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Wednesday 14 December 2016

Flying Vanilla Air On A 5th Freedom Route (Part 1: TPE-SGN)

Welcome to my Trip Report on Vanilla Air! 

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

For my part 2: Click here


When this airline announced that it would be starting Taipei to Ho Chi Minh City flights, I knew that one day I would fly on it and as I had to go to Taipei for a few days at least, flying with this airline to Ho Chi Minh City from there was an easy decision. I have previously flown with this airline on a Japanese domestic flight, you can check it out over here. This flight marks my first international flight with this airline and more importantly my first Japanese 5th freedom route! What does a 5th freedom route mean? It means airlines operating a route from a foreign city to another, this usually requires permission for the foreign airport authorities and a cordial agreement between the government of the 2 countries. 

I made my booking once the dates were decided, the only thing bad about this cheap airfare is the poor timing of these red-eye flights. Reaching Ho Chi Minh City at around 1 in the morning and on the return, arriving Taipei around 6 in the morning. Since my timing was flexible, it was not an issue for me. 

Airline's website 

Comparing to my previous experience with the airline's website, the airline has updated it and it is slightly better than the previous version. No issue with the website and everything is written clearly. There have been cases of passengers unable to check-in due to an error in their name, this improved website prevents that from happening. 

I chose the inclusive option which includes 20kg complimentary baggage check-in and assigned seat (normal).

No hidden cost, TWD 4,140 was the amount I paid for this return trip. 

For the outbound flight, I chose seat 9A.

For the return sector, I chose seat 25A

My flight details with this airline 

My time in Taipei 

I walk around to enjoy the view of the city. Fortunately, the weather was good for most parts of it. The best thing? The weather - cooling at 19 degrees. 

Far Eastern Air Transport's MD-82 at Taipei Songshan Airport. Flew this aircraft 3 times! 

Homeless people living near the Taipei Railway Station 

DanShui Old Street District 

Taken at one of the parks in Taipei

My favorite - Taiwanese flour noodles at Ximending 

Delicious Taiwanese Meat Burger at Raohe Night Market 

From this popular stall 

Taipei 101 

The street where I stay 

Shilin's famous night market district 

My favorite ice shaved banana with chocolate sauce 

On the day of departure 

My flight was around 10 in the evening and thanks goodness, the hotel manager allowed me to check out later at 4 p.m with a fee of NT$300. With that, I was able to walk around Taipei until 3 plus before finish my packing and make my way to the airport. I took the airport bus (NT$90) for the ride and I reached there around 5 p.m. I did some work for a couple of hours before checking in for my flight. 

Here are some photos:

Just arrived at Terminal 1. Just in case you arrive at the wrong one, you can either take the Skytrain or shuttle bus to the correct terminal. Check out the signboard for direction.

Check-in counters of the Japanese Low-Cost Carriers, Peach Aviation, and Vanilla Air 

Signboard indicating the queue for the flight to Ho Chi Minh. There was also another Vanilla Air flight, heading for Osaka.

The queue was long and the worst part was some of them had so many luggage with them, so it took around 40 minutes before my turn came. What a long wait! 

Finally got my boarding pass. I was hoping for Vanilla Air's own boarding pass, but I guess I could do with this. EVA Air handles Peach and Vanilla Air's check in at this airport. 

The flights departing at that time! I hope to try BR52 route one day. 

Did a check on Flightradar24, JA04VA was my ride 

The aircraft was on its way to Taipei before heading to Ho Chi Minh City

My aircraft departed from Gate B2 

The world map - creative design by the Taiwanese Airport Authorities. 

The monitor screen was showing Jetstar instead of Vanilla Air for my flight. Later, an airport staff corrected that mistake. 

Flight route: TPE-SGN

Miles: 1,370

My ride: JA04VA 

Date of departure: 19th November 2016
Airline: Vanilla Air 
Flight: JW105 
Route: TPE-SGN
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Registration: JA04VA (leased from SMBC)
Delivered on 24th Sept 2014
Engines: 2 X CFM56-5B4/3
MSN: 6257
Configuration: Y180
Gate: B2 
Seat: 9A 
Load: 80% 
Duration: 3 hours 20 mins 
Scheduled departure: 2220
Boarding: 2153
Push back: 2222
Take off: 2234
Scheduled arrival: 0055
Actual arrival: 0042
Departure runway: 23L
Arrival runway: 07R

Ho Chi Minh! Here I come!

Cabin interior 

View from my seat 

Advertisement on the headcover on every seat 

As you can see the tight seat pitch! 

Passengers were making their way to their seats. I was hoping for the seats beside mine to remain vacant, but it was not meant to be 

Tight legroom space 

The front view 

Yellow cabin interior with the Blue uniform (cabin crew) matches well 

More photos of the seats 

In-flight service experience 

Boarding the aircraft was done in an orderly manner. Everyone settled down quickly and this allowed an on-time departure. The welcome speech (recorded) was done in 3 languages: English, Mandarin and Japanese but for the safety demonstration, only Japanese and English was done because the cabin crew didn't speak Mandarin. 

Once the aircraft was pushed back, engines were started, we taxied quickly to the active runway. Traffic was light at that time and we were at the runway in no time. Took off powerfully and we headed towards Vietnam direction. There was turbulence midway through the flight and just after departure but nothing bad. For most parts of the flight, I was sleeping along with many others. The seat pitch was very tight but the leather seat itself is comfortable. For a 3 hours flight, it was still bearable. 

Cabin crew walked around the cabin regularly, selling duty-free items and doing the BOB service. Nothing's free onboard but doesn't matter since it was a late hour flight and passengers prefer to sleep than to eat. Talking about BOB service, I don't remember seeing anyone purchasing. 

The Captain came on the speaker a few times to update us on the weather on the route and at Ho Chi Minh City. For arrival in Ho Chi Minh City, we landed smoothly and parked at the international gate. For the aircraft, it would be a short rest before making its way back to Tokyo Narita via Taipei Taoyuan. As for the crew, they would get to rest a night before returning home the following day. 

Overall, it was a quick and pleasant flight.

What's inside the seat pocket? 

Safety card

Duty-free magazine 

Feeling hungry?

Check out this Flight Kitchen Magazine! Do note only Japanese Yen and Taiwanese dollars are accepted for Tokyo-Taipei-Ho Chi Minh City route. 

Airline's merchandise and discounted ticket for the railway in Japan

Disposal Bag (In white)

Places to visit in Japan - in Japanese language only

Promoting its latest route 

A few windows shot photos 

Climbing away from Taipei 

Parked beside this beautiful Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner of Vietnam Airlines

Thanks for the ride, JA04VA!

My rating: 

Website: 7/10
Airport staff: 6/10
Taipei Taoyuan Airport Experience: 7/10
In-Flight service: 8/10
Seat comfort: 5/10 
Cabin interior: 8/10
Cleanliness: 10/10
Punctuality: 10/10
Enjoyment: 8/10
Aircraft condition: 10/10
Overall rating: 79/100


The service from the Japanese service is unmatched. The in-flight service from the crew even on this Low-Cost Carrier was excellent, they were friendly towards every passenger, greeted us when we board the aircraft and was great to see them putting their work aside to wish us well after the flight. Although the flight timing is poor, it makes up with the cheap airfare and if you are not so fussy about the timing, I highly recommend this airline to anyone flying on any of Vanilla Air's routes. Together with Peach Aviation, both airlines are expanding well, giving its fiercest rival, Jetstar Japan tough competition. 

Was my return flight experience better? Click here for part 2 

For my previous trip report with Vanilla Air, please click here

Hope you enjoyed this trip report! 

Thanks for reading. 


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