- 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
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
The middle seats also face away from the aisle, towards one another.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The dining table extends from below this fixed console, and we’ll take a look at that later in the review.
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.
At the other side of the seat, ahead of and beneath the side console, there’s a water bottle holder and literature pocket.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The table extends as a half-leaf initially, you can then fold it out to full size.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|Heidsieck & Co Monopole Blue Top Brut Champagne||3.7 stars|
|White Wine||Red Wine|
| Viña Albali Rueda Sauvignon Blanc 2016
||Château de Ribebon Bordeaux Supérieur 2015|
|3.6 stars||3.7 stars|
Not bad ratings overall and similar to those we see on Singapore Airlines regional services in Business Class, though there tend to be more options on SIA (typically up to three reds and three whites).
From reviews we have seen online if you are flying on a long-haul flight with Vietnam Airlines there will typically be one additional white wine and one additional red wine option offered, for a total of four wine choices.
A printed menu is provided on long-haul Business Class flights with Vietnam Airlines, but on this short flight the crew simply explain the options to you face to face and ask for your preference after takeoff.
Between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh the choices were:
- Chicken with rice
- Pork with rice
- Beef with noodles
I went for the Beef with noodles and Eddie opted for the Pork with rice.
On long-haul flights Vietnam Airlines serves meals course by course, but on these shorter flights everything comes on a single tray as you would expect due to the time constraints.
All passengers were served the same starter, a Tuna Sashimi dish served on a bed of lettuce, cabbage and pickles with a tomato and lime garnish. It was excellent and probably the highlight of this meal!
The Beef with noodles was quite enjoyable, served with Bok Choy and carrots on the side.
Eddie went for the pork with rice, which was quite average. It also came with Bok Choy and carrots, so this seems to be the standard accompaniment for the evening flight!
Dessert was Vietnamese fresh Lychee, also served on the same tray.
In-flight entertainment (SIN-SGN)
Each of the Business Class seats on the Vietnam Airlines A350 is equipped with a personal IFE system with a 16″ screen, however on our flight from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh it was not activated. Even the moving map was not accessible, with the screen showing the welcome message throughout the journey.
The crew informed us that they don’t activate the system on short flights, however on our return flight from Ho Chi Minh to Singapore the following week the system was switched on and useable, so we’re not sure what the official policy is here.
Later in this review we’ll take a quick look at the system in more detail from our return journey.
Alongside the IFE remote and seat controls at each seat there is a USB charging socket. This is well located for charging your smaller mobile devices while they sit on the fixed side table.
A full multi-standard power socket is located under the side table to the front, near the literature pocket and water bottle holder. This is a little trickier to access but can still be used when the seat is in bed mode.
Vietnam Airlines aircraft are not Wi-Fi equipped, so even on a long flight (for example all the way to London) you will be out of touch during the journey.
There are two toilets at the front of the Business Class section on the Vietnam Airlines A350 for a maximum of 29 passengers, a reasonable passenger-to-toilet ratio of 15:1.
The toilet at the forward right side of the cabin is slightly bigger than the one on the left.
These are standard toilets you’ll find on most A350s. There was little in the way of additional amenities (other than hand wash), though this may differ on long-haul services.
A fresh flower is included for decoration and both toilets were kept very clean during both our flights, which is always the main thing.
There was no time for sleeping on these flights but we did take the opportunity to convert our seats into the flat-bed position.
The Cirrus seat is generally well regarded for sleeping and we took a few minutes to try it out.
Overall the bed seemed comfortable. On long-haul flights a pillow and blanket are provided, but no mattress pad is offered and some reviews have suggested that would make a big improvement.
There are a couple of gaps where the seat cushions don’t exactly align in bed mode and those may become uncomfortable overnight, so a mattress pad would definitely help here. Another solution we have used in the past is to request an extra blanket from the crew and use it as a mattress on top of the seat.
As always with these reverse herringbone seats, space does become limited towards the foot end.
The privacy shield around the head area in this seat also doesn’t ‘wrap around’ very far, so you can feel slightly exposed to the aisle. We found that extending the adjustable armrest improved this, though it sacrifices some shoulder width.
