Review: Is Vistara’s Premium Economy worth it?

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.

Mumbai Terminal 2, Kerbside

Mumbai Terminal 2, Kerbside

 

Vistara 996

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

Seat: 6A

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.

Vistara check-in counters at Mumbai T2

Vistara check-in counters at Mumbai T2

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.

Mumbai T2 - Interiors

Mumbai T2 – Interiors

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.

Vistara exclusive departures area at Mumbai T2

Vistara exclusive departures area at Mumbai T2

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.

Mumbai T2 - Post security

Mumbai T2 – Post security

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.

Mumbai T2 - Gateside sofas

Mumbai T2 – Gateside sofas

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”.

Mumbai T2 - Gate area

Mumbai T2 – Gate area

Mumbai T2 - Wall art

Mumbai T2 – Wall art

Mumbai T2 - Gate side seating

Mumbai T2 – Gate side seating

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 :)

Mumbai T2 - Interactive musical fountain

Mumbai T2 – Interactive musical fountain

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.

Mumbai T2 - Seats and power ports

Mumbai T2 – Seats and power ports

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.

Mumbai T2 - Views from terminal

Mumbai T2 – Views from terminal

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?

Vistara 996 A320 at Mumbai Terminal 2

Vistara 996 A320 at Mumbai Terminal 2

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.

Vistara A320 Premium Economy seats

Vistara A320 Premium Economy seats

Vistara Premium Economy - No seat back IFE

Vistara Premium Economy – No seat back IFE

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.

Vistara Premium Economy - Personal seat coat hook

Vistara Premium Economy – Personal seat coat hook

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 :)

El-Al Airlines at Mumbai Airport

Spotting El-Al Airlines at Mumbai Airport

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.

Vistara 996 - Taking off from Mumbai views

Vistara 996 – Taking off from Mumbai views

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 Premium Economy - Leg room

Vistara Premium Economy – Legroom

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.

Vistara Premium Economy Dinner Service

Vistara Premium Economy Dinner Service

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.

Vistara Premium Economy - Chocolate and Condiments

Vistara Premium Economy – Chocolate and Condiments

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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Review: Vistara A320 New Delhi to Mumbai (Economy)

I have been excited for Vistara since the day it was announced as a TATA-SIA combine airline. Like most avid flyers in the country, the sad demise of Kingfisher had left a gaping hole at the premium end of the market and Vistara promised to fill that and how.

Related: Is Vistara’s Premium Economy worth it?

I was eager to the inaugural flight on 9th of January, but my birthday on the same day would have made me miss the opportunity. So on 1st of January 2015 I finally decided to do the next best thing; Fly Vistara on its first full day of operations, on 10th January, and even fly a return segment on premium economy to understand the product differentiation from a passenger’s PoV better.

My Vistara Booking & Online Check-in Experience

In the first few hours of 2015, I decided to log in to Vistara’s booking engine and book a return ticket to Mumbai, on 10th January. The itinerary was:

DEL-BOM at 0725 hours, on UK943 in Economy, and

BOM-DEL at 1745 hours, on UK996 in Premium Economy

I was able to snag a super saver in the DEL-BOM segment, but after couple of mis-attempts, the seats got blocked and I decided to call the Vistara helpline for booking. The agent sounded eager to help but wasn’t able to un-block the super seats even after I explained him the entire situation. I decided to hang up and try again in the morning. The next morning, I went online and lo & behold, those super saver seats were back. Again, Vistara’s booking engine couldn’t process my transaction (my CC was working perfectly on other websites) so I decided to call the helpline again before the other remaining seat also got blocked or bought.

The agent was different this time but equally clueless. I understand that Vistara was just getting off the blocks but having untrained agents on the phone, who weren’t able to understand a simple situation, struck me as strange. After many minutes of back and forth, and couple of conversations with his colleagues, he finally booked the exact seats I wanted, in the fare class I was looking for. and I successfully used the same credit card on the IVR booking. Phew!!!

If my @airvistara experience will be anything like my booking experience, I’m going to be seriously underwhelmed. Poor initial impressions.

— Vishal Mehra (@SimpliVishal) January 1, 2015

 

Exactly 48 hours before my flight, accurate to the minute, I received an email for Vistara, telling me that the check-in for my flight was now open, and I’m welcome to select my seat and a special meal, if required. The airvistara.com link on that email strangely took me to a parked domain, airlinesite.com and not Vistara’s own site or check-in page.

Vistara check-in email, and the spammy link.

Vistara check-in email, and the spammy link.

Common sense would tell you that the person responsible for execution of such emails forgot to change the placeholder (thus airline site dot com). For a “premium” and yet-to-be-launched airline, in a crowded low-margin industry, this was a shocking and glaring error.

To say, I had a rocky start to my Vistara experience, would be quite appropriate. Not the “New Feeling” I was promised certainly.

Vistara 943

New Delhi IGI, Terminal 3 (DEL) – Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Terminal 2 (BOM)

Saturday, January 10th

Departure: 07:22 hours (3 minutes early)

Arrival: 09:25 hours (15 minutes early)

Aircraft: Airbus A320

Seat: 14A

Waking up at 5 am on cold Saturday morning, only so I could experience what Vistara had to offer, made me wonder if I was bordering on madness. Nonetheless, as I made my way to the airport, the first positive sign came from the skies. Delhi is infamous for fog disrupting aircraft movement in winters and this seemed like a clear day so far. I reached the airport at 0635 hours and proceeded to the empty check-in counters of Vistara. Everybody offered warm smiles and were quick to help out. There were newspapers on the desk, but no chocolates, unlike the opening day :)

Vistara check-in counters at Delhi T3

Vistara check-in counters at Delhi T3

Not many people fly on Saturday mornings and that was visible in the Security hold area as well. It took me just 5 minutes to clear it as I made my way to the gate. I was hungry and looking at flight boards, Vistara 943 had no “Last call” signs, so I made a quick hop to the American Express Platinum Lounge. After a round of early morning muffins and cakes, I made my way to the gate, and was there by 06:55 hours. Boarding was yet to start and passengers were hanging around the beautifully decorate gate area.

Vistara Gate - Delhi T3

Vistara Gate – Delhi T3

At exactly 0700 hours, boarding started with a call to Business class passengers, and those travelling with infants, young children. There was no special announcement for premium economy passengers and boarding was resumed with row-wise calls. As I made my way to the aero bridge, I spotted the aircraft connected to the bridge.

Vistara VT-TTB at Gate 37 Delhi T3

Vistara VT-TTB at Gate 37 Delhi T3

Passengers were welcomed by three flight attendants upon boarding. As I made my way to my cattle class seat, I was able to snag couple of pictures in the Business class section, where the seats looked comfortable with pillows and leg support in tow, and Premium Economy section, which looked like Economy, with additional seat pitch. I’ll be reviewing that in my return leg.

Vistara A320 Business class seats

Vistara A320 Business class seats

Vistara A320 Premium Economy seats

Vistara A320 Premium Economy seats

I was seated by the wing, on seat 14A . My first impressions of the seat were positive as it looked good, and despite being a slimline seat, looked sufficiently comfortable for a 2 hour flight. All Vistara seats are upholstered in leather.

Vistara Economy class seats

Vistara Economy class seats

As I settled down, the first observation was complete lack of any IFE (In-flight Entertainment) on the aircraft. Not just in economy, but also no IFE in Premium Economy or Business Class. For an airline, which has been built on the USP of a Premium product, offering above and beyond what other existing airlines are offering, with the tagline “Fly the New Feeling“, this seemed like a glaring absence.

Nobody knows if Vistara will offer streaming entertainment on PEDs later, but for now this is quite shocking to me at least. For the record, some of Air India’s A320s have personal seat back IFE, and as Jet Airways also deputes some of its A330s to domestic trunk routes, they also offer personal seat back entertainment.

Vistara Economy - No seat back IFE

Vistara Economy – No seat back IFE

The economy class offers 30 inches of seat pitch, like all other operators and I found the legroom sufficient. I also took a liking to the extra shiny chrome seat belt buckles, they were surely a new feeling as compared to other airlines, which offer them in matte finish :)

Vistara Economy Legroom

Vistara Economy Legroom

Vistara shiny chrome seat belts

Vistara’s shiny new seat belts

All the seats also offer a nifty coat hook tag, which I thought was a nice touch, and especially useful in winter months.

