Well, for my first experience with Vietnam Airlines, I can’t say that I was all that impressed. This Airbus A330-200, registration VN-A371 in the SkyTeam livery, was dated and in seriously need of a retrofit. For this short 4-hour flight, it was fine but I would imagine anything longer than a few hours would not be the best experience.
Vietnam Airlines operates a mixed fleet of newer and older A330-200s and it’s a gamble on which one you will get. The newer ones are usually reserved for their Australian routes but you can never be too sure with last minute equipment swaps and whatnot. So beware.
Vietnam Airlines flies these A330s on their medium and long-haul routes throughout Asia, the Middle East, Australia and on domestic routes. The A330s are configured with a two-class cabin layout: business and economy. In business class, both older and newer versions get 24 business class seats in a 2 X 2 X 2 layout (4 rows). The main difference between the older and newer versions is the newer business class seats are enclosed in a pod whereas the older ones are open seats. Both versions offer recliner style seats.
Aircraft: Airbus A330
Seoul (ICN) to Hanoi (HAN)
Depart: 10:05 AM on Sunday (10:11 AM actual)
Arrive: 12:35 PM same day (12:25 PM actual)
Duration: 4hr 14mn
Seat: 3K Economy Class
Connecting from my Korean Airlines A380 LAX to Seoul flight, I was unable to get my boarding pass for this Vietnam Airlines segment at LAX. Because of that, I had to leave the KAL Lounge a few minutes earlier to get my boarding pass from the gate agent. Vietnam Airlines does not have their own lounge or gate crew at Seoul Incheon. Instead, they contract with the KAL Lounge and Korean Air ground staff.
Upon my arrival to the gate, the gate agent was waiting for me and already had my boarding pass printed up. She checked my passport, verified my arrival visa and gave me my boarding pass. I then took a couple pictures of the bird and hung out at the gate.
Boarding started with business class passengers and SkyTeam Elite members. The entire process was smooth and easy with ground staff directing passengers to their appropriate lines. Business class passengers boarded the bird through door 1L and all other passengers boarded through door 2L. I presented my boarding pass to the flight attendant and was directed to my seat, 3K, a window seat on the right side of the plane.
My first impression of the cabin was “Wow, this is a really spacious cabin.” The lack of overhead bins above the center seats and the open seats really created an open and spacious cabin. However, what made the cabin feel spacious and open were also negatives for different reasons. I’ll explain those later. My second thought was then, “Ugh. This cabin is looking really tired and dated.”
These business class recliner seats are best described as really good domestic first class seats. I couldn’t find any concrete numbers online but I think these seats offer approximately 21 inches of width, 62 inches of pitch and 153 degrees of recline. They have a surprisingly deep amount of recline but they do not offer a flat surface in bed mode.
Here’s a pic of the economy class cabin directly behind the business class cabin. They are standard seats in a 2 X 4 X 2 layout with individual IFE screens.
Waiting at my seat were a pillow and day blanket. As I settled into my seat, the flight attendants came by to welcome me onboard and hand out a welcome drink of water, orange juice or champagne, a cold towel, slippers and an amenities kit.
On this flight, the business class cabin was very light. There were only five other passengers and there were two flight attendants working the business class cabin. Because it was a light flight, storage wasn’t that big of an issue but I would imagine overhead bin space would be a problem if the flight was more full. Because there were no overhead bins above the center seats, passengers seated there would have to share the overhead bins along the outside seats. At the seat, there were no places to store your carry-ons or keep your small personal items nearby other than the seatback pockets in front of you.
Each seat is equipped with a personal IFE monitor that flips out from the center armrest and an overhead reading lamp. There are no privacy dividers between the seats, electrical/USB outlets, WiFi or anything else.
For a short flight, I was glad to receive an amenities kit. It contained all the basics that I needed for this quick trip but it’s nothing special nor would I ever reuse this kit. The Chopard branded vinyl case felt a little stiff and cheap. Inside, you’ll find Chopard branded lip balm and hand lotion, 3M earplugs, comb/brush, eyeshades, socks and a dental kit containing a single use toothbrush and tube of toothpaste.
A few minutes later, the flight attendant came back around to hand out menus. Because I enjoyed the bibambap so much on my Korean Air flight from Los Angeles (and since this flight was most likely catered by the same catering company used by Korean Air), I decided to go with the bibimbap again.
