Ever since the Boeing 787-9 of Vistara was inducted in the fleet in March 2020, I’ve wanted to fly it. However, given the CoVid-19 grounding of Indian aviation, there was no way to do so until recently. Vistara has two Boeing 787-9 aircraft in their fleet at the moment, and more are going to join the fleet over time. Vistara 787 Business Class
Vistara most recently started flights between Delhi and London with the Boeing 787-9, and will be launching Mumbai – London flights soon as well. Subsequently, Paris and Frankfurt might also be launched using this equipment. While these planes are not flying abroad, Vistara operates them for domestic flights as well from time to time, and they visit various cities in India on a rotational basis. On one of these days, a Boeing 787-9 was scheduled to fly the Delhi – Mumbai – Delhi service, and I took this opportunity to fly the aircraft.
Booking the Trip
I had earlier on cancelled a trip to Delhi, with no hope to return to Delhi for the rest of this year. Subsequently, I ended up planning a trip to Delhi after the lockdown around my parent’s home closed out. As Shipra and I were looking at flights, we knew we were going to fly Vistara since it had been a while, and we started looking at our options. We were initially planning to take an early morning flight to get more time in Delhi, but as we scrolled through the options, I saw the Boeing 787-9 for a mid-day flight.
Of course, we booked it. Since Vistara’s 787-9 has a very comfortable Premium Economy cabin, and the fare difference vis-a-vis Economy was not very much, we went for the Premium Economy flight. I’ve been asked over and over about what routes is Vistara scheduling the 787-9 these days on domestic flights. I’ve seen it on Bengaluru, Amritsar, Mumbai from Delhi and then other places too. I don’t think there is a pattern, and it depends on loads as well as exposure for the plane to various stations of Vistara. For instance, I flew on a Tuesday, and the next week, there was no 787-9 to Mumbai from Delhi, it went to Bangalore instead. My trip was booked 36 hours out, so I was pretty confident that the plane would not be swapped out, but then, you never know.
After booking the flight, just out of general curiosity, I started to look for confirmable Business Class space, since Shipra and I had some upgrade vouchers expiring (renewed due to CoVid-19 extensions, but still, not much life left!) We were able to confirm two seats by calling up the Club Vistara Platinum Line, of which I am in awe at the moment, given how swift, efficient and professional they are. Since we were booked in Premium Economy, both Shipra and I were able to upgrade to the Vistara 787 Business Class with just one voucher each, and no co-pay towards extra taxes. With the upgrades under the belt, we checked into the flight online and selected our seats. As a reminder, web check-in is now mandatory for domestic flights in India. During the web check-in, we were also asked about our whereabouts and phone number for track and trace, if needed.
At the Mumbai Airport Terminal 2
Mumbai Airport operations are currently consolidated at Terminal 2, and the older smaller Terminal 1 is not being used. There are only limited operations allowed every day in terms of flight operations in and out of Mumbai, so the airport is consequently not as full as it used to be.
The driveway for dropping passengers outside has been converted to a queue buster where people can maintain distance as they undergo a temperature check to enter the airport. Each airline gets a fixed gate assignment in front of their check-in aisles so that people don’t move around the airport and directly go to their airline’s aisle. In the case of Vistara, it was Gate 2. Mumbai Airport still insists on an Aarogya Setu app even though other airports provide the option of writing a health declaration offline. They just wouldn’t let you in otherwise, unfortunately. Before even being able to enter the airport terminal, I had to show the app twice, and also get a temperature check done.
At the airport, you still have to display a copy of your ticket/boarding pass for authentication before being allowed to enter. Now, the security personnel have moved behind plexiglass to ensure distance from passengers. On my last trip from CSMIA T2, the airport had also provided computers for the CISF to scan your boarding passes and authenticate, but I did not see them doing this part anymore.
At the airport, there is a battery of self-check-in counters, and you can print your boarding pass and your baggage tag here if you have not already printed it at home. Mumbai Airport could sure do away with the requirement to have a physical boarding pass, but I am not sure why is it still there. However, the Business Class counters of Vistara were empty, now behind plexiglass, and I had a big box to check-in, so we went to the check-in counter instead.
The check-in agents were quickly able to print the boarding passes for the both of us, and we placed our luggage on the belt as is the norm now, and had it move along. The check-in agents were in good spirits, and we had a long chat before bidding adieu.
After the bag drop, we proceeded to level 3, where we went through the security check process. Unfortunately, social distancing here was mythical, and even the security processes could have been done better. Many years ago there was the conversation of installing Automated Tray Retrieval Systems (ATRS), but it is not here so far, nor are the full-body scanners which were supposed to take over from manual frisking. I was also disappointed that there is no one from the end of CSMIA, who is taking CoVid-19 seriously enough to sanitise the trays after every use. Since we used the Business Class queue, we moved along quickly, though, and headed straight for a sanitiser station across the security check area.
The airside is still unusually empty, and as a result, most shops are closed as well. Many have even shut shop for good, I think. I headed to the American Express Lounge to check out if they were open, but not yet.
