Jestar Pacific Airlines JSA Co. (formerly Pacific Airlines) is a low-cost airline operating from Vietnam, with its headquarters in Ho Chi Minh. Pacific Airlines was acquired and renamed in 2008 by Jetstar, a large airline with a flight network throughout south-western Asia, Australia and Oceania. The orange livery of Jetstar is as ubiquitous in Vietnam as easyJet is in England. The air fleet is standard for a budget airline and not very big: 5 Boeing 737-400s and 2 Airbus A320-200, all with an economy-class layout. JetStar's network within Vietnam connects 7 large cities and resorts. Besides this Jetstar Pacific offers a lot of other services, which will be mentioned further on. Letís see what this low-cost airline has to offer on a round-trip flight from Ho Chi Minh to Hanoi.
The flight was scheduled for 8 AM, so I arrived at the Tan Son Nhat airport (full name Sân bay quốc tế Tân Sơn Nhất) as early as I could, only to find it quite deserted. The domestic terminal is right next to the international one, but in a separate, two-story building. A regular airline, two low-cost airlines and two ďsomething in betweenĒ airlines cover Vietnamese domestic market. A small check-in area for Jetstar was immediately across from Vietnam Airlines. My ticket was processed quite fast and I quickly received my boarding pass: a regular receipt like from a store. Or rather, two receipts held together by a paperclip; one is taken away when boarding the plane.
Domestic flights donít get a separate passport control area, which is instead lumped together with the baggage check. You simply have to show them your passport, boarding pass, and get your baggage scanned. Vietnamese citizens simply show their ID card. Afterwards youíre allowed into the waiting area. There are only 14 gates and mine was number 2, but as it turned out this didnít mean that boarding takes place directly from the terminal. To get to some of the planes you have to take a bus, which reminded me strongly of Sochi International Airport. In the terminal there are several eateries and several shops with souvenirs and other goods. By Vietnamese standards the prices are steep, but for most Western travelers Ė not so much.
Boarding was announced in both English and Vietnamese, so there was no missing it. When it was time, the passengers formed a line which moved along quite quickly. Nothing like the sluggish pace most of us are used to in large airports. Boarding was announced twice, then came the last call and that was it. We got onto the bus, which took us to the plane.
Boarding was taking a while (passengers were directed to either end of the plane, depending on their seat), I was able to take quite a few photos. Unfortunately, they wouldnít let me walk off a little way to get a picture of the entire plane. The airline staff is very punctual and sticklers for the rules. I can't blame them: the management is very strict, and it's easy to lose your job. So I decided to be a good tourist and do as I was told. On the last photo you can see a Vietnamese aircraft-towing vehicle smile:)
I got a seat right next to the emergency exit. Interesting that Jetstar doesnít sell these seats for a premium. Although you could pick your seat for an extra fee on their website, I chose not to, but got this one with more leg room anyway. However, this was probably the only advantage I had over the other seats. There were four flight attendants, one man and three ladies. The steward, who could speak perfect English, told me how to open the door in case of emergency and gave me an instruction booklet. While taxiing to the runway, the crew went over the safety procedures. This is pretty rare nowadays, as most airlines show a video explaining the procedures instead. Next followed a pretty thorough check by the attendants to make sure seatbelts were buckled, seats were upright and phones were off. The stewardesses wore uniforms made to look like traditional Vietnamese clothing in Jetstarís colors, which I thought was a nice touch.
Takeoff went pretty quickly, which I liked. No delays. The seat pocket contained the usual set, as can be seen on the photos: a magazine, a menu, two instruction cards (the usual, plus one about the emergency exit) and everyoneís favorite, the airsickness bag. The prices in the menu were even steeper than back at the airport. You selection included food, drinks, food-and-drink package deals, and various Jetstar souvenirs. Nobody that I saw ordered any food, let alone the souvenirs, and mostly just got water, which was free. The Vietnamese gentleman sitting next to me ordered coffee, which turned out to be instant coffee. I wouldnít have gone for that if it were free. The flight was only 2 hours long and passed in a flash. Descent and landing were also fairly quick and smooth. The Boeing, of course, rocked appreciably when it went into reverse, but that was only expected.
