Flight Review: Jetstar Asia Airways – Singapore to Da Nang, Vietnam

Jetstar Airways is a Qantas owned low-cost carrier that operates in Australia and New Zealand. The Jetstar Group also includes Jetstar Asia Airways, based in Singapore; Jetstar Pacific Airways, based in Vietnam; and Jetstar Japan. Qantas owns only a minority interest in each of these Asia based carriers.

Jetstar Asia, the Singapore based entity, flies to 22 destinations in North and Southeast Asia with a fleet of 18 Airbus A320 aircraft. Since relocating to Singapore in 2014, I’ve flown on a number of these routes.

At the end of August, we travelled to Vietnam for a long weekend and to get there, we flew Jetstar Asia from Singapore to Da Nang. Below is a review of our flight and some general observations on Jetstar Asia

Jetstar Asia Airways 541
Singapore to Da Nang
Airbus A320
Thursday, 31 August 2017
Depart: 17:25
Arrive: 19:05
Duration: 2 hours 30 minutes

Booking

Like its US counterparts, Jetstar is a low-cost carrier that charges extra for everything from picking your own seat to checking luggage. Even water and light snacks cost extra. However, I find the rules and fees to be a bit less draconian than those on similar airlines in the US.

For example, Jetstar Asia allows carry-on baggage of 7kg (15 lbs) per passenger for free, without the limiting size restrictions that are all too common on US airlines.

When booking on Jetstar, you can choose from a number of “bundles” that offer increased carry-on weight allowances, checked baggage allowances, and pre-paid meal options. There are also bundles that allow you to earn Qantas loyalty points for your Jetstar flight. The bundle prices below were per flight.

bundles

I like to book the cheapest, non-bundle deal and then complain later about the luggage and fare limitations. However, in this case, as we planned to do a bit of shopping in Vietnam, we decided to pro-actively buy 15kgs of checked luggage for both the flight to Da Nang and the return flight back to Singapore. This ended up costing S$21 per flight, but there are a lot of other luggage options if you need to buy more.

baggage

As we opted for the non-bundle fare, we would have had to pay extra if we wanted to pre-select our seats. There were three pre-paid seat options for our flight: S$6.00 for a “standard” seat; S$13.00 for an “upfront” seat; or S$30 for an “extra legroom” seat. These were per seat, per flight prices, so if you are travelling with a large group, these fees can really add up.

seat options

I hate paying to select my seat, so I didn’t do it on this flight. When I went to check-in online, we were automatically assigned two aisle seats in separate rows. Once on board, I was able to swap my aisle seat with the woman sitting next to Amy.

The booking process is a bit long as Jetstar tries to sell you a million different “extras”. One of those options is to join Club Jetstar.

Club Jetstar

Club Jetstar is offered for a one-time joining fee of S$50 and then an annual fee of S$49.36 per year, waived for the first year (this “waiver” is a joke since the joining fee is almost for the exact same amount). My guess is that the benefits of this program are minimal and would probably just result in a lot of spam emails from Jetstar. I decided to pass.

The booking process also includes the option to pre-pay for hot meals. Judging by the number of people who received pre-paid meals on our flight, this must provide a big revenue boost for Jetstar (these pre-paid meals were all served first).

Hot meal

There are also a few snack options that can be purchased along with a $10 in-flight voucher which can be had for S$9.50.

Meals and Snacks
Don’t miss the Tropical Pizza!

Flight

I sat in seat 19E, the middle seat on the right-hand side of the plane. The Airbus A320 has 30 rows of economy in a 3-3 configuration.

The seats on the flight were leather and aside from the “extra legroom” option, were all the same. There are no business class seats or premium seats.

Google Flights lists the legroom at 29”, or below average, and I found them to be cramped, especially when the person in front of me reclined his seat. The seats may not be as bad as Spirit – at 28” – but they’re pretty close. If you are especially tall and expect the plane to be full, or if you are booked on a longer flight (Jetstar flies plenty of longer routes using the A320), you may want to splurge on the “extra legroom” option.

On a bit of a side note, I am actually a fan – at least in theory – of pre-reclined seats. Anything that prevents the person in front of you from having control over your own comfort.  I just wish the airlines that did offer these – Spirit and Frontier – also offered decent legroom. Jetstar does not offer pre-reclined seats, but I found myself kind of wishing that they did during this flight – especially when the person in front of me fully reclined his seat all flight.

