Looking up, I can see the colours of the Northern Lights dancing overhead.
But I’m not in the Arctic.
I’m testing out Finnair’s new business-class seat aboard an overnight Airbus A350-900 flight from Helsinki to Singapore. The aurora-borealis-effect mood lighting, which plays out just before the cabin lights dim for a night’s sleep, has been designed to combat jetlag.
The lighting is a slick touch, but it’s not the most remarkable feature of this brand-new cabin. That gong goes to the innovative pod-style ‘AirLounge’ seat, which is making history as a business-class seat that doesn’t recline.
Ailbhe MacMahon tests out Finnair’s innovative new pod-style business-class seat aboard an overnight flight from Helsinki to Singapore
Finnair’s ‘AirLounge’ seat is making history as a business-class seat that doesn’t recline, says Ailbhe
The seat is tucked inside a rounded shell, with two thick pillows – one large, one small – offering support at the base of your back. Mine faces the window, with a long footwell pressing towards the side of the plane. There’s no privacy door, but the pod walls curve around to such an extent that I can’t see anyone else, bar the occasional flight attendant drifting through the aisles to offer Champagne or the airline’s signature blueberry juice.
It’s ‘designed to look and feel more like a piece of classic Nordic furniture than a simple airline seat’, says Finnair.
Removing the recline function creates lots of extra space, lending the seat a width of 21 inches (53cm) and a pitch of 78 inches (198cm).
When sleep beckons a partition between the footwell and the seat can be pulled up, turning the space into a flatbed.
Bound in night-sky-blue fabric, it feels like a soft and spacious nook to burrow away in.
The seat was originally conceived by London design company PriestmanGoode and later developed by Collins Aerospace, Finnair and its design partner, Tangerine, over a period of four years.
Air pod: When sleep beckons a partition between the footwell and the seat can be pulled up, turning the space into a flatbed
The cabin features Northern-Lights-effect mood lighting (left), which simsto combat jetlag. Champagne on board (right) is served in an elegant tumbler that’s inspired by melting ice in Lapland
Now it’s making waves in the airline industry. Since its launch, the seat has claimed the top prize in the ‘Cabin Concept’ category at the 2022 Onboard Hospitality Awards and was a finalist in the same category of the Crystal Cabin Awards 2022.
With all this hype, I was curious to try it out for myself.
My journey begins at London Heathrow, where I board a Finnair A320 plane to make the three-hour journey to the Finnish capital. With a transfer time of just 40 minutes, there’s no time to check out the Finnair Business Lounge in Helsinki Airport’s non-Schengen area (more on that on the return journey). Instead, it’s a quick stroll to the waiting A350 for the roughly 13-hour flight to Singapore.
The idea of spending 13 hours stuck in the same spot likely doesn’t appeal to many, but from where I’m sitting, it looks like quite a handsome prospect.
OUTBOUND TO SINGAPORE
A glass of Joseph Perrier Cuvee Royale Brut (£33 retail) is proffered moments after I’m seated in 11L. It’s lovely, but nicer still is the glass it’s served in – an elegant tumbler that’s inspired by melting ice in Lapland, designed in the 1960s by the late Finnish design maestro Tapio Wirkkala. It’s part of a theme I’m seeing – Finnair has taken the best of Finnish design and applied it to the skies.
The Airbus A350-900 journey from Helsinki to Singapore takes roughly 13 hours
Champagne in hand, the plane takes off, and I set my sights on turning the seat into a flatbed.
It takes two steps.
First, I press a button to my right, and the panel behind my knees silently moves upwards and fills the gap between the footwell and the seat. Next, I tug up the lever at the base of the footwell and a second panel pops up, wedging into the rest of the gap. Voila, it’s a bed.
Straying from the Finnish theme, the layout takes its cues from Japanese culture, in which sitting on the floor is common practice. It’s designed in such a way that passengers can sit cross-legged, upright, or lie down flat with ease. It’s even roomy enough to try a few yoga positions, if so inclined.
The business class seat is ‘designed to look and feel more like a piece of classic Nordic furniture than a simple airline seat’, says Finnair
‘My toes don’t come anywhere near the end of the footwell (left),’ says Ailbhe. On the right is the panel of buttons installed in the side table that controls the lighting and the flatbed function
I unfurl the cream quilted ‘mattress’ blanket and lay it out as a base, before scooting under the navy-blue duvet. There’s heaps of room for my 5ft 4in frame – my toes don’t come anywhere near the end of the footwell.
