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Friday, January 30, 2015

VNA's Airbus A321: The Most Accurate Seat Map Available

Image source: Kentaro Iemoto/Wikipedia
The Airbus A321-200 (A321) is Vietnam Airlines' (VNA's) workhorse, with 55 currently in service (out of 89 active aircraft in the fleet). I'm pretty much betting that this is the most accurate, and informative, seating map available for VNA's A321. Yes, even better than VNA's own seatmap.

VNA uses their A321s primarily on domestic and regional flights, flying as far as from Saigon (SGN) to Japan. If you're going to be cooped up in a narrowbody upwards of 6 hours, you probably should know where to sit.

The cabin features 2 classes of service: 16 seats in business class (C), and 162 or 168 seats in economy (Y). Most, if not all, of the A321s, including the newest ones, will be the 16C/168Y seat version.

It's important to note that while VNA is taking delivery of several new aircraft a year, there are some A321s that are about 10 years old, and VNA isn't exactly known for keeping their interiors in pristine condition. Just keep your expectations low.

Without further ado... my carefully crafted seat map, based on my own experiences and observations, complete with annotations on specific seats. Enjoy!

(click to enlarge)

Row 1Restricted leg room, with no cutouts.
Row 4A curtain, instead of a hard wall, separates the business cabin from economy; noise from the economy section may be bothersome.
Seats tend to be held back from assignment, even at the airport.
Rows 10-12 are reserved for elites and full-fare passengers.
Row 10Extra legroom; underseat storage even though it's a bulkhead row, thanks to curtain divider.
Row 11Less legroom than other rows.
Row 13There is no Row 13.
Row 14No recline due to emergency exit row behind; missing window; no additional leg room, even though this row is designated as an emergency exit row.
Row 15Emergency exit row; extra leg room.
Seat 15EWhile E seats are usually middle seats, this seat has a crew jump seat in the aisle position, so no one will sit there except during takeoff and landing.
Seat 16DRestricted leg room and no underseat storage, due to crew jump seat in front.
Seats 20A/GMissing window.
Seats 21A/GMissing window.
Row 27No recline due to emergency exit row behind; no additional leg room, even though this row is designated as an emergency exit row.
Row 28Emergency exit row; extra leg room. However, missing window.
Seat 28EWhile E seats are usually middle seats, this seat has a crew jump seat in the aisle position, so no one will sit there except during takeoff and landing.
Seat 29DRestricted leg room and no underseat storage, due to crew jump seat in front.
Seats 38A/B/CNo recline due to lavatory behind; noise, odor, and foot traffic from lavatories may be bothersome; missing window.
Seat 38DSeatback will be constantly bumped by passengers to/from the lavatory; Noise, odor, and foot traffic from lavatories may be bothersome; missing window.
Seats 39E/GNo D seat in this row, so 39E is an aisle seat. No recline due to lavatory behind; noise, odor, and foot traffic from lavatories may be bothersome; missing window.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Vietnam Airlines Livery and Branding Gets Minor Refreshening

Ahead of its landmark deliveries of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350 widebody aircraft, VNA's corporate identity receives first updating since 2002.

No. VN-A146 pictured, in new livery.
Image source: Long Ethan
Vietnam Airlines (VNA) has been quietly working behind the scenes on its rebranding effort, but the first photos of their updated livery have surfaced thanks to some planespotters.

At least 2 of VNA's Boeing 777-200ERs (B772s), reg. nos. VN-A143 and VN-A146, have been sighted with a new paint job, and it looks pretty sharp.

You can see the current livery (I call this "current" because VNA hasn't officially announced the corporate rebranding yet) next to the new livery below:
VNA's current livery (left) and new livery (right).
Image source: Long Ethan
The differences:

  • Gone is the battleship gray belly, replaced with a much more sleek white.
  • The straight cheat line has been given some curves, and uses VNA's secondary color, gold.
  • The tail logo has been enlarged, and actually continues onto the fuselage.
  • The logos have been removed from the engine nacelles.
This livery will undoubtedly appear on VNA's new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners (B789) and Airbus A350-900 (A359), both due to be delivered later this year. 

