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Wednesday 3 February 2016

Joyride On My First A350-900 Experience (Vietnam Airlines Part 2: HAN-SGN)

Welcome to part 2 of the Vietnam Airlines A350 Economy Class Trip Report! 

*Aircraft photos are credited to the respective photographers from Airliners.net 

The 2nd Airbus A350XWB in Airbus's special livery 


I decided to book the return flight with this airline just in case the first flight (Part 1: trip report) was changed to another aircraft, and with 2 flights it means the probability of flying the A350 is higher. Initially, my mind was on flight VN239 and it was only later on, I decided to switch to VN235 flight. It was a good thing too! Not only I got the A350 on the return flight, but the aircraft on flight VN239 was also operated by A321 and if I was on that aircraft, I would be disappointed. 

My short stay in Hanoi 

I stayed at a hotel near the airport, just a 10 minutes drive. The main purpose of this trip was to fly the A350, I would probably do some sight-seeing the next time I return. 

I stayed for one night at this comfortable hotel. Unfortunately, I was woken up early in the morning due to the drilling noise nearby.

The sitting area at the lobby

The comfortable bed 

I had my meals at the orange building opposite the hotel 

I took a walk nearby but there wasn't much to see so I returned back to the hotel to catch up with some work. 

Enjoying a bottle of Saigon Beer! 

Fried Rice with Beer - quite decent

A cup of warm chocolate to keep me warm. It was around 13 degrees at that time and I didn't bring any warm clothes.

I had this for breakfast - quite tasty 

About Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport

This airport is the largest airport in Vietnam replacing Gla Lam Airport. It was opened in January 1978. Consisting of 2 terminals, domestic and international terminal 1 and 2 respectively. Terminal 1 started operation in 2001 and Terminal was opened in January 2015 for expansion, serving international flights, while the other terminal takes care of domestic flights. This airport is the main hub for Vietnam Airlines, Jetstar Pacific and Vietjetair. 

Airlines that are currently using this airport (February 2016)

- Aeroflot
- Air Asia
- Air Macau
- Asiana Airlines
- Cambodia Angkor Air
- Cebu Pacific
- China Airlines
- China Eastern Airlines
- China Southern Airlines
- Dragonair 
- EVA Air
- Hong Kong Airlines
- Japan Airlines
- Jeju Air 
- Jetstar Pacific Airlines
- Jin Air 
- Kenya Airways
- Korean Air 
- Lao Airlines
- Malaysia Airlines
- Mandarin Airlines
- Nok Air 
- Qatar Airways
- Singapore Airlines
- Silk Air 
- Sky Angkor Airlines
- Thai Air Asia
- Thai Airways
- Tigerair 
-Vietjet Air
- Vietnam Airlines

Domestic terminal 

International terminal (5 minutes walk from domestic to international terminal and vice versa) 

Online Check-in

If you purchase the cheapest fare, you cannot choose your seat until checking in. 

3-3-3 seat map means either A350 or B787-9

This seat layout confirms my aircraft to be operated by Airbus A350

Unfortunately, the application hanged on me 

Checking my aircraft on Flightradar24, I was pleased to see VN-A886 on its way to Hanoi. 

On the day of departure 

I checked out early in the morning, met a nice PRC girl whom I had a good conversation with for 10 minutes or so before I got into the hotel's taxi which took me to the airport. I decided to go there earlier so that I can explore both the international and domestic terminals. 

Here are the photos:

I was dropped off at the domestic terminal

Dreadful weather that morning but it was quite cooling, the temperature was at 13 degrees. 

Check-in counters for the domestic flight 

Half of the check-in counters were closed 

The queue took around 15 minutes before my turn came 

The check-in staff wasn't very friendly and asked me for the purpose of this trip. After a while later, she issued the boarding pass to me and off I went. 

The departure area (landside)

This is the other side of the departure hall. Vietnam Airlines certainly makes its presence felt. 

Dropping point for departing passengers

The layout of Terminal 1 (Domestic terminal)

I made my way to the airside via security screening

The walkway to the other gates at the other end (This is the air side)

Spotted a Jetstar Pacific's Airbus A320. This airport is not photography friendly.

