Thinking back to my trip to Vietnam and Cambodia, I can’t help but remember my first (of several) flight on Vietnam Airlines.
While I waited in the boarding area at Tan Son Nhat Airport in Saigon, two pilots waddled past us, weathered, tired, and perhaps hungover. I couldn’t tell if they were Russian or Eastern European, but they probably had sons old enough to fight in Vietnam 25 years earlier.
Like US carriers, Vietnam Airlines overbooked its flights.
Fly standby? No need. Ask for volunteers? Why bother.
I was lucky to secure a seat. But others weren’t so fortunate.
The rows consisted of two seats on each side of the aisle, but in some places, a third person managed to squeeze in between those two seats. And up front, between the cockpit and first row of seats there was a cargo space to store luggage. A handful of passengers stood up there for the entire flight.
When the pilots turned on the engines, I saw so much smoke I couldn’t see the seat in front of me. Luckily I’d read about those Russian planes and how they emitted some kind of condensation or exhaust in the cabin. Lonely Planet claimed it was basically harmless.
After the plane took off, there was neither an announcement about staying in one’s seat nor a flight attendant safety demonstration. People took out their home-cooked food while flight attendants appeared with weak orange soda or tea. On their final round, after collecting our garbage, they passed out keychains.
(Several years earlier, when I took my first CAAC flight in China, the flight attendants came around four times with sandalwood fans, keychains, cheap pens, and a postcard.)
When we approached Phnom Penh, I noticed the runway was surround by dry brown soil, not the green grass at Tan Son Nhat in Saigon.
The pilots landed the plane with a thump, accompanied by several passengers throwing up behind me.