Select Page

I was a 787 virgin. And now I’ve taken the whole 9. Is it a dream – liner?

I was a 787 virgin. And now I’ve taken the whole 9. Is it a dream – liner?
Series: Trip: Christmas 2015 - my first northern hemisphere Christmas


a map of the world with a red line
Our trip: Sydney to London via Saigon, return. Side trips to Newquay and Tromsø via Oslo
Vietnam Airlines VN51
Ho Chi Minh City/Saigon (SGN) – London Heathrow (LHR)
Monday, December 07, 2015
Depart: 01:05
Arrive: 07:40 – adjusted to 10:41
Duration: 13h 35m
Aircraft: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 3D (Business Class)
a plane taking off from a runway
Vietnam Airlines 787-9 Dreamliner test flight. Image courtesy

This was a trip of firsts – or the deflowering of a virgin – whichever way you would like to think of it.

Boarding and Departure

Boarding was through the forward door, just forward of the business class cabin, economy boarded through the door at the back of the business class cabin.  It meant that we didn’t get hordes of economy passengers traversing the cabin to board.

This time I was prepared for Vietnamese efficiency, and the lack of pre-emptive service – but actually, the crew on this flight – as would be demonstrated later – had the patience of saints. Our plan for this flight was – get on, quick drink, change into our old Virgin Australia PJ’s (Vietnam Airlines doesn’t offer them – pity, I would have liked a little áo dài to relax in), go to sleep for as long as possible, wake and have breakfast. This plan had to be rapidly adapted as you shall see.

Seat and Amenity

Part of my reason for deciding on Vietnam Airlines, was the plane. I had never flown on a Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner, and this was almost a brand new plane. And, I have never experienced ‘reverse herringbone’ seats. The advantage reputedly being that every business class seat gets direct aisle access. Not in a British Airways business class sense – where you have to face your neighbour, and step over their feet when they are reclined, but in a – ‘here’s the seat, there’s the aisle, and I’m right next to it with nothing to climb over’ sense.

a seat of an airplane
Vietnam Airlines 787-9 seatmap. Check it out.
Not 8 across (Economy) not 7 across (Premium Economy), just 4 across with direct aisle access

My inner airline nerd had been following the story of these planes and interiors for a few months, so I was eager to try, as well as appreciating the great deal Vietnam Airlines was offering for business class.  Boy was I ready to board by the time it was getting close to 12:30am, after vamping in the hotel and the barely adequate Vietnam Airlines lounge for the last 8 hours.

a seat in a plane
The 787-9 reverse herringbone middle seats (3D and 3G) on Vietnam Airlines. 
The armrest is retractable, and there is a terribly useful little triangular storage unit at seat level beside it,
lus a recess for headphones and a water bottle on the right.

Does this photo make the business class pods look a bit close together? Well they were. Pitch is 42″. They feel very tightly spaced.

There are a couple of problems with the seat: If you have a travelling companion, then unless you bring the whole seat forward (which you can do) then it is quite hard to converse, or enjoy the company of your partner. In recline, the seats are comfortable to sleep on, but that foot hole is pretty tight especially if you sleep on your side as I do. I wasn’t too bothered by it on this flight – probably too tired – but my partner found it annoying.

a group of monitors on a plane
Animated safety video – no live demonstration. Screens flip out about 90º to face your seat.
You can see that our plan to start with a glass of champagne was going well.
a man sitting in an airplane with a woman in the back
Safety Video while taxing to our runway. Shortly to be experienced as deja-vu.

About 45 minutes into the flight, just as meal service had begun, there was some sudden rushing about by flight attendants. Never a good sign. Then two appeals for any doctors or medical staff to identify themselves. Really not a good sign. More staff rushing about. A little over an hour into the flight, the captain announced we were returning back to Saigon due to a medical emergency. Oh well – quick change back out of my PJ’s, while I ignored the temptation that Ben at onemileatatime has succumbed to before.

Another glass of mystery champagne – although – I think it was the below, but on the other hand, I never saw the bottle.

a menu with a bottle of champagne
Champagne – in the menu listed as Heidseck ‘Monopole’ – but I never saw the
bottle on any of the Vietnam Airlines flights, so who knows.

Crew suspended food service, and with brusque efficiency readied the plane for landing.

We got back to Tan Son Nhat International Airport in about an hour and were held on the plane for a while as the stricken passenger was removed. Cabin staff were pretty amazing at making it all work smoothly.

We eventually de-planed, without much information about when or how long, or what would happen. We returned to the lounge, and resigned ourselves to our fate. In these situations, it’s either going to be quick – fast refuel and off again, or it’s going to take a while and then crew will run out of operational hours and we would probably all end up at hotels for the night, or endlessly wait at the airport while a new crew was assembled.

Fortunately – although seemingly interminable, the wait was around an hour before we were re-boarding the plane. A concerned passenger asked if the stricken passenger was OK? The senior female flight attendant replied with Asian efficiency, that she didn’t know and since the passenger was no longer on the flight, was no concern of hers. Writing it now, it sounds a little heartless, but at the time, it was more about focussing on the here-and-now needs of the passengers, rather than looking back.

