As a product almost of the millennial generation, growing up, I’d never imagined that I would see so many airlines open shop and grow during my lifetime. I mean, back in the day there was just Indian Airlines, which had the privilege of flying me for the first time on an infant ticket when I was a few weeks old, and there was Air India.
So, it gives me great pleasure to see and observe some airlines from close quarters, one of them being Vistara, which came up 5 years ago. You have to give it to the Tata Group for backing the opening of a full-service airline when the dominant mood of the Indian passenger was shifting towards Economy value products, which allowed an airline such as IndiGo to become almost 50% of the Indian domestic industry. But full-service carriers have their place in the industry too, and Vistara is trying to capture as much of that space that opened up after the shut down at Jet Airways.
Having flown the first flight of Vistara domestically back in 2015, it was a done deal that I was going to fly them internationally as well on the first flight. Finally, the airline announced international operations in July 2019, and the first international flight was operated between Delhi and Singapore yesterday, on which I flew.
For various reasons, Vistara decided to fly the Boeing 737 they acquired recently for the flights to Singapore. One reason is that the A320/Neo in the current fleet of Vistara did not have the ability to operate the 5.5 hour flight to Singapore from Delhi. Lucky for them that they had four aircraft out of the 8 they currently have in their fleet which can fly all the way to Singapore. On the other international sectors being launched later this month, Vistara will be flying their 3-class A320neo aircraft which will allow passengers to also experience the premium economy product of Vistara. But the 737 aircraft are a temporary arrangement, till the airline receives its A320s with the higher gross weight to be able to fly this route. Or for that matter, their A321neos which will perfectly fit the bill for this long flight in terms of creativity on the product as well as the number of passengers.
Coming to this flight now, I arrived at the airport in good time to make it for the first flight, in spite of Delhi’s traffic and rains coming my way. At the airport, Vistara had isolated the whole of the first aisle, like they did many years ago, for exclusive check-in bays on their first flight. The whole bay was decked up and they had standees as well, informing people about the launch of their international operations.
At the check-in counter, I was asked for my passport, visa and ticket, and my boarding pass was issued. I had already checked in for the flight a couple of days ago, but was beaten to sequence one by someone else. After a few clicks on the keyboard, Air India SATS, which handles ground operations for Vistara at Delhi Airport, was able to provide me with my boarding pass, along with an invitation to the ITC Green Lounge, which is located at the Terminal 3 international side, in a special jacket to commemorate the launch of the new flights.
At the general concourse, there were festivities planned. There was a set of speeches by Vistara CEO Leslie Thng, the High Commissioner of Singapore to India Lim Thuan Kuan and the COO of the Delhi Airport Douglas Webster. Subsequently, they felicitated the first passenger of the flight, Rishi Kocchar, who is a long time reader of our site.
After that, there was a cake cutting ceremony as well.
After all the activities, I proceeded towards immigration and security check. On the other side, instead of heading to the ITC Lounge, I headed to the gate, where a lot of activities were planned before the flight started to board. The general concourse saw a song and dance performance by Vistara crew and ground crew.
Subsequently there was a ribbon cutting, and then boarding was announced.
Pre-boarding was done for passengers boarding on wheelchairs and for passengers who had infants with them. Subsequently there was a buildup of all the passengers at the gate, not realising that Vistara boarded by zones and they had to be told to back off and make way for the business class passengers and passengers with status.
What sort of caught me by surprise was a secondary passport and visa check at the gate, again. Most airlines would put a security sticker on the passport to indicate that all was okay, and perhaps this is a step Vistara needs to fix in their process flow going forward.
Vistara was giving away gifts to all passengers on board, and I collected my goodie bag before heading forward to the aircraft.
Here is a bit grainy picture of the aircraft I could catch in the middle of the night. The aircraft for the inaugural flight from Delhi to Singapore was VT-TGD, one of the first Vistara 737s to get a full paint job, including the belly.
Delhi (DEL) – Singapore (SIN)
Tuesday, August 6, 2019
Departure: 11:40 PM
Duration: 4 Hours
Arrival: 08:04 AM
Aircraft Type: Boeing 737-800
Seat: 2A (Business)
Meal Service: Dinner
The 737 fleet of Vistara has 12 seats in Business Class and 156 seats in economy. One of the first things I noticed was the upholstery which was done up in line with the Vistara colour combination on the A320neos. Here is a picture of the aircraft while it was being prepared for this flight, via an Air Vistara associate.
Here is a picture of the same cabin when ready. I was seated on 2A on this particular flight. On my seat, there was a blanket placed. Like you can see, the seat already shows some wear and tear from earlier days.
