Review of Vistara flight Bangalore Hyderabad in Economy

Airline Vistara
Flight UK893
Class Economy
Seat 18F
Aircraft Airbus A320neo
Flight time 00:50
Take-off 30 Dec 22, 20:15
Arrival at 30 Dec 22, 21:05
UK   #20 out of 95 Airlines A minimum of 10 flight-reports within the past two years is required to appear in the rankings. 22 reviews
Proximanova
By SILVER 684
Published on 31st July 2023

WARNING: This trip report will be much longer than the norm: despite heavy merging of pictures into collages, there was way too much to take away from the lounge experience and flight, so I have barely managed to stay within the 150-picture limit. I know I’ve become a bit better at keeping down the length of my reports lately, but this time it is a LOT of pictures. Well, I guess the end-of-year energy was fuelling me to capture as much of my experiences as possible!


Prelude


Did I mention that Bengaluru has a Higginbothams bookstore on M.G. Road in my previous report on AIX Connect AirAsia India — the same historic (founded in 1844) bookstore that Chennai Airport has in its domestic terminal instead of Relay/WHSmith? Well, here it is, from my end-of-year explorations in 2022.


photo img_7386

The reason why I mention this first before continuing with this Vistara review is because of the person right below, in the centre. Not Nehru, of course, but the one who renamed one of the world’s most recognisable social media brands to a single letter. Like it or hate it, the change will impact all of humanity for years, if not decades, to come.


photo img_7401

Introduction


That X-traordinary announcement aside, this is the fourth edge of my ‘Hexagon’ travels through southern Indian metros at the end of 2022. I don’t need to repeat how much of a momentous occasion flying Vistara was for me. Having never flown one of the country’s only two full-service airlines — a year or so before it would disappear into the other one, Air India — was a huge aberration that needed to be corrected at the earliest, since it wouldn’t last for much longer. No better way, then, than turning an ordinary end-of-year homecoming into a six-city Hexagon, with the other outgoing Tata Group airline, AIX Connect — operating as AirAsia India (which will merge with Air India Express) — forming another important edge, hence tagging on two so-far-unflown airlines at the end of a year as outstanding for personal flying as 2022. This was the year I flew Southeast Asian majors SQ, TG and MH for the first time, plus Emirates Airline and these two Tata Group airlines, for a record six new airlines in the year, and a total of 15 flights. (2023 is close to beating that already: I have added SriLankan, Ethiopian, KLM, Garuda and Scoot to that list, and now Jetstar Asia too — and that’s only at the end of July!)

Now the UK893 evening flight was an obvious choice, as I wanted to fly to Hyderabad, the third of the three major South Indian metropolises alongside Bengaluru (Bangalore) and Chennai, and return to Singapore from there instead of backtracking to Chennai. Taking Vistara’s other option on the BLR–HYD sector — the early-morning UK897 flight — would have required getting up at four in the morning and dashing to the airport in hopes of reaching at six. For a late-night owl like me, this was simply not an option: unlike international flights from India which mostly depart between midnight and sunrise, you have plenty of options for domestic flights throughout the day. For this rotation, the same all-economy A320neo starts its day with UK897 from Bengaluru to Hyderabad, then returns to BLR as UK898; then sets off to Guwahati (GAU) in the northeast of the country as UK755 and returns as UK756; then performs the late-evening UK893 leg to HYD and returns as UK894 to BLR, where it stays the night: it may continue with the same rotation the next day or switch to another.

This was therefore the perfect way to round off 2022, in some style at that, on top of which I had even purchased access to the glamorous 080 Domestic Lounge at BLR for an affordable price — because how often would I have this experience again? (Well, I did fly Vistara again barely three months later — on its A321neo from Singapore to Mumbai — but there’s something to be said for the domestic experience too.) Still, as far as the actual flight itself was concerned, I feel AirAsia India actually did a slightly better job — and its streaming entertainment was also better designed — since no catering on that MAA–BLR afternoon service (due to its super-short length) was better than the stale, underwhelming late-evening snack on UK893. But I didn’t have to care, for all my eating needs were taken care of at the 080 Lounge (previously called the Above Ground Level Lounge, as rated at the bottom of the review), with its all-you-can-eat spread and live counters being as top-notch as any five-star restaurant, not to mention its swish reading and socialising spaces. That comes as no surprise from the 080 brand, named after Bengaluru’s calling code, since I’d also stayed a few hours in their transit hotel at BLR in June 2022, and it was no less opulent and extravagant.

