I reached Mumbai’s glitzy new Terminal 2 at 4:30 pm for my Vistara Flight. Right now Vistara is the only domestic carrier using this terminal to push their “premium airline” tag.
If you are keen, and would like to know more about the Vistara Economy Experience, as well as the background to this flight, please read my earlier trip report.
Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Terminal 2 (BOM) – New Delhi IGI, Terminal 3 (DEL)
Saturday, January 10th
Departure: 17:56 hours (11 minutes late)
Arrival: 20:10 hours (10 minutes late)
Aircraft: Airbus A320
Vistara offers a convenient option of a return check-in which I used during the morning inbound flight. Basically passengers, who are returning with Vistara, within 48 hours of the original departure, can have the boarding pass for the return flight as well. This worked well for me and I requested my return boarding pass as well at Delhi T3.
I was able to pass the check-in counters at Mumbai T2 and move straight to the security area, as I already had my boarding pass, though I must mention that Vistara offers separate check-in counters for Premium Economy passengers.
Vistara, to their utter credit, has pre-empted other full service domestic carriers and started operations from Mumbai’s Terminal 2 while having the entire domestic departures area exclusively for them, till June-July 2015, when Air India and Jet Airways will also shift. This is a big coup for Vistara, as the feeling of exclusivity really draws down on passengers while traveling through T2 & seeing “Vistara Departures Only” signage. Apart from avoiding the mess and confusion of shifting here 6 months later, they have also secured a great terminal for exclusive use, which may influence even my future travel decisions.
After turning right, down the escalators, is the security area for domestic flights. Only two counters were open but I pretty much breezed through it within 3 odd minutes.
After crossing the information desk and another corridor on the right, the large expanse of Mumbai’s T2 gate area opens up. I have read reams and reams about the terminal but one realises the caliber of it all in flesh. It impresses and how. I realise this piece is supposed to be on Vistara only, but indulge me for a moment or couple of pictures. After all airports are vital cogs in the wheel of the entire travel process.
The entire area had plenty of natural light, loads of comfortable seating including sofas, and chairs. Did I mention that the whole terminal is a museum in itself? With 7000 art works on the walls by 1500 artists, GVK (airport operator) fittingly calls it “India’s largest public art program”.
This interactive musical water fountain was probably one of the more fun installations. As you put your hand through the water streams, it sounded like the Sa Re Ga Ma Pa, Sargam of the Indian classical music. Some kids and their parents were going crazy over it 🙂
I reached Gate 87, the departure gate for my flight by 4:45 pm. I couldn’t see the aircraft, although the scheduled boarding time was mentioned as 5 pm. The gate area also had plenty of power ports, very important for the connected travellers of today.
Premium Economy passengers on Vistara, like most other airlines, don’t get access to lounges, and unfortunately, only the GVK operated Business Class lounge is accessible from this terminal. Other contract lounges, like Clipper, were not accessible as far as I was able to evaluate. The novelty of a brilliant new terminal, and the floor to ceiling views of the ramp kept me busy at the gate.
Our aircraft arrived at 5:12 pm. I must admit I wasn’t a big fan of the livery initially but it is definitely growing on me. I think I like it more every time I see it. Aircraft are anyways such a romantic piece of engineering, right?
Boarding commenced at 5:35 pm with a wrong announcement that the flight was for Ahmedabad, which was corrected after confused passengers asked the gate staff about it. The first call, as usual, was for Business Class passengers, and passengers travelling with infants. To my disappointment, the call for Premium Economy passengers never came, which I noticed during the morning flight to Mumbai as well. Remaining passengers queued up together and I was in my seat few minutes later.
As I settled into my seat 6A, a familiar sight from morning greeted me. Vistara currently does not offer any sort of IFE across all three of its classes, I certainly hope that changes soon as the current situation puts them in the league of LCCs, and that’s certainly not what they are aiming for. On the flight load aspect, this seemed like a full flight in economy and premium economy.
The Captain of the flight immediately came on PA to apologise for the delay, caused by late arrival of the incoming aircraft. I always chuckle when airlines offer that as a reason, its like saying that “the incoming aircraft was operated by a different company, and we couldn’t do much about it”. That of course is applicable to all airlines, not limited to Vistara.
He also informed us of the flight time and mentioned high winds may help us speed up our journey, may also cause turbulence. I appreciate when Captains give slightly more information to passengers than needed, gives me some food for thought as the plane taxies to the runway 🙂
We pushed back at 5:56 pm and as a premium economy perk, we were offered a hot towel. Another supposed perk of Premium Economy is a water bottle and packed juice service as a welcome beverage, which wasn’t served strangely, definitely not in my entire row, and the one adjacent. It seemed they wanted to hasten up the departure and forgot about it later.
After approximately 15 minutes of taxi, we lined up on the runway and took off. It was a comparatively clear day for Mumbai and the Sea-Link was visible during the ascent.
