Whoa: Vietnam Airlines Launching San Francisco Flights

Whoa: Vietnam Airlines Launching San Francisco Flights

42

This is major — after (literally) decades of talking about it, it looks like Vietnam Airlines will finally start offering regularly scheduled flights to the United States.

Vietnam Airlines will fly to the United States

SkyTeam member Vietnam Airlines will begin flying between Ho Chi Minh City (SGN) and San Francisco (SFO) as of November 28, 2021 (that’s right, in just over a week). The new flight will operate with the following schedule:

VN98 Ho Chi Minh City to San Francisco departing 8:40PM arriving 7:30PM
VN99 San Francisco to Ho Chi Minh City departing 11:00PM arriving 6:40AM (+2 days)

The flight will cover a distance of 7,838 miles, and is blocked at 13hr50min eastbound and 16hr40min westbound. It looks like the flight will initially operate twice weekly in both directions, on Sundays and Wednesdays. I already see the flight in the schedule, though inventory hasn’t been loaded for all flights yet.

Vietnam Airlines intends to use a mix of Airbus A350-900s and Boeing 787-9s for the route, featuring business class, premium economy, and economy.

Vietnam Airlines’ Boeing 787-9 business class

Vietnam Airlines has been talking about launching this route for many years. In 2019 Vietnam finally got a Category 1 rating with the FAA, opening up the possibility of nonstop flights between the two countries.

More recently, Vietnam’s fast growing private airline, Bamboo Airways, has been working towards launching flights to the United States. But it looks like Vietnam Airlines will beat Bamboo Airways to the punch when it comes to launching regularly scheduled flights.

Bamboo Airways also wants to fly to the United States

Vietnam Airlines admits route will lose money

This is where the story gets really strange, if you ask me. VnExpress reports on statements today from Vietnam Airlines’ CEO about the new route to San Francisco. A couple of things stand out, in particular.

First of all, it’s stated that in order to operate this route nonstop, Vietnam Airlines will have to weight restrict the aircraft significantly. Instead of being able to carry 300+ passengers, the airline will only be able to carry at most 210-220 passengers on the westbound flight, to Vietnam. Two thoughts:

  • This is a total killer for the economics of the route, especially when you consider that Vietnam is largely a leisure market; the airline will have to command a huge price premium to not lose money, and that’s tough to do for a primarily leisure oriented destination
  • Does Vietnam Airlines have especially heavy (or low MTOW) A350s or 787s, or why does the airline need to restrict the payload so much, given that plenty of airlines operate significantly longer routes with those planes (for example, United used to fly from Los Angeles to Singapore, which is nearly 1,000 miles further)?

Then there’s this nugget — Vietnam Airlines’ CEO states that it will take five to 10 years before the airline is profitable on routes to the United States. Somehow it’s reasoned that the airline is better off operating the planes to the United States than not at all, given fixed costs.

A few further thoughts:

  • Vietnam to Los Angeles is a significantly larger market than Vietnam to San Francisco, so it’s kind of surprising the airline is operating to San Francisco; then again, I guess the flight will already be weight restricted, and that would be even more of an issue on Los Angeles flights
  • Vietnam still isn’t open to American tourists, so it’s kind of strange to launch the route at a time like this with under two weeks notice; maybe cargo is the primary motivator here?
  • In fairness to Vietnam, it’s possible for a route to directly lose money, but still make sense; this could have a positive impact on tourism and trade, and Vietnam is a fast growing and pro-business country
Vietnam Airlines Boeing 787-9

Bottom line

It looks like it’s finally happening — Vietnam Airlines will be launching a 2x weekly flight between Ho Chi Minh City and San Francisco as of late November 2021. The airline has been talking about this for years, so it’s cool to see it finally happen… I guess?

I mean, as an avgeek I’m thrilled to see this route launch. I just can’t rationalize the concept of starting a route that you believe will lose money for up to a decade from the get-go. I guess at least Vietnam Airlines is realistic, unlike so many other government owned airlines that launch routes to the United States and are surprised to lose money.

What do you make of Vietnam Airlines’ planned flight to San Francisco?

Conversations (42)
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  1. Telsa Guest

    Because the return flight cost about 4,000$ per passenger including flight, hotel for quarantine, and etc. costs. If you can do a simple math, the airfare itself can cost per passenger about $3000, impacted seated.

    Reason: Vietnamese government does not allow any other commercial flights, except Vietnam airline. Its Vietnamese citizens must return Vietnam. Regular price about $1000 for a return flight ticket, which can help a commercial flight generate profit. Thinking of about...

