My flight from Danang on the coast of Vietnam was departing at 2020 for Hanoi, where I was due to transfer on to a connecting Vietnam Airlines service to London Heathrow at 0130.
This was to be served by a brand-new B787-9, which began flying the route the week before on September 1. The B787-9 also started operating between London Heathrow and Ho Chi Minh on September 2.
The Dreamliner has already been plying domestic services between Ho Chi Minh City and Hanoi since August.
I arrived at Danang International airport at 1900, and was greeted by two members of staff from the Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula resort, where I had been staying. The property offers a special escort service whereby Club guests are met and taken to check-in, before being escorted through security to a dedicated lounge.
The Vietnam Airlines desks spanned most of the far wall – I found four business class stations (23-26) open, and was seen to without delay. I didn't check in online, so was issued with two boarding passes and two lounge passes.
After my suitcase was weighed and tagged, I walked a few metres to priority security – a member of staff checked my documents before I passed through and loaded my bag on to the X-ray conveyor (laptops and liquids must come out).
Once airside, I was taken up one level to the Sun Peninsula lounge – the glass-walled Vietnam Airlines facility is adjacent. I didn't go in, but it looked fine for a short stop. The resort lounge was very swish and atmospheric, with black and red Asian décor, free wifi and a menu for drinks and food. Staff were on hand to deliver refreshments and advise on when to board.
I was taken down to the gate (8), about three minutes' walk away, at 1950. Boarding had started, and one of the transfer buses was already full. I waited for the next one, walking through the fast-track lane to then sit on board waiting for everyone else to get on. It didn't take too long, though, and by 2005 we were walking up steps to the front of the plane (those seating near the back were directed to steps at the rear). It was all handled very efficiently.
Deep armchair-style seats in business class are arranged 2-2 (A-C, D-G) across four rows. All have a good amount of legroom and are very wide, with a decent amount of recline for a short one-hour hop such as this.
They are upholstered in sea green fabric, with pockets on the back, coat hooks, generous shared central armrests and bi-fold tray tables that come out of the side.
Drop-down screens from above showed the in-flight safety demo and a moving map. Above were reading lights. The cabin was about 75 per cent full, with economy busier.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?
On a short flight like this, you can't really go wrong with any of the business class seats. Being in row one means you will get served food and drink first, and get off the plane before anyone else. Beyond that it just comes down to your preference for being by a window or the aisle. However, row four looked like it had a limited recline as the curtain separating economy was behind.
Once seated, passengers were offered cold towels, apple or orange juice, water and local newspapers. The safety video was played while taxiing at 2020, and take-off was shortly after at 2025 when the cabin lights were dimmed.
Once at cruising altitude, at 2040, the lights came back on and a refreshment service began for business class passengers. No alcohol except beer was available, but there were soft drinks, tea (including jasmine) and coffee. The snack served was two small open sandwiches on white bread with salad and prawn/ham.
I had ordered a vegetarian special meal – my sandwiches were topped with rather unappetising cold stir-fried vegetables seasoned with soy sauce. I wasn't hungry so didn't try it. The chunks of fresh fruit that also came on the tray in a white china bowl were nice, though.
During the flight there was a strange smell wafting from the galley – it was a kind of pungent miso aroma, although I couldn't tell what was being cooked as no one seemed to be consuming anything hot.
Crew were polite and smiley, whipping around the cabin collecting trays and glasses as the plane made its gradual descent into Hanoi at 2110. The lights were dimmed once more at 2111. I put my tray table away at 2113 and stopped working.
The plane landed at 2125 with a short taxi to the stand. Once at a complete stop, passengers disembarked via an airbridge at the front.
The only signs inside the domestic terminal were pointing to the exit (nothing for transfers) so I made my way out (it took about ten minutes). I then asked for directions and was told to go landside and take the free bus to International Terminal 2.
A good short-haul flight – punctual with professional crew. The snack was a nice gesture but probably unnecessary on such a short sector. The business class seat was very generously proportioned.
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-2 (A-C, D-G)
SEAT RECLINE 9in/22.8cm
SEAT PITCH 39in/99cm
PRICE Internet rates for a return business class flight from Hanoi to Danang ranged between 5,050,000 dong (£145) and 5,930,000 dong (£171) in October depending on flexibility.