All-in-all, another reason why I am incredibly grateful that my family has left behind Chennai’s never-good-enough government airport (which by no means reflects on the lovely city otherwise: charming, cool and coastal) and shifted to Bengaluru, a far worse city to live in with its awful traffic and pollution and fickle weather. Having the glorious Kempegowda Airport as your home airport — despite the unending commute that it entails, all the more so when your home is at the other end of the city — is a precious asset indeed, and it never ceases to amaze me with every visit, all the more so as the brand-new Terminal 2 will handle all international operations from September. It is the best the country has alongside Delhi and Mumbai — and in fact Hyderabad’s Rajiv Gandhi Airport is almost equally impressive, with the big difference being that it has hardly the range or scale of international destinations like BLR, and so gets much less than it deserves. I do wish more airlines turned their focus to the dark horse that is Hyderabad, with its central-of-the-country location, rich history and heritage, North-meets-South culture and expanding status as a tech, pharma and business hub — as it already has an airport to match!



India now has one less 737 operator — no surprise in the world’s largest A320neo market


Vistara’s all-economy A320neo subfleet was, along with its 737-800s, a result of full-service competitor Jet Airways’ going under in the summer of 2019. In order to ramp up on slots — all the more so at Mumbai, which has always been severely restricted and slot-constrained — it had to not only take over some of Jet’s 737-800s (with struggling budget carrier SpiceJet taking a whole bunch of others) but also a handful of A320neos in an all-economy setup from various airlines across the globe, which would be its first planes without business class, or even premium economy which it pioneered within the country. (Indeed, it was the only Indian airline to have both A320s and 737s!) The airline originally had eight such A320neos: VT-TNL/TNM/TNN and VT-TYA–TYE — with VT-TYF/TYG joining early in 2023 — of which VT-TNN, the one I got for UK893, was the first to join its fleet. It came from another airline which had ceased operations around the same time (some weeks before Jet): WOW air, the over-ambitious low-cost carrier from Iceland — the country that comes before India in the alphabetical order — which briefly flew A330s all the way to Delhi, with its bankruptcy greatly affecting the economy of what turned into one of the world’s most touristy countries as a result of its and Icelandair’s expansion.

Four years on, the last Vistara 737-800 — VT-TGE — bowed out from the fleet on 26 July 2023, which means the 787-9 is its only Boeing aircraft type. Its narrowbody fleet therefore consists entirely of A320neos and A321neos (including five A321LRs) — since sharkletted A320ceos were also retired — which brings good harmony with Air India, which also flies the A320 family, and has done so for decades including in its previous state-owned Indian Airlines avatar. Hence there are only three 737 operators in the country, all low-cost airlines: SpiceJet, which also has a number of Bombardier Q400s De Havilland Canada Dash 8-400s for regional turboprop routes; Air India Express, an all-737-800 operator that flies to the Gulf and Southeast Asia, which will merge with AirAsia India and its all-A320 fleet; and Akasa Air, the all-737-MAX-8 newcomer which has proved that it is indeed possible to survive and succeed as a new airline in one of the world’s most cut-throat aviation markets.

Despite my personal aversion to 737s, including the MAX, I am personally rooting for Akasa to bring effective competition to the IndiGo/Air India (Express) near-duopoly. It has ably recreated much of Jet Airways’ so-called ‘joy of flying’ with the same CEO, Vinay Dube, similar aircraft (including several ex-Jet ones) and a stylish-yet-sustainable service model and product — all the more so since the resurrection of Jet Airways itself has been completely in vain, having collapsed due to feuds over funds. That will be probably the closest thing to a semi-full-service product in the country once Vistara becomes history, and the only probable alternative to Air India’s full-service product, since IndiGo is least bothered in adding any amenities at all (777s leased from Turkish Airlines be damned) as long as it has 60% of the market share. Till then, as long as the aubergine-and-gold livery is in the sky, we might as well examine what Vistara has done well for nearly a decade, and continued to elevate Indian premium onboard products well after Kingfisher and Jet flew into the sunset — even though, ironically, Vistara itself will be joining them in the graveyard.

Spoiler alert: it has been revealed that Air India’s new livery will contain both the red from the existing Air India and the purple from Vistara. While other details are scant at this stage, we will get the full picture in a few weeks’ time, once the entire new Air India brand is revealed some time around Independence Day in the middle of August. I completely believe AI’s claims to transform its brand into that of a premium luxury airline like Singapore Airlines (which will take a stake in it, much like it currently has in Vistara) and Qatar Airways — all the more so since the global design agency Futurebrand is behind the process, with its impeccable track record also consisting of American Airlines, Air Malta and Fiji Airways a decade ago. I’m sure it will more than compensate for the loss of Vistara, an iconic Indian brand in its own right during its short existence!


