Prior to that, as always, here's the gist of what had been a long summer of flying....and it was only half way through!
DL3909 (opb Endeavor Air for Delta Connection) Grand Forks to Minneapolis/St. Paul dep: 0505 hours, arr: 0614 hours 17th May 2016 CRJ-900LR (video trip report)
—3hr47min of yay—
UA686 Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago O'Hare dep: 1001 hours, arr: 1135 hours 17th May 2016 A320-200 (changed to A319-100 later) (video trip report)
—4hr25min of yay—
LH431 Chicago O'Hare to Frankfurt Am-Main dep: 1600 hours, arr: 0715+1 hours 17th May 2016 B747-8 Intercontinental (video trip report)
—6hr30min of yay—
LH760 Frankfurt Am-Main to New Delhi, dep: 1345 hours, arr: 0055 hours 18th May 2016+1 A380-800 (video trip report)
—6hr05min of yay—
AI401 New Delhi to Kolkata dep: 0700 hours, arr: 0915 hours 19th May 2016 B787-8 Dream)liner (video trip report)
—22hr40min of real, not sarcastic yay—
SG488 Kolkata to Mumbai dep: 0755 hours, arr: 1055 hours 20th May 2016 B737-900ER (video trip report)
6E325 Mumbai to Kolkata dep: 2010 hours, arr: 2240 hours 6th June 2016 A320-200 (video trip report)
And the video trip report of this very special flight: check it out here!
Vistara's launch in Kolkata was pretty high key. They'd start off with two daily services right from day 1. One departure at 10.15am (UK778, my flight) and one in the evening (departing at 8.15pm, UK712), both of them going to New Delhi. There were quite a few advertisements around the city of Kolkata itself (most of them being pretty close to the airport). Over time, Vistara have in fact expanded their operations out of Kolkata, with flights to Guwahati, Bengaluru, Pune, and Port Blair...
Vistara also received VT-TTL, a brand new Airbus A320-232 leased from Bank of China, delivered straight from Airbus. A promotional event was done, all images owned by respective owners:
Once back in Kolkata from Mumbai, there was a lot of repacking and rejigging. Three days was too short to spend with my dog....
ONLINE CHECK IN
I did my online check in as soon as the 48 hours prior to departure time had passed. I got Sequence 1, which meant I was the first ever passenger checked in on a Vistara flight out of Kolkata!
Some images from Kolkata, which looked very different!
The CCO of Vistara, Mr. Sanjiv Kapoor was in Kolkata having dinner with the ground staff of Kolkata. He announced on Twitter that VT-TTL would operate the inaugural flight to and from Kolkata. At the time, VT-TTL was the newest bird in Vistara's fleet, having its first Airbus test flight just 14 days ago, and delivered to Vistara just a week ago. I was informed of a healthy 95% load factor on the flight.
Mr. Sanjeev Kapoor's twitter
Vistara came in to scene with a premium heavy configuration - 16 in Business Class, 36 in Premium Economy and 96 in Economy class. However, over time this changed to 8 in Business Class, 24 in Premium Economy and 126 in economy. A net increase of 10 seats. And that's what surprised me a little bit - while selecting the seat after booking and during web check in, a 16J/36W/96Y configuration showed up. However, Vistara’s VT-TTL came in the 8J/24W/126Y configuration. And over 95% loads on this one. Interesting.
Google flights was updated for the inaugural out of DEL
VISTARA'S FIRST DAY IN KOLKATA!
With the flight details all set, I slept for a few hours before heading out to the airport the next morning. The newspapers had just arrived as I was putting my shoes on, and all of them had a huge full-page advertisement of Vistara’s operation into Kolkata! The taxi arrived on time and I set off at around 0730 hours.
Kolkata Airport was crowded at this time. No other word for it. Both, the international and domestic entry gates. I have never seen anything like it in Kolkata. Vistara passengers would get in side from Gate 2, as indicated on a sign outside (along with IndiGo, Jet Airways, JetKonnect and Air India). Vistara’s logo was recently stuck on, obviously
CHECKING ID AT THE ENTRANCE....OR DO THEY?
