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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Trip Report: Arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN)

Other chapters:
Upon our arrival, our Airbus A321 parks at a remote stand, thus requiring airport buses to get us to the terminal. Along with past experiences, it seems that when Vietnam Airlines (VNA) uses A321s for regional services, those flights are highly likely to be assigned to these remote gates, probably saving the jetbridges for widebodies.

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

Image source: Vietnam Investment Review
One (very tiny) upside to the remote stand is that they deplane and board through both the front and back at the same time, so those stuck in the rear of the plane aren't waiting forever to get off.

Those in business class are provided their own shuttle bus, which departs quickly. The economy passengers are directed to 3 other larger buses, each one taking off once full.
Pro Tip: Stand near the left-side doors to be the first to get off at the terminal.
After a 5-7 minute ride to the terminal, we are deposited at the entry doors which lead to a narrow escalator that took us up to the arrivals level. We follow the signs to the arrivals hall, just a short walk away.

The arrivals hall at SGN is divided up into three sections:
  • The main immigration inspection section, where passports are checked before entry.
  • A visa window, for those who pre-arranged to receive a "visa on arrival."
  • A transfer desk, for those who are making onward international connections.
Today was a little busy, with at least 3/4 of the immigration booths manned, and each having lines of 15-20 passengers each. The visa window had about 20 people waiting in line, with another 30 waiting for their applications to be processed.

Our line has a passenger that they examined more closely than normal, so it takes us about 30 minutes to finally get through (should have been about 15 minutes). We head down to claim our baggage, which is already sitting off the belt, as our flight's bags have completed offloading. We load our bags onto free carts provided by the airport, and my wife goes for a restroom break.

While I'm waiting, I scan the customs inspection lines that we have to go through before exiting. A customs "officer" tries to wave me over, but I give the "not ready" hand signal and continue waiting.
Pro tip: Never go towards a customs line that you've been directed to, since frankly you don't have to follow their direction. The sad reality is that forced bribery is alive and well at SGN and other airports, and the agent is essentially fishing, trying to get me to come over so I can be "carefully inspected" and assessed some sort of trumped up violation, in hopes that I will "pay the fine" on the spot.
What one should do is to choose a line that looks like someone is already "being spoken to" since they already busy with that person and will let you pass.
When my wife returns, I guide our carts to a line far away from that agent. We successfully have our baggage x-rayed with no challenge, and we were quickly on our way out to the curb.

As we pass by, I overhear a poor American fellow in his mid-50s who was trying to reason with the customs agent, who in turn threatened to detain his baggage for 3-4 days. Shameful... I wanted to help him too, but I also didn't want to stick around and be inspected myself (though I probably would have if I was by myself).

We make our way through the throngs of people waiting for their loved ones, make a left turn and head towards the taxi "stand" near the end of the terminal building, past the Popeye's Fried Chicken stand (great place for a quick and cheap snack or drink).

The stand is really more of a collection area where taxis pick up customers, and no real defined queue, even with the permanent corral set up.
Pro tip: Walk past the taxi corral and the crowds, farther along the curb. Flag down the taxi of your choice when it approaches. The driver doesn't really care who they pick up. This is how the system at SGN works. 
If you're uncomfortable with this, you'll probably be waiting a while, but you can get a dispatcher to help you. Each taxi company has its own dispatcher in uniform in the taxi area.
I prefer Vinasun... it has the most number of taxis in the company, are the most reliable, and always use the meter. MaiLinh is a decent Plan B. I pretty much avoid all other taxi companies.
Taxi pickup area at SGN.
We quickly get into a Vinasun taxi van and we're on our way into the city.

Stay tuned for the rest of my trip report, before our Shanghai-Saigon flight and on our way home. Thanks for reading!
- VNAFlyer




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