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Tight fit
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Leather seat

One of my biggest complaints about the seats was how thin they were. I could feel the knees of the person behind me digging into my lower back every time he changed position or bumped into my seat, which seemed to happen a lot. This was despite the fact that I didn’t recline my seat during the flight. If no one is behind you, the seats are just fine, but if you have someone tall behind you, expect to be jostled quite a bit.

The inflight Jetstar menu, like the options at booking, is extensive, but if you didn’t pre-order don’t expect all the options to be available when the flight attendants get to your seat. For example, we tried to order a sleeve of Pringles and a meal option, but they had run out of both by the time the flight attendants made it to our row. There was plenty of alcohol available however, and we ordered two beers for S$8.00 each.

The A320 has individual air vents which helped to keep the plane cool. There were also individual reading lights available above the seats.

 

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The actual flight to Da Nang was uneventful. We taxied in Singapore for about 20 minutes before a short-take off roll and a smooth ride out. The seat belt sign was turned off after about 10 minutes. On both of our flights, the pilots made no welcome announcements, and aside from asking the flight attendants to take their seats during a bit of turbulence on the way to Da Nang, there were no other pilot announcements.

I passed the time on the flight reading and listening to pre-downloaded podcasts. There was no Wi-Fi or in-seat power on the flight.

Unlike most US discount airlines, I’ve never had a problem with Jetstar’s on-time performance. Similarly, our flight touched down in Da Nang, Vietnam right on time. The total trip was just shy of 2 hours and 30 minutes. We deplaned directly onto the runway where a shuttle bus took us to immigration.

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Welcome to Vietnam

Summary

Jetstar Asia is a low-cost carrier with great access to Southeast Asia. Although the seats aren’t the most comfortable, the overall flight experience is generally pleasant. For short to mid-range flights, I wouldn’t hesitate to fly them again.

This was our flight path, courtesy of flightaware.

Flightaware

 

Flight Review: United Airlines Flight 1 from San Francisco to Singapore

In January, United Airlines announced that it would begin operating non-stop service between San Francisco and Singapore. The flight commenced service on June 1st and is operated by a stretch 787 Dreamliner.

The new service holds several distinctions:

  1. It is the longest route operated by a Dreamliner (just shy of 16 hours); and
  2. It is the only non-stop flight currently operating between Singapore and the U.S.

The second distinction will not last long, as Singapore Airlines recently announced plans to begin operating the same route starting this October. That flight will be operated using a new Airbus A350.

As soon as I read about the new non-stop service between the U.S. and Singapore, I was eager to book my ticket. So when I found a reasonably priced flight that coincided with my trip back home this summer, I booked it.

My itinerary, originating in New York City, was as follows:

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The ticketed travel time was 26 hours and 15 minutes. That is longer than I would normally like, but isn’t yet in the realm of the ridiculous.

Newark To San Francisco

My flight out of Newark was delayed because a maintenance worker was still on the plane when we began taxiing out to the runway (I wish I was making that up). As he apparently had no desire to travel to California with us, we had to go back to the gate so he could get off.

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Maintenance worker fixing an overhead compartment

Due to “paper work requirements” once we returned to the gate, our ten minute delay turned into a 70 minute wait. I won’t review that flight in detail here, but I will note that it was nice to cross the country in a wide-body 777, as opposed to a single aisle 737 or the equivalent Airbus A320 (which seems to be the norm these days). Not only did the 777 have United’s full range of entertainment options (an onboard TV for each seat), but the double aisle plane also provided far more space to stretch and walk around in. It was also nice to be able to track the flight progress in real time, via the onboard flight map.

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Our flight was nearly 6 hours long, and I used the time to catch up on a few movies:

  1. Sisters – with Amy Poehler and Tina Fey. This was pretty disappointing
  2. The Night Before – with Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Seth Rogen. This was okay but didn’t possess the same gut-splitting humor as similar Seth Rogen fare.
  3. Love and Air Sex – I thought this bitter sweet (and fairly raunchy) comedy was the best of the lot. It didn’t receive great reviews, but I would recommend checking it out.

