The great thing about aviation is, everyone has their moment under the sun. But some airlines become institutions, and others fall by the wayside. After being the shining beacon of Indian hospitality in the air, full-service airlines have had to play with multiple rules that have had them compete with one-hand tied, such as meal service cutbacks and so on. Vistara was a breath of fresh air when it opened shop in 2015, but in 2021, we find the airline might have lost its way.
When Jet Airways closed down, all the airlines rushed in to fill the gap, but no more was the change visible than Vistara. They made some maverick moves, leased some Boeing 737s (because the rules created said add planes to get slots left behind by Jet!) and even launched their international operations on the back of these 737s. Almost overnight, they became an airline for India and not just for those who lived in or travelled to Delhi NCR (as was their pre-2019 reputation).
From there, they brought their shiny new 787-9s to the market and even the A321neos, both of which are designed for international operations, not domestic. When Covid19 struck, they continued to make an entry into their already plotted International stations, even though on the back of the Vande Bharat Mission and the Air Bubble flights etc. One of the things I deeply respect them for during the pandemic was that no employee at Vistara lost their job.
Now, as they try to build back their business with domestic air traffic at record highs and restrictions easing, airlines seem to have concluded that some of the cutbacks are going to be here to stay. As someone who was on the first Vistara flight and has been a loyal customer since, I’ve been keeping a close watch on the airline and its affairs for almost seven years.
This year (2021), I’ve flown only 13 Vistara flights, far less than the number I would usually fly with them, but I’ve flown with them through a mix of both their hubs (Delhi and Mumbai) and flown them in all cabins (Premium Economy, Economy and Business Class). I wouldn’t want to put the amount of money I spent on these tickets, but they should be north of 6 digits.
Unfortunately, I see the airline struggling now to give customers what they want. Customers arrive at the airport expecting to be taken care of by Vistara, enjoying a good trip on the plane or perhaps just a pleasant warm fuzzy experience that they made their hallmark.
However, not all of them are happy as they alight from their flight. One look at Vistara’s social media feed will tell you the story of an airline struggling under the weight of the expectations it created over six years.
It could be something to do with cutbacks because of the bleeding they underwent during Covid related groundings, or it could be something to do with a change in the direction of the airline as to how they think about being a full-service carrier in India.
However, I can tell you; the 2021 Vistara is vastly different from the 2014 – 2020 Vistara I’ve encountered across the board. It’s not a uniform experience, gives a lot of pushback to customers even when they are correct, and generally has lesser hospitality than what I’ve grown to see the airline since its day 1. While doing right by the customer was their north star for the longest time, it seems a lot of that has gone to dust.
I recently read a 100-day plan being written up for Air India as it enters the Tata fold, so I thought I’d propose my 100-day plan for Vistara, which could make customers happy again, employees more upbeat and bring the airline back their #FlyTheNewFeeling claim again.
Here we go, in no particular order.
1. Ground Service
Ground Services is the first interaction between an airline’s customers and the airline once the customer arrives at the airport. While for most Indian carriers their ground services (check-in agents, baggage handling, etc.), Vistara is unique for having handed out their ground service to different operators across the country. So, in Delhi, expect to meet AISATS personnel as you want to check-in or drop your bag, and in Mumbai, you will run into the Bird Group handling the ground services for the airline. Such a choice is made by airlines who don’t have many operations out of an airport and are usually done at international ports. For instance, a twice-weekly flight to Paris does not need to hire crew on the ground; just outsourcing would do.
While it sounded like an excellent idea to bring in external ground handling seven years ago for a quick launch of the airline, it is time that Vistara relooks this decision. For one, I’d love to talk to an aubergine uniform plus golden hues coat for my Vistara flight rather than an orange/grey coat. But no, its vanity is not why I suggest this move. I’ve seen a marked difference in how various ground service operators deal with customers, which Vistara could do well to standardise. The Vistara customer, who is usually premium if Vistara’s image-building is believed, deserves a uniform standard of care across the country. And the fact that they are dealing with a third party who charges them by the number of keystrokes on the keyboard should not be why they are denied better service.
Not just that, they have a different understanding of the rules, sometimes they don’t understand the rules. For instance, Mumbai makes me sign a piece of paper for a voucher upgrade request, but Delhi does not (because they don’t process the upgrades anyway!). Like I narrated in the piece linked, I was attended to by AISATS ground personnel at the Business Class/Gold/Platinum check-in queue who did not know anything about how upgrades work.