Vistara Economy - Personal seat coat hook

Vistara Economy – Personal seat coat hook

The cabin service for economy was started with a bottle of water. The captain soon came on the PA to welcome us aboard, informed us of the flight duration and the expected weather conditions in Mumbai. The seat back also had an english newspaper, safety card and a copy of Vistara magazine.

Vistara economy - Water bottle

Vistara economy – Water bottle

We started pushing back at 07:22 hours and the cabin manager, Shelly, welcomed all the passengers again.

Vistara - View over wing from seat 14a

Vistara – View over wing from seat 14A

As we were pushing back, I got curious and decided to check the flight loads. Looked pretty empty to me, with about 35% occupancy across the cabins. Probably the Saturday early morning effect I mentioned earlier.

Vistara Economy cabin - mostly empty

Vistara Economy cabin – mostly empty

Did I mention that the middle seat in my row was empty? In fact barring just one row, everybody in the aircraft seemed to have an empty middle seat. Oh the joys!

We took of at 07:36 hours and as we ascended above the foggy conditions of Delhi, the view above the clouds, with a bright sun made up for the lack of IFE.

Vistara 890 - Delhi take off views

Vistara 943 – Delhi take off views

Eight minutes into the flight, the attendants segregated the cabins and the meal service was started at exactly 07:59 hours, about 23 minutes in. We were offered two options between the Paneer Tikka/Uttapam (Vegetarian) combo and Masala akuri on an English muffin, with Chicken nuggets. I chose the latter.

The breakfast was served in a box,a long with fresh fruits, a bun, curd, butter, mixed jam and the choice of Main. Cutlery was plastic, and I must mention that at no point in the flight I was addressed with my name, as some passengers experienced on the inaugural flight. I don’t know if that was a limited practice, only to impress the first lot.

Vistara Economy Box Breakfast

Vistara Economy Breakfast Box

I personally feel that serving any fried food on a flight, on any flight, is always most tricky. It usually is never crisp, like it is intended to be, and most often gets soggy, like the way I got it. The Akuri was slightly confusing at first but after first few spoons, grew on to me. I liked the flavours. It had, what seemed to me, a mixture of scrambled eggs, pulses and fine tomatoes. The Flight attendants were unable to explain the dish to me. Overall, I appreciate the difference brought in to the usual staid catering in domestic flights.

However, if you have read my last reviews, especially of the Jet flight to Jammu, I always have serious reservations about the condiments offered in airline food. The butter offered to us was Amul and perfectly satisfactory. But the mixed jam, although FSSAI certified, wasn’t of a reputable brand, and I chose to completely avoid it.

Vistara Economy - Mixed jam

Vistara Economy – Mixed jam

Post meal, we were offered tea/coffee, but as usual I respectfully declined it. Unlike the inaugural flights, we weren’t offered any dessert/premium ice cream. By this time I decided to browse the magazine and found it well designed, with couple of interesting pieces about the history of Tata Group in Aviation, as well as how SIA got its wings.

Vistara Magazine

Vistara Magazine

I had about 15 minutes of shuteye, before our descent into Mumbai started at 08:45 hours. I found the crew professional and courteous. Sheena and Divya, who were serving my part of the cabin did a very good job. We touched down in Mumbai at 09:14 hours. The Captain came on PA to thank us again, and informed us about the sunny weather of Mumbai at 22 degrees. Because Vistara’s home at Mumbai is the brand new Terminal 2, it took us a while to reach the gate.

Mumbai Terminal 2 ATC

Mumbai Terminal 2 ATC

On the way to the gate, two of Vistara’s industry friends were remotely parked, and gave us an earful as we went past them ;)

Indigo and Jet Airways at Mumbai Airport

Indigo and Jet Airways at Mumbai Airport

We also taxied past the Cargo terminal and I was able to spot Etihad and FedEx aircraft.

Etihad Cargo and FedEx at Mumbai Cargo Terminal

Etihad Cargo and FedEx at Mumbai Cargo Terminal

Passengers were also told about their baggage on the conveyor belt #2 before de-boarding, which I thought was again a nice and helpful touch.

Vistara A320 at Mumbai T2 Gate

Vistara A320 at Mumbai T2 Gate

Mumbai T2 Arrival Hall - Baggage claim

Mumbai T2 Arrival Hall – Baggage claim

How would I rate my Vistara Economy experience? Frankly nothing too special to write home about, especially considering Jet Airways & Air India won’t let Vistara walk all over them in terms of passenger experience. If priced & scheduled right, I would definitely consider being on a Vistara flight again.

But hang on for the final word, as I write about my Vistara Premium Economy experience very soon.

 

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Review: SriLankan Airlines A320 New Delhi to Colombo

As I mentioned in my last post, the check-in for the flight was quick as there was nobody at the counter and I was off in couple of minutes. Thereafter, I visited the Plaza Premium Lounge B at Terminal 3’s International Departures area.

Related Trip Review: Reviewing Plaza Premium Lounge, Terminal 3 New Delhi

SriLankan 196 - Delhi T3 Gate

Gate 15B – New Delhi Airport

I left the lounge at 1745 hours, as the gate was a short stroll away from the lounge. I arrived to see most passengers still sitting, while the gate staff was preparing their final departure sheets. I quickly fired up FlightAware to check the status of the incoming aircraft from Colombo and it showed arrival 1708 hours. After a short wait Boarding was called and the usual gate crush rush happened. As my turn came, the agent told me that I was upgraded to Business Class (SCORE!) and he issued me a new boarding pass. I was assigned seat 2D.

SriLankan Airlines 196

New Delhi IGI (DEL) – Colombo Bandaranaike International (CMB)

Friday, December 19th

Departure: 18:53 hours (18 minutes late)

Arrival: 22:02 hours (8 minutes early)

Aircraft: Airbus A320-200

Seat: 5D

As I was glowing over the late upgrade and settling down on my seat, A SriLankan couple requested if I can move to Row 5 so they can sit together. I thought about it considering the last cabin row usually has limited recline but then I was not going to come between two lovebirds. I happily obliged and shifted my wares to 5D.

SriLankan A320 Business Class Recliner Seat

SriLankan A320 Business Class Recliner Seat

This was my first time on a SriLankan aircraft, and I was looking forward to checking out their hard and soft product. The SriLankan Business Class seat on A320s is recliner type and unfortunately has no leg support. It is a 20 seat Business Class cabin in the front, with a 2-2 layout. The seat pitch is pretty respectable for regional operations at 39-40 inches, and overall I felt comfortable while seated. Fair to say this has nothing on their new A330-300 Business class product, which features lie-flat beds along with WiFi & mobile calling, but those aircraft are used on the medium to long haul sectors, with higher yields.

The economy section at the back has about 120 seats, and is in the usual 3-3 layout. This particular flight looked completely sold out to me, in the front and back cabins.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Pillows and Headphones

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Pillows and Headphones

The seat already had a pillow, a blanket and a pair of headphones. Pillow & Blanket looked & felt comfortable, but I must put in a quick word about the headphones provided. Quite honestly, besides looking poor (for a business class headphone), they sounded poor too, I even had to replace my first pair, as they weren’t working properly.

The captain came on the PA to tell us our flight path and apologised for the slight delay in boarding and expected departure.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Welcome Drink

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Welcome Drink

Business class was served by two very friendly and cheerful attendants. One was a middle-aged gentleman, who probably was the cabin supervisor, and he was assisted by a young lady. Both of them were great and it showed that they enjoyed their jobs. and Did I mentioned that I absolutely loved their SriLankan accents? To me it is probably up there with the Carribean accent, smooth off the tongue and a song for the ears :)

I digress. As final checks for the flight were ongoing, we were offered a hot towel, followed by a welcome drink. The choice was between Apple, Orange and Mango juices, and I went with Mango.

Soon I turned my attention to the IFE screen in front of me. My first thoughts were it is too small for a Business class cabin, especially considering that economy seats these days get bigger screens than that.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - IFE Screen

SriLankan A320 Business Class – IFE Screen

As we rolled down the runway and rotated towards Colombo, I had spent approximately 12 minutes with the touch-screen system, without getting much done. The lag exhibited by the system was quite a bit, and I noticed similar experience for my seatmate as well. He was a Sri Lankan businessman and later told me that he flew SriLankan mainly for their genuine service, which was definitely hard to argue against.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Electric Plugs

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Electric Plugs

The common area between the seats also featured two USB & two electrical plug points, which is always very useful.

