I reached Mumbai’s glitzy new Terminal 2 at 4:30 pm for my Vistara Flight. Right now Vistara is the only domestic carrier using this terminal to push their “premium airline” tag.
If you are keen, and would like to know more about the Vistara Economy Experience, as well as the background to this flight, please read my earlier trip report.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Terminal 2 (BOM) – New Delhi IGI, Terminal 3 (DEL)
Saturday, January 10th
Departure: 17:56 hours (11 minutes late)
Arrival: 20:10 hours (10 minutes late)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Vistara offers a convenient option of a return check-in which I used during the morning inbound flight. Basically passengers, who are returning with Vistara, within 48 hours of the original departure, can have the boarding pass for the return flight as well. This worked well for me and I requested my return boarding pass as well at Delhi T3.
I was able to pass the check-in counters at Mumbai T2 and move straight to the security area, as I already had my boarding pass, though I must mention that Vistara offers separate check-in counters for Premium Economy passengers.
Vistara, to their utter credit, has pre-empted other full service domestic carriers and started operations from Mumbai’s Terminal 2 while having the entire domestic departures area exclusively for them, till June-July 2015, when Air India and Jet Airways will also shift. This is a big coup for Vistara, as the feeling of exclusivity really draws down on passengers while traveling through T2 & seeing “Vistara Departures Only” signage. Apart from avoiding the mess and confusion of shifting here 6 months later, they have also secured a great terminal for exclusive use, which may influence even my future travel decisions.
After turning right, down the escalators, is the security area for domestic flights. Only two counters were open but I pretty much breezed through it within 3 odd minutes.
After crossing the information desk and another corridor on the right, the large expanse of Mumbai’s T2 gate area opens up. I have read reams and reams about the terminal but one realises the caliber of it all in flesh. It impresses and how. I realise this piece is supposed to be on Vistara only, but indulge me for a moment or couple of pictures. After all airports are vital cogs in the wheel of the entire travel process.
The entire area had plenty of natural light, loads of comfortable seating including sofas, and chairs. Did I mention that the whole terminal is a museum in itself? With 7000 art works on the walls by 1500 artists, GVK (airport operator) fittingly calls it “India’s largest public art program”.
This interactive musical water fountain was probably one of the more fun installations. As you put your hand through the water streams, it sounded like the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Sargam of the Indian classical music. Some kids and their parents were going crazy over it :)
I reached Gate 87, the departure gate for my flight by 4:45 pm. I couldn’t see the aircraft, although the scheduled boarding time was mentioned as 5 pm. The gate area also had plenty of power ports, very important for the connected travellers of today.
Premium Economy passengers on Vistara, like most other airlines, don’t get access to lounges, and unfortunately, only the GVK operated Business Class lounge is accessible from this terminal. Other contract lounges, like Clipper, were not accessible as far as I was able to evaluate. The novelty of a brilliant new terminal, and the floor to ceiling views of the ramp kept me busy at the gate.
Our aircraft arrived at 5:12 pm. I must admit I wasn’t a big fan of the livery initially but it is definitely growing on me. I think I like it more every time I see it. Aircraft are anyways such a romantic piece of engineering, right?
Boarding commenced at 5:35 pm with a wrong announcement that the flight was for Ahmedabad, which was corrected after confused passengers asked the gate staff about it. The first call, as usual, was for Business Class passengers, and passengers travelling with infants. To my disappointment, the call for Premium Economy passengers never came, which I noticed during the morning flight to Mumbai as well. Remaining passengers queued up together and I was in my seat few minutes later.
As I settled into my seat 6A, a familiar sight from morning greeted me. Vistara currently does not offer any sort of IFE across all three of its classes, I certainly hope that changes soon as the current situation puts them in the league of LCCs, and that’s certainly not what they are aiming for. On the flight load aspect, this seemed like a full flight in economy and premium economy.
The Captain of the flight immediately came on PA to apologise for the delay, caused by late arrival of the incoming aircraft. I always chuckle when airlines offer that as a reason, its like saying that “the incoming aircraft was operated by a different company, and we couldn’t do much about it”. That of course is applicable to all airlines, not limited to Vistara.
He also informed us of the flight time and mentioned high winds may help us speed up our journey, may also cause turbulence. I appreciate when Captains give slightly more information to passengers than needed, gives me some food for thought as the plane taxies to the runway :)
We pushed back at 5:56 pm and as a premium economy perk, we were offered a hot towel. Another supposed perk of Premium Economy is a water bottle and packed juice service as a welcome beverage, which wasn’t served strangely, definitely not in my entire row, and the one adjacent. It seemed they wanted to hasten up the departure and forgot about it later.
