Tagged: IFE

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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The Varying Consistencies of Emirates (Flight Reviews)

This post was supposed to be your typical trip report until I heard Tim Clark (President, CEO) talk about future of Emirates and his view about airline alliances among many other things within that 30 minute podcast/interview on Emirates IFE (known as ICE) channel no #1500, the default start on the home screen.

Let me take you back to where this all began. I was flying from New Delhi to Barcelona in early May and during the DXB-BCN leg this post took a life of its own.

I was completely mesmerized by the sheer beauty of this Boeing 777-300, regal on the outside & luxurious on the inside. (Barring the bone crunching 3-4-3 seating arrangement of Emirates).

Emirates Boeing 777-300 IFE ICE

The IFE on this aircraft was state of the art in its truest sense and I can safely say the best IFE I have experienced till date on all 32 airlines I have flown in. The system is based on 3000i from Panasonic Avionics Corporation.

Even the handset had a small touch screen on it, and was capable of displaying information on its own without interrupting content on the main screen. We were served breakfast and lunch on this flight by a very efficient crew, both meals were good and above par.

EUREKA! EUREKA!

& It was during this flight I had my eureka moment. Hearing Tim Clark talk about Emirates future plans, their new destinations, that even with current network they are only half done & of course why Emirates is averse to joining any Airline Alliance.

The meat of his answer revolved around the fact that Emirates was averse to joining any alliance because alliances never helped an airline much, and Emirates feared that transferring your pax from one airline to the other may give them inconsistent experiences, completely opposite to their vision of seamless, comfortable and world-class hospitality that Emirates wants its customers to feel across their network & at their home in Dubai International Airport, Terminal 3.

Fair enough I thought & agreed with his thought process in my mind as I disembarked.

The LIS-DXB flight of this trip was also on a B773.

I had an Open-jaw ticket & was returning to Delhi via Lisbon. The security and immigration was pretty painless, but the walk to the flight gate, which was actually the last of the airport, was quite a walk. Dare I say, it would have dwarfed the walk at Delhi Airport’s T3.

After an efficient boarding process I moved to my seat to see the same world-class IFE greeting me & I remember thinking to myself, “consistently world class indeed”.

Emirates Boeing 777-300 IFE ICE

But the biggest surprise of the flight was when Cabin crew armed & cross checked doors and I was sitting next to 2 empty seats.

Emirates Boeing 777-300 vacant row of seats

Suddenly the Aviation Geek in me woke up & I stood up to have a look around the cabin to check for loads. It was a Saturday evening flight, with just about 50% occupancy in economy. The guy in the next middle row had all 4 seats for himself.

Emirates 777-300 handset display for avgeeks An AVGeek’s ideal handset display

As we rose up over the balmy and beautiful evening of Lisbon, I fired up ICE and got to hear Tim Clark again. I must admit I loved hearing him speak; his voice was like a gentle massage to my eardrums with a soothing accent. He had me completely sold on Emirates vision and their reasoning for it.

Our crew for the flight was nice and chatty, and the meal service for this flight served as Dinner, was yummy. I had my first Indian meal in 8 days & the chicken tikka masala did not disappoint at all.

Emirates Economy Class Meal

The crew also served drinks just before landing into DXB. Overall a flawless flight from Emirates.

AT DXB T3

But then we landed into DXB. We arrived slightly before time & I had 5 hours & 45 minutes left for my early morning connecting flight to New Delhi. Transfer and security was much better this time compared to my outward leg.

Here’s my take on Dubai International T3 after been there 6 times now. I find DXB as one of the world’s most boring airport/terminal. DXB sadly offers nothing for the traveler but shopping. I think that’s where it should take a cue from airports like Munich, Zurich, Amsterdam, Seoul and Changi. Shopping is just ONE part of the experience, not the ENTIRE experience. Being a hub airport for one of the largest airlines in the world should carry responsibilities with it & so far DXB T3 has failed on my watch in many aspects.

With my tired limbs & stressed mind I hopped on the train towards B Gates. I reach our scheduled gate only to hear an emirates employee shouting loudly that our flight is delayed by an hour and 30 minutes, with a gate change.

Later on an Emirates employee tells me all delays at the airport were due to unseasonal fog, which enveloped DXB in the morning & has had a knock on effect on flights throughout the day. Our aircraft was scheduled to arrive from Dammam & its arrival was delayed by 2 hours due to the same problem.

