Want to give your growing country immediate legitimacy?
One of the most effective ways is to build a reliable, safe and efficient international airline that flies modern European and American-made aircraft. This is what we have seen in China, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. It is also what we have seen recently in Vietnam.
Vietnam's state-owned airline does not fly to the United States, but it does serve roughly 50 destinations with about 100 aircraft. Long-haul destinations include London, Moscow and Frankfurt.
In addition to being important for the domestic transportation network, Vietnam Airlines, a SkyTeam member, is being used by the government to project power and legitimacy to a global audience. It flies a mix of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, and it is one of only a few airlines in the world already flying both the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350. The airline that had a Russian-made Tupolev Tu-134B-3 crash in 1997 now has a strong reputation. [It is faring much better than Thai Airways, which was recently reprimanded by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.]
Last week, I flew Vietnam Airlines in business class from Danang to Ho Chi Minh City. Read on for my full report.
We arrived at Danang Airport about 90 minutes before our flight to Ho Chi Minh City, which was much too early. There's not a lot to do in the airport and lines for check-in and security were short, both for economy and business classes. Our other options for this route were VietJet and Jetstar Pacific. The locals say neither is as reliable as Vietnam Airlines.
We passed the time in the business class lounge used by all airlines. It is a sad operation. I did not have the courage to try one of these food plates.
At one point, I took a walk in the terminal. Burger King was the best food option. During the Vietnam War, Danang's Airport was a major military installation. Now, it looks just like any other airport.
"Sky Priority" meant early boarding, so we soon headed down to the gate. I know all airlines are supposed to remind you which airline alliance they belong to, but Vietnam seemed especially proud of its SkyTeam membership.
Boarding began on time and was completed quickly. I was expecting to see a lot of Vietnamese passengers, but mostly it was German tourists. The flight was full. We had a standard short-haul first class seat for Asia, with a little more seat pitch than you'll find on American, United and Delta. I found it comfortable.
The seat controls were basic but effective. Recline was generous.
Here's a shot of the economy class bulkhead seats. I was unsure what to expect from Vietnam Airljnes so I bought business class, thinking it would be a safer option. (It was cheap.) If I had to do it again, I would have bought economy, rather than business class. There was no need for the big seat on such a short flight.
Flight attendants came by with a welcome drink.
The safety video was professional and similar to ones I have seen all over the world - with one exception. In late 2015, the airline was still telling passengers to turn off their Game Boys prior to departure. You remember them, right? They were popular in the 1990s. The early 1990s, I think.
The flight only took an hour, but a snack was served. I did not eat any of it. I am sure the food was fine, but it looked unappetizing to my Western palate.
I had a local beer, which was good. The only problem? It came with an ice cube in it. That's common in Vietnam, but it is not my favorite. I just drank the warm beer from the can.
We landed on-time in Ho Chi Minh City and were forced to take a bus to the terminal. It was not a bad transfer, however. First class had its own bus, and it left as soon as everyone was on it. Plus, that meant I could snap this not very good photograph of the aircraft from the bus.
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