Vistara inducted the Airbus A321neo into their fleet in July 2020. The new aircraft, which was ordered by Vistara as a part of its order of 50 Airbus A320neo/A321neo aircraft order, was meant to be used by Vistara to fly to destinations outside India about 5-6 hours away such as Singapore and Hong Kong. However, Given the CoVid-19 grounding of Indian aviation, there is no way to do so until now. India does not have any ‘air bubble’ with Singapore, which is granting individual approvals to those who can enter Singapore even at this point.
As a result, Vistara has recently deployed the A321neo on the flights to Dubai from Delhi and continues to fly the aircraft inside the country on various routes, notably between Delhi and South India (Hyderabad/Chennai, etc.) and to an extent to high load destinations such as Goa as well. As I was heading out from Delhi after a quick trip, I decided to also complete a long-pending trip to Hyderabad as well, before returning to Mumbai. I took this opportunity to fly Vistara’s A321neo aircraft.
Booking the Trip
I had flown into Delhi on the Vistara 787-9 in Business Class, and I had no fix of how long would I be in Delhi, so learning from my prior experience, I did not book a return ticket. When the time came, I went over the Vistara website, and specifically looked for an A321neo flight, since I knew they were being operated to Hyderabad. I picked it up.
On this route, I booked myself in Vistara’s A321neo Economy cabin. However, I saw the Business Class cabin was empty, and Shipra had a couple of vouchers expiring on December 31, 2020. So given we are nominees on each other’s accounts, Shipra was able to call Air Vistara’s new Gold and Platinum Line to confirm a double upgrade for me to Business Class. I paid another INR 155 in taxes for the upgrade, and I was all set. Shipra, on the other hand, decided to head back into Mumbai from Delhi given she was expected back in the city.
With the upgrade done, I checked into the flight online and selected my seat. As a reminder, web check-in is now mandatory for domestic flights in India. During the web check-in, I was also asked about my whereabouts and phone number for track and trace, if needed.
At the Delhi Airport Terminal 3
At Delhi Airport, most of the airline operations are consolidated at Terminal 3, and some IndiGo operations have also transferred over to Terminal 2.
As I pulled over at the airport, I noticed a massive queue building up outside Gate 1, which is the designated gate for Vistara operations. Thanks to traffic and a delayed departure from home, we were also running slightly delayed, so I was not very happy with this longish queue. However, it moved quickly, and we were inside in about ten minutes.
Along the way, I had to show my Identification along with the boarding pass, got a temperature check done, but no Aarogya Setu asked for, or any health declaration. I presume, filling it up online at the time of web check-in is enough.
Delhi Airport’s Terminal 3 was much more crowded than Mumbai Airport’s Terminal 2. I proceeded straight to the Vistara premium counters and was attended to by someone in about five minutes. It turns out Delhi is extremely busy these days because people are flying into Delhi to attend weddings. Both left and right of me, in the queue, were groups of passengers, waiting to check-in after attending a wedding.
Once in front of the queue, I put my own and Shipra’s bags for check-in. It was one of the rare occasions we were not travelling light, so checking in a bag seemed like the best choice rather than carrying a small one and dragging it around the airport. We presented our identification, and our different PNRs and were promptly issued our boarding passes.
After the bag drop, we proceeded to the security check. The Business Class priority queue has been shifted into the VIP queue, and the earlier J Class queue merged into Economy class operations. All people with kids and infants etc. were also being directed to this queue. What considerably slowed down this queue was the fact that Air India did not have any Automatic Tray Retrieval System (ATRS) at work here, as compared to the rest of T3 which was moving handbags pretty quickly. Pennywise pound foolish, I’d say.
There was hardly any social distancing maintained in this crowded airport. Unfortunately, no one was cleaning up the trays after use as well. I had a disinfectant wipe handy, so I did wipe my trays thoroughly before use. I was also unsatisfied with the minuscule number of sanitiser dispensers at the airport.
The airside was full, and I don’t particularly have any love for the Plaza Premium Lounge on the Mezzanine Floor of T3. I headed to the American Express Lounge to check out if they were open, but the lounge is under remodelling at the moment.
So I headed straight to the gates. Shipra was getting on a plane first, so I accompanied her to the gate for her flight. Subsequently, I went to my gate, where the incoming aircraft had not arrived yet, and the cabin crew were also waiting for an update on the plane.
I wandered around the vicinity of the gate but found it pretty bothersome that many folks were not practising the use of masks and social distancing. So, I circled back to my gate after a bit and waited there while we had an update.
I think Delhi Airport was pretty lax about implementing a lot of the rules around CoVid-19, which was encouraging people to be not using masks. I mean what the point of having a government order of INR 2000 fines for not wearing a mask in a public place when you are not going to implement it?
The Vistara A321neo arrived from Pune after a while, and the gate agents made an announcement to the effect. This meant we would need another 25-30 minutes to board the aircraft. The first thing on this shiny new equipment I noticed was the radome, which would power in-flight wifi on the plane. This was not in use at the time of my flight unfortunately but has been subsequently switched on for international flights using the A321neo.
Pre-Boarding & Boarding
As I arrived at the boarding gate, I was handed out my 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. Here is the new boarding sequence for Vistara flights, which I had not seen before. In the updated version, Silver members are no longer offered priority boarding, something I discovered new.
Soon enough, boarding was announced. I headed on the plane right after the pre-boarding for passengers on wheelchair were boarded. Boarding was done only with one gate, so I headed down gate 1L and turned right.
