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Watching an airline being born - Vistara Inaugural Flight in Premium Economy

Watching an airline being born - Vistara Inaugural Flight in Premium Economy

Old Jan 10, 15, 1:15 am
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Watching an airline being born - Vistara Inaugural Flight in Premium Economy

Background:
Aviation in India was pioneered by the Tata Group, more specifically by J.R.D. Tata. In 1932, the entrepreneur (who was also an avid aviator) himself flew the inaugural flight from Karachi to Bombay in their first aircraft which was a De Havilland Puss Moth.

By 1938, they had christened themselves as Tata Airlines and operated to Delhi, Colombo and Trivandrum from Bombay and also carrying cargo in addition to passengers.
Forward to 1953, six years after India’s independence and the Government of India had acquired a major stake in the airline, renaming it as Air India International.

In the meanwhile, Tata and Singapore Airlines (SIA) have always had friendly relations. Rumour has it that, when SIA branched out from the then Malayan Airways, their top executives were asked to benchmark the service standards of Air India, which was then in its glory days.
In 2000, Tata and SIA almost came back together again with the view of purchasing a 40% stake in Air India, but later backed out for undisclosed reasons.

Finally in 2013, the two companies with envious track records decided to finally launch an altogether new airline in India by themselves, with Tata Group owning 51% and SIA 49% of the JV. The name that was decided upon was Vistara, a Sanskrit word, meaning limitless expanse.


Product Information and Booking Process:
Vistara announced their inaugural route would be DEL – BOM and would be operated on January 9, 2015. Also, they claimed to pioneer Premium Economy for the first time in domestic Indian skies. Thus, all their domestic flights (operated exclusively in the near future by A320) will have 3 classes – Business, Premium Economy and Economy.

Business class has 42 inches seat pitch along with extendable leg rest, foot rest, and height-adjustable headrest with wings and is configured 2 x 2 in 4 rows (rows 1 to 4) for a total 16 seats. You also get printed menus, with 4 choices of food; typically 2 Western and 2 Indian dishes. You also get a pre-departure beverage (no alcohol on domestic flights in India) and meals are served on bone china with real cutlery.

Premium Economy has seat pitch ranging from 33-36 inches and gets a better cushioned seat than Economy, also with height-adjustable headrest with wings and is configured 3 x 3 in 6 rows (rows 5 to 9) for a total 36 seats. You get a choice of 3 dishes here and will be served a pre-departure packaged juice. You also get nice fluffy cushions.

Both Business and Premium Economy sections have their own curtains.

At the very back, Economy has 30 inches pitch and has slimline seats. There are 16 rows (rows 11-27 excl. 13) configured 3 x 3, adding up to 96 Y seats. You have a choice of 2 dishes here when it comes to food, but only water being offered prior to departure.

Interestingly, Vistara uses the IATA code UK. This struck me as kind of odd, why didn't a British airline, the likes of Easyjet get this code for themselves? Perhaps some of our members can shed some light.

They also have a Frequent Flyer Programme up already, dubbed Club Vistara. They are going revenue-oriented on the lines of Delta/United and points are awarded on the basis of the amount you have coughed up for the ticket (For the record, I hate this FF model). It has Base, Silver and Gold tiers. Silver gets higher baggage allowance, more points per INR spent and more tier points; while Gold gets all of the above, plus Lounge Access (both Vistara and partner lounges) for self and can check-in at Business Class counters.

About the booking, this was to be my first inaugural flight of any airline on any route, so understandably I was a little overwhelmed and tried refreshing their website every 15 minutes or so for a month. One morning, fellow Flyertalker A2A alerted me that the sale for the inaugural flight was live and I quickly snared the tickets for Premium Economy, wanting to see what differences they could bring to the Y product.

Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 3:51 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 1:16 am
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At the Airport:
Vistara operates out of the newer and far more modern Terminal 3 in New Delhi International Airport. It also operates out of the recently opened brand-new Terminal 2 at BOM at the other end.

We arrived at the airport at 10:15 am for the departure of 12:30 pm. On the day of the inaugural flight, DEL airport looked suitably excited with welcome signs for the airline.







This feeling was extended on the inside, where the check-in desks were decorated with flowers and all sorts of things.







Vistara had multiple desks open, including dedicated ones for Business, Premium Economy, Economy, Bag drop counter and even a Group Check-in counter. All of them had chocolates (maybe only for this flight) and smiling staff who were clearly as excited.



















The flight was totally full in all classes and we were checked in through in no time.
Met FT’er A2A in the departures hall, had a nice chat and then headed off to airside.









We passed through security check which was efficient but thorough. Funnily enough, the security guy stamping my boarding pass had never heard of Vistara and thought I had printed a fake boarding pass myself and was an impostor or something. It took the help of one of his colleagues to make him realise that this is indeed a real airline, starting from today.

