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Get the red carpet ready! How royalty is welcomed at the airport

9.6.2017 at 06:00
The start of June 2017 was a busy time for Helsinki Airport’s VIP President Terminal, as the heads of four Nordic countries arrived to celebrate Finland’s centenary with President Niinistö.

What to do when the red carpet is about to trip up the Queen of Sweden?

This is an example of a problem one might face when running Helsinki Airport’s VIP President Terminal.

“We were naturally well-prepared for the arrival of the heads of Nordic states for Finland’s centenary celebrations, but the awful weather came as a slight surprise. As Sweden’s royal couple was deboarding their plane, a gust of wind scrunched up the red carpet right in front of Queen Silvia’s feet,” shares Kitty Jansson, Head of Finavia’s VIP Services. ”We instantly reacted, straightening out the carpet and arranging velvet ropes with metallic pedestals to keep the carpet in place for our next guests.”

In addition to Queen Silvia and King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden, the VIP terminal was also utilized by Denmark’s Queen Margerethe II, Norway’s King Harald V and Queen Sonja, as well as Iceland’s President Guðni Thorlacius Jóhannesson, who was with his spouse Eliza Jean Reidin.

The heads of state were in Helsinki for Finland’s centenary celebrations hosted by President Sauli Niinistö and First Lady Jenni Haukio.

“All of the guests have flown through Helsinki Airport before, but having all of them here at the same time, celebrating Finland’s special day, made the event historic,” says Jansson. “The terminal had the Nordic countries’ flags as well as Finland’s centenary flags up all day and night.”

Smooth travelling for VIPs

Though smoothing out the red carpet is only a tiny detail in the work carried out at the VIP Terminal, Jansson says that the ability to attend to such ad hoc tasks quickly is a key to success.

“Our job is to ensure that our guests’ journey through the airport is smooth in every way."

“Our job is to ensure that our guests’ journey through the airport is smooth in every way. We see to it that the planes can park in front of the terminal, we keep the doors open and facilities in shape, do the check-in on behalf of the guests, and coordinate schedules between the airlines, Ground Handling, and the receiving organization,” Jansson explains.  

The terminal also cooperates closely with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, whose protocol services are in charge of arranging high-level state visits.

“In fact, we as terminal staff very seldom interact with the actual guests. Our job is to work behind the scenes, making sure that everything works flawlessly and on time.”

Regular flights also for the royals

State heads often fly with private planes – for instance, the Swedish royal family uses the official Statsflyget planes, which are Gulfstream IV and Gulfstream 550 business jets.

However, several of the royal guests in June also arrived and left on regular commercial flights.

"The VIP guests were then escorted onto the plane after everyone else was seated."

“Other passengers were taken by bus to the plane, which was parked in front of the VIP President Terminal. The VIP guests were then escorted onto the plane after everyone else was seated. Especially with regular flights, it is important that we stay on schedule. We don’t want the special arrangements to delay passenger flights,” Jansson says.

Despite the cool weather, the state heads’ travel arrangements flowed smoothly.

“The guests and their respective delegations all left on the same day, which created a bit of a hassle. Special arrangements had to be made to get both Denmark’s SAS airplane and the Finnair aircraft that the Norwegian King was traveling in parked next to the VIP Terminal at the same time,” Jansson says.

”But eventually everything ran smoothly, thanks to everyone’s hard work at the airport.”

Read more about Kitty Jansson’s work at Helsinki Airport’s VIP Services in our Humans of Helsinki series.