SriLankan Business Class Menu

SriLankan Business Class Menu – Front

SriLankan Business Class Menu - Inside

SriLankan Business Class Menu – Inside

Few minutes after we were airborne, the cabin attendants sprung into action and distributed well-designed business class menus. Little touches like this matter a lot and it staggers me to think how few airlines, notably Air India, still are so inconsistent with this practice in their premium cabins.

Weirdly, post this we were offered a selection of newspapers, which I thought should have been offered during boarding or in the earlier stages of the flight. The crew has lots going on while preparing the cabin and serving simultaneously, so I’m prepared to overlook such matters, provided it is a rarity and not a regular practice.

After few minutes, the cabin attendant came over to ask for our orders and I requested Chicken Rogini, which was served with Saffron rice.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Dinner

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Dinner

The meal came over with Dahi Bhalla salad and a Fruit bowl. All this was plated before hand and served together. I did enjoy the taste of meal, where the Chicken and Rice were well made and tasteful. I’m personally not an Okra fan, so did not even bother to touch it. During the meal, both attendants made frequent hot bread rounds, which was appreciated. They even had thin stuffed paranthas in aluminium foil, and which were pretty decent too.

However, I did not personally liked the presentation of the meal. Serving the meal on course basis does lengthen the process, but I think it considerably ups the ante in presentation and overall impression as well. May be SriLankan ought to consider that.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Lion Beer

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Lion Beer

All that of course was gulped down with a hearty dose of the local favourite, Lion Beer.

Post meal, we were offered a round of coffee or tea and I politely declined. Only to ask our attendant about the champagne they had on-board :)

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Champagne Jacquart

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Champagne Jacquart

They had Jacquart and me & my seatmate were happy to raise a toast to our journey. I had a good conversation with him spanning politics and cricket, and realised both of our nations had many things in common. The re-fills kept coming without even asking for them :)

As we started our descent into Colombo, the attendants came by to offer a bottle of water, an arrival form, and most important a fast-track pass. Always useful.

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Immigration Fast Track

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Immigration Fast Track

SriLankan A320 Business Class - Water Bottle

SriLankan A320 Business Class – Water Bottle

The final round of the cabin before landing was another round of hot towels. Few minutes later, we made a smooth landing at the Bandaranaike International Airport in rainy Colombo. In the words of the late Tony Greig, “They must be playing Cricket somewhere”.

Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo

Bandaranaike International Airport, Colombo

Did I enjoy my business class experience, although a short three hour flight, with SriLankan? Absolutely Yes! Was it because of their hard product? Not at all.

The fact of the matter remains that SriLankan right now is running an older product on their regional routes to India, and even markets like Singapore. That is certainly not an ideal position but keep in mind SriLankan is not running on unlimited oil money. For a carrier having a limited fleet, they are doing a phenomenal job, coupled with a great soft service proposition, one world affiliation and being the only game in town, as far as direct flights between DEL & CMB are concerned.

It is certainly more challenging for them to operate out of Mumbai and other southern states with direct competition from Jet Airways and other Indian carriers. Bottomline: Fly SriLankan for their genuine & warm hospitality but don’t expect wonders in their cabin product, unless you are on one of their latest A330-330s.

Have you ever flown on SriLankan before? What were your thoughts on their service?

I will be continuing this series with reviewing SriLankan’s flagship Serendib Lounge at Colombo International, followed by UL195.

 

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Review: Plaza Premium Lounge, New Delhi (Lounge B, International Departures, Terminal 3)

In the last week of December 2014, I traveled to Colombo, Sri Lanka for business purposes. Naturally SriLankan became the airline of choice, my thirty third airline, more on that in the following trip reports. Once I completed my check-in formalities at the New Delhi Airport, Terminal 3, it was time to spend the next hour or so before boarding the aircraft. I had decided I would be using the Plaza Premium Lounge B before hand and thus made my way towards it, past the Duty Free area.

The entire airport was decked in festive spirit, complete with a massive Santa overlooking everyone and spreading cheer.

Santa Claus at Delhi Airport

Santa Claus at Delhi Airport Terminal 3

There are a total of 7 Plaza Premium Lounges at the Delhi Airport, spread across Terminal 1D & Terminal 3 (International & Domestic areas). T3 specifically has 2 Plaza Premium departure lounges for international travel. Lounge A is the smaller lounge of the two, located near the food court, and Lounge B is the bigger lounge with more facilities and a dedicated area.

One needs to take the lift up to Level 4 of the airport, where the Plaza Premium Lounge B is located. These lifts also take passengers to Lufthansa, Emirates & Singapore Lounges on Level 3, and the Eaton Transit Hotel on Level 5.

Delhi T3 Airport Lounge Lift

Delhi T3 Airport Lounge Lift

Depending on the which of the three lifts you take, you will have to turn left or right, once you reach Level 4. You will find the “infamous” T3 carpeting here as well :)

Plaza Premium Lounge - Delhi T3 Entryway

Plaza Premium Lounge – Delhi T3 Entryway

At the reception I was met by an efficient agent, who quickly checked me in after verifying my ICICI Sapphiro Jet Airways Visa card. This lounge is part of the Visa Lounge Access program, which earlier used to have Delhi Daredevils Bar at Terminal 3. I was also asked if I required the Wi-Fi password, which I turned down.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi T3 Entrance

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi T3 – Reception

One can also get in to this lounge through a Priority Pass Membership (the standard derivative of which comes complimentary with most airline affiliated credit cards). For the uninitiated, Priority Pass is the largest independent airport lounge access program in the world, with over 700 locations in 123 countries. The greatest advantage of the program is that you don’t need to be flying with a specific airline or in a specific class to access these lounges.

Priority_Pass_Screenshot

There are three membership plans:

  • Standard Membership: $99 annual fee, plus $27 for each lounge visit
  • Standard Plus Membership: $249 annual fee with 10 free visits; additional visits are $27
  • Prestige Membership: $399 annual fee with unlimited visits

At this point, I must also mention that this lounge is the contract lounge of choice for most international airlines out of Delhi Airport, and thus has been quite busy most of the times I have been there. As this visit was during an off-peak late afternoon hour, the lounge was fairly empty. Keep in mind, this is open 24 hours.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Seating

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Seating

One thing this lounge is not short of, is comfortable seating. There are plenty of sofas, in the forward section of the lounge, as well at the back, near to the bar and food area. The Lounge also has a flight display board near the entrance.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Sofa Seating

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Sofa Seating by the Bar

Apart from comfortable sofas, there are also tall chairs by the bar side, next to the snack section.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Seating by the Bar

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Seating by the Bar

The bar itself looks pretty stocked up, but for a beer lover like me is a big dud. The only beer they serve here is Kingfisher, although there is nothing wrong with Kingfisher, I would like to see at least one more option to be served.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Bar

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Bar

The other side of the bar counter is the food section, having soups, mains, fruits, sandwiches and sweet options.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Food Counter

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Food Counter

I was at the bar during late lunch hours and the staff was regularly filling up dishes. There were about 4 main options including chicken, mutton and vegetarian, accompanied by Rice.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Main Dishes

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Main Dishes

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Vegeterian Mains

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Vegetarian Mains

The vegetarian options included Matar Paneer gravy (Peas & Cottage Cheese, cooked Indian spicy style), and Chinese Manchurian gravy, neither of which I tried.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Beverage Fridge

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Beverage Fridge (PS: Pardon my photography skills)

Just behind the bar, there was a wooden cabinet stocked with water bottles, and a refrigerator next to it, which was stocked with aerated drinks.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Snacks

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Snacks

To its right, a coffee/tea machine was placed, along with some cookies and tea flavours.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Juices

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Juices

The juice dispenser was next, serving orange and apple juice.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Breads

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Breads

Which was followed by a bread basket, containing 5 different varieties.