2. The Delhi Experience
Delhi is the home of Vistara’s operations, and it definitely could do with some extra attention to make sure things work like clockwork. If you are going to be a Vistara international customer, you will probably pass through Delhi. So, how about making the airport experience better (after all the cutbacks during covid).
For one, can we have Vistara take on more counters in Delhi at peak hours, please? Now, I know the rush is a Delhi Airport problem overall and not just a Vistara issue, but the last few times I’ve flown out of Delhi, I’ve felt unvalued as a customer. 20-25 minutes just to get in front of the queue at the Gold counter? Not acceptable.
One check-in aisle for 540 passengers flying in the same direction to Doha, Dubai and Sharjah? Not acceptable again. Refer to the picture above.
Unfortunately, this one gentleman felt the entire brunt of their falling standards at Delhi.
@airvistara #Vistara #Delhiairport pic.twitter.com/GLiX5G8k5t
— Parykshit Saikia (@SaikiaParykshit) December 21, 2021
Delhi also has the unique problem of being a major airport that will face issues in December/January due to visibility related issues. I hope Vistara has a plan ready to re-accommodate passengers during these months.
3. Better Baggage Handling
I don’t know whose desk this needs to go on to, but there are far too many complaints about bags being broken or missing on Vistara flights nowadays. Call it a growth pang, if you will, but this should be of urgent attention to the airline to take baggage handling to a much higher standard than it is right now.
@airvistara Family traveled from Delhi to Bangalore yesterday in UK819. Baggage missed by Vistara. Were informed it will be delivered by 11 today. No update until now. Vistara customer care clueless. How do I track my bag? Need it urgently.
— Guruprakash Sastry (@GSastryBlr) December 12, 2021
No reply yet from @DelhiAirport @airvistara extremely unprofessional customer service.Vistara airlines has lost my baggage since 20th Nov 2021. No calls or messages received yet.
— Hridaya Banerjee (@hridayabanerjee) December 3, 2021
Terrible services by @airvistara for lost checked-in bags. Landed on 18th Dec at delhi airport and have been following up on 3 missing bags since then but no one is answering calls & giving any update. Thanks but no thanks @airvistara for terrible experience during trip to India!
— Shivangi Mansinghka (@shivmansinghka) December 21, 2021
@airvistara we have done so many complains. My Aunty has traveled on 11th December, From @airvistara Business Class. From that day her both Bags lost.3 Days before she got 1 bag but 2nd is still missing. We have tried Calls, mails everything.
— Jansari Nisha (@BhPatelnisha) December 21, 2021
@airvistara no response to tweets. Fragile luggage mishandled. pic.twitter.com/jNVDAG75FS
— Aamir (@aamirthakoo) December 21, 2021
I had a broken bag on a Vistara flight I flew in Business Class back in July 2021, and it took me months and tonnes of tweets to get the amount due for the bag replacement.
It turns out AI SATS was responsible for the case of my bag being fixed or replaced, and they worked their usual negotiations of offering you 25% of the price of the bag. Yet another reason to take ground handling in-house.
On reaching out to Vistara for comment, the airline spokesperson said,
This is not entirely in airlines’ control, especially at big airports such as our hub airports. We are working closely with the airport operators and baggage handlers to manage the increased traffic and streamlining processes to avoid any inconvenience to our customers.
Honestly, these problems are mainly with Vistara at the moment because I scanned the social media of other carriers, and I did not see as many complaints as Vistara at Delhi. And then, they make you go round and round in circles in a very Indian way, rather than sorting it out straight up for you with emergency cash and so on. Honestly, I felt like this when my bag broke, and Vistara put me through the motions at Delhi.
4. Better IFE Programming
I flew Vistara’s A321neo for the second (and third) time in November 2021 on my Delhi – Dubai – Delhi trip, and the programming was pretty meh. While Vistara invested in a top-of-the-line IFE system to go on these planes from Panasonic, but what good is it if one can’t watch select from more than 30 movies on their time in the air. And these movies are very much with a Hindi-speaking audience focus primarily.
I’m not asking for the 4500 channels that Emirates offers, but I’d like to be able to binge-watch a whole series on a 7-hour flight on the 787 or a good movie on the 4-hour flight on the A321neo? The content library is the same as the streaming IFE service on domestic flights, and this approach needs to change.
