Review: American Airlines Business Class Helsinki to Chicago

Filed Under: American, Travel

We headed to our departure gate at around 1:45PM for our 2:30PM departure, and there was a security checkpoint set up that you had to pass through to enter the gate area. No, they didn’t search your bags, but rather asked “important security questions.” I’ve been subject to the “security questions” a million times before at Heathrow, though my gosh, they were even more over the top here.

Each person must have been grilled for a good three to five minutes. They get really close to your face and say “I want to have a conversation with you about the safety and security of today’s flight.” Being the smartass that I am, I responded with “perfect, so I assume the pilots are well rested and the plane has no maintenance issues?” I don’t think she quite got that I was kidding, because she stared at me for a few seconds and then said “yes, probably.”

She then proceeded to ask me every question imaginable about… everything. Why was I in Helsinki? Why do I have Global Entry? What electronic devices do I have in my bag? When did I purchase each of them? When did I pack my bag? Where did I pack my bag? When did I buy my bag? Who did I buy it from? Do I love Amur-ica? Okay, maybe not that last part…

I can appreciate the importance of security, but I had the hardest damn time keeping a straight face. Though I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt and assume it’s behavior detection as opposed to the actual answers they’re looking for.

Departure gate

Finnair A330 bound for New York

Our 767 to Chicago

At around 2PM business class boarding began.

American 131
Helsinki (HEL) – Chicago (ORD)
Thursday, July 18
Depart: 2:30PM
Arrive: 3:55PM
Duration: 9hr25min
Aircraft: Boeing 767-300
Seat: 5H (Business Class)

We were seated in seats 5H & 5J, a pair of window and aisle seats towards the back of the cabin.

Our seats, 5H & 5J

Cabin from row five

At our seats were pillows, blankets, and the amenity kit.

Pillow, blanket, and amenity kit

Within a few minutes of settling in we were offered pre-departure beverages. I selected water.

Pre-departure water

About 10 minutes later menus were distributed.


By the time the door closed there were maybe 10 empty seats in business class, so much like the outbound it wasn’t a full load. The captain came on the PA to advise us of our flight time of nine hours, anticipating we’d arrive on-time in Chicago.

We pushed back a few minutes early, right as the Japan Airlines 787 pulled in at the gate next to us.

Japan Airlines 787

Several Finnair A330s and A340s were arriving around this time from Asia, as they turn around back to Asia a couple of hours later.

Finnair Airbus fleet bound for Asia

More Finnair!

We taxied out to runway 22R, which took about 10 minutes, at which point we were number one for takeoff.

Views after takeoff

The climb out was smooth, and about 20 minutes after takeoff the seatbelt sign was turned off and service began, starting with the Samsung Galaxy tablets being distributed. That was followed quickly by the lunch service.

The menu read as follows:



The wine list read as follows:



Service began with drinks and hot nuts. I ordered a Diet Coke with lime. The flight attendant working our aisle was Mark, and he was fantastic, possibly one of the best (and funniest) flight attendants I’ve ever had on American.

Diet Coke with lime and hot nuts

The next course consisted of the crab cake appetizer and salad.

Crab cakes and salad

For the main course I ordered the gnocchi, which was surprisingly good. For that matter it was probably the first non-rubbery tasting gnocchi I’ve ever had on a plane.


Meanwhile Andrew ordered the chicken.

Chicken Provencal

I skipped dessert… I know, what’s wrong with me? I wasn’t especially tired, so watched a few TV shows on the Samsung Galaxy tablet. Andrew managed to sleep for a bit while I spent some time talking to the flight attendant, who was awesome. It was his first trip to Helsinki as well, so we compared notes.

There was a snack basket set up in the galley with a bunch of packaged snacks.

Mid-flight snacks

About 90 minutes out of Chicago the pre-arrival meal service began. The menu read as follows:


I wasn’t hungry and decided to eat in the Flagship Lounge upon landing instead, though Andrew had the pizza, so I took a picture of it.

Uno’s pizza

The views on the descent were beautiful, and we touched down in Chicago at around 3:45PM.

View on approach

View on approach

View on approach

We had a quick taxi to terminal five, which is such a cool terminal to taxi by in the afternoon as you have airlines from just about every part of the world there.

View of terminal five upon landing

View of terminal three upon landing

Terminal five airlines

Terminal five traffic

Terminal five traffic

As close as I like to get to Royal Jordanian…

Upon landing I used Global Entry to pass through immigration, though O’Hare has done a phenomenal job with introducing both 1-Stop immigration for those with just carry-ons, as well as kiosks for those without Global Entry. Andrew actually cleared customs and immigration before me using the 1-Stop line, so that’s pretty impressive.

