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Review: Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class

Vietnam Airlines is now flying its long-haul Business Class seats on a daily A350 flight from Singapore. How does the product stand up against the competition?

2K Side

Flight details

Outbound

  • Flight: VN656 Singapore Changi T4 to Ho Chi Minh City
  • Class: Business
  • Seats: 3D & 3G
  • Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-900
  • Aircraft Registration: VN-A899
  • Aircraft Age: 0.3 years
  • Date: 20th June 2019
  • Departure / Arrival: 20:45 / 21:55
  • Flight Time: 2h 10m

Inbound

  • Flight: VN657 Ho Chi Minh City to Singapore Changi T4
  • Class: Business
  • Seats: 1K & 2K
  • Aircraft Type: Airbus A350-900
  • Aircraft Registration: VN-A897
  • Aircraft Age: 1.3 years
  • Date: 30th June 2019
  • Departure / Arrival: 16:10 / 19:15
  • Flight Time: 2h 5m
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Our trip

Last month we took a much needed vacation, and rather than hop around from place to place and flight review to flight review as usual, we decided some solid R&R time was called for.

We booked nine nights at the wonderful Six Senses Con Dao, Vietnam, a resort we’d meant to visit last year but never got round to. It was a fantastic experience and we’ll have a review for you soon.

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Our little slice of paradise in Con Dao. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Right at the start of 2019 we reported that Vietnam Airlines was switching their evening Singapore to Ho Chi Minh flight across to the Airbus A350 from March 2019, featuring long-haul flat-bed seats with a 1-2-1 layout in Business Class.

Since these seats are now the mainstay of the Vietnam Airlines long-haul fleet, it was the perfect opportunity for us to review them on the same trip, so we booked the flights and did just that.

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Check-in and lounge

Vietnam Airlines uses Terminal 4 at Changi Airport. Check-in desks are located at row 2 (door 2 drop-off). The desks open at 10.30am each day until the last flight departs, and you can check in for your flight at any time during this window.

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Vietnam Airlines check-in at Changi T4. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

There is a dedicated desk for Business Class and another for Sky Priority members.

When we arrived just after 2pm there was no queue. We were very early for our flight as we wanted to head across to T3 and use our Priority Pass to review the new Marhaba Lounge, which had recently opened. A very nice addition, it’s also becoming the temporary Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer Gold Lounge from the end of this month to cover for the new lounge construction until mid-2021.

You can read our full Marhaba Lounge review here.

Vietnam Airlines uses the Blossom Lounge at T4 for Business Class and Sky Priority passengers. We reviewed it shortly after opening in 2017, and nothing significant has changed.

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Vietnam Airlines directs Business Class and Sky Priority passengers to the Blossom Lounge in Terminal 4. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Do bear in mind that if you were thinking of checking in early for your Vietnam Airlines Business Class flight and spending a few extra hours in the Blossom Lounge, access on your lounge invitation is restricted to 3 hours prior to your flight departure time.

Boarding

Boarding for our flight commenced at around 8.05pm, through a dual airbridge gate with a dedicated forward door for Business Class passengers.

The process is easy at Changi T4 because there is no security check at the gate (T4 has central security control after immigration).

We were flying on the newest Vietnam Airlines A350, delivered only three months before our flight. As such all the fixtures and fittings were in good condition.

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Window seats. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Those familiar with the Cirrus Business Class seats, used by airlines including Cathay Pacific, Finnair and Japan Airlines, will feel immediately at home on boarding the Vietnam Airlines A350.

The reverse herringbone seats are in a 1-2-1 configuration, with window seats facing away from the aisle.

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Window seats. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The middle seats also face away from the aisle, towards one another.

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Middle seats. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The colour scheme is mostly white or cream, while the carpet and seat fabrics are in the airline’s pastel green / olive green. This won’t be to everyone’s taste but we found it quite relaxing and inoffensive.

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Settling in

After taking a few cabin pictures we settled in to our middle pair, seats 3D and 3G. The crew came round to offer boarding drinks, a choice of Champagne, juice or water.

We both opted for a glass of Champagne, the Heidsieck & Co Monopole. Not the best, but not the worst either.

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IFE screen extended in seat 3D. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Cold towels were also provided and newspapers were offered, a choice of The Straits Times and some Vietnamese options.

There were also some magazines provided at the back of the cabin, behind the middle seat pair in row 7.

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Magazine selection. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The cabin was relatively quiet with only 11 of us flying Business Class that evening, a busy load on the usual Vietnam Airlines A321 operating to Ho Chi Minh but less than 40% load on this much larger A350.

One thing you’ll notice if you’re sitting in the middle seats and travelling with bulky carry on luggage is that there are no overhead lockers in the central ceiling section of the Business Class section on this aircraft. You’ll have to share locker space with the window passengers.

Alternative seats

Before we plough too far into this review, it’s important to note that Vietnam Airlines actually has two different seat types installed on its fleet of 14 Airbus A350 aircraft. The airline chose the Zodiac Cirrus seats for all its Airbus A350s and Boeing 787s when it initially ordered them, but there was a problem.

The first four A350 aircraft arriving in 2015 had to be delivered with the Stelia Solstys seat, to ensure delivery was not delayed. It was a stopgap solution due to the well documented supply issues affecting Zodiac seats worldwide at the time.