    Because the return flight cost about 4,000$ per passenger including flight, hotel for quarantine, and etc. costs. If you can do a simple math, the airfare itself can cost per passenger about $3000, impacted seated.

    Reason: Vietnamese government does not allow any other commercial flights, except Vietnam airline. Its Vietnamese citizens must return Vietnam. Regular price about $1000 for a return flight ticket, which can help a commercial flight generate profit. Thinking of about $3000 per one way flight.... You can understand why the Vietnamese government now just allows one Vietnam Airline.

  2. JJ Guest

    Yes, they are starting service into SFO but it is the Bay Area that is the local market. There will be connections throughout the US with interline agreements. Yes, this flight will lose money but might be supplemented with cargo.

  3. Kiwi Gold

    @Ben Given there is no passenger inventory for sale are we sure this is not a cargo only flight like QF12 or NZ1008/9 during the pandemic

  4. Josh Guest

    1. They might have only been able to get a slot at SFO.

    2. The inbound flight from SGN will take enough cargo to largely cover the overhead costs of the flight. Air cargo rates out of Vietnam are astronomical right now, and I would not be surprised to see VNA wanting a piece of that action.

    1. Kiwi Gold

      SFO and LAX are not slot controlled.

  5. Ralph4878 Guest

    Sure, LA has a bigger expat/Vietnamese-American population than SF...but maybe the airline is thinking about Vietnamese folks IN VIETNAM and where they want to go, rather than where Americans want to go?

  6. Weymar Osborne Gold

    Interesting that they decided to run the route from Ho Chi Minh City rather than Hanoi. It's over 500 miles closer, which on a flight that has to take a weight restriction could be significant. Although like you mention, it's strange that there needs to be a weight restriction in the first place, given that the flight is 7838 miles and should be pretty comfortably within the range of both the 787-9 or the A350.

  7. stogieguy7 Gold

    Lucky, you touched on an important point here and that is how the LA Basin is a much bigger market for US-Vietnam travel. And, LAX is a hub for Skyteam partner DL. So, to me, LAX would have made more sense to me than SFO - at least as an initial route. I would say that LAX and SFO would be the two top contenders for a nonstop to Vietnam based on market size and number of residents who have ties to SE Asia.

    1. Justin Guest

      I'd assume that since these ULR flights are driven largely by VFR traffic, SFO probably struck the right balance between permitting a flight w/ slightly shorter stage length and having a large enough target demographic, allowing them to test the waters before moving on to LAX. This isn't west coast-SIN; the ~300nm advantage that SFO has over LAX probably makes a huge difference in terms of economics given that the target population is likely way...

      I'd assume that since these ULR flights are driven largely by VFR traffic, SFO probably struck the right balance between permitting a flight w/ slightly shorter stage length and having a large enough target demographic, allowing them to test the waters before moving on to LAX. This isn't west coast-SIN; the ~300nm advantage that SFO has over LAX probably makes a huge difference in terms of economics given that the target population is likely way more price-sensitive.

  8. Trey Guest

    Sounds like they got a cargo contract

  9. Robert Schrader Guest

    Vietnam is not open to any foreign tourists, except for pilot projects in Hoi An (where hundreds of American tourists have arrived, just this week), Nha Trang and Phu Quoc.

    Why do you keep insisting that "XYZ destination is closed to Americans," when nationality has nothing to do with it?

    1. Leigh Guest

      Because he’s a US based blogger.

      Chill out.

    2. rob Guest

      chill out , could seem to be a bit harsh to a foreign commenter. just abrupt. Noting your strong defense of the USA based blogger "are you a personal friend" ?

    3. Leigh Guest

      I don’t know Ben/Lucky…but the response from the commentator was just over-the-top.

      I think most of his followers are US based…but glad for him that he has international fans.

      We all have access to the web, so use it for info about your respective country’s border entry requirements.

      Several airlines have great info. I’ve been traveling a lot, and AA’s Sherpa and Kenya Airways (don’t know the name of the program they use) are great. We’re adults, so act like it.

    4. Leigh Guest

      PS … Kayak.com also has a great program to see entry requirements for all the countries.

    5. reddargon New Member

      I'm just going to take a wild guess here and say that it's because the route is from the U.S. to Vietnam, so Americans are the relevant population in this case.

      Saying it's closed to Americans does not mean it's not also closed to others as well. That's just not nearly as relevant in this case given that the flight we are talking about is from the U.S.

