Vietnam Airlines flew a Boeing 787-10 into Houston to repatriate Vietnamese citizens last week. The flight brought back about 350 citizens to Hanoi via a stop in Alaska. All-in-all, the journey was about 39 hours to and from with a crew of 30.
The repatriation flight
On August 4th, Vietnam Airlines flew about 350 Vietnamese citizens out of Houston en route back to Hanoi. The 787-10, although it is a large aircraft, however, cannot do the route nonstop with a full payload. Instead, the plane made a stop on the way back in Anchorage, where Vietnam Airlines has previously stopped while conducting repatriations from the United States.
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Like all of Vietnam Airlines’ repatriation flights, the carrier took strong precautions to help limit any potential spread of the virus onboard its aircraft. Passengers wore masks and full-body protective suits. Upon arrival in Vietnam, the arriving passengers will be quarantined per health protocols. After the passengers and crew had disembarked, the entire aircraft was sprayed down.
Operating the flight
The aircraft that ran the operation was VN-A879. On the way to Houston, the flight departed with 30 crew members. This included pilots, flight attendants, technical staff, and ground staff. The inbound flight took just over 15.5 hours nonstop.
On the way back, the aircraft made a stop in Anchorage. The Houston to Anchorage leg took around 6.5 hours.
The next leg, from Anchorage to Hanoi took about 10 hours to complete. The aircraft departed Anchorage after midnight on August 5th and landed just before 01:00 local time in Hanoi.
All in all, the way there and back was about 39 hours, accounting for ground time and turnarounds. This included just under two hours on the ground in Anchorage and about four hours in Houston.
This journey marked the first time Vietnam Airlines arrived in Houston. The carrier does not normally fly between the US and Vietnam. However, with the ongoing crisis, the closure of borders, and a significant reduction in long-haul commercial flights, the carrier has been operating repatriations near and far– including from Angola and Equatorial Guinea. Other US repatriation flights Vietnam Airlines has flown include bringing back citizens from San Francisco and Washington D.C.
A preview of Vietnam Airlines’ flights to the US?
US flights have been on Vietnam Airlines’ radar. Vietnam is a popular leisure destination, and nonstop flights would help improve the country’s connectivity. These repatriation flights, however, are not necessarily indicative of how Vietnam Airlines would fly to and from Vietnam.
For one, the airline has used its Boeing 787-10 on this route. However, the 787-10 was not built for very long-range missions that Vietnam Airlines’ Airbus A350-900s and Boeing 787-9s were made for.
Any flights between the US and Vietnam that stop in Alaska would not give Vietnam Airlines much of a competitive advantage. The routing over Alaska would be optimal in terms of the great circle routing airlines fly.
Using the A350s, Vietnam Airlines would have difficulty reaching points too far in from the West Coast in the US. Vietnam Airlines states the A350 has a maximum range of about 14,350 kilometers (8,916 miles). Accounting for potential headwinds and payload, Vietnam Airlines would likely only fly out to Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Chicago, or maybe New York. Another option would be to acquire aircraft like the Boeing 777X.
From a city like Los Angeles or Seattle, Vietnam Airlines could more closely partner with its fellow SkyTeam carrier, Delta Air Lines, to offer connections in the United States.
However, for now, there are still a few years to go until the airline launches nonstop flights to the United States if it does. Perhaps an upstart, like Bamboo Airways, could get there before the flag carrier.
Do you think Vietnam Airlines should launch flights to the US? Were you onboard this repatriation flight? What was the experience like? Let us know in the comments!