Sydneysiders can now fly non-stop from Sydney to Hanoi on Vietnam Airlines, with the nation’s flag carrier running three flights per week using its Boeing 787 Dreamliners, complete with fully-flat beds and direct aisle access at every business class seat as standard.
Australian Business Traveller brings you this review from the inaugural Sydney-Hanoi flight.
- Frequent flyer program: Lotusmiles, SkyTeam – but a savvier option could be to use Alitalia Millemiglia or Delta Skymiles instead – both of which are programs of fellow SkyTeam airlines but with added ties to Virgin Australia, offering perks like Virgin lounge access and more to top-tier travellers.
- Codeshare bookings: Although Qantas codeshares on Vietnam Airlines' Sydney-Ho Chi Minh City flights, these aren't currently available on the Sydney-Hanoi route, which means Qantas Points and Qantas status credits can't be earned.
- Airport limousine transfers: Currently offered on arrival in Hanoi as part of a short-term promotion for business class passengers. Book your flight online by May 31 2017 for travel from now until December 15 2017 for your free one-way transfer. Not offered in Australia or when returning home from Hanoi.
- Checked baggage allowance: 40kg, plus a further 10kg for SkyTeam Elite frequent flyers (15kg for Lotusmiles Gold) and a higher 20kg boost for SkyTeam Elite Plus cardholders (25kg for Lotusmiles Platinum).
- Carry-on baggage allowance: 2x115cm bags, each weighing up to 7kg (14kg total).
- Priority check-in, passport control, security, boarding: Yes – just look for ‘Sky Priority’ and ‘Express Path’ signage.
- Take note: Vietnam Airlines doesn’t permit online check-in for flights departing Australia, nor can travellers booked on Sydney-Hanoi flights arrive early and obtain a boarding pass when Vietnam Airlines’ earlier Sydney-Ho Chi Minh City flights are open for check-in. (We tried – but even with carry-on baggage only, were sent away, which later meant a 20-minute wait in the ‘Sky Priority’ queue just to obtain that magic piece of paper.)
In Sydney, Vietnam Airlines’ business class passengers – plus SkyTeam Elite Plus frequent flyers in premium economy and economy – can visit the SkyTeam Lounge, located next door (and below) the popular American Express Lounge.
Inside, you’ll find an array of zones for working or relaxing with seats catering for solo flyers, couples and groups…
… and free WiFi with both download and upload speeds exceeding 20Mbps.
As is now standard of international business class, Vietnam Airlines’ Boeing 787s sport pointy-end seats in the desirable 1-2-1 layout, guaranteeing every traveller direct access to the aisle for uninterrupted work or sleep.
Glancing around the space reveals many other familiar amenities, including an AC power outlet that accepts Australian plugs without an adaptor…
… a slim pocket for your tablet or reading material (once you turf the inflight magazines into the overhead locker) plus another pouch for your water bottle or small valuables like passports, wallets and watches…
… a side cupboard ideal for headphones or cameras…
… and another nook which you can utilise during take-off or landing also:
The side armrest begins its journey in the lowered position…
… but at the press of a button, rises and locks in place for a little added comfort:
Frequent travellers might recognise these seats from the Zodiac Cirrus family, being the same business class design adopted by American Airlines (pictured), Cathay Pacific, Finnair and more on other long international flights.
But each airline customises the seat to its own liking, with Vietnam Airlines’ version featuring a lower footrest beneath a further padded footrest: both of which are fixed in place…
… yet we found the upper footrest lacking support at its leading edge, so the moment you place your feet on it, it bends down:
There’s also no fold-up leg rest to make up for this...
… unless your seat is in full bed mode, in which case the main seat cushion merely slides forward to meet the footrest:
The two don’t align at the same height, though – the seat cushion itself is at least a few centimetres higher than the footrest, and there’s also a large gap in the bed around waist-level. With no padded mattress provided, you’ll want to scoot upwards or downwards to find the comfiest spot:
Pyjamas aren’t found here either but slippers, a pillow and a blanket are provided. Being a Boeing 787, passengers in the window seats can also use the ‘electrochromic’ windows to digitally control how much natural light gets through.