In Hanoi, it was raining hard, and everyone made a break for the bus. I managed to snap several photos. The bus took us to the terminal entrance, immediately beyond which was the baggage claim and a counter for ordering a taxi (which I would not recommend doing, read on). Afterwards came the green corridor with sliding doors and then finally the main building of Noi Bai (full name Sân bay quốc tế Nội Bài). The airport was pretty well furnished, with lots of tourist help stands (offering free maps of Hanoi, books of Vietnamese recipes and other pamphlets and booklets). There was also a post office (which I also wouldnít recommend using, as explained below), and ATMs (including HSBC and CitiBank). I grabbed a bite to eat at a café and took a taxi to Hanoi (which cost me a pretty penny). If you get the chance, take a bus or get a friend with a motorbike to give you a lift. Why? Because the city bus will cost you 5000 VND (about 22 cents, US), and a special Jetstar shuttle (you can get tickets right at the airport) will cost 35000 VND (1.7 USD). On the other hand, a taxi will cost you 350000 VND (17 USD). Donít repeat my mistake! You can find a map of the Hanoi bus system online, and navigating it is cake as long as you know the street on which your hotel is located. As for the post office, nothing in it has price tags, so the prices they charge depend on how gullible you look.
Now for the return flight. The Hanoi airport isnít large, a lot smaller than the one in Ho Chi Minh, and divided into two strictly separate areas for domestic and international flights. The building is shaped like a pagoda, with Jetstarís check-in area located on the first floor in the right hand corner of the building (right next to the arrivals area). I couldnít find it at first, but then saw employees in Jetstar uniforms and followed them to the stands. Turned out my flight had been canceled, so I was quickly reassigned to another one later on. Not a problem, for me. There was no free wifi, but I found a seat outside the VIP Lounge and managed to connect to their wireless network, which was not password protected.
Finally came the boarding announcement. Everyone immediately filed onto buses and we were taken to our plane. It was the same one Iíd taken from Ho Chi Minh.
This time I had ample opportunity to take photos. Boarding went excruciatingly slowly while we lounged outside in the heat. Jetstar is evidently trying to streamline the boarding process as much as possible, but they need to rethink how theyíre going about it. Finally, everyone was on board. The plane immediately began taxiing for the runway while the flight attendants went over procedures. This time I didnít get the privilege of being next to the emergency exit, but at least the seat next to me was free. The plane was half-empty. Most likely, this lack of passengers was the reason my earlier flight had been canceled and combined with this later one. JetStar must have a pretty tight budget. Hereís a picture of the restrooms.
The layout and routines of the plane and crew were exactly the same as on my first flight, so rather than repeating myself Iíll take this opportunity to go into the airline's additional services. Aside from the aforementioned JetStar shuttle service, you can also fly with baggage (like most low-cost airlines, even one item of baggage is not free), buy food and drinks (really unnecessary for a 2-hour flight), change flights or even assign the ticket to someone else (useful for businesses), get miles with the Qantas Frequent Flyer program, buy access to the VIP Lounges and purchase insurance. I really regretted that I missed the part about the shuttle earlier, so I made sure to read everything twice.
By and by, we reached our destination, but landing was delayed for a while. We started the descent, then were told to turn around and come in again. I still have no idea why. The Ho Chi Minh airport isnít nearly as large or busy as some major international hubs, so I doubt there was so much air traffic. I flew in with United Airlines, and the landing had gone much faster (you can read about this in my other review). Eventually we landed and were taken to the terminal by bus. The flight attendants did a good job and were attentive and quick. Hereís a photo of them smile:)
In conclusion, a little bit more background on Jetstar Pacific Airlines. The airline was based on a European low-cost model. Its entire air fleet is on lease. Everything has to be paid for, including a fee when you pay online with credit card. Baggage is the standard for a low-cost airline Ė only a carry-on bag is allowed by default. You pay for getting from point A to point B. Everything else is extra. There is no bonus program, but you can enter your Qantas Frequent Flyer number, although you will only receive points for any extras you purchase (baggage, food, shuttle, etc). The earlier you get your tickets, the cheaper they will be. There are many flights so you will almost always be able to find one to suit you. Jetstar only has codesharing only with Qantas. Its main competitor in Vietnam is VietJet Air, so when looking for a flight be sure to compare the prices of these two low-cost airlines. Good luck!