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.

IMG_2432
Tight fit
IMG_2481
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.

 

IMG_2436

IMG_2433

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.

IMG_2501.jpg
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

 

48 Hours in Yangon, Myanmar

Jetstar has great non-stop fares between Singapore and Yangon. We booked one way flights for less than S$100 each (for timing reasons our return flight was on SilkAir – Singapore Airlines’ sister airline). Our flight was scheduled to leave Singapore at 5:15pm and land in Yangon at 6:30pm (Myanmar is on a weird time zone that is one and a half hours behind Singapore).

The flight was about two and a half hours long but we were late getting out due to bad weather. Once in the air, the flight was fairly uneventful.

It was dark when we landed, and there was little to see out the window. A friend at work had told me the Yangon airport is very modern (built recently in partnership with Thailand), so I was a bit surprised when we disembarked directly onto the runway.

Once inside the terminal, we joined the long, disorganized queue for Immigration.

IMG_4048.JPG
Immigration line at Yangon International Airport

The line was not as bad as it first looked, and we waited for only about 25 minutes before our turn came. Entry to Myanmar requires an advance visa which we obtained in Singapore the week before (this is a fairly straightforward process for Singapore residents but does involve some planning and a bit of time).

There was a visa on arrival booth at the airport in Yangon but it was unmanned when we arrived. Also, it may be limited to select nationalities, so check before you plan your trip.

Once through immigration we changed US and Singapore dollars into Burmese Kyat. I had read that the currency exchanges only accept US dollars, Euros and British pounds, so it was nice to find a place that took Singapore dollars.

The line for customs was disorganized, sprawling and vaguely reminiscent of Cameroon. Everyone’s bag, regardless of size, had to go through a single scanner manned by two men who were both distractedly playing on their phones. Amy and I were able to bypass what would surely have been a long wait by simply cutting to the front of the “line” and throwing our bags on with a Burmese family.

Once through the terminal and outside, we approached two youngish looking men in official uniforms. “Taxi?” I asked and one of them blew a whistle and a taxi appeared before us. We negotiated the price to our hotel before getting in, 10,000 Burmese Kyat, or about eight US dollars. I did not see any formal taxi lines. The ride to the hotel took about half an hour.

It was Amy’s birthday weekend so we were staying at one of the city’s nicer hotels, the Park Royal Yangon. Hotels in Yangon, unlike Thailand and Vietnam, are expensive and our hotel, with breakfast included, was almost twice the rate we would normally expect to pay in one of those countries.

I was surprised to find that the Park Royal, unlike similar hotels in the area, had a metal detector and baggage scanner at the entrance.

Security at the hotel lobby

Recently remodeled, our hotel room was clean and spacious with a comfortable bed and large bathroom. Our view was not much to write home about though.

 

IMG_4166.JPG
View from our hotel window

Saturday

The morning haze brought back bad memories of Singapore last October (luckily, this haze was largely gone by early afternoon).

After breakfast, we showered and changed and then climbed into a taxi for a short ride to the Yangon Heritage Trust, the meeting point for our morning walking tour. The cab ride was delayed a bit due to a morning procession of monks requesting alms.

IMG_0574.JPG
Buddhist monks on the streets of Yangon

Our walking tour left from the Heritage Trust’s office next to the Yangon Port Authority (our taxi got lost trying to find the right building).

The tour is $30 per person (fairly expensive for Myanmar) but we were told proceeds are used for preservation and conservation of Yangon’s poorly maintained historic buildings. The heritage trust is also working to transform the urban downtown of Yangon by promoting a revitalized, cleaned up city with more green spaces and a friendlier river front. There is little progress right now but our guide seemed hopeful that the new government, once fully in power, will be amenable to positive change.

The tour was a great introduction to the city and its troubled past through the prism of architecture. There were only two other people on the tour with us – both US expats.

We heard about this government building which was partly destroyed in 1941 by Japanese bombs. Little has been done since to restore it to its pre-war glory.

IMG_4069.JPG
Government building still in use today

Remarkably, many of the city’s rundown buildings (including the one above) remain occupied – either by small business owners or residential tenants.

We ventured inside this building which is occupied by several small law offices, lots of families and, disturbingly, hundreds of giant rats. See if you can spot them in the second picture amongst the basement’s garbage.

IMG_4080.JPG
A historic building in downtown Yangon falling apart
IMG_4085.JPG
Rats!

Based on their size, there doesn’t seem to be any shortage of food to scavenge.

Many of the buildings were constructed during the country’s British occupation prior to WWII. Unfortunately, many of these buildings have been poorly maintained. Architecture styles ranged the full gambit from Art Deco to neoclassical.

