After passing through San Francisco International Airport more times than I can count, I’ve gotten very used to its sights. Sure, it was quite different this May, with travel way down during the COVID-19 pandemic. But on a “normal” day, hanging out within sight of either International Terminal (or maybe at the Sky Terrace) is my favorite thing to do. SFO sees plenty of foreign airline traffic, and I know which airlines to expect, and often even their arrival and departure times.

But on Sunday, I spotted a tail I’d never seen. Not at SFO. Not ever. And I couldn’t immediately place it, which obviously drove me insane. So my son and I walked all the way to International G to investigate.

Our Perplexing Livery

It’s pretty rare that I can’t instantly place an airline by its livery. While the heart of travel is always in the destination, flying is enough of a thrill for me that I tend to search flight deals weekly, just for fun. I’ve become familiar with many an airline’s logo and livery, even for the carriers I have not yet flown.

So unless it’s super obscure, placing an airline by its tail is usually no problem. But this one was for me. My first assumption was that it was a Chinese airline. But given the ban/limit on Chinese carriers, this made no sense.

I mentally ran through the other airlines I knew served SFO and came up dry. This really seemed like a brand new one, not just one I’d missed every time I’d passed through the airport.

The probable answer came to me as we headed through the connection walkway into Terminal G: Vietnam Airlines. It had to be. But why was it here?!

a blue airplane parked at an airport

Vietnam Airlines Boeing 787-10 at SFO Terminal G.

Lifeline For Citizens Returning to Vietnam

Sure enough, we headed into Terminal G and I took a look at the monitor. The flight was VN001 to Hanoi. Vietnam Airlines does not have regular scheduled service to SFO, but the airline was operating a flight that day. It seemed crazy. Until I thought things through a bit.

I figured Vietnam Airlines had to be operating a repatriation flight. We saw U.S. airlines flying repatriation flights through April to bring U.S. citizens home, and this seems the only logical reason. It seems a bit late, though, to be doing this in June. Turns out the Vietnamese flag carrier did land one of their 787-10s at SFO in May for this purpose. This had to be another.

I couldn’t confirm it for this flight, specifically. But there isn’t another realistic explanation.


It was a super cool sight to see, no matter the circumstances. I know it will take travel a long time to return to pre-pandemic levels, but seeing the 787-10 here makes me wonder: will the U.S. see nonstop Vietnam Airlines service in the future? That would be super cool.

I admittedly tend to lose track of the carrier a bit more than most. Like Garuda and Thai, Vietnam Airlines does not fly to the United States, so I find that I search them less than many other carriers. Still, I should have been able to place the airline tail more quickly than I did.

Have you ever seen an aircraft or airline “out of place” like this?