Line discipline is pretty much zero in India, so being the nice-ish person I am, I let quite a people through. Anyway, there is a security/ID check done by the security staff. I find this to be pretty pointless for a variety of reasons: a) it wastes time. b) Do they really check it? Mum and Dad were flying back to Kolkata after dropping me off in Mumbai. For sure, it was their mistake that they didn’t reconfirm their booking, but the date on the ticket was 10th February, as opposed to the date they were at the airport, 10th January. Nope, the security did not catch that.
Just to see what they want to check on the ticket, I gave the person my mobile cellular telephone with the ticket on it. He zoomed in on some parts (where my name wasn’t there, and where the date wasn’t there) and let me go. I was now convinced these security checks are a pointless waste of time. Sigh.
BAGGAGE SCREENING, CHECK IN, SECURITY...
Kolkata did not have in-line baggage screening, as this had to be done before checking in. I headed towards Vistara’s own x-ray screening, where the people there asked me ‘Sir this is for Vistara only’. ‘Yes, I know, that’s why I’m here!’ While giving my bags, I told them - ‘I selected this flight only because of the inaugural’. ‘Thank you so much sir’, said the staff, as they hunted my ticket for some information to be logged on manually in a register. Alrighty then.
Vistara were assigned the other half of Zone D (where Jet Airways’ counters used to be there) for check in. As is always is with Southern Asian cultures, a traditional oil lamp was lit, commemorating the start of Vistara’s operations into and out of Kolkata.
Chocolates on check in
Counters were dressed up with flower bouquets and Ferro Rocher chocolate boxes were aplenty. With more doubts from the roving check in agent (I saw something similar in Mumbai too, a very Kingfisher-esque service) he asked me to show my ticket. Not rudely, just an enquiry. He welcomed me to Vistara, and requested me to respect the yellow line rule. (That is, to stand behind the yellow line before being called by a counter, some people really like to put their noses in other people’s businesses by standing right beside someone else, I have written about this).
A warm ‘Good morning sir, Namaskar and welcome to Vistara’ greeting by the staff at the counter was a really nice touch! He reviewed my ticket and requested me to put the bag for check in - 15kgs, within limits!! However, for whatever reason, the boarding pass wasn’t printing. He had to call his supervisor. She assisted him, but to no avail. I recognized her from the picture Mr. Kapoor had put up the previous evening! (Totally not stalker type, is it? ) It was a bit of a long wait, but I wasn’t too worried. With a Ferrero Rocher in my mouth, I was handed the boarding pass and was wished a wonderful flight…while also being handed a voucher for free Margaritas at Chillies in Kolkata, celebrating Vistara’s arrival.
‘Sir, please take a chocolate’, the check in staff said. ‘I just finished one, didn’t you see?’ I quipped. ‘Sir, it is our compliments. Please enjoy your flight!’ On the way to security, the person who greeted me at the check in line gave me a thumbs up and wished me a great flight! There was such a positive vibe around, it was lovely!
I went ahead towards security, which was a breeze. I don’t remember that being the case in Kolkata before, considering the crowd that was outside! Flight UK778 would depart from Gate 23. Just like the pleasant experience I had with the Kolkata wifi a few weeks ago, I had a similarly lovely experience with the wifi.
SPOTTING, ET AL
I was airside at 0835 hours. The gate was being prepped up for the inaugural. Flowers, ribbons and Vistara signage was everywhere.
Boarding pass and the free voucher
There were some forms of activity around. VT-JFQ was operating 9W626 to Mumbai and Goa (a flight that I have been on, and a plane that I have been on). CEO Mr Sanjiv Kapoor made his arrival at the gate! I wondered..which airline did he come in on from New Delhi?
I got information that VT-TTL would reach Kolkata at 0910 hours, twenty minutes before scheduled arrival time. I didn’t take note of the activity around because I was excited to see the inaugural flight land. Just then, I was informed that Air India’s morning New Delhi - Kolkata service (otherwise operated by a B787) was coming in, one of the days when a Boeing 777-300ER would operate it! Engrossed with the arrival of UK747 from New Delhi, I was almost shocked and surprised to see a B77W pull in!
