Vietnam Airlines has been trying to re-brand itself as a global aviation competitor to the other Southeast Asian carriers for a few years now. They have been aggressively replacing their outdated long-haul fleet with brand new aircraft and have plans to start non-stop service to the United States. Kudos to them for thinking ahead but one has to wonder if all this is a little premature. I mean, can an airline change its reputation around with a few new airplanes? Or will people still consider it a budget airline belonging to a developing country? Well, there was only one way to find out so I booked a Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class flight from Hanoi to Paris to put this little airline to the test.
Having flown their regional competitors i.e. Singapore Airlines and Thai Airways, I wanted to book a Vietnam Airlines Business Class flight to compare it with the other two. Unfortunately, Vietnam Airlines doesn’t fly to North America so I had to get creative with my routing. Luckily, I was able to find business class award space from Hanoi, Vietnam to Paris on Delta.com and I immediately booked a trip using some leftover SkyMiles (prior to the partner award devaluation).
Vietnam Airlines Airbus A350-900
Vietnam Airlines has a total of 14 A350s on order and they plan on flying them to destinations such as Shanghai, Seoul, Paris and others. Vietnam Airlines Airbus A350s are configured with 29 seats in business class, 45 seats in premium economy and 231 seats in economy class.
On their Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, Vietnam Airlines installed spacious, Zodiac Cirrus reverse-herringbone business class seats. However, on their Airbus A350 fleet, Vietnam Airlines elected to install forward-facing, staggered Stelia (formerly Sogerma) Solstys seats instead. Even though these Stelia Solstys seats convert into 180 degree lie-flat beds and offer direct-aisle access for all passengers, they are nowhere near as spacious, private or comfortable as the Zodia Cirrus seats.
The one unique feature of the Airbus A350s is the lack of overhead bins above the center business class seats. This makes the cabin feel very open and spacious (but also makes overhead storage spaces very limited).
The other airlines that have also elected to install these forward-facing, staggered seats on their Airbus A350s include Asiana Airlines and Thai Airways. These seats measure 21 inches in width and provide 42 inches of pitch.
The center seats are staggered in pairs with a table divider in between the two seats. The center seats are good for couples traveling together but are not so great for solo travelers. These seats have zero privacy as they lack side walls or privacy dividers to protect you from wandering eyes (or blogger’s cameras).
As for the window seats, they alternate between a true window seat and an “aisle-window” seat. The true window seats are located in the even numbered rows and the aisle-window seats are located in the odd numbered rows. The true window seats are the best seats in the house as they offer the most privacy and space due to the side table protecting you from the aisle and the extra space in between the seat and the wall.
Storage-wise, there are no overhead bins above the center seats and no “under seat” storage so all items must be stored in the overhead bins above the window seats. So with a packed flight, overhead storage space can get a little tight. There is a side table to place items on during flight but during taxi/takeoff, there is only one main storage pocket at the seat (and one cup holder) to hold your laptop, tablet and other personal items at your seat.
However, during flight, you can store your items underneath the foot rest and to the side of your seat.
Each business class seat is equipped with three personal reading lamps, a coat hook, USB port, universal electrical outlet (annoying located down by your knee) and a personal entertainment system. The 15.4” touchscreen IFE monitor is crisp, clear and responsive but the entertainment selection is rather lacking. On this flight, there were only about 20 new-ish, Hollywood movies, a handful of TV shows and a small collection of other entertainment including music CDs, video games and a moving map.
The tray table folds out from the seatback. The table is sturdy and wide but lacks the ability to be adjusted for height or depth. Instead of pulling the tray table towards you, you actually move your seat towards the table. Same goes for the ottoman. You just move your seat closer to use it. Kind of annoying. But on the positive side, the tray table can be pushed aside to allow easy access in/out of your seat without having to fold it away.
Seat controls and the IFE remote are located to the side of the seat.
The Airbus A350 windows are larger than your average aircraft windows but unlike the Boeing 787s, don’t have electronic dimmers. You will find traditional window shades here (for better or worse depending on your preference). But check out these snazzy new LED seatbelt lights (and the lack of personal air vents).
There are two lavatories located in the front for business class passengers. The lavatories are slightly larger than traditional lavatories but do not offer anything special. On this flight, the lavatories were supplied with bottles of facial toner and lotion, dental hygiene items and shave kits.
Vietnam Airlines A350 Premium Economy Class
Aft of the main business class cabin is a dedicated premium economy class cabin. On their Boeing 787 Dreamliner fleet, Vietnam Airlines installed a true premium economy class product. However, on their Airbus A350 fleet, premium economy class seats are the exact same seats as their economy class seats. The only difference between the two is the additional six inches of legroom (38 inches vs 32 inches) in premium economy. So think more Economy Plus/Main Cabin Extra/Delta Comfort seats and less of a true premium economy class seat.
Vietnam Airlines A350 Economy Class
Vietnam Airlines A350 Economy Class seats are configured with standard seats in a 3 X 3 X 3 layout. Each seat offers 18 inches of width and 32 inches of pitch, electrical outlets and personal, in-flight entertainment systems. The one benefit of the Airbus A350 over the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the one extra inch of hip space for economy class passengers (18 inches versus 17 inches).
I think Vietnam Airlines has really regretted this move and they might be embarrassed by these inferior product on their Airbus A350 fleet. Under the fleet information page of its website, Vietnam Airlines’ erroneously displays a picture of the Zodiac reverse-herringbone seat as its A350 business class seat and a picture of its Boeing 787 premium economy seat as its A350 premium economy seat. Talk about misleading!
Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class, Hanoi to Paris
At Hanoi International Airport, Vietnam Airlines uses its own business class lounge (Lotus Lounge) for premium cabin and SkyTeam elite passengers. The Vietnam Airlines Lotus Lounge is a very standard lounge and does not offer any special amenities or treatments such as massages, personal escorts or table service for business class passengers.
Approximately 10 minutes prior to boarding time, I left the Lotus Lounge and made my way to gate 29 where my bird was waiting. I arrived at the gate with plenty of time to spare and took a seat with the other passengers. I tried to take a few pictures of the bird but the lighting was just terrible. Such as shame too as Vietnam Airlines recently modified its logo and the new design looks beautiful on the Airbus A350.
Aircraft: Airbus A350
Hanoi (HAN) to Paris (CDG)
Depart: 11:55 PM (12:00 AM actual) on Wednesday
Arrive: 7:00 AM (6:49 AM actual) next day
Duration: 11hr 49mn
Seat: 5K Business Class
Boarding was delayed a few minutes and started with business class passengers and SkyTeam elite passengers. Business class passengers boarded through door 1L and all other passengers boarded through door 2L. I tried to take some pictures of the empty cabin but the cabin filled up very quickly.
On this flight, I was seated in seat 5K, an aisle-window seat on the right side of the aircraft. Waiting at our seats were a pillow, blanket, amenity kit, slippers and a pair of cheap headphones.
The amenity kit itself was very nice but the contents inside were nothing to write home about. The tan and brown colored vinyl makeup case by Charriol Parfums was simple yet effective in promoting the Vietnam Airlines brand with its signature lotus flower design. Inside, there were small tubes of Charriol branded body lotion and lip balm, ear plugs, eye shades, socks, comb and dental hygiene kit.
As I settled into my seat, the purser came by to welcome me on-board and serve me with a pre-departure beverage (apple juice, orange juice or champagne) from a tray and a warm towel.
On this flight, the entire business class cabin was full and there were only two flight attendants and the purser working the business class cabin. As you would expect with that ratio, the service turned out to be less than attentive and extremely slow. And for a red-eye flight, that was rather unacceptable.
Once all the passengers were boarded, the Captain came on the PA to welcome everyone on-board and advise us of our expected flight path and flight time of 11 hours and 15 minutes. After takeoff, menus were distributed and the flight attendants came by a little while later to take our meal orders.
And here’s the drink menu and wine list.
Two hours into the flight (yes, two hours), my meal was finally brought out. The appetizer, dessert, bread plate and drink were all presented on one tray. The appetizer dish consisted of a prawn with tuna sauce and mango salsa and the dessert was a sweet potato cake.
When I was done, my appetizer plate was taken away and my main dish was brought out. Wanting to go with the local dish, I chose the Hue style, beef noodle soup. Bun Bo Hue (as it’s called in Vietnamese) is one of my favorite Vietnamese dishes but unfortunately, this one served tonight was rather mediocre. The bowl was filling but the flavors were just lacking.
Overall, the meal was very lacking but understandable for a supper service. Most supper services are designed to be quick and easy so the passenger can eat and get to bed right away. However, what was not understandable was how slow the service was. Supper literally ended three hours into the flight. The flight attendants were pleasant enough during the meal service but not once did they walk the cabin to check on the passengers during flight. You have to ring your call bell or see them in the galley if you needed anything.
After dinner, I watched TV for a bit and got some work done. I then reclined my seat back and got some sleep. The seat reclined fully flat and was comfortable but felt very exposed. The armrest lowers in bed mode so your side is just exposed to the aisle with people rubbing up against you as they walk by.
There was no turn down service and no other pillows or blankets were provided. The cabin lights were dimmed but never turned off completely. I did manage to get some sleep but woke up often as the cabin was kept a little bit too warm.
As an aircraft, I love the Airbus A350s. I just don’t like what Vietnam Airlines has done with them. The aircraft is incredibly quiet and offers the same Dreamliner passenger benefits such as larger windows, higher humidity and pressurization and it’s incredibly quiet and smooth. Passenger comfort-wise, the Airbus A350s and A380s are a joy to fly. I just wished Vietnam Airlines was consistent with its business class offering and installed the same reverse-herringbone seats on its Airbus A350s. WiFi was provided on this flight but I was unable to connect to it to test it out.
This seat is just poorly designed. It’s not the widest or longest seat; it has minimal storage spaces and offers zero privacy. Heck, there’s not even a leg rests to elevate your legs during flight. You just have to move your seat forward or backwards to get into a comfortable position just as you have to with the tray table. The other crappy part about this seat is you really feel it when the person behind you latches their tray table or kicks your seat unintentionally.
About two hours before our arrival into Paris, the cabin lights were turned on and the flight attendants came around to prepare for our pre-arrival meal. Everything was served all on one tray. For my meal, I chose the traditional beef noodle soup, which was served with a side of fruit and a cup of yogurt.
Just like my supper, this meal wasn’t the best either. The meat was tough and flavors fell flatter than the noodles.
Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class overall thoughts
Overall, I was very disappointed with this Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class flight. It’s not that I had a bad experience. I just had such high hopes for them and I genuinely wished for them to exceed all of my expectations. The entire experience, from the lounge and ground services to the hard product and overall flight experience, was very average to say the least. The lounge was just average. The seat was just average. The food was average. Everything was just average. So though this flight was perfectly acceptable, there was nothing special or worthy of praise to highlight. Compared to the other carriers, I would say Vietnam Airlines ranks just slightly below Thai Airways but higher than Philippines Airlines.
Have you flown Vietnam Airlines Business Class? If so, please share your thoughts with us in the comments section below.