Tried & Tested

Flight review: Vietnam Airlines Boeing 787-9 business class Ho Chi Minh City-London

26 Dec 2023 by Tamsin Cocks
Vietnam Airlines B787-9 (image supplied by Frog & Wolf PR)

Background

Vietnam Airlines took delivery of its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner in 2015, and now has 11 in the fleet, along with four Boeing 787-10s. The three-class configuration offers 28 seats in business class, 35 in premium economy and 211 in economy. 

Vietnam Airlines is part of the SkyTeam alliance. Members can book, earn and redeem miles earned with any carrier across the network.

Check-in

I arrived at Ho Chi Minh City’s Tan Son Nhat International Airport at 2238 for flight VN51, at 0005, to London. I checked in online. Arrivals is on ground level, and departures is not well signposted – you need to go up two escalators.

Vietnam Airlines check-in counters are in C/D, with dedicated Sky Priority and business class lanes. It was all very quiet when I got there but I still used the priority lane to check in my bag. The staff member explained I could use fast-track immigration, yet the instructions on where to find this lane were extremely confusing.

To be honest, I’m not convinced it existed; if it did there was no signposting, and off-duty border guards were equally nonplussed when I asked them where the fast-track immigration queue was. In the end they decided it was less hassle to process me themselves. Fast-track security, however was a blessing, with a much shorter queue to breeze through the rigmarole. I was through by 2250.

Vietnam Airlines lounge Tan Son Nhat International Airport (image by Tamsin Cocks)

The lounge

The boarding pass acts as entry to the Lotus Lounge, but again this is terribly signposted. There are actually two options. The larger option, which I visited, is on Level 3 opposite duty free, up a dark unmarked staircase. The smaller one is on Level 2 near Gate 18. 

It ticked the boxes without being anything special. The reception staff were welcoming and there was a fair amount of unoccupied seating with charging ports.

Facilities include showers, flight information screens, a pet area (sadly empty on my visit) and an office centre with monitors and printing facilities. 

The beverage offering was satisfactory – a selection of soft drinks in fridges, Pepsi machine, coffee machine, beers and wine. Food was weirdly breakfast-focused, with cereal and cold-cut offerings, along with some hot dishes including Vietnamese meatballs in tomato sauce and stir-fried pork in lo mein sauce. 

Boarding

I left the lounge at 2320 and headed for Gate 25, a 5-10 minute walk away. I arrived around 2327, when boarding was already underway for business class. We boarded buses to take us to the aircraft, and I was in my seat by 2340. 

There are seven rows arranged in a 1-2-1 formation (A-DG-K). I was in seat 6A, towards the back of the cabin and near the galley separating us from the premium economy cabin. 

Vietnam Airlines business class B787-9 (image supplied by Frog

The seat

The seat is a 180-degree flat-bed seat, angled away from the aisle, with a 42-inch seat pitch. It’s not my favourite design as the footwell was fairly narrow and there wasn’t a huge amount of room to manoeuvre. But it was comfortable enough and the bedding was nice – it included a seat protector/bottom sheet already attached to the seat, as well as a soft pillow and silky duvet. 

Amenity kits were also provided in a soft, grey Cerruti 1881 case, which came with eyeshade, comb, toothbrush and paste, Payot body cream and lip balm, socks, ear plugs and stickers to indicate whether you want to be woken for breakfast etc.  

Easy-to-navigate controls for the seat are located on the left-hand panel, along with personal reading light, a removable IFE remote, charging ports and average headphones in a separate compartment. 

The meal table slides out from under the side counter – though it has just one preset position. Under this is a plug socket, water bottle holder (although there was no water in place upon boarding) plus a selection of inflight magazines. 

There were no overhead bins down the middle reservation, but there was still plenty of space for luggage. 

The IFE and tech offering was a bit of a disappointment. The 15.4-inch IFE screen was not touchscreen (other than a few on/off controls) and the handheld controller was very temperamental. The system kept sticking and crashing, and when there was a passenger announcement, my chosen film quit. The selection was OK, with a split between new Hollywood releases and Asian hits, plus some documentaries and TV dramas. 