Looking good, ALM!
I was speaking to a Vistara airport staff member who was as excited as me to see VT-TTL arrive. He was a bit surprised to find out that the Air India Boeing 777 was actually from New Delhi, and not an international destination! I spoke to him a bit more.
VISTARA ARRIVES IN KOLKATA!
And there she was, VT-TTL slowly creeped up in the horizon as she landed on Runway 19L. The fire trucks were in place, and as VT-TTL slowly inched towards them, a spectacular display was put up by the fire engines, a full borne water cannon salute celebrating Vistara's first ever arrival into Kolkata. It was quite a display, albeit at a distance away. I was enjoying this!
Its spray time!
Passengers boarding 6E339 to Patna were bemused by this development, it was funny to see them being so surprised. I headed back to Gate 23 and awaited VT-TTL's arrival at the gate. Did Mention a Biman Bangladesh Q400 tried to steal the show?
There was a sense of joy and excitement at the gate: both inside the terminal and out on the tarmac. Everyone lined up to see her dock at the gate. The white fuselage was overpowering and very shiny, and rightfully so! This was a plane that had its first flight just 14 days prior, and was delivered just 9 days prior.
Preparing for its imminent arrival
New and shiny!
With excitement very high and a sense of a very positive attitude in the atmosphere, I headed out to do some spotting - you don't see an Air India Boeing 777-300ER in Kolkata every day! In addition, the Emirates Boeing 777-300ER from Dubai was around too, making it TWO B77Ws in Kolkata at the same time! Quite a surprise!
Beastly B77W from Delhi
A flight I would take in December...
VT-JTB came in from DEL
Old terminal now used for Hajj Operations, and an Indian Air India A319.
Following all the spotting, I sat around waiting for boarding to begin. It was 0943 hours. Boarding was supposed to commence at 0930 hours, but I guess there were justified reasons for the delay in boarding - TV channels were interviewing the top brass of Vistara, the ribbon cutting ceremony, and some more traditional stuff. Unfortunately, I couldn't get anywhere close to these ceremonies because of the large crowds that had formed in front of it. I sat around and waited for boarding to be called. Some international activity happened: the Emirates B77W headed to Dubai, while the tiny Mihin Lanka A319 from Colombo had arrived. I had a reasonable flight with them in December.
Emirates to Dubai
Mihin A319 in the distance
India's three full service carriers - Air India, Jet Airways and Vistara
Vistara’s inaugural flight out of Kolkata commenced boarding at 0948 hours, eighteen minutes after it was scheduled. There was 27 minutes before departure time. The elite folk were invited to board first (that inlaced Club Vistara Gold Members, Silver Members, Business Class), followed by Premium Economy and then Economy class passengers. There was an air of enthusiasm and excitement even at the boarding gate. Mr. Phee Tiek Yeoh, CEO of Vistara personally welcomed all passengers before boarding the aircraft. I took my time, so I was one of the last passengers to board. The ground staff I had spoken to earlier was there, and he saw me… ‘Sir, you are leaving!’ he said as he extended his hand, and he went on ‘Enjoy your flight sir’, while I wished him and Vistara all the very best for their new destination.
Boarding pass scanned, the security person checked the stamps on my baggage tags. While I still feel this whole cabin luggage carry on thing is stupid, the person spoke English and he was very nice about it! I made my way towards VT-TTL, down the long swiggly jet bridge in Kolkata. However, there was a long line of passengers waiting to board because of the others taking a while..
Of course, that meant photography was in order
My father flew on the inaugural Mihin flight in to CCU, and something similar was there
ONBOARD THE 15 DAY OLD PLANE!
I was onboard at 1003 hours, to a very warm welcome by the flight attendants Amrita and Reshma. My nose was immediately hit with the scent of the brand new cabin, and I commented about this. Reshma said - ‘yes sir! This is a brand new aircraft, and this will be its second commercial flight.’ Just as I thought, since this was VT-TTL’s first day in the office! The entire aircraft was packed. Be it Business Class (where Mr. Kapoor was seated), Premium Economy (where Mr. Yeoh was seated), or Economy. The Captain (I’m afraid I did not catch his name) was very enthusiastic when he made all of his announcements. The first of which came about when I was walking down the aisle towards the seat.
