I recently had the pleasure of trying out one of Aeroplan’s newest airline partners, Bamboo Airways, on their flagship Dreamliner business class product.
This little-known Vietnam-based airline first took to the skies in 2016. Its initial focus was primarily on domestic and regional routes, but is quickly growing its network to include long-haul routes as well, with a view of launching flights to North America in the near future.
Bamboo Airways joined Aeroplan’s ranks of airline partners in late 2022, marking another exciting new business class product that’s now bookable on Aeroplan points.
Naturally, I couldn’t resist the chance to try it out on this journey between Europe and South East Asia.
In This Post
- Ground Experience
- Meal Service
- Snack Service
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Booking
Bamboo Airways’s lie-flat business class product is exclusive to its Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which the airline operates on long-haul international routes between Vietnam and London, Frankfurt, Sydney, and Melbourne.
There are currently just three Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners in its fleet, with 10+ still on order as the airline gradually expands its long-haul destinations.
Indeed, Los Angeles and San Francisco are listed on the airline’s website as upcoming new routes, which means that Bamboo Airways business class might be a convenient way to fly from the West Coast to Asia and beyond in the future.
Taking advantage of the “Asia 3” Aeroplan sweet spot, I booked this flight for 92,500 Aeroplan points. The total routing on booking was Newark–London–Hanoi–Singapore, which priced out at 87,500 points, plus an additional 5,000 points for a stopover in London.
Indeed, this is one of the most attractive uses of Aeroplan points, as it lets you take the long way around to get from North America to Asia. Flights with partner airlines of up to 11,000 miles in distance between North America and the Pacific zone price out at 87,500 points, with the option of adding a stopover at any point along the way for just 5,000 points.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Ground Experience
Bamboo Airways has several check-in counters at the South Terminal at London Gatwick, which are easily accessible once you arrive at the airport.
I arrived at London Gatwick about an hour prior to our 11:10am departure. The business class check-in was empty, and the quick procedure made for a seamless and effortless start to my journey.
As a business class passenger, I had complimentary access to the No. 1 Lounge at London Gatwick South Terminal, which is a lounge I’ve visited a couple of times before.
The lounge isn’t anything overly luxurious, but it offers a comfortable and convenient space to pass the time prior to a flight.
Keep in mind that the lounge tends to become quite crowded, since it’s utilized by numerous airlines as a contract lounge. This could make it slightly challenging to secure an ideal seat at peak times.
However, as a premium airline passenger, you’ll be given priority access during times of high occupancy compared to travellers using Priority Pass, of which this lounge is also a member.
Despite the crowds, the food on offer in the lounge is noteworthy, with a solid English breakfast spread. I had already eaten prior to my lounge visit, so I took the opportunity to complete some work before making my way to the boarding area.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Cabin
Bamboo Airways’s Boeing 787 features 26 lie-flat business class seats spread across seven rows in a 1-2-1 reverse herringbone configuration.
The seats are based on the Zodiac Cirrus seat model, which includes direct aisle access for every seat.
Window seats angle toward the windows, while the middle seats are angled toward one another.
The window seats would be the most ideal choice for solo travellers, as you benefit from having access to both an aisle and the windows.
On the other hand, the middle seats might the more suitable for couples, as they offer easy access to converse with one another during the flight.
It’s worth noting that there’s no privacy partition between the middle seats, so solo travellers may wish to steer clear, if at all possible. The seats are somewhat exposed to each other, and there isn’t too much privacy.
The cabin has a distinct “new plane smell” feeling, with an exceptionally clean and corporate feel. However, there isn’t too much in terms of customization or embellishments that stand out on the seats.
Both the cabin interiors and seat shells are grey, which doesn’t make for the most exciting interior look. Only the seat upholstery was branded in Bamboo Airways’s navy colours and designs, which added the slightest touch of brand personality.
After checking out the cabin, I took up residence in Seat 6K and settled into my surroundings. About two-thirds of the business class cabin was occupied by fellow passengers, and it seemed to be mostly young Vietnamese students heading home for the holidays.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Seat
Once seated, you’ll notice that the entertainment screen is situated directly in front of you on an angle.
A discreet button on the left releases the screen, which swings outward into a more optimal viewing angle.