But there’s another dimension to this thought. As the disruptions have been on since morning, Emirates must have known about possible delays for our flight to DEL as well, then why it decided to inform passengers at the very last minute, at their boarding gate?

Also, from my point of view, If Emirates knew about this 2 hour delay much earlier, they could have even given me a hotel accommodation at DXB. Emirates has a policy of granting all economy passengers with a layover of more than 8 hours at DXB, a complimentary hotel stay. Needless to say I was physically exhausted after almost 15 hours of travel & would have loved some shuteye, even for couple of hours. My decision of not going to the Lounge at T1 came to haunt me.

I reach the new gate as per the re-scheduled departure time only to find that the gate has been changed again. So, I reach the 3rd gate of this journey & it finally seems to be the correct one. We start boarding 15 minutes after the re-scheduled departure time, and are already running late. Again. And there is no explanation from the airline staff as well. And to top it all of, we are transferred to buses. It seems our Airbus A330-200 has chosen to park remotely.

Emirates Airbus A330-200 to Delhi, boarding through stairs

Certainly not the world-class consistent experience that Tim Clark promised.

By the time I boarded my DXB-DEL flight, I had lost all sense of time, but it would be safe to say that the flight took off at least 2 hours and 15 minutes post-scheduled departure.

The boarding for this flight was completely mismanaged by the Emirates crew/ground staff. First and Business class passengers were requested to use the front staircase understandably but the entire economy class passengers were required to board the aircraft from the rear.

Even those with early economy seats were turned away from the front door to board from rear. Naturally that had many passengers agitated, as they had to carry their hand baggage from the back of the aircraft, almost to the front.

One of the few positives about the flight I immediately noticed was the 2-4-2 seating arrangement, with a window seat It seemed ideal for me. My luck continued with this flight as well as the seat next to me remained vacant.

But as I sat down, I immediately saw this staring back at me.

Emirates A330-200 Old IFE In flight entertainment

From the best to the worst, Emirates had provided me two extreme IFE options & the voice of Tim Clark talking about consistent world-class experience for passengers started ringing in my ears. You see having a mediocre IFE system is one thing, but this was the worst.

Just as we were all set for the taxi to runway, the captain informed us of another 20-minute delay. Apparently the control tower wanted us to wait, if we hadn’t waited enough already. Meanwhile I also took notice of one of the most uncomfortable seats I have been on in an aircraft (not as bad as my Ryan Air flight but close enough) with weird lower back support settings which made a thick uncomfortable cushion pop out & the seat itself was not the best.

Tim Clark & his voice came back to my mind & ears. Shouting.

We were served lunch on this flight & the butter chicken I opted for was very well prepared. The crew of the flight, barring the initial boarding process, was also very friendly and professional.

Did I mention that the IFE on this flight was almost repulsive & I never bothered to even use it once, preferring to read FT on Sunday, provided gratis by Emirates at the boarding gate.

Nothing else of much note in the flight as we had a smooth landing at Delhi and the captain apologized in the end for multiple delays.

One big question lords over my mind after these extreme experiences

Where is the consistent world class seamless (and other adjectives) experience that Emirates loves to boast about? This is not a one-off thing as Emirates operates this very A332 daily to Delhi? I haven’t documented my first flight, DEL-DXB in detail, again on A330-200, but if it wasn’t for catching up on sleep or a chatty co-passenger, I would have been horrified about that as well.

India is supposed to be Emirates biggest market, then why this huge inconsistency? Emirates flies more Indian passengers abroad than any other Indian carrier, Why the Indian passenger is almost taken for granted? Especially considering other global players like Lufthansa fly their top the line aircraft, the Boeing 747-8, to Indian cities.

And it’s just not me pointing out their inconsistencies; plenty of others are talking about it as well. Just that nobody else has devoted such detail to it.

I won’t be surprised if the more nimble (and smaller as of now) gulf carriers like Qatar Airways and Etihad Airways attract more Indian travelers to their much superior product in time to come. For Emirates, I only wish for a consistent passenger experience, only to live up to their own promise, which should be good enough for now.

Overall I would rate my 4 flights with Emirates as the following:

DEL-DXB – 6.5/10

DXB-BCN – 8.5/10

LIS-DXB – 9.5/10

DXB-DEL – 3.5/10