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The Inaugural Finnair A350 flight or French Connection goes east, 7kg of white powder

The Inaugural Finnair A350 flight or French Connection goes east, 7kg of white powder

Old Dec 6, 15, 1:27 pm
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The Inaugural Finnair A350 flight or French Connection goes east, 7kg of white powder

The Inaugural Finnair A350 flight Helsinki - Shanghai


A Modern French Connection goes east - how to move 7 kg of white powder on the Asian route

If you came here just to read about Finnair's new A350 in longhaul operations, but might be better off going straight to the flight section of this report, because frankly Airbus shouldn't be held responsible for this section. But just so you know, the prologue might have affected the posters view of the airplane...

There always is one. A prologue. Things don't 'just happen'. Nothing is created out of nothing. Something always happened before this. Something existed before and was merely morphed into the new.
And for that reason, the prologue is almost always worth telling. And when it comes to trip reports on Flyertalk, if for no other reason, the prologue represents a possibility to make ridiculous, unnecessary and/or expensive longhaul flights look thought through, pre-meditated, rational.

Nonetheless, I'm not sure this trip can be rationalized but without the prologue it might look like just another flight. In fact, I wasn't even going to write a report at all. I didn't think there was a story to it, until I started to think about the prologue.

We all knew she was coming. The Airbus A350. Joining the Finnair fleet. The modern Joan of Arc, young beautiful rebel kicking the butt of some older French ladies (namely OH-LQF and OH-LQG, voted most hated Airbuses of Finnair fleet, working way past their retirement age). If you never flown one of the ancient Finnair A340s, think "Grandma on Reperbahn" and you should have the correct image in your mind, together with that naseuating feeling we all got when flying those birds. No amount of make-up was going to get you the money's worth on that ride, I'm telling you.

In fact, we all knew for a very long time. In 2006, as the very first airline, Finnair bought the Airbus A350. Some balls he had, the CEO of Finnair. Spending billions based on a few sketchpad drawings. But he did, and told everyone at Finnair that the future was coming. Staff agreed on pay-cuts on the promise they would be included in the bright A350 future. Flyers suffered the fading beauty of the ageing fleet with equanimity. See what he did there? He sold everyone the future (the sufficiently far away future so any bumps in the road was going to be someone else's problem). So we all knew it was coming.

And we all knew, even when Airbus came back and said: 'Nay, we're not going to build that A350 you bought. Can we interest you in the A350 XWB instead? There will only be a slight delay while we modify just about everything."

It was going to take 9 years of waiting, but she still was going to be our Joan of arc, perhaps only slightly wider over the hips now, as the years had passed. We couldn't care less. We all knew. She was coming. One of these nights.

OH-LWA. Her name was going to be OH-LWA, the Airbus A350-941 MSN 18. Finnair people told us they chose to open the OH-LWx series of tail numbers just to enforce the understanding that A350s are extra Wide. But I guess we all knew it stood for "Long Wait Awarded". (Or possibly "Late With Abuzz" or "Less Waiting Ahead"?). None the less, we were going to be awarded. That much we all knew.

So in august this year, when Finnair marketing team picked up on the notion that the delivery of a brand new airplane might be something to honk your horns over, we already knew. In fact, many of us were already booked on the first commercially available flight, a test run between Helsinki and Rovaniemi.

We were even way ahead of operations, using our perk to freely chose seats, seating ourselves in the business class section, despite flight being a domestic economy-class-only service.
(Later on, operations caught up with us, bumping all the platinums to some other cosy seats in the back, preferably middle seats near the toilet but far away from other services. We had some entertaining days when customer service fought a two front battle with operations and marketing to put us back in business. We were up all night, and some even got lucky).

Imagine our grief when Joan of Arc was late to the party. Despite having a go at it for 9 years, Airbus failed to meet the delivery deadline by a few days, meaning the first 4 days of training flights were dropped and flown by good old narrow-bodies. Disaster struck among the nerds of the Finnair forum the flying enthusiast community. Almost everyone of us was going to miss out on Finnair's first A350 flight.

OH-LWA first arriving in Helsinki airport

Not only late for her own party, they had to give her a shower before coming out to society. Is this the way to start a long relationship?

I was one of those who got robbed of the first-flight-experience. Finnair was very understanding though, offering free rebooking and everyone who wanted to cancel was fully refunded, even on non-changeable, non-refundable tickets. That is playing nicely, I'd say!

