Whatever happened to Vistara’s Premium Meal Service?

Given the Covid-19 pandemic, airlines have had ‘curtailed’ meal services for a while. In India, airlines were barred from serving any meals on all flights for a long while, practically making zero differentiation possible between “full-service” and “no-frills” flights. Little was known about Covid-19, the rules were made as they were, especially to keep people from touching things around and removing their masks.

However, these requirements were relaxed later on, and airlines were allowed to offer meal service on domestic flights. For no-frill carriers, this meant they could start to provide meals for sale, and for full-service airlines, they could offer a meal.

Here is what the DGCA permitted as of August 2020 (read our article for details):

The DGCA, with the second wave permitted meal service on planes, however, only for flights with a block time of more than 2 hours. The rule was implemented on April 15, 2021, and while the second wave has ebbed, the rule continues to live, six months hence, as I write this post.

Various airlines have interpreted this differently, and this is where the problems for customers begun, especially those on Vistara, who expect their famed dining on which Vistara built their brand.

When Vistara launched, it promised three meal options in J, three meal options in PEY and two meal options in Y.

That was in 2015, and as I flew their first flight on economy, I was impressed with this Prawn and Leek Pie they served in Economy Class.

At that time, Vistara promised to change their meals every week so that regulars on their planes do not get the same meal served repeatedly.

As time passes by, however, the reality of operating in India hits. The luxurious options were gone, and we were over to regular meals, such as a carb + protein combination served up on the plane. And since the Corona Virus hit, there has been a race to the bottom with Vistara’s meal service. Vistara had unveiled a new meal service protocol in 2020, where they listed that meals were going to be cut down from four to two in J Class. In many cases, meals were already replaced with “refreshments” pre-pandemic itself.

Admittedly, every meal is a snack, so that those flying economy with Vistara, can either consume it on the plane or take it home so that they so desire.

Here is my “snack” box in economy on April 5, 2021, on a Delhi – Mumbai flight at 7:30 PM, a dinner service flight with Vistara. It was even more tasteless than it looked.

On Vistara, ever since, I’ve largely flown Premium Economy and Business class. The meals there have been a mixed bag.

For instance, Vistara’s Mumbai – Delhi flight in Premium Economy on June 3, 2021, served up this delicious hot meal at 12:30 PM, which is a lunch flight. Vistara had brought back hot meals in Premium Economy in February 2021.

On July 30, 2021, I flew Delhi – Goa on Vistara in Business Class, and I was served a snack on the plane with a flight of 2:30 hours in length.

Here it was, unwrapped. As I wrote, this had to be one of the most forgettable meals of my air travel life.

On a Vistara Mumbai – Delhi flight operating at about 5:30 PM,  I again got served a snack, but this time around, it was much better than everything I saw over the past few months and in line with the meal timings.

While I’ve been pretty amused with the choices that the airline has made, with an extended baggage allowance for elites, which I sometimes need, I’d continue to fly them. However, I expect Vistara to be better than the other guys, and hence, it is shocking to see them serve this on an 11:55 AM departure out of Mumbai, a flight I booked last minute for next-day departure.

Yet again, just last weekend, on Sunday, I found myself on a Vistara airplane, flying between Delhi and Mumbai on what was a ticket booked 12 hours ago or less. Here is the snack, proudly served on Vistara. You have to realise that with crowds being how they are at airports these days, and with me leaving home for two weeks literally at the drop of a hat, I’d be less worried about eating well before leaving home and would like to be served a decent meal on the plane. This one was just a baked piece of dough, which gave me heartburn through the evening.  Not to mention the eye-watering prices paid for this last-minute economy class ticket.

But it is not just me who is surprised, angry or disappointed in Vistara for having chosen to cut down on meals on their planes.

And these meal cutbacks have not just been rolled out on domestic sectors, but international passengers have been complaining too! Here is a customer of Vistara’s Business Class between Frankfurt and Delhi recently narrating their meal service.

Here is another one, in my DMs. They are serving Fratelli for wine in international business class. Ouch! I mean look, I love Fratelli on the ground, but in the air, a specialised selection is in order.

And I am surprised to find out that they don’t bother serving hot beverages on 10 hour long routes as well, which other airlines are happily doing, as many times as you’d like.

I heard lately from my sources that Vistara had started trials of meals to return them to Economy cabin, so I reached out to Vistara to find out about their plans to return to a full-meal service. I received a response which perhaps every customer received anyways on Twitter and did not even try to answer my question.