Nestled beneath the entertainment screen is a footrest that also forms part of the bed when the seat is put into a lie-flat mode for sleeping.
Underneath is a medium-sized storage compartment, sufficient for keeping your shoes, laptop, camera bag, or other items.
Each seat has a small amount of surface space on the console by the window.
Another storage compartment is built into the vertical surface above the console. There’s enough room for a water bottle, book, or item of a similar size.
Underneath the console, the tray table slides out and folds forward. The tray isn’t remarkably roomy, and upon folding out, the two parts of the table were at different angles to each other.
As a result, the table was quite a wobbly surface, and anything placed on the tray table could potentially move around off, so you’ll want to keep a close eye on it.
The tray table is also a stationary piece, and can’t slide back and forth. Therefore, you’ll need to adjust your seat position in order to be closer to or farther away from it.
The panel near the shoulder houses the USB outlet, headphone jack, entertainment controller, and simple set of seat controls. Just above here, there’s a reading light.
Near your feet, there’s a literature pocket, a small storage nook, and a power outlet.
The armrest has two parts on the aisle side of the seat. The outer piece can be manipulated up and down by pressing a button, while the inner part is stationary but opens up, revealing a deep storage compartment.
Lastly, beneath the window, there’s a signature Dreamliner dimmer that lightens or darkens the window.
I thought the Bamboo Airways business class seat was comfortable enough overall, but rather basic in terms of the bells and whistles, and lacking in terms of certain functionalities.
It feels like the airline simply installed the prototype Zodiac Cirrus seat, added some navy seat upholstery, and didn’t bother with too many customizations.
What’s more, the uneven tray table at my seat would prove slightly problematic over the course of the flight, and I also found that the seat offered minimal privacy from other passengers compared to the industry standard.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Amenities
Soon after boarding, I was offered a choice of pre-departure beverages, as well as a packaged cold towel. Among the beverage choices was pomegranate juice, which was quite unique and my preferred choice.
Before boarding, a pillow, light blanket, headphones, and a Bamboo Airways amenity kit were placed on the seats. The amenity kit came in a firm and durable casing, and was packed with a good number of items inside.
Inside the amenity kit, I found the standard toothbrush and toothpaste, socks, hair brush, eye shades, earplugs, and hand sanitizer, as well as some items that not all airlines would go to the lengths of offering, like a razor, shaving cream, and moisturizer.
Plus, there were two stickers for letting the crew know about your preference between “Do Not Disturb” and being woken up for the meal, to be stuck somewhere on the seat shell near you when sleeping.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Meal Service
Soon after our takeoff from London Gatwick, the cabin lights were automatically dimmed, even though it was the middle of the day. I brightened my window shade again, but I noticed that I was one of the only passengers in business class to do so.
As we reached cruising altitude, I was feeling rather curious as to what the meal service would bring, especially since Bamboo Airways is a relatively new airline and its business class product isn’t exactly well-documented.
Imagine my utter surprise, then, when the crew began to initiate the meal service…
…and the cabin became bathed in multi-coloured disco-style mood lighting, with the colours constantly changing every few seconds!
While this was something of a novelty at first, I have to say that the ever-changing kaleidoscope of colours became distracting over time, and I couldn’t help but wonder if this was something that all passengers would appreciate.
If wouldn’t surprise me if the mood lighting might be a bit overwhelming for some passengers, and I’ll be curious to see if Bamboo Airways decides to keep it around in the long run as it expands into more international markets.
The oddities of the product didn’t end there, either.
Unfortunately, Bamboo Airways does not offer physical menus in business class; instead, the cabin crew would circulate throughout the cabin with iPads to take meal orders.
Personally, flipping through the menu to decide what I’d like to eat and drink is a ritual that I relish when travelling in premium cabins, so the absence of a menu is always disappointing for me.
Nevertheless, the staff kindly accommodated my request to snap some photos of the menu, so that I could reference it later during the flight.
The menu, which included both food and drinks, read as follows:
- 1 of 10
- 2 of 10
- 3 of 10
- 4 of 10
- 5 of 10
- 6 of 10
- 7 of 10
- 8 of 10
- 9 of 10
- 10 of 10
Note that Bamboo Airways doesn’t offer any Champagne or spirits in business class, which is another glaring omission compared to its peers in the industry. Instead, there was only red and white wine, as well as beer, to choose from among the alcoholic drinks.