Plenty of shops and cafes on the air side 

Walking from one end to the other takes around 20 minutes. 

Parts of the terminal at this side were undergoing renovation 

This was the earlier Vietnam Airlines' flight to Ho Chi Minh City. The flight was operated by an Airbus A330. 

Somehow the interior reminds me of Taiwanese domestic airports 

My flight was originally supposed to depart from gate 4 but was changed to gate 1. (Aircraft was parked at a remote parking lot) 

Hanoi Tower Airport Traffic Control Tower 

This is the other end of the airside 

The little girl and her family were enjoying the view of Vietnam Airlines' aircraft 

The terminal was not crowded at this time 

Once I was done, I made my way back to the gate.

Vietnam Airline's lounge 

I was excited to fly the A350 once again!

Passengers on the same flight as me - turned out to be a full flight 

More traffic at this time with a Vietjetair Airbus A321 just arrived. 

I was one of the first to board the bus 

This is the baggage carousel 

Quite a number of flights were also departing for Ho Chi Minh

Flight route: HAN-SGN

Miles: 717

My ride: Airbus A350-900 (VN-A886)

Date of departure: 16th January 2016
Airline: Vietnam Airlines 
Flight: VN235 
Route: HAN-SGN
Aircraft: Airbus A350-900
Registration: VN-A886 
Delivered on 29th June 2015
Engines: 2 X Roll Royce XWB - 84 
Configuration: C29 W45 Y 231
MSN: 14
Terminal 1 
Gate: 4 changed to 1 
Seat: 38K
Load: 100% 
FL: 360
Duration: 1 hrs 40 mins
Scheduled departure: 1150
Boarding: 1115
Move off: 1159
Take off: 1207
Scheduled arrival: 1355
Actual arrival: 1350
Departure runway: 11L
Arrival runway: 07R 

Boarded the aircraft from the rear this time. There wasn't any staff at the entrance to greet us and I saw a couple of male crew seemed to be surprised to see us while walking towards my direction. No acknowledgement from them as I made my way to seat. My hope for having the middle seat vacant evaporated when the crowd came in and one by one seat was taken up quickly and my seatmate came not long after. 

Here are some photos of the Economy Class cabin 

I thought I was sitting at row 33K, and I only realized I was at the wrong seat when I checked the ticket again. 

Same colour as the airline's corporate livery

My seat, row 38K

A Jetstar Airbus A321 was also going to Ho Chi Minh City 

Tight legroom space 

The IFE screen and remote control 

My seat view 

For a strange reason, the crew left those overhead bins opened even after push back. I thought they were going to leave them open during taking off. Fortunately, one sensible crew came to close them just before the aircraft entered the runway. One question: What in the world where the other crew thinking? 

This photo below was taken while the aircraft was taxiing. Surely someone sitting near this area could have closed them since the crew wasn't bothered. 

Premium Economy Cabin - Hard to tell the difference, right? 

Certainly more legroom space than Economy Class. But why 3-3-3? This is as good as Economy Comfort (KLM) not Premium Economy Class. 

Business Class cabin 

This female crew did me a big favour! 

The colours of the Business and Economy Class match the cabin interior 

The cockpit of the Airbus A350

The new feature of Airbus's cabin interior 

In-flight experience 

I didn't find this set of crew better than my previous flight experience. The overhead bin incident left me a bad impression. The female crew passed by that aisle a few times and did nothing, later on, one of them closed a couple of overhead bins before walking away (during push back and taxi) and the others just didn't care. Only one came to close the remaining just before the aircraft entered the runway. Apart from that, service for the rest of the flight was average. 

The good thing about this flight is that I got to experience the take off in bad weather and it was a good chance to see how the A350 deals with it. We entered runway 11L and took off powerfully. Hardly any turbulence during taking off, but we had quite a bit while flying through some clouds. It took a while before we saw the blue sky and for the rest of the flight, it was smooth. Captain and First Officer came on the speaker to make their announcements at different timing of the course and I got to speak to the flight crew after the flight. They enjoy flying the A350. As for the cabin crew, they are trained to work on all wide-bodies and I asked a couple of them which aircraft do they prefer working on (A350 or B787), they prefer the Dreamliner. 

