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Friday 12 April 2013

Flying with Vietnam Airlines Part 1 (SIN-SGN and SGN-SIN sectors)

Welcome to my trip report on Vietnam Airlines!

One of the factors to decide which airline to fly on was to fly on a new carrier, which would be my 41st airline. My choices were Vietnam Airlines, China Airlines and Transasia. Transasia offered the best deal at that time, S$390 for the return trip and the timing was the best among the 3 carriers. China Airlines was offering S$574 while Vietnam Airlines was offering S$443 with the worst timing. My only regret was not booking earlier and I ended up with Vietnam Airlines which still offering that price while the other carriers' offer ended and both cost around S$700 for the return which of course was out of the question. That means flying with Vietnam Airlines was the only option, so I went ahead with the booking. For the return, I decided to stay one day at Ho Chi Minh City before returning home, not too bad a deal if you ask me.

So this was how my flight itinerary was like:

VN650 SIN-SGN (1310-1415)
VN570 SGN-TPE  (1650-2115)
VN-571 TPE-SGN (0745-1025)
VN651 SGN-SIN (0915-1115)

As you can see the timing is not great, the departure time from Singapore and Taiwan is very similar to EVA Air's but of course, the latter's flight to Taipei is direct is slightly better. Anyway, I knew that this flight would just be for experience and I probably won't do it again.

My route for the day

In this trip report, I will be covering both SIN-SGN-SIN sectors as the flight service on both flights are similar. 

Airline's website 

During the time of booking, Vietnam Airlines's website was a nightmare, there were lots of functions that were missing from this website. I asked the lady at the office in Singapore about it and was informed that they were working on it. 

The problems were: 

-Inability to select seats for your upcoming flights
-Inability to manage your booking; to check your booking, you need to use a 3rd party website to do so.
-When I did the online check-in, I was unable to select seats for the SIN-SGN sector
-No option for you to key in your own airline's mileage number (Skyteam members at least)
- The website interface is user-unfriendly

On the departure day

 I woke up at around 9 in the morning. Did the usual last-minute packing, before making my way to the airport. I am very fortunate to stay very close to the airport, so it takes only a few bus stops to reach Terminal 3 which was where Vietnam Airlines was based.

I had an encounter with a couple of "country bumpkins", who I reckon were from Vietnam judging from their accent. I was one of the first in the queue, giving some allowance between myself and the counter as it was not opened at that time. These 2 "(fill in the blank)s" just cut into my lane, looked at me and stood there. I gave them the hardest stare but I was ignored and at that time, the counter just opened and both went ahead to check-in their luggage. I decided to just suck it up and not make a scene, what's the point, right? Another part was that the other queues were faster than mine, they took about a good 15 minutes to get their stuff done. Terrible! I bet I wasn't the only pissed off! Anyway, when it was my turn. I wanted a seat at the last few rows, but apparently, they were all taken up and I had to settle for a window seat near the over-wing a few rows behind the emergency row. 

The boarding gate area - we shared the gate area with SQ318, an A380 flight bound for London. At that time, the passengers had already started boarding and the aircraft that was taking them was, 9V-SKS. I wouldn't mind heading to London! 

My aircraft, VN-A392 and behind it was the famous A340-500 which used to fly for Singapore Airlines.

Part 1 SIN-SGN

Carrier: Vietnam Airlines
Flight: VN650
Routing: SIN-SGN
Aircraft type: A321
Registration: VN-A392
Line number: 5306
Engines: 2X IAE2533-A5
Delivery date: 12/10/2012
4th time on an A321 and 1st time on this aircraft
Gate: B3
Seat number: 22G
Duration: 1 hrs 35 mins
Departure time: 1315
Push back: 1307
Flight: 100% full
Departure runway: 02L:
Arrival runway: 27L

Y class interior 

The legroom space was reasonable but what bothered me was the lack of the In-flight Entertainment system. This airline didn't install IFE on the A321s which are mainly used for Asian routes. 

Luckily, they had the drop-screen which was showing not only the route map, also some local documentary shows.

Surprisingly, there is mood lighting on this VN's A321.

Y class cabin interior 

Photos of this cabin were taken on 2 different A321s (SIN-SGN and SGN-SIN sectors)

On this flight, SIN-SGN. I was sitting beside a couple probably from Vietnam. I felt lazy to move around anyway, so I didn't take a lot of cabin shots of this A321. Anyway, once the doors were closed, the usual emergency video was shown. The first impression of the crew was less than desirable. When I walked through the gallery to my seat, a few of them weren't friendly and no eye contact with the passengers. You feel that they just want to get home and that's it.

About the flight: The aircraft pushed back slightly early and soon we taxied behind SQ's A380 (SQ318) to runway 02L for departure to SGN. The take-off was powerful and slightly bumpy due to the wake turbulence from the A380 but in no time, we were heading towards the direction of SGN and seatbelt sign was turned off. There was when the in-flight service started.

                          The in-flight magazine and the safety card

Not before long after, our meals were served and we had a choice between chicken and fish.

