When the IndiGo flight takes off from Delhi for Istanbul on Wednesday, it will usher in many firsts for the airline: its first wide-body aircraft, hot meals for passengers and other amenities such as blankets and pillows for a fee.
IndiGo has leased a twin-class 400-seater Turkish Airlines Boeing 777-300ER aircraft for the route after the civil aviation ministry relaxed its norms for damp/wet lease of planes.
In a damp lease, a lessor provides aircraft with partial crew to a lessee.
Pilots of Turkish Airlines will operate the Delhi-Istanbul flights, and working on board will be the crew from both airlines.
"Introducing the wide-body aircraft will not only increase the capacity to Istanbul, but also to Europe through codeshare flights with Turkish Airlines,” said Vinay Malhotra, head of global sales, IndiGo, adding “IndiGo is looking forward to offering consumers an even more comfortable and a hassle-free experience with multiple services such as pre-booked Jain meal, veg, or non-veg hot meals according to preference, choice of buying blankets and pillows as well as amenity kits on the flight."
Until now IndiGo has been operating one-stop flights from Mumbai and Delhi to Istanbul with an Airbus A321 aircraft. The Mumbai-Istanbul flight will continue with A321 aircraft for now but will later be replaced with a Boeing 777 aircraft.
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The Turkish aircraft leased by IndiGo has 28 business and 372 economy class seats. The business class cabin in the flight will be sold only by Turkish Airlines.
Both the airlines will sell economy class seats under a codeshare agreement. However, the pricing and product will be different. While those booking seats on the IndiGo website will be able to pre-purchase meals such as chicken tikka masala and zafrani pulao, those buying tickets from Turkish Airlines will receive complimentary meals and amenities.
The aircraft has an inflight entertainment system but it will remain switched off in economy class.
IndiGo and Turkish Airlines didn't immediately share details of the business class service on this flight. In an email to travel agents, Turkish Airlines said that since this will be an IndiGo operated flight, the service standard in the business class will vary as compared to Turkish Airlines business class flights.
The planning for the damp lease operations with the Boeing 777-300ER has been going on for the past few months. While this is not the first such damp/wet lease of a plane by IndiGo, it’s the first time the airline is going for a wide-body aircraft.
Under the arrangement, Turkish Airlines will be handling flight operations and engineering. While terminal operations such as passenger and baggage check-in at Delhi will be handled by IndiGo, it has outsourced underwing operations such as passenger boarding and baggage loading to ground handling agency BWFS.
Nearly 200 IndiGo crew underwent training in safety and service procedures from Turkish Airlines for these flights. The crew also underwent familiarisation flights on Turkish Airlines aircraft. Around 100 Turkish pilots were trained in Indian aviation security regulations for these operations. And the Turkish Airlines pilots were given a handbook on IndiGo and briefed on the Indian carrier’s operations by the airline management.
The lease of planes by IndiGo will help Turkish Airlines grow its market share in India. While it is among the largest airlines in the world, Turkish Airlines’s growth in India is constrained due to limited traffic rights.
“This co-operation (between IndiGo and Turkish) will create additional capacity and the number of seats offered on flights between the two countries will approximately double,” Turkish Airlines CEO Bilal Ekşi had told Business Standard in October.