  10. Andrew Pham Guest

    Anyone know what’s the redemption is for these flights?

  11. djc Guest

    Instead of assuming VN’s planes are magically heavier on this route probably easier to assume that they intend to carry more cargo. Combine that with business class traffic for tech companies and nonstop connectivity for the large Bay Area Vietnamese population and it might be less wild than it looks.

  12. Never In Doubt Guest

    I love how the announcement of any new route brings out the armchair airline executives at OMAAT who know better.

    With an extra helping of local civic boosters, who wonder why their little backwater burg wasn’t the obvious choice.

    Viva la internet!

  13. Watson New Member

    Why not fly to SJC? San Jose has the largest Vietnamese population of any city outside of Vietnam, and I'm sure the folks at Mineta would be more than happy to give them primo gates and slots, given the current lack of long-haul flights at the airport.

  14. Stephan V Guest

    I love it! I have family’s in Southeast Asia. Which I go twice a year. It just make it easier for me from layover to other asian country. It’s just a one next stop to my destination. I’m happy that
    Vietnam airlines has a new city launching from SGN to SFO.
    I can’t wait to go on. Especially now with everything up. You get what you pay for. I even thought it’s more...

    I love it! I have family’s in Southeast Asia. Which I go twice a year. It just make it easier for me from layover to other asian country. It’s just a one next stop to my destination. I’m happy that
    Vietnam airlines has a new city launching from SGN to SFO.
    I can’t wait to go on. Especially now with everything up. You get what you pay for. I even thought it’s more than the other layover airlines to but with food, resting and hotel. It all add up the same. But that’s my preference. Therefore, congratulations VN and welcome to SFO. Can’t wait to fly with you guys looking forward! In the meantime mask up, stay home, and safe, and get vaccinated! I’m a healthcare worker!

    1. Guest4579 Guest

      Americans do NOT want invading commie Vietnamese coming into our country! Now the pregnant broads will start arriving, live in group homes and then dump their anchor baby load (all paid for by our taxpayers including our disabled), then start inviting all their commie friends and relatives over here! WE ARE FULL UP and as a taxpayer I am tired of footing the bill for these diseased INVADERS!

  15. VT-CIE Gold

    One has to wonder what makes VN so well-managed compared to other Southeast Asian flag carriers such as TG, MH, GA and PR. Those have tried and repeatedly failed (with the exception of PR) to have long-haul service to the US, and yet VN is able to do so. Also, it has had a proper strategic acquisition of A350s and 787s, unlike Thai, which wanted a hodgepodge fleet of pretty much every widebody aircraft type...

    One has to wonder what makes VN so well-managed compared to other Southeast Asian flag carriers such as TG, MH, GA and PR. Those have tried and repeatedly failed (with the exception of PR) to have long-haul service to the US, and yet VN is able to do so. Also, it has had a proper strategic acquisition of A350s and 787s, unlike Thai, which wanted a hodgepodge fleet of pretty much every widebody aircraft type in existence, and Garuda, which cannot decide whether to keep or retire its 777s with first class, and is unlikely to ever operate fuel-efficient A350s and 787s (though GA does have the A330-900neo). It is commendable how VN is able to pursue sustainable growth on par with SQ, the only truly well-managed flag carrier in Southeast Asia, and one of the best in the world.

  16. glenn t Diamond

    Considering this new route may largely cater to a leisure market, it is strange that it is operating as an overnight flight in both directions.
    There is no way an airline can showcase itself doing overnighters, where a meal is served immediately on takeoff with the crew disappearing for the rest of the flight, with maybe a pre-arrival snack meal before arrival.
    Of course if cargo, especially fresh produce, is what it's all...

    Considering this new route may largely cater to a leisure market, it is strange that it is operating as an overnight flight in both directions.
    There is no way an airline can showcase itself doing overnighters, where a meal is served immediately on takeoff with the crew disappearing for the rest of the flight, with maybe a pre-arrival snack meal before arrival.
    Of course if cargo, especially fresh produce, is what it's all about it makes perfect sense. Cargo is totally indifferent to the time of day it flies.

  17. TVH Guest

    Perhaps the Vietnamese communities in San Jose and San Francisco are wealthier than the one in LA thus VN Airline can charge more for the flight.

    1. Guest4579 Guest

      Well they can sponge off Medicaid since they are "minorities with diversity." Vietnamese get disability retirement by claiming they can’t make a living as fishermen and because they are 40ish, too old to retrain(!) and have a language problem, they are given SSI. SSI is also given to elderly immigrants from Russia (and probably many other foreign countries) because their families cannot afford to support them. I have no problem with my tax dollars helping...