No wifi was available on the flight, which is below par at this point in the wifi game. Vietnam Airlines has launched paid-for wifi packages on its A350 aircraft, with plans to roll out to the Dreamliner fleet, but this is yet to happen.

The flight

Cold towels were brought round while passengers settled into seats, followed by drinks including water, mint and lemon juice, and Champagne.

Cross-check began around midnight and the flight safety video was played – I tend to blank them out these days, but this one caught my eye as it cleverly incorporated Vietnam’s beautiful scenery and cultural assets into onboard safety messages (think seatbelt demonstrations in front of a stunning waterfall). 

Three menus were brought round at 0014 – one for food, one for drinks and one for coffee – but just a single copy of each that passengers had to share one by one as cabin crew took orders on the spot. I didn’t enjoy this service at all: printing a few more menus would have given passengers a chance to peruse the options comfortably and this would have felt more premium. 

We took off at 0022 – just 17 minutes behind schedule. The cabin was hot before take-off, but it quickly cooled down. The seats have numerous air vents around them, which I appreciated. 

A highlight of the flight was the cabin crew, who were very attentive throughout the flight, from bringing hot towels to thoughtful, personalised service.

The meal was cleared at 0135 and the water bottle finally arrived. I finished the rest of my film and lay down at around 0240. I managed to grab several hours of sleep, before waking up at around 0740 and getting some work done. A couple of bathroom trips throughout revealed well-maintained facilities.  

Colourful rainbow cabin lights came on at 11.25 to gently wake everyone up, followed by a hot towel to help the transition to wakefulness. Breakfast orders were taken at 1135.

I did notice that my skin was particularly dry by the end of the flight, which was surprising as one of the selling points of the Dreamliner is that it is supposed to have a more humid cabin.

When it came to preparing for landing, somehow I managed to get my seatbelt chewed up in the chair mechanics, but the flight attendant managed to fix it in time.

Vietnam Airlines starter (image by Tamsin Cocks for Business Traveller)

Food and drink

The drinks menu included a Champagne Charles Mignon Premium Reserve Brut, two reds (French Medoc and Chilean Syrah) and two whites (French Côtes du Roussillon Blanc and South African Sauvignon Blanc). There was a selection of signature cocktails plus spirits, beers, soft drinks and a selection of barista tea/coffees (on its own Lotus Coffee Menu). 

There were three options for dinner and breakfast, two Vietnamese and a Western choice.

I chose the Vietnamese quang noodles, but they had run out, so I opted for the stewed spare ribs with bean, fried rice, spinach and corn. The Western option was grilled garoupa with salsa and buttered fettuccine. As a starter I ordered the Vietnamese chicken terrine.

Napkins were laid out at 0059 and food was served five minutes later, with a selection of bread rolls. I didn’t love the cold jelly-like substance of the terrine, which rather resembled cat food, but the taste was not unpleasant. The main meal was better, and quite hearty. Dessert was a mango and condensed milk sweet pudding – which I enjoyed

For breakfast I won no diet points with my choice of frittata, bacon, beef burger and cheddar cheese. Other options were chicken congee with lotus seed and goji berries or cellophane noodles with prawn and seafood cake. 

Arrival

We landed at 0710 local time at London Heathrow Terminal 4. I disembarked at 0720 and whizzed straight through passport control to baggage reclaim, where I waited for ten minutes. I was on the Elizabeth Line at 8am, heading back into Central London.

Verdict

Decent seat and palatable food. Inferior technology. Standout part of the experience was the warm, sensitive service from the Vietnam Airlines cabin crew. 

FACT BOX

  • Flight duration 14 hours 10 minutes
  • Configuration 1-2-1
  • Seat length 78 inches/198cm
  • Seat width 21.5 inches/55 cm
  • Price Internet rates for a round-trip Ho Chi Minh City-London flight in mid-March start from from £3,165 in business class
  • Contact vietnamairlines.com
Loading comments...

Search Flight

See a whole year of Reward Seat Availability on one page at SeatSpy.com

Business Traveller February 2024 edition
Business Traveller February 2024 edition
Be up-to-date
Magazine Subscription
To see our latest subscription offers for Business Traveller editions worldwide, click on the Subscribe & Save link below
Polls