I recently flew with Air India – possibly the most polarising airline in terms of passenger opinion on the Internet – on a short domestic flight between Delhi and Kolkata.
The reasons for my flight were twofold. Firstly, Air India is a cheaper carrier to fly on long haul and offers decent connectivity from the UK to the Far East, and I wanted to test drive the product for myself. Secondly, I wanted to make a video for my YouTube channel:
Some housekeeping first – Delhi Airport won’t allow you to access the terminal unless you have a printed itinerary or boarding pass. I knew this but forgot my printout at the hotel, which cost me a 35-minute wait at the ticket desk (located away from the main terminal and the check-in area). Indian bureaucracy reigns supreme.
Delhi looks like any other airport, but in fact runs at 100mph with an enormous contingent of staff all doing an awful lot of work, and still, there’s chaos.
Check-in was confusing, with poorly marshalled queues at the Business Class lines and harassed staff having multiple arguments with customers. All in all, not a great start. Still, the gold-bordered boarding pass was a nice touch!
Business Class passengers can access the Air India lounge at the A complex shortly past security. This flight was operated by a 787-8 and left from the international concourse.
The lounge entrance is on the mezzanine level.
Overall, not a bad lounge, but somewhat underwhelming for a major hub in a capital city.
I’m not a huge fan of Indian food (unless it’s very mild!) so please don’t accept my thoughts on the cuisine as canon. Nonetheless, most of the lounge options were rather unappetising, and I ate onboard the aircraft instead.
Passenger behaviour is a consistent theme on Air India…
From here the experience improved. Boarding was rapid and organised, and there were two jet bridges for our 787, meaning an exclusive bridge just for business class passengers.
Air India business class is laid out in a 2-2-2 configuration with standard factory-installed seats. This is probably the weakest of all 787 business class configurations overall, as not every seat has aisle access and no seat has privacy in this very open cabin. Nonetheless, if I were travelling with someone I’d enjoy the ability to hold a conversation in these seats.
Our crew were professional and warm, and service began quickly with a choice of water or mango lassi. I had never tried lassi before; it’s a yoghurt based smoothie-type drink. It wasn’t bad, and a lot more refreshing than I expected.
We took off punctually into the haze. I was glad to be on an air-conditioned 787; Delhi had been oppressively hot for the few days I had been there.
The entertainment screens on these aircraft are a reasonable size, but are quite far away from you, meaning they appear smaller. There was a limited selection of entertainment and I focused on just watching the moving map and some travel inspiration videos about India’s astonishingly diverse regions.
English newspapers are available, even on domestic flights within India.
Lunch was served shortly after takeoff. I had a saffron chicken curry. This was presented in foil, which is never a good aesthetic, but then again this is a short flight, and with a full cabin of 18, no doubt helps speed up the service.
The meal was filling and tasted great, although I left the dessert as I didn’t care much for it. There were four main course options to choose from, which is excellent for a 2-hour domestic flight anywhere in the world.
A small thin blanket was available. It’s best used as protection from heavily spiced and coloured curry rather than as an actual blanket for warmth!
The major advantage that comes from having forward-facing seats is that, unlike reverse herringbone or otherwise tessellating seating options, the designers can retain the width. This is an impressively wide seat. As you would expect, it can adjust multiple ways, including into a lie flat bed.
However, don’t expect any privacy. There is space for a privacy divider, but Air India seem not to have taken up the option.
The airline magazine’s chairman’s foreword was littered with lectures to passengers about how to behave on board. Apparently, it appears necessary to tell passengers not to stand on the footrests, not to make off with infant lifejackets, and there’s also the “women only” row in economy which appears to have been instituted following harassment complaints.
There’s also this incredible sign in the lavatory asking people not to flush tablecloths or pyjamas (night suits).
Landing was prompt into a less oppressively hot Kolkata!
The bottom line is that Air India is far from an aspirational carrier. Still, having paid £191 one way for this flight, I was okay with the hit and miss experience. Service onboard was very good indeed, and sharply contrasted with the forgettable ground experience; most of my frustrations were with the disorganisation and bureaucracy at Delhi airport. Staff themselves seemed to be well-intentioned.
However, I don’t think on the strength of this experience I’m inclined to save a few hundred pounds on a long haul flight with them. I will likely look elsewhere.