As per a Vistara spokesperson,

As per the guidelines issued by the Civil Aviation Ministry, all Vistara flights above 120min offer meals to passengers, in all three cabin classes. Given the higher number of customers travelling in Economy Class, to minimise interaction between the crew and customers we only offer vegetarian meal. However, we keep reviewing the offerings, including the menu from time-to-time to suit the customers’ tastes and requirements. For instance, we had received feedback from customers who did not wish to consume the meals onboard due to the fear of contracting the virus, hence the meals are offered in boxes that allow customers the flexibility to carry it along for later consumption. Customers are at the core of everything we do at Vistara and we also ensure that we fully comply with the guidelines of the relevant authorities.
Now, I know all sorts of airlines had their own demons to fight when the pandemic came around, and Vistara wasn’t the only one working with their hands tied. For instance, while British Airways was serving up dry boxed meals for a while, they returned to full meals as early as they could.
Even SpiceJet served a better hot meal in the economy cabin for those who chose to buy it than Vistara. For example, this hot breakfast was served on a Gorakhpur – Mumbai flight, which was included, as a part of a corporate ticket in June 2021.

And this one was on the Mumbai – Gorakhpur flight, the vegetarian option, served on Mumbai – Gorakhpur in July 2021.

Heck, SpiceJet even had some great sandwiches on board for those who wanted to grab a sandwich.

Even IndiGo’s sandwiches have been top-notch, the few times I’ve flown them recently. The fan following of IndiGo’s sandwiches of course goes way back in time. And I’d like to circle back to 2019, when Jet Airways, fell by hard times, had launched a buy your meal concept in Economy for everyone, even there, the sandwiches were better.

There are only two reasons why Vistara could be replacing almost all meals with snacks/refreshments. Vistara, in its mind, only looks at competition coming from Air India, which will soon be a sister airline. Or, these are the signs of cutbacks that are built to last. Vistara is taking a very short term view with its 6-8% market share, thinking that they can get away with serving bad food, which, anyways, is a vicious circle since they’d lose loyal customers to other airlines in the process.

Vistara’s website has not even be updated for the meal service and shares the full meal service, which is long gone. The important detail that Vistara only serves a snack has been conveniently hidden from customers under a maybe headlining the page. So, for those who might be flying on Vistara for the first time, they might look at this page and expect a full meal.

Unfortunately, Vistara seems to be following the US Legacy Airlines into this myth that they need to serve something to justify their premiums. If Vistara can’t afford it, I’d rather they also go the buy your own meal experience rather than make people suffer through these brick-hard rolls. (Update: Vistara has restored domestic meal service in Economy on October 21, 2021)

Bottomline

Due to Covid-19, Vistara has stopped serving proper meals on their flights, replacing most of their meals with snacks or refreshments. This could be temporary, or perhaps even a permanent move as Vistara undergoes a cost-cutting exercise. So, if possible for you, it is advisable to eat at home, or the airport, when flying Vistara if you are starving.

What has been your experience recently flying in India? Bought a full meal or just received a cold sandwich?


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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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Comments

  1. I flew Mumbai to Bangalore in December 2019 ( prepandemic)

    It was my first time with vistara and had seen few videos on the food they served.

    Unfortunately when it came to my flight I was in the second last row.

    The flight attendants were more interested in selling meals than serving me who had already booked one.
    And when it came it was just a puff

  2. I have travelled earlier with Vistara five times and the meal was always nothing to complain about. I traveled from Chennai to Delhi on 18th October and the journey commenced at 10.50 am , ending at 1.30 pm. A cold sandwich was given as lunch, unlike all my earlier experiences with Vistara. Was disappointing.

  3. Vistara is simply Shitara. A airlines which has unnecessarily gained fame due to swanky tata backing. Singapore airlines CEO would not even piss in vistara that’s the joint collaboration between them. Fly some other airline & enjoy.
    Once vistara kept us waiting overnight just because we were 2mins late, unbelievable, isn’t it. Later I tore their leather seat as I thought it would be improper to take their part of treatment and not give my own. Vistara seat reallocation Rs 2000/-
    Vistara seat repairs = replace the whole seat.
    Enjoyment & satisfaction = priceless.