Like you can see in the picture above, the seats have a small space for storing personal stuff such as spectacles, earphones and other knick knacks. It also has a footrest. On my seat was placed the certificate for having flown Vistara’s first international flight on August 6, 2019.
The seatback had the usual stuff such as the inflight magazine and a bottle of water placed for us. On the aircraft, once I boarded, I placed my bag in the overhead locker, and headed to my seat. I handed over my coat to the cabin crew for placement in the locker.
Then, I waited for something, anything, to happen for a while. The aircraft almost was full in the back of the bus, so for a while there were passengers heading to the back, not allowing for the commencement of service in the front. The front cabin was full 11/12, including two pilots who were deadheading to operate the flight on Thursday with us and the CEO, Leslie Thng.
Finally, after most of those passengers had passed by, about half an hour later, a member of the cabin crew started the cabin service. They first brought out the welcome drinks, which included water, orange juice and another juice flavour. I went with the water.
Alongside, the crew distributed Dinner menus along with the wine list. Here is a look at the menu on offer for dinner this evening. While a dinner at midnight is too late perhaps, but Jet Airways used to, and Singapore Airlines still does operate a flight at the same time from Mumbai, and have for the longest time offered the same meal choice. The menu looked sumptuous, and for those who would have felt peckish and wanted a light bite, there was also an option there for the sandwich included.
In terms of the drinks menu, it was a short but sturdy menu for the sector in play, and I’d expect Vistara to roll out the same drinks menu on their other regional flights as well. There were two white wine choices and two red wines, along with some top shelf liquor and cocktails, including a variant of their signature blue cocktail on the domestic flights. What I missed was a choice of champagne on this flight.
Right after this, we were offered towel service, with real towels being handed out and not those disposable towels that many an American airline use, drenched with lots of water from the hot water kettle. There was a choice offered for hot and cold towels right before departure. As the plane was being prepared for departure, the crew discovered that the shutter of the jacket closet had gone inoperational, and they moved the jackets of everyone into the overhead bins.
A word about the crew here. The entire crew serving business class, was very polite, and very patient to the entire business class cabin as well as from what I could see, to the economy passengers as well. That has been always Vistara’s USP and I hope they are able to embed the right culture DNA in their crew as they grow explosively now. There were three very senior passengers in the cabin, and each of their queries were answered patiently by the cabin crew, and also helped out by the crew, be it in terms of queries about forms to be filled, or help with putting on the seat belt for these passengers.
We taxied out a few minutes before time and took off on time from Delhi. Right after the departure climb, the crew got back to work immediately, first bringing out the reading material. They’d sourced the Strait Times as well, which is impressive given this was their first flight on the route. The rest of the reading material was all Indian.
In the goodie bag that Vistara handed out to everyone, there was an amenity kit, sort of, containing eyeshades, compression socks and earplugs. I did not realise, and most passengers did not in the J cabin, so as people asked for some eyeshades or ear compression socks and so on, they were provided to them.
Next, they brought out the landing cards, along with pens in silverware for everyone in business class, and handed them out one by one. I am told they wanted to do this pre-flight, but with the extra footfalls on the plane, could not do this before take off. So on most days you should have a form before you are in the air.
The Vistara Boeing 737 seats looked fine to me for the short flight to Singapore, with 44″ legroom and the massive recline on these seats is very comfortable for sleeping. However, they pose the usual problem, of how does a window seat occupant get out to use the lavatory and so on? For instance, my co-passenger almost hopped on top of the seat because row 1 had fully reclined after take off and I wanted to get to the lavatory. In the eventual Vistara product on this route, I hope they fix this problem for good.
The lavatory was a bit of a surprise for me given the premium positioning for Vistara. Given the stage length of this route, no carrier has given out amenity kits on this segment (SQ anyways never does). So, in that case, there should have been a bunch of things placed in the lavatory, which would include moisturiser and mouthwash to say the least. But nothing to see here!
Service, really started about 45 minutes after take-off on this flight. That is when the cabin supervisor Deepika made her way, introduced herself and apologised profoundly for not having come around and introduced herself before take-off. She went on to ask me if I wanted to dine, and asked me about what would I like to drink before I dined. I went with the Vistara Blue, wanting to try out the signature cocktail, and the Indian non-vegetarian meal option.
Soon, the drinks started to roll out for everyone, and I was served my Vistara Blue cocktail with a nice ramekin of warm nuts. It was pretty good I have to say.