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Stelia Solstys seat fitted to Vietnam Airlines’ first four A350s. (Photo: One Mile at a Time)

These alternative seats are in an all-forward facing staggered layout, not dissimilar to the setup typically used for the Thompson Vantage XL seats (e.g. Qantas A330 Business Class).

These four older aircraft are generally deployed on domestic Vietnam and short intra-Asia flights for the airline, including flights to and from Japan and South Korea. They occasionally fly on the Singapore route too, about 25% of the time from our observation.

The newer 10 A350 aircraft with the Cirrus seats installed are almost always used on long-haul flights to Europe and Australia.

We were hoping to have one the two flights on this trip operated by an aircraft with the Stelia seats so we could compare the two, but alas both had the new seats and so that’s all we are reviewing here.

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The Cirrus seat

There are 29 seats in the Business Class cabin on Vietnam Airlines’ A350 aircraft. Aside from the oldest four aircraft in the fleet, the remaining 10 newer planes like the ones we flew on feature the Safran Seats (formerly Zodiac) Cirrus product.

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Seat 3A overview. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

These are also installed on all of the airline’s Boeing 787s, with only minor differences.

You’ll notice that unlike some more customised versions of the Cirrus seat, like Cathay Pacific’s version, there is no privacy ‘wing’ installed at the head area of the seat shell on this one. That makes the experience a bit more exposed and less private.

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Seat 3A overview. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Each seat is 53cm wide (21″), and converts into a fully flat bed with a length of 190cm (75″).

There is a fixed armrest furthest from the aisle, and at the aisle side itself a retractable armrest, which is stowed flush with the seat on boarding for ease of access.

Pressing the button at the end of the armrest allows you to raise and lower it, but there are no intermediate positions – it’s either fully up or fully down.

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Aisle side armrest in the extended position. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

At each seat there is a side console, closer to the window at the window seats and in between the middle seat pairs. Here you have your reading light, IFE controls, seat controls and a USB and headphones socket.

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Side console controls and reading light. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The adjustable reading light moves through most angles and pushing the button alongside switches it between either a bright or dim intensity setting.

At the forward part of the console there is a hook and clip for your headphones, though these weren’t provided on this short flight.

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Headphones hook. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Some airlines have a more customised specification in their Cirrus seats at the console area, like Cathay Pacific who have installed a closing door compartment for device / passport storage.

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Airlines like Cathay Pacific have installed more customised storage features in their Cirrus seats. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The Vietnam Airlines one by contrast is quite simple and you’ll have to look for other storage areas for most of your smaller items.

Ahead of the console is a fixed side table, suitable for drinks or keeping personal items close by in flight.

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Fixed side table. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The dining table extends from below this fixed console, and we’ll take a look at that later in the review.

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Storage options

With only the headphones hook at the side console, storage in this seat is limited to a triangular compartment just alongside the extendable armrest at the aisle side.

This is operated by pressing the button and has a hinge mechanism, so you don’t have to hold it open.

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Storage. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

At the other side of the seat, ahead of and beneath the side console, there’s a water bottle holder and literature pocket.

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Water bottle holder and literature pocket. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The literature pocket is designed for magazines, but if you prefer to locate those elsewhere for the flight (like in the overhead locker) it will fit smaller, thinner electronic devices without too much hassle.

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A tablet or small laptop should easily fit here. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Amenity kit

On long-haul flights Vietnam Airlines provides an amenity kit in Business Class, however as you would expect there was nothing like that on either of our short flights between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh.

Seat controllers and positions

The seat controls were basic and easy to use. Three preset positions are available to move your seat into takeoff and landing position, bed mode or a relaxation angle.

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Seat controls. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Additionally you can independently control the recline and seat pan forward / aft position, with a separate control for the adjustable lower back lumbar support. This can be moved up and down as well as in and out, though we found it quite subtle and it didn’t make a huge difference.

A green light shows when the seat is in the takeoff and landing position, there is also one of these at the aisle side of the seat near the floor for the crew to easily scan before takeoff or landing.

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The table

It was much easier to take pictures of the dining table during the daytime on our return flight, so the following shots are taken from one of the window seats. The tables are identical at each seat however.

It extends from beneath the side console and is released by pulling a small flap at the far end.

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Table release. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The table extends as a half-leaf initially, you can then fold it out to full size.

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Half-leaf table. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

Once extended the table is a good size for dining and provides a solid working surface, easily accommodating a laptop. You can keep drinks or other items on the fixed side table at the same time, so there’s plenty of surface area to work with.

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Full size table. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

The table is still able to pivot back towards the stowed position when extended, so you can move it slightly to help you get in and out of your seat halfway through your meal. Lowering the armrest at the aisle side should allow you to do this easily.

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Access space with the table in use. (Photo: MainlyMiles)

One aspect to note is that the table itself does not move forwards and backwards. Rather you have to move the seat pan forwards and backwards using the seat controls for your optimal dining / working position.

This can be done with or without changing the recline, so it should still be possible to find a comfortable position for most people.

Beverages

A full bar service is offered on board, though no menu or drinks list is provided on short flights so the cabin crew will offer the selections, for example wine and Champagne, as they take the meal order.

The white wine was a Spanish variety while the red was from France. As usual, we checked the ratings from our favourite wine review site Vivino.

Vivino
Champagne