I like the refreshed look, it keeps to VNA's popular livery while making it more modern and sophisticated, and the current long haul fleet is in desperate need of some TLC. Check out the same aircraft (VN-A146) before it received the new paint job (enlarge it to see how bad it really is):
Image source: Szabo Dani/
What do you think? Love it? Hate it? Comment below!

79 Pilot Trainees in Limbo in California After Their Flight School Closes

Flight school owner disappears in October and leaves pilot trainees with no reaccommodation, after FAA suspended accreditation to Ahart Aviation of Livermore, CA. 

Image source: Yelp
Seven-nine pilot trainees from Vietnam are in a bind after their flight school shut down following the suspension of its FAA accreditation and the owner, Minh Duc Nguyen, disappeared.

Ahart Aviation in Livermore, CA, shuttered its doors in last October, much to the dismay of the students, who each paid at least US$80,000 in tuition to attend the school and earn certification as a commercial pilot.

Twenty-one of the students were sent by low-cost carrier Vietjet Air.

Vietnam's Minister of Transport has called on Vietnam Airlines (VNA) to assist the trainees. In response, VNA has offered to cover half the cost of tuition for the trainees to attend other flight schools, as well as help in job placement upon the trainees' return to Vietnam.

A review of Ahart's online ratings on Yelp shows that customer dissatisfaction immediately ensued following the Nguyen's acquisition of Ahart from the previous owner, Bill Komanetski, with allegations of catering only to foreign students and no notice to current patrons of the shutdown.

Anyone knowing the whereabouts of Minh Duc Nguyen is encouraged to contact the Alameda County (CA) District Attorney's Office at +1 (510) 272-6222,

Vietnam Airlines: In-Flight Wi-Fi to be Available on New 787, A350 Aircraft

VNA to introduce Wi-Fi on the newest planes first, with plans to expand "on a wide scale" later.

Vietnam Airlines (VNA) intends to introduce in-flight high-speed wireless Internet access on its fleet, starting with the introduction of the newest aircraft to be delivered later this year.

New deliveries of Boeing 787-9s Dreamliners (B789s) and Airbus A350-900s (A359s) will come with the equipment to deliver Wi-Fi already installed. The current fleet of aircraft will have to have the hardware retrofitted, which will cost tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of US dollars per aircraft.

Read more: Vietnam Airlines' Boeing 787: New Lie-Flat Seats in Business, 2 Different Economy Configurations

VNA's CEO Pham Ngoc Minh indicated that access on international flights will cost US$15-20 per flight, with the possibility of no-charge access on domestic sectors.

This indeed would be welcome news to many travelers, especially to those in the ever-important business segment. On the heels of learning about lie-flat business class seats on the B789, this news makes VNA's willingness to invest in passenger comfort even more impressive.

Would you pay to use inflight Wi-Fi if offered on VNA? Does Wi-Fi make you more likely to fly on VNA? Comment below!

Sunday, January 25, 2015

8 Simple Tips for Preventing Theft on Your Next Flight

VNA discloses recent rise of in-flight theft. VNAFlyer has tips for making it more difficult for would-be looters on any flight to steal your valuables.

With 32 reported cases of theft while in-flight (and likely more that go unreported), Vietnam Airlines (VNA) has started warning passengers to be more wary during their flights.

A passenger on a January 19, 2014 VNA
flight caught in the act of stealing from
others. Image source: Trung Hieu/
Thanh Nien News
Onboard theft has always existed, but VNA has seen an unusually high number of incidents recently. Apparently, thieves from China and Hong Kong are methodically targeting passengers, especially those traveling in business class, and selecting their targets as soon as at the check-in counters to steal from when onboard.

The linked article above doesn't provide details on what one should actually do, so VNAFlyer is here to fill in the gaps. While it may be impossible to stop a very determined thief, you can make sure to make it more difficult for them.

