Tagged: premium economy

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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GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Devesh Agarwal (Bangalore Aviation)

GlobeTrotters on Twitter 2

When I asked Devesh what led him to start Bangalore Aviation, his answer was simply because his friends and family increasingly started coming to him for all aviation related advice and discussions, he noticed the absence of an India specific aviation blog, thus the idea of Bangalore Aviation was germinated. When your a global frequent flier with over 4 million miles against your name, all that is naturally supposed to happen.

Devesh posing Inside Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit

Devesh posing inside Boeing 787 Dreamliner Cockpit

My personal view, knowing him for few years now, is that and more. I think it’s a cocktail of what he describes as well as what he doesn’t. You see Devesh loves to share his wealth of knowledge, and those who know him would describe him as a larger than life, social and jovial man who loves his food and flights. Through a blog he found just the right outlet to vent out. Other parts of the puzzle just fit in their places perfectly.

Bangalore Aviation is described by him as “By aviation enthusiasts, for aviation enthusiasts”, started on March 14, 2008, with the intent of being a “no-spin” zone of Indian aviation media.

Like many leading bloggers, managing Bangalore Aviation is not Devesh’s day job.  He is a technology product management expert and has been awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010.

Devesh also has been recognized as one of the must follow aviation pros on twitter in Mashable for good measure.

Enjoy this conversation:

  • Devesh, what has been your personal motivation to travel and to fly?  

Devesh – From childhood I have loved planes, the magic of flight, the physics of flying. I also have a pair of glider pilot wings, and I just love to fly. I still remember my first flight as an eight year old boarding Air India Boeing 747 Emperor Ashoka. It is fascinating that we can travel to countries on the other side of the earth in less than 24 hours, a feat that was fraught with danger less than 60 years ago. It is a pity that air travel over the years has become less glamorous and there are many airlines in the world today, which treat passengers as “self-loading cargo”, but thankfully there are also those that do not.

  • So your not a fan of Ryan Air, I’m actually yet to meet someone who is. I believe you would be the sorts to enjoy your plane ride. Any memorable experience?

    Air hostesses for Singapore Airlines. January ...

    Singapore Girls: Also known as Devesh’s perpetual saviours (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Devesh –  I was on the inaugural Los Angeles-Singapore non-stop A340-500 Singapore Airline flight. The inbound flight from Singapore was four hours early due to favourable winds, which meant the winds would be against us while going back. The pilots decided to take an equatorial route, which was longer than the polar route but had less opposing winds and were nearer to major airports should we need to land to re-fuel.

During another of my SIA flights between Frankfurt and JFK. About 25% of the business class seats stopped working, two passengers fell ill midway, and one in fact died from a heart attack. All this while the crew was being audited and inspected by an in-flight quality control auditor. Hats off to that crew for their performance. They were on their feet for the full eight hours and running back and forth the entire length of the B744 and not skipping a beat on their very high service levels while still attending to the passenger emergencies and seat failures.

These are just two of my long list of experiences, by Indian newspaper standards I have had more “miraculous escapes” than the proverbial cat.

  • All that makes my next question redundant, I was going to ask your favourite airline…

Devesh – Yes, it’s Singapore Airlines. The service level is simply unmatched. On a Singapore to JFK flight, my nine year old son spilt a full glass of coke on himself. My wife had forgotten to pack a change of clothes for him. The crew brought a Givenchy pajama suit they give to first class passengers, and altered the pajamas by hand stitching to fit the young boy!!!!! I have never heard of such an experience on any other airline. To top this off, my wife and children were flying, without me, and on an award business class ticket. So no FFP or revenue influences.

English: Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 (9V...

Singapore Airlines Boeing 747-400 (9V-SPP) in Star Alliance livery at Singapore Changi Airport. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • That actually sounds quite incredible, which would be your preferred airport?

Devesh – It’s Singapore Changi of course, due to their hyper-efficient immigration, baggage delivery, and customs. Even with checked baggage, you are out of the airport within 15 minutes.

