When it unveiled brand Vistara last August, Tata Singapore Airlines announced it would offer personalised service to its customers. That had sounded all-too-familiar then, but going by the experience on the debut day, the airline did walk the talk.
UK 890, Vistara’s maiden flight with 148 passengers on the Delhi-Mumbai route on Friday afternoon also carried top executives of both joint venture partners. Though Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus of Tata Sons who was supposed to travel on the inaugural flight, gave it a skip, Tata Group chairman Cyrus Mistry was there to receive the first few passengers on the Vistara Airbus A320 aircraft on its arrival in Mumbai.
While Vistara is the first domestic airline to introduce premium economy seating in India it is also focusing on improving the on-ground experience of all its passengers.
Initiatives include an automated check in system. Passengers will receive boarding via email few hours before departure and need not have to do a web check in.
The other feature being implemented by the airline is carrying out sequential boarding of passengers. This practice is followed by some of the international airlines. Passengers of the last rows in economy class will board first followed by those in the rows in front. This would make it easy for passengers to get to their seats and avoid crowding.
Vistara will also be installing an inflight entertainment system in its aircraft. Its current fleet of three Airbus planes is not fitted with them. It plans to have 9-10 planes by December-end. From Saturday, Vistara will also connect Ahmedabad from Delhi and Mumbai, apart from operating on the Delhi-Mumbai sector
“It was a pleasing experience. The check in experience depends upon the person behind the counter. What makes the difference is when passengers are valued right from check-in to boarding and do not feel dismissed,” said Shanti Padmanabhan who was travelling to Rajkot via Mumbai. “We wish that Vistara can offer through baggage check in for passengers flying onward on routes not served by them,” she said.
The first day flight was glitch free and had a ceremonial colour. A few minor complaints pertained to difficulty in getting boarding pass through automated check in system. The airline is also strict in asking for government-issued ID cards (passport, driving licence etc) though other airlines do not necessarily insist on government documents during check-in.
Minister of state for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma cut the ribbon at the departure gate in the presence of executives from the airline and Delhi airport. G M Rao, chairman of GMR group which runs the Delhi airport was present on the occasion.
The event had some lighter moments, too. Underlying the significance of the occasion, Vistara chairman Prasad Menon remarked that the alliance between Tatas and Singapore Airline was like a marriage. Sharma, who also recited Ganesh shlokas, on the occasion said that divorces are not common in India to which Vistara CEO Phee Teik Yeoh said that this marriage will not break.
The first flight took off at 12.51 p.m with Capt Mandesh Singh in command. Passengers including 12 children from an NGO clapped as it soared into air and each passenger on the launch flight received a signed thank you note from the airline management. The airline’s CEO and chairman went around the aircraft checking if the service had met the expectation.
The aircraft has 16 business class seats with 40-inch seat pitch and passengers had a choice of two non-vegetarian and one vegetarian dishes along with a variety of teas, coffee, soup and dessert.
Premium economy which is being introduced for the first time amongst domestic airlines offers better leg room than the economy class with a 33 inch seat pitch and a choice of two veg and one non veg dish apart from soft drinks and juices.
Vistara cabin crew are following the Singapore Airlines practice of addressing each guest while serving the meals.
The first flight landed at 2.40 p.m on the secondary runway at Mumbai as the main runway was shut for routine inspection. It was greeted with a customary water canon salute and the first few passengers were received by Mistry and GVK group chairman G V K Reddy, and other officials.