Vietnam Airlines is undergoing massive expansion. The Vietnamese ‘flag carrier’ is making huge investments in new aircraft, including A350-900 and B787-9 and B787-10 long-haul airplanes.
From Hong Kong, Vietnam Airlines flies twice a day to its hub in Ho Chi Minh City, and once a day to Hanoi. The airline also codeshares with Cathay Pacific on flights from the city to Vietnam, meaning passengers of Cathay’s Marco Polo Club can earn miles when flying Vietnam Airlines.
Vietnam Airlines offers consistently low air fares on its nonstop flights to Vietnam, but also on connecting services to Australia and Europe. Speak to one of the Flight Centre travel consultants today to lock in your special deal.
CHECK-IN & THE LOUNGE
I arrived at Ho Chi Minh’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 2pm for my 4pm departure. The check-in area was extremely busy and chaotic-looking but I soon enough found the ‘Sky Priority’ business class check-in zone, which was much quieter.
Check-in procedure was straightforward and boarding passes were issued within seconds and my bags were given priority tags.
What I particularly liked here was the little pouch I was given at check-in, containing boarding passes and lounge invitations. It’s a small effort that goes a long way in elevating the travel experience and making it a more premium one.
Security was a total mess. Ho Chi Minh Airport is bursting at its seams, especially because of more and more low-cost carriers using the same terminal as everyone else. I was much relieved when a security guard manning the lines spotted my little yellow business class pouch and told me I could use the crew and VIP channel. Apparently this is standard procedure for Vietnam Airlines business class passengers at Ho Chi Minh. I was through security within seconds.
The lounge was also surprisingly busy for a Tuesday afternoon. Initially I had trouble finding a vacant seat, so I sat in the business centre instead. There was a good buffet spread in the lounge, featuring all the staple Vietnamese dishes including banh mi, pho, spring rolls, mint salads, you name it!
BOARDING AND THE SEAT
Business class on Vietnam’s state-of-the-art Airbus A350-900XWB (Xtra Wide Body) seats a total of 29 passengers across eight rows in a 1-2-1 staggered configuration, offering direct aisle access from every seat (compared to a 3-3-3 layout in both premium economy and economy class). The business class seats feature a 42-inch pitch and are 21 inches wide. They are fully, 180-degree lie-flat, which should guarantee a decent amount and quality of sleep on overnight journeys.
As I settled into 2K, I noticed the overall spaciousness of the A350 cabin. There were no overhead bins above the centre seats, which really increased the feeling of space in the cabin.
There were plenty of storage options at the seat. To my left, a storage compartment with sufficient room for my laptop, cables, and passport; to my right, more storage and a clear view out two windows. Seat controls, a power port, and a passenger service unit were all within reach. Each seat featured large and high-resolution IFE screens. The selection of movies and TV shows was adequate, although certainly not limitless.
After the doors were closed, the crew made their rounds offering welcome drinks and handing out hot towels. What I appreciated here was that they didn’t simply put some water and juice on a tray and circled the cabin but rather went from seat to seat asking each passenger what they preferred to have, including freshly brewed coffee, tea and beer.
There was a large pillow and a warm and soft quilt wrapped in plastic waiting at my seat.
Shortly after take-off, the crew took the meal orders. Vietnam Airlines offered a choice of three main courses in business class, accompanied by a prawn starter, side salad and dessert option. There was an open bar, although the selection was relatively limited when compared with some of Asia’s better known airlines. Metropole champagne was offered, alongside two whites and two reds. I liked that the airline promotes local flavours, including several Vietnamese beers and Vietnamese coffee and tea.
The crew was incredibly well-intentioned and kind (when I fell asleep, they wrapped a snug blanket around me) but otherwise was not as polished as some of their counterparts.
The flight passed quickly and I appreciated that the crew frequently walked through the cabin with fruit platters and snacks checking if anybody felt peckish.
We landed 20 minutes ahead of schedule and it was a short walk to customs and immigration. Vietnam Airlines business class passengers have access to a special immigration lane, usually earmarked for APEC cardholders, which significantly reduced the wait time. My priority-tagged bag was one of the first on the belt and I was sat in taxi heading downtown within 25 minutes of landing. Well done.
Vietnam Airlines is no Singapore Airlines or Cathay Pacific, that’s for sure. With your expectations set that way, Vietnam Airlines makes for a pleasant ride to Vietnam, especially since business class passengers enjoy access to a special immigration line at the airport which shaves off significant waiting time.