Some time in the autumn of 1989 I was invited to a meeting in Helsinki of Finnair international sales representatives. I had with me a computer, one of those chunky grey boxes with tiny screens, which was supposed to be my visual aid for a short presentation I had been asked to give. I suppose desktop computers must have been a novelty in those days. This, I told my audience, was going to be at the core of a new communications channel for Finnair staff abroad. It was going to be called Finnlink.
At that time the number of Finnair staff working abroad, in front line ticket sales, at airports, in cargo operations, was significant and the majority were not Finnish. The idea of Finnlink, produced from the Information Department in the head office, then located in the so-called Kuparitalo or “Copper House” behind Helsinki’s National Museum, was to keep them in the loop about Finnair news and news from the aviation industry in Finland and globally on a weekly basis.
The only feasible way to do this was by using the Finnair reservation system, known as Finres, which involved writing the text IN BLOCK CAPITALS, using some ancient cumbersome coding system (considered state-of-the-art at the time) and individual, manual line changes. But Finnlink soon acquired a wide and loyal readership. It was, I can see now, a forerunner of the Internet and email, half a decade before these media started to take a hold in commercial and, eventually, social circles. It was an early example of Finnair’s pioneering approach to online media.
Finnlink evolved as the Internet and Intranet became commonplace, adapting to the changing environment in which Finnair’s partners gradually took over PR and ground handling functions outside Finland. It maintained its popularity with Finnair staff abroad, though, and it was always nice to be recognised at airports in London, Bangkok, New York and Munich, to name a few, as the “Finnlink Guy”.
The department moved to the Head Office near the airport, and last year to the spanking new hi-tech property, HOTT, where it feels like you only have to whisper and the lights go on and off. For a while I had my own cubby-hole in the old head office, where I also shared rooms with a variety of colleagues. Eventually Finnair Weekly, as it became known, began to concentrate on Finnair’s own marketing news, dispensing with aviation magazine and IATA news round-ups and small items of Finnish news. The readership spread beyond Finnair staff and began to focus on PR agencies, media and other external readership.
Meanwhile, Finnair media on other channels was spreading effectively but the Finnair Weekly remained an effective way of gathering all the press releases and developments of the past week into one location. That function was eroded with the growth of social media and the increasing use of regional PR agencies. So after almost a quarter of a century, my modest contribution to Finnair communications history is coming to an end. There won’t be any more newsletters after this one.
It’s been an eventful 24 years. I’ve worked in the Information Department, which became the Communications Department, through so many crises in the aviation industry I can’t even remember them all. There have been Gulf Wars, Bird Flu, SARS, volcanoes in Iceland, terrorist attacks and financial crashes. After every crisis analysts and experts have shaken their heads and predicted ultimate gloom and doom for Finnair. So far they have been proven wrong. There will likely be more extreme challenges in the future, and while it cannot take its health for granted, Finnair seems to have a special resilience and ability to adapt to change. Having recently survived 90 years of history, it’s just as well that the airline is clearly focused on what happens next, not resting on its laurels.
I’ve reported on new terminal buildings and technical hangars, aircraft fleet changes, exotic new destinations, the opening up of the Baltic market in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union, the rise and fall of the regional Aero airline. I’ve recorded aircraft fleet renewals and the increasing importance of environmental issues. I’ve seen the phenomenal rise of traffic to Asia and worked under five CEOs.
Some readers may have noticed that I contribute regularly for the Finnair inflight magazine, Blue Wings – in fact my name has been appearing in the magazine for longer than anybody else’s. I intend to continue to offer those contributions and perhaps I’ll be able to cooperate with Finnair in other ways in the future, including on these blog pages. I hope so.
For now, I’m thinking of all the friends and contacts I have made in Finland and around the world through my association with this airline, and all my many helpful, talented colleagues, past and present. Warm thanks to you all, and best wishes for the future. It’s given me a whole range of rich and plentiful opportunities and lots of fond memories.
For the last decade or so my “Finnair day” has normally been Friday. For my colleagues, my appearance in the office has signalled the imminent arrival of the weekend. I hope that wasn’t the only reason they were pleased to see me, but in any case, I shall miss their company and support, and that happy routine.