Applicable for any flights in general (not just VNA), here are my 8 simple tips for making it that much harder for these criminals to rummage through your belongings:
  • Don't put large amounts of cash or other valuables in your bag, then be separated from it. This seems like an obvious one to me, but a recent incident onboard VNA involved a Japanese passenger who almost lost the equivalent of US$49,500 to thieves. Keep this money on your person, or at least don't get separated from your bag by putting it overhead.
  • Don't use a travel lock. These just draw more uninvited attention to the fact that you may have something valuable, and a thief with a ballpoint pen wouldn't be deterred anyway:
  • Board early, so you have plenty of room to select where your bag goes. Hint: Someplace with a good line-of-sight.
    • Place your bags ahead of you, so you can have an eye on anything that happens near your bag.
    • Place your bags across the aisle from you, for the same reason as above. For inexplicable reason, humans have a need to put their bags right above their heads. Nothing, except for society peer pressure, requires you to do that, nor prevents you from putting your bag somewhere else. The overhead space is first-come, first-served, so just pick a spot.
  • When stowing your bag overhead, place your zippers inside and down to make it more difficult to access. On a standard carryon suitcase, this means positioning your zippers at the top (while it's standing), then putting your bag in top-handle first/wheels out, as well as front down/pull-handle up.
  • Sit in the aisle seat. If something should happen, you can more easily "inquire" about the suspicious activity, if you feel that it's safe to do so. It would be difficult to do the same thing from the window seat.
  • Don't be afraid to ring the call button if you think something suspicious is going on.
  • Don't sleep. Obviously not possible in some cases, but if you can stay awake, you can keep an eye on things.
  • Don't leave valuables out on the tray table, in your seat back pocket, or on your seat while you sleep or leave your seat. Why is it people all of the sudden trust perfect strangers when they board a plane? Most people wouldn't even think of leaving their cell phones, purses/wallets, passports, tablets, cameras, or laptop on a table at a restaurant, yet have no problem leaving these same things unattended while going to the lavatory. Consider the plane to be a public space.

Do you already do any of these things yourself? Do you have your own tips you'd like to share? Comment below!

Friday, January 23, 2015

Vietnam Airlines to move London operations to Heathrow on March 31

SkyTeam flyers will soon have another comfortable option to Southeast Asia

It took 7 years, but Vietnam Airlines (VNA) has finally secured slots at London's Heathrow Airport (LHR) and will shift its operations away from Gatwick Airport (LGW) beginning on March 31, 2015.

Image source: SkyTeam
VNA will be located in LHR's Terminal 4 with other SkyTeam alliance partners and giving Golden Lotus Plus (GLP) Platinum, SkyTeam Elite Plus, and premium class flyers access to the wonderful joint SkyTeam Lounge at LHR.

VNA has been flying to LGW since 2011. The 4-times weekly London service, split between Saigon (SGN) and Hanoi (HAN), is currently operated by the aging Boeing 777-200ER (B772) fleet, but will eventually see VNA's new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (B789) plying the route, with an eventual buildup to daily service.

An additional frequency from HAN will be added when VNA moves to LHR.

Read more: Vietnam Airlines' Boeing 787: New Lie-Flat Seats in Business, 2 Different Economy Configurations

With the introduction of B789 service comes modern, lie-flat seats in business class, as well as a revamped economy cabin. However, premium economy will be not be available, at least initially, as VNA will receive its leased B789s first, which will not be equipped with a Deluxe Economy section.

VNA had previously announced its intention to begin revenue B789 service on July 1, but I feel that's a bit optimistic... I think August is a more realistic timeline.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Vietnam Airlines' first Airbus A350 in final assembly

Image source: Airbus
VNA is due to receive its first new Airbus A350-900 (A359) sometime in mid-2015, with an expected September 30 launch between Hanoi (HAN) and Paris (CDG). VNA will be the first carrier in Asia, and the 2nd airline overall after Qatar Airways, to take delivery of the A350, and has plans to acquire 10 total as part of its fleet renewal and expansion plan.

Most of the major structural assembly was completed in October of 2014. and cabin outfitting was ongoing.