8 seats in Business
16 in Premium Economy
And 156 in Economy, my seat 17F
To quote the Captain -
‘Good morning ladies and gentlemen. I would like to welcome you on our first inaugural flight from the city of Joy, Kolkata to Delhi. Airbus A320, Vistara 778 morning service. We’ll shortly be ready for pushback and start, taxi to Runway 19R, southern direction departure. After that, a right turn towards Delhi and we are planning to climb to 36000 feet above mean sea level. Our groundspeed is expected to be close to 820kmph, covering the total distance of 760nm in 1hr55min after airborne. Weather forecast appears to be good, clear skies all the way to Delhi, but for your safety we recommend keeping your seatbelt fastened while seated. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy the new feeling of flying with Vistara, it is our pleasure to welcome you onboard, enjoy your flight, thank you.’
While this was happening, I realized that my seat (17F) was taken by somebody else! I politely asked her to move, and she did. Thankfully, no issues! She had the aisle seat, 17D. 95% loads on the flight, and we were the lucky ones since seat 17E was empty!
The three Indian full service carriers
In order to avoid further awkwardness over the course of the flight (although, I had every right to ask her to move to her assigned seat..), I asked her if this was her first time on VIstara..and it was! She asked the same to me… I told her how my first flight ended up being like, and I was expecting a much better show the second time around, and the stage was set for the same. In fact, she told me she was heading to Toronto (on KLM, that too!). I found the window with some bit of dirt on it - I realized that the water cannon salute mixed with the dust might’ve caused this. The flight attendants were very cheerful. Neelam, Taniya and Souma. They were in good spirits as water bottles were distributed to all passengers, while Neelam ensured the emergency exit folk knew what they had to do in case something were to go wrong. The crew were fluent in English, Hindi and Bengali, as was announced.
Its time to share some coincidences. January 6th 2015, I flew from Colombo (Sri Lanka) to New Delhi (India) via Mumbai. VT-JFQ took me to Mumbai as 9W255. I pictured VT-JFQ above, once again going to Mumbai as 9W626, a flight that I have been on the same year. VT-JTB took me to New Delhi as 9W307. VT-JTB had been flying for only 47 days back then, making it the newest plane I had flown on. Parked right beside VT-TTL was VT-JTB! And now, I was heading to New Delhi on the newest plane I was on - at just 15 days old!
Water bottles were passed around
The two newest birds I have been on, in one image!
Airbus shark let, or Boeing winglet? Well, I am biased....
Away she goes on another short north east hop...
1017 hours, all doors were armed and we pushed back at 1018 hours, just three minutes late. Both IAE V2527 engines were fired up as VT-JTB was all set to begin its taxi. VT-TTL soon started taxiing towards Runway 19R. Kolkata Airport was quite busy now with quite a bit of activity going on..including the Biman Q400 that departed, JTB, us, VT-SJJ and VT-ALM (that was heading to New Delhi as well).
All set, pushback!
Taxiing to Runway 19L
Air India's B77W will be chasing us to DEL
Brand new cabin!
S24363 continuing on to Guwahati
Blue Dart flight operates a Bengaluru - Mumbai - Delhi - Kolkata route during the night
We lined up on Runway 19L. 1037 hours, full thrust was applied to the engines as Vistara’s first ever commercial flight took off from Kolkata towards New Delhi. It was a great day to fly by the looks of it!
We soon reached the cruising altitude of 36000 feet.
The seat pocket contents -
The meal service started at 1049 hours, not too long after take off. Three meal carts were rolled up, all three handled by the crew members Neelam, Taniya and Somya. As usual, the vegetarian/non vegetarian meal options were there. Taniya explained the contents of the meal before handing out the respective meal boxes, or as I call it - the box in a box.
Box in a box
The meal had a starter, main course and a pre-packaged sweetened yogurt (or as us Bengalis like to call it - mishti doi, a Bengali favorite). The starter was aloo’r kaabli, a spicy potato mix (street food speciality of Kolkata).
