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Old Sep 16, 13, 3:09 am
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orbitmic
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Mini TR VN J class long haul

Very little information on VN J class overall, so I thought I would add a mini trip report on a recent LGW-SGN-MEL.

Check in, lounge and departure - LGW-SGN


At LGW, VN leaves from the North Terminal and uses the 'Gatwick no1' lounge. When were arrived about 1h30 before the flight (no checked luggage), the check in counters were pretty empty (I guess everyone else had checked in before). One business class/Sky priority counter manned by a pleasant agent but I was surprised that he suspiciously checked the weight of our hand luggage and our computer bag (we were both flying J AND skyteam elite plus). I suspected the flight might be very full in J if he did so --- but far from it, as it turned out, J was well under 50% full on that flight! Anyway, we 'passed' with 9 kg each including everything...

Lounge itself is quite nicely decorated and quite large but was very crowded. Espresso machine was out of order (as was the priority pass machine apparently from what we overheard) and service was very slow (charcuterie board never arrived despite our spending 30 minutes there!) so fairly basic service overall. Our 772 was leaving from the far end of the terminal (100s gates over the bridge) and boarding had started promptly and was well on the way when we arrived about 45 minutes before the flight.

First flight LGW-SGN

The J seats on the 772 were quite old style craddle seats without fixed shell so you recline onto the person behind you. The seats were comfortable for seating but not at all for sleeping, which was already difficult because of the departure time (13.10).

There was a pre-departure drink (Champagne, water or orange juice) and neither-hot-nor-cold towel. We were also distributed a pair of slippers, headphones, toiletry bag, and menus as well as a variety of newspapers and magazines.

Now VN seems to have a chronic problem with their headphones. They are supposedly (but not very efficiently) noise cancelling but mostly most of them don't work. I was 3rd time lucky on my first flight, 2nd time lucky on the second, and at least half of the cabin on both flights had to return at least one pair!

Toiletry bags fairly basic, brand is Leonard, Paris, and it includes plastic brush, lip balm, small moisturiser, sleeping mask, socks, and toothbrush set. The bathrooms also have two bottles of moisturisers (supposedly for men/women). blankets are synthetic and uncomfortable and pillows synthetic and too hard and too small for my taste.

Menus are for the return trip so you get to see what people got from SGN (supper and breakfast) before what you will get yourself (lunch and breakfast). Lunch and drink orders were taken promptly.

Lunch included an amuse bouche (in fact three), then tray with a choice of two starters (strangely enough both salad type dishes - one Vietnamese, one Thai, both with mango and seafood!), a soup (which we were not offered), a small green salad with peppers, a choice of four mains (two Asian: stir fried shrimp or pork in yellowbean sauce, two Western: veal in lemon sauce or chicken in creamy sauce), and then a trolley that included cheese, fresh fruit, ice cream, cakes, and chocolate (we were allowed to mix and match two things). Drinks included various aperitifs, poor quality juices (orange, apple or tomato), Champagne and two white (poor) or two red (good) wines. Espresso was listed as a hot drink but not available. Lunch quality was reasonably good (but not outstanding).

Entertainment was AVOD but very limited. 7 films, a few short programmes, a few music programmes and games. Felt fairly limiting for a 12 hour flight at hours where you wouldn't feel like sleeping much.

Bathroom was large but often filthy and not very regularly clean. Crew were nice and friendly although mostly minding their own business. As I couldn't sleep, mid-flight I asked for a snack. There were sandwiches which I declined but I got the instant-Pho (ok-ish) and a plate of fresh fruit (good).

About 1h30 before arrival, breakfast was served. fresh fruit, yoghurt, a choice of two Asian (tasteless Singapore style noodles or a Chinese soup) or one Western (Spanish omelette with sausage) hot dishes.

Arrival was 20 minutes early. About 30 minutes early, crew collected headphones and menus.