As the final passengers were boarding, the Australian Captain came on the PA, welcomed us onboard and announced our flight time of 3 hours and 45 minutes. We pushed back a few minutes later, made our way to the runway and departed for Hanoi.
Once the seatbelt signs were turned off, the flight attendants came by to set our tables and serve our pre-meal drinks and amuse bouche. The amuse bouche was tasty but nothing special. They were three open face sandwich bites.
Our meals were then brought out on a tray. The salad and appetizer dish was unidentifiable but edible and an assortment of bread was offered from a tray.
My salad/appetizer dish was then cleared and my main meal was brought out. You mix all the ingrediants together, add some spicy sauce and sesame oil and voila, deliciousness in a bowl. Lol. I know it doesn’t look all that great but it was really tasty.
After dinner, my tray was cleared and the flight attendants came by with a selection of fruits and cheeses, some candy bites and pastries, a green tea ice cream and coffee/tea service.
If you were still hungry, you could order ramen noodles mid-flight. But all things considered, it was actually a lot of food for a short flight. My main meal was tasty and everything else was good enough to eat. I was pretty stuffed after the meal so I settled in for a movie and a glass of Bailey’s.
After all the business class passengers were done eating, the flight attendants came by with a hot towel and closed all the windows shades (even though this was a daytime flight). I took the IFE monitor out from the armrest and started playing with the system. The flight attendant saw me doing this and immediately came over to offer me a cheap pair of plastic headphones. I declined and said I had my own.
The IFE system is a joke. The tiny screen was old, faded and had the horizontal lines indicative of a failing system. Even with all the window shades down, it was hard to watch the movie. And yes, I said, “the movie.” The system showed a video and music selection with over 10 channels each but for the movie selection, there was only one movie playing on a loop. When I started watching, it was already an hour into the latest Marvel Avengers movie. After that, another movie played but I didn’t catch the title.
Wanting to take a nap, I put the seat back into bed mode and found it was more comfortable and offered a deeper recline than I expected. It was not lie-flat, or even angled lie-flat for that matter, but was decent for this short flight. For longer flights, I wouldn’t be too happy with this seat. And just fyi, because these seats are open (meaning, not pod style), when your neighbor up front reclines back, it’s invades into your personal space. So yes, these recline back pretty far but also yes, you will lose a lot of room when the person in front of you reclines back.
Up front, there are two standard size lavatories for business class passengers.
As far as the service goes, I found the flight attendants to be pleasant and personable. They were friendly and engaged me in conversation. They were great during the meal service but not as proactive as I would like them to be. They walked the cabin frequently but unless you specifically asked them for something, such as a refill on a drink, they would continue walking by. I really don’t like having to press my call service button or asking for things so that was my biggest complaint. But if you did ask for something, they came out with it quickly and with a smile.
Prior to landing, the flight attendants came by with a tray of water or fruit juice.
We actually landed and taxied to a remote stand and were shuttled to the main arrivals terminal. Business class passengers got their own bus with seats and economy class passengers got on a separate bus with standing room only.
Arriving into Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport was quick and easy and I was out within 15 minutes. Interestingly, you do not have to fill out an arrival/landing card for immigration.
Overall, this was a decent experience for my first flight with Vietnam Airlines. Vietnam Airlines is in the process of updating their entire long-haul fleet with brand new Boeing 787 Dreamliners, 777-300ERs and Airbus A350s but they will still maintain their other aircraft (such as these A330s) for their short and medium-haul flights. It would be nice to see these aircraft get an interior update.
As far as the service and soft product goes, it was just an average experience. The flight attendants were friendly and personable but the service was nothing over the top. The food was good and the amenities were decent. Vietnam Airlines is a three-star rated airline by Skytrax and I would have to agree with their ranking. They’re a decent airline. They weren’t terrible but they weren’t great either. Would I fly them again in the future? Sure. But would I choose them over their regional competitors such a Korean Air, Singapore Airlines or Thai? I don’t think so.
The other reviews in this series include:
- I’m booked on the Vietnam Airlines A350!
- Don’t be like me and screw up an award booking
- Korean Airlines SkyTeam Lounge at LAX
- Korean Airlines A380 business class from Los Angeles to Seoul
- Korean Airlines Prestige (business class) Lounge at Seoul
- KAL Lounge at Seoul Satellite Concourse
- Vietnam Airlines A330 business class Seoul to Hanoi
- Hilton Hanoi Opera
- Vietnam Airlines Lotus Lounge at Hanoi
- Vietnam Airlines A350 business class Hanoi to Paris