Highways and hamlets: The road to Kempegowda


Friday, 30 December. During the check-in process I opted for paid access to the 080 Lounge, for the very affordable price of ₹1,500 INR (less than US$20) and see how it went. Oh what a briliant decision this would turn out to be, what a fab way to end 2022!


photo img_6930-70938

You’re always going to see a lot of advertisements and hoardings on urban Indian roads — and, heck, in most other countries, with the only big exception I know of being Singapore. Even an empty road at night can at least have some sort of character and personality through these hoardings — ranging from Vaseline to IKEA to Amazon Prime (you’ll be seeing that one quite a lot) — which I sorely miss in the too-neat, too-clean, too-sanitised city-state I now call home. The trees are an indication of the city roads of Bengaluru, where I’d started out from at half-past three in the afternoon on the year’s penultimate day, after some window-shopping at the small but shiny 1 MG Road-Lido mall.


photo img_7676

As the Uber inched further north, past Hebbal and Jakkur and Yelahanka, the trees slowly started to give way to the super-wide thruway — but the hoardings remained unchanged.


photo img_7716

These symbols of modernity — also known as techparks — are to be found on every arterial road circling the outskirts of India’s technology and IT capital. 


photo img_7766

It was nearing half-past four, and there was some congestion up ahead (as there always seems to be), so the driver turned into a small rural road. It’s funny, when you’re going to a major international airport, how for the most part you see more of these big hoardings and busy highways…


photo img_7777

…and then for the next twenty or so minutes you see this: proof that Kempegowda International Airport, the third-busiest in the country, really was built amidst a village. Devanahalli it is called, though Google Maps shows the airport’s location as Gangamuthanahalli, but that doesn’t shake off the bucolic coconut trees and fields in the hinterland surrounding the airport to the northeast of Bengaluru.


photo img_7830

Google Maps and Uber confirmed our turn from expressway to country road, but it would not be too long before we headed back into traffic, honking and big buildings on either side.


photo img_7839

And so it was that, at a little past five, after traipsing through roads big and small, I’d made it to Kempegowda Airport for a last hurrah before 2022 ended.


photo img_7848

Even more hoardings surrounded the landscape as we turned into the service lane leading to the terminals.


photo img_7866

Above you can see an ad for the Hyundai Ioniq 5, which has slowly marked the Korean automaker’s Indian foray into electric vehicles, but I am yet to see one on the streets. The preceding Ioniq liftback can be found all over Singapore in the form of blue ride-hailing taxis, but this one is still very rare, even in that super-advanced, ultra-developed microstate.

Below are two other exceedingly rare cars: the new Citroën C3 hatchback and the discontinued Mahindra Verito sedan. Neither has been very popular: Citroën started Indian operations in 2021 (the C3 is its second car after the C5 Aircross) but has tasted none of the success that Kia or MG have, while homegrown automaker Mahindra has had plenty of hits over the years like the Scorpio and the XUV500 — but this chopped-off notchback isn’t among them, even though several taxi operators use it.


photo img_7875

A big sign for Brigade Properties greeted the passing cars as they took the right turn into the driveway.


photo img_7878

And now I was at the drop-off driveway, for the first time since my only other visit to Kempegowda, back in October 2015 for the Durga Puja festival when I was in school. At that time it was a momentous occasion for me, since I would fly IndiGo for the first time in five years 2010 (flight: 6E277 BLR–MAA, registration: VT-IEL) after years of mostly 737s on (Spice)Jet.

Now, however, with my move overseas, time and tide have changed so much that I have hardly any special desire to fly a VT-I** aircraft in the near future — all the more so since, in 2018–19, most of my Chennai–Singapore shuttles for the holidays were on bare-bones IndiGo and Air India A320s. Rest assured, this Vistara A320neo would be nothing like those!


photo img_7899photo img_7906

This row of shops and outlets along the driveway of Kempegowda Airport is part of what is called The Quad by BLR, which is a whole retail space on its own right, much more than I could take in — details here.


photo img_7916

Passengers queued up to take advantage of the new DigiYatra facial-recognition system that had kicked off that month at BLR and DEL, the third-busiest and busiest airport of the country, alongside the sacred Hindu city of Varanasi (VNS) — with others having joined the list in due course.


photo img_7926

Both modern and traditional stalls were present: Subway on the left side, Nandini (the state-owned dairy company of the state of Karnataka) in the centre, Buffalo Wild Wings (to the right of the black-and-blue building) on the right.


photo img_7929

I looked up a few articles on why VT-TNN had received so much coverage when she was inducted into the fleet. As always, Indian aviation analysts Ajay Awtaney (who runs the LiveFromALounge blog) and Ameya Joshi (who writes for both Moneycontrol and his own blog, Network Thoughts) had all the analysis and answers.


photo img_7932

You could read these pieces, if you please, or you could simply scroll past.


photo img_7938photo img_7954

This was the first time I was able to figure out how to add a boarding pass to Apple Wallet, and here it was, in all its purple glory.


photo img_7960

Domestic departures


The crowds were all ready to embrace the end-of-year spirit, turning up in the thousands.


