Between mid-February and early March, I flew on British Airways and Finnair on flights across the Atlantic.

I recently took long-haul flights on European flag carriers British Airways and Finnair in economy.The coach seats were comparable, with good space and comfort, but I liked my Finnair flights better.Still, British Airways was decent, and I’d book again if the price were right.

I recently flew back-to-back on two countries’ flag carriers in Europe: British Airways and Finnair.

British Airways is much larger of the two, but both fly long-haul between Europe and the US with their hubs in London and Helsinki, respectively.

These flights weren’t initially planned so close together, but thanks to some last-minute schedule changes, I found myself crisscrossing the Atlantic twice in two weeks. The closeness of the flights made it easy to see how Finnair has an edge over British Airways.

However, I wouldn’t shy away from booking my lesser favorite again, so long as the price is right and I bring my own food.

Here’s how my flights compared.

My two flights on British Airways and Finnair were in long-haul economy between New York and each airline’s respective hubs.
Between mid-February and early March, I flew on British Airways and Finnair on flights across the Atlantic.

I flew for seven hours on Finnair’s Airbus A350 between New York and Helsinki in mid-February in a standard coach seat on the outbound red-eye and in an extra-legroom seat on the return.

My six-hour British Airways Boeing 777 trek from New York to London in early March was a daytime flight, and I was randomly assigned an exit row seat. 

Both are a part of the Oneworld alliance, meaning I started and ended my treks at Terminal 8 in New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
The British Airways check-in at JFK Terminal 8.

British Airways and American Airlines revamped Terminal 8 as part of a $400 million project in 2022 to better streamline their Oneworld connections. Other Oneworld members like Iberia and Qatar Airways also operate here.

This means economy passengers flying on British Airways out of JFK will have a slew of kiosks to check in and plenty of queue space, while Finnair’s little nook isn’t as efficient or spacious.

British Airways’ presence at the airport gives it an edge, but it may make little difference for economy passengers like myself with only a carry-on.
Finnair is part of the Oneworld alliance and rooms with British Airways and others in Terminal 8. It has a smaller check-in counter, though.

In both cases, I checked in online and got my boarding pass on the airline’s mobile app to skip the check-in counter and head straight to security.

Premium passengers flying on British Airways will likely prefer its giant lounges and fancy exclusive check-in areas at Terminal 8 versus Finnair’s much smaller operation.

Price-conscious coach travelers typically care more about how much comfort the cheaper economy fares get. Each roundtrip cost me about $700.
A British Airways Boeing 777 at New York-JFK.

After flying both airlines, I prefer Finnair for one main reason.

But it’s not so deal-breaking that I would pay significantly more to fly it over British Airways in the future.

Starting with the seats, I experienced both Finnair’s standard and extra legroom seats.
The view from the standard seat 33J on Finnair.

In the case of Finnair, I could move my assigned standard seat after check-in to the last row. I like it more for privacy and freedom to recline.

For the return, I wanted to try an awkward-looking extra legroom “economy comfort” seat, 22C, which I saw on the seat map and purposely booked for the return flight. It ended up working out, though, for review purposes. 

I was randomly assigned an exit row on British Airways. The standard economy seats on both offer 31 inches of pitch.
I was randomly assigned seat 26A, which had an off-set window. Still, I could easily see outside.

British Airways randomly assigned me an exit row seat for my outbound to London — which is not my preference. I tried to change it on the app but did not have any success, unfortunately.

Both airlines’ extra-legroom seats offered endless legroom because neither had a seat in front.

Although the British Airways seat was an exit row, Finnair’s was just a regular seat configured in such a way that it juts into the aisle.
I was sitting basically in the aisle, which curved around my seat and was normal after my row.

The seat was in the second row of the economy section and had endless legroom thanks to the two-seater row that sat off the right in front of me.

I booked it simply to try something new, but I wouldn’t do it again. The location made me feel like I was in the middle of all the chaos, with galley carts constantly hitting my chair.

