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.
— Ajay Awtaney (@LiveFromALounge) September 16, 2021
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.
So Vistara gave a small sandwich for lunch today. Isse Acha kuch dete hi nahi
— Baibhav Mishra (@mishra_baibhav) October 14, 2021
Shoutout to @airvistara for their incredible cost-cutting cum quality cutting effort. They have won and customers have lost. This in-flight complimentary meal, which probably cost Rs.30 to put together, does it for me. Shame on me for not bringing my own lunch 😣 pic.twitter.com/DQq7qd30AA
— Abhishek Agarwal (@Iam_IwillBe) October 14, 2021
Any day Indigo sandwich, the Vistara roll is tasteless and not of FSC standards and same with @vistara IFE content selection on their A321 seat backs 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
#vistara , May be you should allow a preordering of meals. Your cuisine of potato vegetable mishmash with breads and two cookies for every meal is a torture. May be get more imaginative employees for catering.
— RAJ TOBIN 🇮🇳 (@tobin_dr) October 2, 2021
Vistara under the pretext of covid guidelines use misleading word MEAL and fool the customers by providing SNACK, basically using UNFAIR TRADE PRACTICES, be clear tell customer that under covid guidelines only SNACK will b served be honest
— Moiz Safri (@SafriMoiz) September 29, 2021
Meal served during Vistara flight is ice cold @UK991.What is the point of serving such meal which goes as complete wastage.Covid protocol doesn't mean you cant serve warm edible meal.Sheer wastage of food..It certainly is Fly the new feeling. pic.twitter.com/GoPKJ8Gv3v
— SMS (@smsthegreat) September 24, 2021
Hey @airvistara – some feedback from a loyal pax. There has been significant cost-cutting in J meals post-covid (menus, raw juice, 4 options etc all gone), but yesterday’s Veg meal on #UK847 was a new low.
Please relook into some of your catering choices! pic.twitter.com/hShO4wdPau
— AJJaswal (@OntheRoadAJ) October 10, 2021
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.
Last time I flew with them on LHR-DEL, they refused to serve tea/coffe on a 10 hour flight. That was horrible. Tough everything else was good, meals and NO beverage was very bad.
— Navin Prakash (@radiantnavin) October 15, 2021
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.
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)
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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