And I don’t think I am alone on this account.
Any day Indigo sandwich, the Vistara roll is tasteless and not of FSC standards and same with @vistara IFE content selection on their A321 seatbacks for domestic l. Looks like no content strategies. In TV shows, they selected multiple series but showcased only 1or2 episodes.Sad.
— Saurav (@saurav27) October 13, 2021
On requesting Vistara’s view on this subject, a Vistara spokesperson said,
At Vistara, we aim to offer an immersive onboard experience to our customers, and in-flight entertainment is a crucial aspect. It features a multimedia library including a wide range of films, TV, music, games and other digital content, which is updated regularly basis customer preferences and feedback. It was last updated in December 2021.
5. Corporate/SME Programme
Vistara, earlier in 2021, launched the Vistara Bridge corporate programme. Here, companies can sign up for special corporate rates with Vistara. Corporates are a big target market for Vistara, so I’d have expected they would have a cutting edge programme, but no. Nothing about the programme indicates being competitive.
For one, they only look at certain fare classes as being in the corporate fare programme, which means your corporate tickets could be much more expensive than the next guy. This is an issue where revenue management needs to take a deep look inside about what is available in the market versus what they offer.
Take, for instance, this T+15 fare on Delhi – Mumbai. Vistara has their Economy Bridge Fare on UK975 higher than their fares on the public access ticketing website. The only benefit one gets is a free cancellation, but if you went through with it, you will need to pay INR 525 to get a refund of your money.
Now, here is IndiGo’s corporate fare offering on the same route same time, just INR 150 more expensive than the cheapest available fare usually (look at the second screenshot from the IndiGo website for comparison). There are situations when the IndiGo corporate fares are very different from normal market fares, but that is an exception rather than the norm.
To add to it, IndiGo and SpiceJet both ask for INR 99 to cancel a ticket on a corporate fare, but Vistara, with a smaller network, looks for 5X the cancellation fee. I’m not implying that Vistara should do the same thing as the others in the marketplace. To-be sister concern Air India does not even have a corporate programme of note. But, what does Vistara revenue management want to achieve with this programme?
Do they want just to check a box, or do they want to serve small corporate/SME customers? Because then this programme needs to be rethought on a deeper level about the philosophy of offering it. While I don’t want Vistara to repeat some of the generosities of Jet Airways, which were perhaps too generous, to expect customers to pay 1.3x for a corporate fare is ridiculous.
6. Stand up for your loyal customers again?
There comes a time in every airline’s life where customers question their blind loyalty to the airline. I’ve seen this happen with JetPrivilege, Flying Returns and many international airlines of note over the better part of two decades I’ve been a frequent flyer personally. While JetPrivilege picked up the pieces and made loyalty a north star under their reshuffle where they were parted out as a separate enterprise from Jet Airways, and till date people miss Jet Airways, Flying Returns is on the other extreme where most people scoff and do not want to go through this experience again and again. Vistara is in this position too soon in their lifetime.
Club Vistara has absolutely no benefits. Experiencing very bad customer service and policies. From over charging, changing fees and hold times for up to an hour which then gets disconnected. So disappointed with the airline that’s supposed to be professional and trustworthy.
— Sarah Coles (@Starcolesy) December 21, 2021
In fact giving up my Axis/Vistara card too soon. Getting upgrades is a pain so my vouchers keep going waste
— Vineet (@uncommonsurname) December 6, 2021
BTW during my last trip I asked for it, they said no and i clearly told them I will make noise of i find empty seats not upgraded. Showed them pictures from my previous flights and the chat with the team is when they did it
— SATYAM SAVLA (@satyam0111) December 4, 2021
Hi @airvistara UK 977 yesterday flew with two empty business class seats.
Yet, status holders were denied counter upgrades.
So my vouchers are basically worthless?
— Varun Bubber (@vbubber) October 18, 2021
Dear @airvistara it's not fair to issue one class upgrade vouchers and lie to customers that the Business Class is full. @LiveFromALounge pic.twitter.com/yr4rrMfetV
— SATYAM SAVLA (@satyam0111) October 5, 2021
No, it is not just about upgrades. It is about doing the right thing for their customers. For one, while Club Vistara engages in vanity projects such as curating an Instagram account, there have been so many silent cutbacks that it is not even funny over the past year.