Due to their locations, both seats had the TV screen and tray table stored beside the seat.
While my seat had endless legroom, Finnair’s regular “economy comfort” seats offer 35 inches of pitch.

The tray table was inside the armrest, and the TV was stored by that.

I rarely ever opt for extra legroom seats because I’m short, especially not in rows where I have to store the screen and my personal items for takeoff and landing. 

This is the main thing I find inconvenient about bulkhead and exit row seats
The lavatory on British Airways (pictured) was right next to my exit-row seat. This can be bothersome to many travelers, but I didn’t mind.

However, this is not a British Airways or Finnair issue. It’s just how the exit and bulkhead seats are designed across the world, though some airlines mount TVs on the wall instead so passengers don’t have to store them.

Otherwise, both had good entertainment options, though British Airways gets bonus points for having a USB-C port.
The screen popped out of its side-seat cubby.

I was able to charge both my tablet and my iPhone at the same time, thanks to the pairs of USB ports on the screen. No having to eat through the juice on my portable charger.

And they both offered plenty of padding for comfort.
The extra legroom seats on British Airways (left) and Finnair (right).

I found the padding on both were superior to the likes of United and Air Canada, for example.

The seats were plush and not replaced with a slimmer seat with minimal cushioning.

Moreover, the extra legroom seats on each airline offered tons of space.
The unlimited legroom of seat 22C on Finnair’s A350.

The headrests on both seats were adjustable with folding wings. Both also came with linens, though British Airways also gave me a pillow instead of just a blanket.

However, the exit door protrudes out, blocking legroom in the window seats in British Airways’ exit row.
I’m 5’3″ and about 150 pounds, so I fit in virtually any airline seat.

The lesser legroom is not an issue for my short self, but taller passengers who need the bulkhead should just avoid the more cramped 26A and 26K exit row seats.

The seat on Finnair, however, did not come with a seatback pocket. British Airways’ window exit row seat did, thanks to a little wall pocket.
I could fit my chargers, headphones, and Kindle in the pocket.

Another problem with sitting in an exit row or bulkhead is that there is typically no storage space. British Airways solves this for the window seats by attaching a little pocket on the fuselage, which could fit my tablet, headphones, and chargers. This was not the case for the middle and aisle seat passengers, though.

Meanwhile, Finnair’s aisle seat didn’t have any storage because it sat behind a row with only two seats. Luckily, the middle seat was open with access to its seatback and under-seat space. Otherwise, I’d have to keep things on my lap or in the overhead bin.

While I didn’t fly in British Airways’ standard seat, I did experience Finnair’s. I was in the last row and slept like a baby on the redeye.
Can you tell I have dogs?

The seat was easily more padded than competing US carriers like United Airlines, and the recline paired with headrest and legroom helped me sleep easily.

I did like British Airways’ overall seat design minus the specific exit row/bulkhead inconveniences, so I would imagine its standard seat would be a much better ride for me.

The deep recline on Finnair was a significant help with sleeping, but I noticed it impeded on the person behind’s space.
The seats were configured in a 3x3x3 layout.

Finnair’s seat would spark the classic “should you or should you not recline your airline seat” argument.

However, the flight attendants asked people to put their seats upright during the meal service.

The best fix was for everyone to recline when not eating so everyone leaned back and had space.
The flight attendants asked people to sit upright during meal times.

If the person in front reclined and I didn’t, then I would have trouble seeing my seatback screen because it didn’t have the flip-up mechanism like other carriers.

I can imagine the inconvenience of being unable to freely recline when you want could be bothersome. I actually selected the last row so I could recline whenever I wanted, and recommend doing that to make it a little better.

Overall, the seat design on both British Airways and Finnair was sleek and modern, regardless of whether it was extra legroom or not.
The adjustable headrest is on every economy seat on British Airways (pictured) and Finnair.

The seats on both come with plenty of TV and movie options, a responsive touchscreen TV, great service from the flight attendants, and a solid tray table.

