With the recent delivery of its first 787 Vietnam’s Bamboo Airways is entering a new phase of its operations. The carrier plans to expand its footprint further afield within Asia and eventually to Australia and Europe. The carrier also expressed interest in eventually serving the USA.
But, for now, the carrier (mostly) operates a fleet of single-aisle Airbus A320 family planes. It is a mishmash of configurations and arrangements. Still, it is a mostly positive experience on board, one that makes flying with Bamboo pleasurable.
Perhaps most significant is the way the airline positions itself in the market. A handful of airlines compete in Vietnam’s rapidly growing domestic and regional market. Vietnam Airlines represents the legacy/full service operation while JetStar Pacific and VietJet mostly fill the Low Cost Carrier segment. Bamboo sits somewhere in the middle, neither full service nor bare bones. One might consider it a “value carrier” though finding a consistent definition for that segment remains challenging. The airline offers a premium seating option and hot snack on board, for example, but still matches the unbundling (and rebundling) options of the LCCs around seat selection and checked bag fees.
A recent hop from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City presented the carrier mostly in a positive light. I booked the “Bamboo Plus” option as I had a checked bag to include thanks to the strict weight limits and this made the most sense. I also paid for an advance seat assignment to ensure a window, though I chose a row near the back, making sure to get the more typical legroom.
Flying on the airline’s first A321neo meant a somewhat surprising seating arrangement. The plane’s initially intended operator was Primera. That carrier’s bankruptcy left the aircraft available to Bamboo sooner than expected, but also with a bizarre gap between the front of the economy class section and the premium seats. But because of configuration inconsistency across the fleet betting on getting that extra legroom is an unwise proposition.
Again, owing to the inconsistent aircraft configurations other advertised benefits may or may not actually fly. In-seat USB power is supposed to be on offer, but might not be active. Or, if a wet-leased plane, the power option might not exist at all. Similarly, the carrier signed a contract with streaming IFE provider AirFi over the summer. Deployment should be quick and consistent, even on the mixed fleet. But it does not always show up.
All passengers receive a hot snack on board, which is both good and bad news. The food was ok but against the competition of surprisingly broad and tasty options – generally for just a couple dollars – the snack came up a little short.
Other bits of the experience, from the check-in counters to boarding scrum to baggage claim were typical Vietnam air travel. None of the carriers does much of a special job on that front and Bamboo Airways is no different.
Added bonus, the domestic lounge in Hanoi (accessed via Priority Pass) serves local vodka. That was a fun wake-up call.
It is a good option for the limited route network currently served. The little things the carrier does on board in an attempt to deliver a better value to passengers are mostly good news for travelers. And as the fleet matures to be planes truly configured to the Bamboo specifications that should improve the experience further.
The trip details
QH211 – Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City
28 September 2019
1,140,000 VND ($49) + 33,000 VND ($2) for seat assignment
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