1 October 2015
Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner
Having splurged some of my Vietnam Airlines points on a round trip ticket to Saigon to see my sweetie who departed the day prior, I was pleased to find myself on my Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner flight. The first I had heard of the Dreamliner was just a few short months ago when I saw a PR clip of this largely composite airliner taking off into an impressive near-vertical attitude before finally leveling off into normal flight. You may notice in the clip that the paint scheme is Vietnam Airlines.
I realized I was on the 787 after boarding and seeing how much room it afforded. It is similar in size to the 777 that has been operating in the VN Airlines fleet for some years, but it seems bigger. I haven't had a chance to compare the two aircraft in the in-flight magazine because mine was missing from the front seat pocket. Saying the aircraft is roomy may sound more complimentary than it should, because for me it just means there are more seats to pack into the plane. I have no more leg or elbow room on this monstrous aircraft than I do on any other VN flight I take. Another consideration when talking about the massiveness of the aircraft is that it takes forever to load. I had a 10:50am boarding time for a 11:30am departure; we didn't actually pull away from the jetway until noon. And, though I am writing this in-flight, I predict the biggest headache will be waiting for, and getting my luggage in Saigon. My experience is the larger the aircraft the more luggage that comes off the plane, and the more people clustered around the carousel.
The aircraft seems noisy! It might be the composite skin or the larger engines, but when the engines started up, it felt to me like I was inside the cowling when I heard the huge turbines start churning. There was a myriad of other noises I was more than aware of given the volume of those mysterious noises from inside the cabin. It might be called a Dreamliner, but no one will be dreaming until the aircraft is well underway.
On the plus side, I love the 3D maps displayed prominently at the bulkheads. I only regret that we don't get the in-flight entertainment on the domestic route. I am not sure if that is a licensing issue on the movies and other programs, or just a way for the airline to extend the longevity of their equipment.
The pilot and crew up front are all Vietnamese. Apparently, they received all of their training and certs before the aircrafts were delivered. I imagine this is a point of pride for the airline and the country, given most of the aircraft in the past almost always had a foreign pilot aboard.
The Dreamliner is a huge leap in technology compared to the TU-134's of old - they were the domestic aircraft of choice when I first arrived in Vietnam in 1991 and continued in service until a series of crashes in the mid-90s. The wet-leased 737s flew well and were suited to the domestic capacities that the airlines generated. I believe VN Airlines owns all of their 737s and A320s now, and I feel they are definitely a better aircraft for these short domestic flights. The only real downfall on the smaller aircraft is that the passengers are almost always relegated to busing to and from the aircraft - I love the jetway, especially with the often oppressive weather in Vietnam.
After landing, we actually had to bus to the terminal. This took longer because of the larger passenger numbers, and it was not convenient at all. And I was right about the baggage offload and carousel.
Later, I got some of the stats on the Vietnamese-owned dreamliner:
4 aircraft in VN Airlines inventory
Max range: 15,700km
Number of seats: 274
Premium economy: 35
Ends up, the 777 has a slightly larger passenger capacity, but the range of the dreamliner is phenomenal!