Earlier this week, Vistara, the airline co-founded by the Tata Group and Singapore Airlines, announced its first international flight. It is headed to Singapore next month, launching its first two daily international flights from Delhi and Mumbai to the home of its parent, Singapore Airlines.
With the closure of Jet Airways, the country has been wondering who would take its space in the international airspace, which has largely seen its no-frills airlines such as IndiGo and SpiceJet spread their wings over the months into all sorts of regional routes, going to places such as Dubai and Singapore and Bangkok.
Apart from Air India, there has been no other full-service carrier out of India for the moment, and on long-haul flights, there is a clear market for more than one full-service airline to come into the market, given business travellers don’t prefer the no-frills airlines on these routes flying to Singapore, Hong Kong and such. For them, their schedules are important, and also their comfort on the plane, as they most probably head straight into a meeting after landing.
So, the announcement from Vistara, which had qualified for international operations last year (but only got the required permissions this year), was more than welcome.
Where will Vistara go and why?
The first routes that Vistara will fly will all be the usual ones. Vistara was going to launch its international flights with a flight to Colombo, unfortunately, that got postponed due to the terror attacks. The first flight is now to Singapore, and the airline also has slots at Bangkok and Dubai, so expect to see those flights being launched sooner than later. Besides that, Vistara will look to expand its wings to some of the other airports left open by Jet Airways, such as Kathmandu.
These are some of the routes the airline can already achieve with its existing aircraft, the A320 family aircraft and the 6 Boeing 737NG aircraft. Vistara plans to offer codeshares beyond Singapore to Australia/ New Zealand and South-East Asia on Singapore Airlines shortly.
This will be the first wave of expansion for Vistara abroad. From there on, you will need to wait till next year, as the airline stabilises its international operations, perhaps adding a few more regional routes in the coming days. The airline has 50 A320 family aircraft on order, which will start to come in later this year.
Another wave of expansion should come early next year as the airline starts to induct A321neo aircraft. These aircraft should be able to power their flights to further off locations such as Hong Kong in comfort.
Vistara is also due to receive 6 787-9 aircraft, which will be used exclusively for long-haul operations as per the airline. Two of these aircraft are expected to be delivered before March 2020 to the airline, which should power the launch of its international long-haul operations. Where will they go is anyone’s guess at the moment, but it is expected to be heading towards Europe with these aircraft, and perhaps even further East in Asia, such as Japan. While it can operate flights to North America as well, with only 6 equipment, I wouldn’t expect it to use them on those routes anytime soon, not before it adds more planes and get more experience in flying abroad.
What to expect on board?
At the moment, the airline is going to fly with the ex-Jet Airways 737 aircraft to Singapore. You may wonder why are you not getting the signature 3-class Vistara experience? It is the economics, really. The Jet Airways 737 aircraft have the ability to fly more passengers to Singapore, so better revenue economics on that aircraft. Also, they have 12 business class seats in comparison to Vistara’s own aircraft which have 8, so that helps as well.
As the airline receives more aircraft, expect it to swap out the 737s for A320s with the 3-class experience. It has all the plans to do so, given it has also notified similar changes to Club Vistara in line with a 3-class aircraft. Premium Economy should be coming on anytime soon (but not too soon!).
The airline is yet to make an announcement on the complete details of the product and service to expect on board, but I do expect it to be offering an enhanced meal experience on these aircraft, apart from a luxurious lounge experience for those who are eligible. Also, in-flight entertainment for Vistara is a bring-your-own-device based, so it should not be very difficult to plug it into the aircraft as long as they have the intent.
What I do know is that when you will start to fly on a Vistara hard product custom designed for international flights, you will find it to be suiting your needs very well.
Club Vistara changes
The airline has also moved to change its loyalty programme in line with its move to go international. It is now going to allow you to use your miles and upgrade vouchers to upgrade on international flights as well. You can also use your Club Vistara miles to redeem for international flights, although a Business Class flight to Singapore, coming at 80,000 CV points for one-way seems like a huge ask at the moment.
I’ll keep you posted on the Vistara experience after I make the flight next month!
Ajay Awtaney is a business travel & aviation journalist based in Mumbai, and the founder of the Indian frequent-traveller website Live From A Lounge ( www.livefromalounge.com .) Ajay flies over 200,000 miles every year, and tweets about The Business of Travel at @LiveFromALounge .