Gooood Morning Vi-et naaaaaam!
The Wandering Palate arrived in Da Nang yesterday afternoon, an easy 2 ½ hour flight from Singapore. Well, not entirely without incident, as it took over an hour to check-in at the Singapore Airlines counter at Changi Airport. Yes, I know that sounds highly unusual for the perpetually efficient SIA Changi duo.
The problem emanated from the late replacement of the aircraft, originally an SQ designated flight, to a SilkAir plane, and changed to a MI codeshare. Notwithstanding the downgrade in aircraft (SilkAir is after all a budget airline), this threw a spoke in the works for our wait-listed upgrade to Business Class using frequent flyer points.
The crux of the problem, the change to codeshare did not allow ‘the system’ to deduct our points, and even though Business Class was practically empty, the operations at Kris Flyer could not get their head around it, ‘the standard procedure to not allow automatic points deduction for codeshare flights’.
Now I know those of you who fly economy are not going to cry for us, but this is not the point; rather the fact that SilkAir is a subsidiary of Singapore Airlines and the Frequent Flyer programme, Kris Flyer, is conjointly run and frequent flyers from both airlines (should) enjoy full benefits.
Even our super-helpful check-in staff were perplexed at the dithering response from Frequent Flyer HQ and eventually the Check-In Operations Manager got involved and managed to convince them they should do a ‘manual override’, which in the end was the outcome and we were finally issued a boarding pass, albeit an hour an half since we had arrived at the check-in.
We then had to rush to board the plane, alas upon settling into our seats, only to be notified by the Captain that there would be a 20 minute delay due to heavy congestion of traffic at Changi airport. It actually turned out to be 30 minutes and as we taxied out to the runway, our Co-Pilot announced there would be another 15 minute wait in the queue due to six planes in the line ahead of us.
I know this all sounds like a bit of a whinge, but there are cracks starting to show in the normally impeccable Changi Airport. Only last week, I was departing Changi on a flight to Hong Kong and the same delays happened, the combined wait on-board and plane taxi queue time 45 minutes.
The reason you book on a full-fare airline like Singapore Airlines, who charge an absolute premium, is the expectation of on-time service, particularly when you have purposely taken an early morning Singapore to Hong Kong for a lunch meeting, and subsequently arriving over an hour late.
And here I was thinking I would be able to write of the very useful Singapore Airlines flight to Da Nang, which continues on to Siem Reap, Cambodia, then back to Singapore. It is in actuality a convenient way to take in the temples at Angkor Wat and the UNESCO World Heritage ancient town of Hội An on Vietnam’s more secluded South Central Coast. However, it does irk me that when booking on Singapore Airlines website that it is not evidently clear that an SQ flight is in fact a MI (SilkAir) flight.
Curiously, when I searched the SIA website today, SQ5023 has disappeared completely from the flight schedules, and yet flightmapper.net shows it does exist, as a codeshare with MI636. Rechecking my original flight schedule printout, it shows only as SQ5023.
The sceptic in me can only but think there are surreptitious maneuverers involved here to masquerade a SilkAir flight as SQ, and that the plane was not a last minute change at all, but actually the normal scheduled SilkAir flight. All rather annoyingly convoluted.
I guess we should be gratified arriving safely in Da Nang, and yet such thoughts quickly disappear when you are confronted with the shemozzle and exploitive Visa on Arrival scheme that Vietnam profits from.
Having experienced this several times in Hanoi, Da Nang is infinitely better in terms of being much smaller and the queues and chaos nowhere near as bad. However, that does not mean you avoid being subjected to the inept and totally confusing process of immigration clearance.
I had actually ticked the box for ‘Fast-Track Clearance’ on arrival at an additional cost of US$70, however my wife insisted we also ask our hotel (Nam Hai in Hội An) to provide a VIP greeting service, which they do for only US$30.
I am telling you all this because we ended up with the both of these services turning up to greet us and the ‘Official’ fast-track service gentleman taking over and much to the bewilderment of both us and our VIP Hotel man, it actually took longer than every other passenger on the plane to clear immigration!
The moral of the story; only use the Hotel VIP clearance service.
So, here we are at the Nam Hai in Hội An, the weather quite temperate, a pleasant 28 degrees Celsius and a nice sea breeze, although shrouded in an eerie sea fog coming off the South China Sea. By all accounts April is a good time to visit this part of Vietnam, to which I will report more on in the coming days.
Now, it’s off to the pool… all three of them!