On Finnair

>> Nov 8, 2009

I have always been lucky with my luggage. I have flown to far flung countries via other far flung countries with sometimes four or five stops along the way and my luggage has always been at my final destination when I arrived. Always. Even that time I flew out of Bolivia from a ramshackled hut on a plane that was held together with tape and spit and I watched the little man pushing the bag trolley take them in the complete wrong direction and disappear over the horizon with them.

Every single God damn time.

Except flying Finnair.

I don't know if this is merely a case of my luck running out, I know many people aren't as lucky and have had luggage disappear never to be seen again just trying to get from London to Manchester but I can't help feeling that perhaps Finnair has something against me.
So much so that when I now fly, if at all possible and assuming I don't have any children with me, I try to cram all my belongings into a carry-on case. I would much rather trudge around airports clutching my little case than risk losing everything for days on end again. Especially as it only ever seems to happen on the outbound journey when you actually need all the stuff in your case.
I have flown Finnair now a total of six times over three years, four of those I checked luggage in, three times they lost it. Once for five days! Five whole days. Although, to be fair to them, they did give me a more than generous allowance to spend on new things whilst the case turned up. But still, I would much rather have had my case and been saved the hassle of having to go shopping on my holidays. And yes, that applies to visitors coming here as well. Fifty percent of the time they are without luggage for the first night of their holidays. Consider yourself warned should be planning to come visit.

The planes are also stacked floor to ceiling with business men and women. On the whole Finns are very polite and pleasant people. Unless that is you put them in a business suit and stick them on a plane. Heaven forbid the person that tries to stand up and get something from the over head locker whilst they want getting off the plane. Even if that someone is a fairly heavily pregnant woman. I'd never tasted aircraft upholstery before. It doesn't taste that nice, I would try to avoid if at all possible. Your best bet is probably to remain seated until the last, briefcase wielding, dark suit wearing, Finnish business man yapping incessantly into his mobile has departed the plane. Sadly I didn't realise this at the time, and when I was finally allowed to stand up again I was hurried and jostled all the way down the plane, into the tunnel at the end and even then, when the tunnel is wide enough to get three people abreast and you think you can breath easily and walk at the more sedate manner that those carry excess child are accustomed to, you will get barged and banged from behind with loud tuts and sighs as people shove past you, even if you are cowering up against the wall of the tunnel.

Funny, but in Paris a few hours later, where one would, going off stereotypes, expect this kind of treatment, you are treated like visiting royalty. Gentlemen waving you passed and giving up seats for you and security guards ushering you to the front of queues so you don't have to stand on your poor pregnant, swollen legs a moment longer than necessary.

One of the few things Finnair do get right is security. They have the most sensible and down to earth approach to the whole thing I have come across.

Given, their airports are mostly the size of my living room and you don't get much terrorism in Finland - come on, what is there to blow up? Trees? - but, neither do they make you remove your shoes, taste baby milk or make you feel like terrorist for forgetting to remove the half drunk bottle of Coke from your handbag before going through. In fact they are polite and cheerful people and you come out of the other end feeling like a human being rather herded cattle or with the unnerving feeling that you were lucky to be allowed to pass this time despite having done nothing wrong. I was once sat at Kuusamo airport waiting for a family member to arrive when an announcement came over the tannoy.

"Would Mr Smith (or whatever his name was - probably something much more Finnish sounding) flying on blah blah flight, please come to check-in desk one? Your ammunition belt containing live rounds needs to be removed from your suitcase That's Mr smith on flight blah blah, please come and remove your ammunition belt from your suitcase."
Not only had they found live ammunition in someone's suitcase but there was not a sniffer dog, security guard or armed swat team in sight. Just a bored looking Finnair employee standing next to a suitcase at desk one.

Mr Smith waked calmly passed us, went to the desk, opened his suitcase, removed the belt and gave it to his friend who obviously wasn't travelling with him. Both him and the attendant were all smiles and laughs and not another person in the entire airport batted an eyelid. A little different to the time I got blasted at Manchester airport for having a mascara in my handbag let alone the time, same UK airport, they made me open sealed cartons of baby milk, pour them into bottles -thankfully I had enough clean empty bottles in my hand luggage - and then taste them all.

There is also the nice happy feeling one arrives in the country with. I have visited America twice, both pre 9.11 and both times, after filling in copious forms and made to stand in queues for over 40 minutes, was talked to in a sharp and rude manner, made to feel about 2 inches high and as though I should be very afraid of the gun toting officials with their macho egos and quick to yell attitudes. I watched one of them once actually scream at an old lady who had got in the wrong queue. And UK it isn't much better. Rather than screaming macho gun toting imbeciles we have bored looking pedantic bureaucrats who face each visitor to the country with an expression as glum as a wet weekend after they have queued for half a week in the roped snake queue system in an dank and equally miserable looking corridor. In contrast the Finns are efficient and pleasant and make one feel welcome rather than an inconvenience.

But despite how pleasant they may be there is one thing about them that really makes me mad, more so than their sky high prices, in ability to keep tabs on my luggage and horrific food they serve up after you've remortgaged your life to get onboard. They run one of the biggest monopoly scams of the century. Regardless of how generally crap they are, they are the biggest airline in the country and obviously not made so by their stunning service. No, Finnair simply bought all the airports in Finland and refuse to let anyone else land at most of them.

If you wish to fly to Kuusamo you must fly Finnair. They are the only company that fly there and they do so at an extortionate cost, on bizarre timetables and for whole chunks of the year they deem that nobody wishes to travel and therefore just don't have any flights.

Yup, for whole months of the year you can't actually leave. Well, not by plane at any rate. If I hadn't actually left all my family and friends several thousands of miles away, I would be quite tempted never to travel again. That said, I've just booked flights to take me and two young children, on my own, sans any other help from say...a husband, to England in May.

That family of mine better be extremely grateful.

I have, however, decided not to fly with Finnair. I am going to give Blue1, a smaller and €400 cheaper, airline a chance and see how they fair with our baggage. Needless to say I will be carrying as many children's clothes as I can fit in my hand luggage and quite possibly making them wear several layers as well. Given the circuitous route they are sending us on -Oulu (a three hour drive at a god forsaken time of the morning) to Helsinki, to Stockholm, to Manchester- I am not holding out much hope.
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