  • All right Singapore fan boy (just kidding!!), tell me about your all time favourite aircraft.

Devesh – Without a doubt, Concorde. I was very sad to see her being retired. For the first time in history we went backward in technology as there is even till today no replacement aircraft for her, and none appears to be for the next 20 years.

(Vishal’s note: Read my flashback story on the Concorde, as well as Devesh’s great piece on it.)

  • Let’s get slightly more specific now; which airline according to you has the best economy, premium economy, business and first class products?

Devesh – Best Economy – Singapore Airlines

Best Premium Economy – Cathay Pacific

Best Business Class – 1-2-1 configured Singapore Airlines beats most first class. Also the Upper Class of Virgin Atlantic and their fantastic Club House, and those ladies in red.

Best First Class – The old Pan Am Boeing 747s with the upper deck lounge. Currently, I think Emirates A380 takes the crown. Their seats are narrow compared to other airlines, but any airline that has a shower spa on board and serves Hennessy Paradis cognac (about $850 a 750ml bottle) has to take the “Over the top” crown.

  • Lets come back to airports for a second, is there any particular addition that you would like airports to adopt? (Besides Wi-Fi)

Devesh – Restaurants serving real food, not the fast food fried or ready made nonsense. I think with growing travel, appreciation for good food, and airline’s cutting back, a fine dining restaurant at airports will do well.

  • You have a successful career and run a successful website, what advise would you give to those who want to travel the world without breaking their bank balance?

Devesh – The travel itself is not expensive. Depending on where you travel the boarding and lodging is. For most I would recommend using a tour package from one of the reputable companies.

  • Is there a go-to website, guide book etc. you consult before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?

Devesh – Apart from BangaloreAviation.com? :), I go through Lonely Planet, Frommers, but my first choice is my business colleagues and friends in the destination country/city.

  • That was a clever plug Devesh 🙂, what role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel?

Devesh – Social media has brought more world cultures to the attention of more people, and hence the desire to travel to what, ten years ago, would have been an unknown place for someone. Same goes with meeting people. Personally I have met some great people, initially online, but then also in person. You are one person where our virtual friendship has transformed in to a real one. Other friends include Shashank Nigam (Simpliflying), and others.

  • Finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 must follow twitter user accounts?

Devesh – @mashable for all things social media and gadgets

@avweekrupa, @apexmary, @simpliflying – people with great insight and thoughtful tweets

@breakingnews – global developments

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GlobeTrotters on Twitter | Brian Kelly (The Points Guy)

GlobeTrotters on Twitter 2

Brian Kelly is a perfect case of perfection passion and popularity converting a Wall Street road warrior to a Miles and Points guy, more so as “The Points Guy”.Brian Kelly - The Points Guy

Before catching up with him, it was fascinating to read how a 13 year old Brian figured out to use his father’s points to take the whole family for a vacation to Grand Cayman. Equally fascinating was his transformation from a Wall Street HR Manager with a cushy job, to a Full time blogger after frequent hounding up by his family and friends first and later by the readers of his then part-time blog to help them out with their points. Boy, has that turned out well or what?

Brian’s website, ThePointsGuy turned full time in mid 2011 and now gets more than 4,00,000 unique visitors every month. Besides his own, Brian has also contributed to The New York Times, Conde’ Nast Traveler, The Los Angeles Times and The Independent. He is often invited for major travel conferences and consults regularly with top airline and hotel loyalty programs.

Excerpts from our chat:

  • Brian, what attracts you to travelling?

Brian – The main thing I love about travel is meeting new people, exploring new cities and trying different foods – all while accruing miles doing so.

  • Do you fancy airplanes or does the destination hold greater excitement for you?

Brian – For me travel is the destination, if I could teleport I absolutely would. That being said, because I’m able to fly a lot of great Business and First Class products I don’t dread getting on the plane but if I could avoid it I would. I’ve met a lot of good friends on planes including one of my best friends and business manager, and sat next to countless celebrities but the most interesting people I find are fellow frequent flyers.