At the gate, there was another reception area with some snacks and soft drinks on offer. The aircraft was already parked outside. VT-TTB would be operating our flight today, one of three A320s currently in their growing fleet.

Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 3:33 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 1:18 am
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Pictures from the Gate:






There she is!





Vistara Girls:




Nibbles at the Gate:









Boarding was announced at 11:50 am and was orderly, with Business Class and Club Vistara Gold members first, then Premium Economy and Club Vistara Silver followed by Economy by row numbers.

Upon boarding, we were warmly greeted by the Vistara girls dressed in the company’s purple and gold colours. Personalized Inaugural flight certificates were already placed in our respective seats. Win!


Business seats:







Premium Economy Cabin:




Brilliant! ^




Economy Cabin:


Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 1:41 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 1:19 am
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Legroom shot in Premium Economy:




Pitch is certainly good in Y+ and 6 footers next to me had no problems stretching their legs.

Strangely, no IFE is present in either class. Not that it’s a big requirement on basically 2-hour flights around India, but both direct competitors Air India and Jet Airways have them in all classes on their mainline aircraft. They can sure install it afterwards, but I was expecting it from the start.

We were offered hot towel service on the ground, followed by a packaged drink (mixed fruit juice). The towel was plenty thick, nice and wide and scented.







We were also given some fluffy cushions which were comfortable.




At 12:20 pm, the ground crew were ordered to deplane and the doors were shut.


Some shots of the ground and traffic at DEL:









Ground Crew at DEL gathered to watch:





Gate from where we departed:





The guys manning the aerobridge couldn't resist either:



Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 3:36 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 1:20 am
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The Flight:

Air Vistara Flight 890
New Delhi Int’l T3 – Mumbai Int’l T2
ETD: 12:30 pm
ATD: 12:32 pm
ETA: 02:30 pm
ATA: 02:47 pm

Before pushback, the captain came on the PA and welcomed us “on this very special inaugural flight”. He spent a few more minutes detailing our route, the weather conditions and our cruising altitude (FL 360).

While he carried out his pre-flight checks, the crew were doing a manual safety demo.





The taxi to the runway was fairly short by DEL standards and we turned on to Runway 27 in 10 minutes.


Rest of the Vistara birds in a very foggy DEL afternoon:




Turning onto Runway 27:




The engines were spooled up and Vistara’s first flight was airborne 30 seconds later, to thunderous applause from all in the cabin. It felt like a major party atmosphere aboard, with many of the company officials including Vistara’s CEO himself doing the rounds and asking people how they felt about their product.




Shortly after we reached 10000 feet, the seatbelt sign was switched off and the captain came on to the speaker again to ask us to just relax and enjoy the service on-board. The flight attendants sprang into action and partitioned off Business from Y+ and Y+ from Y with curtains.


The food trolley was rolled around shortly thereafter and we were addressed by names and told the choices (no printed menus for Y+). At least they didn’t ask the usual “Veg or Non-Veg” question as is the case in Indian domestic sectors.
The choices were:
• Prawn and Leek Pie
• Vegetable Biryani
• Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni
All were served with a side salad, a small bread roll and a dessert plus a slab of milk chocolate. Plastic cutlery was provided.

The meals were served on a tray together with packaged water. We were also offered a soft drink to go with it.





The side salad was fresh, though in some need of a dressing to go with it. It felt dry without it.





My main course, the Spinach and Cheese Cannelloni with red and yellow peppers was a winner. Served piping hot with a substantial portion, I’d have paid for it in a decent Italian restaurant (minus the presentation of course).




The dessert was some sort of orange flavoured pastry with fruits and custard. It was also very nice.




I opted for an orange juice to go with it and this was served in a plastic glass bearing the company logo.




After the meal, we were offered tea or coffee and also handed out branded ice-cream tubs which I thought was quite nice.



I was sat near an Airbus Executive who was invited on this inaugural flight and we both agreed that they had certainly fed us very well.

Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 3:16 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 1:20 am
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The service in Y+ was more in line with what I receive in domestic Business and way ahead of other carriers in Y. There were 2 dedicated attendants for this cabin and they couldn’t have been friendlier. They offered to hang our coats before boarding (in Y+ !) and nothing was too much for them. All this done with a genuine smile and not “pretend to smile till your cheeks hurt” smile encountered more often.





At this point, about an hour and half into the flight, the captain came on to the speaker again and explained us that we had made good time due to tailwinds but BOM was having its primary runway being inspected for 15 minutes so we’d be put in a holding pattern for a while and that we were 6th in line for landing after the runway opened again. He joked that we had more than enough fuel to circle for hours overhead so they can take their own sweet time.

