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July 2, 2012 / oneworld82

Lao Airlines HAN-LPQ Y and a HARD landing

After 13 wonderful days spent across Vietnam, it was time to leave for Laos. Our first destination was Luang Prabang, the former royal capital of this amazing country (see my blog post about Laos here).

To get there from Hanoi there are two ways:

a) the easiest (but naturally most expensive one): flying.

b) the uncomfortable (but way cheaper): taking a 30-hour-long bus ride.

Even though I like backpacking – and even though we were traveling with a backpack – I am not so cheap or so hardcore to go through hell for 30 hours to save some money (and – granted – I am lucky enough that I can afford not to). Because you are either cheap or masochistic if you take that bus otherwise! (Read how long the journey is here). So, we decided to fly.

I have heard many horror stories about Lao Airlines (formerly Lao Aviation) and its antiquated technology (I think that – still today – some landing are made without instruments’ help but by mere eyesight. How scary is that?). What we found out – instead – is that this is a very decent airline that’s making lots of efforts to improve its status and service – the addition of a brand new A320 employed on the less-than-a-year-old VTE-SIN route demonstrates it).

Enter Laos

We arrived at Hanoi airport about 2 hours before departure time – just to be sure. Check in was fast and quick, performed by Vietnam Airlines agents (as this is a QV/VN codeshare flight, another good sign).

International check-in area at HAN

We then proceeded past security hoping to find something interesting in what’s the country’s second busiest international airport… but instead we found nothing! My gosh! And I though that Jakarta Soekarno-Hatta Airport was bad…! Apart for a couple of small duty free shops and some local stalls (similar to the ones you find at the market), there were only benches next to the 10 or so departure gates. Dismaying.

Very poor international departure hall

Some small duty free shops… and nothing more!

There are two cafes (actually the same one with two locations) offering wifi, but prices even for a coffee were so outrageous (4 usd for a brewed coffee, crazy!) that we decided to just sit down and do some reading while waiting for our flight.

Flight QV323 HAN-LPQ

Y class

18:50 – 19:50

Time flew by and 6:20pm – boarding time – came quickly. We were among the first customers to go through the gate, which was useless as we had to use a shuttle bus to get to the plane. Two Western guys decided to take their time to the gate, which meant we had to wait about 15 minutes on the bus before getting to the plane.

Lao Airlines uses an ATR72 (in a two classes configuration) for this hour-long hop. Interesting thing about this plane: as you board only for the back, business class is in the back of the plane and economy in the front part. Interesting oddity.

Our ATR72, a French/Italian-made plane

I love QV’s logo!

The plane was pretty new and very clean, with all the in-flight magazines properly stored and in a good shape. This magazine (voted in the World’s top10 by some “authority”) was actually rather interesting and a good source of restaurant/bars addresses in Luang Prabang and Vientiane.


The in-flight magazine

Seats were comfortable and legroom very much adequate.

The seat

Decent legroom

We left on time, with a smooth take off. Surprisingly, once cruising altitude was reached the flight attendants announced that we were going to be served a snack. Not bad for such a short hop. What’s surprising is that the snack was actually tasty! We were offered a snack box that featured a bread roll and some bologna-like cured meet, a dessert, and a sliced apple plus we were offered water/coffee/tea.

The tasty snack box

I really enjoyed the snack (perhaps I was hungry?), and I found the quality of the bologna meat to be actually very decent. The flight proceeded well, with no particular turbulence, and by the time we finished our snack we had already started our descent into Luang Prabang. This is where the flight got interesting…

In Luang Prabang it was raining cats and dogs and – like it happens many times – it was foggy. The descent itself was fine, not too bumpy. Yet, we were approaching fast. Very fast. Suddenly, the landing strip appeared in front of us and… BOOM! We landed in the hardest possible way. I think almost everyone – safe the two imperturbable flight attendants – thought some part of the plane must have fallen off! It was quite a scare but, oh well, all’s well what ends well!

We soon reached our position and we started deplaning. To our surprise, Lao Airlines personnel was waiting outside the plane with lots of umbrellas to hand to the passengers. A very nice touch indeed!

As soon as you get into the terminal, you go through the smallest immigration post I have ever seen in an airport. One booth for visas on arrival, one booth for passport and visa check. That’s it. After passport control, the only baggage carousel promptly delivered our two backpacks. Carts were readily available, as it was an ATM machine to get some Kips out. As soon as you leave the terminal, taxis are readily available. A ride to the city center costs around 6 usd (you need to buy a coupon, which saves you the hassle of having to bargain a price).

I really enjoyed this short flight (except for the scary landing maybe…) and we would likely not hesitate to fly Lao Airlines again (perhaps not to LP!).


Leave a Comment
  1. Adam Moore / Jul 2 2012 11:12 am

    Sorry to hear about your “hard landing”. When the weather is bad especially heavy rain we are always taught to make a “positive landing” rather than letting the aircraft “float” to avoid problems with skidding or aquaplanning. So it sounds like the landing was deliberately hard to make sure the aircraft was firmly on the runway as early as possible.

    • robertocusato / Jul 3 2012 8:56 am

      Hey Adam,
      you misunderstood me. While it was “scary” because unexpected, I admire Lao Airlines pilots who are able to routinely land in difficult weather conditions. Kudos to them!

  2. Tourist Mouse / Aug 5 2012 10:29 pm

    Great read! I have never flew on a ATR before and am looking forward to it.
    I stumbled upon your interesting blog while googling for differences between the economy V class versus economy E class for Laos Airline as I will be flying from Hanoi to LP this November 2012. I have yet to purchase the tickets as I could not figure out the differences since price only differs by $5USD.

    I did not see any Y class though. May I know if yours is a business class and would you recommend business class only?

    • robertocusato / Aug 5 2012 10:42 pm

      Hi there,

      if you are sure you won’t need to change your ticket, go with the cheapest fare available. The flight is so short that Business Class is unnecessary and expensive, plus the service – even in economy – is very good. I am sure you will enjoy Lao Airlines a lot! Do not hesitate to write me with any further question!

      • Tourist Mouse / Aug 7 2012 12:01 am

        Hi, thanks for the advice. I am pretty sure that I wont need to change the tickets – just got the cheapest ticket – V class.


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