Read more: Vietnam Airlines' Boeing 787: New Lie-Flat Seats in Business, 2 Different Economy Configurations

Image source: Airbus
It's expected that the A359 will feature the same seats as on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (B789), most notably the much-praised Cirrus seats from Zodiac Aerospace for business class.

VNA has not made any official announcements regarding interior configuration.

Vietnam Airlines' Boeing 787: New Lie-Flat Seats in Business, 2 Different Economy Configurations

Sources confirm details on business class seats, as well as two different configurations in economy for leased and purchased aircraft.

Image source: Vietnam Airlines
Vietnam Airlines (VNA) has been very quiet regarding the interior plans of its newest widebody aircraft, the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner (B789) and Airbus A350-900 (A359), especially in light of the fact that VNA is due to take delivery of its first of both models within the next few months.

When the order was first announced in 2005, VNA was expected to take delivery of 16 of the smaller 787-8 (B788) in 2009, but the Dreamliner program experienced years of delay. In the interim, VNA opted to change their order to the stretched B789 model, which pushed delivery back even further. Subsequently, additional units were ordered.

The acquisition was a mix of direct purchases and leasing agreements. This is important because the cabins in the leased aircraft will be different from airframes owned by VNA.

VNAFlyer, through unnamed sources familiar with VNA's fleet renewal plans, has learned the seat types and cabin configuration for its soon-to-be-delivered B789s.

Business Class

Translated caption: VIP guests of
Vietnam Airlines will experience
Class C (business class) service on
Airbus A350 aircraft. Image source:
The first purported detail of the new seats came from a Vietnamese website showing a screen capture from a local TV show of VNA demonstrating a new business class seat to be used on their A359s (H/T: Flyertalk user soorox). While the screencap is low quality, it does look like a version of the Cirrus seat from Zodiac Aerospace
VNAFlyer can confirm that the Zodiac Cirrus is indeed the premium seat selected for VNA's Dreamliners, and very likely for its A359s as well. This represents a huge leap forward in passenger comfort from the seats currently in its widebody fleet. (Note: VNA does not offer a first-class cabin on any of its fleet.)
Current B777 business class seat.
Image source: Vietnam Airlines
Cirrus Seats
Image source: Zodiac Aerospace
I have been fortunate enough to sit in a few versions of this seat on various airlines, and they were fantastic. The most important design element is having seats that lie completely flat and parallel to the floor, a big win for passengers being able to more easily rest or sleep. 

Reverse herringbone layout.
Image source: American Airlines
Also, the "reverse-herringbone" layout of the cabin gives all passengers unimpeded, direct aisle access without disturbing anyone else. For the airlines, there is very little impact on seating capacity, since each row saves space by tucking a passenger's feet under the arm console of the row in front, giving the passenger room to stretch their legs while spacing the rows closer together.

Add in ample storage, easy to use controls, plenty of privacy, charging outlets, and a huge entertainment screen (AA uses a 15.4" touchscreen), and you have yourself one heck of a seat offering from VNA. The in-flight entertainment system will be sourced from Panasonic.

Image source: Cathay Pacific
Overall, the Zodiac Cirrus widely receives high praise from frequent flyers and business travelers alike. While the specific details of VNA's version are not yet available, you can see how other airlines utilize the Cirrus to outfit and refresh their premium cabins, notably: Air FranceAmericanCathay PacificChina Eastern, and EVA.

VNA will have 28 business seats in a 1-2-1 configuration. This likely represents 7 rows occupying the space between the 1st and 2nd doors (Air Canada manages to cram 30 Cirrus seats into the same area).

Deluxe Economy

Image Source: Aircraft Interiors
With the B789s and A359s destined for long-haul service, VNA will retain its premium economy product (called Deluxe Economy), using the TIMCO (now HAECO) 3050 Featherweight Premium Economy seats, offering up to 10-15 degrees in recline, minimum 38" pitch, up to 75-degree leg rest, a 4-way headrest, and a max 10.4" screen (VNA-specific configuration not available). These seats have articulating cushions, so when a passenger "leans back" the seat doesn't intrude into the space of the passenger behind.

However, Deluxe Economy will only exist on their owned aircraft. Leased B789s will not have a Deluxe Economy section, and will be all regular economy instead (see below).

