Thursday, May 5, 2011

To New York with the Finns!

On May 15, 1969, Finnair the Finnish national airline inaugurated service to New York with the Douglas DC-8 jet aircraft. Space travel was the theme of the age and. Finnair’s new aircraft type, the Douglas DC-8, represented the height of aviation technology at the time.

By the late 1960’s Finnair after years of European operations, decided to make the leap and spread its wings to become a true Intercontinental airline and expand its service to New York via Copenhagen and Amsterdam using their brand new DC-8s. In an all passenger configuration the Finnair DC-8 was configured to 16 First Class & 124 Economy seating.

The launch of the new route was preceded by monumental preparation. The company wanted to arrive in style and to make a lasting impression. Finnair wanted to show the world that Finnish design was among the best in the world. All foremost Finnish designers were recruited to put on a show of Savoir Faire that has not been seen since, except maybe for the launch of the A380. Something unparalleled in the airline world had begun.

Finland’s top talent was consulted in designing the interior of the aircraft and an expansive service upgrade was implemented. The crew’s uniforms were designed in the spirit of the Space Age, the interior colour scheme was transformed, bars and social spaces were introduced into First Class, and dining services were Finnish design at its very best.

Design upgrades even extended to the airline’s New York office, which had a space age theme reminiscent of Kubrick’s “2001 a Space Odyssey’.

In the days of first-class affluence, no corners were cut in the catering program. Everything from service to settings was top of the line. Black Beluga caviar and chilled Finlandia Vodka kick-started transatlantic luncheons.

Designer Tapio Wirkkala was entrusted with the comprehensive planning of the dining service, giving glass, porcelain and metal new forms, which have become classics in the field of design.

Wirkkala’s glassware, the now classic Ultima Thule, was produced by Iittala and introduced on Finnair’s New York route. It became so popular, that it was soon available in department stores and has remained a classic item of Finnish design.

Wirkkala’s porcelain made by Arabia is still in use at Finnair, displaying a blue decorative motif circling the plate brim, with bevies of Finnair logos taking wing.

Wirkkala designed novel cutlery for the flights, with knives that resembled quill pens. But due to their very beauty they were destined to disappear. The pieces were so admired that they began to vanish by the thousands, a volume impossible to replace and a switch to more mundane models was made.
Customer service was taken care of by Finn Hostesses, who were specifically trained for the flights to North America, and looked quite distinctive in their designer uniforms.
While other crew members were responsible for service, their job was to offer individual service, to offer information on Finland to foreign visitors, to entertain and converse with customers. The uniforms were designed by Anna-Luisa Nieminen with the colour being formulated by Anna Suni.

On their long dresses they wore the first in Björn Weckström’s series of outer-space silver accessories exemplifying the spirit of the age and describing people searching for other people in a foreign environment.

For the Copenhagen – Amsterdam leg of the flight these hostesses changed into a brown uniform featuring a long maxi skirt made out of leather.

Designer Kari Lepistö designed the uniforms for the ‘working crew’. This included a silver outfit, displaying the space travel theme. Uniforms were topped off with winter head wear of sapphire mink. Finnair wanted to arrive in style, and no effort was spared to achieve that effect.

Among the first passengers on the route was Finnish President Urho Kekkonen. The route was new, the DC-8 Finnair’s pride, and buns the favoured hair style. The president sported a trade-mark bald pate. According to stories, the president made his way to the First Class bar. To the horror of the cabin crew, he found a hair pin on the bar, scrutinized it and remarked: “Well, this certainly did not fall from my head.”

Now this certainly was flying with savoir faire!


  1. I love how glamourous travel was back in the day! I hope "Fashionable Traveler" will make a comeback :)

  2. Gotta love those uniforms. I'm going through footage right now and went through your interview..when we talked you were at 80 followers and I see you are at 133 now! Congrats :)

  3. This is certainly traveling in style! Love the uniforms they were so...spacechip crew like...the Glasses are gorgeous! Hhaha love the hair pin quote!

    The Black Label

  4. What a wonderful post and amazing story. I don't understand why airlines today don't seize the fantastic opportunity that exists by showcasing the design and hospitality of their country.

    I'm familiar of similar design for more prominent airlines such as Air France or Yves Saint-Laurent uniforms for Qantas Airlines, Pucci for Braniff etcetera, but I didn't know so much care and thought went into the total image for Finnair.

    I guess to a certain extent we can say that Canada's Porter Airlines is doing a good job. Their geometric ads with the raccoon really are amazing, if now ubiquitous. Someone will be rhapsodizing over those in 2 or 3 decades after the public has forgotten about them.

    I just loved this post and will definitely revisit in the future. You are doing a FANTASTIC job David. Super!

  5. Hello David:
    And, one wonders, will there ever again be such style in air travel? Or, indeed, any travel? Certainly not to be found on the replacement of British Rail.

  6. back when flight attendants were the elite any airport and when real cuttlery was in order for every plane...

    damn you rynair !

  7. Classy, right down to the silver uniform accessories and silverware. I have yet to experience such a flight. I looked into first class fare for my upcoming flight to New York and noted that the price difference between business and first class for a 3-hour flight was $600. And that would not have paid for half the Finn experience!

  8. Ahh ... those were the days ....

  9. I knew nothing about this! It is such a good designing job! Usually one gets a lot of unimaginative luxury, many times simply overdone. This is falling with style (like in ToyStory) :-)

  10. Luv the cutlery & uniform, David!


  11. Love, love love this post. I want that shift dress some kinda bad.....k

  12. Catherine, relying on you to do this for us!

    Anthea, yes the uniforms are rather cool. I love the colour blocking. Gee I had forgotten about the interview. I suppose I am a complete dork!

    Andy, you can still buy the glasses. I have some myself!

    MR SWF. I agree with you! If I ran an airline I would try and make it the best and get people to notice. I think Porter are doing a great job, in brand recognition. Pucci also did uniforms for Qantas which I will be posting about soon! I am glad you liked this post!

    Jane and Lance, I do kind of doubt it. Concorde service was close but alas even that is no more.

    Mark, it is a bit of a joke. The fares are outrageous for rather indifferent service!

    Liz, thankyou for your visit!

    Pet, this certainly had imagination!

    Lenore and Kathy, they are fab!


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