Next up, my meal was brought out, all on one tray, just as Vistara serves on the domestic segments. This is something where I would give Vistara the benefit of doubt for now, but they need to ace the timing going forward, given the meal was served at roughly 1:45 hours in the flight. I know it takes time to heat the meals and simultaneously complete the beverage service, but perhaps Vistara could introduce some sort of an express option as well.
Coming back to the meal. It was plated beautifully, and it was very good portion for dinner. I went with the Insalata Caprese for salads and with the choice of Masala Mutton Seekh for my main course, and these were brought out with a side of Palak Corn and some raita. The bread basket was brought out immediately as well, which had stuffed and Laccha paranthas and many kind of bread rolls.
I also requested to be served the Sauvignon Blanc, which was served immediately as well. The meal was very delicious and served at the right temperature. With the wine, I was first allowed to taste it and then served a larger serving.
After I finished up the meal, Deepika came back to enquire about the food, and take feedback on the wine as well. After collecting the tray, she went back to immediately return with the dessert of my choice, which was the Baked Shahi Tukda.
It was an excellent meal overall, and it was time to retire for the night.
VT-TGD seems to be the first 737 aircraft on the fleet of Vistara which was fitted out with the IFE VistaraWorld. This meant there was the option of watching a movie or the moving map on the plane. However, Vistara could do a better job of notifying people about the provision of IFE on the flight. Fortunately for me I had my iPad along and I could surf the content. I’d brought along some downloaded content of my own for the plane after all.
While the content was enough for this segment, and had some great movies to watch for me, the moving map was not working. I went with watching Deadpool 2, which was a movie I had not seen before. Here are some screenshots.
By the time dining was done, it was a couple of hours down out of the 5.5 hours on this flight. The cabin was lit up through this period and even when I tried to sleep, I couldn’t. I somehow feel very claustrophobic with the eye shades so I usually try not to wear them. So once the cabin was dimmed, I was able to doze off.
When I woke up next, we were about fifty minutes out of Singapore, and the cabin crew checked in with me if I wanted a tea or a coffee service. I requested for a coffee, and I was brought one very quickly. There was another towel service that followed before arrival.
We touched down at Changi about fifteen minutes before the scheduled arrival time, and parked next to mothership, the A380 aircraft of Singapore Airlines.
Once the doors opened and headed out of the aircraft, on our way out, we were handed out some chocolates by way of the catering company SATS which caters for Vistara out of Delhi as well.
Here is a shot of the aircraft after arrival parked at the gate.
At the arrivals, there was another little ceremony to commemorate Vistara’s arrival in Singapore for the first time.
On an overall basis, Vistara came through with these flights in record time, from receiving the aircraft, then the permissions and slots, and we have to factor this into the scheme of things before pronouncing any sort of “verdict” on Vistara’s international operations. Given the situation they were in, and with slots being a use it or lose it game, Vistara took the right call starting out operations with the best equipment they had for the current moment. Vistara isn’t hiding behind anything, but openly stating that they will replace with even better equipment as soon as they start receiving deliveries. Whether it will be the A320neo with the higher gross weight or will it be the A321neo, they don’t say.
The A321neo aircraft of Vistara are also much in discussion these days, and they have been primed up for regional routes, and not domestic flights as per the CEO who sat down with me today. He won’t say everything, but seatback entertainment and wifi are a given it seems on the new aircraft when they arrive. Vistara might just pull a rabbit out of the hat to emulate the JetBlue Mint cabin or FlyDubai’s 737MAX Business Class cabin as well, that is a strong feeling I have. We will see.
For the moment though, Vistara has a good start, but there are some rough edges waiting to be smoothened out. So let’s hope in a few days those would be ironed out, such as the lavatory, quicker service and other such small things. What Vistara lacks in terms of a flatbed product, it compensates on the price point. For instance, Vistara’s Delhi – Singapore roundtrip is going for INR 70K on most days, while Air India’s 787 service is selling at a 50% premium to this price, and Singapore Airlines, which has the best product on this route, is going for a solid 75% premium on most dates in the next few months. When you put it all in context, the flatbed looks not so interesting as long as you are able to make it to your destination in almost half the price. This was evident with the entire economy and business class flight being booked, and even on the return, where the flight was at 90% load on day one.
Vistara’s service continues to be top notch on this segment, and the unobtrusive but yet pleasant and professional service would match up the mothership on this route.
I’ll be flying the Economy Class product in the coming days, and report back on how the experience will be in the back of the bus as well shortly. Also, sooner than later I will try and review the Premium Economy international experience of Vistara as well!
What are your thoughts on Vistara to Singapore? Are you booked to fly Vistara international anytime soon?