When I want to lean back and watch a film, the cushions offer a good deal of back support. That said, I do wonder whether a passenger with pre-existing back issues might miss the inbuilt support of the reclining function. Once the cabin lights darken, it’s perfectly comfortable for a night’s sleep. The gentle snores in the cabin suggest I’m not the only one that feels that way.
My blue cocoon is made cosier courtesy of the Finnish fashion brand Marimekko, which has designed all the textiles on board.
‘Bound in night-sky-blue fabric, it feels like a soft and spacious nook to burrow away in,’ says Ailbhe of the pod seat
Finnish fashion brand Marimekko has designed all the textiles on board – including the pillows (left). The quilted blanket on the right acts as a mattress for the flatbed
The Marimekko amenity kit (left) holds an eye mask, lip balm and face cream by the Swedish skincare brand L:A Bruket, spongey ear pods, a toothbrush and toothpaste. A cubby hole (right) by the window is ideal for any stray bits and bobs you want to stow away
Bold, graphic prints in shades of lilac, deep green and pebble grey are splashed across the cushions and duvet, as well as the amenity kit. This goodie bag holds a matching Marimekko eye mask, an almond and coconut lip balm and chamomile and lavender face cream by the Swedish skincare brand L:A Bruket (the brand is also in the bathrooms, where you’ll find its grapefruit leaf hand lotions), spongey ear pods, a toothbrush made from cornstarch-based bioplastic and toothpaste. A pair of grey woollen slippers crank the comfort levels up a notch.
A sleek blue reading lamp is positioned by my head. Its brightness is adjusted using a button that’s built into the side table, while another button dims the lights by your feet. I can press the ‘do not disturb’ light on the panel if I want to skip breakfast and snooze all the way to Singapore.
At 18 inches (45cm), the TV screen is large, and is paired with a nifty pair of noise-cancelling headphones by Phitek. Unfortunately, the entertainment options are relatively limited compared to other airlines, but the films they do have are top-notch recent blockbusters, as well as a good selection of classic and world cinema.
The inflight entertainment system gives Ailbhe updates about the status of her transfer flight (stock image)
Finnish design house Iittala has created the tableware on board
The best feature of the inflight entertainment system is how it adapts to each passenger. It gives me updates about the status of my transfer flight, and an animated timeline tells me how many hours we are from our next meal. It also spins off facts about the airline – such as how Finnair is one of the world’s oldest airlines, having launched in the Roaring Twenties.
The counter is hidden away under the side table to my right. You press a button in the side panel to unlock it, pull it out and fold it into a table. There’s a handy wireless mobile charger built into the side table, and each seat comes with USB-A and USB-C sockets. Business class passengers get one-hour free Wi-Fi, which is of decent quality – the carrier won the APEX 2022 Passenger Choice Award for the best Wi-Fi in Europe.
Then there’s the storage. A little hidden cubby over my shoulder holds the in-flight entertainment system’s remote control. More storage space – big enough for a medium-sized bag – lies underneath the footwell and there’s another well by the windows for any stray bits and bobs you want to stow away.
While they’re not the chattiest – perhaps because it’s an overnight flight – the cabin crew are courteous and attentive, offering drinks and snacks to those who are burning the midnight oil.
DINNER IS SERVED
As we zip over northern Europe, an attendant comes by to serve me a glass of crisp 2018 Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc (£14) from Chile – her recommendation – and a little dish of smoked almonds.
The stylish business class galley. ‘The cabin crew are courteous and attentive,’ says Ailbhe
A flight attendant recommends that Ailbhe try the 2018 Errazuriz Aconcagua Costa Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (left), which is served with smoked almonds. Ailbhe’s starters are a shredded chicken and herb tartlet and a corn and edamame puree, followed by a creamy vegetable curry for the main course (right)
‘One rich glass of 2018 Roquette e Cazes red (£24) from Portugal’s Duoro region sends me to sleep,’ says Ailbhe. In the morning, the crew comes by laden with trays of blueberry juice, a Finnair signature
Pictured left is a melt-in-the-mouth dessert – blueberry mousse with white chocolate and mint. Breakfast (right) is a game pie and a delicious Swedish ‘Skagen’ salad of prawns mixed with fresh dill and radishes
The crew lays down a white tablecloth when dinner is served
Next, a miniature white tablecloth is laid on my counter with panache, and dinner is served.
Finnish design house Iittala has created the chinaware, which is almost 20 per cent lighter than Finnair’s previous dishes, reducing the plane’s overall weight.
To start, there’s a shredded chicken and herb tartlet and a flavoursome corn puree with edamame, fava beans and dill oil, which works best when scooped up with bread.