- Priority check-in and boarding for Silver tier, eliminated
- Any sort of Priority Boarding and boarding per zones, eliminated. Consequence? There are no priority boarding queues for Elites and Business Class customers if they arrive late.
- Reduced upgrade and redemption inventory.
So, instead of being spaced out during Covid-19, passengers are in one common congretion during Covid-19.
While Club Vistara continues to claim to be the most rewarding frequent flyer programme, the other end does not add up at all! Today, Vistara can fill up 80-90% of their seats on every plane, so they can look the other way when their frequent flyers/loyalists come calling. But what about the next downturn when the frequent flyers will cold-shoulder them and head on to a no-frills airline because they couldn’t care less about all those miles in their account, which are steadily eroding in value. Loyalty is a two-way street, and Vistara can show their elites their back now, but the customers will also have a right to move along.
In fact, some already have. Wetting their beak in other places.
I have no problem with Vistara monetising and making money off selling their rewards against credit cards. Still, there needs to be a broader view taken of their monetisation against their loyalty. Vistara continues to sign up new credit card partnerships (Axis Bank, SBI Card and IndusInd), but does it have enough business class seats to go around for all the free J class tickets they are supposed to offer to these cardmembers? Is there enough inventory being released for their customers who don’t have these free ticket vouchers (It all comes from the same inventory for now)? Can a meeting be done like right now between Revenue Management and Club Vistara Management on these burning issues of note?
But before we even come to that, there needs to be humility for Vistara to accept that they have royally dropped the ball. For instance, an unannounced transition to a new loyalty management platform? Who does that?
Neither did we get an email two weeks ago about Vistara transitioning to a new platform, nor did we get an email/note now about how their system is still unstable and what should be a timeline for a full return to service. Customers are stuck with issues like this.
Step 1: Perform an unannounced and unscheduled upgrade to your online portal that locks out your users for days making it impossible for them to log in and access their accounts. I personally am stuck here, this page is supposed to proceed for me to enter my OTP. But Nope, Nada. pic.twitter.com/3URkT39pbd
— Jay (@thetrickytrade) December 14, 2021
Step 3: Reply to them after a long wait and give them a false timeline to ensure they do not bother you anymore. I do not know which calendar @airvistara follows but in mine this is well past 5 days. pic.twitter.com/nJNjcgCLfk
— Jay (@thetrickytrade) December 14, 2021
Oh, and remember the empathy? It’s all gone. I’m a prime case myself. Last year, 2020, Vistara handed out Club Vistara status to everyone because of Covid-19. They treated this as a full-status requalification and added vouchers to accounts accordingly. Except they moved to a new practice where new Club Vistara qualifications are now handed out 1/2/3 upgrade vouchers for Silver/Gold/Platinum, and requalified ones are handed out 1/3/5 respectively. In October 2020, I was handed out three vouchers, but Vistara accepted it should have been 5 and added the remaining two upgrade vouchers eight weeks later.
Now, per the new Vistara policy, the 2021 membership year was extended by one year, and upgrade vouchers that expired between January and October 2021, were replaced for a one-year period. However, when it came to replacing these two vouchers, which ideally should have come to me in October 2021, Vistara flat out denied and asked me to use their paid extension option.
Of course, there is no apology forthcoming from Vistara for flying with empty seats but not upgrading customers at the airport, whereby these vouchers would have been used up in the first place. And their paid extension process, anecdotally, does not work either.
I paid for extention of validity of flight voucher, got the receipt but @airvistara seems to have forgotten to extend the validity and now wont respond to email. Vistara gold direct helpline is helpless. Sorry state of affairs.
— Rajat (@desiboiler) December 21, 2021
My club vistara id 112714544
I have paid Rs.1770/ for revalidation of my voucher on 15.9.2021. though my account shows revalidated date upto 11.12.2021 your customer care executives informed the same ia not validated. I am contacting daily to be informed it escalated
— T Mukundan (@TMukundan3) October 27, 2021
And for whatever reason, Club Vistara does not deem it necessary to train their foreign stations’ ground handling agents to do upgrades at the counter. The loyalty of those from the UK to India or Doha to Delhi is less important than the guy travelling Delhi – Mumbai.
Dear @airvistara my first flight on UK from Doha to Delhi, ground staff have no idea on club vistara features, access to upgrade vouchers or how to redeem them. They tried for 30 minutes and later said not done it before. Came up with excuse that bus mess was full but it wasn’t.