Onboard Vistara A321neo
Delhi (DEL) – Hyderabad (HYD)
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
Departure: 2:33 PM
Duration: 2 Hours 14 minutes
Arrival: 4:47 PM
Aircraft Type: Airbus A321neo
Seat: 1A (Business)
Meal Service: Lunch
I took a quick walk around front to back to the front of the aircraft and grabbed some pictures of the cabin before people started filling up the plane.
Here is the economy cabin, along with Vistara’s mood lighting and a 29″ seat pitch. Each seat has a 4-way headrest, a 10″ IFE Screen and a USB port in every seat.
The Premium Economy cabin has a 33″ seat pitch, which is roomier than Economy, by about 20% per Vistara advertising. The same 10″ IFE screen sits here in the seat back as well, but apart from a USB port, everyone gets a 3-pin charging point in the seat as well, so it means those presentations which need a laptop to work on the plane won’t have to wait till after arrival.
Vistara A321neo Business Class
Here is the Vistara A321neo Business Class which is the top cabin on the aircraft. The Vistara A321neo Business Class is laid out in a 2-2 configuration, with a semi-private divider separating the two seats.
The seat, which is a modified version of the Collins Aerospace Diamond seat, is the same one as installed on the 76-seater A321neos of La Compagnie, the French airline which operates exclusively between France and the USA and has two A321neos in their fleet.
Here are some pictures of the cabin from various angles.
I was expecting a full cabin. However, I got an empty one, with just me and a deadheading pilot in an entire cabin of 12 seats. This was evident before the flight when I had checked the seat map. Still, I did not expect this to be the case last minute, especially given J class would be more comfortable, as well as more distant from other people, and hence a better option even for hygiene reasons.
Row 1 has a bigger foot cubby, in case someone prefers those. I am a Row 1 person when I can have it, so I had selected Seat 1A for my flight this afternoon.
While on the first row you stow your shoes under the cubby area, in the other rows, the construct is different, and you get a designated area under the seat in front of you to keep your shoes.
Not just that, you have more space to store your papers, books, etc. in a shelf under the monitor, a feature not available on seats in row 1.
The cabin crew lead, dressed in a full PPE and a mask and a face shield, came over to introduce herself and told me about the flight time on this flight. Water bottles were provided since during these times water can not be poured out and served to passengers. The FA also told me that I was the only passenger in the cabin today, so I could occupy whichever seat I would like.
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 the cabin came back pre-departure to check on me and also take my meal order. 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 my order.
The first thing to note about this new Business Class seat is the space it offers. This is obviously because there is no overarching “complete” privacy here such as doors and or shells, but only a small divider, which is firm and in place. I appreciated this very much.
The seat had enough space for your little book, passport, headphones and wires and a bottle of water, but I felt it was a bit inconveniently located. Not anyone’s fault perhaps, but maybe Collins Aerospace could have done this part better. If you notice, all of the ports are snuck up at the top left corner behind the shoulder area. This is not the best design in my book, as for most people, that would mean stretching their hand over their chest and turning behind to make sure they use the right sockets and so on. I am not sure how this slipped through a design process for an aircraft seat, on the road to compactness. However, this seems like a good compromise to make, on the road to having a more comfortable 6-hour flight with a flatbed rather than just a calf-rest.
The seat cubby is designed very well across the board, and I tested momentarily across all combinations. Seats in row 1 had bigger cubby, which I appreciated.
The seat had a lovely large tray table as well, which worked very well for work and play. It was sturdy, and not shaky like some of the other products on the market. Right above the tray table was a set of controls which could control the seat positions and set it between upright, lounger and sleep mode. These buttons also could be used to make your seat back firm or soft to your liking.
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 generally 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 on this plane.
We had a long taxi before being airborne. 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. My meal was 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. I unwrapped the meals myself. My meal had an Apple Walnut Salad, a Peri Peri Chicken with potatoes and vegetables and a Chocolate Cake for dessert. Again, 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.
Call it the revenge of the mask, but I misunderstood the meal description, and I thought it was the same serving as my last flight on Vistara, which had a delicious Chicken Tender with Jus served. The Peri Peri Chicken was nice, but it did not beat this one below from the earlier flight.
I removed the mask and dug into my meal. 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 through the flight on the seat next to me, which was empty. There are fewer maps on the A321neo version compared to the B787 version of the same software.
I selected one of the many movies on board to go with my lunch and after. While I had brought my 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. It turns out my headphones were out of charge, so I sheepishly requested for one after having turned them down earlier.
Vistara’s A321neo lavatories are, well, just the normal A320 family lavatories. One lav for twelve passengers and the cockpit crew. There is not much space to make anything special out of these, given the space constraints. Makes me wonder if the A321neo customers after the pandemic will ever get a pyjama kit or not because it will be tough to change into those in these lavs.
Vistara also has wifi operational on the A321neo aircraft, but it is only switched on when the plane is doing Dubai 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. However, here is the seat in the flatbed avatar. I am not sure how the headrest works when the seat is flat, but I expect it to be for the better, doubling up as a pillow in this case.
In the picture above, you’d also notice the small storage for my laptop. It seemed like the only place a computer would fit on this plane for me.
Arriving into Hyderabad
We landed in Hyderabad about 15 minutes before our scheduled time, and after a very short taxi, arrived at our gate. The deboarding process was very orderly, and at Hyderabad Airport, I could dispose of our face-shields in special disposal bins for PPE. The airport was eerily empty.
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 second time I flew Vistara since March 2020, and I 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.
The Vistara A321neo Business Class product is very lovely, and I am looking forward to trying this product out on a longer flight sometime soon, once full-service resumes, and the world begins to open up again. 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 DEL-HYD.
Have you flown the Vistara A321neo Business Class? What was your experience?
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