photo img_7947

Christmassy decorations, placed at strategic intervals, did their bit to liven up the atmosphere.


photo img_7974

And so I would be turning into the Vistara check-in counters for the first time in my life.


photo img_7992photo img_7983

Vistara had put up a sign showing how it took sanitation seriously in the postpandemic era. I wish there were Vistara-branded handwash and sanitiser like that in the planes’ lavatories!


photo img_7987

Overhead, there were ads for New Year performances at The Quad by BLR, not too far from what Rajiv Gandhi International was doing in Hyderabad.


photo img_7996

These alternated between ads for Audi and other companies.


photo img_7999

The bags were checked in soon enough, by agent Nidhi Sharma, whose given name is as common among Indian girls as the surname among Indians in general.


photo img_8046

This, then, was the boarding pass, which somehow I managed to lose before the flight, along with the preceding one for AirAsia India — but fortunately I got an even better-looking one for my flight to Mumbai in March, with the Vistara crew and Skytrax awards on the rear.


photo img_8055

Once I went upstairs to the boarding gates, I came face to face with the Aster clinic-cum-pharmacy, which has an emergency facility at BLR.


photo img_8060

A nearby trolley had an ad for the Alta Vita restaurant past security — ‘worth every penne’, it said.


photo img_8064

There was also this official-looking door for goodness knew what, surrounded by potted plants and shrubs.


photo img_8066

After security, a welcoming space of shops, sofas and seemingly endless travellers opened out to me, reinforcing Kempegowda as one of my favourite airport experiences in the country.


photo img_8069photo img_8136

Against one wall was placed an air-conditioned wall of rows of plants, I have no idea what for!


photo img_8073

Below are some panoramic views of the refined and elegant eateries, gazebos and corridors of one of South Asia’s finest transportation hubs.


photo img_8076photo img_8082

Near the gates were placed Ulysse Nardin clocks, as the airport’s name outside beckoned to those who were taxiing to the gates.


photo img_8088photo img_8091

These pick-me-up-and-take-me-away joints were placed all over the terminal, with Tiffin Express’ pretty thali (plate)-like presentation standing out in particular.


photo img_8096photo img_8097

Ads for Tanishq, one of India’s largest jewellers and a jewel (pun!) in the Tatas’ crown, are de rigueur at Indian airports.


photo img_8134

080 Domestic Lounge: W-O-W!


You could either read this exhaustive account of LiveFromALounge’s Ajay Awtaney recounting the time he was bowled over by this extravagant lounge…


photo img_8100

…or read mine. 080 is one of Kempegowda’s two domestic lounges, with the other being the BLR Domestic lounge just opposite — previously known as Above Ground Level due to both lounges’ location above the escalators.


photo img_8139

Once upstairs, I was taken aback at the prettiness of the entrance, with corrugated ceilings, plants and lighting adding to the opulence. The lounge attendants dealt with a steady stream of cardmembers and cashpayers.


photo img_8145photo img_8150

A couple of small girls touched the decorations, possibly in trying to find out how real they were!


photo img_8158

080 had created its own version of the Nativity scene, something that I wish were done with sugar and gingerbread!


photo img_8148

Not long after my arrival — but too late in order to catch my flight — there would be a cocktail session by a renowned mixologist, Disha Mankikar, in partnership with gin-maker Tanqueray.


photo img_8154

Once inside, there were socialising and reading spaces before the main dining area, all of them swish and extravagant, all of them lit up with white LED signages.


photo img_8155photo img_8163

The reading corner, powered by the Relay bookstore, was of the exchanging sort where you brought one book and took another.


photo img_8161photo img_8166

It was inside the theatre-like unwinding space, sadly, that I got to know of the passing of football legend Pelé — barely a week after his great rival to the south won the World Cup.


photo img_8238

Fine dining at 080, with live pizza stations and live sports scores


Now I came to the dining area, which faced the BLR Domestic Lounge opposite, and which had all manner of circular seating arrangements.


photo img_8172-85399

The options here were truly endless, and in addition to the sumptuous buffet spread, there were live pizza and chaat stations.


photo img_8174

Then came the buffet itself, and the items snaked all along the walls, so numerous were they.


photo img_8206

The happy diners revelled in the recipes and piled up their plates, including some younger ones, like a couple of small girls below.


photo img_8181-24841photo img_8190-72412

Here was what my plates and glass looked like. I’m still drooling as I write about it.


photo img_8203

While I couldn’t zoom up on each of the main courses, these were the chaat and salad items, some of which were already finished.


photo img_8197

These were the desserts, cakes, fruits and shakes, and I’m afraid to say I had every single one of them. Terrific news for the tongue, terrible indeed for the heart!