IMG_4070.JPG
Art Deco building in downtown Yangon
IMG_4074.JPG
Neoclassical columns
IMG_4096.JPG
View from the city’s downtown park

The tour left us off at Bogyoke Market (formerly known as Scotts market).

The tour ended around midday and the heat was becoming oppressive (93 degrees Fahrenheit or about 34 Celsius). Although only a few blocks away, we decided to take a taxi to the Musmeah Yeshua synagogue.

The synagogue is the only one of its kind in a city that has just five Jewish families (excluding expats). At one time the city was home to over 3,000 Jews.

IMG_4130.JPG
Entrance to the Yangon Synagogue

We visited on a Saturday morning and were told the synagogue only hosts Friday night services now. The previous night only three people showed up, not enough for a minyan (the quorum of ten Jewish adults required for certain religious ceremonies).

inside the synagogue

After visiting the synagogue, we walked to 999 Shan Noodle, where we had a cheap but delicious meal of Burmese noodles. Popular on trip advisor, the restaurant had more tourists than locals. 999, its popularity well deserved, was clean, efficient and served a great meal.

By our glutinous western standards, the meal was rather small (similar to hawker dishes in Singapore) and so we headed over to the historic Strand Hotel for high tea.

There were two options: a traditional British high tea and a more local Burmese choice. We split one of each.

British high tea

 

Burmese high tea

We booked a food tour of Yangon for dinner. At 6:00pm, our tour guide James met us at the hotel, and after brief introductions, we headed to Chinatown via taxi. We were the only ones on the tour.

James took us to a small restaurant and we sampled a range of local Burmese foods. Of particular note for me was the fried tofu made from chickpeas instead of soybeans and the sham noodles (sticky rice noodles similar to 999). Similar to Thai cuisine, many dishes in Burma include peanuts.

IMG_4196.JPG
Final stop on the food tour
IMG_4192.JPG
local beer

James was informative but not overly friendly. It was a bit like an awkward three person first date with stilted small talk: so what do you do in your free time? How did you get into this line of work? Etc. etc.

The food was all good though and it was nice having someone who could order for us and explain the local dishes. We went to four restaurants / food vendors in total. My favorite was probably a sidewalk fish stall in Chinatown that reminded me of the fish mamas in Cameroon. The fish was lightly seasoned and grilled perfectly.

FullSizeRender (12).jpg
fish from a street vendor in Chinatown

We also enjoyed this local dessert which was reminiscent of Chendol from Penang, Malaysia.

IMG_0641.JPG
Colorful dessert

Yangon is a different city at night – much more vibrant, active and colorful.

Yangon at night

Sunday

In the morning we ate breakfast at the hotel – I was pleasantly surprised that many of the hot dishes were new. I also explored the hotel and discovered a large state of the art fitness studio and two bars.

We left for the iconic Shewdagon Pagoda shortly after breakfast. The Buddhist temple is the tourist highlight of Yangon and it was especially crowded while we were there. This was partly due to the presence of a large cruise boat in port.

IMG_4221.JPG

 

The tourists were still outnumbered by the local Burmese who came to the temple to worship and socialize at the famous pagoda.

The pagoda has a strict no shoes or socks policy and knees must be fully covered. I was required to purchase a traditional Burmese dress which i personally think looked quite flattering. I received a lot of positive feedback from locals and westerners alike (or at least that’s how I’ve chosen to interpret the laughs and pointing).

IMG_4232.JPG
New outfit
fa2aaa22-90fd-4a4f-831e-55c8f46be827.jpg
matching

After the pagoda we went back to Scotts market and wandered through the Byzantine stalls, eventually purchasing a local acrylic impressionistic painting depicting Yangon in the rain.

We ate at one more local restaurant that served Sham noodles and  other traditional dishes and then headed to the airport for our SilkAir return flight to Singapore.

A few other notes and thoughts on Yangon:
-The people were by and large friendly and helpful. At the market we found very few pushy salesmen – instead they were often reserved and rather shy.
–  lots of stray animals, especially dogs roaming the city. The pagoda was crawling with cats.
– In contrast to other Southeast Asian cities (e.g. Ho Chi Minh and Bangkok), there were almost no motorbikes in the downtown area. We were told this was due to a long standing ban instituted by a former city general. Although this generally results in a less chaotic downtown it also has the unintended consequence of increasing the number of cars on the road and by extension exacerbating the already bad traffic situation.
– The taxis are all unmetered and fares should be agreed prior to departure.