  • I suspect catching up with Madonna would rank right up there for you. Which airline you fancy most for flying?

    Cathay Pacific First Class

    Cathay Pacific First Class (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Brian – My favourite airline is Cathay Pacific because of their First class product, which has to be the most comfortable product I’ve ever flown. Emirates first is on my to do list and I hope to experience that within the next year or so.

  • And your preferred airport would be?

Brian – Most US airports are overcrowded and uninspired but I really like the new Sky Deck at JFK that is my favourite lounge to visit in US. Internationally I love the Concord lounge at Heathrow T5 because it’s perfect for plane watching.

  • If you could improve one area at airports what would it be? (Besides wifi)

Brian – More sky lounges for plane watchers! I would also love to see more pet relief areas within the terminal since most are outside in parking garages, which doesn’t help when connecting.

  • Which is your favourite aircraft to fly on? 

Brian – I’m old school – I love the Boeing 747, I’m an upper deck kind of guy and I like the enclosed quaint feel it has.

Flying Lufthansa First Class last summer with the lie flat bed and spacious seat was definitely a highlight for me. I still haven’t tried out the 747-8 but its on my to do list.

  • From a wall street  road warrior to a professional frequent flyer (if I may say so), what tips would you give to people at large who want to travel without spending too much?

Brian – Right off the bat you should sign up for point earning credit cards and charge every expense possible on them so you can maximise the points you earn. You should also get credit cards that have bonus categories for the things you spend the most on whether it be dining, travel, groceries, etc. I recommend signing up for the the Chase Sapphire Preferred which gives 2x points on travel and dining and there is a current sign up bonus of 40,000 points when you spend $3,000 in the first 3 months.

  • All though most of your credit card tips are not applicable for the Indian market,  I still keep reading them for kicks and I remember your British Airways card tip, where 50000 miles was an upfront bonus and then you can cut up the card few months later. That was a pretty awesome offer.

            That reminds me; tell me your recommended economy, premium economy, business and first class products in the world?

Brian – Economy – I don’t know I’m 6’7 and don’t fly economy often enough to judge but I’ve heard that Emirates is pretty good

English: EVA Air 777 Elite Class cabin

EVA Air 777 Elite Class cabin (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Premium Economy – I’ve only flown KLM Economy Comfort and really enjoyed it. Nice touch was that it was free for Delta Platinum/Diamond Medallions

Business Class – I would have to go with EVA airways because its comfortable and they serve Dom Perignon champagne

First Class – Emirates takes the cake for my First class choice. Besides the roomy seat that extends to a comfortable bed that I can actually fit in, you can take a shower on their A380.

  • Do you have a favorite city to travel?

Brian – Madrid is the place I visit the most since my best friend lives there. I love the energy, culture, food, and nightlife there – I can never get enough. I also studied abroad there in college, which is when my love for the city began.

  • Do you consult any website, guidebook etc. before and while your traveling? What’s your research for a country/city like?

Brian – Whenever I’m taking a trip to an obscure destination I like to ask my readers for recommendations because they are well traveled and I trust their opinions. I also check FlyerTalk to see if there are any relevant threads.

  • You have a huge social media presence, what role do you think social media/twitter has played in propagating Travel, and specifically award travel?

Brian – Social media/Twitter has greatly increased airline’s customer service and allowed them to be more proactive and responsive to customer complaints. In the past, customers had to submit complaints and wait weeks for a response. Now you can tweet airlines while in the airport and get issues resolved as they are happening.

(Vishal’s note:  Read this quick piece on Delta’s fantastic social media customer service effort).

  • Finally, as this is GlobeTrotters on “Twitter”, your 3 favourite twitter user accounts?

Brian – @skift – for travel industry news

@theflightdeal – for cheap flights

@NYCaviation – for breaking aviation news

 

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