May 31

Flying Business vs Coach: Is it Worth it? My Experience with Finnair


I have the strange habit of looking left as I hop on any airplane when flying long haul, looking at the large, comfortable seats passengers flying business vs coach enjoy. This time, however, I didn’t have to look with jealousy when flying back to NYC from Helsinki because for the first time ever I was flying business. Hurrah!!

Chances are that if you’re reading this post you’ve traveled at least a bit, and hence have gone through the same experiences that almost all air travelers go through: early arrivals at airports, long lines at security, barely enough seat space, food that has some room for improvement if offered at all, TV monitors far enough for you to not be able you see anything…the list may go on and the truth is that air travel quality depends a lot on the airline you are flying with and sometimes, not always, the price of your ticket. In this post I’m going to review what flying with Finnair is like, the quality of their service, planes…and how my first experience flying business was like.

Flying Coach (with Finnair)

Finland’s national carrier promotes itself as being one of Europe’s main carriers to Asia, having a fleet of modern airplanes that pays a lot of attention to its carbon footprint and while providing superb service to its passengers. As a major carrier of a Scandinavian country I was looking forward to this flight, wondering if it’s quality could compare with what you may find on similar flights when flying airlines of the Middle East. After hopping on the airplane bound to Helsinki from NYC (and looking left at the business class seats) I found my way to my seat -aisle, fortunately- and was pleased to see that all the seats had personal entertainment, a superb first step for a better long haul flight experience.

Finnair coach seats
Coach seats on Finnair flight NYC to Helsinki

My flight departed on time, which was great as my previous flight with Spirit Air from Fort Lauderdale to NYC arrived almost two hours late, landing slightly before 1 am at La Guardia airport. Shortly after take off we were offered complimentary drinks and about  two hours later we were offered dinner; the drinks available included beer and wine at no extra cost. In fact I was pleased to see that Finnair offers complimentary drinks throughout the flight at no extra cost, with juices, sodas and water to choose from- this alone makes a difference already as many other carriers only offer water, if anything at all.

finnair dinner
Top left: breakfast prior to landing. Right: the entertainment system and leg room available. Bottom left: Dinner about 2 hours after taking off was tasty, warm, and included salad, dessert, stew with mashed potatoes and some chocolate treats.

I found the meal to be quite pleasant, rather tasty and noticed a few details such as the cookies and chocolate given besides the typical dessert. When done I went back to the entertainment system and noticed that many of the movies were only available in their original  language (Chinese, Japanese, Hindi) with English subtitles, and this chose to watch those that didn’t require me to read. Most of the documentaries and TV shows were available in English though.

The 8 hour flight was rather uneventful, with only some turbulence off Nova Scotia, and with about only an hour or so of sleep the I landed ten minutes before schedule in Helsinki.

Time to Fly Business (with Finnair)

The differences between flying business vs coach start even before you get on the plane.  I was three hours early at the airport hoping to recover my backpack lost by Lufthansa the previous day, and it wasn’t at the airport they at least knew where it was and told me it would arrive to NYC the day after I did. This gave me some piece of mind, so I went to check in (ironic how now that I had an extra weight allowance I didn’t even have luggage) and asked if they had a business lounge, which they did indeed. Five minutes later I had found it, and it was then that I noticed the completely different travel experience I was in .

finnair business lounge helsinki
The Finnair business lounge in Helsinki Vantaa airport. I could get used to this.

The large lounge was very much empty, and offered all sorts of amenities you might need:  free Wi-Fi, four computers with internet, a large cafeteria with juices, salads, a soup of the day, coffee, sodas, toast, some bakery, alcoholic drinks and more, electrical sockets everywhere, comfortable seats… and a soothing music. For the first time ever being early at the airport did not seem a bad idea, and as I helped myself with a freshly brewed cappuccino and some fresh orange juice I wondered how I’d cope with flying coach after living this. The three hours I was there went by pretty quickly, and 30 minutes before departure I walked to my boarding gate.

flying business
Lots of leg room, drinks all the time, an almost fully horizontal bed, good food…flying business is something else.

When I got on the plane this time I did not have to look left with jealousy: this time I was flying business class. As recommended by the lady during check in I was in row 1 (first time ever) and looked at the 8.5 hour flight with new eyes. I immediately noticed the noise cancelling headphones, was offered a drink as  soon as I sat down, and noticed that the seat could even give massages!! After fiddling with the buttons I came to the realization that the massage system of my seat was not working. Bummer.

