VN773, Ho Chi Minh City to Sydney
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Lotus Miles, compatible with SkyTeam alliance
Business, seat 1D (aisle)
7 hours, 35 minutes
Vietnam Airlines is renewing its fleet to include aircraft like the A321Neo that burn about 15 per cent less fuel, produce lower emissions than older aircraft, and have advanced aerodynamics to reduce fuel-guzzling drag. It also owns eco-friendly A350s and Dreamliner 787s. VA ranked 14 in the Atmosfair Airline Index that compares and ranks the carbon efficiency of the world's 200 largest airlines.
Daily from Sydney and Melbourne
Helpful. The check-in person volunteers to check in my non-Business travel partner, ensuring our luggage is tagged together for rapid retrieval.
The Lotus Lounge is a compact, light-filled L-shaped space that can crowd up quickly. The food is plentiful, mostly Vietnamese, the alcohol selection is pretty basic and the coffee is acceptable. There's a good fruit and pastry range. Business passengers have complimentary lounge access, others can pay their way in with about $A45 buying three hours' access.
There are 28 lie-flat seats in a 1-2-1 herringbone layout – my seat is one of the middle two at the front of the cabin. These middle seats slant towards another, good for couples. Lone travellers might prefer the single window seats. My seat must be moved forward to reach the tray table, which sacrifices absolute seclusion - there's no privacy screen.
Seats are comfortable and roomy - pitch is 42 inches (106 cm); width is 21 inches (51 cm) and the armrest can be lowered for improved seat access. Storage bins are above the window seats, a plus for tall passengers in the middle seats who avoid banging their heads when standing. Seat storage is adequate, there's a personal reading light, coat hook, USB port and easy-to-navigate seat settings.
Two checked bags up to 32 kilograms each and two carry-on bags with a total weight of 18 kilograms (up to 10 kilograms each).
There's a light seat cover, nice non-electrostatic blanket and excellent pillow. For sleeping, my short stature means I fit easily into the lie-flat shape that tapers towards the feet. The aeroplane lighting gradually adjusts for daytime (white light), night (warm, golden light) and for meals. A 500ml bottle of water is offered in the seat and water is supplied regularly. A Parfums Charriol amenities bag has socks, eye mask, comb/brush, earplugs, toothbrush/paste, lip balm and body lotion. Slippers are provided. The two toilets are kept immaculate.
There's a generous-sized 16-inch (40-centimetre) HD touch screen and decent noise-cancelling headphones but I would like to see more first-release movies and TV shows/box sets. There's a good selection of Asian subtitled offerings, and some gems among the golden oldies. I'm content reading and checking out the flight path.
There's a warm welcome on boarding and this continues with a glass of Heidsieck & Co Monopole champagne. Night flights can however succumb to the "hasty dinner syndrome" and this is no exception (though it's a polite "hasty dinner syndrome."). Not sure why this happens as those who want to skip the meal and sleep can easily do so. Unlike my day flight from Sydney, the meal service is a little rushed. There's no hot towel, although the other side of the plane receives them. My plates and tablecloth are whipped away before my dessert. No more wine is offered.
Both Western and Vietnamese dishes are offered. There's a sunny array of cocktails bearing colourful names like Islands of Love and Saigon Sunrise but I stick with wine. Dinner begins with a nice spicy Cajun chicken, olive, grilled zucchini and bell pepper appetiser followed by pork loin on the bone with crab cake, steamed rice and bok choy. The pork is generous and flavourful. The usually excellent bread is a little overheated, meaning my baguette is somewhat hard. Succulent Chateau Haut Beyzac Bordeaux is a fine complement.
Dessert doesn't include a cheese option, sadly, only Vietnamese style sweet soup or marble cheese mousse with red berry sauce. Other main course options are coq au vin or wrapped beef in lemongrass with rice noodles. Breakfast is the airline specialty, a fragrant Pho Bo. There's also Gac sticky rice, meat loaf, roasted chicken with honey or leek and bacon frittata. Warmed croissants are excellent.
ONE MORE THING
Courteous service, pleasant food and lie-flat seats mean you wake refreshed to start your Australian day. A peep into premium economy shows impressively spacious seating – especially the window two-seaters.
Vietnam Airlines has a four-star Skytrax rating on long-haul services and competitive fares for Europe-bound Australian travellers. A drawback can be extended time at Ho Chi Minh City airport waiting for connections.
OUR RATING OUT OF FIVE
Alison Stewart travelled as a guest of Vietnam Airlines and Mat McLachlan Battlefields Tours