Vietnam Airlines has grown in leaps and bounds and today offers corporate travellers a sophisticated business class experience, discovers Nick Walton on a recent flight from Ho Chi Minh City to London.
Vietnam Airlines, a member of Skyteam recently voted as one of 20 best airlines in the world for 2023 by Airline Ratings, boasts one of most modern fleets in Asia, and operates Boeing 787-9/ 787-10 Dreamliner, Airbus A350-900 XWB, and Airbus A321neo aircraft, with an average fleet age of seven years, to an ever-expanding network of regional and international destinations, including London Heathrow.
I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport before dawn for my 7.05am flight and was advised by text message en route that the departure time had been changed to 7.45am. After a speedy check-in process I made my way down the dedicated business class security channel to the airline’s spacious Lotus Lounge, which, in addition to great views of the apron, offered a range of cold and hot dishes, including curried chicken, sticky rice with lap cheong, and Vietnamese pho.
At 7.20 boarding commenced at Gate 27, a few minutes’ walk from the lounge, onto a 787 Dreamliner with 28 herringbone-style business class seats in one blue and gold-accented cabin in a 1-2-1 configuration. Crew had already set out an amenity kit from Cerruti 1881 filled with Payot products, along with slippers, a blanket, and a pillow. Rather cheap headphones are secured in a compartment at shoulder level, but I never travel without by Bose QC45s. Crew served juice and water given the early hour.
We took off at 8.05am with a flight time of 12 hours give minutes to London, with crew quickly dimming the electric shades and the cabin lights for those that want to sleep.
Vietnam Airlines’ business class seat on its 787 aircraft is fairly stock standard and shows signs of wear, including a jolly big spring sticking through the seat cushion, although that was easily fixed with a pillow. While there isn’t much in the way of storage space, with one compartment taken up with no less than four different Vietnam Airlines magazines, I did find a little hidden section under the armrest.
The 21.5-inch-wide lie-flat seat has a pitch of 42-inches and a length of 78-inches and features a 16-inch monitor set into the seat shell, dual reading lights and air vents, while a USB port and headphone jack is at shoulder level beside seat controls and a corded remote for the entertainment system. An AC outlet is located below the arm rest in which the tray table is secreted.
One niggle point is sizeable gap between the far side of the armrest and the cabin wall, which would swallow up phones and other small loose items, a point crew emphasised to each passenger before take-off. Evidently, it’s hard to get things back that fall into this space.
The storage issue would be eased with the removal of the magazines and with the addition of a door on the shoulder level compartment, as is found on Cathay and British Airways’ business class seats.
The breakfast service began with an iced Vietnamese coffee, yoghurt, and a choice of muesli or cornflakes. This was followed by a choice of Vietnamese glass noodle soup with fried ell, mushroom, and seasoning; mango sticky rice with roasted chicken and tamarind sauce; or a plain omelette with beef burger, cheddar cheese and Lyonnaise potatoes. I opted for the omelette which was light and fluffy and ideally suited for a long-haul first foray.
For the lunch service, we were offered a choice of Vietnamese or European and Asian dishes. The Vietnamese options included a grilled prawn and roasted chicken salad with lemongrass, green mango, and sesame; sparerib and long cabbage soup; braised prawn in coconut with steamed rice and lotus seed; or a fried seaweed role in potato with chilli bean sauce as a vegetarian option.
Other options included smoked salmon and marinated snow fish and tune Caesar salad; tomato basil soup; grilled grouper with salsa verde and buttered fettuccini; or grilled chicken thigh with herb butter mushroom sauce and potato gratin.
I paired by lunch with a glass of Champagne Charles Mignon Premium Reserve Brut, while the wine list also included a Chateau Du Cartillon Cru Bourgeois Superieur and a Maison Cazes “Ego” Cotes Du Rossillon Blanc from France. Signature cocktails included the Beloved Hue, with whisky, apple juice, lemon juice, sugar, and diced ginger; and the Gongs Dance, with vodka, coffee and sugar syrup, both of which were created by mixologist Vo Tan Si.
Although limited in choice, the inflight entertainment system worked well, and I quickly found a few classics to help while away the hours. I also noticed a lack of advertisements before each show, something increasingly (and annoyingly) common – yes Cathay, I’m looking at you. Sadly the 787 didn’t offer inflight wifi service.
While it’s business class seat it perfectly comfortable and the dining is surprisingly good, it was with service that Vietnam Airlines really shines. The crew, including cabin attendant Minh who served my section, arrived impeccably dressed despite the early hour and were attentive and genuinely welcoming throughout the journey.
While Vietnam Airlines’ business class product doesn’t rival the likes of Emirates, it’s a very solid option, with world-class service and a very competitive price point that’s making it a increasingly attractive alternative to the major players.
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