Onto the meal service itself, where I had a choice between a Western or an Asian–Vietnamese meal. I decided to go with the latter to immerse myself in some authentic Vietnamese flavours based on the airline’s local cuisine, as is my general preference when flying with an international carrier.
Prior to my meal being served, I enjoyed a refreshing glass of Gerard Bertrand Naturalsys Sauvignon Blanc.
The first course was a selection of pan-Asian flavours, including a Vietnamese shrimp salad, Thai-style tom yum soup, and an Asian peanut salad.
Never mind the fact that the “appetizer” was a salad being served alongside another salad – I was still feeling quite excited to try these dishes, since tom yum soup is one of my favourite dishes in Thai cuisine.
However, it’s sad to say that I wound up being very underwhelmed by the flavours. In particular, the tom yum soup tasted very watered-down compared to the usual sour and spicy flavours of the dish – it tasted like plain warm water with just a slight hint of tom yum.
My disappointment was only compounded as the crew member withdrew the tray and then let me know that they had unfortunately run out of the Korean grilled chicken main course, which would’ve been the next course on the Asian menu.
With no other choice, I let the crew member know I’d switch to the Western menu instead, choosing the grilled fillet steak and switching to a glass of 2021 Wirra Wirra Adelaide shiraz.
Despite an uninspiring start to the meal, I was soon presented with a very sizeable and juicy-looking cut of steak, accompanied by roasted potatoes and steamed vegetables.
And indeed, the steak proved to be a winner: it was succulent, tender, and topped with just the right amount of jus. I quickly polished off the entire cut of meat.
This main course very much stood out to me as the highlight of the meal, even leaving me questioning how the airline could’ve gotten the appetizer so wrong and the main course so right.
As a bonus, I was delighted to discover that there was Vietnamese iced coffee available on this flight. As an admirer of specialty beverages that are true to an airline’s local tastes, this was a welcome surprise that lived up to my expectations.
The coffee was robust and rich in flavour, providing an enjoyable and authentic Vietnamese coffee experience in the sky. Despite it being in my best interest to get some sleep on this 12-hour flight, I went ahead and finished the entire glass.
For dessert, the staff wheeled a cart through the cabin with a beautiful display of cheeses and fresh fruits, from which I had the opportunity to make my selection. Of course, I decided to sample a bit of almost everything, and the crew was happy to plate me exactly that.
Overall, the Bamboo Airways business class experience was a decidedly mixed experience. I was very disappointed by the appetizers, which fell way short of the vibrant flavours I was expecting.
On the other hand, the grilled steak was scrumptious and generously portioned, and I thoroughly enjoyed every bite of my main course. The Vietnamese coffee and dessert service were both well-received as well, ending the meal on a high.
I’d love to see Bamboo Airways improving their overall catering standard in the future, as there’s such variety and vibrancy on offer in Vietnamese cuisine, and it’s a shame that the appetizer course failed to bring out those flavours properly.
Furthermore, while the disco mood lighting during the meal service was amusing at first, it starts to feel a bit bizarre after a while.
This is Bamboo Airways after all, not Emirates 777 New First Class – the airline hasn’t earned the right to be this gimmicky and get away with it.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Entertainment
Bamboo Airways’s in-flight entertainment system is known as Bamboo Sky. While the entertainment screen itself was on the smaller side, the resolution was fairly crisp, responsive, and easy to use.
The system features a diverse selection of over 100 movies and TV episodes to choose from. While it may not have the most recent box office hits, it does offer a good range of popular titles and well-known TV shows to keep you entertained during the flight.
In addition to movies and TV shows, Bamboo Sky’s airshow software provides an overview of the flight’s progress – a feature that I always appreciate to keep track of where I am in the world.
Unfortunately, there was no Wi-Fi onboard this flight, and I had to rely on offline work during the flight. This is certainly worth bearing in mind if you’re considering booking a long-haul flight with Bamboo Airways and you need to stay connected.
Onboard Wi-Fi is something that the airline should definitely consider incorporating as soon as possible to compete properly in the long-haul market.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Bed
After wrapping up meal service and working for a while, I headed to the restroom to freshen up. The restroom is a fairly standard size for a Boeing 787.