My main, a creamy vegetable, cashew nut and coconut curry, is tasty, but dessert is my favourite – it’s a melt-in-the-mouth blueberry mousse with white chocolate and mint.
After that, one rich glass of 2018 Roquette e Cazes red (£24) from Portugal’s Duoro region sends me to sleep.
Fast forward seven hours and the crew come by laden with trays of blueberry juice. Breakfast is a game pie and a delicious Swedish ‘Skagen’ salad of prawns mixed with fresh dill and radishes, followed by sliced tropical fruits.
The sun is setting as we fly over the Singapore Strait, and I marvel over the sea of cargo ships that fill the water – Singapore is a popular refuelling stop for vessels ferrying goods from Northeast Asia to Europe.
After a few days spent touring the foodie-heaven hawker centres, urban parklands, and glitzy cocktail bars (including the Best Bar in Asia) of Singapore, it’s back to Changi Airport for my return flight.
Frequently named the Best Airport in the World in airline awards, Changi Airport doesn’t fail to deliver.
After checking in my bag, I nip into Jewel, the shopping complex by terminal one. It’s home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the dramatically titled Rain Vortex, and there’s even a ‘glamping’ ground of white tents festooned with fairy lights for those who fancy camping in the airport.
As there’s no Finnair lounge in Changi Airport, my ticket grants entry to the Qatar Airways lounge for a glass of Bollinger rosé before I board the flight.
THE RETURN LEG
The return leg is just as cosy as the outbound journey.
One slight glitch, however, is the vegetarian meal I order – my main, a pasta dish with courgette, tomato and pumpkin, is a bit carb-heavy and unimaginative, and not something I’d expect from business class. And the sides – two basic green leaf salads, one with tofu – are again lacking in pizzazz. But the dessert, a lovely lemony tart with a caramelised strip of orange, is a saving grace, as is my glass of 2020 Pillitteri Gewurztraminer Riesling (£14) from Canada.
Singapore’s Changi Airport is home to the world’s tallest indoor waterfall, the dramatically titled Rain Vortex (above)
Ailbhe’s vegetarian dinner (left) – a pasta dish with courgette, tomato and pumpkin, paired with two salads. Pictured right is a ‘lovely’ lemony tart with a caramelised strip of orange for dessert
The Finnair signature cocktail (left), Northern Blush, is a blend of Finnish lingonberries, gin and orange peel. Breakfast on the return leg (right) is a hearty bowl of scrambled tofu with spinach and potato, along with a couscous salad with tempeh (fermented soybeans)
For a nightcap, I order the Finnair signature cocktail – Northern Blush, a just-sweet-enough sunset-coloured medley of Finnish lingonberries, gin and orange peel.
Breakfast appears as we fly over Budapest – a hearty bowl of scrambled tofu with spinach and potato, a couscous salad with tempeh (fermented soybeans) and more tropical fruit.
Snow can be seen dusting the ground in Helsinki as the plane approaches.
Pictured is the Finnair Business Lounge in Helsinki Airport’s non-Schengen area, where Ailbhe awaits her return flight to London
‘The lounge [in Helsinki] echoes the smooth design aesthetic of the business-class cabin,’ says Ailbhe
Once we’ve landed, I sidle off to the Finnair Business Lounge to await my flight back to London.
The lounge echoes the smooth design aesthetic of the business-class cabin – icicle-inspired lighting fixtures hang from the ceiling and circular pod chairs dot the floor, with pops of royal blue throughout.
Nursing one last blueberry juice, I think about how Finnair’s new business class seat has got to be one of Finland’s best exports.
Comfortable, flexible and dripping in streamlined style, it’s bound to change how we fly business – I wouldn’t be surprised if other airlines follow suit.
Finnair flies from Heathrow to Helsinki up to five times a day, and from Helsinki to Singapore daily. A return flight from London Heathrow to Singapore starts from £578 in economy class, £1,201 in premium economy and £2,595 in business class. Fares include all taxes and charges. For more information, visit www.finnair.com/gb-en.
PROS: The seat is adaptable and super comfortable, giving you a tonne of room to stretch out. The overall aesthetic is striking and sophisticated, channelling Finnish design beautifully. Stylish accessories, good Wi-Fi and a nifty personalised inflight entertainment system are extra bonuses. Staff are very attentive and quick to top up drinks or offer snacks.
CONS: While the food was generally of a high standard, it felt that more thought needed to be put into the vegetarian speciality dinner. There’s a somewhat limited selection of films and TV shows.
Rating out of five: ****