Chilly Chicken with Rice and Beer

Chilly Chicken with Rice and Beer

I was feeling slightly hungry, and wanted to have a quick meal before boarding so I got myself Chilly Chicken, on top of Rice. I gulped that down with a beer. I can’t say much about the dish except the fact that it was typical contract lounge food, devoid of any flavour, with a average chicken quality. Thank god for the beer.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Dessert & Sandwich

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Dessert & Sandwich

After a while, I thought about trying a paneer sandwich, along with Shahi Tukda as a dessert. Wrong move, as the sandwich was filled with paneer (cottage cheese) only on the sides, with the insides completely empty. As far as Shahi Tukda is concerned, I would like to describe it in two words: Sweet Rubber.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Magazine Stand

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Magazine Stand

The lounge had couple of magazine/newspaper racks with a variety of publications. As a magazine/newspaper aficionado, I was quiet impressed with that offering.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Massage Room Entrance Way

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Massage Room Entrance Way

Just behind the bar side sofas, there is a small entryway which leads to restrooms, as well as couple of enclosed VIP Rooms, Massage & Shower Area

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Massage Room

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Massage Room

During my stay at the lounge, the masseur was unavailable. There were two massage sofas and two neck and shoulder massage chairs in the room.

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Massage Room Chair

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Massage Room Chair

The massage service is not complimentary, and is chargeable at the following rates:

Shower Package  INR
Deluxe Shower (with full amenities) 600
Shower with 30 minutes Seated Massage 1300
Massage and Beauty Service  INR
15 minutes Seated Massage (head, neck, shoulder and back) 500
30 minutes Seated Massage (head, neck, shoulder and back) 900
15 minutes Foot Reflexology 500
30 minutes Foot Reflexology 900

 

 

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi -  Business Centre

Plaza Premium Lounge Delhi – Business Centre

There is also a business area, which features 4 Windows OS based laptops, and a Printer/Copier.

During my stay I found the staff to be attentive, polite and not overbearing, which is my preferable option. Ideally I’m not fond of lounge staff trying hard to please, after all, passengers are in the lounge to escape from the noise and find some down time.

To sum up, it is certainly a worthy alternative to sitting in a crowded and noisy terminal, and for Visa card holders, certainly a big upgrade from the environs of the Delhi Daredevils Bar at the ground floor. Would I pay $27 to gain access as a Priority Pass holder? I’m not sure. The food & drink selection have never enthused me too much and this lounge is certainly not in the category of Plaza Premium lounges at Hong Kong, Jamaica or London. However, if you hold an eligible Visa credit card, this lounge should be a no-brainer for you.

 

Have you been to the Premium Plaza Lounge B at New Delhi, Terminal 3, what you thought of its services?

 

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The Full Service Transformation of Jet Airways

The transformation of Jet Airways, from a (Premium) Full Service Airline to a confused brand, and back to a Full Service Airline happened recently. The public announcement of the last bit at least. Industry watchers expected the switch after Etihad & Jet made their partnership public last year.

Jet Airways Domestic - Delhi Airport Gate

Jet Konnect – Boeing 737-700 at Delhi Airport

“I give you my commitment, that by the end of the year, Jet Airways will have the best domestic full service product in the country. We will always be competitive to ensure our customers get the best value for their money,” Chairman Goyal had thundered. He had even welcomed Vistara, saying it will make “us stronger”.

It is a different matter that Vistara’s AOP certificate is still stuck at DGCA.

For long time Indian air passengers (and the impassioned frequent flyers over at FlyerTalk), Jet Airways was like one of their own gone astray. The Airline which had strong credentials to be among the very best in the world for service, had switched to the cut-throat game of lower cost (not low cost) operations. Multiple brands made things even messier which confused consumers to no end. A return to the full service product roots was welcomed with a prayer, and a quiet approval.

Thus, I was excited to sample Jet’s hospitality before the official FSC switchover date of 1st December 2014 and check out if the transformation was already under way. I chose to fly Jet’s low-cost-confused-service-brand, Konnect last month, for my trip to Vaishno Devi, Jammu.

 

Jet Airways 7008/S2 4607

New Delhi (DEL) – Jammu (IXJ)

Departure: 1317 hours (2 minutes late)

Arrival: 1423 hours (2 minutes early)

Aircraft: Boeing 737-700

I was running late for my flight but the ICICI Jet Airways card came handy and I was able to check-in quickly at the airport through the Premiere lane. The security check took few minutes and I made my way to Gate 39 for boarding. The occupancy was quiet light for the flight, with a guesstimate of 55%.

You know that moment when you step into your flight and the “Hello” from cabin crew tells you this is going to be a great, friendly crew. That happened.

Jet Airways Domestic - Economy seat

Jet Airways Domestic – Economy seat

I soon settled into my seat and the pushback started around 1309 hours, with an almost on-time departure. It is always fun to check out airports from the sky and Delhi’s Terminal 3 provided interesting scenery.

Delhi Airport T3 Aerial View

Delhi Airport T3 Aerial View

The legroom in the economy cabin for an average/athletic built passenger is enough, especially considering this was a very short 45-50 minute hop, to India’s northernmost state. And Yes, I was wearing fancy pants :)

Jet Airways Domestic - Legroom

Jet Airways Domestic – Legroom

Soon the curtains were drawn and service started exactly 13 minutes after the takeoff. As this was a Jet Konnect flight, meals were charged.

Jet Airways Domestic - Movable curtain

Jet Airways Domestic – Movable curtain

I ordered a Malai Paneer Tikka Sandwich, which I thought was poorly presented and came with an iffy quality ketchup from an unknown brand.

Jet Airways Domestic - Paid sandwich meal

Jet Airways Domestic – Paid sandwich meal

The sandwich tasted better than it looked. Gaurav on the flight was especially helpful, along with the other crew members. Our descent into Jammu started around 1357 hours, a mere 40 minutes into the flight. The Captain came on the PA to announce that we were 3rd in sequence to land, with expected ETA of 1425 hrs.

Jet Airways Domestic - Landing at Jammu

Jet Airways Domestic – Landing at Jammu

We landed at exactly 1423 hours with quite a big thud and more-than-usual speed. The disembarkation was quick due to a low flight load.

Air India Star Alliance Livery at Jammu

Air India Star Alliance Livery A320 at Jammu Airport

Besides the pleasant Jammu weather, another sight to behold at the Jammu Airport was Air India’s special A320 aircraft with Star Alliance livery.

My return flight couple of days later was slightly more eventful.

 

Jet Airways 7009/S2 4608

Jammu (IXJ)  – New Delhi (DEL)

Departure: 1543 hours (33 minutes late)

Arrival: 1644 hours (19 minutes late)

Aircraft: Boeing 737-700

I reached the airport almost 90 minutes before my scheduled departure of 1510 hours as there are multiple, extensive checks at the Jammu Airport. The Airport/terminal itself is pretty barebones but I was able to snag a quick check-in. When I asked the agent at the counter about the flight, I was told it is on-time.

Jet Airways Domestic - B737 at Jammu

Jet Konnect Domestic – Boeing 737-7 at Jammu

As it turned out the flight arrived late from Delhi, and boarding (done on a remote stand) started only at 1520 hours, though it was fairly quick. Pushback started at 1539 hours and we were airborne by 1543 hours from Jammu’s single runway number 36. The first officer apologised for the delay as we reached 10000 feet.

Jammu Airport Runway

Jammu Airport Runway 36

The all male cabin crew on this flight was friendly & attentive. As I saw on my earlier flight couple of days back, the aircraft seemed to have many empty seats, with a similar guesstimate of 55% occupancy.

Jammu Airport Takeoff - View

Jammu Airport Takeoff View

While I was trying to fix the overhead knob that kept leaking cold air directly on my head, I happened to overhear an amusing yet typical conversation in the adjacent row behind me. It seemed to me that the lady, imported straight out of a Page 3 party, was trying to convince an attendant to upgrade her to the business class in front. Her reasoning was that her travel agent misunderstood her and booked her in economy for a 1 hour flight. Oh the horror I tell you. Anyways, the attendant politely declined and I guess with that my IFE for the flight was over :)

Jet Airways Domestic - Faulty overhead knob

Jet Airways Domestic – Faulty overhead knob

As this was a late afternoon flight, I wanted to grab a quick bite. By the time, the service cart reached me, they were only left with vegetarian sandwiches. Knowing fully well how good their vegetarian sandwiches are, I chose to go for a mango drink and eat something after landing in Delhi.