The great thing about ticking off most of our review on the way to Ho Chi Minh at the start of our trip was that we could relax and enjoy the return flight the following week.
Just a few additions to round off the review though, as this flight home did give us the chance to:
- Take a few daytime photos of the cabin
- Sample the different food options
- Try out the window seats
- Test the in-flight entertainment (which was deactivated on our first flight)
The Champagne and wines offered on this flight were the same as those we had from Singapore to Ho Chi Minh. The crew took our meal order on the ground rather than after takeoff on the Ho Chi Minh to Singapore flight.
This time the options were:
- Chicken with rice
- Prawns with fried rice
- Pork with noodles
It was the same setup as before with the meal being served on a single tray, including the starter and dessert.
The starter was a basic salad and was nowhere near as good as the Tuna Sashimi dish served on our previous flight, but it was fresh and crisp with a good Italian dressing provided.
A bread selection was offered.
For the main course on this flight Eddie went for the Chicken with rice.
He said this was really good, better than his meal on the outbound flight.
Since the noodles worked well for me on the first flight, I decided to try the Pork with noodles on the way back. As it turns out, this was actually Pork with Penne Pasta!
Nonetheless it was flavourful and well cooked in a tasty tomato / olive sauce with mixed vegetables on the side.
The garlic bread was a perfect accompaniment, but no one does it as well as Singapore Airlines in our opinion!
In-flight entertainment (SGN-SIN)
The in-flight entertainment system ‘LotuStar’ was activated on this flight, unlike our Singapore to Ho Chi Minh service, however no headsets were provided, so there was no way to watch anything!
It did give us an opportunity to take a look through the system and check the content though. There were 59 movies offered, a mix of some new releases, classics, Asian and European options.
There was a selection of music, and in the TV section a total of 79 titles including some multi series options like Modern Family (8 episodes) and Gotham (15 episodes).
Finally there were some games, a kid’s selection and a moving Skymap to track the flight progress.
Controls at the bottom of the IFE screen itself allow you to operate the overhead reading light, cabin attendant call and volume control. Those functions also available via the wall mounted (but extendable) remote control if you prefer, but otherwise we found the system best used as a touchscreen.
The in-flight entertainment certainly isn’t up there with the most extensive you’ll find these days, on the likes of Emirates and Singapore Airlines, but there should be enough here to keep you occupied even on a long-haul flight or two.
Wear and tear
On our Singapore to Ho Chi Minh flight we had the benefit of experiencing a brand new aircraft (0.3 years old), so the fixtures and fittings were all in good condition.
Our return flight saw us flying a slightly older A350 in the fleet, at 1.3 years old.
It was surprising how much wear and tear was apparent over just a year of operation.
While certain elements had stood up well over a year, others definitely had not. The spring on the side storage container at the aisle side had gone in my seat, meaning you had to hold the lid open when using it.
There were a lot of scuff marks at the seat entrance and fittings, but most importantly both of our seat cushions had significantly lost their padding at the forward end, so they ‘drooped’ over the edge. This would become quite irritating on a long flight, and may also affect the bed comfort.
On the other hand the side table, side console and seat controls still looked brand new!
Given that this aircraft was 1.3 years old and the average age of the Vietnam Airlines A350 fleet is 2.3 years (3.4 years for the 787s), it is a concern that the airline is not keeping its Business Class cabins in good condition as this may affect your comfort on a long-haul flight.
On both our flights the cabin crew were very good; polite, courteous and attentive. Nothing was too much trouble and they were very accommodating (we always ask to take pictures of wine bottles, etc. which must be irritating for them!).
Standards are not quite up to the renowned Singapore Airlines level but we were well looked after and would have no particular service concerns about taking a Vietnam Airlines flight in future.
Where to sit
Business Class cabins in a 1-2-1 arrangement like this one make for a fairly simple seat selection decision.
Solo travellers will want to opt for one of the window seats, A or K in this case, while couples will probably prefer the D/G middle pair for some social contact.
Though there is no adjustable divider between the middle seats on this aircraft there is still sufficient privacy if you do find yourself in a middle seat while travelling next to someone you don’t know. Couples in the middle can move both of their seat pans forwards for a more sociable chatting / dining experience.
