Receiving an invite on a Monday morning for a Chef’s table by an airline can be the best stress buster on a Monday of any week. That is precisely what happened in the third week of July when Vistara – the TATA-SIA Joint Venture got in touch with me from this blog to send me the invitation.
The next day, the confirmation was in my mailbox along with acceptance of my request for travel arrangements for Delhi – Pune flight on Vistara off course. I was surely exited at the thought of flying a new airline and in Premium Economy.
After all that has been said about Premium Economy, its challenges, problems and realities, wouldn’t it be nice to experience it myself and see what is it that sets aside Premium Economy for Vistara and will it be popular in Indian skies?
Vistara – The Joint venture (JV) of TATA and Singapore Airlines launched services in India in January 2015. This is the second JV of TATA, with the first one with Air Asia to launch Air Asia India. The airline has been recording lowest Load Factors in the industry since its launch.
Vistara is the only airline which offers a three class configuration in Indian domestic skies.
Website, Seat Selection & Online Check-in
The website is easy to use and the mobile interface is also very good.
The airline allows seat selection at any point from booking till check-in unlike Jet Airways. Web check-in opens 48 hours prior to departure for all classes while Jet Airways has this restricted to 24 hours and few classes of service and frequent flier tiers get to check-in 48 hours in advance but seat selection is not offered at the time of booking.
I selected seat 5A and continued with the same during web check-in.
For an 1845 departure, I reached very early at 1610 hours. Vistara operates from T3 at Delhi and the check-in was at island A. There were few counters open for Economy and one each for Business & Premium Economy. There was just one person ahead of me in the premium economy, but I was called at the Business check-in counter. Hassle free process. I was asked if I want to change my seat and if I have baggage for check-in. With both answers being NO, boarding pass was printed out and handed over. There were newspapers at check-in.
I liked the color coding for the three classes for boarding pass as well as baggage tags.
Delhi security has always been quick and efficient even during peak times and this day was no different. On the other side, I visited the retail section, saw some Air India aircraft park and pushback but was too tired to roam around the airport for spotting when nothing interesting was headed to Delhi.
I enjoyed the free wi-fi and some snacks at the Plaza Premium Lounge on Level 1 for one and half hour reading newspapers and magazines. This lounge was way superior to the one in T2 at Mumbai.
I reached the gate – 39B at 1730 hours for an 1845 departure and 1800 boarding. The area was filling up fast. The numbers of people were clearly more than the airlines average load factor. Incoming flight from Ahmedabad was delayed by few minutes and was on bay at 1811.
Boarding was impressive. Q managers used to form lines for Business, Premium Economy, Row 11-20 and Row 20 onwards and then when people are in queue, only those behind row 20 onwards were let in. Fantastic!
Unfortunately in India people hardly ever follow the queue wise boarding and airlines have failed to enforce it. I always kept wondering what prevents airlines from using Q managers, similar to the way it is done in USA, at least for major airports where there is space available.
As I stepped inside the aircraft from the aerobridge, the crew welcomed people onboard. The aircraft colors were vibrant and fresh. The Vistara violet is a new color in Indian skies. I made my way from the business class section to the premium economy.
The windows were clean and newspapers neatly arranged in the seat pocket along with one magazine in addition to the Vistara inflight magazine.
Capt. Arjun & First Officer Sidharth were in command.
Doors closed at 1846, a minute post scheduled departure time and we pushed back at 1851 for a taxi to runway 29 during which a detailed safety demo was done. The crew did one round of the cabin checking on the safety aspects and switching on reading lights for whomsoever necessary.
Food & Service
The service was warm and started with cold towels, followed by Amul Chaas (Masala Buttermilk) being handed out to everybody.
Twenty minutes post departure the meal service started with trolley being rolled out. I was surprised to see a plethora of cold drinks and juices on the trolley! Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite, Apple Juice and Orange Juice were the options. I opted for Coke.
One subtle difference I noticed in meal service was informing on the menu upfront, rather than asking if a guest would have Veg or a Non Veg Meal. I was asked if I would want to have an Anda Rice meal with Shammi Kebab or Paneer something or Ricotto. Too bad I stopped hearing after the Shammi Kebab as the temptation took over and I opted for that. The airline offers three options in Premium Economy ( 1 Non Veg and 2 Veg) and 4 in Business Class ( 2 each of Veg and Non Veg).
The meal tray was handed out and contained one large plastic container with Anda Rice and Shammi Kebab, Salad, Bun, Butter, Water bottle & Ras Malai. A creamer, sugar and after mint was part of the tray as well along with the cutlery and tissue paper. The meal was tasty, very different than the regular mix of Dal-Rice on other airlines and the contents did not make the rice soggy.
Trays were cleared immediately after the meal was over and Tea/Coffee service started. I opted for the later which was good but could have been hotter.
Rest of the flight was uneventful and the crew responded quickly to the crew call button for water.
The food was sufficient for the timing and sector and was presented well and the highlight was asking everybody by informing all options than just a veg or non veg meal. In a country like India where day of week dictates the choice of veg or non veg and non veg could be restricted to only Chicken, letting the whole meal be known before asking the guest for choice is a nice gesture.
Flight Routing & Summary
We took off from runway 29, banked left and set course in South –Westerly direction towards Mumbai/Pune. We seem to have got a direct routing into Pune as we banked left over Ukai dam and experiencing a very smooth touchdown on runway 28 at Pune docking at aerobridge#2 at 2053, a before time arrival.
The First Office announced on PA, the routing, start of descend, runway for landing and winds. We were flying at FL380 (38,000 feet) and would land on runway 28 with winds of 10 kmph from North Westerly direction in partly cloudy conditions.
The cabin crew announced the baggage belt number and was at the door thanking people for flying Vistara. I am not sure on how much time the baggage took, since I did not have a checked-in baggage.
Overall Impression & Rating
Vistara Premium Economy was a wonderful experience from service to food. However in a price conscious market like India, how will Vistara fill up Premium Economy?
I had earlier drawn parallels between SpiceMax and IndiGoXL seats with premium economy. While leg space wise there it not much difference, food and service wise there is – in terms of quantity, quality and taste.
I still don’t have an answer on how much a person would be willing to pay more for the premium economy experience and should the rates of premium economy be pegged to Economy fares to avoid the current overlap one sees on few routes where the economy fare is at times higher than the premium economy fare.
Indian’s and food is an inseparable combination and most air travelers remember Kingfisher for service, IFE and food even overlooking the not so good On-Time performance which the airline had.
I wish Vistara had made the iconic Singapore Airlines announcement – “For those of you from Pune, welcome home and those of you from other parts of the country, you are already being missed”. I don’t know why but I was expecting that at the end.
Word of caution
Many things change when the aircraft gets older – like clean windows, plastic surfaces start showing age. Hope the airline continues with the service standards and aircraft freshness the way it is right now. My doubts on configuration still continue because the occupancy was 0 in Business class for a very good timed flight on a sector where there are capacity constraints. The economy section was almost full, while there were 23 passengers in Premium Economy.
Will a 12J 30S 108Y make more revenue than the existing configuration? I keep wondering. . .
STD: 1845 / ATD: 1851; STA: 2100/ ATA: 2053
This was a complementary trip paid for by Vistara