      Well they can sponge off Medicaid since they are "minorities with diversity." Vietnamese get disability retirement by claiming they can’t make a living as fishermen and because they are 40ish, too old to retrain(!) and have a language problem, they are given SSI. SSI is also given to elderly immigrants from Russia (and probably many other foreign countries) because their families cannot afford to support them. I have no problem with my tax dollars helping or taking care of disabled United States citizens but it really burns me that immigrants from foreign countries can get public funded services. We are being ripped off.
      What part of SAFETY/SECURITY/FINANCIAL SLAVERY don't our politicians understand?!!
      Oh that's right, the commie Dems WANT a communist takeover in this country.

  18. Greg Guest

    As others have pointed out, there's quite a bit of tech sector connection between Silicon Valley and Vietnam. I suspect that they're counting on being able to shut off 100 or so seats in economy, carry a full biz class cabin and get high yields on the economy class seats that they do fill. Plus, of course, cargo.

    1. Guest4579 Guest

      Bringing in foreign workers to displace Americans.

  19. Mike Saint Guest

    Wierd. Vietnam isn't even open yet. I booked tickets for June 2022 and am crossing my fingers that Vietnam is fully open by then as I am planning to travel throughout Vietnam this coming summer.

    1. Guest4579 Guest

      Why would you want to support them with your dollars? They ARE communists, correct? Then go there but don't come back.

  20. Ari Guest

    I just assumed this was for political reasons. Vietnam Airlines is state-owned and this route makes sense for geopolitical reasons.

  21. jfk2sfo Guest

    They may pick up some air freight business on this route for tech companies who have moved production to Vietnam vs China. There used to be a bunch of code-shared flights for Vietnam-SFO route that they can now grab themselves... And previously those travelers packed a LOT of checked luggage/boxes.

  22. shoeguy Guest

    Isn't this flight taking 100 seat penalties?

  23. Alan Guest

    There's been a trend to move electronics manufacturing to Vietnam (China trade war), so perhaps there's more business travel than most realize. Lots of products from Google and Apple are now made in Vietnam.

  24. Leigh Guest

    Always loved the airline's livery. Have flown a few times in Biz class between Australia and Asia, and they were pretty good. Standard reverse herringbone like many airlines, though a slightly cheaper version of the seat. Lounges in Vietnam were not modern, but comfortable nevertheless and provided all the basics paxs look for, and with nice tarmac and runway views.

    As for the business plan...yup, odd.

  25. Icarus Guest

    Southern California has the largest Vietnamese diaspora of over 300,000 versus around 150000 in the Bay Area. LAX is also a Delta hub with more connectivity. There’s a ban on tourists entering Vietnam and having a payload restriction they are clearly operating for prestige

    1. Grey New Member

      To be fair, LAX is one of Delta's smaller hubs, so perhaps they didn't think it was worth making an extra effort for...

    2. Dinh Guest

      Prestige is probably a huge factor. VN does not want to let QH be the first Vietnamese airline with nonstop scheduled flights to the US.

    3. Guest4579 Guest

      Yes. I once met a Vietnam vet and his wife who were outraged that our country GIVES homes to Vietnamese - while he as a veteran was able to get a home loan but it wasn't GIVEN to him!!
      This is an INVASION of our country - like our southern border problem - and needs to be stopped.

  26. Alec Guest

    I know SF is a bigger market but would think Seattle would work better for Delta connectivity. Would love to see United launch SFO to BKK to compete for SE Asia market but fat chance haha

    1. Justin Guest

      This would defeat the purpose of providing a nonstop option for one of the biggest Vietnamese population centers in the USA...

    2. Jeff Guest

      Precisely. If one needs connectivity, they'll connect through ICN or TYO (i.e., HND or NRT). These will reach most major markets in North America.

Featured Comments Most helpful comments ( as chosen by the OMAAT community ).

The comments on this page have not been provided, reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any advertiser, and it is not an advertiser's responsibility to ensure posts and/or questions are answered.

Leigh Guest

Because he’s a US based blogger. Chill out.

2
Ralph4878 Guest

Sure, LA has a bigger expat/Vietnamese-American population than SF...but maybe the airline is thinking about Vietnamese folks IN VIETNAM and where they want to go, rather than where Americans want to go?

1
Grey New Member

To be fair, LAX is one of Delta's smaller hubs, so perhaps they didn't think it was worth making an extra effort for...

1
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