The sole bassinet position in this cabin is at seat 1K, the right hand side window seat in the first row. If you’re flying in one of the four older aircraft with the Stelia seats, the bassinet position is at 1G instead.
The toilet door for the right side toilet is right in front of seat 1K in this cabin, while on the left side the toilet is at the very front ahead of the main aircraft door. There is therefore likely to be more light and noise disturbance at the front right section of this cabin.
On a long overnight flight we would target a mid / rear left side or rear right side seat as a preference.
You’ll notice that seat 8K is ‘missing’ on this aircraft, that’s because Vietnam Airlines has installed some additional galley storage in that location.
We would probably avoid seat 7K for this reason, as there is likely to be noise as crew access the various stock in this area during the flight.
That brings us to the ‘standalone’ seat 8A. Quite a nice private seat right at the back of the cabin, there is no middle pair next door so the feeling here is quite secluded. There is a cupboard to the right but it’s unlikely to contain too much of interest to the crew during flight (more likely emergency equipment).
Despite proximity to the galley, this is one we might actually go for when flying alone.
Another aspect the seat map doesn’t show is that the rows are slightly staggered. That’s to say the middle pair, seats 1D and 1G for example, are not directly aligned with the window seats in the same row (1A and 1K).
The middle seats in each row are set slightly further ahead of their respective window seats, and this aids privacy slightly.
Unlike the Boeing 787, the Airbus A350-900 benefits from no ‘plugged’ or missing windows in the forward cabin section, so all the window seats have a good view.
Where does Vietnam Airlines fly these seats?
As we mentioned above, you’ll find these Cirrus seats installed on most Vietnam Airlines Airbus A350s (10 out of 14 aircraft) and all Boeing 787s (11 aircraft).
With the airline’s Boeing 777 fleet now retired, and only one A330 remaining in service, these seats are now the mainstay of the Vietnam long-haul fleet. Here’s where they are currently flying on the network.
|To / from Ho Chi Minh (SGN)|
|To / from Hanoi (HAN)|
|Da Nang||Ho Chi Minh||Frankfurt|
If you’re flying between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh on Vietnam Airlines in Business Class then one thing’s for certain, there’s simply no doubt about which flight to pick. VN657/656 are the flight numbers you need for a truly superior experience over the usual A321 Business Class the airline offers on the route through the rest of the day, guaranteeing this superior A350 option.
Better still, if you’re heading all the way to Europe, Japan or Australia with the airline, this evening flight connection from Singapore will give you a flat-bed experience from start to finish.
Looking at the seat as a long-haul product though, it does fall behind many alternatives like Singapore Airlines, Qatar Airways and even Cathay Pacific’s Cirrus seat, which has a higher overall specification and comfort.
Would we book Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class on a long-haul flight? Yes, but only if it was a good deal.
There are good deals out there though.
For example in October 2019 you can fly Singapore to London Heathrow return in Business Class on Vietnam Airlines for S$2,700. That’s on the A350 from Singapore, then the Boeing 787 with the same Cirrus seat to London and back, finally slumming it in an A321 on the short fourth sector due to the timing (unless you want to hang around all day in Ho Chi Minh on the way home).
A similar routing to or from Frankfurt or Paris is even cheaper at around S$2,500 return.
If we couldn’t find a redemption flight using KrisFlyer miles, or perhaps a cheap deal with a Middle East airline, we would definitely consider this option.
Overall, while you aren’t going to get Singapore Airlines, Cathay Pacific or Qatar Airways style service, product or seat finishes on these flights, we were generally happy with our experience and would consider the Vietnam Airlines A350 in future if the fare was competitive.
|Review:||Vietnam Airlines A350 Business Class|
|Summary:||Vietnam’s A350 Business Class seat doesn’t have all the bells and whistles like some competitors, but as a competitively priced flat-bed to Europe and other long-haul destinations with good food and friendly service, it’s well worth considering.|
|Among Long-haul Business Class seats:|
3.5 out of 5
As a short-haul option between Singapore and Ho Chi Minh:
(Cover Photo: MainlyMiles)