BACKGROUND Vietnam Airlines flies up to nine times daily between Ho Chi Minh City and Central Vietnam’s leading port city of Danang. The journey takes about one hour. Low-cost carrier Jetstar Pacific, backed by Qantas, also flies on this route four times a day.
CHECK-IN After a somewhat lengthy wait at the newly refurbished Tan Son Nat International Airport – it acquired Terminal 3 recently – for my suitcase arriving on flight CX767 from Hong Kong, I cleared customs easily but had to show my luggage tag to the airport staff before being allowed to leave the hall for the domestic terminal where I was connecting on a Vietnam Airlines domestic service. It was nearing 1100 with sufficient time to make it for the 1220 take off.
I followed instructions from the airport staff to turn right to the smaller hub but had to stop midway to switch trolleys. It had to be done as a bored-looking young man tending the carts wouldn’t let me go further. Those belonging to the domestic airport were a bit rickety but at least mine ran smoothly enough. The heat outside was intense and in minutes my shirt was sticking to my sweat-drenched back.
The scene in the pre-departure area was extremely chaotic and signs for Vietnam Airlines (VN) and Jetstar Pacific (BL) counters were difficult to spot. After some confusion I was directed to zone G where I joined a fast-moving queue, only to be told that my flight VN1318 was delayed until 1525. There went my whole day.
The counter staff advised me that I would be supplied lunch while writing “delayed flight” on my boarding pass. But they couldn’t tell me where the designated restaurant was, only that it was on the airside. It took me a while to find – it was near Gate 7 – and I received the standard fried chicken rice meal, which was actually not too bad. I had to pay for my own soft drink though.
My flight was to depart from Gate 12 at the very end of the hall, where row upon row of seats were available. I spied a shop offering foot massage but there was a group waiting their turn and the reception said she didn’t think they would be done by 1500. Miffed, I decided to catch up on sleep at a spot away from the crowds, on four unoccupied seats. On waking up, I still had over an hour before boarding time.
BOARDING From then on, I alternated between reading Furious Love, a well-written account of Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor’s tumultuous relationship, and anxiously peering up at Gate 12’s flight details, as it had a different flight number and destination on it. When I asked the counter staff about the anomaly, they merely told me that VN1318 would indeed leave from that gate. Go figure.
At 1525 an announcement was made in Vietnamese and English, prompting a surge for the door. The checking of boarding passes was tortuously slow, and after that I still had to lug my bulging laptop case down a flight of stairs and onto the bus. There, it was another 15-minute wait until we were finally ferried to the waiting A330. More delays followed and we didn’t take off till nearly 1730.
THE SEAT The configuration in the economy cabin is 2-4-2 (AB-CDEG-JK), and I was in the aisle-based 28B, all the way to the end of the first economy class cabin aircraft. I could have entered through the back entrance but failed to notice that they had opened it up, and instead went through the front door and past the business class section into mine. There are 36 premier seats and 284 regular seats.
Interiors are neat and the upholstery is a smart deep blue. There were seatback monitors, but no entertainment was offered on this short one-hour hop. Although the window seat next to me was eventually occupied, I didn’t feel too cramped with a companion and the legroom was sufficient.
WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE Mine was convenient enough, being near, near the washrooms and close to an exit. Sitting along the aisle leaves you, as usual, open to being bumped by trolleys and passengers on the way to freshen up.
THE FLIGHT Only drinks were served on this one-hour hop, and I asked for mineral water and received a tiny bottle whose contents I gulped down to the last drop.
ARRIVAL We landed at around 1830 at Danang’s modest airport, a six-hour delay from the original flight time. I noticed major construction works beside the airport, which I was later told was the future new passenger facility. My bag came quickly, but I ended up waiting another 30 minutes for the pick-up. I was not too happy that it took a whole day to reach my destination.
VERDICT The delay and wait at the domestic terminal was unacceptable. If Vietnam wants to enhance the tourism and conference potential of its destinations, it will have to work with its flag carrier to quickly improve its operations and connectivity.
Margie T Logarta
PLANE TYPE A330
SEAT CONFIGURATION 2-4-2 economy
SEAT PITCH 31in/79cm
SEAT WIDTH 20in/51cm
PRICE Internet rate for a return economy in June is US$433.47