photo img_8208

The patrons were having quite the time, especially those with kids in tow, and the experience was the same at the BLR Domestic lounge opposite, separated by the shops beneath. I for one didn’t need to eat anything else for ages!


photo img_8228-85536photo img_8232

Heading to the gates


Before long my time in this wonderland had to come to an end, and I had to make it to the flight. So down the stairs I went, and checked out the entrance to the BLR Domestic Lounge, with a Fossil watch ad featuring Bollywood A-lister Kriti Sanon (who’s celebrated her 33rd birthday as I write this) alongside.


photo img_8250

Another Indian celebrity, cricketer Rishabh Pant, had met with an accident while driving in his hilly Himalayan home state of Uttarakhand, but fortunately he escaped without too much damage.


photo img_8253

Past the Ulysse Nardin clocks I went, and down the escalators to the next set of gates.


photo img_8262

Downstairs was a row of potted plants, a teensy bit like the manicured wall-garden at the regal entrance to Mumbai T2’s domestic departures, as I saw in March.


photo img_8271photo img_8272

Points for guessing which flight number mine was from this departure screen alone! (When the actual UK893 flight number showed up, the text was in Kannada.)


photo img_8278

A modern take on the age-old Indian mithaiwala (sweet-shop), Mithaas by Shoppers Stop, was all dolled up for Christmas — much like any Haldiram’s or Bikanervala, which have been around for generations, would.


photo img_8280

Further along were restaurants with quirky names like this Hello Goodbye Bar.


photo img_8287

BLR is Akasa Air’s hub and it has built up quite the presence here — despite cutting flights from here to Chennai after a few months. Boarding was already open for QP1301 to Mumbai.


photo img_8289

Soon enough VT-YAB, QP’s second aircraft, turned up as QP1361 from Lucknow (LKO) in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, renowned for its biryani and tehzeeb or courteous behaviour. In other words, the northern Indian equivalent of the also-famous-for-biryani Hyderabad, though not as big or globalised.


photo img_8310

Yet another grab-and-go drinks-and-eats joint, Chai Point, almost tempted me with its sweet and refreshing offerings.


photo img_8290

At length I reached my gate, 24, and there was already quite the crowd assembled there. If you zoom in enough, you can see the Star Alliance and Singapore Airlines logos: that would actually be my next departure from Kempegowda Airport, on the night of 2 July, as SQ511 on 9V-SHP.


photo img_8295

This interchanged with the Vistara logo, as some queued up to board the buses, while others continued to lounge around at the OnePlus-branded charging points.


photo img_8313

A Vistara-branded placard stating the boarding sequence had been put up. It is only its 787-9s which have rows beyond 30, but those don’t fly from BLR, which like all non-DEL/BOM cities has only domestic flights on the airline.


photo img_8336

At 7:30 I boarded the bus and began the drive around the tarmac. While not as exhilarating as that from KLIA’s main terminal to the satellite terminal — where all manner of widebodies from all over Eurasia make an appearance — this was nevertheless quite the treat.


photo img_8343-41920

The only passenger widebody for the time being was an Emirates 777 (A6-ECA, landed as EK566), though there was also a Lufthansa Cargo 777 (D-ALFG) passing from behind, with a ‘Flying 100% CO2 neutral’ sticker.


photo img_8346photo img_8372

Among the domestic attractions were QP’s 737 MAX, VT-YAB — as above — and Vistara’s A321neo, VT-TVB. The orange/violet and maroon/gold sure look distinctive from the same old reds and blues, eh? Too bad the latter won’t last long — but the new Air India livery, with its purple streak, should take care of that!


photo img_8355photo img_8370

Elsewhere were a handful of planes from AirAsia India and SpiceJet. But where were the two biggest airlines of the country, IndiGo and Air India?!


photo img_8376

After fifteen or so minutes of driving around, I got off the bus and proceeded to VT-TNN, with sister airline AirAsia India’s VT-PNQ (named after the education hub of Pune in the west, the little sister of Mumbai) for company.


photo img_8388

Someone was somersaulting with excitement within me: I couldn’t have asked for a better way to cap off 2022 than with this stately maroon symbol of excellence that will soon fly into the sunset.


photo img_8397photo img_8399

The flight: Boarding and departure


Flight: Vistara UK893/VTI893
Date: Friday, 30 December 2022
Route: Bengaluru Kempegowda (VOBL/BLR) to Hyderabad Rajiv Gandhi (VOHS/HYD)
Aircraft: VT-TNN, Airbus A320neo (all-economy configuration)
Age: 5 years 8 months at the time (built: 8 April 2017, delivered: 21 April 2017 to WOW air of Iceland as TF-NEO; joined Vistara on 5 June 2019)
Seat: 22F
Boarding: 7:45pm IST (UTC +5:30)
Departure: 8:15pm IST
Arrival: 9:05pm IST
Duration: 50 minutes

Notes:
• First flight on Vistara, with the second being UK106 from Singapore to Mumbai in March 2023, operated by VT-TVE, an A321neo with the ’50 Aircraft Strong’ sticker.
• First flight to Hyderabad, not counting a stop (no disembarkation) en route to Delhi way back in 2008. The previous visit, back in December 2010, was by train.


