Bamboo Airways is a brand new Vietnamese carrier and one of the more intriguing airline startups around right now. It started operations on domestic flights in Vietnam roughly a year ago, and then added service to Taipei and Seoul in late 2019, looking much like any number of low-cost regional airlines that have launched in recent years.
As a result, Bamboo Airways flew largely under the radar until late last month, when it took delivery of its first new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner. That plane got people talking with its unusual color scheme of lime greens and baby blues and its full-service interiors – an indicator of Bamboo Airways’ grand ambitions. It includes a standard economy class with 3-3-3 seating; a promising premium economy cabin with a 2-3-2 layout that looks similar to the likes we’ve seen on United’s latest planes; and business class in a 1-2-1 layout with fully flat ‘reverse herringbone’ seats, customizable mood lighting and direct aisle access for everyone.
And though it’s not present on the first aircraft delivered, word is the airline will also be installing a true international first class seat on future planes as well. If true, it would make Bamboo Airways just the fourth airline in the world to operate 787s with true first class, just as many other carriers are doing away with it.
Rarely have we seen a startup airline that’s built to function like a low-cost carrier go all-in on full-scale international service so quickly. Their approach seems to be to offer a basic service with a la carte pricing for economy class and an all-inclusive and luxurious premium economy and business class offering at the same time. That way they can capture both ends of the market at the same time, and fill planes in a price-sensitive market.
The idea sounds sensible enough: most full-service legacy airlines have been moving to that same model in recent years, in order to compete with low-cost carriers. Though it’s not entirely clear whether that offers the perfect balance or just ends up muddying the brand in the end.
The Bamboo Airways orderbook is huge: 24 A321neo for regional and mid-haul routes, plus 20 787s for international expansion. It’s interesting to look at the route maps page of their website, even if it doesn’t do a very good job of showing which routes the airline actually currently flies (that takes some digging). One header image shows routes to the US: San Francisco from both Saigon and Hanoi, and a mystery American city further east as well. We can also see a couple of lines headed toward Australia, and six more headed to Europe. The only city visible there is Moscow.
Whether all that is an indication of actual future plans or simply the dreams of an intern in the design department is unclear. So far Bamboo Airways hasn’t released any specific city names for long-haul service, nor any clear timeline. But the fact that they are now starting to receive long-haul aircraft might indicate those could come soon.
Chairman Trinh Van Quyet of parent company FLC Group is quoted as saying: “We have a clear strategy to build Bamboo Airways as a 5-star airline operating both domestic and international routes. Beside an outstanding business model, we also aspire to deliver new service standards to our passengers with comfort, relaxation and satisfaction on every trip.” If the airline can actually deliver that, it should be a great thing for those wanting to fly within, and eventually, to and from Vietnam.
Bamboo Airways will certainly face tough competition. And even considering how briskly the Vietnamese and broader Southeast Asian markets are growing, it’s surprising the airline isn’t taking a slightly more conservative approach. But it’s always nice to see an airline try to offer something of quality and really go for it. Time will tell how it works out.
By Gabriel Leigh @ Forbes