I’m guessing the attendant gauged my disappointment and came back later to ask me if I wanted to buy a vegetarian Indian meal for 300 bucks. I readily agreed and it was brought over in couple of minutes. It had Rice, Chapati, Spinach Curry and Lentil as Main, along with a Cake. Although the mains were packed in recyclable tray and tin foil, the cake was served on Bone china, along with proper steel cutlery and a hand towel. I would hazard a guess that it was a spare business class meal.

Jet Airways Domestic - Economy Paid Meal

Jet Airways Domestic – Economy Paid Meal

As I was about to finish the meal, the FA came by again to thank me for my patronage to Jet Airways and offered to give the meal charges back to me. I politely declined but thanked him for the gesture. Few minutes later he appeared again and insisted on me taking it back saying the cabin manager wasn’t happy with him for taking money. Ultimately I had to relent.

The descent into Delhi started around 1620 hours, with the cabin manager appearing on my seat and thanking me. I told him I appreciated his kind gesture and the attentive service done by his team for the flight. He asked me if he could do anything else to make my flight better, and I requested for a little peek into the cockpit once we land.

We touched down at 1644 hours and were at our gate by 1654 hours. DGCA inspectors were in the cockpit for a while and once they got out, I got a good look into the Boeing 737-700 cockpit. Overall pleasant, if not a perfect flight experience.

BOTTOMLINE

There needs to be a tangible service differentiation to be a full service carrier and not just an extra free meal-on-board. Jet Airways definitely has the pedigree and the legacy to offer fantastic service, but the hard product to go with it also needs improvement. Needless to say, it will be tough for Jet to compete with the likes of Vistara in terms of aircraft equipment. but at the same time, Vistara will take time to become a national player and Jet can take that time to get more competitive. Another emerging school of thought on the other hand stresses on Jet’s increased and obvious focus on international operations, rather than lower margin domestic ops.

The Indian consumer has evolved a lot since the last time Jet Airways operated as a single brand. VFM remains the key but the definition varies from consumer to consumer. Some may want the cheapest possible transportation, while some may want extras like lounge access, frequent flyer benefits, better meals, Enhanced seating and IFE etc. If Jet Airways is able to solve that equation, with the appropriate cost structure to go with it, this transformation to “Full service operations” may very well work wonders.

And yes, don’t forget to change that lousy ketchup brand 9W. May be some inspiration to package the offering can even come from the lower cost stables of 6E.

Is Taco Bell the Savviest Social Media Brand?

On my commute back from office last night, I noticed few odd and alarming tweets. Allow me to quickly present my case:

Bridget Carey, from CNET was tweeting in ALL CAPS!!

And Nilay Patel had this

Taco Bell story? Some die-hards were flipping out!

Like any self-respecting digital marketer, I figured I had to be on top of this recent development. So I went to Taco Bell’s twitter. Then to their Instagram feed. Then to their Facebook page. And finally to their Google+ page as well. This is a collection of what I saw.

Taco Bell - Social Networks

Taco Bell – Social Networks

As it turned out, Taco Bell launched a new mobile app but rather than going on a social media frenzy, and buying up all possible hashtags, the digitally savvy brand did the exact opposite. It blacked out and went silent across all of their social presence channels. Even the website, which had products and corporate/brand information, wasn’t spared either to promote the new app. Content on the company’s Facebook was deleted and all images blacked out. On Instagram, Taco Bell released a series of black and white text-based images with the hashtag #onlyintheapp. For a brand that has over 10 million fans on Facebook, this move can clearly be described as ballsy, one which most marketers will lose weeks of sleep over.

Taco bell - only in the app

The silence was urging fans to download the app directly. Normally, a brand would go all out on its social and web channels to promote a new launch. For something like an app, the focus clearly would have been more on mobile marketing, and a typical brand would have done one, two or all the three below:

1) Running a CPD campaign to promote downloads on mobile ad networks. Off late, this has been a very popular form of promotion on Facebook and Twitter native apps as well

2) Buying display and text inventory across major networks, trying to push app functionality

3) Bid for related keywords on search engines and then hope for CPC traffic

Taco Bell, to the best of my knowledge, has done nothing of the above. This is obviously not to indicate that the above-mentioned methods are not effective. Thousands of apps employ those strategies every day, and do it with great success.

Taco Bell has done things differently while creating enormous amount of buzz and earned impressions. The App Annie chart below looks at the Taco Bell “Live Mas” app’s rank history over the past month, for Apple iOS. Notice the spike in the end. The chart shows that for the Food & Drink category, the app moved from its usual spot from around 60 to become number one for that category, in the US. Amazingly, It also became 24th most popular app in the US on the launch day. Next day, it climbed up to rank #22.

Taco Bell App - iOS Rank History

Taco Bell App – iOS Rank History

The hour-by-hour report is even more incredible. It starts with the app ranked 1,379 overall in the US as of 2am PT, October 28. By 1pm — it had shot to become the 24th most popular app. The app is not yet listed on the iTunes most popular free apps chart as it is updated on a weekly basis.

Taco Bell App - iOS Hourly Rank History

Taco Bell App – iOS Hourly Rank History

Besides the number of downloads, the post-download behaviour/interaction is vital. Everybody in the business knows that its easy to make users download apps, its far more tougher to make them use it everyday, every week, once every month or heck, even once after the first trial.

It won’t be the brilliant promotion strategy that would make users come back, but the app itself, and the UX it offers. Taco Bell covered that with the option of ordering mobile app only products on the app. They are also offering mobile payment, which is apparently the first for the industry. Moreover, in stores, there will be a separate pick-up line for app orders.

Taco Bell is known for its progressive and clever social media strategy, including being an early mover on Instagram, Snapchat, Vine, Tumblr, Pinterest, Hyperlapse among others. While it initially seemed like Taco Bell had completely wiped out its Twitter history, the account is actually hiding at @totallynothere during the blackout — with all followers (1.4 million) and tweets (39.9K) in place.

Taco Bell - Totally not there twitter

Taco Bell’s alternative twitter account

It is also interesting to note how quickly Twitter acted to make the “new” Taco Bell account verified. Usually, when a verified account is renamed (which is exactly what Taco Bell’s agency Digitas did), it loses the verified status. Clearly twitter and Digitas were planning and working on this stunt together. For now, the experiment seems to be continuing though it may not be long before Taco Bell resets and retakes its old avatar. I, for one, miss the witty one-liners. See below for an epic example.

Taco Bell vs Old Spice - Tweet Wars

Taco Bell vs. Old Spice – Tweet Wars

It is heartening to see Taco Bell embrace technology like no one else, and at the same time, add emotions in the mix. Even the press invites sent for the announcement looked like something you wouldn’t expect from a fast food retailer.

Taco Bell Invitation

Taco Bell Invitation

And that’s the trick. Taco Bell wanted to make sure that their message broke through, without breaking their budgets.  As a pioneer marketer, Taco Bell prefers to do things that have never been done before, which fits perfectly with their brand as well as the demographic they cater to.

Social media has been tightly entrenched in Taco Bell’s broad marketing play as well, with key personnel from PR, operations, product, and marketing playing a part in influencing the brand’s social movement. And for those, who believe social media leads to zero ROI, one look at Taco Bell would absolve that myth. AdAge recently wrote about the role of social media in year-on-year sales growth outpacing its competitors.

I have written in the past about clever social media and real time marketing employed by brands but this easily surpasses all Dark dunks and funny tweet fights. What do you think?

This article has also appeared on The Wall Blog.

 

Review: Turkish Airlines A330-300 Istanbul to New Delhi

Turkish Airlines A330 - Istanbul gate

Turkish Airlines A330 – Istanbul Airport

It was hard to come out of that traveller heaven also known as Turkish Airlines Lounge, at Istanbul but the prospect of missing flight back home wasn’t so attractive either. It was a 13 minute walk from the lounge, through the maze of Istanbul’s Duty free shops to our Gate. At the gate, the scenes were pretty chaotic with no proper queues in-sight, but we were able to dodge it and the friendly agent at the gate counter helped us through quickly.

Related Trip Reviews: Tripping through Scandinavia

Train on a Ferry!