Vistara offers 33 inches of legroom in Premium Economy, which makes stretching your legs an easy affair. At 4.5 inches, the seat recline is also an inch more than the usual economy recline. Personally I don’t recline often, but those who like to, will probably appreciate the extra inch. Vistara also mentions about extra seat padding in Premium Economy, which I honestly did not feel or notice, especially considering I flew in economy earlier that morning. There’s also a personal coat hook on every seat in Economy and Premium Economy. The headrest of the seat is also height adjustable.
The meal service began at 6:31 pm, with two options of a Vegetarian Masala Kathi Roll or Chicken Pizza as the main dish. I chose Chicken Pizza, and my meal tray also had a Jhulmuri as a starter and Pina Colada (Pineapple based) as the dessert. I chose Orange soda as my drink with the meal.
Personally I liked the Jhulmuri starter as the tastiest course of the meal. I’m not sure being a Mumbai specialty whether it is served only in flights originating out of Mumbai or not. The first and the only time I have seen a Pizza served on a flight so far was my Iberia flight from Barcelona to Madrid. I really appreciate the intent behind this, to serve something that is not usual for Indian air passengers, however I found the base of the pizza slightly raw. I did the next best thing and ate the entire layer of cheese and chicken toppings, which were yummy in their own right 🙂 I also think it is difficult to maintain the quality of a pizza for long after reheating it, but that’s just me.
On my morning flight, I took the exception to the fact that Vistara being a premium carrier was offering unbranded condiments. Fortunately, this flight had no such problem, in fact +1 to Vistara for serving a Swiss dark chocolate along with the meal. Unsure if that is a Premium Economy perk or given to everybody.
Passengers were also served Tea and Coffee after the meal. Around 7:28pm the Captain came on the PA to update us about our arrival times, temperature in New Delhi and apologise again for the delay in departure. It was Vistara’s first day of full operations, and I think most people would have let it slide because of that.
We made a smooth landing at 8:02 pm and were at our gate just 10 minutes behind schedule.
My Thoughts on Vistara’s Premium Economy Service
Vistara is the newest kid on the block that most people want to see succeed. I’m not sure about competitors though. The flying public wants a healthy, successful and a better product than what is served today and Vistara has promised that since the day the idea itself was born. My first flight on Vistara’s economy cabin was overall a pleasant experience, and I would fly them again given certain factors.
But, I’m not convinced about the Vistara Premium Economy product in its present avatar.
The present avatar where the only difference is 3 inches of extra legroom, a hot towel, a separate check-in queue and an adjustable head rest. Let’s add the welcome drink/juice in tetra pack also for good measure. Surprisingly there is no difference in meals.
The same choice of mains was served in the Economy cabin as well and I confirmed that twice with two different flight attendants. In fact, during the second time I also asked the attendant a rather pointed question: Besides three inches of extra seat pitch what am I getting in Premium Economy? The attendants, as I found in the earlier flight too, were most professional and courteous, but the reply did not convince me one bit. I don’t blame them.
The cutlery used for meals is plastic, even in Premium Economy, which is a self-goal to me. May be Vistara can take some inspiration from Turkish Airlines which uses faux-steel cutlery even in economy flights, looks and feels way more upmarket than staid old plastic. The only difference between Vistara meals in Economy and Premium Economy is pretty much a Box and a Tray. Economy passengers get their meals in a box, while Premium Economy passengers get it on a tray, which to be fair is an age old practice adopted by every airline, for all cabins.
To put all this in context, I paid roughly 2.5x the cost of my economy ticket to be in premium economy, price differences for other passengers may vary slightly but the value proposition is still not attractive enough for short-haul domestic flying.
Besides meals, Vistara also needs to ensure that priority boarding for Premium Economy passengers is implemented across all its stations, which can be a huge psychological sell for the service as well. Another important addition can be In-flight entertainment. Looking at the current seat layout, I doubt if seat back screens will be added later on, so Vistara would probably have to do what no other airline in the country currently does: offering IFE on Passenger’s electronic devices. Potentially another popular service if the content availability can be tiered right. and I won’t even mention in-flight internet due to archaic regulations imposed by government agencies.
These are early days for Vistara but we all know about the importance of first impressions in a searingly competitive industry. Vistara has a lot going for it, including great WoM & the well deserved goodwill of Tatas & SIA, lets hope it makes good on all the promises made soon.
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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.
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
— 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.
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.
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
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
All the seats also offer a nifty coat hook tag, which I thought was a nice touch, and especially useful in winter months.
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.
We started pushing back at 07:22 hours and the cabin manager, Shelly, welcomed all the passengers again.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 😉
We also taxied past the Cargo terminal and I was able to spot Etihad and FedEx aircraft.
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.
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 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.
“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.
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.
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 🙂
Soon the curtains were drawn and service started exactly 13 minutes after the takeoff. As this was a Jet Konnect flight, meals were charged.
I ordered a Malai Paneer Tikka Sandwich, which I thought was poorly presented and came with an iffy quality ketchup from an unknown brand.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
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.
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.
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.