After approximately 15 minutes of taxi, we lined up on the runway and took off. It was a comparatively clear day for Mumbai and the Sea-Link was visible during the ascent.
Vistara offers 33 inches of legroom in Premium Economy, which makes stretching your legs an easy affair. At 4.5 inches, the seat recline is also an inch more than the usual economy recline. Personally I don’t recline often, but those who like to, will probably appreciate the extra inch. Vistara also mentions about extra seat padding in Premium Economy, which I honestly did not feel or notice, especially considering I flew in economy earlier that morning. There’s also a personal coat hook on every seat in Economy and Premium Economy. The headrest of the seat is also height adjustable.
The meal service began at 6:31 pm, with two options of a Vegetarian Masala Kathi Roll or Chicken Pizza as the main dish. I chose Chicken Pizza, and my meal tray also had a Jhulmuri as a starter and Pina Colada (Pineapple based) as the dessert. I chose Orange soda as my drink with the meal.
Personally I liked the Jhulmuri starter as the tastiest course of the meal. I’m not sure being a Mumbai specialty whether it is served only in flights originating out of Mumbai or not. The first and the only time I have seen a Pizza served on a flight so far was my Iberia flight from Barcelona to Madrid. I really appreciate the intent behind this, to serve something that is not usual for Indian air passengers, however I found the base of the pizza slightly raw. I did the next best thing and ate the entire layer of cheese and chicken toppings, which were yummy in their own right :) I also think it is difficult to maintain the quality of a pizza for long after reheating it, but that’s just me.
On my morning flight, I took the exception to the fact that Vistara being a premium carrier was offering unbranded condiments. Fortunately, this flight had no such problem, in fact +1 to Vistara for serving a Swiss dark chocolate along with the meal. Unsure if that is a Premium Economy perk or given to everybody.
Passengers were also served Tea and Coffee after the meal. Around 7:28pm the Captain came on the PA to update us about our arrival times, temperature in New Delhi and apologise again for the delay in departure. It was Vistara’s first day of full operations, and I think most people would have let it slide because of that.
We made a smooth landing at 8:02 pm and were at our gate just 10 minutes behind schedule.
My Thoughts on Vistara’s Premium Economy Service
Vistara is the newest kid on the block that most people want to see succeed. I’m not sure about competitors though. The flying public wants a healthy, successful and a better product than what is served today and Vistara has promised that since the day the idea itself was born. My first flight on Vistara’s economy cabin was overall a pleasant experience, and I would fly them again given certain factors.
But, I’m not convinced about the Vistara Premium Economy product in its present avatar.
The present avatar where the only difference is 3 inches of extra legroom, a hot towel, a separate check-in queue and an adjustable head rest. Let’s add the welcome drink/juice in tetra pack also for good measure. Surprisingly there is no difference in meals.
The same choice of mains was served in the Economy cabin as well and I confirmed that twice with two different flight attendants. In fact, during the second time I also asked the attendant a rather pointed question: Besides three inches of extra seat pitch what am I getting in Premium Economy? The attendants, as I found in the earlier flight too, were most professional and courteous, but the reply did not convince me one bit. I don’t blame them.
The cutlery used for meals is plastic, even in Premium Economy, which is a self-goal to me. May be Vistara can take some inspiration from Turkish Airlines which uses faux-steel cutlery even in economy flights, looks and feels way more upmarket than staid old plastic. The only difference between Vistara meals in Economy and Premium Economy is pretty much a Box and a Tray. Economy passengers get their meals in a box, while Premium Economy passengers get it on a tray, which to be fair is an age old practice adopted by every airline, for all cabins.
To put all this in context, I paid roughly 2.5x the cost of my economy ticket to be in premium economy, price differences for other passengers may vary slightly but the value proposition is still not attractive enough for short-haul domestic flying.
Besides meals, Vistara also needs to ensure that priority boarding for Premium Economy passengers is implemented across all its stations, which can be a huge psychological sell for the service as well. Another important addition can be In-flight entertainment. Looking at the current seat layout, I doubt if seat back screens will be added later on, so Vistara would probably have to do what no other airline in the country currently does: offering IFE on Passenger’s electronic devices. Potentially another popular service if the content availability can be tiered right. and I won’t even mention in-flight internet due to archaic regulations imposed by government agencies.
These are early days for Vistara but we all know about the importance of first impressions in a searingly competitive industry. Vistara has a lot going for it, including great WoM & the well deserved goodwill of Tatas & SIA, lets hope it makes good on all the promises made soon.
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