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

SAS Business Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

 

Turkish Airlines 716

Istanbul Ataturk (IST) – New Delhi (DEL)

Sunday, July 27th

Departure: 20:06 hours (11 minutes late)

Arrival: 04:35 hours (+1 day) local time (15 minutes late)

Aircraft: Airbus A330-300

Seat: 6A

The crew greeted us warmly as we boarded the aircraft. My folks turned left and I went…  to the right. I was able to secure seat 6A on the phone with the Turkish Airlines customer service. It is certainly not Business Class but it probably is the best Economy seat in the cabin. The 2-4-2 cabin layout is a big positive and the ample leg room takes this economy seat a notch above the rest of the cabin, though some folks may find the proximity to the lavatory bit bothersome.

Turkish Airlines A330-300 Economy Seating

Turkish Airlines A330-300 Economy Cabin and Seating

Turkish Airlines A330 - Economy bulkhead Legroom

Turkish Airlines A330 – Economy bulkhead Legroom

There was a slight delay in departure, though I made good use of our extended ground time in Istanbul. The aircraft scenery out of the window was beautiful, not as scenic as a Turkish evening by the Marmara sea, but the Jets around were soothing to the #AvGeek eyes.

Turkish Airlines Aircraft at Istanbul airport ramp

Turkish Airlines Aircraft at Istanbul airport ramp

Pushback started 11 minutes behind schedule and it was a very busy time at Istanbul Ataturk Airport to say the least. I could see a long queue of Planes ahead of us, waiting to jet-off.

Istanbul Airport Ramp

Istanbul Airport Ramp

Istanbul Airport - Take off Queue

Istanbul Airport – Take off Queue

Turkish Airlines A330 - Nose Cam

Turkish Airlines A330 – Nose Cam

Heavy incoming and outgoing traffic at the airport meant plenty of opportunities to put my photography skills to test and for my aviation imagery database to increase. Somehow clicking aircraft pictures always gives me a different kind of high.

Istanbul Airport Runway - Aircraft

Istanbul Airport Runway – Aircraft

One of the disappointing aspects during this delay was no incoming information from the cockpit or the cabin crew, although I could see the “reasons” in front, I doubt if all passengers were able to figure that out. We finally rotated into Turkish skies around 2030 hours local time, the views of the city and the sea were terrific.

Turkish Airlines A330 - Istanbul Aerial View

Turkish Airlines A330 – Istanbul Aerial View

After only about 9 minutes the crew was back in action and serving “Turkish delights”, a local savory which I never seem to get enough of. and Rightfully so.

Turkish Airlines Delight

Turkish Airlines Delight

Another 9 minutes later, a crew member came by my seat to give the Economy travel kit. It consists of a pair of socks, earbuds and an eye patch. For an economy cabin, this is a pretty decent offering.

Turkish Airlines Economy Amenity Kit

Turkish Airlines Economy Amenity Kit

Another 8 minutes passed before we were handed out our Dinner menus. For Turkish Airlines to do this is indeed very thoughtful, even on a medium haul five hour and forty minutes flight. The planning for these services seemed done to the T. As a traveler, I appreciate this more because being a red-eye flight I would want the “mandatories” to be done as soon as possible to get some rest before an early morning arrival in New Delhi. Of course it also helps the crew in their time/work management as well, So its a win-win.

Turkish Airlines A330 - Economy Class Dinner menu

Turkish Airlines A330 – Economy Class Dinner menu

Dinner service started another 30 minutes after the menu distribution and I ordered a Grilled Chicken Breast from the menu, which was the only non-vegetarian choice. It was served along with sautéed vegetables and some potato purée. The selection and its presentation were very average and the taste left me un-satisfied, unfortunately I misplaced meal pictures to share here. Chana Salad and Breads were served as well but what I really liked was the Mango Panna Cotta dessert, besides the Efes Beer :)

The vegetarians on the flight had two options between Aloo-Gobhi and Channa Colaw Paneer as their main, and from my conversations with fellow passengers, they certainly were the better tasting dishes.

The crew were friendly and attentive throughout the flight though I had to request twice for lights to be dimmed after the meal service. Every body seemed ready for their quick naps but I guess nobody in the cabin crew thought of turning the lights down :)

The final service for the flight was done 3 hours into the flight and about 2:30 hours before landing as everybody was given a small bottle of water. I don’t know if the crew was waiting for this only to dim lights as they were turned down after this round. Our scheduled arrival into Indira Gandhi International Airport Terminal 3 in New Delhi was 04:20 hours, and we touched down with a slight delay of 15 minutes. The Long taxi from the runway to the gate meant we could only alight after another 25 minutes, marking a happy end to my trip through Scandinavia and Northern Europe.

 

 

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Review: Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

As we exited the SAS Business Lounge, there were still 15 minutes to go before the scheduled boarding start of our flight to Istanbul. I figured that even considering the long walk to the gate, we would do just fine. Stockholm Arlanda has passport control counters just before international gates, which should not have been a problem per say, but when you have just one agent manning an entire plane load of mostly non-EU citizens, that is a big problem indeed.

Stockholm Arlanda Airport - Passport Control Que

Stockholm Arlanda Airport – Passport Control Queue

 

Related Trip Reviews: Tripping through Scandinavia

Train on a Ferry!

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

SAS Business Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Seeing the way our queue was moving, I decided to make a quick run to the famous Swedish hamburger chain, MAX. Now, if you know me, you know I love my hamburgers and I love trying out all of them, so I was pretty certain of letting this opportunity go. After asking airport staff, I was finally able to track a MAX & ordered a classic takeaway meal for myself.

Stockholm Arlanda - Max Restaurant

Stockholm Arlanda – Max Restaurant

I ran back across the terminal to find my family and some other passengers in a new side-queue that ultimately was merging, into the original queue itself, started after last calls of our TK1794 flight by the Turkish Airlines staff themselves. Oh crap! Another surprising element to this entire mis-management was absence of any dedicated section for passengers travelling in business. Ultimately after lots of hustle, and nasty stares, we made through the mess and were one of the last ones to board the aircraft. This experience at Arlanda was probably one of the least convenient bits of our entire Scandinavian trip and something the airport management definitely needs to re-think.

Turkish Airlines 1794

Stockholm Arlanda (STO) – Istanbul Ataturk (IST)

Sunday, July 27th

Departure: 1152 hours (7 minutes late)

Arrival: 1604 hours local time (6 minutes before time)

Aircraft: Airbus A321-200

Seat: 10A

We were among the last group of passengers to board the aircraft. The business class consisted of the traditional 2-2 layout, with approximately 50% occupancy in the front. Interestingly, it had no seat-back IFE, rather passengers were supposed to get their screen out of arm rests, which I always find more tedious and inconvenient for many reasons. I also found most seats in business class were clearly worn out and in quick need of a thorough makeover. There were tears and smudges across the cabin seats. I moved to my seat 10A, in the bulkhead row. Who doesn’t like extra legroom, right?

Economy had much better loads on this flight with occupancy of almost 80%. The legroom for a short haul flight was perfectly acceptable although I missed having a footrest on this aircraft, which was on our flight from Istanbul to Zurich. That could also be due to the fact that I was in Bulkhead row of course.

Turkish Airlines A321 - Economy Legroom

Turkish Airlines A321 – Economy Legroom

Our scheduled departure was at 1145 hours, but we started pushing back around 1152 hours, which I thought was pretty acceptable considering the mess at the Passport control. Soon we lined up and were up and airborne by 1201 hours. The view from the window looked serene and peaceful, perfectly matching with my overall view of Scandinavia.

Taking off - Stockholm Arlanda

Taking off – Stockholm Arlanda

Unlike Business, all economy seats featured seat-back IFE. I’m a firm believer of looking out of the window for the perfect IFE, but for whatever its worth, I do enjoy my constant dose of moving map. Based on my little interactions with the IFE system, I found it to be having a good enough mix of entertainment across the board. However, one of the weird things was which got my attention were various cracks near the bottom right of the screen, where the USB port should have been. This was consistent across the cabin, wonder why!

Another thing I want to note here is almost a complete lack of English language on the map screen, which mentioned outside temperature, ground speed, estimate time to arrival etc. Of course Guesstimates started working pretty well after a while, but being an international airline, Turkish Airlines should have sorted this silly issue a long time ago.

Turkish Airlines A321 - Economy IFE Screen

Turkish Airlines A321 – Economy IFE Screen

Service on all our Turkish Airlines flight was perfectly efficient without being overbearing and this flight was no different. Within seven minutes of being airborne, the crew started servicing the legendary Turkish delight. Have I mentioned in the past that I can never get enough of that terrific treat? Lunch menus were distributed in the cabin after 5 minutes, always a good touch rather than making the cabin crew utter names of dishes and explain them at every seat.