With the new test-run schedule I found the first A350 flights had moved out of my reach and I felt quite disappointed. And frankly quite indifferent to the whole launch package. I wasn't going to be on any of the first A350 flights with Finnair, and that was it. Hype was gone.

However, even after getting all flights cancelled and refunded I was stuck with a non-refundable room at Hilton in Helsinki airport. It was kind of itching in me, forfeiting and losing the money. How could the room now be put to use? I need to go to Helsinki on some odd layover to use the room, I thought to myself. And when a nagging little voice started to say "Don't get mad, get even." I soon started to wonder if there perhaps was a way to get on the real inaugural flight, the Helsinki to Shanghai in november?

Sure. Now revenue management was in the game, and had made all normal connections annoyingly expensive. For it to work for me it had to be J, and it had to be revenue (so operations couldn't easily bump me). Thus revenue management had my balls in a vise. Cough up some serious dough, or forget about it.
But two can play this game.

After a nauseating day-long fight with schedules and multiple booking engines I came up with a solution. A simple Shanghai trip split into 10 segments on 3 nested tickets. Ha!
Intution: 1, Revenue management: Zero.

Some inconvenient layovers, a mixture of revenue and award flights, multiple airlines and multiple tickets. But I was home - I would be able to fly HEL-PVG on the inaugural A350 flight in J cabin, without paying through the nose. And no walk over on the Hilton booking either. Utter destruction of the enemy. Total satisfaction.

Flight plan
First, straight after work, go to the airport and fly back-to-back CPH-HEL-WAW-HEL(layover)-CPH, returning to the office the morning after. That would open up all three tickets, use the room in Helsinki and not lose (m)any work hours.

Then a long layover to circumvent some of the revenue management tricks and push the price back to normal. This layover could also be used for showing up at work, pretending not to be in the middle of a MR.

Then 6 weeks later, using segments left over from two tickets, go for the big jump to Shanghai: CPH-HEL-PVG
With the inaugural flight taking place on a saturday, minimum stay in the fare rule could be avoided allowing a same day return! Or I could stay a few days, routing home would be: PVG-HEL-WAW-HEL-CPH

Next up - Actually buying the ticket

Last edited by intuition; Dec 8, 15 at 12:39 am Reason: spelling, expressions
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Old Dec 7, 15, 12:27 pm
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Actually buying the tickets - and the white stuff

Actually buying the tickets - and the white stuff

With the flight plan all worked out, I decided to float the idea at home, with my local Chinese expert.

- You know, I missed the first flight with that new airplane?
- Yeah I know. Too bad for you.
- So.. I was thinking, maybe I should try to fly it on the first day to Shanghai instead.
- Really?! But you just got back from Japan, and we are going to China anyway in December.
- Yeah, but it is just for the weekend...

I'm not really sure if I actually said that last sentence or it my brain managed to take control of my mouth before disaster struck.

It doesn't really matter though, because I was guilty as charged and a flash of reality swept over me. It suddenly felt difficult to rationalize the spend just to fly on a first-flight that wasn't the actual first. Just the first longhaul, and there wasn't even a promise from the airline that the schedule would stick or that they would do any special event on the inaugural flight.

Well, it was either that flash of reality or the evil eye I got from the local Chinese expert that made me decide it was time to let go.

And the hardest part wasn't even letting go of the actual flight, but letting all the hard work of putting the itinerary together go to waste.

They days passed, and I didn't feel too bad after all. Me and A350 just wasn't meant to be. Live and let live. There will be other flights.

Then, suddenly.

- Hey, what day were you flying to Shanghai again?
- eh, well, I never bought the ticket, I thought you said...
- What?! I have bought tonnes of stuff on Taobao and they have already sent it to your hotel. Now I need you to go to Shanghai and pick it up!

With a dive most athletes would have envied me, I was back at the computer booking flights like there was no tomorrow.

I opted for the saner schedule, staying in Shanghai 3 days before returning.
Saner as in "if there is a last minute equipment change, it will affect the return flight as well, so a same-day-return seems risky", maximising my chances of getting A350 on at least one of the 2 segments. Also, the layover gave me a chance to meet some friends in Shanghai, a couple with a 2 year old.