— Aditya Malhotra (@adimalhotra) December 19, 2021
They have codified this and kept it on their website, hidden in plain sight.
To sum up my loyalty argument, customers who engage with Vistara from the perspective of loyalty are, in fact their highest engaged passengers. In my opinion, the airline is literally walking over them, and they really need to bring in experts to run the show. Otherwise, it will all fall apart like a house of cards in the times ahead. I already know of many customers who feel burnt and couldn’t care less to fly Vistara anymore.
What did they teach us at business school about the cost of acquiring a new customer versus retaining an existing customer again?
7. Spruce up the contact centre and social media response teams
As a frequent user of airline customer care, I believe customer care needs to be looked at as a product, not an afterthought. Vistara thought about that briefly when they added the Vistara Priority Care for Gold and Platinum tier customers. Still, currently, under the weight of the pandemic, they are royally dropping the ball every day. Customers want to find out about every tiny little detail, and they call. And Vistara hasn’t kept up the capacity with the explosive growth in the queries. That means huge hold times.
@airvistara Your priority call numbers holding period has increased to more than 15 minutes
Easier to get through to the normal call centre number. You need to work on it
— sandip sabharwal (@sandipsabharwal) December 21, 2021
@airvistara called platinum member call Center two times, no response , VISTARA needs to keep responsible and sensitive staff
— Shree kumar Lakhotia (@shree_lakhotia) December 20, 2021
@airvistara @SingaporeAir @RNTata2000 what kind of a disaster cost saving is this? 22 mins wait time and still waiting, have some shame pls. Will complain to @MoCA_GoI Terrible customer service! pic.twitter.com/bsZcGvcIG5
— Sandeep Amar (@sancalls) December 16, 2021
@airvistara Can't connect to your helpline number +918130088888 for Gold members. Call keeps dropping right after entering mobile number and very very long wait times. @LiveFromALounge
— Mohit Singhania (@MohitSinghania) December 22, 2021
This is true for their call centres and their social media customer care and their email customer care.
@airvistara I had applied for a travel certificate on the company’s website on 26 nov. Then again on 17 dec. I also wrote an email on 17th with the order id. I still haven’t received the travel certificate. Please resolve asap.
— Vishal Sharma (@panautii) December 21, 2021
Heck, I’ve not had my issues solved with them for over ten days in a row many times. The usually fantastic Social Media team also seems to be operating at far less strength. As a result, responses now come in days and after many follow-ups, rather than minutes or hours.
Vistara needs to invest in a technology solution for many customer care issues (the rest of the world has? Why do we depend on humans for everything?). Or, if they depend on the human resolution process so much, they need to seriously up the number of agents, who are well trained, to be doing this.
When I reached out to Vistara for a comment, here is what they said,
In light of the COVID-19 restrictions and the dynamic nature of the ecosystem we operate in, the number of enquiries across our customer touchpoints has increased substantially, since the onset of the pandemic. We have taken several measures like increasing staff strength, the introduction of self-help options and chatbots to manage them. We’ve also introduced new processes to ensure that every enquiry, complaint and request that customers send us on different platforms are addressed as quickly as possible.
Err, Vistara, Delhi and winter fog is on its way.
8. Fix the meal and drinks situation
I have to say it is hard to be in the situation of Vistara right now, and I empathise with them, but there is a severe gap between them and the no-frills carriers. For Vistara, this was a common appreciation post pre-pandemic.
What’s in the box?
In the box is happiness!
1st time travelled in @airvistara what a elegant well trained staff. Really cool uniform & delicious meal.#vistara you got 1 loyal customer.
My dream is to fly over the rainbow so high.. pic.twitter.com/YnJiBT7aL5
— Urfi Khan (@urfi_khan) August 19, 2018
Then, the pandemic came and still lives on, and under the very cryptic guidelines of the DGCA, Vistara, for the longest time, was serving cardboard sandwiches on their flights.
Vistara's website might show you delicious meals onboard, but here is the reality of what they have been serving for over 18 months now. Snacks on Meal Times. This can't be laid just at the feet of the pandemic. #paxex #Vistara https://t.co/ah3HtFqIHA pic.twitter.com/SZ9KG6kGDy
— Ajay Awtaney (@LiveFromALounge) October 15, 2021
Finally, they brought the meal service back. However, it was only a vegetarian meal service, and no coffee/tea pours along when they did. This is a consequence of Vistara reading the current circulars from DGCA differently from how the no-frills carriers are? My assessment is, both are right in their way of doing things.
