2014 EOY Trip Flight #1 I am back for a series of report on the 10 flights we took back in December 2014 for our end-of-year trip. It was a great trip with 4 new airlines, 5 new airports and 2 new cities. The routing was SIN-SGN-TPE-PVG-ICN, GMP-PUS-GMP, ICN-PVG-TPE-HAN-SIN. To visualize the route we took, please refer to the map at the start of the report.
While our plan was only to visit my relatives in Taipei, and spend 10 days in Korea, the routing of our flights became more complicated as we decided to give up the direct flights available, so as to go for cheaper tickets that will also allow us to fly more!
This is a list of all the other reports in this series.
2014 End-of-Year Trip to Taiwan & South Korea This Report 09/12/14, SIN-SGN, Vietnam Airlines VN650, A321 Click Here 09/12/14, SGN-TPE, Vietnam Airlines VN570, A321 Coming Soon 16/12/14, TPE-PVG, China Eastern Airlines MU5008, A330-300 Coming Soon 17/12/14, PVG-ICN, Shanghai Airlines FM827, B737-800 Coming Soon 20/12/14, GMP-PUS, Air Busan BX8811, B737-400 Coming Soon 23/12/14, PUS-GMP, Air Busan BX8816, A320 Coming Soon 26/12/14, ICN-PVG, China Eastern Airlines MU5034, A321 Coming Soon 27/12/14, PVG-TPE, China Eastern Airlines MU5005, A330-200 Coming Soon 30/12/14, TPE-HAN, Vietnam Airlines VN579, A321 Coming Soon 30/12/14, HAN-SIN, Vietnam Airlines VN661, A321
Vietnam Airlines VN650 Aircraft Registration: VN-A604 Origin: Changi International Airport, Singapore (SIN) Destination: Tan Son Nhat International Airport, Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam (SGN) Date: Tuesday, 9 December 2014 Boarding Time: 1225h (UTC+08:00) STD/STA: 1315h (UTC+08:00) to 1415h (UTC+07:00) ATD/ATA: 1308h (UTC+08:00) to 1406h (UTC+07:00) Estimated Duration: 02 hours 00 minutes Actual Duration: 01 hour 58 minutes Flight Distance: About 680 miles / 1,095 km
I am officially addicted to flying; 10 flights for an end-of-year trip, definitely exciting. I was so glad that my girlfriend agreed to come along with me on this 3 weeks trip with 10 flights on the itinerary.
This trip will cover four entirely new airlines for me: Vietnam Airlines, China Eastern Airlines, Shanghai Airlines and Air Busan.
Of which, I looked forward the most to my flights with China Eastern, which was also my first encounter with a Chinese carrier. Following, Vietnam Airlines seemed quite interesting at that time too, so it was certainly a delight to start of my trip with them.
Nonetheless, online check-in and seat selection was a failure. I believe it is possible to do so usually, I was just unlucky that day and my request just couldn’t get through.
Oh well, I guess we will just have to arrive earlier at the airport to secure some decent seats for the three of us.
(As per the previous report on Emirates, I will be preparing timelines for all my future reports as a tool for all my readers to visualize the entire travelling process. Hope it helps, and do also give me any feedback on how I can improve the structure of my reports.)
Of all the Southeast Asian (SEA) carriers, Vietnam Airlines was never on the top of my list. I was very interested in Malaysia Airlines and managed to book four flights with them in early 2014. Thai Airways is definitely also among the top few SEA carriers that I would like to fly on, but the chance has yet to come (especially since I am now determined to retain my oneworld sapphire on a yearly basis).
So, how did Vietnam Airlines eventually come into the picture? I guess the answer is simple: the return ticket from Singapore to Taipei was cheap! Eventually, I did not regret my choice and found Vietnam Airlines to be a pleasant carrier to fly with.
Now, finally a chance to depart from Terminal 3 of Changi Airport! While it is one of my favourite terminals here in Singapore, all the oneworld carriers (& Emirates) that I frequently fly with depart from Terminal 1, so I rarely get a chance to fly from Terminal 3. It’s therefore nice that Vietnam Airlines depart from this terminal.