Turkish Airlines A321 Lunch Menu

Turkish Airlines A321 Lunch Menu

For this flight, I chose to order “Billur Kebap” as my main selection, accompanied by a cold can of Efes Beer. Lunch was served an hour into the flight, and my tray came with Smoked Salmon, Warm Bread (served in the second meal round), cheese cake, crackers, cheese and some butter. Thanks to my Max hamburger meal earlier I wasn’t really hungry, which also meant I could judge the taste of the food objectively, without getting lost in my hunger emotions.

Turkish Airlines A321 - Economy Lunch Meal

Turkish Airlines A321 – Economy Lunch Meal

As I have said before, I appreciate Turkish Airline cutlery in Economy class, which is faux-steel, but not cheap like regular plastic. I enjoyed my meal, even though the presentation wasn’t of the highest quality. The chicken was tasty, the salmon was well smoked and prepared, and so was the cheesecake.

The crew served Tea/Coffee post meal, which was of little interest to me. I used that time for some shut-eye before our descent into Istanbul started.

Turkish Airlines A321 - Landing at Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A321 – Landing at Istanbul

We landed at Istanbul Ataturk Airport around 1604 hours local time, and parked remotely at our stand by 1614 hours.

Turkish Airlines A321 at Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A321, Remote Parking at Istanbul

The cabin crew on our flight was respectful and courteous and I thought they were attentive to passenger needs. We got into our Turkish Airlines bus to enter the terminal and the driver drove the bus like his a$$ was on fire. I frankly thought his driving skills were unacceptable for an European airline, which may or may not have been borderline acceptable in South Asia. We entered the terminal around 1629 hours and I immediately realised I had left one of my shopping bags in the aircraft overhead bin. The customer service teams in Istanbul airport were clueless how to retrieve it and after spending 25 minutes on it, I decided to let it go.

Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge at Istanbul

Turkish Airlines Business Class Lounge at Istanbul

And decided to take the refuge of Turkish Airlines Lounge at Istanbul, before my flight home to New Delhi in roughly three hours. There’s no review of the lounge on this blog, as there are plenty of detailed reviews for this excellent lounge already, which has now become even better with an addition of a lower floor and more space.

 

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Review: SAS Business Class Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Stockholm Arlanda Airport - Exteriors and ATC

Stockholm Arlanda Airport – Exteriors and ATC

Our flight from Stockholm Arlanda to Istanbul was scheduled to depart at 1145 hrs, so after having breakfast we decided to check out of Hilton Slussen at 0800 hrs to have enough time to experience SAS’s Business Class Lounge at Arlanda Terminal 5.

Related Trip Posts:  Tripping through Scandinavia: Introduction

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

Train on a Ferry!

Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

 

My family got a taxi from the hotel, while I preferred to catch the nearby metro to Stockholm CityTerminalen. We were hopping on the FlygBussarna to Stockholm Arlanda and the City Terminal was the nearest stop from the hotel. There’s a coach every 10 minutes, with “Free Wi-Fi” – useless for those who don’t know swedish language or have a local phone number. I thought that was a big let down and defeated the whole purpose of Free Wi-Fi for travellers. The website says no login is required but I can assure you of its lie. Nonetheless, the journey was otherwise comfortable and the bus dropped us in front of Terminal 5 in about 45 minutes. I had bought my tickets via Viator at 10% discount.

Flygbussarna Stockholm Airport Bus - at CityTerminalen

Flygbussarna Stockholm Airport Bus – at CityTerminalen

We quickly found the Turkish Airlines counter, and fortunately, the business class counter was free, while the economy counters had about 20 odd waiting passengers. Advantage of flying with business class passengers, even though I was traveling in economy I guess. Though I found it strange that I had inserted my Jet Privilege number already while checking-in online, it was somehow not showing up at the counter. Overall it was a quick and courteous check-in for us and we were off to security.

Call it the Sunday morning effect, but even security at Arlanda was efficient and quick. There were no preferred lanes for business class passengers, and in spite of that we were done in 5 minutes flat. The security folks were respectful, like most of the people we encountered throughout our Scandinavian trip.

Arlanda Airport seemed to be pretty well functioning. I thought it had pretty much all essentials for travellers. Sure, it wasn’t the Changi or the HKIA of the world, but for a mid-tier European airport, it ticked pretty much all boxes in my book.

Swiss Air A319 - View from the Loo at Arlanda Stockholm Airport

Swiss Air A319 – View from the Loo at Arlanda Stockholm Airport

Including great tarmac views from urinals. This is much better than those stupid little screens you see where they play useless commercials or try to be funny.

We searched for over 10 minutes trying to find the signage for Lounge and ultimately had to ask one of the airport employees. The SAS Business Class Lounge is located pretty far for non-Schengen gates, and it was almost a 12 minute walk to reach the lounge.

SAS Business Lounge Map - Stockholm Terminal 5

SAS Business Lounge Map – Stockholm Terminal 5 (Photo Courtesy: Official Website)

 

The SAS Business Lounge is open from 0530 hrs to 2300 hrs, Monday-Friday and Sunday. The Lounge timings are 0530 hrs to 2030 hrs on Saturdays.

SAS Business Lounge Entrance

SAS Business Lounge Entrance

The Access for the lounge is open to passengers holding Star Alliance Gold Status with same day flight on an Alliance carrier. Also to, SAS Gold card members with SAS or partner airline flights and Business/First Class ticket holders travelling on a Star Alliance carrier flight. As we were flying Turkish, a Star Alliance Member, the lounge reception staff warmly welcomed us.

 

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Entry and Staff

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Entry and Staff

Before I veer off to other points about my lounge experience I want to highlight and acknowledge SAS staff at the entrance. Both the ladies at the front desk (silly me forgot to take note of their names) were as warm and friendly as it gets, and it looked like they genuinely loved their job and interacting with people. Not just us, I was able to notice their conversations with other passengers as well, and they were simply fabulous. So SAS thank you for choosing such great ambassadors in your lounge. Kudos. (SAS Folks, the easiest way you can identify them would be to see who worked the morning shift on 27th July 2014)

We entered the lounge around 0940 hrs and the staff was in the process of setting up food items. The selection wasn’t fully served till 1010 hrs. The first impression of the lounge is quite fancy, and modern with its furnishings and decor.  On the immediate left, a big compartment of major world newspapers is available. Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Daily Telegraph, along with Time Magazine was some of the major ones.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Newspapers

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Newspapers

 

There are plenty of seating options across the lounge, with a mix of sofas, lounge chairs and bar stools.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Seating and Layout

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Seating and Layout

 

There are more seating options in the back with convenient access to power ports, overlooking the arrivals section of the terminal.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge - View towards landside

SAS Stockholm Lounge – View towards landside

 

There was a 40 inch television screen with local news on one side of the lounge. The breakfast cold buffet spread was middle-of-the-road in my book. Apart from a selection of breads, there was ham, condiments, biscuits, chips, greens and salad sauces.

SAS Stockholm Lounge -  Breakfast Breads

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Breakfast Breads

SAS Stockholm Lounge -  Breakfast Salad and Fruits

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Breakfast Salad and Fruits

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Snacks and Chips

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Snacks and Chips

 

For those interested, the lounge even had a menu on display, which displayed part of their selection.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Menu

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Menu

 

The drinks selection was slightly better for me. Apart from tons of Carlsberg, the lounge offered Apple and Orange juice (which kept running out), selection of tea, local beers on tap, couple of red & white wines on tap, along with the Coca-Cola family of soft drinks.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beers and Juice

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beers and Juice

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beers on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beers on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Wine on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Wine on Tap

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Soft Drinks

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Soft Drinks

 

The lounge also boasted of couple of coffee machines (which I never tried), one of them was dedicated to serving organic coffee.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Coffee Machines

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Coffee Machines

 

There were total of 5 macintosh computers with working Internet connections in the open business area of the lounge, along with printer/copy and fax facilities, which I thought was a pretty reasonable arrangement for those who still value such facilities. Needless to say, the lounge had a working wi-fi connection for private use as well. In my roughly 45 minute usage, I found it had decent download speeds, enough for a traveller/executive on-the-go. Though far from optimal if you are looking to stream HD content.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Business Center

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Business Center

 