Here is coffee served to me on December 14, 2021, onboard IndiGo. For the record, they were doing these in October 2021 when I flew with them.
You can’t keep everyone happy, but you also can’t keep everyone unhappy on a plane, no? So if tonnes of people expect coffee, they should perhaps get it. There is still significant disquiet amongst passengers that they only get a vegetarian choice on board the plane. And for the business class passengers are still not happy with the quality of F&B served on board, apart from the breakfast service.
Last week on a 2.5 hour business class flight!! Same food as economy served in business class crockery. #paxex #FAIL pic.twitter.com/bfZumkzrR3
— Rohan Varshnei (@Upintheair380) December 22, 2021
I understand where Rohan’s grouse comes from. Here is the most recent Vistara snack flight I flew on December 19, 2021. It is the same meal, sans the juice concentrate—even the same quantity.
If this is a question of making sure there is no wastage of the food on the plane or reducing passenger interaction, the solution Vistara could make work is a pre-selection of the non-vegetarian meal if you want one, on their special meals menu. Even IndiGo has moved, for instance, from the sale of sandwiches on board to only offering them to passengers who pre-book their sandwiches. This technology intervention will still leave people unhappy, those who are not used to planning their meals before, but this should considerably bring down issues for those who can’t eat that vegetarian meal on the plane.
So, Vistara really needs to find a way to get their tea and coffee service back on board.
Vistara had this to say,
While keeping our processes aligned with the constantly evolving guidelines we have tried to ensure that our customers have a safe and comfortable travel experience, consistently. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions and the suspension of scheduled international operations several aspects of our services had to be truncated. Although the market is gradually recovering, the government continues to take a cautious approach in view of the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus. Vistara, too, is closely monitoring the situation as we look to gradually go back to our full bouquet of offerings, while being conscious about the safety of our customers and staff.
With reference to the onboard dining experience, we are consistently adding more options. We’ve recently revamped the menus, started serving hot meals in economy and allowing more choices to our customers in Business and PEY cabins. We are also in the process of bringing back the menu cards soon.
Pouring of beverage in the cabin, however, remains suspended in line with the guidelines by the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
If the DGCA guidelines continue in this shape and form, honestly, you should expect this service on board your flights going forward in India (across airlines).
9. Make the International premium cabins worth the premium?
Again, Vistara finds itself in a situation where they cannot come to terms with customer expectations. Honestly, we have not seen the true Vistara long-haul product as the 787 and the A321neos were pushed into international service under the air bubbles. So, if they serve a bag of chips for snacks in their meal boxes on a flight from Europe to India, for business class passengers, this is not what they expect while paying extraordinary fares right now on J class.
While I’ll admit, I fully don’t understand the inference of the technicalities of why Air France can serve me champagne onboarding the flight in Delhi in Business Class, but I get only a bottle of packaged water on Vistara when I board my flight on Vistara. But, here is the thing, aviation is a global business and customer hopes are being dashed. And no one wants to go through the same overpriced underwhelming experience twice?
I’m absolutely not going to make an issue of a non-issue. But if Vistara is charging equivalent of other top airlines like BA, Virgin, Qatar, their crew and staff needs to buckle up! It’s the culture they need to work on, not an employee in particular. 😔
— Seetu Mahajan Kohli (@kohliseetu) September 13, 2021
Here is more from my DMs for someone who flew them to Frankfurt and back in Business Class.
Here is someone else corroborating that view.
I bought business class frankfurt to delhi in #vistara and i was v.disappointed. There is no lounge at the frankfurt airport terminal.lounge is at the other terminal which is impossible to visit as u may miss the flight. No amneties, no welcome drink,no menu card nor hot towel.
— krunal (@krunal2011) December 19, 2021
Flying extensively with Jet Airways, British Airways, American Airlines and a lot of the folk, there have been occasional slip-ups, but Vistara needs to take their Business Class game from 3/10 to 8/10. I still appreciate their hard product, but their soft product needs a lot of work. I don’t know what they had planned pre-covid, but I hope that duvets, pyjamas and amenity kits are a part of that plan, and some top-shelf champagne too. Heck, Billecart Salmon or Piper-Heidsieck would do; we don’t want the Dom Perignon and Krug on board for now.
