Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Cleaning in Progress

Cleaning in progress: that is what signs at Helsinki’s Vantaa airport should read. Sure, from a physical perspective, the terminal is as clean as a Nordic gutter.[1] No, it is the schedule and transfer procedure that needs examining. See, today we flew from Shanghai’s Pudong Airport to Helsinki. Our flight got in 20 minutes late, so we knew that we were facing a tight connection. Imagine the sigh-cum-curse that rose from our group upon arriving at the connections area when we were greeted by 500 sweaty travellers scrumming around a collection of metal detectors. That’s right. We missed our flight thanks to a completely redundant security check. Even requesting that the flight be held at the gate yielded no effect: apparently Finnair values reputation above profit margin, to the extent that our flight left 17 passengers hanging when it left 10 minutes prior to the scheduled departure time.

This would be not such a malady if Vantaa airport was slightly better-equipped at security points. The average age of the staff could not have exceeded 25 and this lack of experience shone through brighter than the Olympic torch. Let’s just put it this way: my laptop, removed from its bag, had to be scanned twice.

However, things took an upswing when we huddled around the transfer desk at gate level: miraculously, there were 17 spare seats on the 19:30 departure to Heathrow. We were getting out tonight, and with €17 meal tickets to boot. Several hours and a duty-free café binge later, we were on the runway. Like the final chapter of a book that meanders on with no real direction, this annoying episode of what was otherwise a memorable trip had come to a close.

Yet one point of confusion remained. Finnair’s modus operandi is obviously to provide a gateway between Asia and Europe, to such an extent that the connections queue was longer than the immigration line. So if even 100 people face missed flights on a daily basis, that is €700,000 in replacement tickets Finnair has to fork out per month, equating to at least €8,400,000 in lost profit per annum. I’m no economist, but in a business as precarious as the airline industry, you’d want to clean up your act to avoid chucking that kind of money down the drain.

It’s a shame that the ground staff are so incompetent, for the onboard experience is exemplary. Even on the aging MD-11s, seats are spacious and portable entertainment devices are available free of charge. The new A340s are again spacious, and offer the latest technology as far as inflight entertainment is concerned. The intra-European fleet, whilst not fancy, is extremely comfortable. But the best bit: the coffee is fantastic. Basically, Finnair have a great foundation for success. They just need to clean up their act a tad.

[1] Which is to say, spotless and shiny.

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