 I choose the chicken noodles which tasted quite OK but I didn't like the appetiser as there was a strange taste to it. As for the dessert, it was a cake (can't remember what was it) but it was quite good.

For the remainder of the flight, I spent the time looking out of the window and reading the magazine from time to time. Once we started our approach, the flight became quite bumpy, especially on approach. The crosswind was quite strong which caused the aircraft to swirl, fortunately, the auto-pilot system took care of that. It was a nervous moment for me including the couple beside me holding each other tightly. Her boyfriend made a joke about the aircraft crash-landing which was not amusing at all. 

The aircraft made a very rough landing, one of the worst in fact in my list. I can't blame the pilots for that since it was mainly due to the strong wind. 

In-flight service

Disappointing to be honest. The crew were not that bad, but looking at their gestures and their faces, they didn't seem to want to be there. My friend who flew with VN before had warned me not to expect much from the airline and how true he was. Among all my flights for this year, this has to be the worst, for sure.

                                     Some window-shot photos

                                                Part 2 (SGN-SIN)

Carrier: Vietnam Airlines
Flight: VN651
Routing: SGN-SIN
Aircraft type: A321
Registration: VN-A325
Line number: 4737
Engines: 2X IAE2533-A5
Delivery date: 10/06/2011
5th time on an A321 and 1st time on this aircraft
Gate: 17
Seat number: 31A
Duration: 1 hrs 35 mins
Departure time: 0915
Push back: 0920
Flight: 90% full
Departure runway: 27L
Arrival runway: 02L

My ride: VN-A325

Photo: Wuweican

This was my last sector with Vietnam Airlines. To be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this flight, not because of the fact that I was going home, it was because of the disappointment I had with this airline on my previous 3 flights. But anyway, I just had to get this done and over with and after this flight, it would very hard for me to book with this airline any time soon.

Was this flight going to change my mind? To continue reading on!

You cannot imagine how relieved I was when I saw that the registration was not VN-A392! VN has around 50 A321s and to get the same aircraft for 3 flights out of 4 would be very disappointing for aviation enthusiasts like myself.

        VN-A325 is definitely a welcome addition to my flight logbook.

The advantage of having your flight at this gate is there is free WiFi at a nearby cafe. You should be able to receive some wifi connection from that cafe. The cafe is called 'Star Cafe' and the password is star cafe. Its located between gate 10-14 and 17.

Once the announcement was made, I made my way half-heartedly to the gate and board the aircraft. My 2 weeks vacation has ended and like they say, time passes by quickly when you have fun! Certainly, I did and I had some eye-opening experience as well.

This time, I managed to get the seat that I wanted and that was the 3rd row from the rear. It turned out that there were 2 Vietnamese gentlemen sitting beside me. Later on, after the meal, I switched to the unoccupied row at the rear where I sat until the end of the flight.

Once I was on board the aircraft, my eyes scanned around and first observation was the behaviour of the crew. The crew on this flight was generally better but still lack the warmth that a host welcoming its guest, you know what kind of feeling. If you compare this airline's service to the likes of CX, SQ, QR, EK, OZ, NH...etc, it doesn't even come close to matching them. At least the airline should try to close the gap, I wonder whether does the management realize that.

Unlike the SIN-SGN flight, there were a few empty seats at the rear but its healthy load for this airline. VN doesn't have much difficulty filling up the capacity of the A321. Anyway, the plane was pushed back on time and we made our way to the active runway for a powerful but bumpy take off to Singapore. My break was about to end once I reach Singapore. I would then had to head home and unpack my stuff before heading to work in the evening.

The service was similar to the SIN-SGN. The crew did their job but the lack of warmth and smiles from their faces were quite obvious. To some of you, maybe in your mind, it doesn't matter, just as long as the airline gets you from A to B. For me, it is more than that! If the service impresses me, I would be willing to fly with the airline again. A positive experience means a recommendation to others and the words will spread on and that helps to attract more passengers to fly with the particular airline.

                                  In-flight meal: Chicken curry rice

     I had a choice of Chicken curry rice or Steam fish noodles and I decided to go for the chicken, tasted quite ok, quite decent for an airline meal.

                                   Some window-shots photos

Fortunately, the weather was good throughout, and approaching to Singapore was a smooth affair with an excellent landing. We landed on runway 02L and headed to our gate B3 at Terminal 3.


Paying $443 for this return ticket with Vietnam requires lots of sacrifices. The sacrifices are bad flight timing, mediocre in-flight service, website and poor in-flight product (A330 especially) The cabin of the A321 is still reasonable, but the A330's interior could certainly do some upgrading especially the PTVs. Not just that, the in-flight service of all 4 flights have failed to impress me. I can't see myself flying with this airline again unless I have no other choices.

My rating

Website: 2/10

On-ground service: 6/10
In-flight service: 5/10 (For both flights)
Seat comfort: 6/10
Cabin ambience: 8/10
Cleanliness: 8/10
Aircraft: 9/10
Punctuality: 10/10

Overall rating: 54/80

Thank you for reading my trip report. 


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