There’s ample counter space surrounding the sink, some hand cream amenities, and even a window. Additionally, there’s a fold-down baby changing table.
After I returned to my seat, it was time to check out the bed in earnest. At the push of a button, the seat transforms into a lie-flat bed, connecting with the seat’s footrest.
When the crew member noticed me maneuvering my seat into lie-flat mode, he offered to perform turndown service.
The crew member made up the bed by putting a quilted mattress cover over the seat. It becomes complete with the plush blanket and pillow provided prior to takeoff.
In the fully reclined position, I found that the Bamboo Airways lie-flat bed was comfortable enough in terms of the sleeping surface. There was also the standard amount of legroom for a reverse herringbone seat – adequate, but not too roomy.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Snack Service
At around the halfway mark of this long-haul flight, I decided to take a peek at the snack menu. The sun had set outside at this point and the cabin was completely dimmed, so I opted to nibble away at the menu as a means to stay awake.
I ordered the instant noodles and prawn sandwich, which both turned out to be delicious. In particular, I was delighted by the instant noodles, which was a unique Vietnamese–Thai style that I hadn’t tasted before.
The prawn sandwich was also more tasty than I was expecting from looking at it, its crisp and fresh seafood flavours accentuated by a few drops of lemon juice.
From the beverage menu, I ordered the “Saigon Sky” signature mocktail, which stood out to me with its delightful blend of fruity and refreshing flavours. I also had a rejuvenating glass of orange juice.
Service throughout the fight was attentive and well-intentioned; however, there were moments when the language barrier made communication difficult.
The staff’s English skills could indeed benefit from a bit of improvement. I’m confident this will come with time as Bamboo Airways globalizes, especially with the upcoming launch into the US market.
Overall, I’m sure that the Vietnamese-speaking passengers would’ve felt a warmer presence from the crew than I did; however, the staff’s positive attitude and service efforts made up for the moments that were lost in translation.
Bamboo Airways 787 Business Class – Breakfast
Breakfast was served about three hours before landing, which I thought was oddly early. I had planned to sleep for a few more hours by then, but I wound up having to eat breakfast first, and then sleeping for the last two hours or so.
Alas, as the staff came around to take our orders… the multi-coloured mood lighting returned! Even if I had managed to nod off during this time, I doubt that I’d be able to sleep through the light show.
For breakfast, I ordered the sticky rice with Vietnamese sausage, with a slight concern that it might be another letdown – but I’m happy to say that it was a fantastic dish this time around.
The dish was beautifully presented, and the flavours were delicious. The sticky rice was perfectly cooked and had the right consistency, which was nicely complemented by the savoury notes of the sausage.
The croissant on the side was tasty and crispy, and the few mango chunks in the fruit salad were delightful as well.
After a weak start to the dining experience on this flight, Bamboo Airways eventually redeemed itself and ultimately proved to be quite enjoyable.
After polishing off my breakfast, I took a brief nap and asked the flight crew to wake me up about 30 minutes before landing, so that I could savour one last delicious Vietnamese coffee as we descended into Hanoi at sunrise.
My maiden experience on Bamboo Airways 787 business class had its fair share of highs and lows. Some elements of the experience left me wholly impressed, others were deeply disappointing, and still others were downright wacky.
The reverse herringbone business class seat was comfortable, though not particularly innovative or cutting-edge. The wobbly tray table, while an annoyance, should be an easy short-term fix.
When it comes to food and drink, Bamboo Airways managed to perform at both the positive and negative extremes on the same flight. My appetizer course was just as off-putting as my steak was delectable; likewise, the Vietnamese coffee was a highlight for me, but the drink menu as a whole was marred by a puzzling lack of sparkling wine or spirits.
For me, this decidedly mixed experience is very much a reflection of Bamboo Airways’s standing as a smaller player that’s poised for rapid growth in the industry.
Indeed, when I eventually fly with Bamboo Airways again given their ample Aeroplan award availability, I’d appreciate a more consistent food offering and the addition of Wi-Fi on flights to enhance the overall experience.
With these improvements, Bamboo Airways certainly has the potential to reach the same level of excellence as its more well-established peers across East Asia and South East Asia.