Change Your Altitude

Check and Vet Before You Book: Vietnam Airlines in Hot Water

Sometimes airlines do stupid things.

And then they rightly get into trouble for it.

Then they do it again.

The Scoop:

In what seems to be a wildly unprofessional case of an airline over promising and under delivering, SkyTeam member Vietnam Airlines has been sanctioned by the Vietnamese government and Civil Aviation Authority for illegally selling tickets to paying customers on routes they had not gotten official approval of operating in the first place.

Which means that unwitting passengers – Delta codeshare and other SkyTeam folks included – bought tickets on flights with Vietnam Airlines that might not ever operate. Not good.

This scandal doesn’t involve new routes or international routes according to the report that was leaked out of Hanoi today, but it does involve an extensive array of popular domestic tourist routes within Vietnam.

Basically what’s happened is that the airline is seeing an uptick of demand in their domestic (and to a lesser extent regional) flights due to the progression of Vietnam as a popular vacation spot, booming business with the country opening up to the global market and lastly Vietnam Airlines’ introduction to the SkyTeam network and the subsequent codeshare and interline agreements that were then signed.

This then has led the airline to introduce part ad-hoc part semi pre-planned ‘one off’ flights to accommodate the spike in demand during peak periods, not really loaded into their permanent schedules but bookable online through their own site and the site of their partner airlines and agencies.

Except while available for sale, the government didn’t know about these new flights and have asked VN for clarification, as they might not ever get approved to fly in the first place. Especially those that were scheduled to be added at peak times where airports such as Ho Chi Minh City Tan Noh Sat Airport and Hanoi Noi Bai are already overcrowded and operating at over maximum capacity.

Vietnam Airlines might now operate an ultra modern fleet of Airbus and Boeing aircraft, it seems as though some old remnants of their past might persist.

The Takeaway:

Vietnam Airlines done did bad on this one.

It seems as though most of the ‘extra’ flights scheduled and made available for purchase run after February 2017 and for the most part go through the end of April – peak season for travelers to Vietnam and just in time for the ‘Tet’ festival – the country’s version of New Years.

It is important to note that it is possible to be a passenger booked on a Delta codeshare flight with Vietnam Airlines, booked through and be affected by this mess. So check now and then double check tomorrow before heading off on your travels.

Other SkyTeam airline passengers supposedly affected are folks from Korean Air, Air France and KLM.

If in any doubt, ask to shifted to another flight. Or another airline. JetStar Pacific, a Qantas group subsidiary, is a safe and reliable option for travel inside Vietnam.

I really don’t understand what the thought process was behind this one – not quite sure how the airline thought they could get away with this or just how confident they must have been that all these extra flights might have been approved. I mean we’re talking about in the region of 900 flights here.

And it doesn’t bode well when the Civil Aviation Authority of Vietnam (CAAV) has this to say about the situation:

“Just because airlines have already sold tickets for additional flights does not mean that CAAV must approve these services. We have madeit clear that they will be fully responsible for any problems that may arise, to which the government has also agreed”

So if you’re planning a trip to Vietnam and have an itinerary in the affected time frame of these flights, definitely double and triple check.

Trust me, from personal experience on Vietnam Airlines, there’s very little recourse if things go awry and your flight is cancelled or your plane just doesn’t arrive. I’m not proud of my actions in this, but it took some spirited negotiating to get on a supposedly full scheduled flight after my ‘extra’ VN flight from the beach town of Nha Trang to Hanoi was cancelled.

While Nha Trang (and the rest of Vietnam) was truly beautiful, our experience with Vietnam Airlines was anything but.

The ‘best’ they could offer us was a flight two days later which would then mean we would miss our Singapore Airlines flight to Singapore on the day (booked on a separate itinerary so no protection). I saw a Japanese businessman bargain and argue with the check in agents and got on the next flight to Ho Chi Minh City and then onwards to Hanoi…the very same itinerary the check agents had denied us on. Though it’s really not in our nature, we did the same and voila! ‘Cancellations’ had happened in the past 15 minutes and we could get on. Which we did and we got to Hanoi with several hours delay and much stress.

The thing is we just knew that at least four people had been bumped off our new flight and given some bogus reason for it – which was bad. But our connecting itinerary to Singapore then to Tokyo and Los Angeles compelled us to do so. It was an awful end to what was an awesome vacation in that beautiful country.

Lesson of the story: be wary, very wary! I sincerely hope Vietnam Airlines’ relatively introduction into SkyTeam ups their game and perhaps the SkyTeam executives in conjunction with reputable partners at Delta, Korean Air and the like put pressure on VN management to cut things like this out and stamps out the sometimes lax, sometimes corrupt culture at the airline. It seems to be a recurring theme with the airline, and it’s not acceptable for other SkyTeam passengers to suffer from it.

It’s a shame because the onboard product (catering and crew) is actually quite decent! At the time VN had a few ex-Aeroflot planes with nothing on them and of course we ended up on them rather than the kitted out 777s that they were also flying (they now also have shiny 787 and A350s), but that’s another story for another day.

But if you take one thing from this post, one last time: if you are on VN, regardless of what SkyTeam carrier you booked through, check check check then check once more. Are you booked on an affected Vietnam Airlines flight in 2017, and if so are you worried? (You should be).


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