The main course contained a chicken roll and phulkopir cutlet (again, street food specialty of spicy chicken wrapped in Indian bread/naan, and a cutlet made of stir fried cauliflowers).
To top it up, some hot milk tea, again a Bengali favorite.
QUITE THE ANNOUNCEMENT!
I cannot fault Vistara for the lovely meal they had served. Everything a Bengali every wanted was served on a tray (truth be told, I hadn't spent as much time in Kolkata during the first part of my summer, and thanks to Vistara I got my favorite chicken roll and mishti doi!) The cutlet however, was a bit of a downer as it felt a bit tasteless. A top meal, nonetheless. The Captain came over the passenger announcement system to give a long 3 minute announcement…and perhaps THE most comprehensive announcement I’ve heard on a plane.
To summarize the first half of the announcement:
-he once again welcomed us onboard the inaugural flight, while telling us this is Vistara’s seventeenth destination, with two flights a day.
-pushed back 3 minutes late due to commercial reasons, and being number 2 in the push back sequence, apologizing for the same
-Took off from Runway 19R, turned right and West ward course to New Delhi
-Cruising at 36000 feet, ground speed of 850kmph
-Estimated touch down time of 1240, and at the bay by 1250, on time.
-outisde temp of -41C, but inside a comfy 25C
-Easterly winds reported in Delhi, visibility of 3000m, party cloudy skies and temperate of 32C.
And then, it just became better. He gave us information about the route to New Delhi. I quote
‘On our route to New Delhi, we will be overflying the city of mines, city of Dhanbad, thereafter the great Buddha city of Gaya, thereafter the Holy city of Varanasi, thereafter the city of Nawabs and Kebabs (a smile popped up on my face hearing the word Kebabs ) City of Lucknow, Jalalabad, Secunderabad and finally we’ll descend in to the capital city of New Delhi.
‘-40C outside? Its perhaps the same as I have experienced in North Dakota!!’ I quipped to the lady sitting on the aisle seat. A tea and coffee service followed. I opted for tea because I knew the tea onboard Vistara is decent. However, for some reason, this was not communicated right by me.. Taniya gave me creamer and sugar. ‘Err, could I have some tea with that please?’ I said. She burst into laughter and apologized for the minor mistake!
I went through the Vistara magazine. There was pretty interesting stuff going on with Vistara at that point of time. This included the plans to introduce a flight to Kolkata (well well ), the launch of India’s first dedicated airline lounge at New Delhi’s T3, and a very attractive offer: honoring the international flight luggage allowance, as long as the flight is within 24 hours of the Vistara flight. A great initiative, I say!
And its the inaugural!
The passengers were quite interesting. Not as bad as on SG488, but the people weren’t making it any easy for the crew, by standing in the aisles, blocking their way as they’d pull the meal carts, while the (not so)gentleman in front of me (16E) quite literarily forced the flight attendant Taniya to bring him his water, his tea, a pillow for his wife, etc. Nope, he didn’t have a nice tone when he asked for these. However, Taniya shrugged if off by smiling all the way through.
Some more wings pics from a gorgeous day -
Flash went off in this one. Oopsie!
1202 hours, the Captain was back on the PA system. We were briefed about the arrival into New Delhi. We were 200km away from New Delhi, and descent would start in 5 minutes. Wind direction had changed, as westerly winds were blowing, and temperature rising to a whopping 39C, while visibility had dropped to 2300m. We were still expecting to land at 1240 hours, and at the gate by 1250, on schedule. He thanked us for choosing Vistara. A great flight was nearing its end.
Shiny and new!
Not quite a fan of the overly plastic seatback
Winglets are better
DESCENT AND ARRIVAL
Initial descent started at 1206 hours, VT-TTL descended to a lower altitude and speed decreased. We were circling a bit prior to arrival because of traffic that had the New Delhi airspace congested for a while. It was also very dusty as we descended more and more - at this point one would’ve questioned if we were landing in New Delhi or Dubai!