One of the things, which stood out for me in the lounge was the small yet dedicated kids play area in the lounge. Apart from story books, it had plenty of soft toys to keep the little ones engaged. The walls also featured graffiti and drawings done by past occupants of the area, which I thought was a great touch. For families traveling together, play areas can be great comforting zones and I wish more airline and lounge operators incorporated it in their planning process.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Children Play Area

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Children Play Area

 

The lounge also had another zone, to the left of the reception, which featured more seating options and similar food/drink items. There was another large 40 inch TV, which had the local news channel turned on. I did encounter a half-functioning beer fridge and a second newspaper/magazine stand. The beer selection consisted of Tuborg Green, Tuborg Gold and non-alocholic Carlsberg (???). I went with the safe option of  Tuborg Green and chips ;)

SAS Stockholm Lounge - More Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge – More Seating

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Beer Fridge

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Beer Fridge

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Magazines and Newspapers

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Magazines and Newspapers

 

The rear portion of this side of the lounge featured a more private, cordoned-off area, which I guessed could be designated as a quiet zone or a meeting area, depending on the occupants.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Private Area

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Private Area

 

The lounge unfortunately had no tarmac area views, barring the entry area, which has partial and hindered views of the tarmac and the runway in the distance. I was able to snap a close-up picture of a LOT aircraft on our way out.

SAS Stockholm Lounge - Airside view

SAS Stockholm Lounge – Airside view

LOT Embraer 170 at Stockholm Arlanda

LOT Polish Airlines Embraer 170 at Stockholm Arlanda

Overall I would rate the lounge good mainly due to three reasons:

1) Great staff

2) Plenty of seating/Kids play area

3) Decent Wi-Fi

Although I would like the Lounge to improve its cold buffet selection, may be adding a hot item could do the trick or maybe that’s just the hot-breakfast-loving-Indian in me talking. We left the lounge around 1040 hrs for our flight at 1145 hrs. I thought we would make it comfortably to the gate, alas I never knew what was in store for us next at the Passport Control.

 

 

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Review: Turkish Airlines A320-200 Istanbul to Zurich

After a quick pit stop at the Turkish CIP Business Class Lounge, we headed to our gate. As is the case, when traveling with family, it was last call when we reached our gate, 504, to be bussed on to the aircraft. I picked up couple of English newspapers on the gate for my reading later on. Personally I won’t mind a remote stand boarding as it affords one the opportunity of checking out other aircraft on the tarmac.

Related Trip Posts:  Tripping through Scandinavia: Introduction

Turkish Airlines A330-300 New Delhi to Istanbul

Train on a Ferry!

SAS Business Lounge, Stockholm Arlanda

Turkish Airlines A321-200 Stockholm to Istanbul

 

Turkish Airlines 1913

Istanbul Ataturk (IST) – Zurich Kloten Airport (ZUR)

Saturday, July 12th

Departure: 1147 hrs (2 minutes late)

Arrival: 1340 hrs local time (on time)

Aircraft: Airbus A320-200

Seat: 6E

Turkish Airlines A320-200, parked remotely at IST

Turkish Airlines A320-200, parked remotely at IST

But traveling with family is a different ball game altogether. It’s hugely inconvenient and considering the fact it was merely 90 minutes of connection, surprising too.

Turkish Airlines A319 at Istanbul Airport

Turkish Airlines A319 at Istanbul Airport

The cabin crew welcomed us on-board cheerfully and as is the norm these days in Intra-Europe flying, the Business Class was the usual row of seats, with a blocked middle seat. I headed back to my seat in the Economy cabin. The first impressions of the leather-clad seat were positive. It had a comfortable width and enough legroom for a short haul flight.

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Legroom and Footrest

Turkish Airlines A320-200 Legroom and Footrest

We had the flexible seat configuration divider a row ahead of us, and none of the seats featured personal IFE. There was however a large overheard screen that had the moving map, along with some other entertainment programme in-between.

Turkish Airlines A320-200 overhead screen

Turkish Airlines A320-200 overhead screen

We started out push back from the gate at 1147 hrs, 2 minutes behind schedule. At this time, the entire cabin was served Turkish delight sweets. Can never get enough of that delicious savoury. On our way to the runway, I witnessed some interesting aircraft, ones I don’t see often in my part of the world.

Azerbaijan Airlines at Istanbul

Azerbaijan Airlines at Istanbul

There was an un-painted aircraft parked, which probably belonged to Turkish Airlines only

Unidentified aircraft at Ataturk Istanbul Airport

Unidentified aircraft at Ataturk Istanbul Airport

And of course plenty of Turkish Airlines aircraft, in proper livery.

Turkish Airlines Aircrafts at Istanbul Airport

After taxing for about 17 minutes, we were third in the takeoff line and soon we were zooming across the runway, and airborne exactly at 1205 hours. Istanbul always offers great views during ascent and this occasion was no different.

Istanbul Aerial View during Takeoff

Istanbul city view, taking off from Airport

Our cabin crew got into action soon after take off and menus were distributed within 5 minutes. I thought that was a great touch by Turkish Airlines, considering it was a short haul, two and half hours flight. Earphones were also offered but I chose to skip them.

Turkish Airlines A320 Economy Lunch Menu

Turkish Airlines A320 Economy Lunch Menu

After another 20 minutes, meal service for this flight began. In my main selection, I went with Chicken Skewer with Arabic spice, along with sauteed leaf spinach and rice. Smoked Salmon and Vanilla Panna Cotta were the accompaniments, as well as hot bread. For my drink, I of course went with a can of Efes.

Turkish Airlines A320 Economy Lunch Meal

Turkish Airlines A320 Economy Lunch Meal

I must also point out that the cutlery which Turkish Airlines gives is this faux steel, which is not as down-market as plastic offered on many international airlines, and not proper steel cutlery as well. It is pretty reliable for stand-alone meals, without making an economy class passenger feel miserable about their food.

I started with warm bread and butter. Call it whatever you may wish but there is something special always about having hot bread with butter. It’s an unbeatable combination, which is always satisfying for the soul. I’m a simpleton like that. The salmon was also done well, where as I left the cheese and cracker combination untouched in the tray.

The catering for all Turkish Airlines flights is done by the renowned Austrian company Do & Co. My chicken and rice were lovely as well, with the right amount of spice and taste, but then…

I FOUND A STRAND OF HAIR IN MY RICE

Hair strand in Turkish Airlines economy meal

Hair strand in Turkish Airlines economy meal

To say I was mortified, would be putting it just right. After clicking this picture, I called one of the flight attendants and showed her my meal. She was profusely apologetic and took away my meal tray. The flight chef came over after few minutes, apologised and offered me lamb chops or anything else I wanted from business class menu. I politely refused and accepted their apologies. The head flight attendant also came by my seat and I requested her to have a word with their catering team later on. She nodded and promised to look into the matter.

There was of course Vanilla Panna Cotta and I gladly gobbled it up. For an in-flight dessert, it was quite well done. As I finished my dessert, one of the flight attendant brought me a platter of fruits, presumably for the hair-mess earlier.

Fruit platter on Turkish Airlines

Fruit platter on Turkish Airlines

It was insisted that I accept this small gesture and I accepted it after thanking her. Some industry folks I had a chat with later advised me to “make a big deal” out of the hair issue and write to the management but I was quite convinced it was a one-off issue which should be left to them to investigate and correct. I could see in the crew’s body language that they were genuinely apologetic about the goof-up and that was enough for me to let it go.

45 minutes before arrival, the cabin was offered a round of coffee/tea as well.

My favourite thing about landing at any of the swiss ports always is the heavenly views they bring just before landing.

Zurich aerial view

Zurich aerial view

We touched down smoothly on time at Zurich Kloten Airport and exited runway quickly to our gate, and I was glad to come across couple of beauties during this time.

KLM Embraer 190 at Zurich Kloten Airport

KLM Embraer 190 at Zurich Kloten Airport

Thai Airways A340-600 at Zurich Airport

Thai Airways A340-600 at Zurich Airport

Within 5 minutes of de-boarding the aircraft, we were in the Zurich AirportMetro, transferring on to the main terminal, and in the process of receiving kisses from Heidi, and Moos from Swiss cows. Scroll down for more info on that ;)

Zurich Airport Train Tunnel

Zurich Airport Train Tunnel

 

 

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