This international airline is making business class travel affordable.
I have always been deeply suspicious of people who say they enjoy flying. Maybe they like that airport feeling, of going places, of building anticipation? But the part in the pressurised tin tube high above the ocean with no means of escape until landing? I've never understood the allure.
An airline's job then, after sorting out how to take off and arrive safely, is to ease the boredom and discomfort of their passengers. We all know this is best achieved at the front of the plane, where the seats are bigger, the food is better and the legroom is ample.
The Vietnamese airline Vietjet, which launched direct flights between Australia and Vietnam in April, offers a bare-boned economy option (no checked luggage, food extra, good luck) to business class (a tonne of luggage, food included, Bob's your uncle).
The tickets are cheap. And flying the business-class option over the expensive economy option on another carrier starts to look like an attractive concept.
I flew Skyboss class to Ho Chi Minh City from Sydney, an 8.5-hour direct flight during the day. The equivalent of premium economy, Skyboss offers expedited check-in, more luggage (50 kilograms of checked baggage), and meals through the flight.
The seats, despite their premium billing, remain narrow and I was thankful for a whole middle row of the Airbus A330. Bringing a novel to read was also a good idea: there's no in-flight entertainment. Charge your iPad before you leave and remember to download plenty of things to watch, if you're that way inclined.
The food was a high point of the flight, and booking meals in advance will avoid any disappointment of not getting a preferred selection. Economy passengers can pay for food on the flight or book and pay in advance (a hot meal, drink and snack is about $13, cheaper if booked prior). Meals are included in the price of Skyboss and Skyboss Business tickets.
Sticky rice with luncheon meat (you might know it colloquially as Spam) was delicious. Thai fried rice was another culinary achievement at 30,000 feet. For a noodle- and rice-heavy menu, Vietjet does very well to avoid gloopiness. The airline offers a handful of options, with a good range of combinations, but don't expect endless choice.
On the way back to Sydney, I flew Skyboss Business overnight. Still no in-flight entertainment, but a seat that reclined to just a few degrees off horizontal meant a decent night's sleep. The business class menu was ritzier but I was the gumby who opted for pho, a rice noodle and meat soup. Eating soup while flying from a shallow bamboo spoon was fraught. Luckily, there was a coconut pudding - served in a hollowed-out coconut - to follow.
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Vietjet says it's a "new age" airline. Whatever that means, the tickets are cheap. And flying the business-class option over the expensive economy option on another carrier starts to look like an attractive concept. A ticket for a Vietjet Skyboss Business seat sometime in June costs $1360 one way, which includes lounge access, 18 kilograms of carry-on luggage, 60 kilograms of checked-in luggage, meals and priority access. The same day, a traveller would fork out $1587 for an economy seat on a Singapore Airlines flight to Ho Chi Minh City, including a three-hour stopover. Try $4267 for business.
A Vietnam Airlines economy seat that day would cost $1143, or you could spring for business at $3622. Jetstar's business offering is $1059 - and economy is $689 - but the business traveller on the Australian budget airline is afforded a smaller luggage allowance, and there is no mention of lounge access.
An economy ticket, which can be as low as $240 from Sydney to Ho Chi Minh City, is tantalisingly cheap on a Vietjet flight. The absurd idea of a long weekend in Saigon suddenly seems like a possibility.
Jasper Lindell flew as a guest of Vietjet.