The cabin was secured and the crew members took to their stations for landing - they had done a wonderful job onboard and kudos to them for making the inaugural flight a memorable one! We soon lined up with Runway 11 and began our final approach in to New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. A featherlike smooth touchdown was executed at 1244 hours, six minutes before arrival time, and we almost the entire length of the runway. The deployment of the flaps just showed how new every thing was in the wing as well, a very pleasing sight!
We taxied towards the gate, that happened to be Gate D53. It was 1250 hours, bang on time (despite the 3 minute delay at Kolkata). It was announced that checked luggage would be delivered at Belt 3. As you can see from the images, we parked at the second last gate at the end of the concourse (D55 being the last one..) I waited for all passengers to disembark. The Captain and Mr. Yeoh were greeting passengers off of the aircraft. I thanked them all for what was a memorable first inaugural flight for me! Just before heading out of the gate area, they were handing out a goody bag for the inaugural flight! This included a lovely mug, the month’s magazine and a few discount vouchers.
Vistara’s all about flying the new feeling. Here’s a new feeling I had to encounter - I was carrying a slightly different kind of bag on this trip. So, the long walk meant that there was new feeling in my left shoulder which, I think, is called pain
The long walk also meant that there was a bit of spotting that was involved as well. This included a now rare Boeing 737-700W in Jet Airways’ fleet, and another Vistara plane that I saw follow us in to the terminal area. (Ironic I post this report now, since both the B737-700Ws have been involved in an incident at New Delhi.
Vistara flight from Hyderabad that would later head to Chandigarh
And now, no more flights till the end of July (2016)!
Got my bag, reunited with my brother, headed back to the accommodation, and that then is the end of my second Vistara experience, a near perfect one and one that I will cherish for long!
Some final pictures, courtesy the media & internet
More to come from Delhi!
And with that, it is time for me to head home. Another similarly long trip has been planned, so do stay tuned for that!
My other trip reports:
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 7: Efficient IndiGo! (Mumbai to Kolkata, A320, May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 6: Big delays, cracked windshield, angry passengers (SG CCU-BOM B73J) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 5: Air India's domestic Dream)liner (DEL-CCU May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 4: Nearly First Class - stories of the empty A380! (LH FRA-DEL May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 3: World's longest jet, Lufthansa's B748i! (ORD-FRA May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 2: ChicaGO on United's A319! (MSP-ORD, May '16) (video trip report)
Summer '16 trek back home - Part 1: Sun rise onboard the long range CRJ (DL GFK-MSP CRJ-900, May '16) (video trip report)
The pencil jet(s) for spring break! (+ Iron Maiden bonus): Delta MSP-FLL-MSP, March '16 (DL1608 video trip report, DL2027 video trip report)
De-iced & Delayed, cold onboard a CRJ! (ORD-MSP-GFK on Delta, Jan '16) (ORD-MSP video report) (MSP-GFK video report)
Delta's aged B767-300ER across the Atlantic! (CDG-ORD in Y, Jan '16) (video report)
Air France's NEW Economy (B777-200ER, Bengaluru to Paris, Jan '16) (video report)
Delays and despair: stressed out in the middle seat! (Jet Airways B737 Mumbai - Bengaluru, Jan '16)
Air India's hybrid babybus from Kolkata to Mumbai (Jan '16, Y) (video report)
South Africa 3: 12 days in Scintillating South Africa (Kruger, Kulula and Rand Airport, Apr' 12, LONG!)
South Africa 2: Elegant Emirates Economy! (DXB-CPT, B77W, Apr '12)
South Africa 1: My first flight on Emirates, my first flight on the 777 (CMB-DXB, Apr '12)
International transit with Jet Airways (BOM-MAA-CMB, Oct. '11)
Konnecting to Bhubaneswar (9W BOM-BBI-BOM, Jul '11)
Three trips between India and Sri Lanka (9W BOM-CMB-BOM: Jun '11, Jul '11, Oct. 11)
To India's Orange City: Mumbai - Nagpur - Mumbai on Jetlite & Tadoba National Park (May 2011)
My last flight on Kingfisher Airlines (and 2 other Jet flights, May '11)