If I remember correctly, this was only my third time coming to Terminal 3 as a passenger. More pictures – it’s a must.
While fewer airlines are housed in Terminal 3, more of them are shifting over. And very recently, my favourite Taiwanese carriers – EVA Air and China Airlines have shifted over to T3 as well!
The interior design of Terminal 3 is really quite gorgeous. The entire departure hall provides a very pleasing atmosphere and the size of it is huge too. While all the emptiness may seem like a waste of space, I still choose to think that this is how an airport should be like!
We were considered to have arrived very early and there weren’t many at the counters yet. No queue lines were set up except for the Sky Priority and Web Check In counters.
Vietnam Airlines uses check-in zone 2 in Terminal 3.
My mom had to settle some errands before proceeding with check-in, so we waited at one corner of the check-in hall.
Take a look at the number of luggage we have with us; a budget airline ticket with the additional fees paid for checked baggage just couldn’t be justified. Hence, Vietnam Airlines it was!
Because lesser airlines use this terminal, the crowd in Terminal 3 is also constantly lesser than that in the other two terminals.
Once we were all ready, we proceeded to queue for check-in. The queue was short and it didn’t take too long to reach us.
Vietnam Airlines provide economy class passengers with 20kg of baggage allowance each, so in total, we would have had 60kg. I was glad that the check-in staff did not mention anything about the 5.7kg in excess of our baggage allowance.
As we failed to complete online check-in the day before, we couldn’t use the dedicated counter adjacent to those handling economy class passengers.
We were done with check-in within ten minutes. A very high level of efficiency here!
Our bags were checked through to Taoyuan Airport in Taiwan and boarding passes were also issued for both sectors. I must have looked like a tour leader of a small group holding on to three passports and six boarding passes. Haha!
We wanted, initially, to have a quick lunch before heading airside earlier. But I was unlucky enough for the bank’s ATM at Changi Airport to decide to fail on me. Consequently, I had to stand in front of the machine and make numerous phone calls to the bank before they promised to return the money to my bank account within a few working days. I couldn’t and wouldn’t want to imagine the situation if I was in a situation where my flight’s departure was imminent.
After that was settled, we still decided to have our lunch first before making our way through immigration.
The crowd in the airside area of Terminal 3 seemed to be smaller as well.
Our flight was allocated Gate B8 that day, and that meant quite a bit of walk from the departure immigration.
The following photograph went on my Instagram. What do you think of the design of Vietnam Airlines’ boarding pass? Nice, isn’t it?
Here’s the departure gate flight information display.
There weren’t any other SkyTeam airlines code-shared on this flight; but Jet Airways had their code on VN650, and it was 9W4321 (what a nice number).
On a side note, do be careful when photographing the FIDS outside the gates in Changi Airport because the security officers may start questioning you.
Security was a breeze and the officers were friendly!
Here’s our aircraft. Personally, I like Vietnam Airlines’ livery and the font type used on its aircrafts.
We will be travelling on VN-A604, one of Vietnam Airlines’ 51 A321 in its fleet. In this trip, all my Vietnam Airlines flight will be on their A321s – I became a little bored of VN's A321 by the last flight of this trip, haha. Anyway, VN-A604's age was just about 1-year plus as of December 2014.
When I was done photographing the aircraft, boarding was well underway and the boarding lounge was already almost empty.
This definitely can be considered as a high level of boarding efficiency as the scheduled departure time was about 20+ minutes later.
We were warmly welcomed by the purser (presumably) as we entered the aircraft. It was a nice start and a good first impression.
And then we had a short glimpse of the business class cabin, which had the standard 2+2 configuration in 4 rows.
Here is our seat in the economy class. They have a nice headrest there, but I do wonder if this is changed after every flight? Hopefully it is.
One downside of this aircraft is that individual IFE is not available. Not just in economy, but business class as well. An overhead drop-down screen is located every three rows or so; some random videos were being shown during the boarding process. I don’t have any impression as to what the videos were about.
You can have a sample of the boarding music here in this video.
On our itinerary, VN650’s departure time was stated as 1.10pm. This was adjusted to 1.15pm subsequently. Nonetheless, because of the efficient process of boarding and the (presumably) efficient process of loading of cargo, our flight pushed back slightly early at 1.08pm.
