The Hilton, Helsinki Airport
The Hilton, Helsinki Airport, is perfect for the traveller with a short layover. It’s comfortable, smart, only 5 minutes walk from the airport, and out of sympathy for people unaccustomed to the climate on the 60th parallel, there’s a covered walkway all the way there from the terminal building.
It’s nearly midnight when I arrive, but checkin is prompt, and with 15 minutes until the lobby bar closes, time to get a local beer as a nightcap and reflect on the day. A wakeup call is set for 5 hours time.
Helsinki to Heathrow (80 TP)
As usual I’m awake before the alarm; the tension of a missed flight always prevents me oversleeping. Heading back to the airport, there are a number of lounge options for OneWorld status or business travellers. The Finnair lounge that I head to is close to gate 50 and post passport control. Only the regular business class area is open, the first class section closed for refurbishment. But for hot coffee, bread rolls and Scandinavian cooked meat, it’s perfect.
G-TTNA is waiting on the tarmac outside Gate 33. Like the Dublin flight I was on for the Vegas run, this aircraft also overnights away from its Heathrow home to form the first service back. It’s another full flight, and the gate agents spend a good 20 minutes relieving passengers of some of their larger carry cases to stow in the hold.
We push back a few minutes late, but nothing to cause any connection concern. Given the temperature is comfortably sub-zero, there’s a mandatory de-ice before take off, and on the way to the departure runway the plane manoeuvres through an area a bit like a giant car wash, with numerous de-icing trucks taking up station at different points to liberally spray the various control surfaces.
It’s only upon arriving at Heathrow and darkness has given way to daylight, that I finally get my first proper look at G-TTNA, the new A320 neo.
Heathrow to Dublin (40 TP)
This time I take the transfer bus from T3 to T5 to connect to the Dublin flight, but rather than brave flight connections at T5 which are invariably busy, head landside and then back airside via the First Wing.
This penultimate leg of the trip is the outbound of a “back to back”. I’m booked on the same aircraft to return to London and complete this Helsinki Run. Connecting like this at Dublin used to be trivial, but about 18 months ago they revised the airport to separate departing and arriving passengers. This means that I have to clear immigration, leave the airport, re-enter, clear security and get back to the gate before they close the flight.
We’re a little late departing which causes a little bit of worry that they might try to turn the aircraft around more quickly to ensure an on time return. But we are on an almost full Airbus A321 with approximately 200 passengers, and I figure to disembark everyone and turn it around is going to take a little time. To maximise every second, rather than take a window seat, I’m in 1C to guarantee first off the plane. We land at Dublin and are at gate 201 about 5 minutes behind schedule due to some time in a holding pattern. As we pull up to the stand, they announce there are also going to be rear steps, which takes away my assumed disembarkation cushion. It’s time to run.
Dublin to Heathrow (40 TP)
It’s about 5-10 minute walk from the 200 gate spur that services BA to get landside, much of it along a bunch of corridors with numerous twists, turns and steps.
Passport control is thankfully quiet, but a queue switch is required as I’m behind someone in the EU queue whose being quizzed at length by the immigration officer. Out, through the baggage hall, up to departures, through fast track security with no issues and I’m back airside.
I set a brisk walk back to the gate, expecting to get there early, but am quite surprised that the aircraft has been turned around in about 20 minutes and boarding is well underway. By the time it’s doors closed, I figure I had probably 10 or 15 minutes of cushion max, not a huge amount if there’s any sort of immigration queue or my hand luggage had been selected for secondary screening.
Arriving from Dublin at Heathrow T5 counts as a domestic. You bypass passport control and get routed along a special corridor which sees you exit landside next to the escalators for baggage reclaim. I head down to the Heathrow express, thankful for no missed connections and with another 320 tier points on the board.