Earlier this week, I flew between Delhi and Mumbai in Vistara’s excellent Business class. Since Delhi is cold this part of the year and waking up very early in the morning is hard, I settled for a 9:30 AM departure, which would have had me out of home at a respectable 7 AM. I won’t kid you, but one of the reasons to fly Business over economy class was the fact that there is a fast track queue at Delhi airport to clear security for business class passengers. With crowds having gone up at Delhi airport from October 2019 onwards, this was key to make it to the flight.
It was supposed to be a quick flight, and I headed to the American Express Lounge at Delhi Terminal 3 to grab a coffee and something small to eat before take-off. I just went there because it was closer to the gate assigned than the Vistara Lounge at Gate 41, and they would have made me a masala omelette very quickly.
I got on the flight, and it was one of the most hospitable flight I had on Vistara’s business class. I had the only seat open in J class being next to me, and on-time departure and arrival and my bag came first on the belt. The service was with a smile and warm. I even wrote a note of appreciation for the crew in Business Class, because they were very detail-oriented. The first row was taken up almost fully by senior citizens, and the crew did everything methodically from clearing out their hand purses before take-off and putting them up in the overhead bins, to coming back after the climb phase and handing them their bags back without having to be asked. Rinse repeat during the landing phase.
.@airvistara fab service by The CSE Aparna and Anjali (I think) on UK927 today. Please do pass my regards to them. Thanks
— Ajay Awtaney (@LiveFromALounge) January 12, 2020
However, one part was a sort of a shocker. On a flight departing at 9:30 AM from Delhi and arriving at 11:40 AM on a Sunday when people would usually be waking up late and having their first meal of the day, perhaps breakfast, at maybe 10 AM or later, Vistara handed me out a Refreshments menu. I mean I came fully prepared in my head to have some of their delicious South Indian fare catered by TajSATS, and here were my options staring in my face.
And I was not alone in my surprise, I remember (over)hearing the same thing and a longer discussion between Seat 1F and the cabin crew on this, and the crew obviously could not say much since they are not the ones who decide the meals and the timings, but are the ones who execute the meals on the frontline. This also cannot be explained because Vistara has breakfast being served at their lounge till about 10:45-11 AM or so if memory serves me right, and perhaps even later.
Anyhow, I went with the vegetarian option of Stuffed Chilli Lime Croissant, and it turned out to be a wholesome meal, but of course, there was no bread basket coming along and preserve/butter to go with it.
Others also were surprised equally about the recent changes in timings of meals on Vistara.
And it looks like this shift to snack menus was not just on breakfast flights, but other parts of the day as well.
My 14:30 hours departure flight served snacks. I too was surprised.
— Rajendra S Hegde (@rajendrashegde) January 12, 2020
I went back to my notes from the press launch in 2014 to see what was going to be the Vistara meal standard from the start of the airline. Mind you, this is five-year-old information, and I am sure it changed over some time, but I’m hoping not so much.
The brand standard back in the day was to offer one vegetarian and one non-vegetarian option in Economy, three options in Premium Economy and four in Business Class and rotate meals every six days so that the frequent flyers don’t land up with the same meal over and over. However, I do expect it to have changed over time bringing in the realities of the Indian market and accounting for the experience of the new management after those top-men who launched the air moved back to Singapore Airlines. Menus rotate every three days now in Business Class, for instance.
Here is a later than 9 AM departure out of Mumbai last year where breakfast was served, and as you can see that Premium Economy Class had three options and more food on the tray than this Business Class “refreshment”.
And here is the Business Class breakfast from 2019, which has five options no less. I could not find a picture on my phone, so I picked up one from Sanjeev Kapoor’s Twitter.
Here is another one, from Sanjiv Kapoor’s Twitter feed, which showcases a wholesome meal.
I reached out to Vistara to clarify the meal service such as which meal served in what zone (snack/box/full meal) and what departure time and the brand standard on meals, and a Vistara spokesperson told me they are currently reviewing their meals as they induct new aircraft type in their fleet.
At regular intervals, we conduct a comprehensive review of our in-flight meal services, meal menu and service timings. This exercise is currently underway as we prepare to induct new aircraft type in our fleet this year. Broadly, our meal services are based on a combination of factors including time of day, flight duration and departure or arrival times. We continuously review travel patterns and passenger feedback to offer our customers an enjoyable meal onboard Vistara and to avoid repeating the menu on flights with a high number of connecting passengers. On some flights, we may offer late lunch or early dinner, factoring in the distance from the city to the airport.
Unfortunately, this did not answer my question, which was more to do with the narrowbody domestic service and made it about the induction of the 787-9.
Vistara has had this dip in standards once before, and they came back spectacularly from that. Vistara has set the brand standard with dining for the Indian aviation industry, given Jet Airways catering standards were going down before their eventual demise and Air India moved to be a vegetarian airline for domestic services in Economy Class. Is it now trying to lose that proposition?
I can understand the move in terms of cost perspective, though. Vistara has, for instance, moved to chocolates from a full dessert in Economy class on many flights. A refreshment flight allows Vistara to offer only two meal options in all cabins as per Vistara’s own standards as compared to a full-meal timing where they have to offer more options and then cater all the options to ensure that the Business Class cabin of 8 or 12 passengers gets a meal each. Also, refreshment meals may be priced lesser than a full-meal.
But given Vistara is a challenger brand and only one of the two full-service options domestically, I feel this is not the time for them to engage in cost-cutting over meals, given the airline has over the past five years established a premium image in part thanks to their meal service. During cutbacks, meals are the first to go, and I hope the airline is not engaging in a reduction for now.
If wastage is the problem, then there are IT solutions to it, where Vistara can start a pre-booking service for their Business Class passengers, displaying them the menu beforehand and allowing them to select a particular meal. The airline could also borrow from their parent Singapore Airline’s Book the Cook service. Vistara Business Class meals are some of the best in the current circumstances and India would be a good option less if these go away and get replaced by US carrier style catering.
What is your take on the shift of meal timings and meal quantities on Vistara? Have you experienced something similar in your recent flights with Vistara?