked these pajamas better than some of the pajamas I’ve received in first class. The bottoms have pockets (very useful), and the material is relatively soft and lightweight. It’s not my beloved PYE pajamas from Cathay Pacific, but I thought these were solid.

Pajamas

Pajamas

Next are pictures of the menu. I had pre-ordered a VGML, so I ate that for my main meal, and then I had some breakfast off of the normal menu prior to arrival.

A la carte menu

A la carte menu

Pre-arrival menu

Pre-arrival menu

Beverage menu

Beverage menu

Champagne menu

Champagne menu

Up first was an amuse bouche of what seemed like make-your-own bruschetta. The topping in the cup was pretty tasty, but the bread could have been a bit better. I am non-ashamedly drinking non-alcoholic champagne in this picture.

Non-alcoholic champagne and make-your-own bruschetta

Non-alcoholic champagne and make-your-own bruschetta

For an appetizer, I had the arabic mezze off of the normal menu. I enjoyed the hummus, and the tabouleh was decent. This was served with two kinds of pita.

Arabic mezze platter

Arabic mezze platter

My pre-ordered VGML was something resembling falafel served on top of rice with a vegetable tomato sauce. On the side (upper right), there was a cup of curried cauliflower and chickpeas which were the best part of the meal.

VGML–something like falafel on top of rice with a tomato vegetable sauce and a side of curried cauliflower and chickpeas

VGML–something like falafel on top of rice with a tomato vegetable sauce and a side of curried cauliflower and chickpeas

After the meal service, I got some sleep. My strategy for sleeping in angled-flat seats is to not actually recline the seat the entire way. I find that if I recline all the way, I slide down the seat, so I recline partway between “flat” and recline, and then I can sleep on my side and not slide down the seat. I will say that if you’re on this configuration, you should aim for a bulkhead seat, as that way your feet don’t have to go underneath a seat in front of you, so it feels a lot more spacious. This isn’t true for Qatar’s Boeing 77Ws, as all of the seats in business class are “lie flat”.

Prior to arrival, I wasn’t super hungry, but I had some bircher muesli with a smoothie. The bircher muesli was very creamy and pretty tasty. And immediately prior to landing, they handed out Valrhona chocolate bars.

Bircher museli

Bircher museli

Lounge Review: British Airways Terraces Lounge Berlin Tegel (TXL)

The British Airways Terraces Lounge in Berlin’s Tegel (TXL) airport is a decently-sized lounge. I used this lounge prior to my flight from Tegel to Doha on Qatar Airways.

Entrance to the British Airways Terrace Lounge

Entrance to the British Airways Terrace Lounge

The lounge has a couple of different seating options: some bar seating, some chairs, and at least one small secluded room. Unfortunately, there were not enough power outlets at the seats.

Counter seating

Counter seating

Seating

Seating

There’s a typical bare bones assortment of lounge beverages. There was a coffee machine, soft drinks, alcohol, wine, and beer.

Coffee machine

Coffee machine

Wine

Wine

Alcohol

Alcohol

Beer and wine

Beer and wine

The food options were also pretty basic. There were some sandwiches, chips, pretzels, pound cakes, apples, bananas, and mini marshmallows. I found it amusing that the chips were “Hungarian” flavored, but I think that just means that they’re flavored with paprika.

Chips and pretzels

Chips and pretzels

Sandwiches

Sandwiches

Cake

Cake

Overall, not a place where I’d want to stay for very long, but your lounge options at TXL are very limited, so you’ll have to make do.