To get from Singapore to Hanoi earlier this month, I decided to travel on Vietnam Airlines’ Business Class product for a number of reasons - it departs from Terminal 4 of Singapore Changi Airport (where the Blossom – SATS & Plaza Premium Lounge is) and more importantly, I have not actually flown on Vietnam Airlines before. Additionally, I wanted to make full use of a stopover on a Singapore Airlines redemption (before the new redemption rates kicked in) so I needed to position myself in Zone 3 first.
As I have mentioned in my review of Blossom - SATS & Plaza Premium Lounge, the place is simply beautiful and it is easily one of the best independent airport lounges that I have been to in recent months. I really enjoyed the selection of hot food, the abundance of space as well as the view that you get from the lounge. Even though the lounge does not look out to the runway, it does give you the best seat in house to watch The Peranakan Love Story which runs every 15 minutes. I proceeded to the boarding gate 5 minutes after of the time printed on my boarding pass only to find out that it has not actually commenced. While I do not typically like to stand around the boarding gate (since I could have been sipping another glass of G&T at the lounge), there are plenty of seats around here in Terminal 4. Business Class passengers were first invited to board the plane so I quickly made my way down the aerobridge so I could get a few shots of the product.
Unlike all my experiences with Singapore Airlines in Business Class, there were no cabin crew waiting at the entrance of the plane for me. In fact, when I got on the plane, one of the cabin crew was still on her mobile phone (even after she has seen me entering). I thought to myself that this occurrence was probably a momentary lapse and she quite possibly had something important to attend to on her phone but I was quickly convinced otherwise by the attitude of cabin crew on the plane (more on this later!). Now this is not the flagship Business Class product of Vietnam Airlines (which I have actually heard many good things about). Utilised mainly for regional and short-haul flights only, the A321 that Vietnam Airlines operate comes with 16 Business Class and 162 Economy Class seats. In comparison to Economy, the seats here in the pointy-end of the plane has 45” (instead of 32”) of seat pitch and it has 21” (instead of 18”) of seat width.
The seats in Business Class also offer 10” of seat recline while Economy Class seats only offer 6”. Now I know many people will probably think that traveling on Business Class for a 3-hour flight is unnecessary but unfortunately I have been spoilt over the years (thanks to my hobby in miles-collecting). Since this was a revenue flight, I decided to credit it to my Flying Blue account since I still have some miles sitting there from my KLM Business Class flights last year.
One of the most distinctive things that I have discovered on Vietnam Airlines is how chill the cabin crew seems to be - they seem to be fine with passengers who do not have their window shades drawn up during take-off, there was no real check on whether seatbelts were fastened and more importantly, the cabin crew (at least two!) were constant on their phones. In fact, one of them have actually placed a napkin over a see-through section (possibly for safety and security) so she can actually use her mobile phone (with headphones on!) while being seated near the galley.
The flight was scheduled to depart at 1:25PM but it only took off at 1:49PM. Having said that, the cabin crew were highly efficient at getting food out (at least in the Business Class cabin). One of the crew went around to set the table up but somehow, she seemed to have missed mine out. It was only when she brought my tray out that she realised that the table has not been set. Honestly, they are not major inconveniences and I was not at all offended in any way - I just found the entire experience to be fairly comical especially when you compare it to Singapore Airlines which operate same route for a similar return-fare (unfortunately SQ was priced significantly higher on one-way flights).
The first course was a Smoked Salmon served with Wasabi Mayonnaise and even though it did not look exceedingly good, it was actually quite delicious. Sure, you probably can’t go wrong with smoked salmon but hey at least they try with their presentation (which is a lot more than what I can say about Qantas). I was also offered a choice of beverage to go with my meal - I opted for a glass of Champagne (which I never actually got to see the bottle) to go with my meal.
The garlic bread on Vietnam Airlines’ Business Class was actually quite good. It was not reheated very well on this flight sector but the taste is actually on par (or I dare say slightly better) with what Singapore Airlines serve. The cabin crew also offered refills (of the garlic bread but never my Champagne) which I politely declined.
I was given two options for main course - the Braised Beef Cheek with Swiss Mushroom topped with Braising Sauce (not a typo) or the Singapore Spicy Laksa Noodle Soup. Now, if you have seen my review of Blossom – SATS & Plaza Premium Lounge, you would have realised that I have already enjoyed a bowl of laksa prior to my flight but honestly, I can’t quite say no to my favourite hawker dish in the air. One of the most memorable ones that I have had was on my flight from Singapore to Beijing in 2017. The flavours were good but the presentation could have been better improved - chili and garnish (unfortunately not laksa leaves?!) were also served by the side should they be required.
As I have mentioned earlier on, Champagne was never refilled during the flight. I asked for another glass after my meal and was given one but that too, was not refilled even when it is empty. Honestly, with a half-filled Business Class cabin, not staying on top of refills is just unacceptable. However, since it was a relatively short flight and the Champagne was actually not served at the right temperature (it needs to be chilled a lot more), I decided not to ask for a third glass. One of the cabin crew made her way around the Business Class cabin to distribute iPads that passengers can utilise during the flight but headphones were nowhere to be found. In fact, I could not even choose to watch any show unless a headphone is plugged in. As such, I decided to give that a miss and check out what was playing on the screen ahead of me instead.
Obviously watching Ocean's 8 without audio is as exciting as it sounds so I decided to recline my chair and get some rest instead. When I asked for a blanket, I realised that they ran out of Business Class blankets and so one of the cabin crew actually had to go back to Economy to get me one. Now the flight on Vietnam Airlines in Business Class was not terrible - the food was ok, the seat is alright for a 3-hour flight but the service has just been regrettable. There was nothing bad about it but it was unimpressive, slightly unprofessional and most importantly, it just did not feel like a Business Class product (even SilkAir does it better!). Another thing that I have noticed during the flight is how comfortable the passengers seem to get - taking off shoes and putting their feet in the armrests of the seats in front seem to be fairly acceptable. Obviously, this flight alone is in no way a representation of how all Business Class experiences on VN are but it goes without saying that it will never be my first choice when traveling between Singapore and Hanoi - let’s just say I was very thankful that I have already booked my return flight on SQ.