When it comes to the topic of direct flights to Vietnam, it surprises many people to know that they do not exist from the US, at least as of October 2019. That’s the bad news.
The good (or at least promising) news? Although direct flights to Hanoi from USA (or Saigon, depending on how things end up shaking out) might not materialize anytime soon, it’s at least likely that Vietnam Airlines will begin serving the US soon, due to some recent regulatory developments. Moreover, the airline currently owns planes that can fly LAX-SGN or SFO-HAN nonstop, economic viability notwithstanding.
Whether you’re holding out hope LAX to Vietnam nonstop, or simply want an update as to the status quo of air service between the US and Vietnam, you’re going to want to continue reading.
A History of Direct Flights to Vietnam
Unlike with Thailand, which had direct flights to New York and Los Angeles for several years in the early 2000’s, a non stop flight from USA to Vietnam has never existed, at least not on a regularly scheduled basis. Rather, travelers bound for Vietnam have needed to connect somewhere in East Asia, whether in Tokyo via ANA or JAL (or for a time, via Hong Kong on United), or via any given hub airport of an Asian carrier.
The reasons for this, at least in the past decade or so, have been more economic than technological. For example, whether we’re talking about the Los Angeles or New York to Vietnam flight path, these routes are not significantly longer than flights from the US to Taiwan, the Philippines or Singapore. Aircrafts that can fly from the US to Vietnam nonstop have existed for quite some time, even if their profitability is a different question entirely.
Reasons No Direct Flights to Vietnam from USA Exist
Vietnam is a Low-Yield Destination
The main reason flying to Vietnam from US has not begun, let alone become ubiquitous? It’s practically a guarantee of financial failure. Vietnam is not a high-income country, and business travel between all of the United States is Vietnam is less lucrative than from New York alone to Singapore. The majority of traffic bound for Vietnam from the United States is people of Vietnamese descent visiting family and vice-versa—important passengers, but not ones willing to pay the premium for a nonstop.
The US Does Not Consider Vietnam “Safe”
Or at least it didn’t until earlier this year. While this barrier standing between a direct flight from US to Vietnam has been lifted as of early 2019, it’s a big part of why the conversation has stayed stagnant so long. Owing to the first reason I cited above, Vietnam Airlines is the only carrier that will probably ever fly to the US nonstop from Hanoi or Saigon (and likely for vanity reasons); it could not legally have done so until February.
Vietnam is Very Far Away
Direct flights to Vietnam, if launched, would be some of the longest flights in the world, whether flying between Los Angeles and Saigon, New York and Hanoi or any other combination. Though aircraft capability is not really a concern any longer, ultra-long haul (or ULH) flights need to be highly profitable to be sustainable, which takes us back to reason number one. Until airlines find a way to square the distance of Vietnam and the cost of serving it with their profit goals, or accept a lost, these flights are a dream.
Vietnam is Well-Served via One-Stop Flights
Does United fly to Vietnam? Not anymore, although the carrier did serve Saigon from Hong Kong, a continuation of the ORD-HKG flight, until as recently as October 2016. In spite of the fact that no US carriers serve Vietnam any longer, there are dozens of one-stop options, including ANA and JAL via Tokyo, EVA Air and China Airlines via Taipei, Cathay Pacific via Hong Kong and Korean Air via Seoul, just to name a few.
2019 FAA Rulings About Vietnam
A flight from LAX to SGN nonstop got one step closer in February 2019, when the FAA determined that Vietnam had met the criteria coveted “Category One” safety classification. In September of the same year, Vietnam Airlines was issued a flight certificate, which means that the start of flights between Vietnam in the United States is no longer a matter of if, but when. Don’t get too existed yet, however.
To be sure, while it’s no secret that a non stop flight from USA to Vietnam is the ultimate goal for Vietnam Airlines, initial paperwork has suggested that the flight will first be routed through some hub in East Asia. This is disappointing and maybe even somewhat puzzling, given how many one-stop flight routes currently exist, but it’s possible that things will change between now and the seemingly imminent launch of service.
Probable Routes for Flights from Vietnam to USA
Want to fly Seattle to Vietnam nonstop? That’s probably not going to happen, even though Seattle is the closest city in the US to Hanoi and Saigon, based on the so-called “Great Circle” route. Although the Emerald City is home to a certain number of Vietnamese immigrants, business ties between the Seattle area and Vietnam (which, let’s face it, are the most important determiner of whether air service might eventually exist) are tepid at best.
The most likely route, of course, is LAX to Vietnam nonstop—this is actually the busiest unserved air route in the world, ahead of others like Manchester to Bangkok and Los Angeles to Bangkok (which are huge) by quite a significant margin. It’s also conceivable that Vietnam Airlines could want to serve San Francisco and Houston, due to lucrative business travelers and a huge Vietnamese population, respectively.
The Bottom Line
Direct flights to Vietnam from the US will likely exist at some point in the future, but as of now there’s no indication as to when that might be. While Vietnam received both the necessary safety certification and governmental authority to operate flights from Vietnam to the US, initial filings indicate the carrier may choose to operate the carrier via an as-of-yet-determined stopover point in Asia. This speaks to the larger truth, that while aircraft capable of flying nonstop from Vietnam to the US have existed for a while, making routes work is sometimes less about equipment range and more about economic viability.
Robert Schrader is a travel writer and photographer who’s been roaming the world independently since 2005, writing for publications such as “CNNGo” and “Shanghaiist” along the way. His blog, Leave Your Daily Hell, provides a mix of travel advice, destination guides and personal essays covering the more esoteric aspects of life as a traveler.