When I recently flew Vistara in PEY from Dubai to Delhi, no pillows and blankets were waiting for us. They did not have them on the flight altogether because I asked for one. However, the Vistara spokesperson had this to state:
On international routes, the complete bar menu, including alcoholic options, is available for business class as the number of customers in the cabin is small and they are served from the galley. For the customers in Premium Economy and Economy we offer carefully curated alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages that suit our customers’ choices and also in alignment to the regulatory guidelines.
With reference to blankets, they are available on all international flights, including the short-haul regional routes.
10. Hire a CTO?
An airline does not just work on initiatives where passenger data flows between digital pipes. However, technology is the backbone of this industry where people continue to be the face of the industry. When Vistara was established, it wanted to offer a high-touch, white-glove experience in an industry that is mainly low-touch now (88% of India flies no-frill carriers!). However, so many of the problems I’ve listed above have already been solved or can be solved if they continuously re-imagine things. Over the past couple of years, I feel they are so taken in with fighting the pandemic that they lost sight to work on new initiatives.
For instance, how about creating a transparent upgrade list? In the US, this is a problem for many passengers, but this is more a transparency issue in India. The information about our flights is what the agent tells us, not the one we get from the systems directly. Like, I always chuckle when I see this list were over a 100 passengers were on the upgrade list for the final flight of United Airlines 747s.
121 people on the upgrade list for @united #ua747farewell pic.twitter.com/YGwasT3WQG
— Jason Rabinowitz (@AirlineFlyer) November 7, 2017
Same with the apps. The Vistara app is clunky; even Air India is better than them. I guess this is because the airline has not created a native app but just repurposed their website to show up on the app in a different form. Vistara loyalists also appreciate there is a problem here.
But you don’t need a CTO to ensure that their digital pipes are always unclogged. There are simple issues that have not been solved for years and years together. For instance, Club Vistara does not stay logged in or logged out after a while. And the website wakes up to an error screen after you are running a workflow for ticket booking. This error has been around for over three years, and no one is looking into it.
And as I wrote this, IndiGo hired a new Chief Information and Digital Officer.
11. Become customer friendly again, and drive it across the airline
This is a simple one to solve. There is a management change at Vistara coming up. The new management needs to do just one thing right, and everything else will fall in place from a customer perspective. Make customer empathy their north star again. This means a lot of training and a lot of sensitivity needs to be induced in the system, and this will need to fly right from the top. I was initially going to argue that there needed to be some sort of a “Voice of Customer” representation inside Vistara, but I realise that it is not a one-person battle to be fought, it is an all out war against the situation going along as it is for now.
Customer friendly does not mean agreeing to egragrious demands of customers, such as paying for economy and getting upgraded to business. It just means making policies more customer friendly and the front line staff more empowered (but then again, airport staff is not Vistara’s own staff!). Oh, and bring the customer empathy back again please? Because this time around if we survive Omicron, passengers won’t slow down on travel. And if they don’t the gap between customer experience and customer expectation will continue to grow on board Vistara.
To borrow from one of my favourite movies, be like the spartan warriors, and look in the same direction while you are at it!
I’m hoping someone reading this inside Vistara or TATA or SIA will realise that I did not work over 24 coffees and dropped other tasks to write this 5000-word article up if I did not feel deeply concerned for Vistara. There are 99 problems but they flow from the same place. Customers are asking for a simple, well-run operation, with a passenger experience that is more like a Louis Vuitton than a Micheal Kors. At least that is what they started with in 2014, till life got in their way.
Even if Vistara solved half of these problems, I can guarantee their NPS to go up by many notches! And the first step to solving a problem is to accept that there is one. After all, their USP was full-service better than their contemporaries, and now, they are in a position where they are worse off than them. If this is not a wake up call, what is?
What do you think are the problem areas at Vistara, and how do you think we can make Vistara great again?
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While I appreciate healthy criticism and I find most of the airlines and their untrained staff unfit for handling passengers on wheelchairs.They are indifferent and lack empathy.The crew smile only on saying welcome and goodbye rest of the time they are preoccupied and distant.Vistara is better than most airlines in India.We are reeling under the population growing manifolds though that is no excuse.Air travel has become affordable to many compared to yesteryears.Hope Vistara takes the criticism well but also most of us should compare the airlines to the snooty airlines and their crew abroad.They are rude and uncouth.We in India are lucky to have something in the name of service
Every bit of the experiences are so true.i had my parents left without wheelchairs at the age of 75 + inspitr of having booked the wheelchairs and confirmed thrice with Vistara.15 Feb 2022.