I liked that none of the tables were flimsy and could easily hold my tablet. 

However, Finnair is still my preference simply for the food. It was the best I’ve had in economy on a Western airline in a long time.
The side dish on the outbound journey.

I’ve flown in economy on Singapore Airlines, All Nippon Airways, and Korean Air, which set the bar for inflight meals. They’re just in another league when it comes to taste and quality. 

Finnair’s food, however, could put its name in the ring.

Between the two Finnair flights, I had a beef dish with rice and veggies on the outbound and meatballs and potatoes on the return.
The food on Finnair.

Both long-haul journeys on Finnair offered one free meal after takeoff and another drink service within the last two hours before landing.

This differs from other carriers, like United, that offer a breakfast or lunch/dinner as a second meal. 

Both meals were tasty and well-cooked, especially the meat. All of the side dishes paired well with the entrées.
I ordered this unique blueberry juice with my meals. It was also served on the domestic flights.

The food was savory, and I was extremely impressed with the quality and texture after having abysmal food on Air Canada.

United’s food isn’t that great, either. 

Meanwhile, British Airways’ egg breakfast on the way to London was mediocre at best, and the pastry’s texture needed work.
Customers had other options for drinks, too.

I rarely find eggs that actually taste good on an airline, so I wasn’t expecting much. The sausage was OK, as were the veggies. The packaged side dishes were the good parts, though, and kept me filled.

A flight attendant on the flight told me the food originating in London, not NYC, is much better.
Passengers were given a light snack on British Airways before landing.

In my experience, I wouldn’t be shocked if the food from its main London hub is better than the meals originating in NYC, where the airline likely has less hands-on control.

On my return, I was in business class, so I had a much better food experience and was glad British Airways’ meals didn’t disappoint in its Club Suite.

While I liked Finnair more, the airline is much smaller than British Airways, with only one flight per day from NYC.
The Finnair Airbus A350 at the gate in Helsinki.

This severely limits the options passengers have to connect on Finnair in Helsinki and onward to a final destination.

British Airways passengers, by comparison, can take a red-eye or a daytime flight and land in London at various times of day to catch connecting flights within or beyond Europe.

Helsinki is also further, so it’s a longer transatlantic journey.
I watched a John Cena movie on my British Airways flight.

The shorter flight to London may make British Airways’ trek more desirable despite the mediocre food, as Helsinki is at least another hour longer.

The same goes for other carriers like Germany’s Lufthansa or Dutch flag carrier KLM that fly to closer hubs, making the overall travel time lower compared to Finnair.

Despite the longer journey and fewer options, Finnair has still become my go-to when I search for one-stop transatlantic flights to Europe.
The cabin of the Finnair A350.

If I need to fly to a city in Europe that doesn’t have a nonstop from New York — like Tallinn, Estonia, or Ljubliana, Slovenia, for example — then I’d first look at Finnair via Helsinki over options like British Airways.

This is simply because I know the journey will be comfortable with good food. However, the smaller operation limits the flight frequencies and connection times, meaning flying Finnair may not be the most efficient option timewise.

If the fare is much higher than British Airways — as I find is many times the case when trying to book Finnair — then I’d book the UK airline.
The time difference between New York and London is five hours.

I’m going to Vilnius, Lithuania, in April and am flying on Scandinavian Airlines, or SAS, for the first time for that trip because it was the cheapest option.

Finnair and British Airways (and Lufthansa, which I have yet to try) were my other best options, with Finnair being more expensive.

British Airways food may need work, but its seats and service are still better than United or Air Canada, and I’d book it over those.
The seats on a United Airlines Boeing 767 red-eye, which came with a flimsy pillow and no blanket.

Finnair may be personally more enjoyable, but it’s not so incredible that I’d fork out another $200+ for a guaranteed good meal — I’d rather save the money and just bring my own food or suck it up with British Airways’ mushy pastry.

Read the original article on Business Insider


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