Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. Vietnam Airlines currently has 11 787 Dreamliners in its new wide-body fleet, with a further eight to be delivered by 2021.
Sydney to Ho Chi Minh
Premium economy, seat 12K (window)
Lotusmiles program, with SkyTeam alliance compatibility
8 hours, 45 minutes, however we land 20 minutes early
Daily (also daily ex Melbourne)
The premium economy cabin features 35 seats in a 2-3-2 layout from rows 10 to 15 (there's no row 13). The seats offer a generous 42-inch (107cm) seat pitch with a seven-inch (18cm) recline and an AC power outlet. Mine wouldn't power up my phone using an Australian plug, however when I used a converter, it worked fine. A passenger seated in front of me reclined his seat for almost the entire trip, but I could still comfortably work on my laptop. The same passenger also played violent video games on his iPhone with the sound on (seriously, some people) but thankfully connected the headphones when asked.
Checked baggage allowance is equivalent to that of business class at 30 kilograms plus two pieces of hand luggage, although my ticket says 40 kilograms. The Vietnam Airlines website states: "The allowance printed in your ticket will be applied", but I didn't put this to the test.
With an unoccupied seat beside me, I have plenty of room to spread out. The seats are large and comfortable, with ample leg room and a foot rest. I'm seated in the middle of the cabin by a window and, in my book, it's the pick of the seats, away from the galley, lavatories and economy cabin. Seats in row 10 also have bulkhead-mounted screens (for the screening of safety demonstration videos, etc), however these were switched off for most of the flight. There are two lavatories for premium economy passengers and they're spacious, and clean, offering mouthwash, moisturiser and face spray. The amenity kit contains an eye mask, socks, toothbrush and paste, plus ear plugs. Slippers, a pillow and blanket are waiting on my seat.
A 27cm entertainment screen fold outs of the arm rest and offers a good selection of movies (I watch Lady Bird and The Rider, both of which are excellent). There's a fair mix of recent release and classic movies (think Die Hard and Wall Street) and a large selection of Asian and Vietnamese movies. The headphones are OK, but I would still advise to BYO.
The service is warm and efficient. Nothing is too much trouble. Water is offered regularly, and food trays removed quickly.
A warm towel, water and juice is offered upon being seated; full drinks service almost immediately after take-off, with wine, beer, aperitifs and spirits including gin and tonics, bloody marys and screwdrivers (plus non-alcoholic beverages). I opt for beef for lunch (the other option was fish, no description) which turns out to be stir-fried with vegetables and rice. It's tasty but on the smallish side. It comes with a salad with slices of ham, a warm bread roll, butter, fresh fruit and caramel cake for dessert. We also get a second meal closer to landing, with a choice of chicken chasseur or seafood in oriental sauce with stir-fried noodles. The food offering is a slight step up from economy.
ONE MORE THING
The airline's improved premium economy offering includes separate check-in counters and express lane for immigration and security, meaning you can beat the crowds. Priority boarding, and more overhead bin space is another perk.
Last year, Vietnam Airlines' premium economy class offered was ranked 14th among 20 of the "best premium class airlines in the world" by Skytrax, and World's Leading Airline – Premium Economy Class in the World Travel Awards. I felt like I was flying the business class of old, before the introduction of flat beds and, priced from $1380 (return from Melbourne), it offers terrific value.
Our rating out of five: ★★★★
Sheriden Rhodes was a guest of Vietnam Airlines and Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts.
See also: World's best airline for 2018 named