Some pictures from the cabin while we were holding:


Inflight Magazine




Coffee cup





Coat Hook:





On Final Approach at BOM:






Upon landing in BOM, we were led from the taxiways by a BOM ground vehicle to the new Terminal 2, which was solely used for International Operations till this point.


We taxied past a UPS 747-400 cargo..





then some AI birds including 747s and a 777..





..and managed to spot the only 747-SP in Iran Air’s fleet, EP-IAC, hidden behind an Emirates 777






And came on to this bunch ready to throw some water on us.
Wahey !




Upon deplaning amongst much fanfare, we were given a goodies bag containing a small thermos flask and a Power Bank charging solution. We entered in an absolutely beautiful Terminal 2 at BOM which was completely deserted at this point. Our checked bags were already on the carousel and we were outside the terminal within 5 minutes.

Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 4:41 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 3:03 am
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Parting Words:

Vistara certainly has the credentials to succeed in the terribly cut-throat Indian Aviation market. Both their parent companies have set service standards throughout the years and are two of the best around.

I recognize that this flight was a one-off and this level of excitement is going to be hard to be replicated again, but if they can keep their service standards like this on all their flights, they have a winner on their hands.

Currenly, domestic Business product in India often sells for 3-4 times the price of discounted Economy. Vistara thinks that there exists a niche between these classes and the cost-conscious Indians would pay a bit more to get differentiated service and a more comfortable journey than Cattle Class.

Based on my experience and those of others in Coach, they certainly have differentiated the Premium Economy enough for people to acknowledge it and even consider paying a bit more for it, when otherwise they’d have never even looked at Business fares. The seats are certainly more comfortable, have a larger recline without the passenger behind you bumping their knees, the food options are a notch above what everyone else serves and at par with some domestic J products and the crew is exceptional.

The cons currently include a lack of any IFE; which could be rectified quite easily if and when they decide to do it. However, Business (and even Premium Economy) passengers will expect them from the get-go and as & when Vistara starts short-haul International flights, this would be an expectation even in Coach.


If they grow while keeping this level of attention to detail, I have no doubt that we will see another airline from India entering the Star Alliance within next 5 years or so, given the SIA parentage. ^

Last edited by deovrat; Jan 10, 15 at 6:46 am
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Old Jan 10, 15, 4:08 am
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Very nice report on a new airline-I've always wanted to do some type of inaugural ^
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Old Jan 10, 15, 4:12 am
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Originally Posted by steveman518 View Post
Very nice report on a new airline-I've always wanted to do some type of inaugural ^
Thanks so much

This was my first inaugural of any kind, let alone a new airline altogether and it sure was worth the wait! Make sure you grab the opportunity when it passes by next time ^
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Old Jan 10, 15, 4:25 am
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Great report. It really is quite an exciting time in Indian aviation with Vistara stepping in. I would like to see how they fare (sorry for the pun) over the next couple years in a very very cost conscious Indian flying market.

Coming back to the report, the product looks excellent and I absolutely love the livery.
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Old Jan 10, 15, 4:31 am
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Originally Posted by avneeshj View Post
Great report. It really is quite an exciting time in Indian aviation with Vistara stepping in. I would like to see how they fare (sorry for the pun) over the next couple years in a very very cost conscious Indian flying market.

Coming back to the report, the product looks excellent and I absolutely love the livery.
Thanks for reading

Agree about the fare comment, I think they can certainly fill the void left by Kingfisher while maintaining a lean operation. IMO both Tata & SQ have too much expertise (and pride) to go the Kingfisher way.

I love the livery too by the way ! :-:
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Old Jan 10, 15, 11:43 am
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this is exciting! hopefully they are around when I plan my trip to india in 3 years :P
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Old Jan 10, 15, 8:04 pm
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Club Vistara Gold members? On the inaugural flight? Right...
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Old Jan 10, 15, 11:10 pm
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Originally Posted by thetravelingRedhead View Post
this is exciting! hopefully they are around when I plan my trip to india in 3 years :P
Ha! I sure hope so
I've heard that they run a very lean operation in the background, with no extra frills for the employees and very tight contracts; so management-wise they look sorted.

Originally Posted by BuildingMyBento View Post
Club Vistara Gold members? On the inaugural flight? Right...
Exactly my thoughts upon seeing that placard! @:-)
At least they've got them and intend to use them as and when they get those members.
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Old Jan 11, 15, 4:28 am
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Originally Posted by BuildingMyBento View Post
Club Vistara Gold members? On the inaugural flight? Right...
Perhaps they did some status matching? I think it would be wise for a new airline to encourage competitors FF's to try out their product.
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