Once we landed in San Francisco, I used my American Express Platinum card to get into the Centurion Lounge where I ate dinner and rested before the 16 hours flight to Singapore.

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Entrance to the American Express Centurion Lounge at SFO
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Free dinner buffet at the Centurion Lounge

San Francisco to Singapore

The non-stop flight from San Francisco to Singapore is United’s flagship route, and has accordingly been designated UA Flight 1.

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Flight 1 to Singapore, departing at 10:55

The flight to Singapore was scheduled to depart at 10:55pm, which was nearly 2:00am on the East Coast, so I was exhausted when it was finally time to board. However, I was reluctant to actually get on the plane until the last minute, as I did not want to spend any more time onboard than was absolutely necessary.

I went down to the gate to snap a few pictures as the boarding process was getting under way.

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Starting to board UA flight 1

Due to the reflection from the boarding area, I wasn’t able to take a decent picture of the plane. The picture below will have to suffice.

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The United 787-9 getting ready to depart

After snapping the above pictures, I headed to a nearby shop to do some last minute (American) shopping – I bought chewing gum – which isn’t sold in Singapore. I waited until I heard a last call announcement for the flight, and then headed back to the gate to board.

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Monitor just before you get on the plane – in case you are in the wrong place?

I was in the back of the plane for this flight. United offers three classes of service on the flight: Business, Premium Economy, and Economy. It would have cost roughly US$200 to upgrade from Economy to Premium Economy, but it didn’t really seem worth the price given the benefits are a bit underwhelming – a few more inches of leg room and your seats are closer to the middle of the plane.

I was also eager to see what United’s 787 Economy seating was like. To my surprise, I found the seats to be comfortable and the leg room to be more than adequate.

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Large entertainment monitor and sufficient leg room

The entertainment monitors were also large and easy to operate.

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They included a USB port which is a big improvement over old economy seats.

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The Economy and Premium Economy sections are in a 3-3-3 seating arrangement. As is my preference, I had pre-selected an aisle seat in the middle section. This is my favorite long-haul economy seat, as it provides for aisle access and, when sleeping, gives the person in the middle seat a second option for getting out to use the bathroom – that way it isn’t a given that you will be woken up if that person needs to get out (and can’t gracefully climb over you).

Once onboard the plane, I fell asleep almost immediately. I woke up when we began our long take-off roll. After reaching cruising altitude, I took a sleeping pill and slept through dinner. In total, I slept for a little over eight hours.

After waking up, I turned on the entertainment monitor to see our real-time flight progress. Unfortunately, this was the only update I received. . .

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I’m not sure if the flight progress was turned off or if it simply wasn’t working. I checked multiple times throughout the trip but with no luck. I would be curious to know if other people on the same flight have had this issue.

One of my biggest pet peeves with the flight was the complete lack of communication from the pilots. By my count, they made exactly zero announcements during the flight (granted I did sleep for about half the trip). Even when we went through a period of pretty bad turbulence, there wasn’t a single word from the cockpit – just an announcement from the chief flight attendant instructing the other attendants to take their jump seats. Maybe I’m speculating here, but could the turned off flight-tracker and pilot silence be related. . .

On a lighter note, I really enjoy the bathrooms on the Dreamliner, especially the contactless sink and toilet handle. These are a huge improvement over traditional airplane bathrooms.

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Contactless sink
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Just wave your hand to flush the toilet

I also enjoy the larger windows on the 787.

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And the higher ceiling

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Lots of overhead room

The food, on the other hand, was not very good (huge understatement). Actually, I had the noodles for breakfast, and they were completely inedible.

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Is this supposed to be breakfast?

 

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Up close with the United noodle breakfast dish – do not eat this!

Summary

Although the food was disgusting and the on-board flight tracker did not work, I actually found United’s Economy class on the 787-9 to exceed my expectations. The seats were reasonably comfortable and the leg room was far more than I expected (two factors which I think are more important than the food). In addition, the entertainment options were good, and the monitor was large and easy to operate – plus it included a USB port.

Although this flight may not always make sense for me (given that my family and friends primarily live on the East Coast), United’s Flight 1 offers a great new option for travelers who need to go between the U.S. and South East Asia.

After disembarking, I looked up our flight path via FlightAware. This was the route we took:Screen Shot 2016-07-06 at 11.01.55 AM.png