I took the time before the aircraft pushed back to take pictures of some of the aircraft’s facilities. Let’s take a look at some of them now.
The legroom was acceptable; my height is 1.77m and it felt really okay.
The colour scheme used in the cabin was of a darker and less striking shade; it does however give a rather peaceful ambience in the aircraft. Some argue that it makes the seats look dirty, but personally I found the aircraft quite clean actually – at least for this particular flight.
The colour of the seats was quite a match to the old uniforms of Vietnam Airline’s cabin crew. The new uniforms are, in my opinion, even more elegant than the old ones.
And then we have the overhead panel which consists of the reading lights, adjustable air vents and call buttons.
The resolution of the shared screen was acceptable too. At that moment, I was hoping that they can just focus on showing the airshow later on during the flight.
The usual looking dining table with some additional Vietnamese messages; the Vietnamese language looks very interesting and I believe isn’t easy to pick up.
On top of the shared screen, some music channels were available on this aircraft as well. I will reserve my comments for the IFE to the next report as I did not touch the IFE on this flight.
The seats could be reclined; quite an acceptable angle of recline I would say, given that it was economy in a narrow-body.
The colour of the seat belt seemed to be out of place, though.
After experiencing the A380, one would feel that a narrow-body aircraft is indeed so super narrow. Now that the B787 is becoming more and more common, it is making the size of aircraft windows on all other planes look so tiny.
Towards our left we have Singapore Airlines’ 9V-SWK being prepared for its long-haul journey to Frankfurt as SQ326.
A positive point to note about Vietnam Airlines is that “refreshing tissue” is distributed to every passenger during the boarding process. While this isn’t as good as hot/warm/cold towels, it is still highly commendable since many other airlines have long done away with this service.
At 1.05pm, the boarding process was almost completed.
Our gate must have been very near the runway that day. Before I knew it, our aircraft was already accelerating down the runway. The time took to taxi from the gate to the runway was only about 5 minutes; and we took off from Singapore at 1.18pm.
Aha! Soon after departure, the airshow was switched on. Seat belt signs were also turned off very quickly, in just another 5 minutes after take off.
It is kind of interesting to see the airshow being presented in a language that is unfamiliar to me.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t a difficult task to deduce that SGN was 1,044km away, we had travelled for 53km, and the journey time left was 1 hour and 51 minutes.
While the resolution of the screens weren’t top notch, they were definitely acceptable.
On 80% of my flights these few years, I fly southwards after taking off from Singapore and my destinations were always Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane… Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane…
This time round, it definitely was nice to be back on an intra-Asia flight, flying to an airport that I have never been to.
Singapore isn’t too far away from Ho Chi Minh City. If we are to compare the flight distances, SIN-SGN is slightly shorter than SIN-BKK and just 200km more than TPE-HKG (one of the busiest international routes in the world).
Our aircraft was passing FL150; still ascending to its eventual cruising altitude.
Here’s the corporate logo of Vietnam Airlines, which I think is pretty nice!
And then, since the seatbelt signs were switched off, I took a quick look at the lavatory.
Ah, nice sign in Vietnamese again! I think I know how to pronounce “xin cam on” which means thank you; it does sound similar to some Chinese dialects.
Since a soap dispenser (the above photograph) was provided, these racks were left empty.
While the toilets were basically very clean, it did not feel as “new” as it should be. Given that the aircraft was only about 1-year old.
On my way back to my seat, meal service had begun. Time for a good meal on my first Vietnam Airlines flight, hopefully~
The flight attendants were hard at work just 20 minutes after take off, conducting the lunch service as fast as they could. It must be tough and stressful to work on such short flights.
While I waited for my meal, I wasted no time either by taking quick glances at the contents of the seat pocket. It was very simple, with just the safety information card, a sick bag and the in-flight magazine.
Let’s take a look at the magazine first.
This flight took place in December 2014, and Vietnam Airlines were still eagerly awaiting the newest members in their fleet.
Right now as I write this report, the airline already has both the A350-900 WXB and B787-9 in their fleet. Definitely a great step ahead of their regional competitors.