So I headed to the GVK Lounge, where there is always a small queue. We were able to access with our boarding passes as lounge access was provided by Vistara. I will write about the GVK Lounge experience in a separate post so that we keep focus on the flight experience here. After about 20 minutes in the lounge, Shipra and I started to head to the gate, to try and board before everyone jumped on to try and get some pictures. And there she was, in all her glory at the aerobridge next to Gate Number 53.
Pre-Boarding & Boarding
Shipra and I arrived earlier at the boarding gate, where we were handed out our Passenger Safety Kit. Onboard aircraft in India, you are mandated to wear a face mask and a face-shield while boarding and the airline supplied it to us at the gate. Also, there was some sanitiser for use on the flight.
Kudos to Vistara for putting a bottle of sanitiser inside every kit, rather than just some sachets. Easier to use, and you take the brand along in your pocket, to your home or hotel after the flight as well. Other airlines could learn from them on this aspect.
Soon enough, boarding was announced. The sequence of boarding has been altered now, so Business Class and Platinum tier members board first, followed by Premium Economy and Gold tier members, and everyone in Economy boards as per their seat numbers. Silver tier members don’t get priority boarding for the time being. Shipra and I headed on the plane right after the pre-boarding for passengers on wheelchair were boarded. Boarding was done only with one gate, so we headed down gate 2L and turned left.
Onboard Vistara 787-9
Mumbai (BOM) – Delhi (DEL)
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Departure: 11:52 AM
Duration: 2 Hours 3 minutes
Arrival: 1:55 PM
Aircraft Type: Boeing 787-9
Seat: 2A (Business)
Meal Service: Lunch
The aircraft was still in pristine condition, after all the, perhaps 100s of cycles it had done since March 2020. While there is a full insight into the Boeing 787-9 product of Vistara, here are some of the recent pictures of the cabin. Here is the economy cabin in a grey and maroon, along with Vistara’s mood lighting. Each seat has a 6-way headrest.
Seatback entertainment is via a 12” HD personal entertainment screen, with an individual USB power outlet, which means you can keep your phone charged through the flight.
All the seats get a 31″ seat pitch, which is pretty good I’d say combined with the choice of seats where the lower portion is not used for stowing the literature and hence more space for the knees.
Here is the Vistara Premium Economy Cabin on the Boeing 787-9. These seats are different from the Economy class seats, as they should be, and a wider shoulder area so that you are not contesting anyone for space on this bird. The seat pitch is a generous 38″ as well, along with a calf and footrest, which makes it comfortable for long flights, even for a broad person such as me.
For your entertainment, there is a 13″ HD personal entertainment screen, along with a USB port, and an AC power outlet under every seat. Don’t miss the water bottle holders, ensuring you get more sitting space where you are.
Vistara 787 Business Class
Here is the Vistara Boeing 787 Business Class which is the top cabin on the aircraft. The Vistara 787 Business Class is laid out in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration, with individual privacy shells around each seat.
It is important to note that which seat you would like on the plane because in the solo rows, some are closer to the windows and some are away. The seat map on the website shows you the right seats to pick for the Vistara 787 Business Class along with the couple seat configuration and so on.
Vistara has selected the Stelia Aerospace Symphony seat, the same seat that Singapore Airlines has installed on their regional aircraft such as the Boeing 787-10. These seats have a privacy shield wrapped around each seat. Like you can see, a reasonable amount of privacy with the shield, however, your IFE screen is exposed in case anyone else is looking.
I was expecting more people to upgrade as they realised at the airport this was an opportunity to upgrade or switch to a better cabin on the 787. Since the cabin was mainly empty, Shipra and I both went for a window seat for this flight, trying out both the near and away configuration. I took 2A and Shipra took 3A since seats 1A and 1K were both taken by the time we checked in.
Row 1 has a bigger foot cubby, in case someone prefers those. It is also the bassinet, so if you are travelling with a lap child, you can get these.
The cabin was pretty empty, with 8/30 occupancy and a deadheading captain. The cabin crew lead, dressed in a full PPE and a mask and a face shield, came over to introduce herself and told us about the flight time on this flight. Water bottles were passed on to each passenger since during these times water can not be poured out and served to passengers. We talked a bit about working through CoVid, and I appreciated their efforts. Looking at my face shield perpetually fogging out due to glasses, the crew told me since I was in a very private seat, I could remove the shield if I’d like for a while. Phew!
Owing to the pandemic, no literature was placed in the seat pockets, apart from the safety instruction card, in line with DGCA directive on this. No hot/cold towels were served either. The crew serving our aisle came back in a moment to check on us and also take the meal orders. No menu cards were distributed, and the meal options are also truncated at the moment. So, there was only the option of an Indian vegetarian option and a Western chicken option. The cabin crew explained both the options and took our orders.
The first thing to note about this new Business Class is the 3-point harness seat belt, which is becoming more and more common nowadays. There was a sizeable personal stowage compartment with space to keep your trinkets such as your passport, glasses etc. I used it to put the cover of my noise-cancelling headset. A universal power outlet was also fitted in, with a USB and AC power outlet. Along with the overhead lamps, there are reading lights fitted into the seat shell, which can be switched on as per your seat position, or you can light them all together for more light as well.