Now, to fully understand the story, we need a small detour.
Swedish made milk powder apparently is 'the thing' in China. And when I say 'the thing', I'm talking desire all the way up there, together with BMWs, LV bags and Rolexes.

Hardcore stuff, really. I've seen stories of expat Chinese people raiding the local food stores 'til the point of milk powder going extinct. Swedish babies on telly crying because all their food getting shipped to the east. Swedish fathers crying, because mothers need to breast feed another year and "sorry, I'm so sore, perhaps we can just read before going to sleep". You get the picture. It's huge.

In short, there is a grey market for the white powder. Naturally, I was asked if I couldn't bring some.

-Sure, I replied, I'm glad to be of service, thinking that it surely wasn't just an insane trip anymore but now with a grander purpose. Helping the babies, what could be nobler.
- As much as you can carry, please! We really need it, Xiao Huangdi isn't too keen on anything else.

Now, milk-powder is pretty white and pretty powdery. You know, similar to stuff that might attract unwanted attention in the customs. You do watch TV show "Border patrol Australia", don't you? Geez, those suckers getting caught all the time. They never pay any attention to the rules, do they now?

Come to think of it, those Australian border guards are still pretty decent. I mean, you never really see any beating of the suspects on telly. No rats in the holding cells. No electricity used to loosen your tongue. You even get an interpreter to help when you stuttering explains that your bag of dried meat really isn't food but just snacks, and your mother packed it and sorry I am just a poor student who didn't know written rules needed to be followed.

But you've never seen any episodes of "Border patrol China", did you now? I'm pretty sure that's because there wouldn't be anything left to air after they've cut away all of the above.
Scene 1: Foreigner entering customs. Customs inspector opens bag.
Scene 2: Roll the credits.

The extended version of the show might also contain a perky banner "White ghost was enrolled in the 10-year correction program".

Hm, perhaps I should research this milk powder a bit further. I decided to consult the local Chinese expert again.

- Are you sure it is legal?, I ask while my largest suitcase is getting jam-packed with the white stuff.
- Of course, it is just milk. We have milk in China too. How could that be illegal to import?
- Well, many countries have restrictions on importing food, you know. Disease and such. I don't want to get into trouble.
- You'll be fine.
- But can you at least check the import regulations for me?
- You'll be fine.
- So it won't be like that time you told me "Don't bother registering with the police even though it says so on the visa" and then later the police raided the neighbourhood looking for foreigners who didn't register?, I asked in my most polite and least cynical voice.

The conversation grounded to a halt and if I was going to be so un-Chinese in my thinking, I might as well read those import regulations by myself.

I decided to be Chinese on this matter, but stood firm in my position that we must keep the milk powder sealed in their original boxes. That way, I argued, authorities can at least read table of contents before letting me rot in jail. A new roll of eyes, but at at least I won that one.

As with life in general, one needs to keep focused on the important things though. I get to go to Shanghai on the inaugural A350 flight, and can't let a minor worry about Chinese prison system cloud my sky.

Up next - Bringing a large suitcase with white stuff along on a 10 segment, three separate tickets journey. And possibly some minor details about the inaugural A350 Finnair flight to Shanghai.
intuition is offline  
Old Dec 7, 15, 12:28 pm
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Awesome Prologue !
injian is offline  
Old Dec 7, 15, 8:08 pm
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Great start to a report. Funniest line I've read in a while,

This layover could also be used for showing up at work, pretending not to be in the middle of a MR.
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Old Dec 7, 15, 9:15 pm
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Looking forward to this one
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Old Dec 8, 15, 8:44 am
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Great style of reporting ! subscribe
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Old Dec 8, 15, 9:00 am
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Best trip report I have read for some time!
exs2 is offline  
Old Dec 8, 15, 11:17 am
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my first trip to Bangkok my friends who were living there at the time asked me to bring carpet cleaner with me, same deal, white and powdered...

I agreed and went to pack it and thought to myself, hmmm, what if this explodes in my suitcase, well let me vacuum seal it instead. I stood back looking at what I just created, a vacuum sealed container filled with white powder that I believed the country of Thailand did not have, then it dawned on me, that A. I don't speak Thai, and B. I don't feel like trying to explain why I have a white powdered substance in my bag if I'm asked and C. Who would believe me anyway? Left it home, told them to burn the carpet.
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Old Dec 21, 15, 12:25 pm
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When is part 3 coming?
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