The growth in direct flights to Ho Chi Minh City with Vietnam Airlines is a sign of Vietnam’s economic lift-off but how does the experience measure up?
For decades after its founding in 1956, Vietnam Airlines was a fringe player, its wings clipped, so to speak, by the country’s socio-economic and political turmoil. Now, though, this airline is really going places in more ways than one.
Having launched its new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft for UK routes last September, it now flies three times a week from Heathrow to both Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, the only airline flying direct between the two countries. Such is the demand it’s even planning a daily service from summer.
The carrier is upping its techie credentials, too: check-in over WiFi is coming soon to all Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner services from Heathrow, along with automated check-in kiosks at terminal four.
UK-Vietnamese trade is booming, thanks to recent tax incentives, low wages and a young, highly skilled workforce. But does this newfound economic zeal extend to the national airline? Director stepped aboard a spanking new Dreamliner to find out.
On this weekday mid-morning, being one of the 10.4 million passengers handled annually by Heathrow terminal four was a breeze. As press, we couldn’t use the online system, but we weren’t hampered at all and the generous 40kg business- class luggage allowance raised spirits. The lounge offered all the usual amenities, plus 20-minute Clarins facials to anyone who, unlike me, thought to book in advance. 9/10
It’s hard to recall a simpler passage from
terminal to seat. The walk to the gate took just 10 minutes, and the ultra-speedy, efficient and friendly desk staff – the courtesy exuded by this airport‘s employees in recent years has alchemised the Heathrow experience – had us aboard within seconds. 8/10
The business-class cabins on the B787-9 Dreamliners feature 28 ‘Zodiac Cirrus III’, fully flat-sliding seats in a one-two-one herringbone configuration providing both aisle access and privacy. The sight of the 42-inch seat pitch, 15.4-inch TVs with HD touchscreens, personal mini-bars and noise-cancelling headsets gave me confidence 12 hours would pass swiftly. 9/10
The Dreamliner’s modern LED lighting, high humidity, clean air and lower cabin pressure make its ambience conducive to a comfortable journey. The entertainment menu offered a blend of international, classic and Vietnamese movies, plus games and a 3D route map. Storage and legroom were impressive, as were the crew’s demeanour and appearance. The Charriol amenities kit, two inflight magazines and abundant food options – crab cakes with smoked garlic sauce and spinach being the highlight – enhanced the experience. 9/10
We landed right on time, just before 6am, and a small queue saw us through immigration. Baggage reclaim is stress free when your plane is among the first in, and the private transfer offered by our hosts – standard with top hotels in this part of the world – offered a reminder of how sharp and attentive Asian service is at its best. 8/10
Minor ticket-related bureaucracy aside, this was an experience befitting the carrier of what may become the next Asian tiger economy 43/50
Vietnam Airlines Details
Vietnam Airlines flight VN50 from Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City
Vietnam Airlines offers direct economy-class returns from Heathrow to Ho Chi Minh City or Hanoi from £441 or £525 respectively, including taxes (business-class fares start from £1,859 or £1,862).