The purple theme continued with the mood lighting: if the tail and seats were the maroon of Qatar Airways, this was more velvety violet like Thai Airways.


photo img_8402

I settled into 18F, where, in addition to the safety card, airsickness bag and guide to the Vistara World streaming IFE…


photo img_8406

…there was the airline’s eponymous inflight magazine. WOOHOO!!! When so many airlines around Asia and the Middle East have axed inflight magazines both physical and digital — including the SilverKris of parent Singapore Airlines — Indian ones (bar AirAsia India) have persisted with theirs. Now we also have a taste of Air India’s namaste.ai publication after its big rebrand, which will replace it.


photo img_8410

A detailed guide for connecting to the Vistara World streaming entertainment system was published, in a similar vein as Singapore Airlines’ Wi-Fi connection guides. (Note: the Vistara World name is used only for the streaming entertainment on the A320s and former 737s. The real seatback IFE on the A321neo and 787 is unbranded.)


photo img_8415

Now we were on the map, so to speak, and close enough was VT-TVB which would be headed to Delhi, alongside other 6E and QP aircraft.


photo img_8422

The cabin crew, consisting of one man (Yashwanth) and four ladies (Preeti, Deepali, Jennifer and Rajani) — crewmembers’ names are always announced on an Indian airline — now proceeded to perform the manual safety demonstration, with Jennifer being the one in our section of the aisle. I have taken care not to show anyone’s face, crewmember or passenger.


photo img_8424-94553

Beside us was another familiar feather, which I’d flown before: VT-IFR. While not as much of a ‘stalker’ as VT-IFL, which I saw two times in three months, it was still a registration I remember: late September 2018, returning home for the first time from university in Singapore for the mid-semester break.


photo img_8446

This edition of the Vistara magazine was titled ‘The Celebrations Issue’, and Christmas markets and shows were the order of business.


photo img_8451

More to the point, the airline was proud to show off its frequent-flyer scheme and its numerous codeshare partners — and especially that ‘Brought to you by Tata and Singapore Airlines’ sticker in the corner. In terms of destinations, however, I wouldn’t say it was all that comprehensive, with the network mostly centred around the hubs in the north and west (including all international flights) and a bit of BLR.


photo img_8454

The fleet still remains driven by A320neos and A321neos — with the A321LRs yet to join at the time — alongside the troika of 787s and the dwindling 737-800s, which have now disappeared. Funny that Airbuses faced to the left and Boeings the right.


photo img_8455

The lighting had been dimmed for departure, and was now purple and blue all over.


photo img_8473

Some more white-and-indigo planes as we taxied past — these are mirror images of each other in some sense.


photo img_8484

More and more of the same, and now you see why BLR tends to use remote stands for the majority of its domestic flights.


photo img_8496

Almost when I was going to turn off the mobile data and switch to flight mode, VT-TNB (Vistara’s first A320neo, with a #NotJustAnotherNeo sticker) made a landing as UK813 from Delhi — and, coincidentially, at 8:13pm!


photo img_8506photo img_8514

Two minutes thereafter, this very not-just-another-A320neo itself was up and into the night sky, leaving Kempegowda and its existing and new terminals far behind, and I was already on the way to my final stopover for 2022.


photo img_8532photo img_8541photo img_8544

Vistara World and catering


Shortly after takeoff the mood lighting turned purple-and-orange, a nod to a couple of airlines with that favourite colour combination of mine: a pinch of Thai Airways along with a dash of the newcomer Akasa Air!


photo img_8550

Thereafter it settled on orange with a hint of blue for some time, until the lights were switched on for the snack service.


photo img_8555

Now was as good a time as any to check out the Vistara World streaming IFE, with its range of Indian and international content — though I must say AirAsia India’s AirFlix system had a far more modern and appealing UI and layout, and the selection (powered by streaming platform Zee5) was similarly more exhaustive there.


photo img_8559

What AirFlix didn’t have, though, was the ability to track your own flight: before very long we were already halfway to Hyderabad.


photo img_8566

As a special touch, Vistara even includes its inflight magazines in the Vistara World portal — something I’ve seen on SQ’s mobile app, even though its SilverKris magazine is discontinued. This also reminds me of SriLankan Airlines including various tourism magazines in its seatback IFE screen, but not its (also-discontinued) Serendib magazine itself.


