New flights to Asia. Is Ho Chi Minh City next?
Singapore Airlines recently announced a new nonstop flight between San Francisco and Singapore on its state-of-the-art Airbus A350. The flight is 8,446 miles, lasting an incredible 16 hours.
Flagship cities like Singapore are not the only ones getting the attention. There are new route announcements from San Francisco to second and third tier cities in Asia. In fact, United Airlines launched flights on their long-range Boeing 787 Dreamliner to cities like Xi’an and Hangzhou.
Who would’ve thought there would be enough demand from America to a city like Hangzhou?
If Hangzhou can command a route from a flagship city in America, can Ho Chi Minh City (aka Saigon)?
The rumors are spreading with Saigoneer a few weeks ago publishing an article explaining that Vietnam Airlines CEO Duong Tri Thanh was making tentative plans to announce a flight to the US.
American travelers to Vietnam: By the numbers
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sport & Tourism, the U.S. sends nearly 500,000 travelers annually to Vietnam. That’s the equivalent of 1,370 travelers a day.
Depending on the configuration, a Boeing 787 or Airbus A350 carries about 200-350 passengers. Assuming all of the 500,000 American travelers were arriving from America, the numbers would fill up to 5 full planes a day.
Ignoring seasonality, the numbers suggest enough demand on a daily basis for a flight from a main hub like San Francisco or Los Angeles to Ho Chi Minh City. I’m willing to bet that there’s enough travelers from just the San Francisco Bay Area on a daily basis to fill at least half a plane.
Some may say that the flight is too long. But with the route being 600 miles shorter than the nonstop to Singapore and with newer planes like the Dreamliner and A350 capable of flying such long distances, it’s a convenient option that many would appreciate.
Who’s traveling from America to Vietnam?
Many will argue that there isn’t enough tourism interest to fill a flight from America. What else can help make up for the gap?
Overseas Vietnamese and business travelers.
Overseas Vietnamese number in the range of 4 to 5 million (pdf). $12.25 billion globally was sent back in remittances to Vietnam. That’s an average of $2400 per overseas Vietnamese sending back money to Vietnam.
Deals, like the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) that was championed by President Barack Obama on his recent visit to Vietnam, will help to accelerate current business travel demand. Even without the TPP, Vietnam is already picking up interest from American firms. Vietnam surpassed China in 2010 as the largest supplier for Nike footwear.
Alright, so the numbers and the convenience factor are there. But what about airline service? When will it happen? Do the ingredients add up for an airline to fly nonstop from America?
Home international carrier Vietnam Airlines is a 4 star SKYTRAX airline and has a competitive edge over other Asian airlines with new state of the art planes like the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
Vietnam Airlines is also part of the SkyTeam Alliance that can funnel travelers from the largest airline in the US, Delta. This will help connect passengers from Delta hubs like New York and Atlanta.
If United Airlines were to enter the market with a nonstop flight, it would most certainly attract a massive number of American corporate travelers.
United already sees the opportunity given its current operation to Vietnam. It runs a Hong Kong to Ho Chi Minh City tag on flight from its San Francisco to Hong Kong nonstop.
The appetite for business travel is getting fueled by higher quality business-class options to Vietnam. Vietnam Airlines is deploying new planes with lie-flat seats to Paris, Frankfurt, and London. With these type of seats on a nonstop flight now available in their fleet, how much longer can Vietnam Airlines ignore the massive business traveler market from the US?
Would you like to see a nonstop flight between the US and Ho Chi Minh City? Leave a note in the comments!