I do hope for an opportunity in the near future to fly Vietnam Airlines’ two newest aircraft types. But I don’t think my wish will be granted so soon as I can’t seem to fit VN in my travel plans as of now.
Vietnam Airlines had a successful IPO in November 2014 as well. This is undoubtedly a huge milestone for the airline; a very clear strategy that they are pursuing here to improve their service standards and reputation in the industry. However, it probably is interesting to note this sentence in the article: Vietnam Airlines has a charter capital of VND14,101,840,000,000 divided into 1,410,184,000 shares of which the State owns 75%. This means that while the airline has successfully became a listed company, its majority control is still the Government of Vietnam.
Being a frequent traveller to Australia, this caught my eye too. Vietnam Airlines have scheduled flights from Ho Chi Minh City to both Sydney and Melbourne. What makes these flights special is that they are code-shared with Qantas – a great deal for me as I can earn maximum Qantas points if I really do fly with them. Unfortunately, prices have never appeared to be appealing enough; they are in fact, rather expensive at times.
Apart from its small-scale cooperation with Qantas, Vietnam Airlines has got extensive partnerships with members of the SkyTeam alliance.
I don’t expect that I will ever be able to achieve any status with any of the SkyTeam airlines; so I guess I will resume my status as a loyal oneworld customer after this trip.
This page shows a list of Vietnam Airlines’ offices around the world.
The next section in the magazine shows the airport layout map of both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City airports.
Next up, we have the airline’s network map. Apart from a very comprehensive domestic network, Vietnam Airlines flies also to neighbouring cities like Bangkok, Yangon, Vientiane and Phnom Penh.
There are many Asian destinations as well. It is interesting to note that all three major cities in Taiwan are listed in the map: Taipei, Kaohsiung and Taichung (which has occasional charter flights from SGN). I guess this isn’t surprising since there are many Vietnamese residing in Taiwan.
What’s surprising is that Vietnam Airlines does not have flights to/fro Manila, and instead code-shares this route with Philippine Airlines.
A good coverage of destinations can also be seen in Europe; this where Vietnam Airlines is currently sending all its A350 and B787 to.
On the other end of the spectrum, Vietnam Airlines has no destination at all in America (both North and South). I guess they rely a lot on Delta and/or China Airlines for the North American market?
Last but not least, Sydney and Melbourne as mentioned above.
As of December 2014, the airline’s fleet consisted of 8 B777-200ER, 10 A330-300, 51 A321 and 14 ATR72.
Our aircraft type for this, and the next three, Vietnam Airlines flights.
There was even a dedicated section introducing the A321! Making it very obvious that this aircraft type is the workhouse of the airline. I am quite certain that this section in the magazine has since been replaced by the introductions for the A350 and B787.
Finally, we see some useful information about Vietnam in the magazine.
It is interesting to note that all hotels in Vietnam are expected to provide details of their guests to the Vietnamese police, and guests are expected to hand over your passport. (Is it true?)
The section on Vietnamese food looked very interesting as well; especially since my girlfriend and I are avid-lovers of the Vietnamese cuisine.
Just some more snapshots of the safety instructions card. (There wasn’t any duty free sales catalogue; Vietnam Airlines does not conduct duty free sales on their flights, if I am not mistaken.)
Thank you for diligently reading about the in-flight magazine; now it’s time for pictures of the meal, which probably will be of more interest to most of us, yeah?
The fruits were good enough but nowhere near what I can get in Taiwan, Korea or Australia.
The appetizer was awesome. It has been almost a year since I took this flight so I really can’t describe exactly how it tasted like. At the very least, I can remember that the appetizer tasted great!
The main dish was (probably) pork with rice; it was just edible and there's nothing much to write about it. In my opinion, the best meals that I have tasted in economy class were on flights with Malaysia Airlines, and also those with EVA Air. (But of course, this is just my opinion.)
Nice logo, printed elegantly on the tray.
Even though we already had a quick lunch back at Changi Airport, I still managed to clear the food in my tray quickly. (We really ate a lot on that particular day on the way as we flew from Singapore to Taipei, via Vietnam.)