  4. We booked evening flight from Ranchi to Delhi but they cancelled twice 2 days continuously and put us morning flight, each time telling us vistara flight not cancelled… People pay more n prefer vistara for food… And top twice cancelling, they didn’t provide food also nor make it available anything for people to buy onboard… So we reached destination with empty stomach…

  5. Flew Bangalore to Mumbai by Vistara on 23rd August. This post is not about food because we weren’t served food. I was really very disappointed with the behaviour of one of the crew members who constantly was after me to keep my small size handbag below the seat. When I pointed to other passengers holding similar size handbags, she was plain rude. I never expected such behaviour from Tata’s employees…..I would never like to fly Vistara ever again.

  6. Vistara Premium economy class, food has gone to dogs, it is worst than IRCTC shatabdi train. And also crews, doesn’t have manners. They do not have professionalism.

  7. Grow up people. Flight isn’t about food. If you crib much than buy your own food from the airport and travel. There are people who don’t get to eat in days and these brats have the courage to criticise and crib for the food they get for free.

    • Are you the stupidest person of all time? Food is not free. It is part of the premium paid for the airline. Also you should get what you are promised. If you are so concerned about the rest of the world do you live in a small but on a stone mattress and donate 95% of your money to charity? Don’t give your fake childish morality here you absolute imbecile.

  8. Very apt and true. I have given same feedback to Vistara after every flight recently. But no response nor improvement. They must stop doling out such lousy food ! It is like an insult to passengers!! Better not serve anything but water and sell as per their Auburgine menu!

  9. Wish Jet airways and Jet privilege existed along with Kingfisher and King club which were real 5 star service players in India.

    Miss the above carriers which were pride of the Nation .

    Hope Southeast Asian and Southwest Asian carriers break the present monopoly in Indian aviation soon on International sectors.

    A post on different types of seats offered on various aircraft types in India (including Slimline seats on Vistara ) is requested.

    God bless LFAL team for highlighting these issues and making us aware to plan our future trips accordingly.

  10. Horrible customer care this morning. Trying from 5 am to find out whether a pax needs RT PCR test report pre-boarding took one hour to get an answer by a sleepy executive ..what repeated 25 times a pre-recorded message that vistara cares for customers..my foot!

  11. Wishing team Vistara abundant success on their corporate team acquiring Air India hopefully they would improve their offerings

    • Given the credentials Vistara has acquired offlate, there may not be much difference between Vistara adopting Air India culture or getting Air India adopt the Vistara culture!!

  12. It feels real disgusting to even comment on this very relevant issue.
    After flying many foreign and domestic airlines…..the meal policy of Vistara is appaling to say the least.
    No one likes to bite on a cold sandwich seated in an AC environment in the cabin..more so after undergoing the gruelling procedures in the ground on security etc and a long wait..maybe with some delays thrown in…!
    I shall never ever fly Vistara unless their food policy on board gets drastically revised…and made known to public.
    They have lost a loyal few passengers like me/us..for good.

  13. I had travelled on Business class in August BLR-IXC. First of all they said that non veg meal option was over (with only 3 people in J class) , one of the passengers over heard and offered to take the veg option so that I can have the non veg meal. Meal was decent enough equivalent to premium economy meals. Coffee and tea both were terrible.

    While returning on the same route, we travelled Premium Economy, the meal was worse than economy pre pandemic. They refused to serve soft drinks, tea and coffee citing covid rules. I don’t get it, what’s the difference between premium economy and economy? Why can beverages be served in Business and not in Premium like promised? Covid cannot be the excuse for poor service.

  14. Hey Ajay,

    I had travelled back to my hometown Mumbai back in January 2021 on Vistara on the BLR-BOM route.

    It was an early morning flight and in economy class, for breakfast a vegetarian roll was provided. No Coffee / Tea in addition.

    Now previously on this sector, I have also travelled on Air India aswell and pre-covid they always used to give a full breakfast consisting of either idli / medu vada sambhar or upma along with coffee and bread rolls in Y class.

    Not sure how it is currently for flights less than 2 hours.

    But I also happened to travel on Air India from Kolkata to Bengaluru in January 2021 Y class during the afternoon which is around 2 hours 50 mins or so and on this occasion a full lunch was provided.

    So it is very surprising to read about how Vistara has been cutting corners when it comes to the meal service.

  15. I got a stupid aloo roll in Premium Economy for DEL-GOA. Since I am Silver now I could not upgrade the flight but as you said its variable.

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