PHOTO: Venkat Mangudi.

India is in the midst of an extraordinary transformation. With 1.35 billion people, and an economy growing at a rate exceeding 7% per year, people are on the move, and there is a dizzying array of flight options from which to choose, whether they are flying internationally or only within the Indian sub-continent.

On a recent trip to India, I had the opportunity to take two days to myself from work commitments and decided to meet up with one of my former graduate students in Bangalore (BLR). I needed a flight from Delhi (DEL) and thought that Air India, and perhaps a couple of low-cost carriers (LCCs), would be my only options. Was I wrong!

One airline intrigued me during my online search – Vistara Airlines. I had never heard of them before, but their website was appealing and user-friendly, and a bit of research showed that their prices were competitive too. This is a joint venture between Tata Group, India’s $100 billion per year conglomerate, and Singapore Airlines. Started in 2015, Vistara now flies to 21 destinations within India; it is the country’s the 6th largest domestic airline. Their DEL-BLR schedule fit perfectly with my needs – an early morning Saturday departure of out DEL with a late-night return the following day to catch my onward 3:20 AM Monday departure to London. I decide to go for it and booked an economy ticket for $125.70 round-trip on one of their modern A320 NEOs (the airline currently has 13 Airbus A320 aircraft and three A320 NEOs.)

About a week before my departure, I received an email from Vistara offering me an upgrade to their premium economy cabin for $27 per leg, which I jumped on. Here is my report which, spoiler alert, turned out to be the best domestic airline I have ever flown on, period.

The flight

I arrived at DEL at 5 AM for my 6:30 AM departure. Premium economy on Vistara has dedicated check-in which was quick and courteous. After a rather lengthy delay at security, I made my way to gate 37 and boarding commenced just five minutes later.

Business class on Vistara (with one passenger on this flight) is just two rows in a 2 x 2 configuration. They looked really comfortable and reminded me a lot of American’s mid-1990s international business class product. The premium economy cabin, which is completely separate from regular economy, consists of four rows numbered 3 through 6 in a 3 x 3 configuration. I quickly settled in to seat 4F for my 2-hour 30-minute flight to BLR. The seats are extremely comfortable with 34 inches of pitch (compared to 30 to 31 in economy). At 6’ 4” I had plenty of legroom. Each seat also comes with a fully adjustable headrest and a pillow. The cabin was spotless and the seat belts were folded neatly across each seat.

First impressions matter, and three things stuck out to me prior to departure. First, the interior lighting is beautiful, with each cabin bathed in a different shade of crimson or blue. The lighting gives the cabin a relaxed and soothing feel. Second, the flight attendant (FA) welcomed me by name and made it clear that if I needed anything, I should just ask or press the call button. “Mr. Slattery, I am here for your safety and to serve”, she said warmly. How novel – safety AND service! And third, there was a neatly folded Times of India newspaper in the seat back compartment. I felt very welcome.

The premium economy cabin was booked 6 out of 24, so service felt very personal. Prior to takeoff, I was offered orange juice or water. Once airborne, I was given a cold towel – a full cloth towel, as opposed to the small rags offered on many carriers these days, even in international business or first – and a menu with a choice of three entrees! I opted for the tomato basil omelet, which was served with a chicken and cheese croquette and sautéed mushrooms and peppers. It was delicious. I was especially impressed by the presentation, with the cutlery neatly folded within a cloth napkin and bound by a gold chord. The fruit was chilled and the croissant fresh. Breakfast was followed by coffee – a Starbucks India Estates Blend French Press, no less, with no shortage of refills throughout the flight.

We arrived in BLR eight minutes ahead of schedule and my checked bag was already on the carousel when I reached baggage five minutes later (both business and premium economy get priority baggage). In all, this was the most enjoyable domestic flight I have had in a very long time.

My return journey the following evening, an 8:55 PM departure back to DEL, was as good, even with premium booked at 16 out of 24. I tried the oriental noodles for dinner, which were served in a ginger sauce with dumplings (again, very tasty) and drifted off for a one hour nap before landing in DEL, slightly ahead of schedule. Unfortunately, in a moment of complete forgetfulness, I left one of my bags on the carousel having already exited the domestic terminal. The Vistara rep jumped into action and had it delivered to me in the international departures hall in under 10 minutes.

Dinner on UK814 BLR-DEL.

My verdict

This was a truly super domestic experience and real value-for-money. I thanked them on social media after each leg and got a response within 15 minutes thanking me for flying Vistara. So, if your travels ever take you to India and you want a flying experience that is, in my opinion, above-and-beyond the norm nowadays, then I highly recommend this airline. It is worth noting that there is no IFE, but understandable given that most of their routes are short-haul flights under two hours-duration.

“Fly the new feeling” is Vistara’s tagline. I say – fly on!

Our ranking: Reservation 10/10; Check-in 10/10; Boarding 9/10; Seat 10/10; Ambiance 10/10; IFE N/A; Crew 9.5/10; Food 9/10; On-Time 10/10

View of seat pitch on the Vistara A320 NEO in premium economy.
Previous articleHelp Us Fill Three Empty Jets With Toys for Puerto Rico! – Operation Gift Lift
Next articleDubai Airshow Throws Up Surprises
By day, Mike Slattery is Director of the Institute for Environmental Studies and Professor at Texas Christian University, USA. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Oxford, England. Originally from South Africa, Mike is an internationally-trained geographer and environmental scientist who has written more than 85 scientific articles and a book on a range of environmental issues, from human impacts on rivers systems to the socio-economic impacts of large-scale wind farms. But he is also an AvGeek with a particular interest in (and extensive collection of) airline menus. Mike’s work takes him all over the globe to landscapes as diverse as the cloud forests of Costa Rica to the game reserves of Southern Africa. At last count, he had flown more than 1.4 million miles, equivalent to being in the air 118.5 days or 5.8 x the distance to the moon. “I’ll never understand how an airliner gets off the ground, but I sure love being in them!” He lives with his family in Fort Worth.