Last month, I took my nephew to Tokyo for a week – a holiday I’d been looking forward to for months. He’s only ten, so I had to travel to him to start our journey, which resulted in a rather convoluted journey to Japan.
I first flew with @TheFrankFlyer to Edinburgh, then drove on to Dunfermline where we stayed with my parents for the weekend. Picking up my nephew on the Sunday morning, we the went back to Edinburgh Airport and went our separate ways: Frank back to London and I (and ten year old Andrew) to Amsterdam.
You see, in planning this trip, we discovered that the price differential between starting our flights to Tokyo in Edinburgh and starting in Amsterdam was simply enormous. It worked out cheaper to fly to Amsterdam, stay the night in an airport hotel and then start again the next morning. Significantly so.
And so we found ourselves on a typically business-like KLM flight to Schiphol, where we hopped on the hotel transfer bus to our Hampton Inn by Hilton hotel. It was about 15mins from the airport and I hope to never grace it with my presence again.
Bear in mind that it’s a hotel. But it was no restaurant facilities whatsoever at the weekend. Nothing. So we had to order in pizza from a menu they held at reception. Not the best start to the holiday! Next time, I’ll stay at the Hilton 5mins walk from the front of the airport.
We flew to Tokyo Narita with Finnair, via Helsinki. It’s a very, very long flight to Tokyo, so breaking it up with a couple of hours in Helsinki seemed like a good idea. And remember this was going to be the longer flight Andrew had ever taken, never mind the first without his parents. So I wanted to make it as easy as possible!
Getting to Helsinki
We had a very early start from our hotel, but still had time for a quick visit to Starbucks when we arrived at Schiphol. Mostly because Uncle Richard had over-compensated and got us to the airport far too early for check-in! But when it eventually opened, we were checked in super-quickly, with the first of many airline employees telling Andrew what an amazing time he was going to have in Japan!
I had told him that we were going business class, but I have to admit his face fell when we got on the first of our flights for the day. As it was between Schiphol and Helsinki, the plane was an A320. So it was lacking the massive seats and on board entertainment system he had imagined.
But any disappointed soon evaporated one ether cabin crew started to look after him. And once he started to eat! With his very blonde hair, he was mistaken for a Scandinavian a few times on our flights with Finnair! The cabin crew couldn’t have been nicer – super friendly and attentive. And, to be honest, this has always been my experience with them – even when I’m not flying with a ten year old!
We arrived in Helsinki bang on time and then we made our way to the very lovely Finnair lounge to enjoy some apple juice. Well, Andrew did – while his uncle relaxed over a very nice glass of champagne.
The Finnair lounge is one of the nicest I’ve been in recently. Very simple, very quiet and very stylish. Unlike some lounges elsewhere in Europe, this wasn’t all about a massive buffet or free bar – which can lead to all kinds of passenger problems. Yes, there were some snacks and yes, there was a bar – staffed by a very friendly team. But it seemed like the emphasis was on giving us somewhere calm to relax between flights.
Which is as it should be, when you think about it. I took a few snaps of the lounge, as I was so impressed. Other airports (ahem, Schiphol) could take a leave out their book!
As you can see, there’s plenty of space and, behind the dark curtain in the final photo, even a quite space to lie down and snooze. We both really enjoyed our time here, but it was soon time to move on and get to our next flight.
Getting on the Finnair A350 was a real treat – I could see Andrew was impressed, but not over-awed. As we had two seats in business class in the middle portion of the cabin, we had a divider between us. Andrew took his seat and I went the far side and got myself settled. By the time I looked around, he was calmly sitting there, flicking through the on-demand entertainment options and sipping a drink. He looked as if he only ever flew business class!
Flight time from Helsinki to Tokyo Narita Airport was a little under 9 hours. We enjoyed it comfort, with some great food and lovely service from the crew.
As soon as the seatbelt sign was turned off after take-off, I headed straight to the bathroom to get changed. I still had my excellent ‘flying pyjamas’ from my flight with Malaysian Airlines when I was coming home from Singapore earlier this year. Super comfortable and light, they really helped me get some sleep. No selfies in my PJs, but where a view of the ample legroom from my seat:
The seat folded down into a bed – that flash of green at the bottom of the photo is my duvet. And it was a very comfortable combination! I got quite a bit of sleep, either side of some TV shows and a film. But I’m the first to admit that my sleep was probably aided by the copious glasses of champagne that kept coming my way. A First World problem, I know.
Incidentally, the plane’s bathroom had a window – providing great views of the horizon as we sped towards Tokyo. On one of my visits, I took a quick snap – a beautiful view, despite it being inches above a toilet!
Andrew really enjoyed himself too. As I said, the crew were fantastic with him, explaining how to adjust his seat (he busily experimented with this minutes after take-off!) and going through the on-board menu with him.
Let’s just say he didn’t go hungry. And neither did I. I have to say though, that the on screen entertainment was too tempting for him and we arrived in Tokyo with him a little the worse for wear. He had minimal sleep due to all the excitement and getting through customs and picking up our bags was a real chore.
But we’d survived it! Our first intercontinental flight together. We were in Narita Airport, albeit slightly tired, and ready to start our holiday together.
The final verdict?
I’d definitely recommend Finnair to anyone considering a visit to Japan. The journey via Helsinki is a joy and the transfer at Helsinki Airport couldn’t be easier. I think we walked all of six or seven minutes before we were at the lounge.
Consider the difference compared to somewhere like Schiphol or Heathrow. Personally, the less time I can spend wandering around an airport during my holidays, the better. Helsinki Airport ticked all my boxes and the comfort and friendliness on board made it a real pleasure to fly with Finnair.
My next trip to Japan is direct from Heathrow to Tokyo Haneda, which will be a very different experience. One, we’re going with British Airways and two, we’re going First Class. Calm down! It’s all about the British Airways points we’ve been studiously collecting – that’s the only way I could go First Class with BA!
Next time, I’ll write about my first ever stay in a Japanese capsule hotel…