photo img_8568

There were a bunch of TV episodes available, with comedy options ranging from Season 8 of Friends (2001–02) to the Indian sitcom Sarabhai vs Sarabhai (2004–06).


photo img_8586

There were a handful of other choices, like the epic romantic drama Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge (1995), which — better known by its acronym DDLJ — is considered by many to be THE defining hallmark of Bollywood.


photo img_8588

Midway during the flight a snack was served, consisting of a sandwich of some sort, pista badam cookies and a bottle of Bailley water that looked as deliciously purple as the mood lighting itself. However, while at least some food was appreciated instead of skimping on a simple choice, I found the sandwich to be kind of boring and dry — even though the tasty cookies managed to salvage that. Another point handed to AirAsia India then!


photo img_8595

We were almost near descent, as the detailed speed/altitude-meter on the moving map told us.


photo img_8596

In all this time I managed to squeeze in my final journal entry of 2022, with all the registrations I’d flown on the left and the highlight of ending the year with Vistara on the right. While the crewmembers’ names were all duly remembered, and each one served their section of the aisle with friendliness and flair, I cannot recollect any of them (Jennifer, in my case) making too much of an impression on me.


photo img_8599

Before very long we were going to touch down at Rajiv Gandhi International Airport in the Shamshabad suburb south of town. The lights were dimmed soon enough.


photo img_8601

As we descended, the glowing lights of Hyderabad laid out the welcome carpet for the end-of-year festivities that were to follow.


photo img_8613

The mood lighting had taken on a rather dark purple-and-blue hue for the final descent, and remained so after landing.


photo img_8649

At nine we landed in one of the country’s culturally and historically most significant cities, one with a top-class airport to match, with a couple of IndiGo aircraft in the latest VT-IP* (A320neo) and VT-IB* (A321neo) series for company.


photo img_8631

Homing in on Hyderabad


We pulled into the gate, with VT-ATQ of AirAsia India as our neighbour, much like our departure from BLR where it had been VT-PNQ. Though the final letter of the registration wasn’t visible below, this could only have been VT-ATQ (named after the holy city of Amritsar in the northern state of Punjab) as all other VT-AT* aircraft are either sharkletted or A320neos — and that also includes Vistara’s pseudo-retrojet, VT-ATV in the ‘Tata–SIA Airlines’ livery.


photo img_8637photo img_8653

Meanwhile, sister-ship VT-TQC was preparing to take off for Delhi, which like HYD has a GMR-built airport lying south (or rather southwest) of the capital.


photo img_8658

I was one of the last passengers to get off, and would have been were it not for this young woman with headphones and handbag scrambling her way out.


photo img_8668-26016

Beside was another sister-ship, VT-TNU, with an Emirates 777 in the background, much like was the case at BLR. Too much of my forehead is visible, though, more than I’d like!


photo img_8671-42769

Now I was down the jetbridge, with its ads for Malabar Gold & Diamonds and Life Insurance Corporation of India.


photo img_8676

Now I turned into the arrivals section, and all the GMR branding started to take centrestage, this city being the home of the multinational conglomerate after all.


photo img_8682photo img_8686

There were quite a number of videos promoting Hyderabad as a future-ready crossroads of trade, commerce and investments.


photo img_8694

Further into the arrivals area, a number of artworks decorated the surroundings, a respite from the drab ads.


photo img_8726photo img_8730

I waited not too long for my luggage to arrive, surrounded by ads ranging from Hyderabad Duty Free to a hundred and one other companies pitching their wares at the country’s fourth- or fifth-busiest airport depending on various metrics.


photo img_8748

There were, as always, plenty of ads for Amazon Prime and Amazon Fresh, the latter featuring actor Jitendra Kumar who has built his name from the acclaimed web series Kota Factory (set in the JEE exam coaching industry) and Panchayat (set in a sleepy village) that have raked in a number of awards.


photo img_8766

Before long I was headed towards the exit, where, as in BLR, a steady stream of restaurants and their patrons welcomed me into the City of the Charminar.


photo img_8793photo img_8799

Some more shots of the late-evening crowd at HYD turning up for their late-night connection to their destinations, with signs in four languages — English, Hindi, Telugu and Urdu — that you won’t find at many other Indian cities.


photo img_8811photo img_8820

The Aeroplaza across the road was already indulging in the end-of-year celebrations, and a live song-and-dance show was taking place. As I killed time waiting for the Uber, I could not help but be taken in by the gaiety and spirit, waving off a year that had been difficult for the world and Ukraine in particular — possibly slightly less so for India — with some good ol’ Bollywood numbers.


photo img_8855photo img_8866

A Starbucks here, taxi stands there, and I was at the Uber pickup point — which, go figure, entailed going down the escalator one level, whereas at BLR it is at the same level.


photo img_8888

Passengers waited to trundle into their Olas and Ubers with all their baggage.