Transit

Our flights imposed a very long transit (14 hours). VN does not offer any particular transit facility. We could have used the lounge but chose instead to book a day room at a nearby hotel (Moevenpick but there were few different options) so we got our visa on arrival (arranged through one of the many companies that offer the service over the internet), went through passport control (fast), customs (walk through), and reached found the hotel transfer board. For anyone doing a similar trip, I would unreservedly recommend similarly booking a day room as the airport is small, the lounge uninspiring, and day rooms can be had for quite cheap at various hotels (most seemed to offer day rooms for 50-80 + transfer for 10-15 each way in luxurious conditions).

We returned to the airport 1h30 before the flight. Passport control was a bit anarchic with people seemingly ignoring the diplomatic, Asian, Skypriority, and other lanes and going wherever they fancied. No fast track security so it took a good 20 minutes to go through after passport control. As I mentioned, lounge was basic. Nice fresh fruit but the rest was mostly uninspiring instant noodly, super fat and lukewarm deep fried spring rolls, a couple of warm dishes, and various local pre-packed snacks which I could not always identify. Free wifi, limited drink selection, toilets in lounge but no view and a solitary massage chair.

Second flight: SGN-MEL

Our second flight was delayed about 30 minutes because of late aircraft arrival. Boarding was relatively fast with a Skypriority lane. This time, we were on a 333 which was decidedly more modern - fixed shell angled lie flat beds. However, it soon turned out that my partner's seat was broken with the foot part collapsing, and another passenger's seat was also clearly out of order, as was a third passenger's tv! Add the continuation of the headsets curse and it seems to me that VN has an unusual proportion of broken things in their J cabins and accessories!

This time the cabin was packed which meant changing seats was not an option. The non-broken seat was decidedly more comfortable than on the 772, the broken seat clearly was not. Again, pre-departure drink and lukewarm towels offered, slippers, toiletry bags, and headphones were already on each seat and newspapers and menus soon followed (still with both SGN-SYD/MEL and SYD/MEL-SGN printed on the same menu).

Service was supper and breakfast. Supper included a choice of two 'set' menus, Asian or Western. Asian included a rather tasteless squid and prawn salad, followed by a choice of soup with vermicelli, pork balls, and meat quenelles, or deep fried (unidentified) fish with tamarind sauce, and then a taro root and rice dessert. The Western meal was a salami and salad starter, beef stroganof, and creme brulee. I had the Asian option with friend fish and it was ok if strangely lacking in taste (the little sachet of chili helped).

On the 330, the entertainment was quite a bit better although still nowhere near the standards of most other airlines. About twice more films, a few cd albums on demand, other games, short programmes, etc.

Same mediocre blankets and pillows as on the first flight. This time though, the toilets were cleaned more regularly.

About 1h30 before arrival, breakfast was served. fresh fruit, cereal on request, a choice of two Asian (Szechuan beef with rice or stir fried noodles) or one Western (omelette with bacon and spinach) hot dishes. beef szechuan was tasty (but not really tasting of Szechuan beef!).

This time we arrived 30 minutes late. My big qualm is that we were not given e-express cards for immigration and customs while every other airline flying into Australia seems to give them to J passengers (QF, KE, CI, MU, etc). There were tons of flights arriving in this early morning peak time so it took ages for foreigners like us to go through immigration and still quite a bit of time afterwards to go through customs, while with any other airline, I would have cleared all of that within minutes.

Verdict

Overall, I would call this a 'nice experience for the price' meaning that it is essentially less good than most other J services on the kangaroo route, but as it is also one of the cheapest alternatives I was certainly happy with the sacrifice. The 772 definitely felt dated (the 333 much more 'modern' and comfortable in principle) and I did think that an unusual high proportion of things were broken at every level. However, food was generally good (not great, but good), SGN is a nice place for a potential stopover (although beware that most nationalities need a visa even if you simply want to go landside for a day room), the timings rather inconvenients (with long layovers in both directions) but if you have low expectations like we did, you will find the product perfectly livable. Definitely hard to sleep on the 772 though -- or on the 333 if your seat is broken!
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