Nice cup; felt like it was made of good quality plastic.
Apart from the appetizer that left a good impression with me, this cup of coffee was nice too. I don’t exactly know if this was considered Vietnamese coffee, but it probably can still rank as one of the better coffees that I have tasted on an aircraft.
Let’s take a look at the aircraft’s location after we are done looking at the food and drinks; halfway through!
About to enter Vietnamese airspace soon.
The flight attendants were really working hard. Soon after they were done with the meal service, they started going around collecting trash and trays.
With the airshow being shown right above me, it was hard not to take too many photographs of it – I am sure you guys understand what I mean.
At about 1.13pm (UTC+07:00), we were still cruising at FL340.
With just about 380km left.
Before actually descending, our altitude was reduced to FL330.
An announcement came from the flight deck before we descended, here’s what the pilot said: - Descend to begin in about 10 minutes - The scheduled arrival time is 1.55pm local time - A reminder about the time difference between Singapore and Vietnam - Current time in Vietnam is 1.23pm - Current weather in Ho Chi Minh is fine and temperature is 32 Deg C
Descend began at 1.27pm. Vietnam is a country that I have always wanted to visit, it’s a pity we were only transiting this time round.
Flight attendants started doing their landing preparation as well.
Another 100km more to go.
This is the only picture I have of the beautiful skies outside, for this flight.
VN650 arrived much earlier than the scheduled time of arrival; touching down at Ho Chi Minh City at about 2.49pm.
In total, the three of us were carrying two 20” carry-on luggage, two backpacks and one handbag. I was therefore quite disappointed when our aircraft stopped at a remote stand, as it’d be a little troublesome to walk down the staircase with our bags.
Initially, I thought that I could at least make use of the opportunity to take some close-up shots of our aircraft. But I was restrained from taking too many photographs when I saw many Vietnamese officers in their military attire, standing around the aircraft and the bus. In the end, only the following photograph turned out to be decent.
Most economy class passengers were packed into this (and the next bus) so as to transfer us back into the terminal as efficiently as possible.
Many passengers from our flight, and those arriving from other flights, were surprisingly also transiting in Ho Chi Minh City. I never knew that Vietnam Airlines were so popular as a connecting carrier, and I guess this is a very good sign for the carrier.
The queue to get pass transit security took quite a while.
The queue at the arrival immigration looked quite alright at that time of the day.
For connecting passengers without their onward boarding pass, they will have to report and check-in for their next flight(s) at these counters.
Five minutes later, we were still in the queue. It was moving quite quickly.
Qatar Airways has got fifth-freedom rights to carry passengers between Ho Chi Minh City and Phnom Penh, and that probably explains why there was a dedicated counter for Qatar passengers. As for Royal Brunei’s counter, I am not sure why it was there?
The information on connecting flights was manually printed and pinned on the notice board as shown below. You can also see on the left that high-tier members of SkyTeam airlines will be able to skip the queue entirely with the dedicated security lane.
It was our turn soon after 10 minutes in the queue.
We were not in a rush anyway since our transit time was about two hours; definitely sufficient for a good bowl of Pho before our next flight!
Vietnam Airlines outperformed my expectations, by a lot. And I really do feel happy saying this because it is always nice to know that there's a good (and improving) carrier near home! The A321, albeit without individual IFEs, was a pleasure to fly in. I had good first impressions of it, after having been on countless numbers of A320s. I am not sure why, but the A321 just felt a little bit more spacious, even though I know it's just the length of the aircraft that is different. The crew members weren't exceptionally friendly and not all of them seemed that comfortable speaking in English, nonetheless, they were working really hard on this flight and the service was carried out efficiently. For the meal, like I have mentioned in the report, it was just slightly above average, but the good appetiser and coffee added on some more points.
Changi Airport is still has efficient and pleasant as it is, always. There are flaws, but I will only mention them if they become too significant in any of my trips. On this one, all was good.
Ho Chi Minh City's Tan Son Nhat Airport was again, much better than what I have expected. I am leaving the access and parking score at 5 because I can't comment about it as a transit passenger. As for the other aspects of this airport, allow me to discuss further in my next report as I share my transit experiences there.
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