This week I had an interesting opportunity to experience 2 airlines operating at the opposite ends of the spectrum on India's trunk route - Mumbai to Delhi. One was Vistara, the new kid on the block and the other was SpiceJet, an old player who's been through many ups and downs.
My Dad, Uncle and myself were to attend a conference in New Delhi from the 18th to 23rd of February 2017. The flights were booked way back in December 2016. Vistara was running a promotional offer because we managed to book 3 return tickets to Delhi (DEL) for a VERY reasonable price, leaving on the 18th and returning on the 23rd. Due to unforeseen circumstances, however, we had to cut short our visit by a day and had to rebook for the 22nd. With last minute fares skyrocketing, SpiceJet was the best available option and that was what we booked.
All images are from my phone camera. MUMBAI to DELHI
18th February 2016
Aircraft: VT-TTK, Airbus A320
Co-incidentally, my sister was flying out the same morning as us on Air India’s early morning flight to Nagpur to visit Tadoba National Park with her college friends. Her flight was to depart at 5:55am so we had to leave home at 4:15am. A 20 minute ride later, we were outside Mumbai’s magnificent Terminal 2.
Vistara’s check in desks are located towards the East side of the terminal, which is a relatively quieter area compared to the west side occupied by Jet, Air India and the various international airlines who depart at sunrise (TK, EK, KQ, MK, SQ, SV, KU to name a few). MK, EK both have 4-holers and KU, TK, SV and SQ have 777’s so there’s quite a rush.
The counters were still closed, but we had to wait only a few minutes as the check-in agents busied themselves in preparation for the first flight of the day. Having checked in online, we could use the Premium Economy line to drop our bags and proceed to Security. BTW, our bags were 4 kg’s overweight but Vistara didn't charge us anything - anything to woo the customer! Nice gesture.
Security was what it typically is during morning rush hour. It seems the AI check-in staff were pretty slow because my Sister and her group joined the queue later than us and they had to run for their flight later (along with many others). Jaguar’s latest models were on display, along with Tata’s newest MUV.
The new Tata Hexa
Since we had some time on our hands now, we did the most logical thing. No, not Planespotting, that came later. We got breakfast of course! The only thing available was from Vaango (a South Indian joint) and we had some overpriced Idlis.
We got seats near the window, but it was too dark outside and bright inside to get any decent pictures. A Jet Airways A330, VT-JWS, was taxiing in, having arrived from Kuwait City. In the distance, 2 AI 787’s, 1 GF A320 and 3 777’s belonging to KU, TK and SQ were parked at the gate.
After breakfast, we walked to Gate 87 which is usually where Vistara aircraft are parked. I was hoping to get a closer look at the international flights, but predictably, there was a barrier separating the International and Domestic gates. Today VT-TTK, an A320 not even a year old, would be flying us to Delhi. Next to it was 9W 457 to Hyderabad and a few gates away was 9W 465 to Chennai, both 738’s.
VT-TTK and VT-JGC at Gate 87A and 87B respectively.
Boarding began at 6:55 am with Business and Premier Economy pax invited first, then Economy passengers seated in rows 19-28. That was our turn. We were welcomed with a “Namaste” and a smile and found our way to our seats - 22D, E, F, the window being mine of course. The seats were very comfortable, especially with the 3-dimensional headrests, and the legroom was generous, mainly due to the absence of an IFE box. I’m 5’9 and I could stretch my legs easily.
Boarding was completed in no time, despite a full load and doors were closed at 7:18. Soon after, the safety demo was done, after which we pushed back, with the IAE V2500’s coming to life and the mad dog barking away. Flight controls checked, flaps set for takeoff and a quick taxi to Rwy 27 ensued.
Pushback and engine start.
This exquisite bird was parked with a security guard seated nearby.
On the way to Rwy 27, I was treated to the sight of TK 721 to IST charging down the runway. Only 2 months ago, I was onboard that flight, the beginning of a wonderful trip to Scandinavia.
We lined up straight away and were barreling down, rotating 42 minutes after we had boarded. Below us, Go Air’s leased A320 from Small Planet was visible, as was VT-SLM, SpiceJet’s whitewashed 737. A sharp right turn later, Maximum City was visible in all her smoggy glory, and then she was gone.
15 minutes later, the FA’s swung into action, starting with a “drinks run” - a glass of OJ. What happened to the drinks cart, the “Sir, would you like to have something to drink? Tea, Coffee or Juice?”. Well, I guess OJ would have to do. I was hoping they would have tomato juice. I must say LH has spoiled me there. That was followed by breakfast. I chose the Veg. option - bread ( I think they said it was Kulcha, but I beg to differ), a Chana preparation with Mango Yoghurt, a bun and butter. It was not bad but the Non Veg. option - Omlette with potatoes was definitely much better; one of the best in-flight Omlette I’ve had.
The Veg. option
We leveled off at FL360 and the rest of the flight was pretty uneventful, except for some light chop. The mountains of northern Maharashtra gave way to industrial towns of Gujarat, followed by the deserts of Rajasthan.
Foggy or Smoggy?
Vistara's routemap. They have a lot of catching up to do.
About 200km out, at about 9pm, we started our descent. The captain announced there might be a delay of 10 minutes due to congestion, but thankfully we went straight into a Rwy 29 approach, touching down smoothly on the asphalt. Kudos to the Captain.
