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Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Trip Report: Flying PVG-SGN on Vietnam Airlines on an A321

Other chapters:
Author's note: Yes, it's weird that I have a VNA segment in this itinerary. It was an AA fare where the rules allowed for a connection onto VNA from AA's PVG flights.

Another VNA A321, heading to Hanoi (HAN)
Thankfully, the scrum that seems to always occur at Chinese airports didn't occur here... it might have even been quite orderly! They call boarding for business class first, and then economy in general, with everyone observing the queue. Armed with hand-notated BPs saying that we were in Row 14 exit row seats (and out of Row 33), I'm feeling mighty content as we board Flight VN523...

... until we actually get to our seats. For some reason, Vietnam Airlines (VNA) designates the row in front of  the doors on an A321 as exit row seats as well. No extra leg room, no recline, and not even a window! Much to our chagrin, all the seats in Row 15 (the actual exit row, as we all know what "exit row" actually means) are actually assigned. How they got assigned, I have no idea, because they were clearly non-status passengers (based on a quick, coincidental scan of their BPs, as well as their fairly naive questions about such things as tray tables and such). The fact is, what the manager and agent said at check-in was completely wrong. Those seats were definitely preassigned, even on a flight that was not full.

A Juneyao A320 parked next to us.
In any case, what also seems to happen is that Rows 10-14 (no Row 13) also are the last to be assigned. When boarding was complete, no one was sitting in Rows 10-14 except for us. I quickly flag down the nearest flight attendant (FA) to ask if we could move, and she happily said that we could choose any seat we wish. Interestingly, this same FA was earlier policing this section, asking passengers who sat down in this section for their BPs and moving them along to their original seats.

Thankfully, we moved out of Row 14 to Row 12. A few other passengers apparently take our move as their cue to move as well, but it isn't a total exodus, more of a spreading out, with a maximum 2 passengers for every 3-seat section.

Interlude: The lesson with VNA is to be persistent, and don't accept their answer, even from a manager or supervisor. It's like a game of chicken or a staring contest... who will give up first? I've had other experiences with VNA that leads me to the same conclusion. Just don't give up, because the culture of the ground staff is to refuse first, hoping passengers will accept what's given to them.

The door closes and we push back 10 minutes past our time of departure. Safety announcements are conducted in Vietnamese, Mandarin, and English. It takes about 15-20 minutes for us to taxi to a runway on the other side of the terminal, giving us a nickel tour of PVG.

A China Southern 737-800 heading towards PVG's control tower.

An American 777-200 followed by a China Eastern 737-800.
Love it or hate it, that new tail makes the AA bird easy to spot.
No further delay as we smoothly take off towards the northwest, make a left turn, and loop around Shanghai then south to Vietnam. The smog is unbelievable... not as bad as Beijing, but still sickeningly thick, much worse than LA has ever gotten.

When you need a paint
that can withstand
As soon as we hit 10,000 feet and hear the ding, the FAs all jump into action, and the curtain to the first class cabin is ceremoniously closed. The FAs walk down the aisle was a basket of packaged refreshing wipes for the economy passengers, quickly followed by drink service. 

There is a small lull before meal service, so I check out the VNA inflight magazine, Heritage, which has articles in both Vietnamese and English.

The crew comes through with an offering of chicken or fish. As a personal rule, I always avoid airplane fish in coach, so chicken it is!

The chicken is similar to a teriyaki chicken, with linguini, and steamed green beans... definitely better than expected. 

I wasn't going to buy
Kohler, but the attractive
model with a rose
changed my mind.
The side salad, on the other hand, is quite frankly gross. The shrimp look like they were frozen for too long, then dipped in hot water before being tossed onto the salad, and the veggies look wilted. I don't even bother opening the salad.

Dessert was cut fruit ("fresh" was questionable), and the crew also came through with hot tea and coffee. Overall, it's a serviceable lunch on a 4-hour flight, but I'm glad we had brought snacks.

The rest of the flight is pretty uneventful.  Entertainment is in the form of Vietnamese variety shows on small overhead screens, with headset provided in the seatback pocket. Blankets and pillows were also provided, nice touch for coach.

The FAs did their jobs quite well, and was generally personable overall. Interestingly, the FA who primarily served our section was a native of Japan who spoke only Japanese and English... no Vietnamese.

Only a couple of people try to go up front to use the lav, and they were turned away. There are 3 lavs in the far rear of the plane, so the parade of passengers was constant. The cabin temperature was a touch on the warm side, but tolerable. 
Descending into Saigon.

We land at SGN right on time, and taxi to a remote stand for arrival.

Next chapter: Arrival at Tan Son Nhat Airport (SGN)

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