photo img_8910

At ten or so my humble Uber set off into the night, making its way all the way up. The driver even offered his number for any assistance I should need while travelling, and proudly displayed a board sanctioned by the Hyderabad police stating that his car was safe with all sorts of helpline numbers. So much so that I happily took up the offer during my return to the airport three days later, and did not regret it.


photo img_8946

Amid all the hoardings, a sign for Rajiv Gandhi International Airport welcomed me into Hyderabad: underrated for its size, with its people’s Urdu-meets-Telugu linguistic skills and easygoing lifestyle — aside from producing most of the latest blockbusters of the year, the Oscar-winning RRR in particular.


photo img_8955
See more

Verdict

Vistara

8.3/10
Cabin8.5
Cabin crew9.0
Entertainment/wifi9.5
Meal/catering6.0

Above Ground Level Lounge

9.4/10
Comfort9.0
Meal/catering10.0
Entertainment/wifi9.0
Services9.5

Bangalore - BLR

9.0/10
Efficiency9.0
Access9.0
Services9.5
Cleanliness8.5

Hyderabad - HYD

9.0/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.5
Services9.5
Cleanliness9.0

Conclusion

I ensured that I ended 2022 ticking a box that had been left unticked all through the pre-COVID years, and no better way to fly Vistara on my end-of-year travels than to Hyderabad. On the whole I was reasonably impressed by their offering and service — which would be even more the case three months later, on their morning A321neo flight from Singapore to Mumbai — but the catering left something to be desired on both flights: the snack was somewhat depressing on this flight; the dessert was outright vile on that one. That aside, I’m proud that India has been able to run an airline which so effortlessly combines Tata hospitality with Singapore Airlines product and service, and the Vistara World streaming IFE is quite feature-packed, if not as spectacular as AirAsia India’s AirFlix with its endless streaming and shopping options. Plus, that purple-and-orange mood lighting is to die for, bettered only by the rainbow lights on Thai Airways’ 787-9. I trust Air India will be able to keep up the high standards Vistara has had so far, all the more so when its new livery and brand are revealed in August — with at least streaming entertainment provided as standard on all narrowbody aircraft — and I hope there is no longer a class distinction between Vistara’s VT-T** aircraft and other Air India planes after the merger.

Speaking of the airports themselves, I could not have got into much more luxurious surrounds for a domestic flight than Bengaluru’s fantastic 080 Domestic Lounge — rated above as the Above Ground Level Lounge, its previous name — which absolutely surpassed the high expectations I had from the 080 brand, and then some. Be it the reading and socialising spaces or the extravagant buffet and drinks, this was quite a world away from the drab little Miracle Lounge at Concourse F of Bangkok Suvarnabhumi Airport — the only other lounge I’ve ever visited — and, alongside the equally posh BLR Domestic Lounge opposite, ensures that travellers are spoilt for choice. Not to mention the endless shops at Kempegowda itself, and once Terminal 2 is ready for international flights, I will see for myself just how worthy of a competitor it is to Mumbai’s out-of-the-ordinary CSMIA T2. As for Rajiv Gandhi International at Hyderabad, it also has all the right ingredients in place — shops and eateries included — to position itself as a major cross-country hub, but so far it has not enjoyed much of BLR’s success in terms of international destinations. However, with both cities building metro rail connections to the airport, we will soon find out how people travel to these far-flung South Indian hub airports in a couple of years’ time when they no longer have to rely on Ubers costing a couple of thousand rupees.

Next are my first flights of 2023, both on AirAsia Malaysia: AK68 from Hyderabad to Kuala Lumpur (or what I like to call Far South to Far South, given their locations with respect to the city centre), followed by the nondescript AK705 leg to Singapore. If the ASEAN ‘airasia’ can provide Wi-Fi, what’s stopping Indian airlines other than Vistara from going above and beyond? Especially as AirAsia India is already head and shoulders above so many other Indian airlines — including, in terms of its streaming IFE portal, Vistara itself!

Related

3 Comments

If you liked this review or if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to post a comment below !
  • Comment 633287 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6909 Comments
    Was this report finished? The last 2 sections are missing text and the conclusion is empty as well
    • Comment 633305 by
      Proximanova SILVER AUTHOR 16 Comments
      Yes, I have been able to finish the report now. I’m afraid I feel asleep after a busy day of work, though I intended to complete it as soon as I could, but I trust you should be able to enjoy now!
      • Comment 633307 by
        KévinDC TEAM SILVER 6909 Comments
        Ah yes, much better now! Interesting to see a report on one of the Vistara all-Y A320neos. I think this is the first time I've seen one. HIgh service standards as we're used to seeing with Vistara with a light meal on such a short flight. Agree that the mood lighting is very nice.

        Thanks for sharing!

Login to post a comment.