There is also a small vanity mirror in the seat, which drew praise from Shipra.
I’d carried some disinfectant wipes with me, and as a general habit, even pre-CoVid-19, I used to scrub down my seat with a hot towel or a wipe, and I did the same thing, also for Shipra. I’d advise you to get some onboard any flight, although planes are disinfected after every flight now. Here are the ones I use.
As the inflight announcements took over the PA system, one of the first messages we heard from the crew was about the fact that all cabin crew were subject to temperature tests and are cleared to operate the flight medically. We pushed back on time and got to watch the new Vistara safety video for the first time on this plane.
We were airborne pretty quickly, without waiting for the traditional Mumbai wait times on takeoff or arrival. The crew quickly started to work as soon as we got on to 10,000 feet. As they went about the meal service, the crew announcement reminded everyone that the meal service was truncated to ensure that there was minimal contact between passengers and crew. Our meals were brought out almost immediately after we completed the climb and went on a cruise mode. Vistara resumed in-flight meals in September 2020, on domestic flights.
Important to note, meals are now brought out in one go on a tray rather than a course-by-course service in business class, to stick to the CoVid-19 protocols. Also, the packaging is not removed, in line with the DGCA permissions about serving only pre-packed meals on board. We unwrapped the meals ourselves. Shipra’s Indian vegetarian meal had an Apple Walnut Salad, a Chole Biryani with Black Daal and a Chocolate Cake for dessert.
My meal was a Tender Chicken with Creamy Potato Au Gratin, along with the same side accompaniments. I asked the crew for a beverage along, and they brought me a can of Diet Coke and a glass, which I could pour myself.
I removed the mask and dug into my meal. I have to say this was one of the best meals I had on board Vistara, or if I may go on to say, one of the best from the house of TajSATS. Ironic that this happened during the times of the pandemic. Apart from the capsicum which I generally don’t have a fondness for, the whole platter was over pretty quickly and sent back. I went back to Mask On right after, even though I was sitting alone.
In terms of the IFE, Vistara has installed Panasonic’s X Series IFE along with the Panasonic Arc Map system, which was operational on this flight. I had the map mode on for a large part of the flight.
I browsed through the movie and television shows collection on this flight to check out the variety of content on the plane. I am not sure if every third flight in the world now has these movie libraries on their planes since I haven’t flown abroad in about 9 months now, but to me, it looked like there was enough content to last a 10-hour flight if you had to watch it. The screen display on this 18″ monitor was pretty crisp as well.
I selected one of the many movies on board to go with my lunch and after. While I had brought my own noise-cancelling headphones, Vistara had pre-packaged disposable earphones on offer for anyone who wanted them across all three cabins. You could control the IFE with the touch-screen version, or with a remote in the seat, of which I forgot to take a picture.
I did not plan to use the lavatory but headed in to check it out. Vistara’s Boeing 787 front lavatories have a window in it. The lavatory was wide enough to move around, and also has a small seat, in case you want to change into or out of your pyjamas and tie up your shoes after.
Back in my seat, I watched some more of the movie and then switched over to the maps again. I’d wished Vistara/Boeing had a tail cam on the plane for the views.
Vistara also has wifi operational on the 787-9 aircraft, but it is only switched on when the plane is doing London flights at the moment, and not on the domestic routes.
The seat turned into a flatbed too, but given the short duration of the flight, I did not have the opportunity to try to get a nap on this flight. As I’ve always maintained, these seats are good for sleep, although some people may find the privacy shield closing in on them, especially for straight sleepers. I sleep on the side, so I don’t find this to be of concern.
Arriving into Delhi
We landed in Delhi about 30 minutes before our scheduled time, and after what seemed like a very long taxi, arrived at our gate. At Delhi, two gates were opened for the plane, and Business Class passengers alighted from Gate 1L right at the front. The deboarding process was very orderly, and at Delhi Airport, we could dispose of our face-shields in special disposal bins for PPE. Fortunately, our bags came out early on, and I did not have to wait in the queue at all. Bags in tow, we were on our way to get a cab and go home. No arrival checks at Delhi, apart from a thermal camera to pass through.
I also made a video to demonstrate this journey as I felt not everything could go on the written word. It has been put up on our YouTube Channel as well.
It was the first time Shipra and I flew Vistara since March 2020, and we felt every bit safe with all the precaution that was being taken at the airport and by the airline every step of the way in terms of cleanliness and hygiene. The moniker Let’s Make Flying Safe Again suits Vistara very well.
Vistara has a fantastic product on the Boeing 787-9 aircraft, and the Vistara 787 Business Class is something I am looking forward to trying out on a longer flight sometime soon, once full-service resumes, and the world begins to open up again. Having said that, the flight crew followed all the current existing CoVid-19 protocols, and it was great to experience the long-haul plane, even if it was for a short flight like BOM-DEL.
Have you flown the Vistara 787 Business Class? What was your experience?
(Watch the video of the Vistara 787 Business Class product from the delivery video here)
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