Viet­nam Air­lines B787-9 Premium Econ­omy

Lon­don–Ho Chi Minh City

Business Traveller (Asia-Pacific) - - TRIED & TESTED - Marisa Cannon

BACKGROUND

Viet­nam Air­lines be­gan op­er­at­ing the Dream­liner on daily flights from Heathrow to Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City in Septem­ber 2015, fly­ing four times a week to Hanoi and three to Ho Chi Minh City. Flights to Hanoi op­er­ate on Sun­days, Tues­days, Thurs­days and Fri­days, de­part­ing from Heathrow at 1110 and ar­riv­ing at 0430 the next day, while the Ho Chi Minh ser­vice flies on Mon­days, Wed­nes­days and Satur­days, also de­part­ing at 1110 and ar­riv­ing at 0520 the next day. These are the only di­rect ser­vices be­tween Lon­don and Viet­nam.

CHECK-IN

I had tried to check in on­line the night be­fore and was able to get as far as seat se­lec­tion a num­ber of times, but no fur­ther, ow­ing to a tech­ni­cal glitch. I tried call­ing cus­tomer sup­port but the lines were closed for the day, so I crossed my fin­gers that there would still be some aisle seats (my pref­er­ence) avail­able. The fol­low­ing day, I ar­rived at Heathrow Ter­mi­nal 4 at 0935, and went to Zone E, where premium econ­omy pas­sen­gers have their own check-in desk. Af­ter I ex­plained my dif­fi­culty with check­ing in on­line, the at­ten­dant as­sured me that there were only 80 pas­sen­gers on the flight, so I could have a whole row to my­self. Se­cu­rity was ex­tremely quiet and I was air­side by 0950.

BOARDING

At 1040 I headed to Gate 11, a five-minute walk from the main con­course. There was no queue as every­one had al­ready boarded. On the air­craft, I was quickly of­fered a hot towel and a choice of juice or wa­ter. I was also given an amenity kit con­tain­ing socks, a den­tal kit and an eye mask, along with a pair of slip­pers. We pushed back at 1115, but weren’t air­borne un­til 1140.

THE SEAT

The B787-9 has five rows of premium econ­omy con­fig­ured 2-3-2 (A-C, D-E-F, G-K). There is a gal­ley and wash­rooms at the front of the cabin, while the back row is sep­a­rated from the econ­omy cabin by a cur­tain. With the op­tion of a row to my­self, I chose 11K, a

win­dow seat near the front of the cabin. It was spa­cious and com­fort­able, up­hol­stered in teal fab­ric with lo­tus flower-shaped stitch­ing and a cush­ioned head­rest that pro­vided ex­tra sup­port. There was plenty of legroom (42 inches, com­pared with 32 inches in econ­omy) and seven inches of re­cline (six in econ­omy). The 18-inch width was the same as in econ­omy. A footrest un­folded from the seat in front and a legrest was re­leased from a lever on the right arm­rest. The 10.6-inch touch­screen IFE mon­i­tor was stowed in the left arm­rest with a hand­set re­cessed un­der­neath, while the tray ta­ble un­folded from the right arm­rest. It was a lit­tle rick­ety, and just about large enough to hold a slim lap­top. There was a USB port be­side the screen, plus two uni­ver­sal sock­ets un­der the mid­dle arm­rest.

WHICH SEAT TO CHOOSE?

Seats in the mid­dle and back of the cabin avoid noise from the wash­rooms and gal­ley, but that aside, there is no huge difference be­tween any of the seats. The bulk­head of­fers slightly more legroom, al­though there are bassinets in place here, so seats are al­lo­cated on the day as ap­pro­pri­ate. It is not pos­si­ble to pre-book or pay ex­tra for these.

THE FLIGHT

Fif­teen min­utes af­ter take-off, cabin crew came around with menus and head­phones, which were the same as those dis­trib­uted in econ­omy class and were a lit­tle un­com­fort­able to wear over long pe­ri­ods. The drinks trol­ley ap­peared shortly af­ter­wards, of­fer­ing a va­ri­ety of wines, spir­its and cock­tails along­side juices, soft drinks, Viet­namese green tea and cof­fee. Lunch was served at 1225, with a choice of beef­burger with mash or Szechuanstyle chicken and steamed rice. I chose the burger, which was ten­der and flavour­some.

Af­ter din­ner I set­tled down to watch a film – there was a good se­lec­tion of new re­leases, clas­sics and TV shows along with a num­ber of new al­bums. Viet­namese sub­ti­tles fea­ture on all pro­grammes, but I didn’t find this too dis­tract­ing. There was no wifi on board.

At 1250 the win­dows turned to dark blue, plung­ing the cabin into dark­ness. This was off-putting, as I had hoped to do some work while there was still day­light and, as fre­quently com­plained of in our on­line fo­rum, pas­sen­gers are un­able to in­di­vid­u­ally ad­just the tint of the win­dow. In­stead, I had to work with my in­di­vid­ual light on. Later in the flight sand­wiches and juices were brought around, and pot noo­dles were avail­able from the gal­ley.

At 0315 lo­cal time the lights came on, and break­fast was served 15 min­utes later. I was of­fered a choice of poached egg with hol­landaise sauce, grilled ba­con and hash browns, or chicken with stir-fried ver­mi­celli. The Asian op­tion was tasty and fea­tured fresh, suc­cu­lent mush­rooms and bok choy, served along­side straw­berry yo­ghurt and fresh fruit. The crew were friendly and re­spon­sive.

ARRIVAL

The lights went out for an­other 40 min­utes be­fore the cap­tain an­nounced at 0440 that we would be start­ing our de­scent. Head­phones were col­lected, so I read un­til we landed at 0512. Af­ter taxi­ing for ten min­utes, we dis­em­barked at a re­mote stand at 0525 and boarded an air-con­di­tioned bus. Fif­teen min­utes later I had cleared pass­port con­trol and passed my bag on to Viet­nam Air­lines staff, who loaded it on to the do­mes­tic flight I was about to take to Danang.

VERDICT

An ex­cel­lent prod­uct with a num­ber of fea­tures that made long stints seated quite com­fort­able. Most no­table, how­ever, was the ser­vice, which was ex­cep­tional thanks to a num­ber of mi­nor yet thought­ful touches such as slip­pers, hot tow­els and reg­u­lar of­fers of food and drink.

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