For instance, click your window down a notch and you’ll still get some light (left) rather than all of the light (right)…
… or tap the controls a few more times for darkness if you plan to sleep:
Being a daytime flight, we set both our windows to ‘half-dark’ to take in the views without disturbing nearby passengers who were sleeping…… and speaking of window seats, they're the perfect choice for travellers who prefer to ride a little cooler, with two adjustable air vents above versus none at all atop the centre seats.
The journey begins with a pre-flight tipple – our choice was Champagne (Heidsieck & Co. Monopole), but were surprised to find it poured in a typical wine glass rather than a flute, which shortens the life of the bubbles as there’s more surface area for them to escape through:
That’s followed by an aperitif once in the air such as the whisky-based Saigon Sunlight from Vietnam Airlines’ extensive cocktail menu, joined by room temperature nuts.
An early dinner is up next, starting with a smoked duck breast, Hungarian salami and grilled prawn appetiser (selected, or a roasted beef, salmon and potato dish if you desire) with a bread basket not far behind…
… continuing with a tasty zucchini parmesan soup served aside your choice from four main courses:
- Stir-fried beef with peppers, mushroom and stir-fried egg noodles
- Taiwanese-style three cup wine chicken with steamed rice
- Wok-fried snapper in black bean sauce with fried egg rice
- Pan-fried lamb loin with Lyonnaise potato
The beef dish proved tasty, flavourful and spicy, but we’d not recommend it unless you’re already accustomed to spicy food as this really packs a punch:
Today’s wine list was comprised entirely of French grapes with Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne, two reds (a Bordeaux Grand Cru – paired with our beef – and a Rhone Beaume-de-Venise) and two whites (a Bourgogne Chardonnay and a Bordeaux Semillon Sauvignon Blanc)…
… but while the French may be renowned for their wines, so is Australia, and adding a local drop or two into the mix would bring some welcome balance and variety.
Moving on, dessert trolleys zip by after the meal – almost with a Harry Potter Hogwarts Express feel – offering cheeses, fresh fruits and pastries, but we held out for the second dessert cart and its black forest ice cream with raspberry coulis and a Baileys on the rocks.
Closer to arrival, a refreshment course provides a selection of fruits, breads and the following main meal options:
- Grilled beef fillet with Lyonnaise potato
- Stir-fried chicken with shiitake spring onion, egg noodles and oyster sauce
- Seafood with white wine cream sauce and linguine
- Szechuan-style pork with steamed rice
Not tempted by the generic ‘seafood’ dish and wanting something a little different to the meal before – which scratched off both the beef and stir-fried chicken with egg noodles – the Szechuan-style pork was the natural choice... ... and proved the perfect refreshment.
Dining is only possible at designated meal times with instant noodles the only snack available at other times.
Entertainment & Service
A range of movies, TV shows, music and games can be accessed via the ‘Lotustar’ inflight entertainment system, although the variety of programming – particularly in the TV category – is in rather short supply, and the screen must be kept folded away during take-off and landing:
Swing it out once airborne and you can follow the inflight map in full-screen view…
… or can quickly keep tabs on your progress via a popup window in the top right corner where you’ll spot your flight number too – handy for completing any pre-arrival immigration forms:
The system operates as a touchscreen and is within each reach of the seat, but a more traditional remote control remains available if you prefer next to a dimmable reading light, your headphone plug and a USB power jack:
Also nearby is a handy hook for storing your headphones while you’re working or sleeping…
… yet before you slip these over your ears, you’ll need to delicately attach the supplied hygiene covers which we’ve found to tear a little too easily:
Cabin crew on today’s flight did their usual duties while being polite and courteous, but outside of meal times, weren’t often seen unless a call bell was pressed or the amenity kits were being delivered:
Overall, Vietnam Airlines’ Boeing 787 business class is a relatively comfortable yet cost-effective way to arrive in the Vietnamese capital, with return fares currently selling from just $3,250 including taxes, fees and limousine pick-up on arrival, not to mention SkyTeam frequent flyer points and tier miles at the full business class rates.
Chris Chamberlin travelled to Vietnam as a guest of Vietnam Airlines.