Despite sleeping on the flight from YYZ to NRT, the jet lag was getting to us, so after checking into the hotel and taking a quick shower, we decided to grab a beer and a sandwich at the Horizon Bar in the hotel. The Narita Hilton seems to be a layover hotel for at least 30 different airlines. There were so many different crews staying here that the hotel had a special check in for them and the bar was offering a special drinks rate with airline ID. (Turns out that this rate wasn’t so special, as the Happy Hour offer was the same!). I can say that the sandwich I ordered wins the ‘worst sandwich ever’ award, which is pretty hard to do with a club sandwich.
The next morning we took the shuttle to Terminal 2, which we had been told was the quickest way to catch the train into Tokyo. As our destination was the Ginza area, we were advised not to take the Narita Express and instead found ourselves on a slower local train, which required one change. However, this was easy to do because it arrived and left from the same platform and the Info Desk people had written the stop in both English and Japanese.
After 4-5 hours of walking around, we were ready to head back to the hotel. We didn’t buy anything but certainly had fun looking around and checking out the Japanese public toilets, which as far as I can tell require an engineering degree and multilingual skill to figure out!
These were interesting....if you had a small child with you, you could choose this option!
|If you see this...|
Back at Terminal 2, we decided to see if there was anywhere we could eat so we could avoid the hotel restaurants. Upstairs there were lots of options and all the restaurants had plastic replicas of their meals on display, so we knew exactly what was available and how it should look.
As we both anxious to see if there was any news from Optiontown about our VN upgrades, we went back to the hotel, where, sure enough, there were two emails (Tay51 and I were booked on separate PNRs and despite sending Optiontown several messages to ask them to consider our requests as one, I was nervous that either we might not be upgraded at all, or even worse, we might get one upgrade but not the other). So I breathed a sigh of relief when I opened the first email and saw ”congratulations, you have been upgraded to business class….” ….and then the second email had the same message! Now we could truly get excited and went off to dinner to celebrate that we would be travelling in style the next day ☺.
We had already decided that we would eat at a Chinese restaurant in Terminal 2 because we liked the look of the ‘artist’s impression’ of our meal. Can you spot the differences?! The real thing looked better
We then walked off dinner by doing a tour of the terminal, and shuttled back to the hotel and got packed for an early morning departure for our 10 am flight to Hanoi.
FLOOR CLEANING MACHINES!
VN311 (VNA 381)
Departure NRT 10:00
Arrival HAN: 14:30 (actual 1350)
Seats 2 HK
This time we got off the shuttle at Terminal 1-North Wing, the home for Sky Team airlines, which Vietnam Airlines joined in June 2010. There were dedicated check-in positions for VN at Area C and very short line-ups. The agent who checked us in was a trainee and when we mentioned Optiontown, she knew what we were talking about but needed to get help in checking us in. I don’t think she was supposed to, as Optiontown is very clear that the upgrade is only for the seat and not the lounge, excess luggage or priority check-in, but she issued us an invitation to the Delta Lounge. Who were we to say no?!
At 8.30 in the morning the lounge was fairly quiet, even though there was at least one DL flight departing at the same time. We didn’t eat anything in the lounge because we had just finished a huge breakfast and the offerings were pretty slim. As I recall, there was some dim sum, congee, sushi and cake, plus juices and yoghurt. Internet was free and the lounge overlooked the departure gates.
Boarding time was shown as 9.20 and by the time we got downstairs, it was well underway.
We were greeted at the door by a male flight attendant, directed to our seat, where we offered juice, water or champagne by a female attendant, who was dressed in a burgundy ai dao. This is the traditional Vietnamese national costume for women, and also the uniform for VN employees---inflight wear burgundy and ground staff wear blue. A pillow, blanket, earphones and a travel kit were already in our seats, even though this was a daytime flight.
Shortly before take off we were handed a menu, which was clearly recycled!
The cabin was about half full and there were two flight attendants assigned to it. Besides two other passengers, who had connected from the Aeromexico flight, we were the only westerners in the cabin. After a greeting from the captain---front end crew were Vietnamese--- we were advised that flying time would be a quick 5 hours, the safety demo was done and we pushed back. Our take off was quick and we flew over the Hilton and made a wide turn towards the water before headed south.
|You're a long way from home|
|waving good bye from NRT|
While there were individual monitors in the armrests, at least in J, there was also a wall-mounted monitor that kept the flight maps on throughout the trip.
I was paying particular attention because I was hoping, since it was a clear day, that we might get a view of Mt Fuji and that it would be on my side of the plane…and it was!!!
|Mt Fuji in the distance!|
|Mt Fuji close up!!|
Once we had reached cruising altitude, meal orders were taken, starting on the far side of the cabin. Choices were beef tenderloin or Asian steamed chicken. Both of us wanted the beef but there was only chicken left when they reached us and only one western starter----guess who got that? ☺.
The flight attendant was very apologetic and we didn’t think it would be a problem to have the chicken but the cut was unrecognizable and appeared to be a part of the backbone (very little meat) with really flabby skin. The beef, which the guy across the aisle was eating, along with everyone else, looked really good and I was envious!
|J cabin VN NRT HAN|
|Amuse Bouche on VN|
|Asian Appetizer on VN|
|Western Appetizer on VN|
|The salmon and ham were good|
|Chicken was inedible!|
The FAs passed through the cabin several times topping up wine glasses and once the main course dishes were removed a separate cheese and dessert service was done. This was followed by coffee or tea, Bailey’s, Drambuie or cognac and chocolates. When the flight attendant realized I liked the chocolates, she appeared with a plate of them for me, neatly arranged on a silver doily---nice touch.
I didn’t bother to check the entertainment system but Tay51 said that there wasn’t much selection and he stuck to the movie on his iPad and I read my book, followed the route map and slept. I did use the front end toilets and had trouble getting the door locked. When I finally did, I couldn’t get it unlocked and thought I was going to be in there until we landed but finally managed to break free!
The crew came through the cabin several times but mostly hung out in the forward galley. I have read various reports on VN crews not being very friendly but that certainly wasn’t the case on this flight. We were the only westerners in the J cabin and although their English was limited and my Vietnamese is non-existent, there were lots of smiles.
There was one more announcement from the cockpit telling us that is was a warm and sunny day in Hanoi. I am not sure what happened between then and landing because it certainly wasn’t sunny when we got there!
We had a very smooth landing, parked at a gate and proceded through customs and immigration. There was some confusion about which belt our luggage would arrive on and there was at least one other international flight arriving, so things were pretty chaotic. Eventually, we were directed to a different belt, which meant clearing through an x-ray security point. Despite the busyness, luggage came through within 20 minutes and we found ourselves in the more chaotic arrivals hall. After looking everywhere for our driver and waiting 45 minutes, we decided to take a taxi into our hotel, which would be home for the next 10 days.
Overall, we were very pleasantly surprised by Vietnam Airlines. The cabin was clean and appeared new--- I am not sure if the seats would fully recline, so don’t know what they would be like on a long-haul flight but they were perfectly fine for a daytime flight of 6 hours, the crew was attentive and friendly. What let them down was the catering, but, as I said, the beef looked fine so maybe it was just an off day. I would say their J product was on a par with domestic North American flights or intra European flights. Certainly it was worth the Optiontown upgrade of $179 CAD per/person.
In the next posting, I will cover our trip HAN SGN HKG YYZ YHZ and include some photos of HAN and HCMC.
Thanks for reading!