So another first – I have experienced lots of minor mishaps on aircraft: severe turbulence; a ‘go-round’ aborted landing that had the passenger next to me willing her entire estate to me; and a nervous flyer who left me with permanent scars from her nails digging into my hand at the anxiety of landing; and even a diversion to the middle of nowhere in China due to bad weather, with all Chinese passengers threatening mutiny, but this was my first return due to medical emergency on an intercontinental flight.


After the previous leg of out trip, I knew not to expect pre-emptive service, but to ask for what I needed, and it would be given warmly and graciously. Given I slept off and on for the rest of the flight, my demands were not great. Another bottle of water, and a Bloody Mary with breakfast were may major requests.


I changed again into my PJ’s and went straight to bed as soon after take-off as possible, but, you can see the supper selection below.

a menu of a restaurant
The supper menu looked suitably light, but I passed on it in favour of sleep.

I was hungry by the morning, and about 2.5 hours out of Heathrow, the breakfast service began. Pho is one of my favourite dishes in the world – so that’s what I ordered, and it was delicious, but not outstanding.

a menu of a restaurant
With a flight out of Vietnam, you are probably safe ordering anything Vietnamese,
or, due to their period of colonialism, anything French.


Given the need for sleep – we faced a busy day on our arrival in London – other than viewing the flight map, I only watched more episodes of ‘House of Cards’ series 3 on my iPad. The video selection looked pretty much the same as our 777 flight from Sydney to Saigon – so not much selection, and not much I wanted to see. I did like the map though.


The cocktails listed in the menu looked interesting, but I stuck with champagne before sleep – water while attempting to sleep, and a Bloody Mary with breakfast. Oh come on! The sun is over the yard-arm somewhere in the world.

a menu of drinks
The signature drinks did look tempting. Sorry about this cobbled together image from two photos on my iphone.

Obviously, our landing and flight time had been much affected by the medical emergency. Our estimated arrival time was adjusted from 07:40 to 10:41am, and we only completed one turn of a holding pattern before landing, a little after the estimated time. Our London hosts – being the son of a BOAC pilot, was already onto our flight delay by the time we contacted him.

a screen shot of a map
Our route from Saigon to London. Our arrival was delayed by 3 hours,
almost exactly the time taken by the medical emergency.
2PAX wisdom

There were a lot of firsts on this flight: First Medical emergency turn-back, first flight on a 787, first experience of reverse herringbone. Some I would repeat, and others not-so-much.

Its hard to be fair with a flight experience like this. The delay made me tired and a bit cranky, and that was on top of already being tired and cranky due to waiting for 8 hours from our hotel checkout time, even though we spent most of it in the lap of luxury in the Club at the Asiana.

I liked the reverse herringbone, although I think the configuration they have used here makes it a bit tight. For instance, if you have your seat in any kind of recline mode, then the base of the seat moves forward, and if you want to get out of your seat – you have very little ‘knee room’ to swivel if you know what I mean. The 787 is quieter than a 777, but not as quiet as the A380, which is still my all time favourite aircraft to travel on.

The 787-9 joins the A380 as the two aircraft that I don’t end up feeling a bit groggy and headachy on and that’s a blessing. I suspect that its due to the higher cabin pressure and humidity.

Service, food and beverage were all average to good and given the medical emergency, the flight crew were wonderful.

Would I travel on this aircraft again? Yes, especially if it was at this price. Is the service on Vietnam Airlines as good as Malaysian or Qantas, or Virgin business class – no, but then you pay twice the price.

More stories from this trip

Other Posts in the Series
<< What should an airport lounge be all about? Vietnam Airlines Lounge – SaigonFly me to the moon, or Flybe to Newquay, but not many stars to play with. >>


  1. WestCoast

    i'm glad you made comments-and the link to your site- on Ben's blog,so i discovered a new entertaining view of traveling experiences. Keep up the good work 🙂

  2. Monique Kristopher

    Hi there. I read with great interest your post. I was on your flight and I was the passenger who asked about the health of the ill lady. I was in London for less than 24hrs and had the same crew on the next day turn around. I again asked after the lady and was told by the CSM that sadly she passed away before we returned to SGN. to quote CSM "lady not sick no more. No, now dead" & "I say to Captain, no need to turn around, she dead, she no care. We have jumbo jet full of people want to London. But Captain say too much paperwork in London – we must go back Saigon". Love that Vietnamese directness…

  3. 2PAX

    Sad to hear. But you are right about that Asian practicality. Both affronting and refreshing at the same time. You probably saw a lot more than me, but it seemed that the crew dealt with the situation very deftly. Thanks for your response.


Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *



Previously . . .

Subscribe to the Newsletter

Join our mailing list to receive regular updates about 2PAXfly.

Reviews, deals, offers, and most of all opinion will be in your inbox.

We won't spam you, and we won't share your details with others.

Newsletter Regularity

You have Successfully Subscribed!