The flight to Phuket, Thailand was my first flight on Thai Smile, a semi low cost airline. The flight was great. The experience was nearly the same as on a full-service airline. I booked another first, VietJet, a true low-cost airline, for the return flight, but it turns out this wasn’t the real Bikini Airlines,VietJet Air, I thought I was booking.
VietJet Air was founded as a privately owned airline based in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. The airline began operations on Christmas Day 2011. Its history is short but somewhat notorious.
Founded by Nguyễn Thị Phương Thảo, VietJet expanded rapidly thanks in part to headline-grabbing advertising featuring models posing as bikini-clad VietJet flight attendants. For the first year or so, some real flight attendants actually wore bikinis.
In 2017 VietJet completed an initial public offering on the Ho Chi Minh City Stock Exchange, and Phương Thảo became Vietnam’s first self-made female billionaire. That’s billion as in dollars not Vietnamese dong, which would only amount to about $40,000. If it hasn’t done so already, VietJet should soon surpass national carrier Vietnam Airlines as Vietnam’s largest airline. Whatever your opinion of the airline’s risqué advertising, you have to admire the lady. In the world of Asian airlines, she’s taking names and kicking butt.
Phương Thảo knows how to play on the world stage, too. During President Obama’s Vietnam visit, she announced an order for 200 Boeing 737 Max aircraft. We’ll see how that works out given the grounding of the Max for an unknown period. Still such a large aircraft order signals that VietJet’s growth is far from finished.
Although flight attendants now wear uniforms not bikinis, VietJet still sounded like a fun airline. I was looking forward to experiencing this low-cost carrier for the first time.
VietJet Flight VZ303 – Phuket (HKT) to Bangkok (BKK)
Like all airlines, VietJet ticket prices vary widely. I paid $52 for this one-way flight. Looking at other flights on its website, I found prices for economy seats on this flight in the next four weeks as low as $21 and as high as $103. SkyBoss seats seem to be priced in the range of $110 – $130.
Check In And Baggage Allowance
The check in process was fast and efficient. Three agents were on duty. I was concerned about VietJet’s weight allowance for carry-on bags. Baggage allowance is an important issue on low-cost carriers. According to its website each passenger is permitted to bring onboard two small items with a total weight of 7kg or less.
I had a large carry-on bag and a backpack both of which exceeded the weight limit by a good amount. In my travel experience in Asia, these limits often are not enforced. That was the case here, fortunately. I wouldn’t recommend trying that on low-cost carriers in the U. S. or Europe however.
VietJet has a sliding scale for checked bag fees. Prices ranges from 220 baht ($7) for 15Kg to 950 baht ($31) for 40Kg if purchased online. Buying baggage allowance at check in is substantially more expensive.
After a brief but pleasant stay (courtesy of Priority Pass) in the Coral Beach Lounge, it was a very short walk to Gate 5 where boarding via jet bridge had just begun. There were lines for rows 1-10, 11-26, and 27 -40. The process was very orderly unlike what often happens at gates in the U. S.. Also unlike the U. S., passengers in the back of the plane boarded first, and those upfront boarded last.
VietJet’s process speeds up boarding. Faster boarding means less ground time and potentially greater utilization of the aircraft which no doubt helps VietJet’s low-cost business model. When boarding from the tarmac, many Asian carriers use airstairs to board from doors in the front and back simultaneously which is even faster.
This A321 is all economy. Most seats are arranged 3-3 except for two rows of SkyBoss seats at the front that are 2-2. Three across economy seats are about 18 inches wide which is standard for A320 model aircraft. I estimate legroom in standard economy at 31 inches.
SkyBoss economy seats are slightly larger. Those seats come with perks like priority check in, lounge access, food and drinks onboard, some flight changes with no fee, a higher price tag, and according to VietJet, knowledge that:
- You are always stylish and proactive in society,
- You wish to enjoy every minute of your precious time, and
- You are a pioneer with a smart consuming style.
Okay, so you will have that going for you.
Economy seats have access to A/C power. Outlets are placed on the back of the seat in front so they are easy to find and use. Power is about the only amenity. There are no pillows, blankets or WiFi.
Bikini Airlines Fakeout
Taking my seat, 12A, I realized I’d been scammed, sort of. The emergency procedures card was labeled Thai VietJet. Even though the ticket was purchased on vietjetair.com. the flight was operated by Thai VietJet, a subsidiary of VietJet Air. That would have been obvious had I been familiar with VietJet’s two-letter airline code. I later learned that VietJet Air flights are designated VJ. Thai VietJet flights are designated VZ.
Boarding completed quickly. Pushback was early, and the taxi to the active runway was short.
Departing flights were using Runway 09 (zero nine or zero niner). Although not as scary as the approach to Juliana Airport on St Maarten, people on this Andaman Sea beach get a thrill when planes land on this runway.
To pass the time at cruise, I reviewed the VietJet literature and enjoyed views of the Malay Peninsula and the Gulf of Thailand. Thai VietJet provides snacks and meals for an additional charge. For example meals run $5 and water is $2. Pre booking your purchase receives a discount of up to 20%. Here are the menus.
It is helpful that most of the printed material comes in four languages, English, Thai, Chinese, and Vietnamese. Food and beverage service for the flight attendants was easy as hardly anyone asked for anything.
After that the Flight attendants announced over the PA that they would come through the cabin with neat VietJet souvenirs for sale. Just about everyone passed on this opportunity, too. It seemed that passengers were only interested in getting from A to B as cheaply as possible. I know that was my primary concern on this one-hour flight.
The inflight magazine displays the route map for VietJet Air and Thai VietJet. VietJet flies to numerous destinations in Vietnam, and its expanding list of international destinations includes cities in China, Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Australia, Macao, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and India.
VZ 303 arrived at Suvarnabhumi Airport on time at 11:50.
The aircraft parked at Gate B2. Because this was a domestic flight, it was a pleasure to walk into the terminal without having to go through Thai passport control for a change. Passport control here can be a nightmare at times for passengers in economy class.
Although I was deceived by VietJet’s website into thinking this was going to be a flight on the infamous Bikini Airlines, I wasn’t expecting bikinis on this flight anyway. Thai VietJet provides a true low-cost airline experience. Seats are tight and expect to pay for just about everything. But on a one-hour flight, low price is all I’m interested in., and the airline didn’t charge anything for the excess weight of my carry-on bags. I’d be more than happy to fly this airline again on similar routes, and I’m still looking forward to my first flight on Bikini Airlines.
What do you think of Bikini Airlines?