Shorty after the plane took off, and I was surprised to feel turbulence more than what I expected, always thinking that the front of the plane would be more silent (which perhaps it was, but just a bit) and stable. I of course knew that stablest part of the airplane is where the wings are, as the whole airplane pivots around them, but for some reason I wanted business class to ignore turbulence altogether. This was not true, and  the flight was bumpier than what I had hoped.

food business class
There is a big difference when it comes to food too, as well as the attention provided by the flight attendants.

Lunch was also served about two hours into the flight, but of course the service is more personal and detailed. We had been given a menu before take off, and my choice was clear, particularly when it came to dessert: who can reject a strawberry cheesecake?

finnair businee class flight
Business class going to NYC with the shades down

The best part about flying business vs coach is the space you have, no questions about it. While my flight was not extremely long (8.5 hours) being able to stretch my legs all the time and move out and about if needed made a huge difference. There is also the attention to detail, which really stood out when a flight attendant covered me with a blanket  when she saw me trying to get some sleep once the shades were down.

business class finnair toilet and leg room
Left: Now that’s a toilet with a view. Right: Ample leg room made the trip much more pleasant.

Flying Business or Coach: Is it Worth to Pay More?

The question seems quite silly, as of course we’d all like to fly business over coach when flying long-haul, but there is a price tag to match the extra comfort. Flights that are 3 hours or less are rather bearable with a good book and some patience, those that are more than three but under seven hours begin to become a burden, and anything longer than that is admittedly uncomfortable or even annoying when flying coach.

Unfortunately, the difference in price between business and coach seats is usually at least 3 times more, making it too expensive for most of us. However there are some tricks around it, and depending on the class of your economy seat and your airline you might able to get an upgrade shortly before leaving for 50-150 USD. Finding cheap flights is very much an art!

Flying business was a new experience for me, and I am sure I would have enjoyed it even more when flying East, as most long haul flights going this route involve night time flying. Finnair’s lounge at Helsinki airport made my three hour stay very pleasant and productive, as I was able to do many thing online while enjoying the drinks and food.

As for the future, I will certainly keep an eye open for opportunities to fly business on long trips- there are ways to find discounted business seats on sale, but if I can’t, I’ll simply look left again when I hop on the plane before heading to the coach seats.

Have you ever flown business or first class? How was your flight? What airline was it with? What did you like most about that flight? Share your thoughts with us in the comments section below, and this post too if you liked it!


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  1. I flew from London to Hong Kong with finnair about 3 years ago and I didnt enkoy the experience. I thought the staff on board were just not helpful at all – if you requested another drink they’d just roll their eyes, like thats not their job!?

    1. Wow, I’m surprised to read this! I found the crew to be rather pleasant when flying coach too…thanks for sharing this experience Jennifer!

  2. I usually fly business between Chile and the US. I justify it by buying my ticket with money and my husband’s with miles, which ends up costing only a few hundred dollars more than buying two coach tickets. I would never try to argue that business is objectively worth the exorbitant prices – although midway through one of my recent 13 hour flights on Iberia with no in-seat entertainment I might have been willing to pay anything for an upgrade – but it sure is nice when you can get it!

    1. It is true that some of the business class fares are beyond reasonable, but sometimes you are able to get an upgrade for under two hundred USD if you’re lucky…

  3. In 2004 our first flight was in Finnair business class just like yours. Our old school friend’s sister worked on the flight as flight attendant and she upgraded us. As a results, the flight was quite foggy thanks to a bit too many gin & tonics. That was our first and last business class experience on our everlasting honeymoon.

    1. Haha…too bad you can’t remember much! I hope it is not my last business class experience too… thanks for dropping by!

  4. I upgraded to biz class last year on United EWR-BCN and ZRH-IAD. I’m not sure I can ever go back to coach! It was a fabulous experience. I hope I’m able to get a job that pays for business-class travel after I graduate next May!

    1. Best of luck Elizabeth… I know, it’s a huge difference indeed! Unfortunately there is one in the price as well… 🙁 Thanks for stopping by!

  5. Thanks for the review! I’ve always wondered whether it’s really worth it or not. I’m a pretty easy going flyer as it is, so the cost for me is extra prohibitive, but on a really long flight, I could totally see the advantages. The business lounge also makes a pretty compelling argument too.

    1. Yeah, if it was only like 200 or 300 USD more on really long haul flights it would be an easy choice, but with rates being 3x or more than coach tickets do become prohibitive…

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