They only get worse…..
So sad to hear how a full service ‘so called’ premium carrier is breaking itself apart. All this carelessness will only strengthen the no frills carriers completely, and why should it not, Indigo runs an excellent operation in comparison. Atleast no frills carriers don’t pretend to be something that they are not. Singapore airlines must bring a change in vistara or else exit it quickly.
Wonderful article Ajay. I moved back to India this year and I’ve taken 12 vistara flights in the last 3 months covering BLR, BOM, DEL and HYD. I’m not a Vistara elite so I don’t expect much in the way of service, but the airline has serious issues with punctuality, baggage handling and catering. They also seem to have very few counters overall at all these airports. I think CV isn’t a great value proposition especially in the Indian context given the not-so-insignificant spend need to become CV Plat. I think this is inherited from SQ, who’s own KF program is fairly lame (SQ KF Gold here).
But the question to ask here is – what are they competing against? At the moment nothing. And I don’t see that changing as parent Tata has gobbled up the only other FSC. For regular flyers Vistara is “less worse” than Indigo. And that’s all they need to be.
Just stick with indigo for domestic So much fuss for an Indian carrier. When it comes to international there are so many 100 times better better options to choose from. Why would anyone wanna fly vistara for international flights.
Surprised to see so much effort and insights provided to Vistara for free! Ajay, Why?! Today’s Vistara reminds me of snotty kingfisher! Arrogant, rude and no product to really talk of.
One biggest point you missed is being on time. I fly Bom-Blr sector and they were never on time (pre-pandemic). They cancel flights, shuffle you to another flight and don’t even bother to inform you..You realize when you check-in (only if you are alert!). I have no hopes on this airline and just prefer to stick with Indigo these days and looking forward to Jet to restart
Wow! Lovely article Ajay. And like you, I too want Vistara to do well and right now, it looks like the airline itself isn’t bothered. They’ve got good core, but the feel good factor doesn’t extend beyond that ‘core’.
Regarding upgrades, I travelled to from Mumbai to IXB via Delhi. I was able to use three upgrade vouchers at the check-in counter in BOM (Prem. Eco to Business in A321) and another one at Delhi.
However, last week my friend wasn’t given an upgrade and found seats were available. Inconsistency….. something you’ve talked about in your post.
Very well written and I agree, quite concerning about the path UK is on.
I’ve lost quite a few of my flight vouchers because seats weren’t available and the vouchers eventually expired. Contacted CSC, they mentioned I should’ve extended them, but the service wasn’t even available. And I am seriously reconsidering my CV Cobrand card right now.
Well written Ajay. I flew vistara this week. While their onboard biz class experience was great, as usual (including their bfast service)
On the return leg DEL-BOM, everything that’s lacking showed up- mess at check in counters, mess at boarding, no beverage service for economy. Delayed luggage etc.
Have not flown Vistara recently however being asked to pay Rs 2,500 for extension of an expired voucher for a free ticket seems to be a tad too much. I am ok with paying anything upto Rs 1,000. They seem to be trying to get revenue from wherever they can. Have read social posts about the poor in-flight meals which is sad. After Kingfisher’s exit, I would always look forward to Vistara In-flight meals and cabin service and till pre-covid they did their job well.
Due to network rationalization during Covid, Vistara has exited the sectors which I used to travel. So not had a chance to Vistara since then.
I could totally relate to this fact that after being Vistara loyalist for over 5 years after my 2021 experience with Vistara over last 6-8 flights, I don’t care about my Vistara status anymore.
Well I flew vistara on November 13th GAU toBLR flight time blocked at little over 3 hours in this non stop segment. This was an evening flight which departed at 5:50PM. I wish I could post the pic of food that was served, it was a lame cold dry and semi hard lab with misal/bhaji I wasn’t sure what it was. And that block of chocolate. I am sure not to vistara again. This is what I call from being an avid fan to be avoiding it.
Most of the customer care executive on telephone will give different reply to a query and many a time they are wrong. if you ask them to verify, some of them get irritated.
Some of the ground staff looks like, they are not concerned with the customers problem even sitting on the gold counter,