Smooth touchdown on Rwy 29.
Out of the smog emerges 9V-STW operating sa SQ 401 to SIN
Short taxi to the gate. There was the usual rush to get off the aircraft. Collected our luggage from the belt. From there it was a short walk to the exit and into the national capital.DELHI to MUMBAI
23rd February 2016
Aircraft: VT-SPP, Boeing 737-800
Our conference had ended at 3:30pm and since we had nothing else to do, we decided to pick our bags from the hotel and head straight to Terminal 1D. I've never been to this Terminal before so I had no idea how bad it is. We reached the Terminal at 4:15 and went straight to SpiceJet's check-in counters. The moment you enter the building, you know who's the boss here; IndiGo rules this part of IGI. A big majority of the check in counters are used by 6E. We joined the queue to drop off our luggage, reaching the front after about 10 minutes. I opened the Gmail app on my phone to show the agent our boarding passes and just then the cell phone reception decided to start acting up. I was trying in vain to load the boarding pass, when a man very coolly decided to walk straight up to the counter and demanded that he be checked in first. This naturally caused quite a furor among the waiting passengers behind us. Credit to the SpiceJet agent, a young lady, for handling the matter professionally. This gave me enough time to finally load our boarding passes. Once again, we were 4 kg's overweight, and this time, there were no nice gestures. Rs. 400 exchanged hands and we were on our way. I knew this would happen, especially with SG fighting tooth and nail for revenue. No complaints there.
We went straight through to security, dodging bags, people and trolleys. Surprisingly, security was over within 5 minutes
The waiting area however, was incredibly crowded. The moment you clear security, you are greeted by a number of luxury shopping options. There was hardly an empty seat in sight.
The best seats of the house, the ones facing the terminal were already taken. Even the Premier Lounge was full. We went over to the other side of the Terminal, where finally, we found 3 empty seats and promptly claimed them for ourselves. Vada Pav was purchased from the shop behind us and was consumed with regret. Nope, never again. It was cold and soggy.
Boarding was at 7pm and we headed to the gate at 6:45. Entry to the gate area was through unmanned barcode scanners. This tech is new to India and understandably most of the crowd didn't know how it worked, just rubbing their boarding passes against the scanner. It was only opening for passengers whose flights were boarding in the next 60 mins I think, so many passengers were turned away for being too early. A man came to override the system and ease the rush there, however this doesn't help much since more people go the gate unnecessarily crowding that area and the people don't get used to the new system. Maybe a few more lanes than the existing 3 should help.
Very crowded gate area.
Terminal 1D has no aerobridges so a bus ride was in order. Boarding was on time at 7pm. There was no sign for SG 169 on the display there, just a lot of people standing in a queue near the gate, some asking the lone gate agent whether the flight was on time or whether it was even going to leave. People still don't trust SpiceJet! Just a few minutes before 7, another gate agent arrived with a CISF personnel and boarding began - out of the terminal and onto the tarmac. It was a short drive to the aircraft. Today, Rosemary, a 9 year old 737-800, would be ferrying us to BOM, and once we had boarded, we could see that she was quite worn out. The seats were pretty worn out but hey, at least they were good enough for the short hop to BOM. Boarding was quick despite the full load and at 6 past 7.30, we were pushing back, the Captain later coming on the PA to tell us we should be in BOM by 9:55pm.
Battered seat with seatback ads.
The engines were fired up, flight controls were checked, taxi checklist was completed and we set off, slowing for a GoAir A320 to proceed before us. The taxi to Rwy 28 was short and soon we had lined up. A 747 with a white tail was waiting for us to go. The Captain probably went full throttle because we hurtled down the runway and into the sky, the shining lights of the Capital below us.
Enroute to FL320, the FA's started preparing for service. The snack run began soon after with SpiceMax passengers served first. I chose to have Cup Noodles with Lemon Juice. My dad and uncle had a spinach sandwich and ready to eat Upma. Meanwhile we were passing what seemed to be Jaipur. I could just make out it's airport and an aircraft taking off. Yep, visibility was definitely good tonight.
The rest of the cruise was uneventful, except for some light chop. We began our approach about 30 minutes out, taking a 360 degree turn for spacing before proceeding to the back of the queue for a Rwy 27 arrival, behind a Thai 747. The final approach was rather swift, with engines being idled just a moment before touchdown and full reverse thrust was applied all the way till we end entered the rapid exit taxiway. The Thai giant was making it's way slowly to T2, while we taxied into our gate, next to a GoAir A320 getting ready for a late night departure to Goa. Luggage was collected from belt 5 and a prepaid cab was booked. Then it was a short walk till the exit and out into the warm Mumbai air.CONCLUSION
Vistara is trying hard to woo passengers with aggressive pricing, waiving excess baggage fees and a comfortable cabin, but I wonder how long it can continue this way. For INR 2,700 though, it was an absolute steal. The only negative was the dismal drinks run. SpiceJet had a cheap fare for a last minute booking, got us to BOM much before time (thanks in part to generous padding in its scheduled time) and I doubt you can ask for more in an LCC. The other negative was Delhi's Terminal T1 which is in desperate need of a makeover and capacity expansion.
Your comments and feedback are appreciated (especially since it's my first TR)