More slightly bad news... the first few B789s off the line will be leased.

On VNA's purchased B789s, the deluxe economy section will have 35 seats arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration. You can also find these seats on Thomson Airways' Dreamliners as well as in the premium cabins of many narrowbody fleets. 

Image source: JetBlue

The economy cabin will feature the B/E Aerospace Pinnacle, the lightest aircraft seats in the market. Notably, Delta Air Lines recently tapped B/E Aerospace to install the Pinnacle on 225 of its narrowbody fleet. JetBlue is also using this model to refurbish 70 of its aircraft, and installing it on 30 new deliveries. While slimline seats have generally been panned as being uncomfortable, B/E's version seems to garner less ire from passengers.

VNA will install 211 of these seats in the economy section of their purchased B789. No word yet on pitch, entertainment options, or other dimensions, but don't be surprised if VNA uses a 3-3-3 layout.

On leased aircraft, removing 35 Deluxe economy seats allows for the addition of 72 more regular seats, boosting the number to 283.

Possible Seat Map?

Taking the information above and comparing to what other airlines have done, I've extrapolated this mockup of what VNA's B789 seat map may look like with Deluxe Economy:
Note: This is only a mockup, and it's for B789s purchased by VNA, which will be delivered later.
And in a 2-class configuration without Deluxe Econmy:
Note: This is only a mockup, and it's for B789s leased by VNA, which will be delivered first.
Final Thoughts

While I feel that there isn't much variance between different types of premium economy and economy seats (and most passengers probably don't notice anyway), VNA's selection of Zodiac's Cirrus seat for business class definitely elevates its premium game in the region. It stands to reason that the same seats will be used for both the B789 and A359. 

The carrier will need to continue on this trajectory to be able to compete with the likes of THAI Airways and Singapore Airlines, as well as stay ahead of other competing carriers. I certainly hope that VNA management realizes that an outstanding hard product alone won't help much... they'll have to revamp their on-board soft product to the same degree, as well as vastly improve their customer service both onboard and on the ground.

What do you think? Does this make you want to give VNA a try (or come back)?

By the way, the first planned long-haul revenue service on the B789 is to London Heathrow (LHR), split between Saigon (SGN) and Hanoi (HAN). While there are reports that this would commence in July of this year, I'm guessing that it won't happen until at least August, since delivery is right around end of May.

Hello World!

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Thank you for joining me for my first blog entry! VNAflyer was started in hopes of providing independent, comprehensive, and updated information about the carriers serving Southeast Asia, especially Vietnam Airlines (IATA code - VN; ICAO code - VNA). I hope that VNAflyer will become the authoritative source on all things VNA.

The region is experiencing a meteoric economic boom, and air travel is quickly becoming a popular mode of transportation. In fact, Southeast Asia is seen as one of the top potential markets in the world for new airlines and aircraft.

VNA itself has been quite busy lately, but much of the activity has gone under the radar for many outside the region, including a landmark initial public offering, new airport construction, improved airport operations, route expansion, and new/upcoming aircraft deliveries.

The national flag carrier of Vietnam is fending off ever-increasing domestic competition from new privately-held low-cost carriers, and has its sights set on becoming the dominant airline in the region by modernizing and expanding its fleet and building up Vietnam's economic center, Ho Chi Minh City (SGN), as a premier international gateway hub.

You can count on VNAflyer to follow the airline industry in Southeast Asia closely and give you the news and developments you need and want.

TEASER: Come back around 9am Pacific Time on Thursday, January 22 for some pretty big exclusive news.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

About VNAFlyer

VNAFlyer was started to share news and information, not only about Vietnam Airlines, but about the airline industry in Southeast Asia in general. As one of the largest growth markets in the world, more and more people are taking to the skies, but there is precious few resources for information of this type.

The author is a frequent flyer based in the United States who visits Vietnam quite a bit. With extensive knowledge about airlines, the airline industry, frequent flyer programs, and traveling in general, he wants to share his knowledge and know-how to readers who are looking for information about VNA and SE Asia.