The rest of the flight went uneventful and we landed at SGN airport 5 minutes early. After that, I took photos of the cabin including the business class cabin and asked permission from one of the crew whether I could take photos of the Business Class cabin and visit the cockpit. To my relief, she told me to wait for her at the business class cabin while she asked the captain. A ground crew (I wasn't sure whether she was trying to be funny) came and asked me that I shouldn't take photos of the cabin and tried to stop me from taking photos of the cockpit. To be honest, I wasn't happy with her at that time whether it was a joke or not. Fortunately, the nice Captain gave me the green light and I snapped quickly before shaking his hand and left the aircraft. A crew was also leaving and I asked him for his opinion on both aircraft types (B787 and A350)

With that, my mission was completed! A big thank you once again to the Captain and the cabin crew (VN235 flight) for making this A350 experience a memorable one.

IFE screen 

I decided to watch the Avengers. Since the movie time was longer than the flight duration, I skipped some parts of the movie. That's the good thing about AVOD (Audio Video On Demand)

1 hour 29 mins felt like only 29 minutes. Time went past too quickly for my liking. 

Just departed from Hanoi Airport 

I love the Avengers, do you? Looking forward to the next instalment. 

Tried again with the Wifi 

It wasn't turned on once again, that means it is only available on international flights

In-flight meal 

A hot meal is served on the SGN-HAN sector 

I had a choice of Fish or Chicken, I chose the former. I find this quite tasty. 

A choice of water or Coke. I chose the latter 

Window shot photos 

At our parking location, we didn't push back. Instead, engines were started and we taxied straight to the taxiway. 

The rain was still pouring in at this time 

Passing by runway 11 Right

We were off and after flying through clouds for some time, we were out of it 

Flying smoothly at FL350 

Better weather at Ho Chi Minh City as we started our descend 

Usually flying through this kind of thick clouds will give you a roller-coaster ride

After a few turns and avoiding the clouds, we were on final approach

On approach was slightly bumpy due to the crosswind 

Enjoying the beautiful view while the aircraft was descending 

Touched down smoothly at Ho Chi Minh City 

Passing by some old Russian jets 

We parked beside this Hanoi-bound Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner which pushed back not long after our arrival. 

My next trip to Vietnam, I will be flying on the airline's Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, stay tuned for my trip report. 

A view of the Roll Royce XWB engines and the airline's A321 

I am certainly a fan of this winglet

My rating:

Airline's mobile app (checking in): 5/10
Check-in staff (Hanoi): 5/10 
Hanoi domestic terminal experience: 6/10
In-flight service: 5/10
IFE system: 7/10
In-flight meal: 7/10
Cabin interior: 9/10
Cleanliness: 10/10
Seat comfort: 6/10
Punctuality: 10/10
Overall rating: 70/100


Despite the delay in the first flight, I was satisfied with my flight experience. 2nd flight was slightly better as we departed on time and landed slightly early. The main concern for me regarding the airline is the in-flight service. Both flights fail to impress me. Some of the staff need to learn to enjoy their job. On the bright side, hot meals served on the domestic flights were pretty good, and it was nice to have a choice. As for the in-flight entertainment system, most passengers would be satisfied with the limited selection. More importantly, it is user-friendly and the touch screen is responsive. Seat comfort is average for me due to the poor seat pitch, and I would probably choose the emergency row for long haul flights when flying in Economy Class.

Other than that, the Airbus A350 is a great aircraft to fly on. Wider cabin than the 787 and with the same 3-3-3 configuration, you can feel the difference. For the cabin interior, I prefer the 787 Dreamliner. Both aircraft fly well in turbulent weather and for the cabin noise, the A350 is quieter. Overall which aircraft do I prefer? My answer: 787 Dreamliner for the cabin interior and the electronic dimmed windows.

Thanks for reading this trip report!

For my part 1, click here
For my premium economy experience, click here
For my Airbus A330-200 trip report, click here
For my 787 Dreamliner trip report part 1, click here
For my part 2 of the 787 Dreamliner report, click here
For my 2-class 787 Dreamliner trip report, click here


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