Once we took the train to terminal three we were able to tour American’s awesome new Flagship check-in area, which I wrote about in this post.

The crew on the return flight was especially good, and I hope to fly with Mark again soon.

I had an awesome trip, Andrew was an amazing travel companion, and it was a fun but crazy three days!

  1. Funny you mention the strange security questions…had a similar interaction in Copenhagen this week and another last month leaving Reykjavik. The security “official” actually had a list of questions in front of her, and immediately after reading the question, she would snap her head up to awkwardly stare at me right in the eyes as I answered. After each question, she would then look back down to find out what the next question was…El Al can teach these people some proper security techniques

  2. To compare, Finnair does nothing like what you experienced at HEL for its flight to JFK. They do have secndary screening set up, but no interviews. Seems like typical AA overkill at a foreign outstation.

  3. Thanks for pointing out that clearing immigration has become remarkably “less painful” lately at ORD with those automated systems. On our return from FRA 3 weeks ago we cleared passport control, got our luggage AND cleared customs in about 5 minutes. Granted, I think our timing was “perfect” on that trip. However, I still kept looking around to see if we did something wrong 😉

  4. @WanderingEntrepreneur;

    I agree that El Al has great security but sometimes they do overextend their interview. I am an Israeli citizen, traveling to see my mother in Israel (inside the recognized borders), go there every year and the last time I was questioned for 15 minutes for no reason on the way out of TLV; it was basically the same stuff Ben got in HEL.
    I doubt there was anything suspicious in my history or travel pattern except they wanted to be a pain.
    At the end of the “interview” I was visibly upset with the interviewer and they let me proceed.

  5. Am I the only one who prefers crab cakes hot? That appetizer could actually be good heated up, but cold they’re no better than week’s leftovers.

    As for the “security” questioning at check-in, it seems as though the routine has been stepped up at LHR as well. Will be curious how it is flying US-bound out of CDG in a couple of weeks. They’ve always been punctilious, I hope it hasn’t gotten worse.

  6. I remember flying out of CDG on TWA (yeah, old school) and the security guy asked me a dozen questions in a staccato, intensely angry fashion, and I was comprehending nothing of what he was saying. I finally stopped him and said, “You have to speak english”, to which he replied, even more angry, “I AM SPEAKING ENGLISH”.
    End scene at Security Theatre playhouse.

  7. Speaking of JAL’s 787, when will your first 787 TR appear? Or are you waiting to see if they remain safe?

    Great pics and report!

  8. @ Peter — Hah! Previously I was intentionally seeking out the 787. Now I’m neither seeking it or nor avoiding it, but I do prefer redeeming miles for first class, and no 787s have first class as of now.

  9. Gotcha! But we are curious about the 787 so when it’s safe, you may need to suffer through business class for us. You did say you need to do paid runs soon for elite status preservation. (JAL = AA; I know your hestitation–their flat neo seats aren’t flat!) 😉

  10. @Rami, I completely understand what you’re saying. I’m sure that the majority of the behavioral questioning goes too far, but it’s also hard to beat El Al’s security record. They definitely aren’t known for their friendliness though, even on the plane.

    @Ryan, this does seem to be more of a contract agent issue than with local carriers who have local staffing. I mostly fly Delta internationally, and only when I am speaking to a Delta contract agent in a foreign airport do I get these inane questions. Flying Air France out of CDG or KLM out of AMS never seems to present the same questioning.

  11. CDG has the worst team in my opinion. They go on forever and are very rude.

    A few months ago, and next to me, was an old Chinese woman with her daughter who spoke English. The daughter tried to translate for her mother who does not speak English or French and was scolded and asked to step aside. Well, in Paris they only do the interview in French or English and you can imagine the scene that followed, to the point they were looking for a security employee at CDG who spoke Chinese. This was beyond ridiculous in my opinion. Gladly I saw the old and charming Chinese old lady on board. What a bunch of idiots !

    By the way, those Finnair planes look horrible. Who decided to paint them with that ugly livery ?

  12. Lucky,
    Is the train between terminals at ORD inside or outside of security? I’m connecting at ORD from UA (Term 1) to Asiana (Term 5) and wanted to know if I will have to exit security then clear again at T5. Thanks for another great trip report!

  13. I will never forget waiting to board a KLM flight AMS-DTW in 1996 at the age of 15 with my school group. Two Schiphol security agents (with large rifles) took me and the only other non-white classmate of mine aside and brusquely interrogated us for 15 minutes in full view of everyone at the gate. We were just kids, for heaven’s sake. Very disturbing. And this was in the age before 9/11!

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